Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, October 28 Edition

Finishing James chapter 3 (from verse 13):
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Most of us, I'd guess, are familiar with a song called "Kum-ba-ya" (or "Kumbaya"). Before looking it up, I'd assumed it was of 1960s vintage, but it's a little older; it seems to go back to at least the 1920s or 30s. I don't like it, really: melodically tiresome and lyrically insipid, it always seemed to me like a dull waste of time.

Back around the time Emperor Bush II was kicking off Gulf War II, I noticed the title of the song becoming used as a sort of go-to insult by my former companions in political conservatism; if you argued that invading somebody else's country might not be the thing to do, you were apt to be accused of being a kum-ba-ya singer. (That happened to me, at least, lots of times.) But in the passage above, when I read James's description of the wisdom from above (pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy), it occurs to me that many, many war fans would likely suggest that "Kum-ba-ya" must have been a real favorite with James. Shamefully, the American evangelical "church" tends to be heavily infested with such folks; several have been my pastors during my long, weary trek of the last couple of decades.

I still don't like the song. But, please, give me the wisdom from above. Maybe it'll displace some of that other kind of wisdom, that I still have plenty of.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Truth in Government

Sometimes a little piece of truth pops out by accident. I think our lawfakers are experiencing some Freudian slips:
In a dramatic sign of Democrats' growing confidence that they have the votes to pass a far-reaching healthcare overhaul, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that the bill he intended to send to the Senate floor next month would include a "public option."

The provision would allow the federal government to create an insurance plan to be offered to Americans who do not get medical coverage through their employers -- with the proviso that states could opt out of the program.

"While the public option is not a silver bullet, I believe it's an important way to ensure competition and to level the playing field for patients with the insurance industry," Reid said during a Capitol news conference.
All right, we have our ammunition. Now, how about parts for the weapon?
And some senators, most notably Maine Republican Olympia J. Snowe, favored adding a "trigger" to the public option -- letting a government-run plan be offered several years down the road only if private insurers failed to meet cost and coverage targets.
Delightfully bipartisan -- Sen. Snowe has the trigger, and Sen. Reid brought the ammunition. As the commissars chatter on and on, as is their wont, about how they'll provide "competition" to keep those evil insurance companies honest, they've helped us keep in mind what government, ultimately, is: a gun. Force. Power. Compulsion. Cops, armies, guns, tasers, prisons, lethal-injection gurneys, electric chairs, waterboards, sound cannons, microwave projectors.

Everything you could want in a family doctor, no?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, October 21 Edition

James chapter 3, verses 1 through 12:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder, wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh.
This passage encourages me to be quite sparing in commenting upon it. It speaks for itself quite plainly anyway, I think. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that saying nothing is seldom a mistake, and even when it is a mistake, it's one that's easily corrected. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general, when you later decide that you really should have said something, you can usually still say it ("I love you" is the exception that comes immediately to mind here). But saying something when it would have been better not to is basically uncorrectable; you can apologize for what you said, but you can't really unsay it.

And I speak from sad experience.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

A Little Troop-Think

I'm not a big Supporter of The Troops. If you are, though, you might want to consider this. Suppose you're an American Troop in Afghanistan. Whatever your alleged mission might be, you might reasonably think your chances of accomplishing it and returning home in one piece would be enhanced by having more Troops as company, helping you, watching your back, and so on. So, what do you think when your great leader (or his chief minion) is saying this stuff:
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will not commit more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until he is convinced that the central government can be a credible and effective U.S. partner, a senior White House aide said Sunday.

But it was unclear whether Obama intends to accept the recommendation by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for thousands more American troops and other resources in the 8-year-struggle to stabilize Afghanistan.

The central question before Obama, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said, is "not how much troops you have, but whether in fact there's an Afghan partner."
Gee, that's interesting. We install a puppet, and then decide, close to a decade later, that he's maybe not such a good puppet. What's the Hopey-Changey Administration's response? Do they get rid of the celebrated Mayor of Kabul and install another collaborator? Do they decide to wash their hands of the whole business -- a bad investment, you see -- and pull The Troops out? Neither one. Instead, they say that they're not convinced that Puppet Karzai is worth propping up, so you stay there and keep on propping, while they express their displeasure by not sending you any help.

If that doesn't make much sense to you, well ... you're not alone. But actually, O Troop, it does make a certain kind of sense. It's a way of temporizing, based on your leaders' evaluation of the worth of your butt: slight. Near-negligible, in fact.

Meanwhile, a failed contender for the Emperorship is puzzled:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, who visited Kabul over the weekend, said Obama should wait until the election cloud has lifted.

