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Yesterday, Anne and I swung by the San Jose Tea Party protest.  We didn’t have time to prepare anything, so we simply wandered around taking pictures and chatting with people.  I was fairly impressed with the turnout, considering that San Jose is a fairly liberal city in a very liberal state.  I know nothing about estimating crowd sizes, but the San Jose Mercury News reports the turnout at 1000.  (I’ve been told that the local talk radio station estimated 2000, but since they helped organize they’re likely to skew high.  So I’d guess somewhere in the middle.)  We don’t have a decent panoramic shot, but here’s a couple of the crowd:

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There were a lot of signs, ranging from the clearly home-made to the professionally printed.  The overall theme was, sadly, political, with objections to taxation, excessive government spending and rapidly increasing debt.  There was a lot of talk about what people were against, but much less about what people were for.  That’s a problem, which I’ll talk about a bit more towards the end of this post.

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Congress took some well-deserved hits for passing the so-called stimulus bill without actually reading it first.

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There were some people with a more positive message.  Nice to see a good word for capitalism.

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I didn’t see any giant puppets, but large revolutionary-era flags are always a winner.

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These guys probably win the award for “Longest Trip To The Protest”.  It must be scary to flee socialist oppression in one’s homeland only to witness the same thing rising in your new country, aided and abetted by people who should damn well know better.

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In spite of the attempts by the port side to present the Tea Party movement as a purely partisan affair, it isn’t.  George W. Bush and profligate Republicans took a fair amount of smacking right along with Obama and the Democrats.  There’s discontent brewing here, but it isn’t going to automatically turn into votes for the GOP on election day unless they take steps to earn them.

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Not everything was serious.  This guy wanted Obama to help him.  Well, sort of.

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Get a group of a thousand people together and there’s always going to be a few people who are off-message.

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(For those who don’t follow sports, the Sharks are San Jose’s NHL team.)

Speaking of folks who were off-message, we had a small group of left-wing counter-protesters show up.  Oddly enough, their focus was on amnesty for illegal aliens, which is just weird given that the Tea Party was about fiscal policy.  I don’t know if they were hoping to provoke a fight with the racist right-wingers who turned out for the Tea Party in their minds, or what, but the people I talked to were mostly bemused.  There was some back-and-forth chanting, but for the most part we ignored them.  This guy pretty much sums up my reaction.

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The Mercury News writes that:

the protest turned tense when a competing group of about 40 people began circling the tax protesters, banging drums, shouting epithets, screaming about immigrant rights and promoting anarchy. At one point, the smaller group stormed the stage of the tax protesters, and more than a dozen San Jose riot police separated the groups. Meanwhile, dozens more officers stood guard on mounted patrol, in police cars and on foot to maintain peace. No arrests were made.

I didn’t see the charge on the stage, but that does sound like the kind of behavior I expect from leftists.  There was a point later in the rally when the police were separating the lefties from the rest of us, but both groups were just standing there.

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The Tea Party people I spoke to were almost uniformly calm, friendly, smiling and open to discussion.  (I did chat with one hard-core religious nut who was, frankly, scary.  I’ve got an invitation to a class on Biblical Prophecy.  I won’t be going.)

Here’s me in black next to the woman with the pro-capitalism sign.  I want one of those tri-corn hats.

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There were a couple of other Objectivists around who had taken the time to put together signs.  Here they are in Q&A format.

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No literature, though.  I understand that the Golden Gate Objectivists had something a bit better prepared for the San Francisco Tea Party.

Overall impression: the people I saw and spoke to are very unhappy with where they see the country going, but they lack ideas to explain why the country is going that way.  Lots of outrage, little reasoning.  This is a serious problem, because ultimately it is ideas that drive cultural and political change.  If you can’t explain why you’re outraged, what would be a better alternative to the status quo, and why, you’re dead in the water.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that people are looking for the answers they need.  This suggests that bringing literature to these protests for free distribution should be a high priority for the next wave.  Literature at multiple levels of information density would be even better, ranging from simple one-page fliers at the low end, to pamphlets and article collections in the middle, all the way up to copies of Atlas Shrugged at the high end.  On this note the Ohio Objectivist Society did something brilliant, collecting together a number of excellent articles on aspects of the current crisis, its roots and Ayn Rand’s relevance to the solution into a reprint booklet called The Portable Objectivist.  (They also have a web version.  And yes, they got permission from the copyright holders — Objectivists respect property rights, and try to practice what we preach.)  Something I’m hoping will emerge from the various write-ups I’m seeing is a set of ‘best practices’ for working future protests.  There’s a learning curve here and we need to move up it, fast.

I was very pleased to read that a number of Objectivists spoke at various Tea Parties.  Rational Jenn had a short recorded video which was played before the 16,000 people at the Atlanta Tea Party.  Greg Perkins of Noodlefood was the kickoff speaker at the Boise Tea Party, and on short notice at that.  John Lewis gave a good speech focused on moral fundamentals at the Charlotte Tea Party, and there’s YouTube video of that that I can’t resist using to wrap things up.  More like this in Boston on the 4th of July, please.

