Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Blog Article 255: My Absolute Best

I leave for graduate school on Sunday, July 11th, which means that between the preparations which will precede my leaving for Rutgers-Newark (partying as well as working) and the labor load that will undoubtedly descend upon me once I have begun my education there, I will have very little time to update this blog. While I don't expect that it will be abandoned altogether, it certainly needs to be suspended right now, and will quite likely go through long periods of inactivity in the future. That is why I want to leave on a strong note - in this case, with a re-posting of the blog article that, in my opinion, remains my absolute best. It is poetically appropriate that it is also one of my very first pieces on this website.

True American Economic Policy
March 6, 2009

Republicans and so-called “moderates” from both parties are screaming about the “socialistic” policies being proposed by President Obama. So far as they are concerned, Obama’s ideas are entirely consistent with the incendiary “class warfare” rhetoric in these two quotes:

"I hope we shall...crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

“The bank mania is raising up a moneyed aristocracy in our country which has already set the government at defiance, and although forced at length to yield a little on this first essay of their strength, their principles are unyielded and unyielding. These have taken deep root in the hearts of that class from which our legislators are drawn, and the sop to Cerberus from fable has become good history. Their principles lay hold of the good, their pelf of the bad, and thus those whom the Constitution has placed as guards to its portals, are sophisticated or suborned from their duties.”

They would also agree that it bears a striking similarity to the economic philosophy both implicitly and explicitly espoused in these two passages:

"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society - the farmers, mechanics, and laborers who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves - have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing."

“Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations."

Needless to say, they would simply relish the opportunity to pounce on the way Obama’s ideas resemble those conveyed by the 19th Century radical who penned the words presented below:

“In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism.

“It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

“Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them...

“Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.”

One can hardly argue that Obama’s efforts to use an activist government to promote economic egalitarianism, and his populist insistence that the power of big business poses a grave threat to our most fundamental freedoms, does fall completely in line with the statements quoted above. Indeed, I have shown some of these passages to many friends, who are quick to recognize within them many menacingly Marxist traits.

The only problem is that none of them were written by Karl Marx. The first two were culled from letters written by none other than Thomas Jefferson during the years following his presidency (the first to Pennsylvania Senator George Logan in November 1816 and the second to a Dr. J. B. Stuart in March 1817); the next two come from Andrew Jackson, who wrote them during his term of office (the first is an excerpt from his address on the fight against the Second Bank of the United States in December 1832, and the second from his Farewell Address in March 1837); and the final passage comes from the State of the Union address as presented to the United States Congress by the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, in December 1861.

With the exception of the Lincoln quote, all of these passages were written well before Marx had published his seminal economic works, including Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (published in 1844, shockingly enough), Wage-Labor and Capital (1847), and The Communist Manifesto (1848). Even Lincoln’s remarks predated the most famous of Marx’s writings, Das Kapital (1867). In short, although Republicans love to claim that the populist style and pro-actively anti-plutocratic tone of Barack Obama is covertly pro-Marx and overtly un-American, they are actually rebelling against ideas that were as American as the stars-and-stripes well before Karl Marx introduced himself to the world.

First Postscript:
There is one Lincoln quote that would have been perfect in the above article but which, for some reason, I neglected to include:

"While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else."
- Abraham Lincoln (1860)

Second Postscript:
I was also remiss in failing to include three quotes by Theodore Roosevelt which - though dating to the period after his presidency - were clearly intended to encapsulate the philosophy he held during his time in office. The first comes from a speech delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas on August 31, 1910, which outlined the progressive ideology he would later dub 'The New Nationalism':

"No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so that after his day's work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load."

The last two excerpts were culled from speeches Roosevelt delivered during his third-party presidential campaign in 1912. First there is a passage from his acceptance address at the national convention of the Progressive Party (better known among its supporters as the "Bull Moose Party"), which nominated Roosevelt as its candidate:

"We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living--a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age."

Finally there is a quote from a ninety-minute oration Roosevelt delivered shortly after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin:

"It is essential that there should be organizations of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize."

Third Postscript:
It occurs to me that the article which I consider to be "my absolute best" does not put forth any original ideas of my own, but instead merely re-states and analyzes the ideas of other thinkers and statesmen who came before me. While this might be a cause of embarrassment for some, I actually take tremendous pride in it. I have long believed that, contrary to the conventional wisdom which has dominated our political discourse since the ascent of Ronald Reagan, America's greatness is as a direct result of its being the world's first, foremost, and boldest liberal civilization. As such, all true liberals (whether they realize it or not) draw their ideological sustenance from the principles articulated by America's most ardent champions of human rights and freedom. It is this steadfast belief in the American vision that lies at the core of the liberal philosophy - and thus of my own.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Remembering Joe Barton

