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San Francisco family blues

Stories about government meddling and its unintended consequences are so prevalent and stark that they almost write themselves. That's what I thought just now reading about San Francisco's dwindling child population.

SAN FRANCISCO - Anne Bakstad and Ed Cohen are starting to feel as if their family of four is an endangered species in San Francisco.

A hard mistake

Scores of convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in New York have been getting Viagra paid by Medicaid for the last five years, the state's comptroller said Sunday.
Read more »

A casualty of a greater war

Bad news from Afghanistan: a female television personality has been murdered. Until being pressured out, Shaima Rezayee, 24, hosted an MTV-like show that upset religious conservatives. She showed music videos in a country where just a few years ago women were not allowed to hum on the street. She bantered with males in a country where such idle chatting is viewed with extreme suspicion. Read more »

The turning of the tide? We can only hope.

It's been my stated opinion since its unveiling that Daniel Libeskind's replacement WTC design is awful and shameful. The original buildings were some of the grandest products of humanity and if it were up to me they'd be rebuilt taller. Well, even though I'm not his biggest fan, Donald Trump now has eternal forgiveness from me for saying the same thing. Frankly, he and I agree that the new design is "a pile of crap" and should be scrapped immediately.

Local Radio Saga

I think an interesting history could be written for almost any major area through the lens of its radio stations. Which existed where (i.e. at which frequencies) and for how long, and how popular they were. For example, in the last 18 months or two years Atlanta has had an interesting mini-episode of this. Read more »

Whedefit Gesgeshi Woude Henate Ethiopia

Ethiopia's opposition free-market party is rejoicing after failing to gain a majority in Parliament. Reuters reports. They're rejoicing because their new constituencies are concentrated in the capital—they won twenty seats out of the twenty-three that cover Addis Ababa—and because despite losing they posted impressive results for an upstart opposition party. Read more »

North Korea f

Jonathan Wilde recently gave us an excellent link about life in North Korea. I think you can tell a lot about a culture by the architecture it produces. Manhattan and Hong Kong are both places where you go to make it. They love success.

The Glorious Beginning of the Orange Revolution

As documented on this site recently, the former Soviet bloc was host to a great many courageous acts in defiance of evil. Now comes the story of another great and courageous act. Read more »

China\'s Lost Culture

Starting in the summer of 1966 Mao Zedong, the leader of China's communist party launched what he termed "The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution." At that point communism had been China's form of government for about 17 years (starting in 1949). Chairman Mao was alarmed by what he saw as an increasing trend towards bureaucratization. Read more »

Three Economic Arguments Against Centrally-Planned Economies

Soviet economy, human scale

One argument against communism is the incentive problem: if people receive only according to their need, why work hard or do unpleasant jobs when they can do less and still receive the same benefits? Who will collect the garbage, and who will suffer through medical school? This argument certainly has merit, because in our everyday experience with other people (not to mention ourselves), we see that larger rewards motivate stronger effort. Read more »

Torture and Tyranny: The Real Che

Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!

Che Guevara, Killer

Many would-be revolutionaries consider Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the author of the above statement, a hero. Jean-Paul Sartre said "Che was the most complete human being of our age." Adoring stories abound, and books and movies portray Guevara as an enthusiastic and unwavering ally of the poor and downtrodden. His dashing image is held high at protests the world over, and proudly displayed on t-shirts, posters, and patches. More than any other image, this ikon is a visual symbol of global anti-capitalism.

The reality of Guevara's life and beliefs, to those who care to find out, is a surprising and stark contrast. Guevara was several things, all related: violent, brutal, authoritarian, Stalinist, militaristic. None of these meshes with the traditional iconic image, but all are much more true than Che-as-liberator.

He had passion, for sure. In his own words:

Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …

In the armed insurgency against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, Guevara's brutal ideology and its consequences reared its ugly head. Not only was he a vicious and effective opponent of Batista’s forces, he also implemented the death penalty for "informers, insubordinates, malingerers, and deserters" on his own side. Often he carried out these executions himself.

He also spread Stalinism in the insurgency. There were many insurgent factions, and these were often opposed to the communist faction, which had been part of the government several years prior and only joined the insurgency after a few years. While many world intellectuals were being duped about the nature of the Soviet system, others in Cuba were not. However, after their victory and Castro’s assumption of power, Guevara’s post as right-hand man insured that his element was triumphant.