"I don't see how President Obama can make a decision about the committing of our additional forces or even the further fulfillment of our mission that's here today without an adequate government in place or knowledge about what that government's going to be," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Well, Senator, I can help you there. If Obama were a decent human being, he could make his decision in a few milliseconds. He could decide that the "mission" is either nonexistent, or something that can't be truthfully defined without even the somnolent American public becoming upset. And he could decide to adjust the number of killer-Americans in Afghanistan by -N, where N is the number currently there. Then he could order the entire imperial stock of flying deathbots to be flown out over the Indian Ocean somewhere and crashed into the sea. Next, he could ...

Ah, never mind. If Obama were a decent person, he'd hardly be employing the likes of Rahm Emanuel. And the rest follows, as the night follows the day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hey! This Is a PROTECTED Operation!

I'm not here to suggest that there's any virtue associated with health-insurance corporations. My actual thought about them, I suppose, is that they're like any other corporate entity that exists to enrich stockholders: vacuum cleaners for cash, automata, basically existing below the level of personality and moral choice and so on. Machines. Be that as it may, though. Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that Big Health Insurance is thoroughly reprobate. Let's assume that they are the moral equivalent of a crack house, or a brothel, or a bookie parlor. That leaves the words of Our Glorious President and Nobel Laureate, as reported here, a little troublesome:
President Obama mounted a frontal assault on the insurance industry on Saturday, accusing it of airing “deceptive and dishonest ads” to derail his health care legislation and threatening to strip the industry of its longstanding exemption from federal anti-trust laws.

In unusually harsh terms, Mr. Obama cast insurance companies as obstacles to change interested only in preserving their own “profits and bonuses” and willing to “bend the truth or break it” to stop his drive to remake the nation’s health care system. The president used his weekly radio and Internet address to push back against industry assertions that legislation will drive up premiums.
Let's leave aside for the moment the hilarity of any successful big-time politico affecting to wax wroth against those who bend the truth, or break it. ("Hey, quit lying -- that's my job!") Let's think for a moment about the structure of the threat being made here.

When I was just a young engineer, back in high school, they taught me in Government class about antitrust. Antitrust, they said, was the height of civic virtue. It was the only thing keeping the top-hatted capitalists from taking our first and last pennies, enslaving us, and probably sleeping with our moms and sisters while they were at it. Inasmuch as I now know that at least 98% of what I was taught in Government class was pure, high-potency, weapons-grade crapola, I find myself skeptical about the benefits, the constitutionality (as if that mattered!), and the efficacy of antitrust. Again, though, let's agree to assume that antitrust is the real goods: our strong and solitary bulwark of defense against the malefactors of great wealth and their depredations.

Then: why does the Health Insurance Crackhouse & Massage Parlor have an exemption from Holy Antitrust? How did they get it? Did they, perhaps, at one time, purchase our noble lawfakers? If so, they must have continued to purchase all the subsequent ones; else, they'd have eliminated this criminal exemption long since.

And, more toward the immediate problem: why does Pres. Rainbow Brite not immediately strip those criminals of their shameful exemption? Why does he instead threaten to enforce the higher law of antitrust unless the criminals shut their mouths for his political benefit?

What is the difference between Prexy saying what he said, and any corrupt police chief reminding the proprietor of a local house of ill fame that, unless the protection money gets paid, there'll be a little trouble with the law?

I don't want to be misunderstood, now. There really is a difference between government and an ordinary organized-crime gang. Government enforcers usually have snappy uniforms to wear, and often have pretty lights atop their cars. Distinctions, you see, must be made. Distinctions are critical.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chuck's a-Talkin'

I have frequently claimed, in this space, to regard the two halves of the reigning American political duopoly as being equally ridiculous, and equally repugnant to free and decent people. And I haven't lied, either; I do so regard them. Normally, most of my heckling is directed at the knaves who can currently be regarded as "in power," I suppose because they're the ones who are mainly all up in my face, as the young folks might say. Right now, that would be the Donkey brand, and I've been pretty free with my disrespect. Until early this year, I had expended most of my fun-making on the Elephant variation (and Dubya, with his substance-addled faux-redneck speech and mannerisms, certainly made that both fun and easy). During the Clinton Donkey regime, they hadn't invented blogging yet, and I haunted a primitive arrangement known as "message boards" -- those of you who are near my age may remember them. Good fun, they were, from time to time.

So, anyway: with the Glorious Republic in the anticonstitutional mode in which it's operated since 1800 or so, those who squat in public office in general, and the presidency in particular, are there to be hooted at (or maybe farted at, depending on which way you're facing); and I enthusiastically include the current prexy, Rainbow Brite, in that group. Still, I abhor the immoral saying that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Sometimes, the person making fun of Mr. Obama is at least as much a horse's ass as Mr. Obama himself; and in the case of Mr. Charles Krauthammer, he's quite substantially worse. Today, Mr. Krauthammer staked his claim:
About the only thing more comical than Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize was the reaction of those who deemed the award "premature," as if the brilliance of Obama's foreign policy is so self-evident and its success so assured that if only the Norway Five had waited a few years, his Nobel worthiness would have been universally acknowledged.

