Last 2004 sunset . . .

Happy New Year everyone!

Here are two views of Higbee's Beach, on the West Coast of Cape May, New Jersey at sunset.


That's all for this year, and thanks for coming!

posted by Eric at 10:07 PM | Comments (4)

A few unoriginal, unnatural, and Undeclarational thoughts . . .

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's to think something that you think is a new, original thought only to discover that some equally original (in this case, more original) asshole has thought it first!

The other day, I was thinking along the lines of original intent behind the original intent of the original philosophy behind the original philosophy of the founders and VOILA! I thought I had an original thought!

Not a thought really; just a new word. It occurred to me while thinking about matters which go to the heart of the increasingly tired argument that the Declaration of Independence trumps the Constitution (or is allowed to rewrite it). According to this thinking, modernistic judges have so mangled the "original meaning" of the Constitution, (meaning not the words but the original "philosophy" of the Constitution, as expressed by the founders in the Declaration of Independence) that it is necessary to "save" the Constitution by rewriting it according to this "Original Philosophy." Contrary to what many might believe, this philosophy is not what was actually written in the Declaration, but rather, what certain phraseology, as interpreted by certain scholars, reveals about the actual philosophy of the founding fathers. This philosophy, it is argued, should control not merely the meaning of the Declaration, but should be allowed to override and control the meaning of the Constitution -- whenever Those Who Know Most About These Things see fit.

But I stray from my un-original thought, and what I thought was a new word. It occurred to me that to simplify thought, and to help spread the meme faster, the convoluted argument -- that Unpopular Interpretations Of The Constitution Can Be Nullified At Any Time By Resorting To Our Interpretations Of The Declaration -- might best be reduced to a single word:


Lest I forget (and be accused of stealing people's thoughts), here's a disappearing Google cache link to the guy who stole anticipated my new word back in March:

The people on the forum who are against controlled dangerous substance laws (CDC laws) are making two separate arguments.

First, both Smrtepnts and Sam both are arguing that there is no reason for CDC laws. They argue that they are arbitrary and allow people to profit off of the fact that the trade is illegal. Furthermore they seem to believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with CDCs. The conclusion being drawn appears to be "CDC laws should be repealed."

The second point, which is mostly argued by Sam and that guy who lost his CAPSLOCK KEY, is that CDC laws are unconstitutional. Sam believes that the government has no power to enact the laws, and they violate the Declaration of Independence. The fact that the laws appear on the books is a good enough reason for a revolution, because they are much worse than anything the colonists had to endure at the hands of the British. Sam started with the assertion that the laws were bills of attainder, but has moved on to other arguments that the laws are undeclarational (Yes, I just made that one up), and other equally weak arguments that they violate the Constitution. [Emphasis added.]

What do these kids know? They're probably imagining that there's some silly line in the Declaration about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!" Worse yet, they're probably imagining that they know what it means. That the founders wrote in clear English, and meant what they said.


We now know, thanks to many years of research, that Jefferson really wanted to impose the law of the Old Testament on Americans, and that while he might not have said so, he cleverly crafted a trap door in the future Constitution when he wrote the Declaration to allow learned Men of God future powers of veto and nullification.

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" actually means the freedom to obey the laws of God as interpreted by those who best know about these things.

Anyway, while I must give the anti-drug law kids credit for the word, my point in using it was to make it easier to understand the point being made by the philosophical scholars who contend that the Constitution, or any interpretations thereof, even any laws which are unpopular, may be declared Undeclarational!

It has been argued, strenuously, that even certain human behaviors might be said to be Undeclarational.

Especially sodomy!

Did you know, for example, that in the very first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, sodomy itself is condemned? I didn't either, but I'm here to tell you that there are men alive today who know more about the thoughts which were really inside the mind of Thomas Jefferson than did Jefferson himself!

Tough as it is to grapple with these concepts, I've done my best at a rewrite of the Declaration. Here's the text of what we normally consider the first paragraph (with the revisions in red):

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God -- meaning the laws of the Old Testament, especially the Levitical prohibition against sodomy -- entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The anti-drug law activists who first used the word "undeclarational" should think again about the actual meaning of the second paragraph, which I've rewritten according to the actual philosophy of the founders.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- which means the right to do only what one is told to do by one's Creator, to be interpreted in the future by men well versed in religious revelation and Old Testament Law. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.....
The usual suspects (atheists, libertarians, the ACLU and the homos) might argue that Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration and didn't believe in the Old Testament, that he believed in "separation of church and state" and said so, but too bad. We now know that Jefferson intended that Biblical Law would always rule supreme over the Constitution.

OK. I hope readers will indulge me a little if I sounded overly insolent. Perhaps satire is not the best way to deal with issues which ought to be taken seriously. If this is too satirical, I'm sorry. It's getting close to the New Year, and I've been partying a little, and in general I've been wearing myself out.

So I may be having trouble separating reality from fantasy.

I don't want readers falling into the same trap, but it's obvious that some of my readers don't appreciate satire. I have seen a recurrent pattern that when I write what I hope are original, playful utterances (qualifying them as I must when I discover someone else uttered them first), some angry commenter will come along and complain that I haven't done my homework or provided any "proof!" No documentation! No "statistics!" It might not be held to be a self evident truth, for example, that there are people who claim the Constitution is Undeclarational, and I haven't given a single example.

Well, my nitpicky leftist commenters, fear not! There are so many examples that I don't know where to start. As a meme, the Undeclarational Constitution has spread far and wide on the Internet. While the phrase "Undeclarational Constitution" might not yet be called what it is, the groundwork has at least been laid for undeclarational sodomy -- meaning that the Declaration of Independence was specifically meant to be anti-sodomy in its Original Intent. Simply google "laws of nature and of nature's God" and "sodomy" and you'll get 406 hits.

Google "laws of nature and of nature's God" and "homosexuality" and you'll get 1080 hits.

At least one judge has stated how this principle should apply as a matter of law:

"Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated." Chief Justice Roy Moore, of the Alabama State Supreme Court
That's one view. Gloria Allred has a somewhat different take. (I have, of course, discussed what I consider a very mistaken notion of this purported "Declaration Against Sodomy.")

Well, whose view should control? Shouldn't author Thomas Jefferson be heard from? According to most conventional scholars (and according to his own writings) Jefferson would not have approved of using the Old Testament as a basis for law. Not only did he rewrite the Bible (omitting the Old Testament entirely), but late in life he expressed the hope that Unitarianism might eventually come to be the majority religion in America.

So how did this meme happen?

Why is it spreading by leaps and bounds?

At the risk of sounding a bit paranoid, I worry that even highly respected bloggers defer to the idea of an Undeclarational Constitution. (Meaning that much of what we assume the Constitution means is "Undeclarational.")

I say "paranoid" because some of my fears were generated by Nick Coleman's invective-filled attack on Power Line which has justifiably been much condemned in the blogosphere. I can't stand ad hominem attacks, and I think it's a very poor piece of journalism.

Here's what the writer said about Power Line's "affiliations."

Johnson and Hinderaker are fellows at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank that seems to be obsessed with gays and guns and wants to return us to the principles of our founders, although I can't determine if that includes Ben Franklin's skirt chasing.

Mainstream or Extreme? We report, you decide: Last month, Claremont gave its Winston Churchill Award to that visionary statesman and recovering drug addict, Rush Limbaugh!

Time magazine's "Blog of the Year" is not run by Boy Scouts. It is the spear of a campaign aimed at making Minnesota into a state most of us won't recognize. Unless you came from Alabama with a keyboard on your knee.

Obsessed with gays and guns? I guess the writer thinks there's something funny about gays and guns. (So why am I not laughing?) As to Rush Limbaugh, I have defended his right to use drugs repeatedly, and I rejected the argument that his alleged hypocrisy should have been relevant to the criminal charges.

The attempt to smear Power Line with resort to a claim that its bloggers are "affiliated" with the Claremont Institute is utterly baseless -- first of all because the Claremont Institute is a fine think tank composed of leading scholars, including some wonderful people I feel privileged to have known, and second because affiliation has nothing to do with the validity or invalidity of one's thoughts or writings. Might as well say they're "affiliated" with the Republican Party! For that matter, it could be claimed that because I know people there and have attended lectures, that I too am "affiliated" with the Claremont Institute.

Fine. I'm also affiliated with the ACLU, the NRA, pit bulls, and the Grateful Dead!

None of that has anything to do with the truth of what I'm saying, and the affiliations of Power Line are irrelevant to the blog's accuracy. As the blog which did more to expose Dan Rather and RatherGate than any other, we are all indebted to them. They performed a major service for the country, and more than earned Time Magazine's Blog of the Year designation.

However, just as I do not agree with everything the Claremont Institute says, with all respect to the blog I cannot agree some of Power Line's ideas about the Declaration of Independence.

Most importantly, I hope they don't believe in the idea that the Declaration's "philosophy" should be interpreted as making the very founding of this country anti-homosexual in nature.

I'll use this post as a starting point:

Absent knowledge of American history, one would never know that the United States is founded on the basis of a creed, rather than on tribal or blood lines, in which God plays a prominent part. Absent knowledge of history generally, one would never know that this fact makes America unique.

What is the American creed? Few know it as such, but as it happens it is of course closely related to the story of Washington's crossing the Delaware. The American creed is expressed with inspired concision in the words of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
But does the Declaration have any legal status such that these words can be truly deemed to state the "American creed? It does, although virtually no one seems to know it. In 1878 Congress enacted a revised version of the United States Code that included a new first section entitled "The Organic Laws of the United States."
Does this 1878 "Act" mean there's a "founding Creed" against "sodomy?" Read on.

Here's Power Line on Lawrence v. Texas:

[Lawrence v. Texas] an amazing disgrace. The United States alone in the world is a country founded on the proposition that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that government is instituted among men to secure these rights. These rights exist under what the Declaration of Indepence -- the first of the organic laws of the United States -- refers to as the laws of nature and Nature's God.

Among the founders, sodomy was universally condemned as a crime against nature. It was illegal in each of the thirteen states existing at the time the Constitution was ratified and the Bill of Rights was adopted. In Thomas Jefferson's Virginia, it was a crime punishable by death. When Jefferson wrote an amendment to the criminal code lessening the penalty for sodomy, he nevertheless classed it as a crime with rape, polygamy, and incest.

Today the Supreme Court declares that homosexual sodomy constitutes "a form of liberty of the person in both its spatial and more transcendent dimensions." Justice Kennedy, the author of this nauseating palaver, is obviously so in love with what he thinks is his own eloquent rhetoric that he fails to notice his laughable double entendre. What is not funny, however, is the destruction of the recognition of the laws of nature and nature's God on which our true rights depend. The Supreme Court's opinion today is an act of political destruction that should be recognized as such.

What I'd like to know is, unless the "laws of nature and of nature's God" have a specific anti-homosexual intent, how can Justice Kennedy writing in Lawrence be said to have destroyed the words' recognition? Unless the writer believes that the Declaration (and the Constitution, as amended by it) are against sodomy, I can't come to any other conclusion.

