Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Money and the Cycle of Value

There's been a lot of discussion lately about money.  From my wife and I handling our household finances, to people who can't afford to pay their mortgages, to the US government tossing around numbers normally reserved for astronomers, the word "dollar" appears over and over again.  Have you ever stopped to consider just what money is, what it represents, and why it's useful?

Go into your wallet and pull out a dollar bill, go ahead, I'll wait.  What is it?  Well, it's a piece of paper (actually made from cloth) with a picture inked on it, along with a serial number.  True enough, but what IS it?  It's a unit of value.  It represents a unit of value given to you in exchange for something you provided to someone else.  In my case, it's a unit of value given to me by my employer in return for my time and expertise in programming computers.  It's a token of some value I gave my employer.  I, in turn, will give that dollar to someone else in return for something he or she provides and which I value, perhaps a can of soda in the store in the lobby.

This all happens for a number of intertwined reasons.  First, my personal need for computer programming services is rather small.  I rarely do any computer work for myself, but my employer DOES need such services and is willing to pay me to perform them.  Second, it's more important to me to have money to spend than to have the free time I'd have if I were not employed.  This is summed up in a humorous sign I saw once that said "Working here has gotten me accustomed to certain luxuries in life, like eating and living indoors."  Thirdly, I can use the money to purchase some other product or service I need or want.

Money makes a complex economy possible.  Let's explore that for a moment.  The first type of economy was barter, you had a basket of fruit you didn't need but you needed a goat, I had a goat I didn't need but needes some fruit, we trade, and we're both better off than we were.  Or maybe you have a basket of fruit and need a new plow, I have a goat and need some fruit, and a third person has some a plow and needs a goat.  It's easy to see that, the more people you add to the cycle the harder it is to keep track of.  Anyone who's tried to figure out a three or four-way baseball trade can see how quickly it gets difficult, so now enters the concept of money.  Rather than figure out who has to give who fruit, plow or goat to whom, we assign a monetary value to each of those.  If someone wants a goat they give me some token of value for it, I in turn can use that token to buy some apples.  Money actually simplifies the economy.

Money requires the people using it to offer value for value.  I exchange something of value (to someone else) for money, and I in turn use that money to buy something of value.  The person I purchased what I wanted from made the exact same exchange, he exchanged something of value (at least to me) for money.  It's a classic win-win situation at every level.  Theoretically, it IS a cycle.  My employers pays me for my services, which are of value to them.  That money may have come from a bank who paid for work done.  The bank got it as interest on a mortgage.  The mortgage payment was made by an auto mechanic.  That mechanic got the money by fixing someone's car.  The person whose car was fixed works for a company that delivers home heating oil.  That company got the money to pay their employer from me, when I paid for my oil delivery.  At each step money, and value, was exchanged.  Both parties freely entered into an agreement to provide some product or service for a mutually agreed upon sum of money.

However, there is a fly in the ointment.  Money can be stolen.  If someone steals my money, they've taken it from me without returning any value to me.  They have, in fact, broken the cycle of exchange.  They've not only taken from me without providing me any value, they will now use that money to purchase something of value without themselves having provided any value in return.

In an ideal world, running an ideal economy, such a thing would never be allowed to happen.  While we don't live in an ideal world, for much of the history of this type of economy we attempted to discourage such behavior by making the punishment for such transgressions of good order severe.  Only very few people would attempt to steal because the risk of punishment outweighed the possible value to be gained, so the total affect of such behavior was fairly small.  A large economy is robust enough to withstand moderate amounts of thievery, but there's a tipping point.  If too large a percentage of my money is stolen from me, the value of my labor is reduced.  I have less money to buy the things I value, and if things get too bad I may just decide not to bother anymore, why work my tail off when I hardly get anything in return for it.  Once robbery becomes onerous, the entire economic system falters.

I believe this is where we are now, and I believe this is why our economy is in the straits it's in.  I believe that, if we don't reverse this trend, we'll see an economic collapse that will make the Great Depression of the first half of the 20th century look like a mild economic cough.

