Free Markets, Free People

Culture

The Religion of Peace II

The US Army has disinvited a Christian evangelist from attending a National Day of Prayer event, because in a recent interview, he referred to Islam as a violent religion.

Clearly, he was unaware of the official designation “Religion of Peace”.

I guess he got all confused by all the beheadings, honor killings, and flying airliners into buildings and whatnot, to properly understand that these acts have no relevance to Islam at all.

And, clearly, he fails to understand how revealing the actions of Eric Rudolph are, vis a vis the fundamentally violent underpinnings of the Religious Right.

One must, after all, learn the approved lessons, and mouth the accepted pieties. And by “one”, of course, I mean “certain people”. I mean, we can hardly expect the same rules to apply to everyone.

Buy this book

And no, I wasn’t asked to put this up. In fact, I knew nothing about this book until I literally discovered it all on my own from a random link referral. The author has no inkling this is coming. Or that I know about the book.  However, having read McPhillips for years, I’m sure that it is an excellent read.

Congrats, McP.  I look forward to reading it.

~McQ

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Krugman needs to get out more

I’ve seen Paul Krugman write some pretty dumb things over the intervening years.  Jon Henke used to take particular delight in pointing them out in the earlier days of QandO.  But I have to admit I’ve never seen anything quite as clueless as this statement by the man:

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

Hey Paul, they made a whole movie about assassinating Bush.  They even wrote about it in the New York Times.  We even had a Nobel peace laureate, Betty Williams, weigh in on the “love”:

“I have a very hard time with this word ‘non-violence’, because I don’t believe that I am non-violent,” said Ms Williams, 64.

“Right now, I would love to kill George Bush.” Her young audience at the Brisbane City Hall clapped and cheered.

Most excellent, right Paul? Nothing at all menacing about that and it certainly doesn’t at all appeal to violence (well unless you think the act of “killing” is somehow a non-violent act).

And, as Greg Polowitz suggests, google “kill George Bush” and be properly chastized.

Not that I actually expect Krugman to do so – it would take an effort and, of course, it would puncture his narrative like nothing before.  But just for grins, why not make a short pictoral trip down memory lane that clueless Krugman could have made had he at all cared about the accuracy of his claims.

For instance, here’s a favorite of mine:

Straight, to the point, and with an option I’m sure some would have hoped law enforcement might have availed themselves. Of course the crowds last weekend were just littered with signs like that, weren’t they?

No? Well how about this one?

A bit rambling and long.  You have to go all the way to the third line to find the “Kill Bush” sentiment.  At least he refrained from spelling out the “F bomb”.  I suppose that’s more Joe Biden’s territory anyway.  So again, were these the type of things to be seen in the crowd on Sunday?

No again?  This then?

A little more subtle than the others.  That “nuance” liberals love I guess.  So is this more like what has Krugman saw or heard about?

Or did it have more to do with urban legends that he and the left have chosen to believe (even while the vast majority of the supposed incidents seem to have no foundation in fact or require true super human feats of strength – such a chucking a rock through a window 30 stories above the street)?

Oh, I know why Krugman doesn’t remember any of this – you see, this was when dissent was the highest form of patriotism.

Apparently, that’s not the case anymore.

~McQ

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Fess Parker 1924-2010

I’m not a big follower of celebrities and frankly don’t really care about most of them.  But Fess Parker is an exception.  Mostly because he was my first hero as a kid.  He was Davey Crockett.  And Davy Crockett was someone to emulate and admire.  And, like Andrew Malcolm who writes a great tribute to Parker, I was a coonskin cap kid and even sang the Ballad of Davey Crockett (“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee ….”) at a school function in the first grade – coonskin cap and all.

As a self-confessed coonskin-cap-wearer (tail snapped on), we momentarily set aside our health-threatening talk about healthcare to fulfill a sentimental obligation to a childhood icon, Davy Crockett.

Crockett, who also used the non-cinematic name of Fess Parker, died of natural causes Thursday at the age of 85.

The problem for many of us is that we cannot separate Davy and Fess or vice versa. Nor, frankly, do we want to. Sure, Fess went on to a successful business career and grew grapes and hotels. But he’ll always also be Davy. The link to politics here is that Davy actually served time in Congress, 1826-1835, back before the U.S. House of Representatives consisted of two partisan herds.

Yes, yes, the 6-foot-6 Parker later played Daniel Boone with the trademark hat. But for the first American generation to grow up with television, the fact was Parker looked and acted more like Davy Crockett than Davy Crockett himself.