I'm genuinely worried that the following three steps (of what I consider bad logic) are deliberately introducing anti-homosexual prejudice into the founding:

  • 1. Certain words in the Declaration -- "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" -- are transformed from Jefferson's political rhetoric (never intended by Jefferson to be law) into the "Natural Law of the United States";
  • 2. The words are deemed binding on and controlling of the Constitution by means of an 1878 law; and
  • 3. They are further (and later) interpreted to breathe a calculated animosity against homosexuals (or "sodomites," by no means synonymous with homosexuals) into the United States Constitution itself.
  • Notwithstanding the fact that a very legitimate states' rights argument can be made in favor of sodomy laws, I think it is illogical (and wrong) to bootstrap into the Constitution something which simply is not there.

    Power Line has another analysis here:

    Alone in the world, the United States is founded on the "self-evident truths" that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that government is instituted among men to secure these rights. These rights exist under what the Declaration of Indepence -- the first of the founding laws of the United States -- refers to as the laws of nature and Nature's God.

    The founders of the United States never spoke of "values"; the concept was foreign to their political discourse. The concept of "values" derives from the thought of the German intellectual Max Weber. Weber maintained that the fundamental distinction of social science was that between "facts" and "values." Regarding "values" -- the deeply held beliefs that shaped the lives of citizens -- social science could render no judgment.

    "Values" are by definition relative. They have no objective status or connection to a commonly shared nature. The supplanting of nature and self-evident truths by "values" is more or less the great project of modern liberalism, whose home is in the Democratic Party. It is but a short distance from the orthodoxy of "values" to the related dogmas of "multiculturalism" and "diversity" that permeate liberal thought. In this sense the Democratic Party is the party of "values."

    On the other hand, the Republican Party has its roots in the founders' thought. Recall, for example, that in its first platform the Republican Party condemned slavery and polygamy together as "the twin relics of barbarism." Can anyone today explain why? Or how "homosexual marriage," for example, should be viewed in light of such an explanation?

    Among the founders, sodomy was universally condemned as a crime against nature. It was illegal in each of the thirteen states existing at the time the Constitution was ratified and the Bill of Rights was adopted. In Thomas Jefferson's Virginia, it was a crime punishable by death. When Jefferson wrote an amendment to the criminal code lessening the penalty for sodomy, he nevertheless classed it as a crime with rape, polygamy, and incest.

    Today the Supreme Court declares that homosexual sodomy constitutes "a form of liberty of the person in both its spatial and more transcendent dimensions." Missing in the Court's grandiloquence is any recognition of the laws of nature and nature's God on which our true rights depend.

    As a blogger who uses the word "values" as tongue-in-cheek satire, I'd be the first to agree with Power Line that values are not law. But as to "nature," if "nature's laws" are so self evident, then why is there so much disagreement about them by everyone from environmentalists to fundamentalists?

    And why aren't Jefferson's views on the "separation of church and state" considered at least as relevant as his views on (what he considered more humane) punishments for "sodomy"?

    The argument is often made that homosexuality is the moral equivalent of slavery. Originally articulated by Harry Jaffa (see Why Sodomy Is Not Gay), it is a concept with which I am quite familiar. I publicly disagreed with Harry Jaffa about it years ago, and without getting sidetracked or boring the readers, I think that slavery and homosexuality can easily be distinguished for any number of reasons. (For starters, there's a thing called consent.....)

    But whether slavery and polygamy were "twin relics of barbarism" is about as relevant to sodomy as the branding of cattle with hot irons or the use of the ducking stool by American colonists to discipline sharp-tongued women. What is so self evident about the apparent analogy of homosexuality to "barbarism" that I am missing?

    The slavery argument aside, I think that the attempt to instill anti-homosexual prejudice into the Constitution is more than just wrong. In the Machiavellian sense, I think it's a political miscalculation, and it's proponents would do well to reconsider their position.

    As to why it is logically wrong, Jefferson's "Nature's God" dicta, while admittedly catchy as a soundbyte, doesn't withstand analysis as a founding indictment of homosexuality. Let's look again at the entire phrase as a piece of rhetoric:

    When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
    The phrase "laws of nature and of nature's God" is offered by way of explanation in a subordinate clause, not announced as a law standing in itself. It is given as a reason for dissolving political bonds, and assuming "among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station." If it is seriously contended that Thomas Jefferson meant that phrase as an indictment of homosexuality, then I'd like to see the evidence of it. Otherwise, I see it as what it is; a moral and philosophical justification for independence, and an argument for human equality. If an expansive "nature" is to be written into the founding, one might just as easily make the argument that because homosexuality occurs in both higher and lower animals as well as in man, that it is natural, and that homosexuals have a natural right to the "separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them."

    Resort is sometimes made to the writings of John Locke, who, it is argued, was the father of the Natural Law which Jefferson believed in as well as a firm believer in Biblical Law. Therefore, if Jefferson utilized a Natural Law phrase (which he clearly did), that means he must also subscribe to all of the views of John Locke, which means the Bible must be read into the Declaration accordingly. This thinking is neither reasonable nor logical. Suppose I quote from the Bible, and say, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." Does that mean I believe in Leviticus? I don't see how. And even if you could show that Jefferson did think this thought or that pronouncement of John Locke, how does that breathe Locke into the Declaration, much less the Constitution? Jefferson loved cock fighting too. Does that mean the Declaration declared a sovereign right to pit fighting chickens against each other, and that said right came from God?

    I also think bootstrapping such a "Natural Law veto" into the Constitution is a political miscalculation, and here's why:

  • 1. It further fuels a mistaken public perceptions that the founders of this country were a bunch of bigots, thus aiding the argument that the Constitution can and should be freely discarded;
  • 2. It undermines and weakens the Constitution by amending it with resort to divining philosophical intent -- notwithstanding the clear language in the Constitution that it "shall be the supreme Law of the Land."
  • 3. By helping an extreme idea become mainstream, the implied anti-sodomy "creed" invites others to try the same thing with their own interpretations of Natural Law, of Locke, or whatever a scholar might come up with -- the eventual result being even more constitutional nihilism than we now have.
  • In the latter regard, I wouldn't want to see what would happen if the deconstructionist followers of Michel Foucault get hold of the "Undeclarational" meme, for if they started in on the Declaration, I shudder to think how they might run with some of the phrases . . .

    (Perhaps it should be borne in mind that the Declaration was quite popular in certain camps in the 1960s, and, well, it's still popular today.)

    A final thought. Not that anyone asked me what I think of the Declaration, but I think it's a pretty fine document. I admit, I'm a bit partial to that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" stuff. At times in my personal life, I've stretched the meaning of the latter a bit far. But, whether in theory or in practice, I still prefer an excess of freedom to the alternative of restrictions on freedom -- especially when the latter are based upon a document I think was clearly intended to expand -- not restrict -- what has become the envy of the world.

    UPDATE: In the comments below, Ironbear reminded me of penguins. (Which reminded me of bonobos, and the need to add these links.)

    UPDATE: Respected legal scholar Timothy Sandefur applies Natural Law (and the laws of nature and of nature's God) to Lawrence v. Texas -- with a very different result:

    If you believe that such natural law is the objective Truth, we could say that just as Einstein’s “discovery” of the Truth superseded what Newton knew, our Founders discovered a “Truth” that slavery violated the law of nature, of which Aquinas was not aware.

    And we, in building upon the shoulders of our founders, and applying their objective, timeless principles, can similarly discover Truths of which our founders may not have been aware. See Lawrence v. Texas.

    Yes, there's still hope.

    CORRECTION: The author of the last quote I cited was not Mr. Sandefur, but Jon Rowe, who was guest blogging. My mistake! Not only does Mr. Rowe has his own blog, but he has done a fine job of refuting the moral analogy between slavery and homosexuality.

    Finally, at the Claremont Institute's web site, Mr. Rowe, Mr. Sandefur, and others debate the "Natural Law and homosexuality" issue at great length.

    MORE: For what it's worth, I'd like to make a grammatical analogy to the Second Amendment. The following is from a Wall Street Journal analysis of the Justice Department's current Second Amendment position:

    The Second Amendment states that "a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

    The memo's authors, Justice Department lawyers Steven Bradbury, Howard Nielson Jr. and C. Kevin Marshall, dissect the amendment's language, arguing that under 18th century legal conventions, the clause concerning "a well-regulated militia" was "prefatory language" without binding force. "Thus, the amendment's declaratory preface could not overcome the unambiguously individual 'right of the people to keep and bear arms' conferred by the operative text," they write.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Under a similar rationale, I'd say that the even if the Declaration of Independence were law (which it is not), the operative text ("assume . . . the separate and equal station") controls over a declaratory reason ("to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them"). To interpret it otherwise would elevate reasons for an action over the action itself. To the extent a reason or justification is given for an action, it is superfluous once the action is taken (in this case, assuming a separate and equal station). For this Natural Law phraseology to be invoked hundreds of years later as a form of limitation on freedom strikes me as at least as absurd as nullifying the right to keep and bear arms because of a reason given for it.

    posted by Eric at 12:09 PM | Comments (6)

    Idiot Award

    There are no jokes or set-ups to this one. This week's idiot is just offensive:

    "Poor Phuket got a tsunami, and we got Paris Hilton," ever-insensitive Taki Theodoracopulos quipped. "It's an outrage."
    posted by Dennis at 11:58 AM

    God Still Hates You

    I caught a lot of flak for my last post, but now we hear the faithful crying out:

    Traditionalists of diverse faiths described the destruction as part of god's plan, proof of his power and punishment for human sins.

    "This is an expression of God's great ire with the world," Israeli chief rabbi Shlomo Amar told Reuters. "The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it people's needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude."

    Pandit Harikrishna Shastri, a priest of New Delhi's huge marble and sandstone Birla Hindu temple, told Reuters the disaster was caused by a "huge amount of pent-up man-made evil on earth" and driven by the positions of the planets.

    Azizan Abdul Razak, a Muslim cleric and vice president of Malaysia's Islamic opposition party, Parti Islam se-Malaysia, said the disaster was a reminder from god that "he created the world and can destroy the world."

    Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a leading British Muslim cleric from Leicester in England said: "We believe that God has ultimate controlling power over his entire creation. We have a responsibility to try and attract god's kindness and mercy and not do anything that would attract his anger."

    It seems we're not far from swords and sandals afterall.

    posted by Dennis at 11:49 AM | Comments (2)

    Reminder of worse

    It's hard to believe, but it appears that the tsunami toll is much higher than previously expected -- 400,000 or more from Indonesia alone:

    KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 30 (Bernama) -- The death toll in Acheh, the region worst hit by last Sunday's tsunami, may exceed 400,000 as many affected areas could still not be reached for search and rescue operations, Indonesia's Ambassador to Malaysia Drs H. Rusdihardjo said Thursday.

    He said the estimate was based on air surveillance by Indonesian authorities who found no signs of life in places like Meulaboh, Pulau Simeulue and Tapak Tuan while several islands off the west coast of Sumatera had "disappeared".

    He said the latest death toll of more than 40,000 in Acheh and northern Sumatera did not take into account the figures from the other areas, especially in the west of the region.

    "Aerial surveillance found the town of Meulaboh completely destroyed with only one buiding standing. The building, which belonged to the military, happens to be on a hill," he told reporters after receiving RM1 million in aid for Indonesia's Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund here Thursday.

    Rusdihardjo said there were about 150,000 residents in Meulaboh, which was located 150km from the epicentre of the earthquake while Pulau Simeuleu had a population of 76,000.

