Kenichi And American Exceptionalism

Last night dancer Kenichi Ebina won the annual American talent competition: “America’s Got Talent.” More than 10 million Americans voted for Kenichi, a Japanese man- over stiff competition. In the finals Kenichi was up against “All American” archetypes like Jimmy Rose: a humble country singer who is a veteran and coal miner, Cami Bradley: a beautiful young woman who sings like an angel at her church or Collins Key: a young teen heartthrob and magician. Why did Kenichi; a Japanese man barely five feet tall who speaks broken English and had a stoic persona on the show; win a million dollar talent competition in America? He won because he was exceptional- not only a brilliant and unique dancer but a multi media artist who creates elaborate backgrounds to interact with on stage. The other acts in the competition were all great and some of them may go on to stardom- but as judge Howard Stern said at the end of the competition, “America got it right.” Kenichi was the most deserving because he combined exceptional talent with dedication and hard work to deliver an exceptional and one of a kind act for the audience. On the show the audience was reminded often that Kenichi was Japanese and was performing to give a better life to his wife and daughter back in Japan. (Some news pieces report that the couple are now based in NYC) There were many beautiful backstories on the show of performers struggling to make it in America. The audience votes for the winners each week and they do so completely anonymously.

What does it say about America? Perhaps it says what is the greatest characteristic of America; we are a true meritocracy. If you can contribute something valuable you will be supported in America-despite where you or your father was born or what your last name is. If you are ready to contribute, we are ready to accept and even celebrate you.

My grandfathers generation fought the Japanese in the most bitter and devastating war of the last 100 years. As a nation we even unjustly imprisoned Japanese Americans for no other reason than their ancestry. Yet today only a couple generations removed we reward a Japanese man with a million dollar prize and headline show in Las Vegas. In much of the world racial grudges and animus last for centuries or even longer, but not in America. America isn’t perfect but most Americans are willing to give people of any race or nationality a chance.

There has been some talk recently of American exceptionalism- the idea that America is truly special, different, exceptional in the world. Many doubt that America is exceptional, and in recent years our nation has had a crisis of confidence. America is exceptional because we value merit above all else. We have built a nation on the idea that those that want to come here and work hard can share in the American dream.

Journey is a classic American band started in the 1970’s; in 2008 they were looking for a new singer. The bands’ classic ballads are difficult to sing and require a unique powerful voice with range and stamina. The band searched the world for a great singer and they found one in Arnel Pineda. Arnel isn’t from Detroit, LA or New York City- no he was a poor cover band singer in The Philippines. Arnel could sing the bands catalogue like no other and he was committed to joining and touring with the band. What developed was a great story- but would everyday rock and roll loving Americans accept a short, asian front man for the all American band? The answer was a resonding yes as Americans fell in love with Arnel after experiencing his passion and powerful voice. Journey has toured all over America selling out venues in every region of the country.

All of us deserve the chance to live up to the best of our abilities, we want our hard work and dedication to pay off and lead to a better life for ourselves and our families. In America it doesn’t matter where you are from; bring your greatness and America will be good to you. Kenichi and Arnel are proof that America is still exceptional.

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Taking Responsibility, Stop being a victim

In this brilliant and funny video by Adam Carolla for Prager University- Adam talks about internalizing your experiences so that you can change and grow. Basically- stop being a victim. Victims give up control over their own lives by blaming outside forces for their own circumstances. Successful people look for solutions to problems and take control of their lives. Even when they are legitimately victims of some outside force they move on and look for ways that they can overcome the obstacles. The plain truth is that we have tremendous control over our own lives. Progressives tend to see themselves (usually through government) as the force for change in society. Therefore they want to turn us into victims. Be it racism, sexism, environment, poverty, bad luck or evil corporations they want us to fear outside forces and turn to them to right the wrongs and engineer a more fair society. They use terms like social justice to describe laws and regulations that stifle real progress and do not solve the real problems. 

The Truth about Stand Your Ground

The conventional wisdom among those in the mainstream media is that Stand Your Ground laws lead to violent encounters and are unnecessary. Many assume that Stand Your Ground is a new concept in the law- it most certainly is not. Even though laws specifically codifying the concept are new- the idea has been grounded in English common law and therefore American common law for centuries. Even progressive states such as California and Maine have some form of codified Stand Your Ground. Stand Your Ground laws were meant to restate and protect the right of common law self defense. The idea that we have the right to defend our most basic right- the right to our lives is not a new idea.

Prosecutors in many self defense cases were arguing that the accused could have retreated, or that if they did retreat that they could have retreated even further. Legislators wanted to give specific protection within the law for the right to defend yourself without the need to run from a lawfully occupied space. This does not mean that a person should not retreat- a reasonable person knows that if retreat is possible they should retreat. The intent was to protect a person from being second guessed in a sterile courtroom by aggressive prosecutors. There are still overwhelming incentives for a person to use great discretion and avoid violent self defense. Even if found not guilty the person who kills or maims in self defense risks severe civil penalties and social penalties. In many self defense schools and books the concept is: “if it is not worth dying for- it is not worth killing for.”