Malcolm is exactly right – to an impressionable kid, Parker was Crockett and always will be. And he taught some pretty good lessons to us:

In the days before Bart Simpson became a reverse role model, Davy held that you always said what you meant, meant what you said and went down swinging for what you believed in. Twenty-first century corner-cutting deal-making was not actually an option.

Rest in peace, Davey Crockett, er, Fess Parker – this coonskin cap kid will miss you.

~McQ

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Tom Hanks should stick with film making

I’m not going to go on a rant about Tom Hanks recent remarks about why we fought the Japanese during WWII, but I do have a comment or two to make.  He said:

Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?

It is easy to make ignorant statements like that when you decide you need to make a political point. We see it everyday in the three-ring circus we call politics. Bending history to fit your ideological point of view is nothing new and there’s certainly nothing so special about Tom Hanks that he’s above such nonsense. But he ought to know better, especially after making this new HBO miniseries about the Pacific war.

My dad served in the Army for 36 years and was on Saipan, Leyte and Okinawa. Unlike Hanks, he actually fought the Japanese in some very tough battles – especially the last one. He never talked about it much when I was a kid, although when old friends would stop by at the posts where we were assigned, I’d hear some of the stories by getting myself in an unobserved position in the next room and quietly listening.

I don’t remember he or any of his friends ever reflecting the sort of attitude Hanks would have us to believe was prevalent then.  Sure, they referred to them as “Japs”, but not because they thought it was derrogatory or because they believed them to be “different”, but because, well, that’s what they were.  The story I remember most concerned Saipan.  As he told it, you could tell the memory had an effect on him.  He told about Japanese families – women, kids – jumping off a cliff to avoid capture (“Suicide cliff” in Saipan). You could tell he thought it was awful and it was clear in the telling that the memory was vivid.  They’d brought in Japanese speakers to try to talk the families out of jumping, but the indoctrination and the culture were so strong that they jumped anyway. 

If you want to “annihilate” someone, you don’t make that sort of effort to save them.  If you consider them as “different” in the way Hanks intimates, such things wouldn’t shake you as it obviously did my father and those he was with.

He said that the only Japanese captives they ever took were those who’d been either knocked unconscious before capture or were so badly wounded they couldn’t avoid it.  Certainly they were “different” in the sense that their honor and culture called upon them to do things American culture would never call on its soldiers to do, but that didn’t make them less than human to my father. He certainly wasn’t at all pleased with the way the Japanese treated prisoners of war and held a hell of grudge about that. But I got the impression that he considered the Japanese barbaric because of that, not less than human.  He held them responsible for that conduct because they were human beings.  And after the war, we shocked them with the most humane occupation imaginable and the rebuilding of their nation.

The reason my dad and hundreds of thousands of other Americans fought the Japanese wasn’t because they were “different” racially or believed in a different god.  Nor did they do it with the aim of “annihilating” them.  It was because the had attacked the United States, were the enemy and that enemy had to be defeated.  Period.  My father and his comrades would have fought the Germans with the same ferocity they fought the Japanese had they been in Europe.

Tom Hanks is a fine actor and an excellent film maker.  But he should stick with what he knows.  Deciding how those fighting the Japanese thought of  their enemy isn’t one of them.  Making a film about them doesn’t suddenly make him some sort of expert in that regard either.  And, pretending to know what motivates those of us who fight our enemies of today is just as mistaken.

~McQ

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Smearing The Religious

This is a favorite pastime of many on the left, and libertarians of all stripes. When in it’s the nature of busting biblethumpers’ chops, I get it. I mean, The Great Flying Spaghetti Monster? That’s just funny. As for those who simply question religion, well there is certainly a lot to question. I’m Catholic, a religion with plenty of black marks in its history, some of which rival (if not surpass) the Nazis in sheer disregard for human life and dignity. So, again, I get it. But sometimes the criticism and ribbing is nothing more than outright bigotry, designed to stoke popular hate against those who are religious.

The Huffington Post offers one of those latter critiques in a post entitled “American Family Association: Stone To Death Killer Whale Who Killed Trainer” about the tragedy at SeaWorld:

The American Family Association, a religious right group, is urging that Tillikum (Tilly), the killer whale that killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando, be put down, preferably by stoning. Citing Tilly’s history of violent altercations, the group is slamming SeaWorld for not listening to Scripture in how to deal with the animal:

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” (Exodus 21:28)

However, the group is going further and laying the blame for the trainer’s death directly at the feet of Chuck Thompson, the curator in charge of animal behavior, because, according to Scripture,

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn’t kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, “the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:29)

SeaWorld has no plans to execute Tilly.