    I think everyone will have to wait for final figures, but it's the most devastating thing I've seen in a long time. I donated at and probably will give more.

    Numbers like that supply perspective often lacking among people who take things like survival for granted. AIDS did that for me back in the 1980s. I'd been raised to believe (and always thought) that I lived in the wonderful, everything's-possible world of modern science. Suddenly, I found myself catapulted back to the Middle Ages. People just died and died and died.

    They still do, and I wish I could do something to help.

    posted by Eric at 05:58 PM

    'God still loves me.'

    I read comments like these all too often -- when a tornado tears the roof off of a church, or a manaic opens fire on schoolchildren -- but it never fails to stick in my craw:

    As Riza was drifting, she saw her neighbors, two girls -- twins -- and their mother.

    Riza, who can swim, managed to help the girls. She saw that their mother was badly injured.

    "The mother shouted, 'please help save my children. Let me be, but please save my children,'" Riza recounted, in tears.

    As she struggled for her own life and that of the twins, she said a large snake as long as a telephone pole approached her. She and the nine-year-olds rested on the reptile, which was drifting along with the current.

    "Thank God, we landed on higher ground where the water level was only about a meter deep. The twins, who were badly injured, were safe." Riza then slapped her face to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

    Riza, who is currently taking refuge in the Bandar Blang Bintang area, plans to go to her relatives' house in Medan, North Sumatra.

    "God still loves me," she said, adding that she would never forget the tragedy.

    It's the same reaction I have when I hear the expression, 'there but for the grace of God go I.' The sentiment suggests that those who suffer deserve what they get because they're not holy enough.

    It's a good thing for Riza that god still loves her and only hates those miserable SOBs who died. Like the mother of those twins. She really must have done something to lose god's love. Perhaps it was selfless concern for her children?

    While this may often be a careless statement without deep religious significance, there are unfortunately many out there who think that people suffer because they're being punished by 'God.'

    posted by Dennis at 03:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    Not a good time

    I just returned from a funeral of a lifelong friend who died suddenly on Christmas Eve. A hell of a time to die, especially for such a good man, who happened to be a devoutly religious man. I've been to a lot of funerals, but the suffering of this man's family was very painful to see. I couldn't help think how much easier it would have been for them had he died in November. Or June. I'm not religious in the churchgoing sense, but it strikes me that religious considerations shouldn't be adding to the family's burden, and that they were. People look for meaning, for reasons, for explanations, and it only adds to the pain and confusion when death strikes at a seemingly "bad" time. If an aorta is going to explode, when it explodes has nothing to do with what day of the month it is.

    Obviously, it isn't my place to offer the family such thoughts, which might only be misinterpreted and cause even greater pain. My prayers are with the family, and they would be regardless of the season.

    We'll all be there. I took advantage of the drive to visit my mom's grave (and my future one, although I don't know the date of the move)....

    MORE: The important thing is to enjoy life as much as you can while you have it, and pray for (and help) those you love while they're living.

    posted by Eric at 03:10 PM | Comments (5)

    Start the New Year with a well centered Carnival !

    The 119th Carnival of the Vanities is up at The Radical Centrist. First of all, I love the blog name, and it would have been an excellent name for this blog but I went with "Classical Values" because I'm a sort of political dropout "loser" type -- only in the center by a process of elimination as opposed to genuine political belief in something called "The Center." Disgust with ideology and "isms" (especially disgust with joining) places me so far off the map that to call myself a "centrist" -- even a radical one -- seems a stretch. But I'm glad to see the name's taken, because someone needs to be in the center, and it sure is a radical idea these days. The best way to be hated is to simply think what you think, and to not be swayed by personal entreaties, tears, threats, ridicule, ad hominem attacks, or opportunistic labeling. A perfect example can be found in this Culture War post at Bird's Eye View (another blog by The Radical Centrist) -- involving "Intelligent Design." Very thoughtful, fair, and sure to infuriate both sides -- especially those who live to "win" debates.

    Anyway, he does a great job with the Carnival's many excellent posts. Here are a few which stood out:

  • La Shawn Barber seeks "intelligent comments from liberal readers." (I'm tempted to mutter something about the folly of expecting miracles, La Shawn, but I won't, so strike this mutterance.)
  • Amibivablog has some philosophical advice that really stood out: "denial can be a necessary part of resolve." (Now, if I could just internalize that, I'd be a long way towards accepting my resolve without the stress.)
  • CodeBlueBlog has the inside scoop on the Botox malpractice scandal.
  • Dee Marie at Taken in Hand dares to question chastity as
    ....the very last thing I would recommend to someone who is seeking to find a compatible mate. Within marriage, one essential area of compatibility is sexual compatibility.
    I'd have to agree that sexual compatibility is vital -- unless you're seeking a sexless marriage.
  • HOT TIP! Graham Lester is offering coal in exchange for gold. It's too late for a Christmas stocking stuffer -- but hurry!
  • RIGHT WINGNUTHOUSE remembers Washington's crossing with a good essay. (I was there on Christmas Eve, but didn't attend the annual reenactment.)
  • Mighty multiblogger John Ray offers a best of collection of his own posts. If you're as much a fan of his many blogs as I am, this one's a must-read.
  • Ian Hamet has a charming film review of a Hong Kong love story -- the sort of thing I'd have to be dragged to see. Except he made me want to see the thing:
    if you’re a cynic, fare thee well, because this movie is not for you.

    If you’re an insufferable romantic like me, then you are now merely 25 minutes into the movie and completely hooked.

    But cynicism is the insufferable romantic's denial mechanism, Ian! (Now where's my "region free DVD player?")
  • One of my favorites, Darleen Click, has a poignantly sad post about losing a beloved family pet -- a delightful cat named "Feathers." This is truly the worst part of having a dog or a cat, and something I'm hoping to put off struggling with but can't. They are every bit members of the family. My sincerest sympathies.
  • To end on a more cheerful note, just in the nick of time, you can still get your New Year's jokes here!
  • Read 'em all!

    posted by Eric at 08:42 AM | Comments (1)

    Hero strikes again

    Straight from Aljazeera, Ramsey Clark is up to his old tricks: he's joined Saddam's legal team.

    And you thought representing Slobodan Milosevic or the PLO was questionable.

    posted by Dennis at 03:18 PM | Comments (5)

    Swords and Sandals Round-up

    Classicist David Larsen (UC Extension) has a piece on the year in classical cinema:

    THE "sword-and-sandals" film comes in three generic flavors: barbarian, biblical, and Greco-Roman, each envisioning the martial values of a bygone "time before gunpowder" in its own fashion.

    While the first category may be counted on to support a heavy admixture of sorcery and fabulous monsters, the prevailing conceit in the biblical and Greco-Roman epics is one of historical realism. Costumes and manners are based on the soundest classical scholarship Hollywood can buy, and intelligible modern motives are supplied for the most outlandish deeds of history and legend.

    It's a short and entertaining read.

    posted by Dennis at 02:51 PM | Comments (1)

    Environmentalism, from Zeus to Zaius
    Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, for he is the harbinger of death.

    --Dr. Zaius, Minister of Science and Chief Defender of the Faith.

    Bearing in mind these eternal warnings (from science!), what is the proper reaction to a story like this?

    Coincidence! Major quake exactly 1 year ago
    Asia killer tops 26,000 death toll of Bam shaker also on Dec. 26
    Posted: December 29, 2004
    1:00 a.m. Eastern

    © 2004

    Is it just a striking coincidence?

    The 9.0 killer earthquake in Asia that unleashed tsunamis killing tens of thousands followed exactly one year to the hour after the Bam, Iran, earthquake that killed 26,000.

    On Dec. 26, 2003, a 6.6 quake hit the ancient city of Bam in Iran. While the quake was much smaller than the one that struck near the island of Sumatra Sunday, its epicenter was directly under the city.

    On Dec. 26, 2004, the 9.0 quake struck in South Asia. While the death toll will be much higher, most of the destructiveness was the result of the giant waves triggered by the earth's movement under the India Ocean.

    The 2003 quake hit at 01:56:52 UTC, while the 2004 quake struck at 00:58:55 UTC – exactly one year, 58 minutes apart.

    Special offer:

    EXTORTION! How the ACLU is destroying America using your money

    Is it a coincidence?

    The ancients would not have thought so at all. Entrails of animals were routinely examined for omens and portents, and all sorts of magical causes were sought for the most mundane of events. The extraordinary events (what we now call "catastrophes") were invariably ascribed to actions by major deities, usually extremely pissed off by whatever human conduct the analysts of the time concluded had enraged them. Obviously, if the catastrophe struck your enemy, this meant the gods favored your side -- and vice versa.

    I have no idea how many people might read the WorldNetDaily report and wonder in awe about which favorite or most feared deity might have deliberately done this (or for which specific reason), but I have no doubt there are some. (And, irreverent bigot that I am, I can't help wondering what motivation might have been ascribed had a similar gigantic quake and tsunami hit San Francisco.)

    While many Americans might laugh at this thinking, how many of them laugh when environmentalists blame mankind for catastrophes caused by the forces of nature? Might there be a deep-seated, collectivist yearning to blame humanity as a whole instead of accepting the fact that catastrophes simply happen? From some of the statements I see, I worry that there are people who think this way, but who are in denial about the primitive, magical origins of their thinking.

    Man is evil, man is bad. When evil happens, man is to blame. "Nature" (or "The Environment") is merely the latest punishing god which will teach us much-needed lessons when we are bad.

    When men are out of line, the forces of nature are there to speak for God or gods. When the evil Caligula tried to move one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Olympian statue of Zeus, he was prevented:

    In 40 AD, the emperor Caligula decided that he liked the statue so much, his men would kidnap the god and bring him back to Rome. Fortune (perhaps something more?) kept the Olympian Zeus in Elis, as a lighting struck the ship sent to transport him and workmen claimed to have heard the god emit a sinister, haunting laugh.
    Caligula died not long after this fiasco. (Do I hear thunder?)

    Later historians have claimed that because the inside of the gold and ivory covered statue was wood, it had become home to rodents which squealed when Caligula's workmen tried to move their "habitat." But in both cases, man is at fault. Those who assign blame know best.

    All superstition is not equal. Some superstitions are to be discarded as "religion" while others must be respected -- and called science!

    Science says that man is bad. And nature is good.

    For a better explanation, you'd have to ask Dr. Zaius.

    UPDATE: If Dr. Zaius does not answer, one might try the famous Mother Nature's Fist of Fury©TM science site.

    UPDATE (12/30/04): The count is now at a sickening 125,000, and even Mother Nature's Fist of Fury Hurricane Rooter James Wolcott is calling the tsunami "catastrophic." (From Tim Blair, via Glenn Reynolds.) Well, there is a difference between a Hurricane and a Tsunami. I'm sure "Hurricane Wolcott" is aware of the differences, so I don't see why I have to supply them here.

    Oh what the hell.

    1 oz Spiced rum
    1/2 oz Malibu Rum
    1/2 oz Rum Dark
    Fill with Pineapple Juice
    Float Grenadine
    1.0 fl. oz. of White Rum
    1.0 fl. oz. of Dark Rum
    0.5 fl. oz. of Triple Sec or Cointreau
    1.0 fl. oz. of Lime Juice
    0.5 fl. oz. of Sugar Syrup
    2 Dashes of Grenadine
    3.0 fl. oz. of Orange Juice
    3.0 fl. oz. of Pineapple Juice
  • Sheesh! Do I now have to document and supply statistics for everything I say?

    posted by Eric at 10:15 AM | Comments (9)

    What if they gave a Culture War and nobody, um, came?