Don't believe me?  Right now, my wife earns about 2/3 what I do in salary.  Her entire salary goes to pay our tax burden, Federal and State income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, right down to the tax on every gallon of gasoline we buy.  Some portion of that money does return value.  The trash is collected, and the presence of carrier battle groups helps me sleep peacefully at night.  Still, how much of my tax money goes to fund bridges to nowhere?  How much went to subsidize the Chevy Volt, which recently ceased production?  How much was paid to farmers NOT to grow wheat?  How much was paid to subsidize ethanol fuel, which when burned releases less energy than was used to make it?  How much went to bail out companies that by all rights should have failed because they didn't produce a product that was of value to anyone?  How much was paid to people who could work but don't, finding it easier to live off the stolen value of others than to provide their own value?

I believe we're very close to the tipping point.  I believe the cycle of value has been broken badly enough that a collapse is a very real danger.  I believe the way to avert that collapse is to repair the cycle of value, to make sure that, as much as possible, people go back to providing value for money and paying money for value.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On The Latest Outrage

A video has been making the rounds lately, taken in Afghanistan, showing a group of Marines urinating on some dead Taliban fighters.  The outrage was, of course, extreme and has gone all the way up to the Secretaries of State and Defense.

Personally, I'm having a hard time getting worked up over it for a few reasons.

- These are Marines.  They don't come to your door to sell you cookies, they are the people we send out to kill our enemies and break their stuff, a job they perform admirably.  They are rough, hard men (my own father was a World War II Marine, so I have some personal experience there).  They've likely seen some of their friends killed or maimed, they may even have been wounded themselves.  They may have just been taking fire from those very Taliban, and when they emerged victorious I believe they're allowed to let off a little steam.  They are, after all, still alive despite the efforts of the Tangos.  Winston Churchill said that there's nothing move exciting than being shot at and missed, so these Marines live very exciting lives.

- Before you criticize these Marines put yourself in their boots.  Look around you right now, what do you see?  A computer, a chair, a wastebasket, a phone.  These are the things you deal with and encounter every day.  Imagine, if you can, being in a position where the sight of a corpse is just as common.  Most of us have never seen a dead person outside of a funeral home or hospital.  The sight of dead bodies is a common one for combat Marines, seeing one affects them about as much as seeing a trash can affects you.  They don't experience the horror that we would.  They'd never be able to function if they did.

- Next, back in their boots.  You're put into a position where your duty, and your survival, require you to kill another person.  That's a terrible and weighty situation, but it must be done.  How do you make yourself pull the trigger on someone?  You learn to hate them.  My father (the aforementioned World War II Marine) carried his hatred of the Japanese to his grave.  Letting go of that hatred is something our returning veterans must learn to do in order to function back here in civilized America, but when they're in combat they need that hatred.  Still, hatred is caustic, you can't allow it to build up and still retain your sanity, therefore it must be released.  Personally, I think pissing on the corpse of someone who was recently trying to kill you is a pretty tame method of releasing some hatred.  Others have done far worse, as the records of atrocities committed by soldiers throughout history shows.  They didn't dismember them, rape their wives and murder their children.

-  It's not as if our own dead were treated with compassion and respect by our enemies.  I remember the pictures of decapitated and burned bodies hanging from a bridge.  Let us also not forget that this war started with terrorists flying jets into buildings and people having to make the horrible choice of jumping hundreds of feet to their death or burning to death.  Pardon me if I find it hard to want our enemies treated with compassion.

-  Spare me the statement that this will only make our enemies hate us more.  They already hate us enough to commit suicide by flying airplanes into buildings.  They already hate us enough to strap on explosives and blow themselves up in hopes of killing us.  They already hate us enough to murder us indiscriminately, men, women and children.  It's hard to imagine them hating us more than they already do, and honestly I don't care if they do.  I don't want our enemies to love us, I want them to fear us.

Having said that, I'm not saying that what they did wasn't wrong.  They dishonored themselves, their nation, and the Marine Corps.  They need to be punished, but that punishment shouldn't be the equivalent of a felony conviction (which is what a less-than-honorable discharge is).  Marine officers and NCOs can be VERY creative at finding ways to punish Marines who misbehave, so I think their immediate superiors should be given free rein to make an example of them.  There is absolutely no need for the Secretaries of State or Defense to be involved.  Who knows, the miscreants may even become better Marines as a result.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Socialists are Stupid, Crazy, or Evil

Yes, those are harsh words in the title.  I'm not being ironic.  I'm not exaggerating to make a point.  I mean what I wrote quite sincerely and perfectly literally, and I can back up my assertion with historical facts.

