Archive for May, 2010

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“The Empire Strikes Back” in 1950

May 25, 2010

Well, the plot was sure 1950s-style, wasn’t it? Lucas’s folks did some groundbreaking special effects, and he had a grander vision than those that came before. Oh, and John Williams, his secret weapon. Still, this is pretty intriguing:

Don’t know if I could take 1950 3-D, though.

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Pondering what the Arizona immigration law means in the long run

May 24, 2010

Arizona State Flag

This whole stupid flap about the Arizona immigration law made me think about the fact that, silly me,  I thought we were still the United States of America. Unlike every other country I can think of we don’t really have a name; instead we have a description of our political organizations and our location – that’s it.. We still are the “several states,” united for common cause. Our states are situation in North America. That’s it. We don’t have a single country name like France, Germany, Brazil,  or Thailand; we are a group of separate political organizations – the states – who decided in the late 19th century that things would be better for all if we did some things together.

The first set of plans didn’t work out very well. The Articles of Confederation were considered to be too weak. The Constitution under which we now live is a remarkable document. Nothing like it was ever written before. And the men who wrote it were not Frenchmen, nor Germans, not Englishmen, nor any of the learned Europeans who were the “deep thinkers” of the age. They might have influenced the “Yankees,” but the Yankees put it all together. It is truly one of the most remarkable creations of the minds of men.

From the time of the writing of the Constitution to the middle of the 19th century, Americans struggled with a huge moral question – that of slavery. It wasn’t just a question of whether it was moral or not. There were economic issues as well. The southern economy was built on cheap labor making large plantations economically viable.Remember, the labor wasn’t free: slaves had to housed, clothed, and fed.

It’s easy for us to feel superior to Southern slave owners. I’m a middle-aged white guy, but I’ve looked around. Black Americans, Americans of various kinds of Latin descent, Asian Americans, all go to Wal-Mart. All wear athletic shoes. Do they think about the products they buy that are manufactured in Southeast Asia or other places in the world where children are exploited and paid a pittance. We conveniently forget that, do we not? Where is our moral outrage? Are we so superior to the Southern plantation owners of the 19th century?

But if the topic had not been slavery it would have been something else. The country was learning how to live together in the balancing act between the rights of the individual states to control their own destinies and that of the Federal government. The war could have been precipitated by the Mormons in Utah, if they had not decided to become part of the US quite so easily. Texas could have decided to stay independent, or return to independence. The Southern states had economies far differently structured from those of the Northern states. The new states in the west were even more independent than the others. The country could have split into three or four factions.

Lincoln’s decision was to use the moral issue of slavery as a means to impose more Federal control, or vice versa. Which was first? I am no Civil War scholar, and cannot answer that question. The outcome was a much stronger  Federal government. Most everything I have ever read has said that this was a “good thing.” At the time, and as a means to an end, it probably was. However, the Federal government just got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. State militias withered away in favor of a full-time Army.

(By the way, I’m not going to argue the point that we didn’t need a Navy. From the war with the Barbary Pirates and the War of 1812 onward, individual states could not protect themselves from other countries’ navies and pirate groups.)

FDR drove the Federal government right out of control. The programs he instituted began the creation of an entitlement society. More and more over the last 80 years Americans not only thought of themselves more as Americans than as members of particular states, but as people entitled to government largesse. Identification with a country is good, in that it is patriotic; entitlement turns self-respecting people into drones.

Under the Obama Administration, many of the policies our Federal government had tried to adhere to for years were turned upside down. Since this has caused the Democrats to crash in practically every possible poll, the Administration and the Democrat-run Congress are trying to find a way to quickly give  illegal immigrants legal status so they can become registered, Democrat-leaning voters before November 2012.

To do this, the immigration service has to look the other way while they let immigrants in, and do nothing to catch them and send them back home. It doesn’t matter if they are criminals or not. It doesn’t matter if they overload the health care system, the schools, the social services of the border states.