    Via Rhetorica (who finds wrap-ups annoying), I found an interesting WaPo take on 2004:

    In 2004, the New Republic ran a cover story called "God Bless Atheism." Rolling Stone ran an editorial that proclaimed: "Janet Jackson's breast is the 9/11 of the new culture war." Archaeology Odyssey published an article titled "Roman Latrines: How the Ancients Did Their Business." And Details, the metrosexual men's mag, revealed a hitherto undetected social trend: "Marrying a relative isn't just for the trailer park anymore."
    Obviously, this blog has no problem with ancient Roman latrines as one of the big stories of 2004. But the Rolling Stone "Culture War" quote is a bit perplexing, because it's really getting around. Just this morning I saw it in mentioned in the Philadelphia Inquirer, where staff writer Daniel Rubin (bless his heart!) was nice enough to counter it with much-needed perspective from Jeff Jarvis:
    Was it, as Washington Post critic Tom Shales asked, the "nipple that inflamed a thousand nut cases?" Or "the 9/11 of the new culture war," as Rolling Stone editorialized?

    Or was it something else - the dawning of a massive citizens movement?

    That's Jeff Jarvis' view.

    "I think the theme [of 2004] is about control," said Jarvis, a former TV Guide critic who writes the Buzzmachine blog. "The people are getting control and the big guys are losing control. If you believe in democracy, that is a good thing."

    Days after "Nipplegate," FCC Chairman Michael Powell spoke of an unprecedented leap in indecency complaints, from roughly 14,000 in 2002 to more than 240,000 in 2003. More than four times that many have landed this year, according to the FCC.

    But those numbers are misleading. Jarvis gained attention in the fall by filing a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed a suspicious pattern in the FCC complaints. Fox's $1.2 million fine for sexual content in Married by America was based on 90 complaints from 23 people - all but two of them using a form letter produced by the conservative Parents Television Council.

    Excellent point, and Jeff's groundbreaking story (discussed infra) was infinitely more revealing than the breast thingie. (And, I suspect, much more revealing about the inner workings of the divisive dispute over personal tastes which is so inappropriately called the "Culture War.")

    What bothers me is that I failed to keep abreast of what these people are all calling the biggest "offensive" yet in the Culture War. Another 9/11, no less! And I didn't see it! (Although I suspect I still wouldn't get it if I had.)

    Shame on me! I'll have to get caught up somehow, folks. But I'd been all caught up in RatherGate, which I thought was a much dirtier affair than NippleGate. Wrong again (at least according to conventional wisdom).

    I always miss the breast best parts.

    (Sheesh! Some Culture War blog this is turning out to be . . . )

    posted by Eric at 09:55 AM | Comments (7)

    God didn't do it (and nature sometimes sucks) . . .
    . . . it only seems fair that nature get some of its own back and teach us that there are forces greater than our own . . . -- James Wolcott

    24,000 dead and counting is pretty damned horrible to contemplate. There's nothing I can report about the quake and tsunami that hasn't been reported, and nothing I can say that hasn't been said, but that doesn't mean I feel nothing. Justin wrote a damned good post on tsunamis last night, and the blogosphere has been covering this every step of the way. Michele Catalano notes that the U.S. media gave the Michael Jackson trial about as much coverage (and that was when the figure was at 11,000). Twenty times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq ought to count for something, even if they're not Americans.

    The numbers will only get larger.

    I wrote more about the Florida hurricane than I did about this -- and what set me off was hearing people say that people shouldn't have been living there. One leftist (James Wolcott, quoted above) actually said he was rooting for the hurricane, but I'll bet he's not sounding that meme now. (And not because he doesn't like to quote himself!) Anyway, I don't call this an act of God, nor am I rooting for "nature." We should all help the victims to the extent we can, and do a better job of preparing for future disasters. It could happen almost anywhere.

    UPDATE: James Wolcott has indeed remained silent about nature's lessons this time. Don't ask me why.

    UPDATE: Charles G. Hill speculates that Wolcott's "champing at the bit for that killer asteroid to show up." Does that mean Wolcott wants a greater impact than he's already had?

    MORE (12/28/04): It now looks like the numbers will reach 45,000.

    AND MORE: Kevin Aylward has a link to this amateur video of the tsunami. (If that doesn't work, Kevin has alternate links.)

    EVEN MORE: Via InstaPundit, I see that according to science, Wolcott may be right:

    "Wheels of thunder-wagons wake up Big Earth Spirit-Mother, make to crazy tingle in hairy child-place. She now go to water lair of Tai-Waku, make big angry love on tectonic plate," said Novak. "Big Earth Spirit-Mother say, 'if ocean rocking, don't come a-knocking.'"

    Although they disagree on the precise causes of the wrathful spirit world, scientists were largely unanimous in recommending immediate global regulatory action. Remedial steps suggested in the report include ratification of the Kyoto treaty, elimination of automobiles, volcanic altars for virgin sacrifices, creation of a sustainable urine-based economy, and improved faculty dental benefits.

    "If not act now, it too late," said report editor Paul Erlich of Stanford University.

    Um, am I allowed to say "Ugh?"

    MORE: I'm busy tonight, but the stuff in these links from Glenn Reynolds is absolutely appalling, and show how utterly corrupt (if not evil) science has become. Claims Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN):

    ....people have started to occupy part of the landscape that they shouldn't have occupied.... (via Powerline.)
    Man is considered the enemy. Might as well put Wolcott in charge of the IUCN.

    Seriously. Move over McNeely. (And why not? He's about as qualified as Wolcott anyway.)

    Back in the 80s, I heard equally intelligent (and equally compassionate) remarks when gay men were dying from AIDS by the tens of thousands....

    AND MORE: The death toll is now 68,000 and counting. Factoring in disease and the fact that many are still unaccounted for, it could reach 100,000.

    UPDATE (12/29/04): It didn't take long to reach 100,000.

    UPDATE (12/30/04): The count is now at a sickening 125,000, and even Hurricane Rooter James Wolcott is calling the tsunami "catastrophic." (From Tim Blair, via Glenn Reynolds.) Well, there is a difference between a Hurricane and a Tsunami. I'm sure "Hurricane Wolcott" is aware of the differences, so I don't see why I have to supply them here.

    Oh what the hell.

    1 oz Spiced rum
    1/2 oz Malibu Rum
    1/2 oz Rum Dark
    Fill with Pineapple Juice
    Float Grenadine

    1.0 fl. oz. of White Rum
    1.0 fl. oz. of Dark Rum
    0.5 fl. oz. of Triple Sec or Cointreau
    1.0 fl. oz. of Lime Juice
    0.5 fl. oz. of Sugar Syrup
    2 Dashes of Grenadine
    3.0 fl. oz. of Orange Juice
    3.0 fl. oz. of Pineapple Juice
  • Sheesh! Do I now have to document and supply statistics for everything I say?

    posted by Eric at 04:58 PM | Comments (14)

    Which Christmas Carol is more in tune with today's altruism?

    Ebenezer Scrooge is lucky he's not alive today, because things are so complicated that once he'd reformed and decided to do good, he'd never be able to figure out which form of altruism is the truest and the purest.

    I'll give a couple of examples which have been simultaneously thrown at me, (although seemingly in random fashion) and have caused enough Christmas confusion to make me thankful I'm not Ebenezer Scrooge.

    Let's start with Nigeria. Most of us only know the place as the source of poignant emails beginning with urgent reassurances that the sender is an honest-but-long-suffering widow of General Obacha who needs assistance depositing a gigantic sum into an American bank account. The unfortunate reality is that very few Nigerians have millions to share with kindly American beneficiaries. While it's true that the country is rich in oil, most of the money goes into the hands of government kleptocrats who refuse to share it with ordinary citizens -- even when the oil is pumped directly from their land.

    A recent example of this is the ongoing protest (a series of sieges, really) at Nigerian oil platforms:

    LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Protesters seized oil platforms run by Royal Dutch/Shell Group Cos. and ChevronTexaco Corp for a second day Monday, shutting down 90,000 barrels a day in oil production, company officials said.

    On Sunday, hundreds of protesting villagers from Kula community, including women and children, invaded two oil pumping facilities owned by Shell in the Ekulama oilfields and another belonging to ChevronTexaco at Robert-Kiri island in the swamps of the oil-rich delta, demanding to see top officials of both companies.

    Shell pumps 70,000 barrels daily from the two stations, while ChevronTexaco pumps 20,000 barrels daily from its own station.

    Nigeria, at 2.5 million barrels a day, is Africa's leading oil exporter, the world's seventh-largest exporter, and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

    A Shell spokesman in Lagos said protesters have not made known their grievances but are blocking dozens of oil workers from leaving the platforms. Representatives have been sent to the villages for negotiations, the spokesman said, on condition of anonymity.

    This has been going on for a long time, and according to the Pacifica documentary "DRILLING AND KILLING," the oil companies are to blame:
    For nearly 40 years, oil giants like Shell, Mobil and Chevron have worked in joint ventures with Nigeria's dictatorships to exploit the country's vast petroleum resources, often against the wishes of the local communities of the oil rich Niger delta. Protest against these oil giants has often resulted in a bloody response from their military business partners. Again pro-Democracy activist Chima Ubani.

    Chima Ubani: "it is the same kind of relationship that the slave masters had with those traditional rulers and local chiefs of that period who actually sold our people into slavery to the European and American slave masters. That is exactly what has happened all over. What we find is that the Nigerian military creates the conducive environment for these multinational companies to come and exploit our people. They impose laws that favor such an exploitation and disempower our people. And most importantly, when our people rise to fight against this exploitation, it is the Nigerian government that uses its own troops to suppress and kill our people for fighting against exploitation by foreign companies"

    In the film, Chevron is accused of working with the kleptocratic government's thugs and stooges to counter the demonstrators by various means which include outright murder.

    Far be it from me to defend Big Oil, or kleptocrat governments which enable their profits while socking away the money in foreign bank accounts.

    In the spirit of the Ghost of Christmas Present (and for the sake of this argument), I'll even concede (confess, even!) that oil is evil, oil is all our fault -- for being alive and for needing it and consuming it. We who live in the cold Northeast are the evilest and greediest of all, but all of us should allow "the people" all the oil profits they want.

    But there's something troubling my soul, even as I confess. At the same time I was researching this issue (and trying to think altruistic thoughts about things like oil drilling), I had another "drill" thrown at me on the front page of day-after-Christmas Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer: the plight of the Drill monkey. Native to several West African countries, it is endangered in Equatorial Guinea, and I was shocked to see that the reason is not poverty, but oil-rich affluence:

    "If we don't act soon, this animal could be extinct in a few years, and there will be nothing left to study," she said.

    "We're just duty-bound to try to prevent the extinction of these animals; that's it in a nutshell," said Wayne A. Morra, 55, an Arcadia economics professor who joined the Bioko project in 1998.

    This year's expedition has taken on a greater degree of urgency.