If you read nothing else other than the HuffPo piece, then the post’s title and implications make perfect sense. However, if you read the actual post being ridiculed by HuffPo, you may have a different opinion:

Now there are all kinds of theories as to why the “killer whale” did what it did, to include one which says it was just playing.

That could be, but whatever the reason it was an animal acting like it should. It kills things and eats them. It doesn’t moralize about what is or isn’t “good” or “evil”. It does what it is hard wired to do without thinking about it and certainly without concerning itself with the consequences. It certainly isn’t unreasonable to expect such an animal to act like it should.

Hmmm … actually, no. That wasn’t from The American Family Association, but instead from our very own Bruce McQuain. Here’s the AFA:

According to the Orlando Sentinel, “SeaWorld Orlando has always know that Tillikum…could be a particularly dangerous killer whale…because of his ominous history.”

The Sentinel then recounts that Tilly, as he was affectionately known, had killed a trainer back in 1991 in front of spectators at a now defunct aquarium in Victoria, British Columbia.

Then in 1999 he killed a man who sneaked into SeaWorld to swim with the whales and was found the next morning draped dead across Tilly’s back. His body had been bit and the killer whale had torn off his swimming trunks after he had died.

What about the term “killer whale” do SeaWorld officials not understand?

You see the difference? McQ honed in with that laser-like focus that only Army Rangers possess on the most salient fact of the matter, i.e. that this was a wild animal known as a killer whale, while the AFA chose the lesser fact of … oh right, the same thing. So, now you know: McQ is a biblethumpin’ m’OH-ron.

To be fair to HuffPo, the AFA did cite scriptures as guidance for how people should live their lives when everybody knows they’re just for displaying on placards at football games. How silly to think that religious people who believe in the same things as the AFA would look to the word of God as having some wisdom that might imparted.

But it’s worse than that. Whether or not you agree with the religious aspect of the advice offered by the AFA, the actual Bible quotes cited in the ridiculed post weren’t referenced as literal commands to action, contrary to what HuffPo would have you believe. Instead, they were cited as guidance (there’s that word again) in how people should live their lives:

If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum would have been put out of everyone’s misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives.

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” (Exodus 21:28)

So, your animal kills somebody, your moral responsibility is to put that animal to death. You have no moral culpability in the death, because you didn’t know the animal was going to go postal on somebody.

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn’t kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, “the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:29)

If I were the family of Dawn Brancheau, I’d sue the pants off SeaWorld for allowing this killer whale to kill again after they were well aware of its violent history.

I’ve highlighted that last sentence because, in complete contrast to what HuffPo would have you believe, the AFA author never demanded, nor even suggested, that the killer whale or anyone else should be stoned. Instead, he suggested that the aggrieved party should sue through the civil system — and he’s right. There’s a doctrine known as the “one bite rule” which, while not exactly what people think it is, does pertain to domesticated wild animals in certain situations. And, in fact, the legal underpinnings hue quite closely to what the Bible scriptures say as far as assigning guilt is concerned:

Restatement [of Torts] § 519 states the general principle for liability, and § 520 provides several evaluative factors. Section 519 provides for strict liability for one “who carries on an abnormally dangerous activity” causing harm to persons or property even if he “has exercised the utmost care to prevent the harm.” Section 520 suggests evaluative factors to assist in determining if an activity should be termed abnormally dangerous, and includes (1) the degree of risk of harm; (2) the magnitude of that harm; (3) the inevitability of some risk irrespective of precautionary measures that might be taken; (4) the ordinary or unusual nature of the activity; and (5) the activity’s value to the community in comparison to the risk of harm created by its presence.

In short, when a known dangerous animal is mixed with humans in that animal’s natural environment, there is a pretty good chance that the owner of that animal will bear blame for any harm that befalls another party, without any excuse (that is, with “strict liability”).

Of course, I don’t mean to say that the tragic death of the animal trainer was unequivocally the fault of SeaWorld or anyone else. There are plenty of legal doctrines (“assumption of risk” comes to mind) that could exonerate the owners of Tilly, despite the Restatement of Torts passage above. The point is that what the AFA suggests — that the animal should have been put down after it demonstrated it was not entirely domesticable — using scriptures as its guidance, shouldn’t strike anyone as particularly strange or outlandish. The common law quite agrees with that verdict. Indeed, if evidence were produced that the slain trainer was never made aware of Tilly’s violent tendencies, then the common law might very well find that SeaWorld is legally culpable for the death to the tune of several millions of dollars.