It's hard to believe that nearly three weeks have passed since Texas Congressman Joe Barton apologized to British Petroleum for being pressured, by President Barack Obama, to set aside $20 billion for compensating Gulf Coast residents.
I'm reposting my old article on the subject because I don't want to forget this emblematic anecdote about the Republican Party's true priorities - and if the Democrats have any political savvy at all, they will do everything in their power to make sure the American people don't forget it either.
As posted on June 18, 2010:
This has to be the best quote of the week:
“If anything I have said this morning has been misconstrued to the opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstrued misconstruction."
That "apology" came from Republican Congressman Joe Barton, who was ordered by Republican congressional leadership to issue it after blurting out a much more convincing apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward yesterday:
"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown. In this case a $20 billion shakedown. I apologize."
Yes, you read that correctly - Congressman Barton apologized to BP for being forced, by that dastardly President Obama, to financially compensate Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were ruined by the oil spill. No wonder Republican congressional leaders demanded, for the sake of their image, that Barton offer an apology for his apology.
Of course, if the political tacticians of the Republican Party really want to repair the damage to their partisan brand, they'll have a lot more work cut out for them; plenty of other Republicans - from Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh to the 114-member Republican Study Committee - have already expressed agreement with Barton's position. That is because, in the eyes of the ascendant conservative movement, Barack Obama's demand that BP provide financial compensation to Gulf Coast residents is a threat to "the US Constitution, the American way of life, American exceptionalism, what it was that made this country great" (Limbaugh), a "redistribution of wealth fund" that renders BP into "chumps" (Bachmann), and "Chicago-style shakedown politics" (the 114-member Republican Study Committee).
All of these individuals are quick to follow their earlier comments by insisting that they are NOT defending BP, but rather simply angry that President Obama didn't allow the claims process to go through normal, proper judicial channels. There are three major flaws to this position:
1) The financial damage that has been done to residents of the Gulf Coast has been extensive and immediate, and any judicial process would inevitably take months (at the very least) to provide residents of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida with the aid that they need right now. Only an escrow fund of the type President Obama pressured BP into establishing can achieve an immediate and effective result.
2) What President Obama did was not illegal. Although he no doubt used the prestige of the presidency (as well as his Rooseveltian "bully pulpit") in an effort to pressure BP CEO Tony Hayward into doing the right thing by creating this fund, there isn't a shred of evidence that he abused his executive authority in order to coerce or force BP's hand in an extra-legal manner. Frankly, the only way this reflects poorly on President Obama is that it makes one wonder why he didn't display similar cojones when dealing with Wall Street last year.
3) The Republican Party claims to fight for small, fiscally responsible government. Yet had they had their way, the American taxpayers would have had to shoulder an enormous financial burden as a result of BP's mistakes. After all, lengthy judicial proceedings are not cheap, to say nothing of oil spill clean-ups (which Obama also forced BP to finance in his so-called "shakedown") and providing unemployment benefits to the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods have been affected by the spill - although, arguably, Republicans may have opposed even doing that much for BP's victims, considering their staunch opposition to the legislation currently pending that would extend unemployment benefits to the victims of Wall Street's malfeasance. Because of President Obama's actions, the American taxpayers will not have to spend a dime as a result of BP's errors, and the residents of the Gulf Coast will have justice done to them at the expense of the perpetrators themselves and no one else. This is in stark contrast to the ideal for which Republicans are now fighting, one in which justice to the people of the Gulf Coast would either have to come with a price tag of billions of dollars to the already-beleagued American taxpayer (assuming the courts ruled in favor of BP and conservatives voted with liberals for a special unemployment benefits package) or not at all (since the courts might not rule in favor of Gulf Coasters and conservatives might oppose a special unemployment package).
So what is the method behind the Republican Party's seeming madness? Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland put it best:
“This will become an issue in the races around the country, because it’s another big piece of the story about how the Republicans have been on the side of the big corporations."

Deficit Hawks = Scum (Part Two)

My new Facebook status brings up an old (but sadly still relevant) theme...

Matthew Rozsa
Consumer spending is 70% of the American economy; therefore recovery depends on putting more money in the pockets of average Americans vis-a-vis unemployment reduction. Despite that fact, every feasible strategy for stimulating job growth has been impeded by the deficit hawks.
I can't say this too many times: Deficit hawks do NOT simply have a "different point-of-view". They are lying shills of the rich - i.e., scum.

Matthew Rozsa
PS: To any self-identified deficit hawks who read that post and are offended... good.

Although you smugly insist that expertise validates your position, you are disgustingly glib in your dismissal of any facts that contradict your pre-decided conclusions - which is especially convenient for you, since that pretty much encompasses ALL facts. What's more, although you claim to be worried about the health of the American economy, the policies you advocate clearly prove that you are more worried about the prosperity of the privileged - from Wall Street stock brokers and bond traders to big businesses and just the generally wealthy (a.k.a., "the top 5%") - than you are the standard-of-living for middle-class and working-class Americans. Even worse, you will take this preference to such an extreme that you will knowingly push for policies that cause harm to the latter - cutting unemployment benefits, refusing to provide aid to the states (especially for public schools), fighting against economic stimulus adequate to create jobs - just so you can put a few more dollars in the pockets of the former.

There are only two kinds of deficit hawks:
1) Those who are soulless shills of the American plutocracy, and who couch their arguments in the rhetoric of populism and pseudo-pragmatism so as to make them more saleable to the public.
2) Those who, though honest and well-meaning in their intentions, have been duped by the first group.

If you fall into the second category, then feel free to read a debate - which has not been edited or altered by me in any way - between myself and some deficit hawks, one that I believe (arrogant though this may sound) will help you realize the utterly void nature, intellectually and morally, of everything they have to say.

If, on the other hand, you fall into the first category - i.e., if you are a "deficit hawk" who salivated with joy at giving the wealthy a $1.3 trillion tax cut under George W. Bush (thus squandering the budget surplus left by Bill Clinton, which those "nutty" liberals wanted to use to the balance the deficit, given that this was a time of prosperity during which such measures could be afforded) and LOVES spending additional trillions of dollars on the military and the war on drugs, but who bellows in rage at the thought of spending a fraction of that amount to help the unemployed (first through temporary benefits and then, via stimulus, through the creation of permanent jobs) and our children (by providing aid to our states so our public education system doesn't have to make drastic cuts that significantly reduces its quality) - well, you are scum. That is the only worthwhile observation which could ever be made about you.

I'd like to end with a quote from the congressional testimony of Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO

The goal of our national economic policy should be sustainable, broadly shared prosperity. To achieve that goal, there is no question that we need to stabilize the national debt as a share of our economy over the long term. But stabilizing the debt is simply a means to achieve our goal of sustainable, broadly shared prosperity, and we should reject approaches to debt stabilization that take us away from that goal.

Oh, and this...

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “The tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic downturn together explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.” And “without the economic downturn and the fiscal policies of the previous administration, the budget would be roughly in balance over the next decade.”

For the remainder of his very insightful remarks, see:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An Excerpt from Ronald Reagan's Diary

February 14, 1981:
Ran a movie... It was a comedy (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, & Lilli Tomlin) "Nine To Five". Funny - but one scene made me mad.

