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Jul. 18 2010 — 4:39 pm | 252 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Plane Idiocy: The UK’s New Government Compares Cheap Travel To Drug Addiction

easyJet Boeing 737-300

The British government wants to limit the affordability of air travel.

I recently used this space to bemoan the British government’s War On Travel. Under the guise of environmentalism, the newly installed Tory government has undertaken a scheme to limit the mobility of its citizenry, by imposing punitive taxes on flying, and by limiting arrivals and departures. The new government has a particular ire for budget carriers like Ryanair, whose cheap flights have done much to level the traditionally stratified British class system. Like the Tory elitists they are, Britain’s new rulers, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, want to see to it that the working classes stay in their place. No more saucy weekends in Budapest – it’s back to blighted Brighton with them.

We’ve now reached a new nadir in the Tory reassertion of old-fashioned class superiority. The UK’s new government has taken to likening cheap flights and travel to drug addiction and alcohol abuse, and therefore working class travelers to junkies and boozers. In the UK, taking cheap flights to Spain, Estonia, and Portugal is now known as “binge flying.”

As the New York Times reported earlier this month, “The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions. Britons have become accustomed to easy, frequent flying — jetting off to weekend homes in Spain and bachelor parties in Prague — as England has become a hub for low-cost airlines.” This all in an effort to fight what the government spokespeople, without irony, call “binge flying.” It’s telling that flights on legacy (and hence more expensive) carriers like British Airways are not maligned as “binge” carriers. Rather, it’s the working man’s airlines that get that designation.

It’s a shrewd – if appalling – move on the part of the Tories to liken cheap travel to binge drinking and drugging. After all, it plays into widespread stereotypes in Britain regarding the working class and its alleged predilection for heavy drinking and drug taking. In the UK, young, white, working class people – known colloquially as yobs or chavs – are maligned as dangerous and decadent hedonists. Thus, they are subjected to increasing levels of supervision and surveillance, with booze bans, strict anti-smoking regulations, and other illiberal restrictions now the law of the land. By referring to travel as just another form of substance abuse, it becomes logical for the British government to take steps to limit it. Logical, if distasteful. Distasteful, if not outright disgusting.

I’ve long thought of England as the European equivalent of “Flyover Country,” just a dull expanse to pass over on the way to more interesting destinations, like France, Germany, Denmark, or the Netherlands. Apparently, now, that’s one thing that David Cameron and I agree on.

Jul. 17 2010 — 12:19 pm | 1,043 views | 0 recommendations | 20 comments

Sympathy For Mel Gibson

Penitents recreate the Passion of the Christ i...

Getting ready to strap Mel up there.

He endured public humiliation, ridicule, torture, and scorn. He was jeered, mocked, and savagely beaten. The blood-thirsty rabble, blind to its own flaws, heaped self-righteous reprobation upon him. His suffering and torment were made public, for the world to enjoy. The Passion of the Christ? No: the trials and tribulations of erstwhile movie star Mel Gibson.

Nobody deserves to have their private anguish broadcast publicly – least of all, private citizens. Gibson is just that; he is not a politician, his personal life should not concern us. But so long as his rantings and ravings have now made it into the public square, the situation does bear comment.

The Gibson tapes present the image of a man in profound emotional anguish. Disregard the profanity and the few (and indefensible) racial slurs, and you find a man who is genuinely suffering. Here is someone who feels his “life is being ruined,” that he gets no “support,” that he and his lover, Oksana Grigorieva, share no “spiritual ground.” He feels that that Grigorieva”doesn’t care for him” even now, when he is “having a hard time.” He worries about his young daughter, frets that Grigorieva is not being attentive to her needs. To be sure, Gibson comes off as relatively crazed in these tapes. But it’s the kind of crazed state that is familiar to many who have been in intense and grueling relationships. Love makes fools of us all, after all.

Prominent readings of the situation have been comically, preposterously bad. David Brooks of the New York Times ludicrously claimed that it was Gibson’s “narcissism” that led him to act the way he did. Yet, if anything, Gibson comes off as desperate for Grigorieva’s affection in the tapes. He craves her approval and support. This it not self-love manifesting itself; this is insecurity and neediness. If anything, Gibson appears to be suffering from a lack of self-love.

Meanwhile, here at True/Slant, Todd Essig, a psychologist, argued that “hatred” motivates Gibson’s behavior. But this is another incredibly wrong-headed reading of the situation. Gibson is not motivated by “hatred” here – he is motivated by a pathological need to be approved and loved by others. Far from “hatred,” and the hardened state that that implies, Gibson appears a needy, almost child-like figure.