Guevara was made a Cuban citizen (as he was originally from Argentina) and an official at the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, president of the National Bank of Cuba, and Minister of Industries. From these posts he directed Cuba’s transition to a Soviet-style economic system. In propaganda this meant creating the fair and efficient economy of the future; in practice this meant wholesale redirection of millions of lives, arrogance, and devastation. In “Notes on Man and Socialism” he wrote “to build communism, you must build new men as well as the new economic base.” Molding the Cuban people in accordance with his own Stalinist vision was his goal, and now he had the power to make whatever sacrifices of other peoples’ time, energy, and lives he thought necessary.

Individual tastes and talents could not be allowed to stand in the way of the revolution. Contrary opinions had to be silenced, and they were. Counterrevolutionary elements were put in “labor camps,” “re-educated,” or imprisoned without trial, many being executed. These were not merely agitators in the employ of robber barons. These were vagrants, drunks, idlers, homosexuals, Christians, poets, and many other classes, including “Cuban youth…who had to go into hiding to listen to [rock albums] which the Revolution, and [Guevara] and his cohorts, dubbed as ‘imperialist music’.”

When they were given trials, they were showy public farces. When those found guilty were executed, they were executed publicly by firing squad. Their friends and families were paraded in front of the bloody wall. Guevara is said to have signed between 500 and “several thousand” death warrants, though the exact number may never be known. His own count was about 2,500. When they were not given trials, they were bound, gagged, psychologically broken, and then perhaps shot. The number killed without death warrants is unknown.

In case any still existed outside the camps who opposed the regime, he helped set up a secret police force and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, another office for spying on and manipulating the Cuban population.

Not content with the blood he spilled on his adopted soil, Guevara criticized the USSR for not using its nuclear missiles during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he said he would have done if he had been in command.

No honest consideration of Ernesto “Che” Guevara could leave out his overriding ruthlessness. No humane protester could support his totalitarianism. No peace-loving global citizen could sympathize with his call to worldwide armed revolution. No cognizant young hipster should sport the visage of a man who would have imprisoned him.

Che might have been handsome and brave. But he was also a murderer and a tyrant.

It is long overdue: smash this idol, for the love of humanity.

Back to May Day 2005: A Day Of Remembrance

Power and Evil in Sin City

As a young teenager I enjoyed reading comic books, and though I slowed my consumption to zero for several years and have only really read one recently, I'll go on record and say that The Age of Apocalypse was one of the most badass episodes in the history of entertainment (Astonishing X-Men being the highlight). I've admired the character of Spider-Man, been awed by Batman, and recently gotten a kick out of The Air Pirates. I enjoyed both Spider-Man movies (Kirsten Dunst with red hair helped, I admit) and look forward to the Batman prequel.

One comic miniseries I enjoyed immensely was The Dark Knight Returns, a fantastic story created by Frank Miller. Here was a dark and gritty tale fitting for the character, and unlike previous Batman stories it was geared toward adults. This was not the beginning of the era of comics for adults, but it was one of the high points. Another of Frank Miller's babies was well received by adult comic book readers, well enough to have been turned into a movie, Sin City.

The movie, like the comic books, is not for children. Based as it is on several different comic stories all set in the same city, the movie has several barely-related storylines, but they all form part of the larger narrative of life in Basin City, elevation 700 feet. Most of its female characters are prostitutes, most of its male characters are killers or thugs of some kind. It is very dark and violent. But because of all the unsavoriness of the fictional Sin City and its inhabitants, it is very entertaining, and it even has an embedded lesson or two about power.

But before I get too far into discussion of the content, I should talk about the style. I enjoyed the look and feel of this movie quite a bit. It is mostly in black and white, with occasional bits of color. A pair of blue eyes here, a pair of red shoes there, rather like a twisted and evil Pleasantville. It is vaguely 30s-ish, with art deco influences and old cars, but with modern guns, explosives, and lingerie. This stylized portrayal is punctuated with two-tone comic book scenes, usually with the dual effect of increasing the fantasy feel of the scene and pleasing the movie rating people.[1] The acting is right on in the best instances and tolerable in the worst. The co-direction of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez sets the tone exactly as it should be. Read more »

14th Century Federalism

I'm currently reading Froissart's Chronicles, an interesting and often accurate account of the Hundred Years' War. There are several passages that may be worth noting on Catallarchy, but perhaps one of the most interesting features of the book is who is French and who is English, and who is both or neither. “France” refers to the area under the direct control of the king, the region referred to as Île-de-France. Read more »

Caesar\'s Bath

Jonathan Dingel passed me the baton. Like him, I don't normally like to get too personal on the blog, but I wouldn't stiff a comrade so here goes.

Behold, the Caesar’s Bath meme! List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over. To use the words of Caesar (from History of the World Part I), “Nice. Nice. Not thrilling . . . but nice.”