Some brief background:

"Nine To Five" was a groundbreaking comedy that satirized the rampant sexism which far too often dominates American workplaces. Its protagonists are three female employees at a generic white-collar office, all of them archetypes - the hard-working and brainy jane-of-all-trades whose accomplishments always manage to be overlooked during promotion time (Tomlin), the busty blond who must fight not just the sexual advances of her leering boss but the malicious rumor-mongering of her female co-workers (Parton... surprised?), and the naive newbie whose idealism is quickly crushed by the unfairness which surrounds her (Fonda). As one might expect, the three women quickly form a friendship, which inevitably leads to laugh-filled nights of jocular fantasizing about all of the terrible things they'd love to do to their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss (brilliantly played by Dabney Coleman). This being a madcap comedy, though, those fantasies soon find unexpected ways of taking on a life of their own...

While I don't want to divulge too much about the plot of this movie (which I highly recommend), suffice to say that it is an incisive feminist parable that resonates just as well today as it did back in 1980. Considering Reagan's extreme right-wing agenda on women's issues - he opposed passing an Equal Rights Amendment, fought against abortion rights, tried to end the Title IX programs that guaranteed equal education opportunities for women and girls, derided single mothers who needed welfare to supplement poverty wages as being "welfare queens", and rejected working toward mandatory pay equity between the genders vis-a-vis appointees who dismissed such measures as "looney tunes" - you can easily guess the themes in this movie that he found objectionable.

Or can you?

Let's pick up where we left off...

... but one scene made me mad. A truly funny scene if the 3 gals had played getting drunk but no they had to get stoned on pot. It was an endorsement of Pot smoking for any young person who sees the picture.

I leave you with this question:

Is it more depressing that Ronald Reagan was too stupid to realize that this movie flouted the core principles of his own agenda on gender rights, or that the man who WASN'T angered by economic inequality, racial discrimination, and the AIDS epidemic managed to get his ire roused by watching three forty-something actresses enjoy a bit of the wacky tobacky?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Australia's Atheistic Prime Minister

My outspokenly atheistic friend recently posted a link on his Facebook page celebrating Australia's selection of an openly-atheistic Prime Minister. While I share in his applause, I couldn't resist the urge to engage him a little good-natured ribbing.

Tiguhs OndaBayou

The new Australian PM is an athiest leaning agnostic, and public about it too!

Matthew Rozsa
I'm more concerned about her policy proposals than her religious affiliation (or, in this case, her lack thereof); all in all, I'd rather have a religious left-winger than an atheistic right-winger. That said, I do consider it a sign of progress within the Western world that an openly declared non-believer is capable of being elected to the chief executive position within her given country. Kudos to Gillard (and, more importantly, to the Australian people).

Tiguhs OndaBayou
Always raining on my parade, eh? lol

Matthew Rozsa
That's why they call me Matthew "The Human Nimbus" Rozsa. ;-)

Matthew Rozsa
PS: Based on what little research I have done on this subject (I do not closely follow Australian politics), Ms. Gillard is what they call "Labor Right" - i.e., she tends to be left-wing in her economic policy proposals (she is technically a member of the "Socialist Left", although primarily for organizational reasons) and conservative in her social positions (she opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage). You can make of that whatever you like.

Discussion on "The Last Airbender"

Note: Believe it or not, this is one subject about which I don't have particularly strong opinions. That said, a lot of my friends are big fans of the TV show "Avatar: The Last Airbender", and I do frequently read movie reviews, so when I heard that the cinematic adaptation of the highly-acclaimed anime franchise had become a box office hit despite having been pilloried by critics, I felt the need to bring this up on my Facebook status. Below is the dialogue which followed.
According to recent reports, "The Last Airbender" managed to gross more than $40 million this weekend. While that doesn't make it the week's box office champion (a distinction that, unsurprisingly, went to "Twilight: Eclipse"), it FAR surpassed box office expectations. In short, despite being derided by critics as one of the worst movies of the year, "The Last Airbender" is a hit.
Any theories?

Cliff Smith
Umm, the fact that critics don't drive box office receipts doesn't seem to be a terribly controversial notion to me.

Cliff Smith
Anyhow, the film looks exciting, weird FX, and people generally like Shyamalan even if critics are a lot more divided or hostile (particularly on his last few films).

Ashley Robinson
i saw it this past weekend and it's because the show is one of my favourites. let me tell you, it was terrible. it won't make much more money, because most people who have seen it are warning others not to bother wasting their money and because the fans of the tv show are so disgusted with what m. night has done to something to beloved.

Ashley Robinson
this video is exactly how i felt:

Matthew Rozsa
To Ashley:
Unfortunately, the question of whether or not it will make money is off the table; it is already a box office hit. The money has been made.
To Cliff:
I agree that critics don't "drive" box office receipts, but if you study the history of cinematic grosses, what you find is that films which are either widely acclaimed or overwhelmingly panned by critics do experience correlative effects on their overall intake. That isn't my opinion; it's a widely-acknowledged fact within the industry (and I should know, I take a far greater interest in movie grosses than I really should - some people read "People Magazine" or tabloids as their guilty pleasure, and I go to
My speculation, by the way, is that the movie is doing so well because (a) many fans of the TV show will see it simply out of loyalty to the franchise and (b) Shyamalan's reputation from his three masterpieces ("The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable", and "Signs") has overshadowed the disasters of the subsequent eight years. I think you and I agree on (b), but you didn't mention (a).

Ashley Robinson
well, yeah, it made money this weekend, but the thing is, i doubt it will continue to make massive amounts of money. my theory: curiosity & fans of the show made the movie a hit, financially speaking, but speaking in terms of actual response to the film, it was still a flop.

Matthew Rozsa
Do you think there will be sequels? What's more, do you think the notion of a "Last Airbender" film franchise can be salvaged if Shyamalan is dropped from the helm?