    Chronically underdeveloped, Equatorial Guinea is suddenly awash in income from new offshore petroleum discoveries. And with new wealth, the demand for wild game, or "bush meat," is soaring. Monkey meat - much like venison in this country - is part of the traditional hunting culture of much of Africa and is eaten on special occasions.

    Since 2002, the average daily number of monkey carcasses sold at the public market in the capital, Malabo, has nearly doubled to more than six, according to a daily count that Hearn organized in 1997.

    (One of the scientists prominently mentioned, Dr. Gail W. Hearn, has graphs and statistics showing the economic convergence of oil money affluence and consumption of endangered "bushmeat" here.)

    Eating bushmeat (yes, "bushmeat" is a word!) is a sort of status symbol for the wealthy, and thus, the more money people have, the more likely they are to buy it:

    Not eaten for its flavour, bushmeat is a sign of affluence - the more expensive the meat the more it enhances status.

    Poaching and export laws in central Africa and West Africa are largely ineffective. The Ghana Wildlife Society estimates that barely one-in-10 people caught with bushmeat are convicted. While the fine for killing a pangolin is L1, the animal can be sold for L6 - big money in villages where a household may have an annual income of L300.

    The World Society for the Protection of Animals said in a recent report: "Governments have been slow to respond to this crisis and action has been piecemeal and largely ineffectual. Unless more is achieved, entire populations of wildlife will be eradicated within the next few decades."

    This week the United Nations launched a L1 million pound campaign to co-ordinate conservation efforts for apes around the world after it became clear that gorillas, chimps, and pygmy chimps face extinction within five years due to bushmeat and logging.

    Jane Goodall, one of the world's foremost experts on chimpanzees, said: "The growing, grisly demand for bushmeat threatens to deliver the coup de grace to these critically endangered animals. Bushmeat is being sold at markets across the tropics. It is increasingly turning up in markets and restaurants all over the world, from London to New York, the demand fuelled by wealthy African expatriates."

    I find it more than ironic that in Nigeria, where humans are denied the oil profits, the drill monkey appears to be doing better than in Equatorial Guinea:

    We now have over twice as many captive bred drills, including second generation, than wild born. This year, we will begin contraception- I never thought I’d see that day! We are working with the AZA’s Population Management Centre at Lincoln Park Zoo on deciding who to breed, so as to maximize diversity of the wild genes in our population. They’re also helping us select the first release group.

    As an organisation, Pandrillus has been able to step back a bit from Afi Mountain. Our successful invitation to FFI in 1998 to join us has resulted in a partnership that is actually working past my expectations. WCS and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation are the other NGO partners with the Cross River State Commission.

    Again, what would Scrooge do?

    Which "drill" would he favor?

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Is collusion the answer? I can't help but notice that the oil companies are heavily funding the environmentalists mentioned in the Inquirer. As an idea, funding one's opposition appeals to my Machiavellian side, of course. But what would Scrooge do?


    MORE: To the extent that the ideas expressed in this post are unoriginal, I should credit Douglas Kern's wonderful essay, A TCS Christmas Carol, which I found via InstaPundit.

    posted by Eric at 09:31 AM | Comments (2)

    On The Slopes Of Vesuvius

    Woke up this morning and turned on the tv. Saw the horror in coastal Asia. Richter 8.9. Dear sweet Jesus.

    What could people have done? Can we ever hope to forestall this kind of catastrophe? Today, sadly, no. It would take a lot more technological moxie than we can muster to tsunami-proof a coast. Twenty third century super science may be up to the task, but we here today have a ways to go yet. Avoid seaside living? Nobody will listen. It’s nice by the sea.

    I can think of at least one geologist, an Australian named Edward Bryant, who has been warning about the danger posed by tsunamis for several years now, and specifically in the area of Southeast Asia. Interestingly, it turns out that giant, inundating waves leave particular geological signatures, and Dr. Bryant has compiled an interesting file of data regarding them. According to him, Australia and parts surrounding would seem to have been hit fairly often in the last few millennia. He warns that, based on past evidence, they may be due for another. Oh, and the evidence, such as it is, shows that these waves were big.

    How big? Really, really big. Like, one hundred and thirty meters big. Of course, that’s just when they come ashore. In deep water, that might translate to a three meter swell, with over a mile from peak to trough. You could ride it out in a rowboat.

    Playing the role of Jor-El is, by definition, a thankless task. Dr. Bryant’s theories have gained him little love among his fellow geologists, who consider them controversial and wrong. Sadly, most of their criticisms seem to boil down to “He’s controversial…and wrong!”

    I love science.

    Let’s be real here. Could a wave really get that big? I mean, honestly. One hundred and thirty freaking meters? Well, yeah. Easily, if you cheat a little. The biggest wave on record was at a place called Lituya Bay, in Alaska. A massive, earthquake triggered rockfall at the head of the bay displaced an equally massive volume of water, which having nowhere else to go, promptly headed out to sea.

    Lituya Bay is a long narrow body of water, much like a Norwegian fjord, and this constraining topography provided a focusing and amplifying effect. Afterwards, the wave’s peak local height was confirmed at seventeen hundred feet. They know this because only the trees above seventeen hundred feet didn’t get scraped off the mountainside. The wave diminished considerably on its way down the bay. Surprisingly, there were surviving witnesses, some sport fishermen, whose account can be found here.

    But surely this is an exceptional case? Well yes, what with the topography and all, but other circumstances can lead to somewhat less spectacular waves that are still big and scary and deadly.

    Bryant wrote a book a few years ago, “Tsunami: The Underrated Hazard”.
    If any of you find this sort of thing at all compelling, you could do worse than to order the book. In it, he makes the point that not all tsunamis are created equal. They are generated by several quite different phenomena, with different energy levels, which can lead to quite different effects.

    Most of us have a passing familiarity with the notion of earthquake generated tsunamis, such as the one that devastated Lisbon in 1755, or Port Royal in 1692.

    There are also rockslide generated tsunamis such as the one at Lituya Bay, or the Storegga Slide. Storegga was a quite horrific event some seven or eight thousand years ago, a sudden slippage induced displacement of over one thousand cubic kilometers of rock and mud. Lacking the channeling effect of a narrow inlet, the resulting wave was “only” ten meters high when it finally came ashore in Scotland. But it made up in breadth and speed what it lacked in height, tearing into two hundred or more miles of coastline, and penetrating miles inland.

    I’m sure the locals thought it was spectacular enough.

    Still, neither of these phenomena pack enough power to generate the wave heights that Bryant is claiming. He therefore believes that “his” waves, hundred meter plus monsters, are the result of impact events. Given the right mass and velocity, a falling extra-terrestrial body could certainly provide sufficient energy for a monster wave. So we can know that such waves are at least possible. But is there enough evidence to show that they actually occurred?

    Frankly, I don’t know. I’m not a geologist, and I don’t know enough to evaluate his claims properly. However, speaking as an interested layman, I’d have to say he sounds pretty plausible.

    For instance, when he talks about what he calls imbrication.

    You take a big seaside cliff with a notch cut in it, running from top to bottom. And you notice that the aforesaid notch, well, it’s full of boulders, great blocks of stone stacked higgledy-piggledy all the way to the top.

    And you notice that those blocks of stone are not the same kind of stone that the cliff is made of. And you wonder how in the world those multi-ton blocks of foreign stone got up there.

    When you’ve climbed to the top, you stroll inland across the gently rolling tableland, and you notice more of those damn stones, scattered here and there. And it gives you pause for thought.

    If you’re Ted Bryant, your thought is going to be “That was one big wave”.

    The book has plenty more of that. How about a ship’s bell, quite old by the look of it, found by rock climbers way the hell up a seaside cliff in western Australia? Could be a practical joke, I suppose, but an odd one if so. Who drags a corroded brass bell up a couple hundred feet of cliff, WEDGES IT INTO A CREVICE, and then just walks away? Aussies are a humorous folk, but are they THAT humorous?

    Or what about vast piles of seashells and beach gravel, buried under more typical inland dirt, kilometers away from the seaside. Anthropologists assert that they are aboriginal shell middens, but Bryant says no way.

    I do love a good mystery, and the mystery here is why sensible Aborigines would haul tons of beach gravel kilometers inland, just to throw it away.

    At Jervis Bay, Dr. Bryant estimates a big one hit several centuries ago, and that it overtopped the headland there, making it at least four hundred feet high. That’s not of Lituya Bay magnitude, but we’re getting there, we’re getting there.

    Bryant also notes (though he is enough of a sport to emphasize that this is hearsay evidence) that Aboriginal Folk Tradition has a few really rip-roaring tales of, wouldn’t you just know it, giant killer waves from the sea.

    The Last Wave”, indeed.

    Dr. Bryant has done yeoman service trying to warn people of what he calls “the underrated hazard”. Coastal fortifications would be impossibly expensive and don’t work. Ideally, people should recognize the danger and move inland. Be where the danger isn’t. He acknowledges that such a move is unlikely, and so suggests a number of modest, practical steps that could reduce, though never totally eliminate the danger from tsunamis. Boring civil defense and emergency planning type stuff. Coordinated communication and timely alarm type stuff. Bureaucratic solutions. I’m glad he tried. It really is the way to go.

    Given that we can’t fortify vulnerable coastlines, and that people will continue to live in coastal areas, the modest, practical solutions are the only solutions we’ve got.

    Which brings us to the (modest, practical) “running away really fast” option. If we disallow the Really Big ones, that actually looks doable with just a few more years of business as usual.

    I have complained before about the impending wave of innovative electronic surveillance and communications tech, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its potential benefits. Since these developments seem more or less inevitable to me, I suppose I’m just indulging my inner curmudgeon when I do so. Ubiquitous computing and video, localizer nets, transparent society, all connected, all the time, bah humbug.

    There will come a day, and not in the twenty third century either, when even the meanest, most impecunious beachcomber will have access to a global comweb. And that fifty cent link will connect him with capabilities that make our current internet look like Western Union. Seriously. As Jim Bennett observed in “The Anglosphere Challenge”, what we’ve seen of the internet so far is just the warm-up act. The wheels haven’t even left the runway.

    I can imagine radar satellites scanning the ocean surface for fast moving two meter swells, integrating their data with a network of triangulating seismometers and hydrophones. I can imagine such a network notifying whatever area was threatened, giving the ETA and predicted height and run-up of the wave. I can even imagine being able to reach the people in that area, as individuals, to warn them.

    Someday, our hypothetical beachcomber may be screamed awake by his custom earbud, relaying a warning from the local node of Tsunami Watch.

    It wouldn’t be much, but it would still be better than drowning. The downside, of course, might be that who you are and where you are is no longer ever in question. Ever.

    Welcome to the modern Panopticon. It needn’t be all bad.

    UPDATE: If you would like to contribute to the relief effort, the following blogs can put you in touch with people trying to help...

    A Voyage to Arcturus

    The Command Post

    UPDATE: After procrastinating for days, I finally trudged across town and retrieved my copy of "Tsunami" from storage. I'm mortified to report that my memory has played me false yet again. While a tsunami in deep water COULD have a three meter swell, its wavelength from peak to peak could range anywhere from six to three hundred miles. Typically, an earthquake generated wave in deep water will seldom top one meter in height. More geekery to follow, so stay tuned.

    posted by Justin at 11:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (2)

    Braving the cold

    I saw this lion roaring as if in protest from an otherwise neglected Philadelphia wall, in the freezing cold today:


    My hands froze while I took the picture, and my friends looked at me while rolling their eyes indulgently as if I was a bit of a kook, but I couldn't ignore the opportunity. The lion might not be there (or look the same) tomorrow.

