Wetmachine Blog: “A Republic, if you can keep it”

Wisconsin destroys a business

Even as our Croquet software was going open source and the company winding down, I haven’t been posting much. I’ve been distracted. Here’s one reason why.

This is a tale of a government that destroyed a business. My business, along with my wife who is the speaker in the video. Ours was just one of  hundreds of mom-and-pop early-education business targeted by the state, but this is specifically about what happened to us.

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Duck

I was pleasantly surprised to find the opening remarks on Judge Sotamayor’s confirmation hearing so interesting.

Senator Feingold explicitly referenced Barrack Obama (a constitutional law scholar as well as President) in acknowledging that the Supreme Court decides cases where the precedent and wording of written law is not clear. That’s its job. There could be no mechanical execution of a prewritten umpire or referee program. Such cases are decided by values.

Senator Graham explicitly acknowledged that this is the case and that he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. After all, he imagined Judge Sotomayor’s values were different from his own. The question then was whether he should try to impose his values or interpret those of the electorate.

I was proud of both of these men and my country’s institutions. And….

They all collectively ducked. Kept their heads down. Dodged it. Wimped out.

I think we’re due for a discussion, as today’s obituaries of Walter Cronkite made apparent. Every one contains claims of absolute objectivity and authority, while also citing Cronkite’s commentary in February 1968 that America cannot win the Vietnam War. President Johnson himself said it was a major influence on his subsequent actions.

How we relate values and the quest for objectivity is much debated in journalism today, but the industry is in turmoil and I do not yet see a consensus emerging. (An objective set of values on the issue?!) I share Senator Graham’s ambivalence. For example, I think George Will and Rush Limbaugh are equally hypocritical in their underlying views, but only Will is hypocritical in the pretension to rational thought in his presentation. I’m equivocal about which I fear more: Which is more evil? Which is more undermining to my culture and institutions? I admire the English stereotype of acting properly while leaving so much unsaid, but I consistently favor knowledge and transparent discussion over style, brevity, or unrecognized deceipt and ignorance. Cronkite explicitly alerted viewers that his conclusions were subjective. I share his values. But does that make it right? The same commentary left objectivity to the “referees of history.” The question is vital throughout the economy and government. By not taking this historic opportunity to discuss this reality — by elected leaders in open hearing — we leave it be mulled over or not by individual judges and bureaucrats and businessmen and media personalities. Decisions are still made on values, but it remains taboo to discuss and judge the context and consequences of how it happens.

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What are laws for?

Why do we have laws? It seems to me that the only good reason for creating a law or regulation is to protect an identifiable victim. Other arbitrary purposes, such as defining or imposing morality, are simply not good enough. But is this distinction a founding principal of our governing civil institutions? I don’t know. Anyone? (Harold….?)

We do have a variety of non-secular institutions that define rituals, beliefs, behavior, and other constructs along different lines, and these are not bound by the principal of protecting an identifiable victim. Does our separation of civil and religious institutions cover this principal, or does our Western and Judaic tradition blur the distinction?

While civil governments do issue proclamations, such as defining an official seal of the state, or designating a day of commemoration, this seems to me to be a separate function of government outside that which can be decided and acted on by the court system. A political body or office-holder may well declare that one plus one is two — or three — but there are no legal consequences for disagreeing. Unless we can define a specific and testable group to be protected by an answer of two or three, it would be inappropriate to elevate either proclamation to be a law or regulation.

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No Deal, Charles

I agree that we are on the precipice of a disaster. I would like us to act to prevent it. I do not insist on assigning blame or even being fair in how we act, as there will be time for that later. The only thing that is required of how we act is that it solves the problem.

No one has explained to me how taking the bad loans off the books of banks actually solves the problem. What has been explained to me by the officials and the politicians is that there is far more money at risk than that tied up in these loans. The money has been promised to average Joes, governments, and wild speculators, based on the idea that other average Joes, governments, and wild speculators will pay even more for these incomprehensible instruments in the future. At the original bottom of this pyramid are the at-risk loans. Yes, I agree that there is a crisis of confidence in the market, as the President put it. But I fail to see how now the politicians now suddenly understand these instruments, and that the way to keep them from collapsing is to take the loans off the books of the banks.

Are they saying that they intend for average Joes, governments, and wild speculators to keep shoveling ever-increasing amounts of money into the derivative market based on these loans? Ponzi schemes do collapse when triggered by a failure of confidence, but a child can see that even with no failure of confidence, they can only be sustained as long as there are increasing amounts of investment at the bottom. Eventually, the world runs out of money.


Now is the time to drop a note or leave a message for your representatives and let them know how you feel. Their contact info is online. Don’t forget to tell them that you’re in their district/state.

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Don't call me, I'll call you…

I just got a phone call. It was Fox News calling to tell me “shocking news about Hillary Clinton.”

I wonder who they had to pay to get around the fact that I’m on state and federal “do not call” lists.

And these guys just bought the Wall Street Journal.

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rock shows then and Can You Hear Me Now?

I went to my first rock concert in years last night. Wife and I took our oldest daughter to see Snow Patrol.

The base player for opening opener Silversun Pickups had an amp with a GREEN LIGHT on it instead of a RED one. What’s up with that? Kids these days…

Seriously, it wasn’t very different from years ago. OK Go (the middle band) had a a screen behind them with their music videos playing. The music was pretty much like early U2 with a maybe a little Iggy Pop thrown into the first two.