Cliff Smith
I actually use to pay a great deal of attention to box office receipts although that basically went out the door with law school starting 3 years ago. I think that "universally panned" rule only applies if the film doesn't already have a built in audience, as this one obviously does both for the show (I didn't actually know it had a show,) and because of Shyamalan. And even the universally panned rule can be overcome by a really good trailer. I didn't think the trailer made the film look great, but it looked like a film that I could see a lot of geeks liking, even if they don't end up liking it.
Anyhow, I'm a weird one on Shyamalan. I love Signs and Unbreakable like everyone else. However, I think Sixth Sense is insanely overrated, although it's decent, and I'm a huge fan of The Village, which I think is badly misunderstood by people who get caught up in the so-called "twist" which was obvious in any event and totally irrelevant to what the film was about. Anyhow, to round it out, Lady in the Water was an unmitigated disaster, I still don't know what the heck he was going for, while The Happening...had some big problems but I thought was more interesting then the critics gave it credit for. Anyhow...that said, I the film looks awful and I suspect Ashley is right that it's box office will drop off quickly.

Matthew Rozsa
I agree that the "universally panned" rule didn't apply in this case because of Shyamalan and the fan base from the TV show. Then again, that doesn't mean that the rule doesn't normally apply (indeed, to paraphrase a cliche, there wouldn't be exceptions in the first place if there wasn't a valid rule).
Believe it or not, I share your opinion of "The Sixth Sense"; I thought it had a genuinely clever ending, and the quality of the dialogue and character development was pretty strong, but I don't think it reached the transcendent levels of storytelling seen in "Unbreakable" and "Signs" (although the sheer shock value of its ending is enough, in my mind, to qualify it as one of his "masterpieces"). That said, I share the critical consensus about "The Village". Fortunately, I don't need to explain why I feel that way - Roger Ebert captures my thoughts and sentiments quite perfectly in his review.
I doubt there are many people who don't feel that "Lady in the Water" was an incomprehensible mess. Even though I "watched" the film, I'm not sure I can say I "saw" it, since I have no friggin' clue what Shyamalan was trying to show me. Quite seriously, after a while, I just started daydreaming.
I haven't seen "The Happening", and I'm not dying to change that.
Obviously I haven't seen "The Last Airbender" either, although if it is as bad as everyone claims (and I haven't encountered one person who hasn't echoed that judgment), I also hope Ashley winds up being correct.

Sean Davis
I'm a big Avatar fan, I loved the cartoon and am not ashamed to admit it. I just got back from seeing the movie and from everyone's reaction you'd think it was the biggest piece of shlock since "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Let me tell you, he didn't deviate as far from the story as people would have you believe, and the effects were not too shabby. My only real complaint was the terrible casting of Sokka and Katara. Maybe my expectations were really low because of all the negative press, but I left the theater not feeling ripped off.

Racism in Arizona - Part Three

This is the very unexpected "Part Three" in my long ongoing debate on the racist legislation in Arizona.

Matthew Rozsa
I know I've already posted my article on Arizona's racist anti-immigration law, but I feel that this issue is very important, which is why I'm not only going to put the link back on my Facebook status, but keep it there until the end of the week.

Laura Brown
Isn't immigration the jurisdiction of the Federal Government?

Matthew Rozsa
Apparently not.

Kevin Reagan
Of course it is. But the current administration is not going to do anything substantive with regards to illegal immigration or even the drug war that has spilled across the border. So the state of Arizona was forced to take matters into its own hands. Fun fact: the current federal immigration laws are HARSHER than those enacted recently by the state of Arizona. Where are all of the protesters of that legislation?? Oh, and Matt, I already clearly and thoroughly demonstrated how Arizona's immigration law is NOT racist. Your refusal to recognize this point is a classic example of a condition commonly known as being in denial.

Matthew Rozsa
To Kevin:

1) I was being facetious when I wrote "Apparently not". I guess that didn't translate.
2) The federal government does not have laws that authorize police officers officials to demand citizenship verification from drivers on "suspicion" that they might be illegal (hence racial profiling), nor are there any federal laws which state that someone can be arrested without a warrant for the same reason. Similarly, I was unaware of any national statutes that ban the teaching of classes which promote "ethnic solidarity or resentment", which though not directly involving the issue of immigration, is clearly relevant to it (at least insofar as Governor Brewer's administration and the state of Arizona are concerned).
3) Obama put forth a very sincere effort to reform our immigration policies. The problem is that while you no doubt support some of his measures (like doubling the personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces), you dislike the more progressive ones (like providing a path to citizenship for those who are already here illegally), even though they are fiscally sounder as well as more humanitarian than the right-wing alternatives.
4) Kevin, we did discuss this before, but not only did you fail to "clearly and thoroughly demonstrate" that the Arizona immigration law isn't racist, but I think I was rather effective in both rebutting your assertions and proving that the exact opposite is true. Feel free to visit our original debate (which I posted on my blog) if you wish to have a point of reference.

Matthew Rozsa
Here are the articles I have written on the subject so far:
On a friendlier note, I wish you a very happy Fourth of July (or Calvin Coolidge's birthday, you can take your pick - the fact that he was born on our nation's 96th anniversary is about the only good thing I can say about him, lol).

Kevin Reagan
Matt, I did in fact clearly and thoroughly demonstrate how the law is not racist. Curiously though, at least half of my argument appears to be MIA. Recovering it is going to require some digging on your profile (you will have a much better chance of finding it than I). I did have a rebuttal for your arguments in the second link above. In all fairness, that should be posted on your blog as well.

And Happy Fourth to you too, man.

Kevin Reagan
Miraculously, I found it. See my last comment on your May 13th status.

Matthew Rozsa
It is not "at least half of your argument" that is MIA; it is ONE post, in a thread with more than thirty entries, that I overlooked, probably because I failed to notice the update indicating that you had added it(given my prolific nature on this website, I receive Facebook updates all the time, and have been known to occasionally fail to spot a few). Besides, are you really accusing me of trying to duck an opportunity to respond to someone else's opinion? Apart from the implied assault against my intellectual integrity (which I resent), do you really think that is characteristic of ANYTHING you've seen in me during the time we've known each other?