Ok, I lied… there’s also a post-speech interview with Dr. Lewis, and I’m going to wrap up with that instead. He’s bang-on… we need a moral change if we’re going to get a sustainable political change. The American people are divided in spirit, and we send inconsistent signals to our elected officials — we want free stuff, but we don’t want to pay for it ourselves and we don’t want to go into debt for it either. Something there has to give, and if we want to avoid a total loss of freedom it had better be the desire for free stuff.

For many years, environmentalists have been criticizing Americans for consuming too much.  We were a wasteful “consumerist” society, and they wanted people to learn to live with less.  The Obama administration is clearly sympathetic to viro ideology — his appointments and the cap-and-trade provisions in his budget proposal make that clear.  But the administration is also telling us that the current economic crisis is caused in part by a lack of consumer spending — i.e. by people consuming less.  In other words, consuming less is simultaneously a moral imperative and is contributing to a practical disaster.

I sense inconsistency.   I wonder what Obama’s viro supporters think of the so-called stimulus package?

The good thing about automatic code generation is that it lets you easily generate thousands of source code files you can commit individually into your source code repository.

The bad thing about automatic code generation is that when it has a bug, it lets you generate thousands of buggy source code files you can commit individually into your source code repository.

The very bad thing about automatic code generation is that it doesn’t prevent hand-modifications of the committed individual source code files which prevent you from fixing the original bug in the generator and just replacing all the buggy source in one fell swoop.

The only good thing about this situation is that I didn’t write the generator in question.  Still… d’oh!

I like this.  People justly mock Republicans who lecture the rest of us on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values, then have marital affairs and solicit sex in public restrooms.  It’s well past time to mock Democrats who lecture the rest of us on cronyism and financial management problems, then obtain special “Friends of Angelo” mortgages and fail to pay their taxes.

Moral principles are universal, and apply equally to all people.  This business of applying one standard to government officials and another to everybody else is more like the relationship between feudal aristocrats and their serfs than anything that should exist in a free society.  At least they haven’t resurrected the droit de seigneur — so far, they’ve restricted themselves to screwing us economically.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya, President Obama commented that “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”  30 years ago, in 1979, the relationship between America and the Muslim world was dominated by the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  20 years ago, in 1989, it was the first Gulf War.  In other words, the “respect and partnership” that America had with the Muslim world 20 or 30 years ago was characterized by a virulent Islamic totalitarian movement waging a terror war against the United States, and a large-scale American invasion of Iraq.  Sounds familiar.  What exactly needs restoring, again?

Those ignorant of history…

Update: Sorry, brain fart.  The first Gulf War was, of course, in 1991 — not 1989 as I said above.  I think I conflated it with the fall of the Berlin Wall for some bizarre reason.  ‘Those ignorant of history’ apparently includes me.  Ok, so it was 18 years, not 20, and the irony only holds 50%.  Still, I think the basic point — that the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world over the last three decades has been a pretty consistently bloody and violent one — stands up.

Oftentimes people respond to a crisis by claiming that it could not have been foreseen.  (Government officials said this in the wake of 9/11, as one example.)  With regard to the housing crisis, I have an answer: Henry Hazlitt.  From his 1946 book Economics In One Lesson:

The case against government-guaranteed loans and mortgages to private businesses and persons is almost as strong as, though less obvious than, the case against direct government loans and mortgages [for homes]. … Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to ‘buy’ houses that they cannot really afford. They tend to eventually to bring about an oversupply of houses as compared with other things. They temporarily overstimulate building, raise the cost of building for everybody (including the buyers of the homes with the guaranteed mortgages), and may mislead the building industry into an eventually costly overexpansion. In brief, in the long run they do not increase overall national production but encourage malinvestment.

Over sixty years ago, and he nailed it.  What a shame nobody was listening.

Do government regulations covering the transportation of human body parts apply to sanctified communion wafers?  (Bonus question for the religious: Should they?)

People on the right like to point out the vile, anti-intellectual behavior of people on the left — with some justification.  But the right has its own dark side.  Recently, Nick Provenzo over at the Rule of Reason blog sparked a firestorm by defending a woman’s moral right to abort a Down’s Syndrome fetus, and boy howdy did the religionists let their inner thug out to play!  (For the record, I agree entirely with the thrust of Nick’s argument.  Some other relevant follow-up posts may be found here, here, here, here and here.  Nick has some follow-on thoughts on intellectual thuggery which are also worth reading, as is Diana Hsieh’s post on the same topic.)

Nick has done a wonderful job standing up to the resulting onslaught, and I’ve been remiss in not noting the fight and providing moral support.  So, Nick, well done.  Well done indeed.  I’ll be backing up my moral support with some financial support.

I have to wonder about people who are willing to support Barack Obama in spite of his thoroughly collectivist political ideas, but who would turn on him over something like this.  Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Every time I think American politics has hit rock-bottom, we start digging. 

The first time I found myself agreeing with former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, I joked that it was a sign of the impending apocalypse.  Now he’s gone and said something else sensible.

The third time is generally taken as a sign of enemy action.  If he does this again I’ll have to wonder if the GOP kidnapped his dog.