The Stand Your Ground laws also do not change any of the underlying requirements accepted for lawful self defense. We still have a duty to be innocent, reasonable and proportional in our defense of self. The law does not protect someone who instigates a confrontation, nor does it protect someone who did not have a reasonable fear of death or grave bodily injury.

In the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal the professional grievance industry has seized on Stand Your Ground and argued that the law is racially biased and hurts minorities- nothing could be further from the truth. John Lott has delved into the Tampa Bay Time database of Stand Your Ground defense cases and found several striking things. Blacks are 16.6% of the Florida population but they account for 31% of the Stand Your Ground defense cases. When black defendants are compared to white defendants they are acquitted 8 percent more frequently. Unfortunately more blacks are victims of violent crimes so it makes sense that they would use the defense more often.

Lott has also looked at states that have passed Stand Your Ground and similar Castle Doctrine laws and found that murder rates dropped by 9% and overall violent crime by 11% even after accounting for a range of other variables. Other researchers have disagreed with Lott’s conclusions and it is always hard to isolate one variable. If we look at Florida where the most controversy lies we can make some very clear assertions. Florida has made it easier to carry a gun and broadened the ability of justifiable self defense through Stand Your Ground. Violent crime has plummeted in Florida since 1992 from 1200 per 100,000 to 492 per 100,000. In fact the two greatest year over year percentage drops, 2010 and 2009 have been after Stand Your Ground was passed in 2005 and after the great recession began. Criminals in Florida are aware that many Floridians can now lawfully carry a gun and defend themselves and this does have an affect.

Most of us have no desire to be in a violent confrontation. You can never leave a violent encounter with more than what was brought in. The best you can hope for is to keep your health and life. Society is very hard on those who use violent force even when justifiable. The law has a duty to protect individual rights, above all those rights is the right to life. Stand Your Ground laws protect all of us from wrongful prosecution and punishment.

Income Mobility and Inequality in America

There has been much hand wringing on the left about inequality. We are told by the media that the American dream is dead; that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Is the American dream dead?

43% of American born into the bottom quintile of wealth stay there as adults. 40% of Americans born into the top quintile will stay in the top quintile as adults. This of course means that 57% of the bottom will rise out of the bottom, 4% of them reaching the top and conversely that 60% of the top will fall, 8% of them to the bottom. Is this really the full picture of inequality?

Consider that quality of life in absolute terms has continued to go up. Being poor in 1950, 1960 or even 1990 is not the same experience as it is today. Most of the poor today have things considered luxuries in the recent past such as cell phones, computers, and air conditioning. The median family today has nearly twice the purchasing power than they would have had in 1960. Therefore absolute income is only a part of the story. The same capitalistic system that rewards those with money with more money also leads to tremendous advancement in quality of life.

Even looking at income alone, 84% of individuals have family income greater than their parents, after adjusting for family size. In the bottom quintile, 75% greater than $10,000 more in income, 44% greater than $25,000 more.

Much of this information comes from reports from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. I did some research to see what the other side is saying about these numbers. Think Progress took on Heritage’s assertion of relative prices by pointing out that education and healthcare costs have risen in relative cost. So let’s analyze this fact for a moment. College costs have in fact risen dramatically faster than inflation. Is this because of greedy capitalists- no; it is precisely the opposite, cheap government money has allowed higher education costs to rise. Healthcare is more complex, costs are rising because we have much more healthcare choices and technological advancement allows us to live longer and better. Once again Government has also been deeply involved driving up costs with regulations and controls. Obamacare was sold as a way to provide healthcare for all; the president promised it would lower costs; but so far the opposite has occurred as choices do down and costs rise.

Meanwhile the greedy capitalists that the left so often points the finger at have brought us cheaper and better goods and services. The poor can afford cell phones- that make their lives easier. Most of them can access the internet, many even in their own homes. Information that was once costly to consume and learn is now cheap and easy. Henry Ford grew rich by bringing the average American worker a car he could afford. Steve Jobs by revolutionizing products that connect us and entertain us. Products that were once luxuries are now available to almost all.

Healthcare and education need not be exempt from this progress. Technology in healthcare can also bring costs down and increase wellness if we let markets work. Home schooling is thriving in America; parents today have the ability to bring world class instruction into their homes through the internet. If we decouple government money from higher education, we will see choices go up and costs go down as institutions are force to innovate and compete for students.

Much of the philosophical divide in this country comes down to a lack of understanding of economics and capitalism. Progressives fall into the zero sum fallacy- that there is a set amount of wealth in the world and it can be managed by governments to create more equality. The left uses fairness and inequality arguments to further their socialistic philosophies and grow their power.

The reality is that wealth isn’t fixed, capitalists create wealth by serving their fellow man. The more wealth they create the more potential relative prosperity for all.

All of us are born with different circumstances, some of us have advantages over others, and we will never have wealth equality in America. Free Market Capitalism remains the best system to foster income mobility and allow all of us to maximize our potential and live prosperous productive lives.