First, I need to offer my view of history.  I view history not as a boring collection of names, places and dates, but as a laboratory where ideas are tried and from which the results of those ideas can be analyzed.  If a social idea is proposed, it's wise to look back at history and see where similar ideas have been tried in the past (they almost ALWAYS have been tried) and see what the results were.  Those results can often be counter-intuitive.

Far from being workers paradises, Socialist nations have to build walls around themselves in order to keep their own people from fleeing to other places.  Socialist governments have killed more people, their own citizens, in the 20th century than all the wars we fought during that time.  An estimated 12 million people were killed by the Nazis (National Socialist Party), 20 million by Stalin in the Soviet Union, 50 million by Mao and his successors in China, and more untold millions in Cambodia, Korea, Viet Nam, Cuba, etc.  With such a horrific track record, how can anyone see Socialism as a viable philosophy?  Well, I've identified a few different types of people who embrace this failed idea:

1) Some people are completely unaware of the results of prior attempts to bring about Socialist societies.  It looks good on paper, it looks FAIR.  They never take a look back in history to other places where it's been attempted to see how they worked out.  They never see the abject misery and outright horror brought about by Socialism.  It looks good in theory, so it must work in practice, right?  Well, as they say, in theory there's no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.  These are the people who insist that Cuba is a wonderful place to live, despite the remains of rafts on the beaches of Florida or the untold numbers of Cubans who didn't survive that trip.  For those who would claim that some of these people are merely ignorant and not stupid, I'd offer that the evidence is freely available and totally conclusive.  If you're old enough to vote or order a glass of wine in a restaurant and haven't availed yourself of that evidence you're only ignorant because you're too stupid to become educated.  I repeat, stupid.

2) Some people actually DO see the history of Socialism's failure, but they conclude that it simply has never been attempted properly.  They think the problem is with the implementation, not with the underlying philosophy.  They completely mis-understand human nature, that such a society can't work.  People will always look out for their own interests, they'll always take the path of least resistance, and they won't labor for that which doesn't provide benefit.  These believers will tell you it WOULD work if only the RIGHT people were given the job of making it happen.  (Kevin at The Smallest Minority refers to this concept as "Do it Again, Only Harder!")  Just because it's failed every other time it's been tried doesn't mean it'll fail this time, right?  Albert Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Crazy.

3) This next group of Socialism's supporters is vile.  They see the human wreckage left behind by prior attempts.  They see that the vast majority of people living in a Socialist society exist in a state of misery, and that many people will be labeled as "enemies of the state" and incarcerated or outright murdered.  They also note that for the elite, the higher ups, the party is pretty good.  Instead of being one of the many miserable ones, they expect to be among the few well-off ones.  Instead of being murdered, they expect to carry out the ordered the murder at least, or at best to be the one who does the ordering.  Down that road lies the worst excesses of depravity.  If that's not evil, I don't know what is.

4) Then there are the people who believe humans just haven't evolved far enough to be good Socialists, but that we will.  They believe that human nature is progressing to a state where everyone will naturally work to the best of his ability and give the produce of their labor to those with the greatest need.  They believe, in that Utopian society, that no one will be lazy, no one will be greedy, no one will do less work than they can or take more than they need.  Perhaps there are some people with this viewpoint who are willing to sit back and let nature take its course in human evolution, believing that eventually we'll reach that higher plane of existence, but I've never met such a person (who I would classify as stupid).  Most such true believers in Socialism are more than willing to hasten the process of evolution by eliminating people who don't wish to be Socialists.  Oh, they would never come out and admit that they'd like to see guillotines set up in the town square.  They use such innocuous terms as "re-education" or "the greater good" or "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs".  Whatever euphemism they choose, the result is the same, the gulag, the concentration camp, the killing field.  The truly disgusting thing is that these people can act with clear consciences, they're trying to bring about Heaven on Earth, and if a few people have to experience a living Hell to do so, well, that's just the price you pay.

I've never met a Socialist (or Communist) who didn't fit one of these categories, and I expect I never will.  This is why I have such a passionate hatred for Socialism.  It's a philosophy that belongs in the trash bin of history, but because there's a steady supply of people who are either stupid, crazy or evil it keeps being put forth as a viable system of government.  It's the job of the intelligent, sane and good to keep defeating it every time it reappears.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Atlas Shrugged - Part I

My wife and I saw the movie "Atlas Shrugged - Part I", the weekend it opened.  I thought I'd offer a review.