Getting back to the point, what the AFA argues is not that anyone (other than the killer whale) should be put to death, but that Biblical scriptures provide common-sense guidance (again with that word!) as to how to peaceably conduct ourselves as a community of mankind; the emphasis being on “common sense.” No one other than HuffPo claims that stoning is the appropriate penalty, or that the owners of Tilly should be killed, contrary to what HuffPo would have you believe. At most, the AFA author contends that SeaWorld should have used the Bible’s counsel when it comes to protecting human life from wild animal aggression, and that the victim’s family should avail itself of the civil court system for SeaWorld’s failure to do so. One can disagree with that presumption, but it’s pretty difficult to argue that anyone other than SeaWorld (or whomever) would have been better off for not disposing of the killer whale after the first death. Whether anyone is guilty in the eyes of God for that failure is not for us to decide, but it’s certainly not delusional to think that a mortal judge may arrive at such a decision.

Whatever problems one might have with religion, I just don’t see the utility in deriding people of faith for suggesting that their tenets have practical advice to offer. That goes double for harangues that have no basis in reality. With just a little bit of investigation, one would find that most religious texts offer an enormous amount of practical advice of the type that even the non-religious take for granted. There’s lots of goofy stuff in there as well, including prescriptions that shouldn’t be taken literally in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean the principles aren’t sound. When someone of a religious persuasion offers advice pertaining to those common-sense principles, and counsels adherence to those principles, then no fair critic would claim that such person is instead calling for a literal interpretation of ancient penalties. But then, HuffPo isn’t striving for fairness, but for bigotry.

Predators being predators

Or in the case of the orca at SeaWorld, dolphins being dolphins.

I guess I’m always surprised at the surprise generated by a predator in captivity still acting like a predator.  The death of the trainer at SeaWorld while tragic certainly didn’t surprise me.  Here, read this:

Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. They feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches (ten centimeters) long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.

Now there are all kinds of theories as to why the “killer whale” did what it did, to include one which says it was just playing.

That could be, but whatever the reason it was an animal acting like it should. It kills things and eats them. It doesn’t moralize about what is or isn’t “good” or “evil”. It does what it is hard wired to do without thinking about it and certainly without concerning itself with the consequences. It certainly isn’t unreasonable to expect such an animal to act like it should.

Putting a 12,000 pound predatory mammal in a small tank and expecting it to be civilized, entertaining and safe because you’ve given it some training and feed it is what is unreasonable. While I regret the trainer’s death, I don’t blame the orca. And I have a sneaking suspicion the trainer wouldn’t either.

Which brings us to this:

Tilikum, nicknamed “Tilly,” is valuable to SeaWorld as a breeder and already has fathered several offspring, says dolphin-trainer-turned-activist Russ Rector of Fort Lauderdale.

“Tilikum is a monster. This is his third killing,” Rector says.

No Tilikum isn’t a monster. That’s a moral accusation that has no basis in reality.  If Tilikum was in the wild, he might be on his 3,000th killing.  And not a single one of the killings would have anything to do with morality.  Tilikum is a predator – and predators acting like predators aren’t doing anything immoral. They’re just doing what comes naturally.

~McQ

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Are We Needlessly Scaring Ourselves To Death?

I think we many times become overwrought about things without ever really taking the time to put the threat into perspective. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight throws some numbers out there for us to consider as we assess the latest terrorist attempt. Taking the decade of October 1999 to September 2009 (stats for this month and others following September are not available yet) and even including the 9/11 attacks (TSA didn’t appear until after those) there have been six terrorist acts or attempted terrorist acts involving aircraft. Silver breaks down the numbers:

Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.

These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown.

Wow. Not a huge threat. I take many more chances with my life in Atlanta traffic every day. But, to put it in even better contrast, how about the old stand-by: How do my chances compare to being struck by lightning?

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

So in answer to the title is an unqualified “yes”. That’s not to say we shouldn’t maintain an awarness on flights of idiots like this last one and do precisely what the passengers did to thwart his attack. But then we know not to stand on a hilltop in a lightning storm wrapped in copper wire too. We take proper precautions, but we don’t obsess over it.

Given these stats and what we have to go through to fly now, I’d say we’re past the obsessive stage and into the downright parnoid stage.

We do this alot anymore. Maybe it is the proliferation of mass communication which seems to magnify the significance of the story without providing any context like Silver has. Guys like this latest wannabe bomber are not a great threat to us.