Liars

For at least the 3rd time I have corrected an obvious lie in a documentary short only to have the filmmaker remove the comments and run away from the argument and any contrary viewpoint. This time I am calling them out.

Gus shows a horrific clip of rendering. Rendering is a process where diseased animals that have died on farms are processed usually for fertilizer or sometimes glue. These animals are never entered into the food system. The cow in the clip appears alive because the machine rattles the body animating it. I wrote Gus about this and he said he was being symbolic and refused to correct the error. What makes it especially egregious is that he says in the description that this is standard practice.

As a filmmaker I don’t think the ends justify the means and I seek only truth. I certainly am not obligated to present a balanced view or equal time but I cannot lie intentionally to advance a point of view no matter how noble I feel it is.

As I told Gus, I respect Vegans and vegetarians and there are plenty of factual arguments to be made for that choice without lying about it. The video is rife with other distortions and simplistic thinking but I am focused on the one clear lie.

Gus admitted in private that his representation was inaccurate but he hides behind two principles. He claims his film is symbolic and not a documentary. He further claims that he doesn’t need to defend the meat industry and that he believes it is evil and guilty of atrocities- basically an ends justify the means argument.

My response:
Gus,
I think you are smart enough to know my point by now and are using some verbal linguistics to justify your lie. The clip of the cow is the practice called rendering- which has nothing to do with food, you probably didn’t know that when you put it in the video. So you were guilty of not doing your homework and probably mislead yourself by another advocate. If you’d updated your description to reflect this I would still have complaints but they’d be more about distortions and simplification not outright lies. Once you were made aware of this fact and chose to ignore it- you become a liar- that is willfully propagating a falsehood. Your film is narrative and documentary and you clearly maintain that with the description. I don’t have one cent invested in the meat industry and have actually done work for PETA in the past believe it or not. (I was paid and do not agree with many of their methods). What you are really saying is the ends justify the means- and you are right I fundamentally disagree on that account. A filmmaker interested in longevity and maintaining their character wouldn’t be intellectually lazy. I could make a powerful film advocating veganism without telling any lies. That film would have more of a chance in reaching people and actually changing minds. What you are doing is preaching to a choir and people that do not have the time or inclination to really understand the truth which is more complicated. They want strong emotional appeals that back up their sense of moral superiority, not reason and logic.

Here is Gus’s short it is very graphic so be warned:
https://vimeo.com/59680240

The Nexus of Guilt and Intellectual Laziness

All of us experience guilt from time to time, we are guilty for our good fortune- we have so much and others have so little. For progressives their entire philosophy leads to tremendous guilt. Progressives and modern liberals tend to ascribe to a version of the zero sum fallacy- believing that the wealth of the prosperous comes at the expense of the poor. They fail to understand that wealth is created, they see a fixed pie being divided and the rich take more, they miss that the rich in fact make the pie bigger and the poor better off almost always. This guilt leads progressives to generally favor higher and higher taxation, especially on the wealthy to fund more and more programs that redistribute wealth. It doesn’t matter that these programs don’t work and make the poor worse of in many cases because it makes them feel less guilty about their own wealth. Guilt leads to irrational thinking.

Guilt wouldn’t be so bad if it lead to rational assessment of problems; however in practice guilt combines with intellectual laziness. Instead of taking the time to look at evidence and reach conclusions about complex issues we tend to support what sounds good. This is certainly true of all political philosophies but it is more pronounced on the left. Progressive love intentions more than they love results. If the intention of a program is good they will support it. This leads to many bad ideas persisting despite evidence that they do not work or might even make things worse. Intentions also become a way of stifling debate. If you want to point out the failings of a policy your intentions are attacked and you are considered uncaring. Want to reform or privatize social security? Then you will be accused of wanting to abandon old people, throwing Granny of a cliff as a famous commercial depicted. If you believe that affirmative action is soft bigotry you will be accused of being a bigot yourself. Progressive also see government as active, intervening in an unfair system to right wrongs- it doesn’t matter much the results of this action as long as they are doing it and have good intentions.

Movements have used this guilt and intellectual laziness to their advantage. The environmental movement is a great example. There is a war of Styrofoam despite the established fact that it is more friendly for the environment than paper cups because it takes much less resources to produce. The truth is we have ample space for landfills and can easily and responsibly dispose of Styrofoam- but it seems wrong to the public who are convinced we are drowning in garbage and should recycle as much as possible. It isn’t even true that paper is much more recyclable than the foam. Most people do not take the time to analyze recycling- if they did they’d find that with the exception of aluminum most recycling isn’t good environmental policy. Opportunists also take advantage of environmentalist guilt by selling them things like carbon offsets which tend to be traded in such a manner that very little carbon reduction actually occurs. Hybrid and electric cars have some promise but most people that buy them do not drive them enough to make up for the additional emissions in production of the car. Many of these people would be better of with an efficient gas car or perhaps a cleaner diesel car. Even better they can carpool and use transit when possible.

We need to assess problems fairly and rationally. Most problems do not have easy answers and most “solutions” come with their own set of tradeoffs and negatives. Guilt that leads to intellectual laziness is the enemy of truth and progress.