The elite media’s sick celebration of this spectacle calls to mind another phrase associated with this fine actor: Payback. In 2004, when the Gibson-helmed Passion of the Christ was released, our cultural gatekeepers were shocked and appalled. Frank Rich devoted no fewer than four of his New York Times columns to the film. Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, said that Gibson deserved a “flogging,” and that the movie was “fascist.” The New Yorker said it was “one of the cruelest movies in the history of cinema.” All of this may be true – I have not seen the movie, but, from what I understand, its politics and aesthetics are truly despicable. It’s worth noting, however, that our cultural elite was appalled at Gibson’s treatment of the crucifixion insofar as it was hyper-violent and disgusting. But now they’re relishing the opportunity to crucify Mel, themselves.

Jul. 10 2010 — 5:28 pm | 358 views | 0 recommendations | 12 comments

Assisted Suicide, And The Lie Of The ‘Right To Die’

SOUTHFIELD, MI - MARCH 24:  Jack Kevorkian, 79...

Jack Kevorkian. He used his medical expertise to kill over one hundred people.

recently argued in this space that legalizing Doctor-assisted suicide based upon the claim that there is a “right to die” lacks logical rigor. (Leave the lack of ethical rigor aside for a moment.) As I put it, “Legalizing assisted suicide has the effect of bureaucratizing what would otherwise be a personal, private choice. In sum, rather than increase the scope of personal liberty, legalizing assisted suicide actually shrinks it.” All that remains true.  But the recent efforts of a doctor here in Portland to open an assisted suicide clinic bring to mind another way in the which the “right to die” argument is pure sophistry.

Even though suicide is technically illegal in many jurisdictions, there exists no way to enforce this law. If a person wants to kill himself, alas, he shall succeed. There is even a formal lobby that supports this so-called right: the Guardian has reported on an organization called the Hemlock Society, which supports peoples’ rights to shoot, poison, and stab themselves. Thus, the codification of a formal “right to die” hardly prescribes the way society operates: it merely describes it.

Assisted suicide laws do not, therefore, guarantee a right to die. Rather, they create a new right through legislation: the right of doctors to kill their patients. The only party whose rights are expanded by assisted suicide laws are those of physicians who wish to terminate their patients’ lives.

Given that American physicians are held to the Hippocratic Oath – that of, “Do No Harm,” – it is increasingly clear that Doctor-assisted suicide is philosophically and logically untenable. “Harm” is injury, and death is the gravest harm of all. Let’s euthanize assisted suicide laws before they do any more harm.

Jul. 8 2010 — 1:45 pm | 61 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Sullied Justice: Don’t Forget Andrew Sullivan’s Preferential Treatment

A photo of author and political commentator An...

Image via Wikipedia

Next week will mark the one year anniversary of the The Daily Dish’s Andrew Sullivan’s arrest in Massachusetts on a marijuana charge. In 2002, Eric Alterman correctly noted that, “Andrewsullivan.com sets a standard for narcissistic egocentricity that makes Henry Kissinger look like St. Francis of Assisi. Readers are informed, for instance, that Andy’s toilet recently overflowed; that he had a rollicking dinner chez Hitchens; that he might have seen Tina Brown across a hotel lobby, but he’s not sure; and that, in separate, apparently unrelated incidents, he had a nightmare and ate a bad tuna-fish sandwich that upset his tummy, requiring many “stomach evacuations.” Yet, despite Sullivan’s penchant for venting (quite literally) his spleen on his blog, he has, to my knowledge, said very little about his arrest. Perhaps this is because the manner in which the charges were dropped raises serious and disturbing questions about the way our justice system works.

The great Jonathan V. Last summed up the matter this way: “So Andrew Sullivan gets caught for possession on park service grounds. The penalty is a $125 fine. But because he’s Andrew Sullivan, the State quickly decides to drop the charges “in the interest of justice.” The interests of justice seem to be that this $125 fine would create a record which would hinder Sullivan’s immigration status.” This occasioned a brilliant memorandum from one Judge Collins, taking issue with the manner in which the case was dismissed. I would recommend you read the whole thing, which clearly articulates the unfairly preferential treatment that Sullivan received by virtue of his celebrity. As it happens, Last excerpted the key points, and characterized the issue as thus:

Sullivan and his attorney claim that paying the $125 fine would create a record of his being charged with possession of a controlled substance. Collings notes that whether or not Sullivan ever paid the fine, “if asked by immigration authorities, [he] would have to answer truthfully that he had been charged with a crime involving controlled substances.” So why would it matter whether or not Sullivan just pays the $125? Because if he doesn’t pay it, it makes it easier for him to answer untruthfully.

In other words, the State decided that it was in the interest of justice to help Andrew Sullivan lie to another agency of the State.