To believe this, you have to be a dreamy adolescent (pre
ferably Scandinavian and a member of the Socialist International) or an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points. After all, this was precisely the spin on the president's various apology tours through Europe and the Middle East: National self-denigration -- excuse me, outreach and understanding -- is not meant to yield immediate results; it simply plants the seeds of good feeling from which foreign policy successes shall come.

Chauncey Gardiner could not have said it better. Well, at nine months, let's review.

What's come from Obama holding his tongue whil
e Iranian demonstrators were being shot and from his recognizing the legitimacy of a thug regime illegitimately returned to power in a fraudulent election? Iran cracks down even more mercilessly on the opposition and races ahead with its nuclear program.

What's come from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking human rights off the table on a visit to China and from Obama's shameful refusal to see the Dalai Lama (a postponement, we are told)? China hasn't moved an inch on North Korea, Iran or human rights. Indeed, it's pushing with Russia to dethrone the dollar as the world's r
eserve currency.
Hmmmm ... "an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points," eh? What, O Chuckie, did you drink during the reign of George the Slow? (Of course, perhaps you weren't a consumer -- you may have been writing the lies yourself, for all we know.) And just imagine, the Chinese working to dethrone the dollar as the world's reserve currency! The nerve! After all, the dollar's just as sound as ... as ... well, as sound as whatever it is that's behind it. You know, the "full faith and credit of the U.S. government." Kind of like the full faith and credit of Bernie Madoff, only not quite as good.

What's come from the new-respect-for-Muslims Cairo speech and the unprecedented pressure on Israel for a total settlement freeze? "The settlement push backfired," reports The Post, and Arab-Israeli peace prospects have "arguably regressed."
"Unprecedented pressure on Israel?" Good thing the Obamster didn't consider withholding the Izzies' $3B/year allowance (which, you may be very certain, he didn't); to Krauthammer, that would have been the New Holocaust.
And what's come from Obama's single most dramatic foreign policy stroke -- the sudden abrogation of missile defense arrangements with Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia had virulently opposed? For the East Europeans it was a crushing blow, a gratuitous restoration of Russian influence over a region that thought it had regained independence under American protection.
So opposition to foreign missile bases, installed right on your border, is "virulent?" Imagine the feces that would hit the fan if the Russians started installing missile bases in Tijuana and Toronto. I'm guessing it really would be virulent. Russia should definitely not show any concern for what goes on in Eastern Europe (that's next door to Russia, for those whose geography was learned in the government schools), because they never had a czar named Monroe-ski to write a famous Doctrine, I guess, as we did. And we contrast sinister Russian influence with cuddly American protection. That latter sounds oddly like a commodity traditionally sold by gangsters. Bad word choice, there, Chuck ... should've gone with "nurturing" or something like that.

No, Obama still merits ridicule ... but not just everyone is entitled to hand it out. Mr. Krauthammer's publishers should take note.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Word for Wednesday: October 14 Edition

James chapter 2, from verse 14 to the end:
What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works?
I interrupt almost immediately to add emphasis: " ... if a man says he has faith ...". To continue:
Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also is faith without works dead.
But wait -- isn't there a conflict here with Paul's writings, in Romans and elsewhere? Romans 2:19 - 28:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.
Well, of course, I don't think there's a real conflict, but I do think the texts need to be read carefully to avoid confusion. You could say that Paul is slighting works, and you could say that James is slighting faith. But, to be honest and complete, you'd have to note that both Paul and James are pretty specific about what kind of works, and what kind of faith, they disparage. James talks about a man who says he has faith (suggesting that the man is either dishonest of deluded, and in fact has no faith), and asks whether that (non-) faith can save him; the answer, unsurprisingly, is "no." About "works," he speaks generally, but particularizes by example. He doesn't use, as an example of no-works, a hypothetical man who doesn't keep kosher, or who labors on the sabbath; instead, he shows us someone who fails to meet his neighbor's basic practical needs, for food and clothing. Paul, on the other hand, almost exclusively writes the phrase "works of the Law" rather than "works." He has something particular in mind; and I'm thinking it's more the keep-kosher / keep-the-sabbath kind of thing.

Jesus said (Matthew 22:37 - 40):
And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
With Jesus having fulfilled the whole Law, I'm pretty sure that applying what He said here requires the faith that Paul was speaking of, and fulfills the works that James urged. At least, that's how I'm understanding things.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Oooooh, Dyn-o-mite!