Now the state of Arizona, one of those overloaded states, has taken action since the Federal government has not. The Federal laws should do enough, but Federal officials say that they won’t – they have publicly said that they will not aid in the work that the Arizona law enforcement officials are doing. These Federal officials should be fired immediately, but they won’t be because the Administration is behind them.

Now to the problem I see. What if other states go the same way? Let’s say Texas decides to be next. (They’ve always been kind of a separate entity anyway.) If those two states find it successful, maybe New Mexico could be next. If these three states maintain a unified front on the border and do so successfully over the next, say, 18 months, the Administration is sorely embarrassed. What happens then?

Lots and lots of pressure. All the pressure the Obama Administration can put on those states. There could – worst case scenario – could – be enough pressure for those three states to secede. Yes, I said it – secede. I wouldn’t have believed I would ever say that a year ago. However, in the 18 months Obama has been in office he has destroyed, mangled, or ignored as much of the Constitution and Bill of Rights as possible. We’re on a downhill slope, friends, and I’m afraid we’re heading for a crash at the bottom.

It’s still a states’ rights issue, but the reverse of the 1850s. Now we are trying to preserve the “States” part of “United States” and I’m very afraid it’s going to get very messy. In the 1850s we considered the South “the bad guys” for being the states-rights promoters. Today, it’s the people who believe that the Constitution is about limited control by the Federal government.

By the way, Arizona had passed a law a couple of years ago that they would secede if the US government declared martial law.

Frankly, in our worst-case scenario, I think the states would be successful. I don’t think Obama has the guts to try to do a Civil War-style incursion. (Texas has Fort Hood, and will have more tanks than the US.) Further speculation: Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana – all pretty independent-minded folk. Get a few of those states to go along and you can run the table, south to north, and now the West Coast is separated from the East.

I think the Southeast is still pretty patriotic and conservative, so it could run through Mississippi, Alabama, and maybe Georgia. Maybe even Tennessee and Kentucky. Nebraska and Iowa are a toss-up.

I know, it’s a really outlandish scenario, right? It’s 1999. You’re a time traveler. You travel to 2010. No flying cars, but we’ve been fighting Islamic fundamentalist terrorism for ten years. Now we can’t even call it that. We’ve narrowly escaped more 9/11 events several times at least. The government has bought two car companies, brought Wall Street to its knees, and controls the banks. Dissent is called “racism.” The Administration and the news media turns everything around. It’s done blatantly, so everyone knows, but there is nothing that it seems can be done. Ignoring the will of the people, the Federal government rolls over more rights every day. Judges believe in a “living Constitution,” where the things the Founders wrote are no longer considered valid.

I think that’s a pretty outlandish scenario, and yet we are living it.

I never, ever thought I would consider something like the secession of states in the union being a possibility in my lifetime. I really cannot believe I would be favor of it…but I’m leaning that way.

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Cory Doctorow signed my Kindle!

May 11, 2010

Cory Doctorow's most recent adult book, "Makers"

Cory Doctorow was at the school I teach at today, speaking to kids. He was doing a book tour for his new YA book, For the Win. He read an excerpt, talked about the book, then talked about his views of economics that related to the book, and then about Creative Commons Licensing and internet privacy. His talk was excellent. He’s a very articulate guy as well as a very interesting writer.

He had a bit of time afterwards to sign books. I got him to sign my copy of Makers, his newest adult science fiction novel, and then he signed my Kindle, which had a copy of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, his first novel, on it. Very cool!

Check out his stuff. His imaginings are for a future not that far away, and he does a job of extrapolation as good as any of the great skiffy writers of the 50s, save maybe Heinlein himself. His extrapolations are not just technological – those are almost secondary – they are social, mainly.

Cory Doctorow

He also is bold enough to put his books out on the web for free at the same time they appear in print. He doesn’t think it hurts his sales. I think it’s interesting that he chooses that model, Baen chooses ebooks with no DRM, and practically everyone else locks things down. We’ll see how it shakes out as ereaders become more common.

Anyway, great stuff, highly recommended. And thanks, Cory, for signing my Kindle!