I need to make a couple points first.  I've read the book twice in the last few years.  It's a sometimes difficult book to read, Ms. Rand seriously needed an editor.  I'm also not a big fan of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, I believe it's another of those concepts that looks better on paper than it works in reality, just like Socialism, Communism, and Utopianism.  Still, I think she has some valid points to make.

Since I'm sure a few of my loyal readers haven't read the book, let me offer a synopsis.  Atlas Shrugged (the book) takes place in the indeterminate future, the movie is actually set in 2016.  The United States, along with the rest of the world, is in the throes of a recession.  There are a few companies that are still profitable, chief among these are Taggart Transcontinental (the largest railroad in the nation.  The CEO is James Taggart but the company is really run by the Operating Vice President, his sister Dagney.), Wyatt Oil (an oil company drilling previously untapped reserves in Colorado, operated by Ellis Wyatt) and Rearden Steel (a steel company in Pennsylvania, which is successful mostly because the company owns its own iron and coal mines, so it's not at the mercy of any other company to supply the raw materials it needs.  The company is run by Henry "Hank" Rearden, who has also developed a new metal that's cheaper and stronger than steel.).  These successful companies attract, in Rand's words, moochers and looters, meaning those people who believe they have a right to the fruits of success because they need them, and those who will just take those fruits, respectively.  The government, supported by the less-competent executives of less-successful companies, passes legislation to take from the successful companies because it isn't fair that some companies are successful while others aren't.  In the background, numerous successful people are just disappearing, quitting their jobs or abandoning their companies, never to be heard from again.  People repeatedly ask "Who is John Galt."

The critics have been nearly universal in their hatred of the movie.  Many of their criticisms stem from the attempt to bring a book about the future that was written in 1957 to the screen.  Ayn Rand didn't anticipate extensive air travel, computers, cell phones, or a whole host of other technological marvels that are everyday tools of the people sitting in the theaters fifty years later.  There was some attempt to explain or incorporate those technologies into the movie, and I thought they were mostly effective.  As an example, very near the beginning of the movie we overhear a news report stating that, due to turmoil in the Middle East, gasoline has reached $37.50 per gallon, meaning that it's just too expensive to drive or fly, so trains were the most cost effective method of travelling long distances.

So, on to the review.  I liked it.  I didn't LOVE it, but I liked it.  I thought the acting could have been better, but the characters were fairly convincing, or at least instantly recognizable from the characters in the book.  There were some things left out, which given my aforementioned belief that Ms Rand needed the services of a good editor is a good thing.  There were places where a LITTLE more detail would have gone well to explain things to a person, like my wife, who's never read the book, but all in all I think the movie did a good job.

Better acting might have elevated a decent movie to a good one.  The reason for this is two-fold, one is the budget, and the other is that the vast majority of Hollywood actors wouldn't have touched this movie with a ten foot pole.  Still, I would have loved to have seen, say,  Gary Sinise as Hank Rearden.  I honestly don't know what current actress could have played Dagney Taggart though.  Few actresses can combine youth and beauty with the hard-as-nails (nails made of Rearden Metal no less) toughness her character requires.  Taylor Schilling did about as good a job as anyone could have and probably better than most Hollywood A-list actresses would have.  (Maybe there's a discussion of the current crop of young actresses in a future blog post?)

All in all it's a movie that's worth seeing, and I hope they make enough money on it to go forward with parts two and three.  While, as I said above, I have some problems with Objectivism, I think the warnings about the impact of certain policies is one that needs to be voiced. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Communal Guilt

There's a video making its way around the Internet called "Dear Woman" by a group of human males calling themselves "Conscious Men".  I won't link to it, but you'll find it if you want to.  I'll admit that I haven't watched the entire video, doing so requires a stronger stomach than I possess, but the upshot of the video is a couple of (alleged) men apologizing to women for all the mean and nasty things done to women by men throughout history.

The whole thing reminds me of a conversation I had with a former girlfriend (herself a Women's Studies major), where she asked me if I ever felt guilty for the fact that men rape women.  I told her, most emphatically, that I do not feel guilty, because I personally have never raped a woman.  I've never hit a woman.  I have, to the best of my ability, attempted to treat women with the respect they deserve.  I would, in fact, intervene to defend any woman I saw undergoing such an attack.