We average 50 commercial crashes a decade and have since the 1950s. Yet for all those decades we happily climbed on board understanding that our real chances of being in an airline crash were really very small.  And as you can see, given those numbers, your chances of being in a non-terrorist caused crash are significantly higher than those caused by terrorism. Yet it is the “terrorist” attack over which we obsess.

Life’s a risk. We know that and risk ours everyday. We do so because we know that in reality the risk we take is very low and not doing so would limit how we lived our lives to a very mundane and boring routine. We’d hate it. And we normally pride ourselves in understanding that we must take risks to live life to the fullest.

I can’t help but think that every attempted or failed attack like this one that drives the neurotic over-reaction that follows is considered a victory by our enemies. We need to quit enabling that.

~McQ

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Congress: Rent Seeker’s Delight

By that I mean the Congress of the United States.  It can find more ways and more reasons to reward rent seekers than perhaps any legislative body I know.  That’s probably because it has the largest budget of purloined confiscated taxed dollars in the world.  And even when it has none, it still manages to hand out borrowed dollars.  In fact, we’re now to the stage that it involves generational theft – running up a debt that will have to be paid back by those not even born yet.  Imagine emerging from the womb with about $38,000 in debt already hanging over your head.  That’s the current charge.  Of course there’s always next year, when, as you know, the fed plans on spending another trillion we don’t have.  So in the big scheme of things, this story may almost seem trivial.  But it is indicative of how “special interest” democracy rewards rent seekers and finds new ways to loot the economy that simply boggle the mind.

Call this one “too special to fail”:

The radio business has nothing to do with the plan to overhaul the nation’s system for regulating banks and other financial institutions.

Except, it turns out, in Congress.

One of most intriguing mysteries here in recent weeks is why members of the Congressional Black Caucus have chosen to buck their party and president in trying to stall financial regulation reform.

The answer lies at least in part with an aggressive lobbying campaign by a troubled New York City-based radio broadcasting company, Inner City Broadcasting, whose co-founder is a prominent New York politician and businessman, Percy Sutton.

In a rare break with President Obama, the caucus, made up of black members of Congress, is holding back support for the legislation because it wants the administration to help minority-owned businesses, including Inner City, whose financial plight has been specifically identified in meetings with top administration officials.

In a variation on “no justice, no peace”, the CBC has a new slogan: “No loot, no vote” (and trust me, they’re only one of many doing this all the time, from both sides of the isle, in Congress).

Inner City Broadcasting has enlisted the CBC to plead its special case. It apparently has a bad business model that has failed and it insists its specialness exempts it from the results of that – after all, it is a minority owned business, don’t you know.

And that means it wants an exemption from failure. The story:

Inner City Broadcasting, which owns 17 commercial stations nationwide and was co-founded in 1971 by Mr. Sutton, faces a possible financial collapse because of pressure by Goldman Sachs and GE Capital to repay nearly $230 million in debt, Pierre Sutton, his son, said in an interview Wednesday.

Inner City has been battered by declines in advertising, as have many stations around the country, which have experienced drops of 10 percent or more in the last year because of the recession and the move of advertisers to the Internet.

But the other stations don’t have a friendly caucus in Congress do they? And that caucus knows its party owes it some loot to remain on their side. Their refusal to vote for more financial regulation is simply a little exercise in reminding their party of that.

Members of the caucus asked the administration to squeeze lenders like GE Capital and Goldman Sachs to renegotiate their loans with Inner City and other black-owned radio stations, arguing that these financial institutions themselves had already received federal assistance. Some caucus members even pushed to include black-owned radio stations in the bailout.

“There is a lot of concern about Inner City Broadcasting,” said Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who set up one recent meeting with Mr. Geithner and Mr. Emanuel at the request of the Black Caucus.

Mr. Frank said the radio stations were only one issue raised by the caucus, and that others included financial difficulties faced by black-owned auto dealers, newspapers, banks and government contractors.

Yes, friends, it’s only fair. Extortion, influence peddling and payoffs (like 300 million for LA if a certain Democratic Senator votes for health care) are illegal everywhere but the US Congress where they’re business as usual — you know, the most ethical Congress ever?

And they wonder why they enjoy so little of the American people’s confidence and respect.

~McQ

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Life Lessons

Usually, the kind of story that’s roiling around Tiger Woods right now is not the kind of thing we comment on.  But it is instructive in some ways.

This is Tiger Woods’ wife.

Elin Nordegren

Elin Nordegren

The lesson is this:  As hard as it may be to believe, there is one unchangeable truth about relationships.  No matter how hot the girl is, no matter who she is…there’s a guy out there who’s tired of her sh*t.