    Brrrr.... and Grrrr.....

    posted by Eric at 05:12 PM | Comments (3)

    May Orange defeat political terror!

    Blogging is subject to my limited time right now, but there's one important event today which I hope everyone keeps in mind, and that is the Ukrainian election. Yushchenko (his face scarred by an attempt to kill him by poison) is favored to win, and I'm hoping the Ukrainian people hand him a decisive victory this time -- not just to reject Russian hegemony but to protest the kind of political machinations which many thought had died with Stalinism. I think it's fair to call attempted assassination by poison political terrorism -- and the allies of the KGB deserve to lose this election resoundingly.

    In the spirit of victory, here are some photos I found at Yahoo.

    "Santas" in a show of solidarity for Yushchenko (after all, it's the day after Christmas):


    Here's candidate Yushchenko at the polls:


    Yushchenko's supporters have been living in tents like these for the past five weeks:


    And finally, a child raises an orange balloon of hope:


    UPDATE: As of 21:30 GMT, Yushchenko appears to be winning big. Glenn Reynolds thinks Putin miscalculated.

    Yeah; Stalinist tactics don't work too well if people have the vote.


    UPDATE (12/27/04): It's now official that Yushchenko won, although he's contesting the results. For some reason, a lot of leftists seem to be yawning. (Via InstaPundit.)

    posted by Eric at 07:59 AM | Comments (1)

    Merry Christmas!


    I'm busy with festivities.....

    And Puff hasn't opened his gifts.


    UPDATE: I have been having fun with the most useful gift anyone has given me in years: a heavy duty paper shredder! All these years, I never had one. Worse yet, I have problems throwing away paper, and I allow it to pile up.

    This thing takes CD's credit cards, and up to 24 sheets at a time, and it's fun to use -- just like flushing guilt down the toilet.

    MORE: Here's Puff, the mysterious Christmas elf:


    He also wishes everyone a Merry Christmas, and refuses to take the blame for his master's failure to blog today.

    posted by Eric at 11:53 AM | Comments (2)

    Between states

    Not much time at home today (on the road, so I couldn't blog) but I tried out the camera built into my new cell phone (a Sidekick II).

    This is a view of sunset on the Delaware River, looking upstream while standing on the middle of the bridge between New Hope, Pennsylvania, and Lambertville, New Jersey. (Obviously in no state to blog.)


    The detail leaves much to be desired, but it was a good backup, because I forget to bring a real camera (and almost forgot there was a camera in the cell phone). Cameras need memory in order to work; you have to remember to bring 'em.

    posted by Eric at 10:54 PM | Comments (1)

    Allah hates Christmas, so feel free to celebrate!

    An Islamic scholar (the elusive Misha'al Ibn Abdullah Al-Kadhi) believes that Christianity is pagan.


    Let us now move on to the "birthday of Jesus," Christmas. Jesus (pbuh) is commonly considered to have been born on the 25th of December. However, it is common knowledge among Christian scholars that he was not born on this day. It is well known that the first Christian churches held their festival in May, April, or January. Scholars of the first two centuries C.E. even differ in which year he was born. Some believing that he was born fully twenty years before the current accepted date. So how was the 25th of December selected as the birthday of Jesus (pbuh)?

    Grolier's encyclopedia says:

    "Christmas is the feast of the birth of Jesus Christ, celebrated on December 25.... Despite the beliefs about Christ that the birth stories expressed, the church did not observe a festival for the celebration of the event until the 4th century.... since 274, under the emperor Aurelian, Rome had celebrated the feast of the "Invincible Sun" on December 25. In the Eastern Church, January 6, a day also associated with the winter solstice, was initially preferred. In course of time, however, the West added the Eastern date as the feast of the Epiphany, and the East added the Western date of Christmas."

    So who else celebrated the 25th of December as the birth day of their gods before it was agreed upon as the birth day of Jesus (pbuh)? Well, there are the people of India who rejoice, decorate their houses with garlands, and give presents to their friends on this day. The people of China also celebrate this day and close their shops. The pagan god Buddha is believed to have been born on this day when the "Holy Ghost" descended on his virgin mother Maya. The great savior and god of the Persians, Mithras, is also believed to have been born on the 25th of December long before the coming of Jesus (pbuh). The Egyptians celebrated this day as the birth day of their great savior Horus, the Egyptian god of light and the son of the "virgin mother" and "queen of the heavens" Isis. Osiris, god of the dead and the underworld in Egypt, the son of "the holy virgin," again was believed to have been born on the 25th of December.

    The Greeks celebrated the 25th of December as the birthday of Hercules, the son of the supreme god of the Greeks, Zeus, through the mortal woman Alcmene. Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry among the Romans (known among the Greeks as Dionysus) was also born on this day.

    Adonis, revered as a "dying-and-rising god" among the Greeks, miraculously was also born on the 25th of December. His worshipers held him a yearly festival representing his death and resurrection, in midsummer. The ceremonies of his birth day are recorded to have taken place in the same cave in Bethlehem which is claimed to have been the birth place of Jesus (pbuh).

    The Scandinavians celebrated the 25th of December as the birth day of their god Freyr, the son of their supreme god of the heavens, Odin.

    The Romans observed this day as the birth day of the god of the sun, Natalis Solis Invicti ("Birthday of Sol the invincible"). There was great rejoicing and all shops were closed. There was illumination and public games. Presents were exchanged, and the slaves were indulged in great liberties. Remember, these are the same Romans who would later preside over the council of Nicea (325 C.E.) which lead to the official Christian recognition of the "Trinity" as the "true" nature of God, and the "fact" that Jesus (pbuh) was born on the 25th of December too. The pagan emperor Constantine, who presided over the council of Nicea, was popularly considered the "embodiment" or "incarnation" of the this supreme Roman "Sun" god. Neither was Constantine the first Roman emperor to be given this title, rather, many or his predecessors before him were also promoted to the status of the "incarnation" of the god of the sun.

    Edward Gibbon says:

    "The Roman Christians, ignorant of his (Christ's) birth, fixed the solemn festival to the 25th of December, the Brumalia, or Winter Solstice, when the Pagans annually celebrated the birth of Sol"

    Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. ii, Gibbon, p. 383.

    Christmas festivals today incorporate many other pagan customs, such as the use of holly, mistletoe, Yule logs, and wassail bowls. The Christmas tree itself is the most obvious aspect of ancient pagan celebrations which were later incorporated into church rites. Scholars believe that the Christian celebration was originally derived in part from rites held by pre-Christian Germanic and Celtic peoples to celebrate the winter solstice. The Christmas tree, an evergreen trimmed with lights and other decorations, because it keeps its green needles throughout the winter months, was believed by pre-Christian pagans to have special powers of protection against the forces of nature and evil spirits. The end of December marked the onset of a visible lengthening of daylight hours - the return of warmth and light and defeat of those evil forces of cold and darkness. The Christmas tree is derived from the so-called paradise tree, symbolizing Eden, of German mystery plays. The use of a Christmas tree began early in the 17th century, in Strasbourg, France, spreading from there through Germany, into northern Europe and Great Britain, and then on to the United States.

    Christmas is not the only Christian festival which was borrowed from ancient paganism and foisted upon the religion of Jesus (pbuh). There is also Easter (see details in chapter one), the Feast of St. John, the Holy communion, the Annunciation of the virgin, the assumption of the virgin, and many others have their roots in ancient pagan worship. Since we can not get into the details here, therefore, the interested reader is encouraged to consult the above books.

    Many people object to people who advise them not to introduce new and innovative practices into their religion, even if they were only to be festivals and celebrations. They object "what could it hurt if I were to worship God and thank Him for his blessings on this day when pagans performed their worship? I am not worshipping idols." For this we only need to read the very explicit prohibition of God in this regard which He Himself emphatically declared in the Bible:

    "Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them (pagans), after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise."

    Deuteronomy 12:30

    There is a good reason why God commands us to do things. Just because we do not know the wisdom behind a prohibition does not give us the freedom to disregard it. Indeed, it is exactly such willingness to "adapt" and "compromise" which eventually lead to the loss of the message of Jesus, as seen chapter one.

    General similarities with paganism:

    As we have seen, the common thread among most of these pagan sects is their worship of the sun as their deity and their selection of the winter solstice (25th of December) as the time of the birth of their supreme god. The winter solstice is the time of year when the sun would reach its last stage of decline and once again begin to rise and become "re-born." This rise would continue until day and night become equal in length. At this point, the god of the sun would appear to be at a stand off with the "prince of darkness." This would occur at the vernal equinox, or Easter. This situation, however, would not last for long, as the god of the sun would triumph after Easter, and days would become longer than nights.

    We notice that the church too received divine "inspiration" that Jesus (pbuh) was born on the 25th of December, and also that he too "triumphed over the prince of darkness" on Easter day, just as the pagan gods of the Greeks and Romans had done centuries before.

    The Muslim author goes to great lengths to "prove" that Jesus was a mere Muslim prophet of the Bigot God of 9/11, and that the religion established in his name is a hopelessly pagan creation. (As if that makes it self-apparently wrong.)

    That what we call God might be expansive and infinite, and able to appear in many forms to many peoples during many periods, would never occur to the author, as it is antithetical to fundamentalist Islam. (It's heresy, of course. Meaning they'd kill me for saying it.)

    Yet another reason why we must defend the classical tradition. The enemy would destroy every trace of it.


    posted by Eric at 08:55 AM | Comments (20)

    Crippled brain trauma victim replies!

    Someone I never heard of before (but found indirectly via InstaPundit) has hurt Puff's feelings:

    .... it would have been better had Seipp not been too lazy and intellectually torpid to note this fact before penning her tedious crippled-pit-bull-with-brain-trauma attack piece. It’s bad enough that her horrid writing style typically consists of not only spitting in the eye of Strunk & White, but in ripping off their deceased heads and vomiting down their demised throats. (Emphasis supplied.)
    It's one thing not to like another blogger, but I think it's really rude and mean-spirted to talk this way about elderly pit bulls with brain problems.

    Anyway, Puff doesn't like it at all. He has serious arthritis (as well as a history of seizures) and he's so upset that he's now solidly on Cathy Seipp's side.

    So am I!

    And for what it's worth, despite his ailments, Puff is considerably more articulate than Martini Republic. Ridiculing his misfortune to make fun of people he doesn't even know is about as funny as if they'd called his master a "bar flunker" too. (What's funny about a failed bar anyway?)

    posted by Eric at 09:37 PM | Comments (6)

    Metical Issues

    A judge has upheld an Arizona law which requires proof of citizenship for welfare benefits.

    It seems so simple, doesn't it? Who but a citizen is entitled to the benefits of citizenship? So then what do we do about immigration?

    The President has a plan, scoffed at by defeatists, which the Tucson Citizen finds hopeful:

    President Bush this week had hopeful words for those seeking serious immigration reform.

