Category: RNC 2012

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.

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. 

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.

Immigration Reform and the Zero Sum Fallacy

Mark Zuckerberg has founded a new immigration reform advocacy group: FWD.us.

From his Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post
“The economy of the last century
was primarily based on natural resources, industrial machines and manual labor. Many of these resources were zero-sum and controlled by companies. If someone else had an oil field, then you did not. There were only so many oil fields, and only so much wealth could be created from them.

Today’s economy is very different. It is based primarily on knowledge and ideas — resources that are renewable and available to everyone. Unlike oil fields, someone else knowing something doesn’t prevent you from knowing it, too. In fact, the more people who know something, the better educated and trained we all are, the more productive we become, and the better off everyone in our nation can be.”

-Mark Zuckerberg

Although I disagree with Mr. Zuckerberg’s characterization of the oil economy;* I am very glad that Mr. Zuckerberg chose to point out the zero sum fallacy because I believe it is behind many of today’s bad policies and bad ideology. The zero sum fallacy is simple: because you have something I cannot.

More specifically:
“Rich” people have money that the poor could have had and therefore we need to redistribute it.
Your chances of gainful employment rely on keeping out competitors by force of government.

These ideas are simply wrong and they hurt everyone.

The wealthy:
The wealthy earn their wealth by providing a product or service to others who value it enough to spend their resources on it. Real wealth is generated not by theft but by innovation, hard work and thrift. Bill Gates didn’t take his billions from the rest of us, he created products that allowed us to live better lives and do things more efficiently. The wealthy must also use their capital well or they will lose it eventually no matter how large the fortune is. When we take that money in order to redistribute it to others we squander it in two ways. Firstly the government has no competition and is therefore inefficient by nature, historically delivering only about 50 cents on the dollar to “beneficiaries.” Secondly by taking capital away from people who have demonstrated skill and ability to use and giving it to people who have demonstrated the opposite we lose much of the value of that capital. For example, as an entrepreneur I might expand my business or start a new one with my capital, this would help others by employment or valuable services. If the government takes my capital to give to others that potential is lost or lessened. Whatever impact I could have made with that money will be lost and granted to the government. Would you rather men like Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg spend their capital or the same entity that runs the DMV and Post office? Some taxes for limited governmental responsibilities such as defense and law and order are necessary; but the less the government does and the less capital it takes the better for all.

Immigration:
Zuckerberg eloquently stated why immigration reform is good: “…someone else knowing something doesn’t prevent you from knowing it, too. In fact, the more people who know something, the better educated and trained we all are, the more productive we become, and the better off everyone in our nation can be.”

Zuckerberg knows that when we keep engineers and scientists and other skilled immigrants here we all benefit. These men and women create more jobs than they take. They also are our future problem solvers, perhaps one of them will advance cancer research and prolong and save lives in America. Perhaps one of them will create a better more efficient engine to power our cars. Elon Musk the current founder of Tesla and SpaceX was an immigrant from South Africa. He has advanced electric cars and Space exploration. Who knows what Musk would have been able to achieve if he’d not been able to stay in America. Tesla employs 3000 people, SpaceX 1800- mostly good very highly paid. If we’d made the union argument that Mr. Musk would take away the job of a “deserving” America and shipped him back to South Africa we would have ignored the greater good of the many thousands of jobs Elon has created.

Many of you are now thinking: “What about the non skilled illegal immigrants that we have now.” The problem is our welfare state in general not illegal immigrants. Immigrants, legal or not will not come to the United States to work and contribute if there is zero potential of coming here in order to feed on our welfare state. In other words, if we reward work and productivity we will get more of it, if we reward dependency we will get more of that.

Zero Sum thinking focuses on stage one, we admit an engineer from India and he takes the job of an engineer from Ohio. This ignores the full picture, this same engineer might have started a business in Mumbai and done so well that he caused an American company with 10,000 engineers to close. Protectionist ideology doesn’t work, we have a global economy and we can all advance together if we stop thinking zero sum.

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*We keep finding more oil and new ways to get it, it is only zero sum in absolute terms not in the practical.

Margaret Thatcher

Goodbye to the Iron Lady. She stood up to tyranny, wasn’t afraid to be unpopular in her defense of free markets and was never afraid to lead.

“Thatcher was a politician whose words carried big weight.”

“Our first meeting in 1984 laid ground to the relationship that was at times complex, but always even and on both sides serious and responsible…” “In the end we managed to achieve mutual understanding, and this was a contribution to the changing atmosphere between our country and the West, and to the end of the Cold War…”

Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet Premier

“America has lost a true friend…Here in America many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history- we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.”

-President Obama

History will enshrine Margaret Thatcher as a transformational leader who helped defeat communism, promote freedom, and bring hope to the oppressed. Her penetrating words and compelling vision will last for generations.

-Mitt Romney