All of this goes to show that the concept of “equal protection under the law” was made a mockery of by Sullivan, his lawyer, and the state. Sullivan, himself a putative believer in the “rule of law,” used his clout to flout the law. For Americans who don’t appear regularly on Real Time With Bill Maher, things don’t always end so well. For example, 2000 young Californians were denied access to student loans because of marijuana charges in 2006 alone. Evidently, due to not their not being the authors of famous blogs, they were not able to see the charges dismissed.

In sum, this is a flagrant case of the privileged and powerful manipulating the justice system, and receiving treatment far more generous than Americans of modest means. As such, it should offend any self-proclaimed progressive. Astonishingly, this is a form of trans-national privilege as well: Sullivan is not even an American, yet he was treated with more deference than thousands of Americans are each year. Even those who support the legalization of marijuana must agree that this kind of unfair treatment under the law is quite disturbing.

Many expressed joy at Lindsay Lohan’s jail sentence earlier this week. Finally, the consensus was, a celebrity is being treated like a normal person! Yet before we celebrate this blow for egalitarianism, let’s not forget that, a mere year ago, Andrew Sullivan was “dished” some seriously preferential treatment.

Jul. 3 2010 — 12:37 pm | 260 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Senseless In Seattle: Washington Is America’s Most Regressive State

Mount Saint Helens, before May 18, 1980

Don't make Mount Saint Helens mad.

The place where I make my home, Portland, Oregon, sits directly across the Columbia River from the city of Vancouver, Washington. (Or, Worshington, as the natives pronounce it.) Each day, I half-expect a flotilla of Washington residents – on inflatable rafts, or perhaps even bathtubs – to come floating across from Washington to Oregon. They will be escaping from Washington State’s punitive and poverty-punishing tax codes. Indeed, they will be fleeing from what may convincingly be called America’s most regressive state.

This is not merely the rantings of an unabashed Oregon loyalist who only goes to Washington under extreme durress: take it from the Washingt0n (DC) – based Institute For Taxation and Economic Policy. According to a report put out by the think tank last year, Washington State’s tax system is the nation’s most regressive. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer characterized it, “People earning less than $20,000 annually pay 17.3 percent of family income toward sales and excise taxes and property taxes, the report said. People making between $99,000 and $198,000 each year pay 7.6 percent toward their tax bill. Meanwhill, people in the top 1 percent of earners – those making more than $537,000 a year – pay just 2.9 percent, the report said.”

A number of flagrantly regressive tax schemes account for this sorry state of affairs. Washington imposes no income taxes, so Seattle’s super-rich corporates class collects mass sums unmolested. It levies a sales tax of 8%, and in many counties, that number is far higher. (In King County, home of Seattle, the tax on prepared beverages and meals comes to 10%.) Sales tax burdens, of course, fall disproportionately on those with lower incomes.  And the state has now fallen in love with “sin taxes,” which punish people who like to eat candy and drink bottled water. Sin taxes’ regressive nature, of course, also sees to it that lower income people suffer the brunt of the punishment. The extra 25 cents on a pack of gum won’t cause Paul Allen much pain, but it will certainly hurt a Wal-Mart worker plugging along in Federal Way.

Sometime in the past few decades, Washington State garnered a reputation for “progressivism.”  Perhaps this is attributable to Washington’s Left Coast location, its rampant Seattle Boboism, or the fact that it spawned the band Sleater-Kinney. Progressives, of course, ostensibly support the interests of the working and lower-income classes. Yet no state in the union confiscates more money from poor people, while protecting the interests of the moneyed elite.

Tragically, this is a trend that is replicating itself nationwide. States dominated by liberals and Democrats – California, Illinois, La Belle Rhode Island - now levy some of the highest sales tax rates. In the current Oregon governor’s race, it is the Democrat who has proposed imposing a sales tax, and the Republican who has outright rejected the idea. (Oregon is one of five states with no sales tax.) If states across the country elect to punish the poor to balance their budgets, we will know that they looked to the Washington model for guidance. Like Nirvana two decades ago, Washington State will have spawned another noxious national trend.

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    About Me

    I'm a writer based in Portland, Oregon. My work has appeared in the Weekly Standard, the American Spectator, the New York Press, The Big Money, sp!Ked online, the Epoch Times, the Daily NK, and others. From 2005 to 2007, I wrote a column on culture and politics for the (alas, now defunct) Seattle-based Internationalist Magazine. In so doing, I filed dispatches from Berlin, Seoul, Paris, New York, and, yes, Reno - among other places. In 2009, I reported on business from Shanghai. I attended Reed College, in Portland, Oregon.

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