    In a news conference, Bush renewed his call for a guest worker program for immigrants seeking legal employment in the United States. "We want our Border Patrol agents chasing crooks and thieves and drug runners and terrorists, not good-hearted people who are coming here to work," the president said.

    Bush also said he wants to "stop the process of people feeling like they've got to walk miles across desert in Arizona and Texas in order just to feed their family, and they find them dead out there."

    This will not be an easy political battle. But it is extremely encouraging to hear that the president is ready and willing to start the national discussion.

    This plan, it seems to me, has a pedigree:

    As the Greek polis evolved it sought to differentiate, amongst its inhabitants, between insiders and outsiders. Insiders par excellence were its own members, the citizens; palpable outsiders were its slaves, indigenous or imported; but this simple dichotomy would have sufficed only for communities like Sparta which discouraged immigration. Elsewhere it was necessary to recognize free persons who lived, temporarily or permanently, in the polis without becoming its citizens. ... The precise nature and complexity of metic-status doubtless varied from place to place; evidence approaches adequacy only for Athens, atypical in its allure and, consequently, the numbers of those who succumbed thereto (half the size of the (reduced) citizen body of c.313 BC (Ath. 272c); perhaps proportionately larger in the 5th cent. BC (R. Duncan-Jones, Chiron 1980, 101 ff.) ). With Solon having created only indirect incentives to immigration, Athenian metic-status probably owes its formal origins to Cleisthenes (2), after whom the presence of metics was recognized in law and could develop in its details at both city and local (deme) level. ... Socio-economically, Athens' metics were highly diverse, and contemporary attitudes to their presence deeply ambivalent.

    (excerpted from David Whitehead's entry on metics in the Oxford Classical Dictionary)

    That sounds about right. Except for the slavery part.

    posted by Dennis at 02:17 PM | Comments (2)

    Stop foolish and frivolous technology now, you bad bad humans!
    Every creature that comes into being ought to have the right to its individual genetic makeup.

    -- Jeremy Rifkin

    Via Drudge, I see that cloning of pets (a topic I've discussed before, and which Jeff Soyer has discussed repeatedly) has now gotten the attention of the official moralizers. While I think cloning your pet is a dumb thing to do, every time I read another official public scolding by People Who Know Better (and who'd run our lives if they could) I get a little ticked off.

    Here's today's view from the Pulpit:

    "It's morally problematic and a little reprehensible," said David Magnus, co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford. "For $50,000, she could have provided homes for a lot of strays."

    Animals rights activists complain that new feline production systems aren't needed because thousands of stray cats are euthanized each year for want of homes.

    Genetic Savings and Clone chief executive Lou Hawthorne said his company purchases thousands of ovaries from spay clinics across the country. It extracts the eggs, which are combined with the genetic material from the animals to be cloned.

    Critics also complain the technology is available only to the wealthy, that using it to create house pets is frivolous and that customers grieving over lost pets have unrealistic expectations of what they're buying.

    First of all, I would never clone any pet, because each animal is a unique experience, and a twin is a mere genetic copy and not the same animal you knew and loved. You'd never get the same bonding and experience you had, and I think it would be hopelessly contaminated by old memories. Better to get a new one.

    But that's just my opinion, and it isn't binding on anyone. Although I might think that someone who did this was a bit screwy in the head, I'd never try to stop him, especially by means of government restrictions.

    What I find most annoying about today's lecture is the objection based on cost. Whether cloning an animal is right or wrong has nothing to do with cost. If it's wrong because it costs $50,000, does it become right when the price is right? What's the "morally correct" price, anyway? $5,000? $500?

    Lots of people would spend thousands of dollars to save a sick pet. Isn't that also elitist by the same argument, and wouldn't that money be better off spent on "homes for a lot of strays?" Seen this way, purchasing any expensive item is immoral. Plenty of people spend $50,000 for a car. Isn't that also technology "available only to the wealthy?"

    Then there's the argument that "new feline production systems aren't needed because thousands of stray cats are euthanized each year for want of homes." I suspect if these people had their way, they'd make it illegal to breed any animals at all.

    People who want to place limitations on human technology make me as nervous as the people who want to place limitations on what people can do with their money. Placing limits on technology seems to go hand in hand with the zero sum game, and echoes the thinking of Paul Ehrlich and Jeremy Rifkin. If they had their way, all humans would be neutered, leashed, regulated back to the stone age, life extension would be blocked, and we'd never be allowed to leave the planet.

    Limiting man's evolution is by definition backwardness. But to the forces of backwardness, moving backwards means power.

    Interestingly enough, the more routine the cloning of animals becomes, the more likely becomes the possibility of recreating extinct animals like the Passenger Pigeon, the Dire Wolf or the Dodo. I'm sure the moralists would hate to see such a thing ever happen, because man is bad. And once man has hunted an animal into extinction, he should have no right to erase that mistake! No moving forward and no progress -- especially if it might mean reversing mistakes made in the past!

    posted by Eric at 09:59 AM | Comments (11)

    It's hard to help the blind see but . . .

    I am not a warblogger, but I'll make an exception here to juxtapose two quotes which are getting plenty of attention.

    To the extent the blogosphere can dispel the propaganda cover willingly provided by the Left, people on the home front can help the soldiers in the field. It is necessary to link the war criminal behavior of the enemy with the studied blindness of 'sophisticates' towards their most heinous crimes. They are twinned; with the former made possible by the latter.

    -- The Belmont Club

    Fair enough. I didn't have to look far to find studied blindness. That goes well with this, this, er post:
    Bush destroys another 22 families
    by kos
    Tue Dec 21st, 2004 at 08:09:37 PST

    The news from Iraq never gets any better.

    A mortar and rocket attack on a U.S. military base in the Iraqi city of Mosul killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 50 on Tuesday in one of the most deadly attacks on U.S. forces since last year's invasion [...]
    Unless Kos is actually on the side of the enemy, calling such an attack "good news" certainly qualifies as an extreme example of blindness. I know I'm being charitable in my assessment, but it's Christmas, and Kos did once serve in the U.S. military.

    The next day, Kos wrote this:

    Looks like Rumsfeld will have to sign a few death letters over the coming days.
    The sarcastic tone clearly implies that Rumsfeld doesn't care. Signing "a few death letters" is a mere trifle. An annoyance.

    From his statements, Kos clearly considers Rumsfeld and Bush ultimately responsible for the actions of the enemy. Unless he believes Bush and Rumsfeld wanted the attack, this means that Kos:

  • a) wants the enemy to win;
  • b) he does not consider those who kill U.S. soldiers to be their enemies (as startling as it is logically impossible); or
  • c) Kos is engaged in studied blindness.
  • Again, I'll be charitable. It's "c" for Christmas.

    UPDATE: Thanks to a very generous link from Glenn Reynolds, I started seeing double. Then triple, quadruple, quintuple, sextuple hits on my "Sight" Meter. Thank you Glenn, and a warm welcome to InstaPundit readers.

    posted by Eric at 11:59 AM | Comments (21)

    Education is when undeserved guilt degenerates into insincere shame

    The debate over academic freedom brings me back to the topic of unoriginal thinking (which I touched on last week when I discussed young people who think thoughts which are not their own, but which are believed to be "cool").

    Conservative students are discovering that not only is it not cool to be conservative, but if you dare to admit it in class, it can get you a bad grade. (NOTE: For the purpose of this essay I'll lump libertarians with conservatives, because leftists in academia tend to treat all who oppose socialism with equal contempt.)

    I know people will disagree with me, but I think there is a distinction between someone who thinks and says something in order to be considered "cool" and someone who regurgitates thoughts a person in authority wants to hear in order to get a good grade. There is something about the latter which strikes me as less intellectually dishonest, because the thought isn't internalized.

    Saying that socialism is great in order to get an "A" from a socialist professor is of course dishonest, but if the student knows that this is wrong and says it anyway, he is less dishonest than if he meekly submits to the will of his professor and internalizes the authority figure's "truth" as his own -- especially if he has to suppress critical thinking in order to do the latter.

    However, the one who thinks what he is told to think is in a better position to have a happy life, so even if I am on the right side ethically, I may be on the wrong side socially. Is the unexamined life a happier life? Considering that the pursuit of truth will get you into more trouble than obediently accepting authority, I'd have to say yes. (But there's that troublesome issue of what it is that constitutes happiness; some unhappy fools actually consider true knowledge to be a worthwhile pursuit -- as if that might bring happiness!)

    It is the distinction between internalized obedience and the external display of obedience that is at the core of guilt-based versus shame based systems. The military is a classic example of a shame-based system. Obedience to the rules and protocols does not presuppose a belief that they are right; if you know your commander is a disgusting excuse for a human being, you will show respect and salute him because if you don't you will be in trouble. But the key is, you don't have to mean it. No one cares and no one inquires. Such shame based systems are much easier on the nerves, because a free and independent mind is left alone and unmolested provided that there's an outward conformity to the rules of conduct.

    Sean Kinsell provided a perfect example in his discussion of how refreshing it was to return to Japan's shame based culture after a visit to the American land of guilt:

    I always feel a sense of release when I'm boarding a plane back to Narita. It comes from the knowledge that I'm returning to a place where every last little turn of phrase or arch of eyebrow isn't mirthlessly prodded for complex psychological motivations, where you can expect people to be polite and considerate in public, and where no one cares about your private life as long as you don't force people to reckon with it.
    It's liberating not to have to worry about people caring what's going on inside you.

    And thus, conservative students who simply spout the magic words their professor wants to hear (and are given good grades for it), can survive the university ordeal quite intact. Shame based "thought" -- because it isn't really thought -- is less harmful to the individual than guilt-based thought.

    I suspect that without realizing it, the pedagogic approach of modern American academia has simply created a new culture-within-a-culture of shame-based political thinking which is as ideologically transparent as it is insincere. It may be academic tyranny, but especially in a large university setting, there's no way they can really probe the inner recesses of the students' minds to ascertain actual sincerity.

    Ditto for the enforcement of political correctness. The new authority figures have raised a generation of kids who roll their eyeballs when their professors' backs are turned. I've seen them. They'll do what they have to do to get the grade, and then get on with their lives.

    Anyone interested in such things as the pursuit of knowledge might call it tragic, I suppose, because they really aren't learning.

    I'd say they are learning -- they're just not learning what their professors think they're learning.

    As to the ones who feel guilty, they're victims of abuse, because education at the university level is not supposed to be about guilt. That stuff's supposed to be within the province of religion.

    Unless these professors think they are preachers or religious scolds or something....

    Hmmmm.... Perhaps some of them think they're filling an empty ecological niche.

    They better hope the kids don't wake up to the fact that internalizing someone else's guilt is definitely not cool.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: What I did not touch on is whether or not there might even be a shame-based element operating among some of those who voice "cool" thoughts without internalizing them. An extreme example would be a Republican sympathizer who voices all the politically correct thoughts in order to get laid or invited to parties, but believes just the opposite. Many would frown on such cynicism, of course, and I have no idea how common it is. Some might go so far as to call such people "sociopaths," but that's another topic entirely. (At least I hope it is; the thought that American universities might be manufacturing young sociopaths is hardly reassuring. Dang! I just remembered that I need to catch up on "South Park.")

    posted by Eric at 10:19 AM | Comments (26)

    Comparative religion lesson for today . . .