The thing that sticks in my craw about this is the concept of communal guilt, the idea that an individual belonging to a group is to blame for all the misdeeds of any other individual member of that same group.  Therefore all men should feel guilty for the crime of rape committed by other men.  This despite the fact that most men are not rapists.  All Christians are responsible for the Crusades, despite the fact that the last Crusade ended hundreds of years before anyone currently alive was born.  All whites should feel guilty about slavery, despite the fact that no one currently alive either owned, or was, a slave and that indeed for most of us our ancestors weren't even in the United States when slavery was abolished (personally, three of my four grandparents came to this country fifty years after the Civil War, the fourth grew up in North Dakota and her ancestors fought on the Union side).

I accept no guilt for actions I personally did not perform.  I do not apologize for the actions of others.  No one has the right to apologize on my behalf.  I reserve the right to apologize for my own, and only my own, misdeeds.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Favorite Movies

Here are some of my favorites movies, in no particular order (well, except for the first):

Secondhand Lions - Probably my favorite movie of all time, and vastly under-rated. Two old men (played by Michael Caine and Robert Duvall, how can it NOT be great?) have their niece's son (Haley Joel Osment) dropped off on them for a while. At first the men don't like the boy and the feeling is mutual, but they grow on each other. The boy brings a new life, and reason for living, to the old men, the men help the boy grow up to be a fine man. The plot revolves around the men's life story, a story that has obviously grown better with time and telling but still contains essential truths. The best line in the movie (spoken by Hub, Duvall's character): "Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in. "

Dead Poet's Society - English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) at an exclusive all-boys school instills a love of poetry and life into his charges, often going against the grain of the establishment. We learn about Mr. Keating's personality when he has one of the students read the introduction to the poetry textbook which claims that you can determine the quality of a poem by plotting (literally, on an X-Y axis) the technical perfection of the poem against the importance of the poem's objective. Mr Keating responds with one word, "Excrement", and has the boys tear the introduction from their textbooks. My favorite quote: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for."

The Sand Pebbles - A China sailor named Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) befriends a missionary English teacher named Shirley Eckert (a very, very young Candice Bergen) in China during the Boxer Rebellion. Holman is more comfortable around his engines than his fellow sailors who consider him bad luck. As their friendship grows, so do the tensions between the American navy and the Chinese Nationalists. My favorite scene happens when Jake and Shirley meet on a ferry, Shirley starts talking to Jake (probably because they're the only two English speakers on the boat) and Jake tells her "Maybe you don't know, but nice white girls don't talk to China sailors."

The Longest Day - I don't think you could pack more star power into one movie with a shoehorn. John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, the cast reads as a Who's Who of Hollywood in 1962. It's arguably the greatest war movie ever made, about (inarguably) the greatest military achievement ever, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. At the turning point on Omaha Beach Brigadier General Norman Cota (Robert Mitchum) tells his men "Only two types of people are gonna stay on this beach, those who are already dead and those that are gonna die. Now get off your butts."

Contact - A hard headed astronomer (Jodi Foster), in charge of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has contact with an alien life-form. The problem is that she has no proof beyond her own experience of it, a level of proof she's repeatedly rejected in the past when dealing with people of faith. Best quote (spoken by the alien): "You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other. "

Unforgiven - An aging gunslinger (Clint Eastwood) who spends his days mourning his wife and trying to raise his two children gets a chance to make some money by killing a cowboy who cut up a prostitute's face. He and his friend (Morgan Freeman) deal with the morality of their mission and the demons that haunt their own pasts. Best line: " I ain't like that no more. I ain't the same, Ned. Claudia, she straightened me up, cleared me of drinkin' whiskey and all. Just 'cause we're goin' on this killing, that don't mean I'm gonna go back to bein' the way I was. I just need the money, get a new start for them youngsters."

Gran Torino - Another Clint Eastwood movie. A retired auto worker, Korean War vet, and widower has a family of Chinese immigrants move in next door. Despite his prejudices, he finds that they have a lot in common. He takes a young man under his wing, teaches him how to fix things, helps him get a job, and helps steer him away from a local gang. Along the way he's battling his own demons. One of my favorite lines (at least of those that don't contain profanity)" "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."

Iron Man - Yeah, I know, it's a comic-book movie. It's also about a unique superhero. He wasn't born a superhero like Superman, he didn't become on by accident like Spiderman, he became one via his own effort and genius. Here's a story of a man with few redeeming qualities who has his eyes forceably opened to what he'd previously ignored and decides to do something about it. Favorite line: "Well, Ms. Brown. It's an imperfect world, but it's the only one we got. I guarantee you the day weapons are no longer needed to keep the peace, I'll start making bricks and beams for baby hospitals."