One thing that was kind of weird: no lighters in the air. There was enough cigarette smoking to make my hair stink, but not very much. No pot. Instead of lighters, people held up their cell phones!

Some of that was for taking pictures. It’s kind of interesting that where they used to ban recording devices (they may still do so, officially), there’s no freakin’ way that they can effectively stop that now. (The drummer for one of the bands actually whipped out a little camera to take pictures of his bandmates on stage taking their bows. From behind. Probably included a lot of the audience.) I wonder why they don’t have a live Web site on the screen to which the audience can upload their pictures while the show is in progress. More participatory and all…

Anyway, seeing all those cell phones being held up in the air was pretty weird. It was like some sort of bizarre Verizon ad.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons that we are all so accepting of government abuse is that we came of age going to concerts where we would be searched for alcohol (and recording devices), and then be served alcohol on the premises. There’s no flipping principle of safety or law at work there — it’s simply the exercise of commercial power. We accept it when it’s convenient enough to do so, and don’t accept it when it irks us enough. For example, we’re not going to throw away our cell phones during the entry search. And the “them” accept that, and only try to enforce the abuse of power that they can get away with. So as long as the government keeps the planes running without TOO much delay, and doesn’t send us personally to Iraq, we acquiesce.

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The bogeyman has no shame. UW steps up.

It seems that the RIAA going around scaring children again.

Read More »

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Follow-up on “The Sign”

The first night night after attaching the letter to the political sign against meanness, the sign remained. Someone had pulled it out half way to steal this second sign, but thought better of it.

The second night the same. This time the sign wires were bent, but the sign remained.

Then we went away for two days. The sign was gone. Just the twisted wires remained.

Our friend in the cause brought us another replacement without asking. Actually, she brought two. She had been watching. We’re the first house in the neighborhood and prominent. And this isn’t any neighborhood. It is a mostly green-built conservancy full of kids and parks and porches behind small setbacks. Lots of salesmen and teachers raising kids. It is also the home of the Republican candidate for State Attorney General. A former U.S. District Attorney appointed by President Bush, he funded much of his compain by mortgaging his house.

We left the twisted wires and put in the new sign. Without the letter. Wife Robin had suggested all along that we just keep replacing the sign, and she had suggested — ok, she barred me — from retaliating with email to the neighborhood and letters to the editor. I wondered if the folks who had been told by their pastors to vote against gays would appreciate this example of turning the other cheek.

Anyway, the sign remained. No one stole the third sign. Yet bucking Democratic victories state-wide, our neighbor won his bid for Attorney General, and the people of the state of LaFollette voted to ammend the constitution so as to prohibit the state from ever granting couples rights to a group that Tuesday’s voters disapproved of.

We lost. But in my way I took a stand and I feel good about that. Our next Attorney General didn’t speak out in the neighborhood nor with the press for either private property or private love. But a few folks in the neighborhood have come out and told us about how they feel good about our little play. I feel that the wonderful thing about democracy is not that we each get to cast a vote. Mathematically, that just doesn’t matter. It is that in voting we have to decide. We can just do what we’re told to, but even that is a choice. I feel like we contributed to the inner decision process of a tiny-few people on both sides. That’s not a bad thing.

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The Deadest Generation

Most folks I know are pretty cranky lately. They cite the economy, or the wars. But I don’t think we’re being honest. My generation is dead. We did die before we got old. But we only know it on a subconscious level, and that makes us cranky.

Our last hurrah and last attempt to change the world was in the late ’90’s with the Internet Boom – although that was largely driven by the next generation. Now we’re just running on Cialis. It’s the only thing we care about anymore, or which gets a rise out of us. Dead.

I work at the University of Wisconsin, which had been a hot-bed of violent youth revolution in the ’60’s. Now, when a part time instructor named Barrett raises questions about 911, the university threatens his job. (Even as Syd Barret passes quietly away.)

John just wrote a great blog about serious and enduring issues that will have meaning long after 911 is a footnote, but even he doesn’t wants to talk about 911. Who wants to be thought of as a weirdo? Don’t say such things! I hope interest rates don’t get much higher. Have you tried Flomax?

Surely, the idea that 19 losers wreaked all this havoc, orchestrated by a guy in a cave in Afghanistan, is the looniest conspiracy theory of all time! Imagine a US government that thinks nothing of breaking into the personal files of its domestic political opposition, breaking the law to destroy its bureaucratic opposition, waging war without reason, spying on its own citizens, ignoring treaties, and “temporarily” but indefinitely closing the Whitehouse press office. This is reality, and we’re not outraged? Dead. Now, I can’t imagine that such a government could have deliberately orchestrated 911, but mostly because I think they’re too incompetent to have pulled it off. (Hey, I want to keep my university job!) I don’t know what the reality is. Either of the two opposing conspiracy theories is equally depressing. But I think that folks of my generation are old enough to sense bullshit when we hear it, and we know at some level that we’re up to our eyes in it from all sides. I believe that the recognition that we don’t truly care enough to act on this – or even discuss it – is what’s got us so down. If you’ve still got a pulse, I encourage you to Google on the 911 conspiracy videos.

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