In the spirit of fairness, I will repost your entire comment here (and since this conversation is going on my blog, it will de facto appear there as well). My response will be in the post after this one:
Matt, I would agree with you about the whole ad hominem fallacy thing, but the problem is it not an ad hominem fallacy. Unless I have grossly misinterpreted everything you have written in this debate and previous ones (see Tea Party), your "larger argument," or at least one of them, is that America has not moved beyond racial differences and that racial biases and racism are still a driving factor in both legislation (Arizona) as well as social action (Tea Party). I will grant you one point: perhaps this is not truly philosophically liberal, but it has come to define the liberal, secular progressive attitude and perspective on this particular social issue. Thus, my "ad hominem fallacy" was simply an analysis of this perspective that provided context for your arguments.
To you, my second paragraph seems disingenuous because you still do not understand the exact purpose and wording of the bill in question. I refer you to my earlier post where I copied VERBATIM the AZ HR bill that slightly modified the original SB1070. Note the wording: "FOR ANY LAWFUL STOP, DETENTION OR ARREST..." That means, if the law enforcement officer has ALREADY STOPPED someone for reasons OTHER THAN THEIR RACE (you and I both know that the ACLU would have an absolute field day if race was the sole reason for stopping someone; not to mention, that would be UNlawful) THEN they would try to determine that person's immigration status. If you don't believe me, please see my earlier post where I included the link to the bill. As I noted before, your hypothetical situation where an officer recognizes a Latino driver and stops them simply because they are Latino is equally as ridiculous as the president's hypothetical (lie) "Now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers, and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to get harassed — that’s something that could potentially happen… That’s not the right way to go" or the whole "Do I look illegal to you?" campaign. The third standard I referred to before, that of behavior, is already practiced EVERY DAY in law enforcement. If officers and detectives suspect someone of acting suspiciously and evasively they can take any number of further investigative measures from obtaining a search warrant to bringing someone in for further questioning. This didn't seem to be a problem in crimes other than illegal immigration.
I'm afraid you missed my point entirely on the education bill. I never claimed that it was being passed to protect white people from discrimination. Like I said, it was supposed to promote a more racially equal atmosphere and discourage resentment of other racial groups. Thus, my question at the end was rhetorical. Obviously, the point of the bill was not to protect white people from discrimination. That makes no sense, as you observed. The only discrimination it could have been protecting against was against Latinos. Which makes labeling the bill racist comical. With regards to coursework, again, this is another misinterpretation/ inaccurate characterization of the bill. It is not intended to cut coursework that teaches Latino history and send the message that "white is right", etc. Instead, it is intended to cut coursework that is discriminatory and promotes excessive racial solidarity. This is an attempt to undercut not only the ignorant Latino solidarity movements that were out in the streets in mass protest of the immigration bill, but also could include any potential white solidarity movements as well.
And yes, I did answer that question earlier in this conversation, despite the fact that it is a complete non sequitur. With that question, you were implying that my argument was that past discrimination against other racial groups somehow negates current moral wrongs being suffered by Latinos. I will stick to and expand the response I gave before- I was not necessarily saying that past discrimination negates any current moral wrongs. I was simply pointing out that the new bill is not targeted at Latinos. However, given how I have broken down the wording of the immigration bill in detail multiple times, I can conclude that no moral wrongs are even being suffered by Latinos in that case OR in the case of the education bill. That means the true ad hominem fallacy is your "simple observation" about my mindset.

Matthew Rozsa
"Unless I have grossly misinterpreted everything you have written in this debate and previous ones (see Tea Party), your "larger argument," or at least one of them, is that America has not moved beyond racial differences and that racial biases and racism are still a driving factor in both legislation (Arizona) as well as social action (Tea Party)."

Actually, you HAVE grossly misinterpreted everything I've said, mainly because you seem to believe that arguing that racism still exists in our society, and has been made manifest in the Arizona immigration laws and the Tea Party movement, means I feel "America has not moved beyond racial differences and that racial biases and racism are still a driving factor in both legislation... and social action." That's a bit like saying I am denying the great strides that have been made in medical science I claim that we still need to find cures for cancer, AIDS, lupus, and a number of other ailments. It rests on a simplistically dichotomous view of reality.
In regard to your second paragraph...

*sighs, rubs the bridge of his nose*

By the way, that asterisked description of my actions wasn't just placed there for comic effect; I really DID sigh and rub the bridge of my nose in exasperation.

Why? I'm not a huge fan of repeating myself.

So... I won't. I'll quote myself instead (more arrogant, perhaps, but it allows me to a little bit lazier):

"Even though the immigration measure doesn't specifically mention Latinos as a group, using the term 'reasonable suspicion' in reference to whether someone is an illegal alien is vague enough that it can mean practically anything its practitioner desires, and as I pointed out to Jim, how are police officers supposed to identify whether drivers are illegal immigrants except on sight - that is, as to whether they 'look illegal'?"

The same principle applies to when you claim that the language "for any lawful stop, detention, or arrest" specifically precludes doing so on racial grounds. If a cop can claim that he believes someone is an illegal immigrant upon seeing him or her, then clearly stopping, detaining, or arresting them would be "lawful", assuming that suspicion is subsequently validated. Once again, this begs the question... on what basis will a cop, based solely on appearance, determine whether someone "might" be an illegal immigrant?

Ironically, you wind up proving this point in the very same breath in which you claim to rebut it.

"The third standard I referred to before, that of behavior, is already practiced EVERY DAY in law enforcement. If officers and detectives suspect someone of acting suspiciously and evasively they can take any number of further investigative measures from obtaining a search warrant to bringing someone in for further questioning."

Yes, but in those situations, the person is stopped on the basis of how they are ACTING, not on the basis of their RACE. The only way your argument is sound is if you can point to some way in which a person's ACTIONS can plausibly cause a law enforcement official to believe that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Do illegal immigrants walk a certain way? Do they swing their arms in a specific way? Do they wear shirts saying "I immigrated illegally to this country, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt"?