Zulu - Based on the story of a British regiment at Rourke's Drift in Natal, the story revolves around two Lieutenants, Chard of the Engineers who is only in the area to build a bridge, and Bromhead (played by Michael Caine) who's from a military family (he refers to his grandfather as "The General"). They lead a 140 man force against 4,000 Zulu warriors who are attacking their outpost. Despite the enormous odds, they are determined to follow their orders to stand fast. It's a story of courage, determination, and sheer guts. As an aside, seven Victoria's Crosses (Britain's highest military honor for bravery) were awarded, the most ever awarded in one action to one regiment. Just one of many great lines: "A prayer's as good as bayonet on a day like this."

The Princess Bride - A sick boy gets a visit from his grandfather, who reads him a book that he read to the boy's father when he was sick. The story revolves around the beautiful Princess Buttercup, her farmboy true love Wesley, and the evil Prince Humperdink who's determined to have Buttercup for his bride. There are probably more great one-liners in this movie than any other I've ever seen, but my favorite has got to be "Life IS pain Princess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something."

Star Wars (Original Trilogy) - A rag-tag group of rebels takes on the evil Empire. It takes place in a galaxy far far away, or does it? Action abounds, Harrison Ford's Han Solo hits just the right mix of scoundrel and boyish charm, and all in the days when special effects were done with models. See the original theatrical releases, not the "updated" ones. If Han shoots first you've got the right one. Don't waste your time with the three pre-quels. Favorite line: "Do. Or do not. There is no try."

300 - 300 Spartans and a few hundred other Greek warriors meet thousands of Persians at Thermopylae. They know they can't win, but they hope to buy enough time to organize a defense. It's classic good vs evil, Western civilization against barbarism. Just one of many great lines: "The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king can bleed."

Open Range - Aging free-grazer Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and his hired cowhand Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) meet up with rancher Denton Baxter and his crooked Sheriff. One of their friends is killed, another wounded, and the two free-grazers decide to even the score. This movie contains one of the best Western gunfights ever filmed. One of many great lines, spoken by Charley Waite: "Well you may not know this, but there's things that gnaw at a man worse than dying."

Feel free to comment on these movies, or any others!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rules and Safety

There's been a lot in the news lately about the changes to TSA practices, including full-body scanners and invasive pat-downs. All this is, of course, a direct result of the 9/11 attacks on our nation. We have, as Pogo said, redoubled our efforts after having lost sight of our goals.

The problem on 9/11 wasn't that terrorists got box-cutters onto planes. The problem was that we were operating under a given set of assumptions and the terrorists found a way around those assumptions to accomplish their goals. Up until 9/11 everyone had a set of assumptions about hijackings: Comply with them, you'll fly someplace you don't want to go, land safely, then the hijackers will make demands which may or not be met, the hijackers will make threats that may or not be carried out, actions will be taken against the hijackers which may or may not result in the hijackers being killed or captured, and eventually it's likely everyone will live to go home to their families and put it all behind them.

All that changed on 9/11. We now know a successful hijacking is a death sentence. We hardened cockpit doors and, more importantly, we hardened our resolve not to comply with hijackers. I've only flown a hand full of times since 9/11, but every time I've boarded an aircraft since then I've decided that if something bad happens I'm getting involved. I've made the choice between me possibly being killed and everyone on the plane (including my wife) almost certainly being killed. I'm not going to sit there hoping there's an Air Marshall in first-class. I made that decision despite the TSA's insistence on removing from me anything that could outwardly be used as a weapon.

So we now have a new set of assumptions. We scan shoes. We frisk passengers. We produce pornographic images of teenagers. We allow children, CHILDREN, to be groped by strangers in a manner that would get them lynched if they weren't wearing badges (because apparently no pedophile would even THINK of applying for a job with the TSA). We can't bring nail-clippers, pen-knives, or bottles of liquid on board. All this for a false sense of security.

The terrorists are watching all this. They'll find the hole, the crease, the seam they can exploit. They'll make their plans and carry out their attack. If their attack is unsuccessful it won't be the TSA that'll stop it, it'll either be vigilant and courageous passengers on the plane, or it'll be plain old dumb luck.