Well, I see where Pres. Rainbow Brite has attained the world's ultimate participation ribbon: the Nobel Peace Prize For Not Being Dubya While Pursuing and Extending Every One of Dubya's Murderous Adventures.

In a way, I miss George the Slow. At least, when he was infesting the seat of imperial power, the Europeans didn't embarass themselves with some crap like this. I mean, Commander Flying Death Drone winning the Nobel Peace Prize? Why don't they go ahead and toss the physics prize to Dr. Gene Ray, World's Wisest Human, while they're at it?

Alfred Nobel is noted as the inventor of dynamite, and also as an armaments manufacturer. So, perhaps the Nobel Committee simply decides, every so often, to confer the big prize on the most profligate user of explosives and the associated paraphernalia. Still, you have to wonder: what would they have given the O-bomber if we had actually ceased our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and if we weren't flying automated terror strikes into Pakistan, and if we weren't issuing hamfisted threats against most of the rest of the world? The mind reels.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Word for Wednesday, October 7 Edition

James chapter 2, verses 1 through 13:
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes, and you say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
One thing that's always bothered me about the first part of this passage continues to do so. James says not to favor the rich over the poor, and I'm right with that, so far. But then he provides what seems to me an odd reason for that excellent advice: because the rich mistreat you. Are we supposed to be impartial because we have reason to dislike our mistreaters? That seems to me to be rather a worldly way to reason. I'll wait for my thinking to be corrected, as it no doubt will be, ultimately.

Later in the passage, James gets at the same idea that Paul does in his letter to the Galatians: that trust in our obedience to the law of Moses is the ultimate all-or-nothing, high-stakes, terrifying business. To transgress one law, any law, is to transgress them all. Perfection is required. If you can't meet that standard, better observe the law of liberty, and to specialize in showing mercy and forbearance. "Forgive us our trespasses," says Jesus, "as we forgive those who trespass against us." Amen and amen.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Which, as someone once said, translates into English as My God, how did we get into this mess? Here's how:
Poll: Strong majority back military action in Iran

October 6, 2009

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- A strong majority of Americans would support military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, according to a new poll.

Asked whether it was "more important" to "prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action" or to "avoid military conflict, even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons," 61 percent chose the first option, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The result included majorities of both political parties -- 71 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats -- as well as 66 percent of independents. Twenty-four percent said it was more important to "avoid military conflict."

The nationwide survey of 1,500 adults on both landline telephones and cell phones, taken from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Majorities also were in favor of direct negotiations with Iran and tougher sanctions, although they were not optimistic that either would work. Sixty-three percent said they would support direct negotiations, but only 22 percent thought they would be effective, while 78 percent favored sanctions with 32 percent thinking they would be successful. Partisan differences on those questions were minimal.
Never doubt it: we deserve every single thing we get. All of it. Every bit.

Tell Me Again ...

... about this "Constitution" you're always talking about? I'm having a tough time reconciling that talk to what actually goes on:
If you receive a free copy of the latest video game and post a positive review of that game on your personal blog without revealing that you got the game free of charge, you could be guilty of ad fraud, according to new guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission.

In June, the FTC confirmed that would review its advertising guidelines to determine whether blog posts should also be subject to its watchful eye.


The FTC shot down suggestions that these guidelines would stifle innovation on the Web.

"The commission disagrees with those who suggest that including in the guides examples based on these new media would interfere with the vibrancy of these new forms of communication, or that the commission should, instead, defer to industry self-regulation," the commission wrote. "The guides merely elucidate the commission's interpretation of [the FTC Act] but do not expand (or limit) its application to various forms of marketing."

"Self-regulation works best when backed up by a strong law enforcement presence," the FTC concluded.
Yeah, kind of like "freedom," which apparently works best when it's completely hypothetical. You have freedom! Don't you dare act like it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Friendly Advice, October 2 Edition

Dear Mr. Letterman,

Concerning your conjecture on married men's admiration of your life and conduct:

No, not really.

Best regards,

--- married men of the Chestnut Tree Cafe staff

Update: the Reuters link expired, making this post a little hard to understand. I was able to find the same quote in an ABC news story, and changed the link. I apologize in advance, in case this one also expires.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

No Three Ways About It

Debbie Harbeson, the Suburban Voluntaryist, does have a way with words:
When I first heard Clarksville’s Redevelopment Director Rick Dickman say that most restaurants would love to have a three-way, I though it had something to do with the publicity that comes from having people like Rick Pitino, um, hanging around. But then I realized it had to do with Indiana’s asinine alcohol laws.
It's about liquor licensing -- a very odd concept, when you think about it -- and it's both funny and perspicacious. Check it out.