Needless to say, it is for this very reason that the situation President Obama described is all-too-possible.This post is getting long, so I'll respond to your second one in a separate entry.

Matthew Rozsa
1) I'm not going to discuss whether you meant to imply that white people needed protecting (in light of the very first comment you posted on that original thread, I think it's obvious that you did). Either way, your new argument - that a bill banning Latino coursework is meant to "protect" Latinos - bears very disturbing similarities to the logic used in the 1950s and 1960s by segregation proponents. They claimed that they wanted to protect African American students from the racial backlash that would occur if those schools were integrated (see Orval Faubus, Paul Johnson, George Wallace, and a host of others). Besides, since I don't recall hearing any reports about racial resentment against Latinos occurring because of these classes, that kind of deals a blow to the claim that they really needed to go, and that Brewer had the best interest of Latino students at heart.

2) I never said that they wanted to cut Latino coursework to send the message that "white is right".
3) " is intended to cut coursework that is discriminatory and promotes excessive racial solidarity. This is an attempt to undercut not only the ignorant Latino solidarity movements that were out in the streets in mass protest of the immigration bill..."
Once again, those are terms so vague that they can be applied to ANY class that falls under the broad criteria outlined in the bill. What's more, why precisely is it a problem for Latino students to be taught to be proud of their heritage? Why do you assume that "solidarity" automatically equals "resentment toward non-Latinos"? I think part of the answer to that question might lie in your characterization of the Latinos who were protesting the immigration bills as "ignorant".
4) "...but also could include any potential white solidarity movements as well."
See my first point.
5) Let me repost your very first comment on that earlier thread:
"Latinos are not the only racial group that are the targets of resentment."
Now here is my question in response to it, the one you labelled a non sequitur:
"How do you work out the logic of arguing that the discrimination endured by past groups somehow negates or mitigates the wrong being suffered by Latinos in the present?"
I think, considering that we were discussing discrimination against Latinos (either real or alleged, depending on your position) that my interpretation of "Latinos are not the only racial group that are the targets of resentment" as equalling "Other groups have suffered discrimination too, and this weakens your case" was pretty fair. For that matter, I'm not sure how "Latinos are not the only racial group that are the targets of resentment." could possibly equal "...the new bill is not targeted at Latinos." Maybe my command of the English language is shaky, but I don't know...
6) To the last two sentences of your post: Please see everything I've written on this subject.

Once again, as a means of reducing complaints that my "blog posts" are like "novels", and that I need to respect that my "readers" have this thing called a "life", I am going to refrain from posting the remainder of this conversation here. The unabridged text of the entire discourse, should you wish to read it, can be found on my Facebook wall:!/profile.php?id=33500632&v=wall&story_fbid=131071950261115

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pelosi's Defiance, or Why Obama is Wrong on Afghanistan


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a rare House floor vote Thursday defying a veto threat from President Obama and further emphasizing her concerns about the war in Afghanistan.
Pelosi's vote was in favor of an amendment to the Pentagon spending bill. It would have placed tough restrictions on funding for the war in Afghanistan - including a demand for a detailed troop withdrawal plan and a threat to pull money for the war if the military stays beyond next summer.
The amendment failed. But 153 Democrats, well over half the House Democratic caucus, and nine Republicans voted for it, despite a White House veto threat that passage of the amendment would undermine the President's "ability as Commander in Chief to conduct military operations in Afghanistan."

Interestingly, the quote that best explains why Nancy Pelosi should be applauded for her decision comes from an exceptionally unlikely historical source - Richard Nixon:

The Constitution supposes what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature. [If a president is successful in bypassing the Congress] it is evident that the people are cheated out of the best ingredients in the government, the safeguards of peace which is the greatest of their blessings.

Nixon's opposition to the War Powers Act as president notwithstanding, the position he supported here could not have been more perfectly articulated.

Although Barack Obama received the Democratic party's presidential nomination in 2008 due, in no small part, to his long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq, he has failed as president to show the same courage in preventing a comparable military quagmire in Afghanistan. Not even the president's own closest advisors have been able to provide a sound rationale for why we are still immersed in that conflict; at best, we are told that we can't afford to lose, lest al Qaeda regain control of that country. Yet as explained by Paul Pillar, former deputy chief of the CIA's counterterrorist center and director of graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies program:

Debate about Afghanistan has raised reasons to question that tenet, one of which is that the top al-Qaeda leadership is not even in Afghanistan, having decamped to Pakistan years ago. Another is that terrorists intent on establishing a haven can choose among several unstable countries besides Afghanistan, and U.S. forces cannot secure them all.

There's more...

The debate has largely overlooked a more basic question: How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.

In the past couple of decades, international terrorist groups have thrived by exploiting globalization and information technology, which has lessened their dependence on physical havens.

By utilizing networks such as the Internet, terrorists' organizations have become more network-like, not beholden to any one headquarters. A significant jihadist terrorist threat to the United States persists, but that does not mean it will consist of attacks instigated and commanded from a South Asian haven, or that it will require a haven at all. Al-Qaeda's role in that threat is now less one of commander than of ideological lodestar, and for that role a haven is almost meaningless.

These trends have been familiar to counterterrorist cognoscenti for years but have gone mostly unmentioned in discussion of Afghanistan...

He goes on for a bit about the political reasons behind our involvement in Afghanistan, and then concludes...

Among the many parallels being offered between Afghanistan and the Vietnam War, one of the most disturbing concerns inadequate examination of core assumptions. The Johnson administration was just as meticulous as the Obama administration is being in examining counterinsurgent strategies and the forces required to execute them. But most American discourse about Vietnam in the early and mid-1960s took for granted the key -- and flawed -- assumptions underlying the whole effort: that a loss of Vietnam would mean that other Asian countries would fall like dominoes to communism, and that a retreat from the commitment to Vietnam would gravely harm U.S. credibility.

The Obama administration and other participants in the debate about expanding the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan can still avoid comparable error. But this would require not merely invoking Sept. 11 and taking for granted that a haven in Afghanistan would mean the difference between repeating and not repeating that horror. It would instead mean presenting a convincing case about how such a haven would significantly increase the terrorist danger to the United States. That case has not yet been made.

If anything, Nancy Pelosi should have done more to hold President Obama accountable for his plans in the Afghan war. Nevertheless, she deserves praise for standing up to the president in the fashion that she has done.

Some Unsophisticated Thoughts on Rod Blagojevich

From the annals of Facebook, of course...

According to the tapes played at the Rod Blagojevich trial, when Blago tried to extract a bribe from the Obama administration in return for letting them decide who he would appoint to the Senate, they replied that if he chose who they wanted, he would only receive their "appreciation". Blago's response:

"Give this motherfucker his senator... for nothing? Fuck him!"

No, good for him... and fuck YOU, Blago!

Kirk Harlan
The fact that he's gaining success in television now enrages me. The American people should utterly ostracize him in every way. Chain a boulder to his neck and send him into exile.

Matthew Rozsa
Another comment that ex-Governor Blagojevich made in private (and was recorded on tapes from his wiretapped phone calls) refers to his frustration at not making more money because of his gubernatorial duties:

"I'm stuck. The whole world is passing me by and I'm stuck in the job of governor."
Stuck in the job of governor? STUCK in the job of governor?!?! Quite seriously, it is one of my career dreams to become governor (either of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, depending on where I wind up residing). I would JUMP at the chance to achieve meaningful and lasting progressive change in one of the two states I call home. And this SOB considers himself to be STUCK in that job?

Matthew Rozsa
Rod Blagojevich reminds me of another ex-governor who was frustrated with the lack of money-making opportunities in the job.

I refer, of course, to Sarah Palin. From "The Huffington Post":

"The former fiance of Gov. Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter says he thinks he knows why the Alaska governor is resigning - concerns over money.

Levi Johnston, 19, whose wedding to Bristol Palin was called off earlier this year, says he believes the governor is resigning over personal finances.

Johnston says he lived with the Palin family from early December to the second week in January. He claims he heard the governor several times say how nice it would be to take advantage of the lucrative deals that were being offered, including a reality show and a book."

While I wouldn't say that Sarah Palin is more honest than Rod Blagojevich (see Mike Wooten, Bridge to Nowhere, or Palin and cronyism), she is - I can't believe I'm writing (this) - smarter than him. At least she had the common sense to figure out that if you want to make more money and being governor is hindering that goal, one easy solution is to just RESIGN.

Granted, this decision may interfere with her presidential aspirations in 2012 (assuming she has any), which would detract somewhat from the wisdom of the move, but even then she would still be a couple of notches higher than Blago.

Kirk Harlan
I am now day dreaming of them both in the Thunderdome. Regardless of who wins, nothing of value will be lost.

Matthew Rozsa
Now that last comment was beyond the pale, Kirk. Even creators of savage steel-cage jousting arenas have standards. They deserve more credit than that!
My anger at Rod Blagojevich aside, though, I am genuinely proud to say that I vote for a man who turned down a bribe. It may not seem like much (indeed, one could argue that this sort of thing should be taken for granted), but the reality is that it says a lot about Obama's character that he never even considered a deal with Blago.
The wretch, concentrated all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.

- Sir Walter Scott

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Always pay attention when you're driving a car (but it's okay to burst into song when you're on a ship)

Pretend that the year is 1914. Your name is Franz Urban, and you are the personal driver for Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It's not a bad job, if you may say so yourself. Your proximity to the Archduke and his family allows you to have a taste of what it's like to be royalty; you can gloat to your friends that you are an exceptionally important person, since some of the most powerful people in the world are rendered helpless unless you're there to drive them where they need to be (for this, you can thank your mastery of one of those newfangled "automobile" thingies); you get to travel the world whenever the Archduke goes abroad with the rest of his entourage, eating its finest food and seeing its most spectacular sites free of charge; and heck, the pay ain't too shabby either. Sure, you may not own a salt mine or hobnob with the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, but your needs are met and your wants are reasonably accommodated. All in all, life is good.
There is a catch, though. Because your boss is a member of the Habsburg aristocracy - and because the head of that royal family, Emperor Franz Joseph, runs the Austro-Hungarian Empire with an iron fist, keeping himself in power by forcing his multi-national subjects to involuntarily live under his regime and brutally crushing all separatist movements who stand in his way - there is always the chance that someone will try to (*ahem*) kill him.
It's a shame, really, that Franz Ferdinand has been dragged into all of this, considering that he actually disagrees with his great-grandfather's repressive policies and has been an outspoken advocate of granting greater autonomy to each of the empire's many ethnic groups. Still, at the end of the day, he remains a loyal member of the noble family into which he was born. As such, he is associated with the totalitarianism of the Emperor, which means there will always be people who want him dead. That's why your job contains, among its many responsibilities, the instruction that you keep your eyes peeled for potential threats.
When June 28, 1914 rolls around, you have this aspect of your mission in mind as you watch the angry mobs line your employer's motorcade while you drive through the Serbian capital of Sarajevo. You glance furtively at both sides of the street, seeing the angry faces being held back by police officers and trying to discern whether any of them are carrying more with them than a mere burning hatred of the Habsburgs. Things appear to be okay...
With a reflex so automatic that you surprise even yourself, you pull off a nifty evasive maneuver with your car, causing the grenade that has been thrown at it to bounce harmlessly off the back of the trunk (it does land on another car and explode there, killing two of its passengers, but that isn't your fault). Your instincts kick in and you quickly speed away from the scene. As the adrenaline rushes through your veins, you are vaguely aware of the Archduke shouting "So you welcome your guests with bombs!" at the crowds, who can hear him because the top of your car is down. Fortunately, you speed away before anyone else can react, and look behind you to make sure that the Archduke is safe. Once this has been confirmed, you settle down. There is other chattering going on in the backseat that you ignore.
You have just changed the course of world history. Although you know that your actions have saved the Archduke's life, what you don't realize is that - if the assassination attempt had succeeded - his murder would have triggered a massive world war; that that world war would have ultimately taken fifteen million lives, caused the downfall of two powerful empires (the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire), contributed to the overthrow of the Russian czars and the rise of the Soviet Union as the world's first Communist superpower, and even helped spread a worldwide influenza epidemic (which killed another fifty million people); that after the war, the three remaining world powers - Great Britain, France, and America - would meet in Versailles to negotiate a peace treaty, and that while the American president, Woodrow Wilson, would attempt to create a liberal new world order (based on mercy toward the defeated countries, peace and mutual respect among all nations from that day forward, and the spreading of democracy wherever possible), his idealism would cause the other two world leaders (David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau) to make him into their bitch, divide the world up between themselves, and impose humiliating and costly punishments on Germany and the other losing countries; that one consequence of these decisions would be the downfall of Woodrow Wilson and his replacement with three consecutive right-wing presidents who, among other things, would do nothing as Wall Street engaged in irresponsible practices that caused a decade of dizzying prosperity followed by a worldwide depression; that another consequence of these decisions would be the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany; and that this in turn would cause a second world war, killing between fifty and seventy million people (not including the eleven million slaughtered in the Holocaust, more than half of them Jews), ending the reign of the old European empires and replacing them with America and the Soviet Union, and unleashing the atomic bomb and the horrors of potential global annihilation upon humanity.
And that's just what would have happened before 1945.
But you don't know any of that. What you do know is that your bad-ass automotive maneuverings just saved the Archduke's life. It's a good thing he had a sharp tack like you at the wheel, an individual who is always alert, always aware of your surroundings, always paying attention. A medal may be in your future. You're fantasizing about the parades that will be held in your honor, the newspaper headlines brandishing your name, the pay raise you will no doubt receive...
You are rudely snapped out of your reverie. It seems that the chattering in the back of the car had been directed at you. The voice you now hear is that of General Oskar Potiorek, whose invitation had brought the Archduke to Sarajevo in the first place. General Potiorek is red-faced with anger; the Archduke doesn't notice any of this, since he is too busy worrying to his wife about the fate of the passengers in the car that did blow up.
"What the hell are you doing? I told you to switch routes! Our original route was published in all the newspapers, so we need to take a different one in case other assassins are waiting for us along the way!"
"Sorry about that," you say as you slow down the car and begin to back up.
"You need to listen!"
"You're right. I'm very sorry."
"Don't be sorry! Just get us out of here!"
"Hey, you know, you could be a little more appreciative of the fact that I just saved your life."
"I'd be more appreciative if you would just pay attention."
That does it.
"Hey, it's the fact that I was paying attention that saved our lives in the first place! Besides, do you really think that some assassin is waiting at this random cafe on this random corner on the off-chance that we happen to stop at this specific part of the road to do a K-turn..."
You are cut off by the sound of bullets being fired at the Archduke from five feet away, ripping away a chunk of his neck.
Apparently that guy who threw a grenade at the car had two accomplices, one of whom (19-year-old Gavrilo Princip) really did "just so happen" his way over to that particular cafe after the failed assassination attempt, where his embarrassment at having failed (and fear of being caught) was suddenly obliterated by his unexpected stroke of good luck.
Well, it was good luck for him. It proved to be bad luck for you. And really, really shitty luck for the rest of humanity.
See what happens when you stop paying attention?
Of course, not all distractions have catastrophic consequences. Seventy years before these events – on February 28, 1844, to be exact –a young American man named William Waller decided, while partying on a boat called the USS Princeton, to impress his father-in-law by spontaneously bursting into song (history hasn’t recorded how much alcohol he consumed prior to making this decision). While we don’t know whether Waller’s musical display made the impression he was hoping for on his wife’s old man, it did catch his attention. This proved fortunate for both of them; right as William Waller reached the lyric in his song about how “Eight hundred men lay slain…”, the cannon on the ship’s deck – the one which Waller’s father-in-law had been about to walk upstairs to see before being unexpectedly detained by his daughter's beau– accidentally exploded, killing more than half a dozen men. Had it not been for Waller’s melodic outburst, there is little doubt that the man for whom he was showboating would have been among the dead.
That man, incidentally, was President John Tyler, and had he been among the cannon’s fatalities that afternoon, it would have been the second time in less than three years that an American president had died in office; Tyler, having no vice president of his own (the 25th Amendment wouldn’t be passed for more than a century), would have been replaced by the Senate's president pro tempore, Willie P. Mangum; the defining mission of Tyler’s late presidency, to annex Texas into the Union, would have been abandoned my Mangum, who opposed that measure; because Mangum was a loyal Whig and a close ally of his party's powerful and ambitious leader, Senator Henry Clay, Mangum would have used his one-year presidency to enact the sweeping legislative program that Clay had been pushing for decades; this would have helped Henry Clay defeat James Polk in the 1844 presidential election, which he had lost in the "Tyler-had-lived" universe by an extremely close margin; Clay, unlike Polk, would not have waged a war of conquest against Mexico, which means we never would have acquired the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, as well as large parts of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico; the controversy over whether to permit slavery in the territories wouldn’t have occurred, thus postponing the Civil War by at least a decade; the famed 'Wild West' never would have existed; Texas would still be an independent republic to this day, with citizens probably even more obnoxious than they are now; our country would be smaller by more than 550,000 square miles; and, worst of all, with no state of California to produce hit movie franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, our country’s massive population of nerds– lacking any retreat in the world of fiction from their pasty virginal existences – would be roving the streets in vicious gangs, burglarizing pharmacies for comic books and acne cream and cursing the name of Hayden Christensen for reasons they wouldn’t fully understand.
Oh, and Mexico, because of its vastly greater size and access to bountiful petroleum reserves, would be an economic and military superpower, so much that they would be ranting incessantly about the need to build electric fences to keep those pesky Americans from illegally hopping the border.
In short, the moral of these stories is this: Always pay attention when you’re driving a car, but it's okay to burst into song when you're on a ship.