    For those who don't know much about Kwanzaa, Swanky Conservative has a fun post, which asks some good questions:

    This holiday doesn’t make sense. I see a celebration started by a convicted torturer and radical that proliferated and became legitimized out of liberal white guilt. That may sound harsh, but if there is a need for an Afro-centric holiday, is this one the one to use? Should a celebration started by a convict and 60’s radical be that holiday?

    Plus there’s the issue of it being celebrated at the same time as Chanukkah and Christmas, both holidays steeped in religious history. This piggybacking lends a religious legitimacy that’s unfounded given the explanation of the holiday.

    I’m also curious as to the meaning of the two ears of maize used to celebrate Kwanzaa. I didn’t know that the continent of Africa was a place one could find maize. Wasn’t maize a New World crop?

    No wonder people say Kwanzaa is a made up holiday. Well, I didn't know that Kwanzaa actually was considered a holiday, but some people must think it is. Or want it to be. Otherwise, why would it be on a postage stamp? (Make that two; they've now issued a second official Kwanzaa stamp.)

    Does anyone know how many people celebrate Kwanzaa? According to this poll, it's 2%. But such a figure -- 6 million Americans (or approximately 14% of black Americans) -- seems awfully large to me considering Kwanzaa's invention in 1966.

    Many people are not impressed at all by the complaint that Kwanzaa is made up, and they'll point to stuff like Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. I see their point. But I wonder how many of Kwanzaa's followers or defenders know that the guy who founded it is another in a long line of government-glorified Marxists, or how many have read this account of the circumstances underlying his 1971 conviction:

    On May 9, 1970 he initiated the torture session that led to his imprisonment. The torture session was described in the L.A. Times on May 14, 1971. "The victims said they were living at Karenga’s home when Karenga accused them of trying to kill him by placing crystals in his food and water and in various areas of his house. When they denied it, allegedly they were beaten with an electrical cord and a hot soldering iron was put in Miss Davis’ mouth and against her face. Police were told that one of Miss Jones’ toes was placed in a small vise, which then was tightened by the men and one woman. The following day Karenga told the women that ‘Vietnamese torture is nothing compared to what I know." Miss Tamao put detergent in their mouths; Smith turned a water hose full force on their faces, and Karenga, holding a gun, threatened to shoot both of them. The victims Deborah Jones and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothing."

    Making up a religion is one thing, but stuff like that really hurts.

    And much as I hate having to be fair to a guy like Moon (whom I've criticized repeatedly infra), despite all the criticism I've never about him doing stuff like that to his followers.

    I don't think Karenga can blame the era either. The early 70s were pretty wild, but I lived through it, and I can assure my readers that antics like those described above simply were not standard fare. Even the Satanists I knew didn't have rites like that.

    The imagery is more evocative of, say, the Church of Saddam Hussein.

    posted by Eric at 03:37 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (2)

    Plumb pudding, anyone?

    This time of year, I should be glad I don't have children. Not long before the current story about cell phones and DNA broke, there was a huge recall of costume jewelry because some of it contained lead. Lead, of course, is an automatically terrifying substance, even though it used to be in most plumbing, and of course it used to be in toy soldiers, most tin cans, and even toothpaste tubes:

    Food came in cans sealed with lead solder. Water was often stored in lead-lined tanks. It was sprayed onto fruit as a pesticide in the form of lead arsenate. It even came as part of the packaging of toothpaste tubes. Hardly a product existed that didn't bring a little lead into consumers' lives. However, nothing gave it a greater and more lasting intimacy than its addition to gasoline.
    How the hell did humanity survive?

    Now, we are told that if your child puts a piece of jewelry in his mouth, he'll shave 2 points off his IQ. There's nothing new about these lead stories, of course.

    This warning is typical:

    Lead poisoning is epidemic in Cleveland. One-in-six children tested are lead poisoned. In some neighborhoods the rate is as high as 36%.

    Lead poisoning is a personal and family tragedy. It robs children of their potential -they enter the race of life weighed down by lead:

    If a child can't read, sit still, or stop hitting their playmates, it may be lead poisoning.

    If a child drops out of school, can't get a job, uses drugs, it may be lead poisoning.

    Lead poisoning makes it tough for children and their families. When there are lots of lead-poisoned children, it makes it tough for the entire community.
    Worried about children's poor school performance - low proficiency scores and high drop-out rates? Worry about lead poisoning.

    Worried about poor workforce preparation - inadequate work skills and low productivity? Worry about lead poisoning.

    Worried about crime - delinquency, drug use, drug dealing, violence? Worry about lead poisoning.

    Lead poisoning is not just a problem for the poisoned child and their family. Lead poisoning is a problem for the entire community. It's your problem too.
    If you read enough of this literature, it will sink in that indeed, lead probably causes poverty, and (because of the IQ correlation) at least lowered earnings:
    By examining the relationship between lifetime earnings and IQ, and the relationship between IQ and lead in blood, researchers have shown that the current average lead level in the nation's 3.8 million 5-year-olds (2.7 mcg/deciliter) will reduce their cumulative lifetime earnings by $43.4 billion dollars. This will be true of next year's 5-year-olds as well, so lead in blood is costing us about $43 billion each year in lost earnings alone (not to mention the lead-related costs of medical care and violence).[31]

    In 2000, the federal government estimated that it costs $9000 to fully remediate an average lead-contaminated home and that complete remediation of all pre-1960 housing would cost the nation $16.6 billion per year for 10 years.[2, pg. 5] With benefits of $43.3 billion each year, investing $16.6 billion per year in lead abatement would provide the nation an enormous gain (extending well beyond 10 years), and would serve our national goal of "justice for all." Unfortunately, President Bush has allocated only $139 million for lead abatement in 2005 -- 20% less than in 2004, and less than 1% of what's needed. At the current rate of federal spending, the lead paint problem will be with us for another 120 shameful years.[32]

    I knew that Bush had to be responsible somehow. (Never mind that average childhood blood levels of lead have "dropped 80% since the late 1970s." I guess that should mean that IQ points have soared accordingly?)

    Are these claims exaggerated? At least one book says so:

    Anyone who owns a house built before 1978--the year that Congress banned the use of lead paint--already must disclose all known information about lead in the unit and give the buyer a pamphlet about the dangers of lead, or face imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. In addition, there are regulators who would like to see all lead paint removed, an approach that would cost in excess of $30 billion. Moore argues that those regulators have greatly exaggerated the danger that most Americans face from lead. "Before government pours additional millions or even billions into lead abatement, before homebuyers shoulder extra financial burdens, and before the rental housing stock shrinks further, perhaps it is time to undertake a long-overdue reassessment of the premises on which the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and Congress base their pronouncements and proposals."
    What really got my attention was a study which contends that the association between lead and mental retardation has it backwards -- that it is retardation which causes lead poisoning and not the other way around. The paper argues that the entire thesis amounts to reverse causation:
    In this paper, we will accept the association between lead exposure and mental deficit as fact; however, we will argue that, since in all of these studies the lead exposure was due to pica, it is not the lead exposure responsible for the mental deficit, but the mental deficit that is responsible for the lead exposure. Placing mental deficit rather than lead exposure as the cause has been referred to by commentators as the theory of reverse causation and, for clarity, we will use this term.
    Pica is a condition characterized by "the craving or eating of items that are not food." The following people are affected:
    Who Can Get Pica?

    • Pregnant woman. Most frequently, pica occurs in women before or during their pregnancies or while they are breastfeeding. The incidence of pica during pregnancy varies. It has been suggested that pica during pregnancy occurs more frequently in people who exhibited similar practices during their childhood and non-pregnant states.

    • Those who have poor nutrition (malnutrition) or vitamin deficiency
    Pica is also found in people who diet; they may attempt to ease hunger cravings with low-calorie and non-food substances. Sometimes, people with pica have family, ethnic, or religious customs that include eating a particular non-food substance.

    • Mental Retardation
    Pica also has been found among small children and people with epilepsy, mental retardation, and mental illness. Sometimes, several household members may share these cravings, and those in lower socioeconomic groups seem to have more non-food cravings than those in higher socioeconomic groups.

    • People who have ethnic customs or live in cultures where this is practiced

    For some pica is a cultural feature of certain religious rituals, folk medicine, and magical beliefs. Some people believe that eating dirt will help them incorporate magical spirits into their bodies. Still others believe that consuming certain kinds of clay can suppress morning sickness.

    • Individuals who live in poverty

    • A family history of Pica

    Here's a typical account of lead poisoning in a child:
    Lingering Menace

    Regina McEnery
    Plain Dealer, 9/2/2001

    On a blistering July day Ruquia Wilson walked outside and found her 18-month-old son, Angel Aponte, up against the porch railing of their first-floor apartment on W. 50th St., his red plastic bicycle momentarily forgotten. Tiny paint chips clung to his baby teeth.

    Wilson feared that her son might have swallowed something harmful, but she was unprepared for what she learned next. MetroHealth Medical Center hospitalized Angel after a blood test detected a lead level nearly 12 times higher than levels that are considered safe.


    Inspectors from the city of Cleveland later detected traces of lead on the front porch, where paint had cracked and peeled during the dry summer.

    "I was freaked out," said a weary Wilson during the first of her son's two hospital stays. "I felt like it was my fault."

    Well, it really doesn't matter who's at fault, because we are all at fault. That's why trial lawyers love lead cases. Brain damage plus huge jury verdicts minus 33-40% for the trial lawyer equals LITIGATION!
    In the case of Lamont Stoves v. the City of New York, LPK Attorneys Alan J. Konigsberg and Adam R. Cooper obtained a compensatory verdict totalling $3,850,000 on behalf of an 8-year-old boy who was lead poisoned for over 5 years while residing in an apartment owned by the City of New York. The jury concluded that the City was negligent in failing to maintain the apartment and that the infant's lead poisoning was a substantial factor in causing his cognitive and behavioral deficits. Tried in New York State Court, Kings County, 1999. This is one of the highest verdicts for childhood lead poisoning in the country. According to a report in the November 19 1999 edition of the New York Daily News, the verdict "was one of the costliest lead-poisoning verdicts ever against the city, legal experts said."
    As the old saying goes, the biggest slumlord in every city is, well, the city! Nice to know where your property taxes go.....

    In a long article in The Atlantic, Ellen Ruppel Shell argues that many of the premises of the anti-lead movement are as questionable as their data. The piece is subscription only, but there's an excerpt here:

    "The triumph over lead is widely touted as one of the great public-health successs stories of the century, a stunning example of the strength of activism over vested interests," writes Shell. "But many are unwilling to declare victory, and the news media too have "picked up the chant, citing widespread low-level lead poisoning as the trigger for ills ranging from attention deficit disorder to juvenile violence." Shell sees things otherwise and writes that "the characterization of lead poisoning as a 'silent epidemic' is not scientific truth but a rhetorical pose." She writes that "symptomatic lead exposure that causes clear clinical effects of mental or physical impairment is exceedingly rare," and says factors such as birth order, parental attention, and parental education are far more important than low blood lead levels in influencing IQ. Among basic points made by Shell: She argues for targeted testing rather than universal testing for blood lead, and she suggests that stripping of intact lead paint from woodwork "should not take priority over patching a leaking roof or fixing a heating system that belches carbon monoxide." In the end, she writes, "only by targeting lead poisoning for what it is -- largely a disease of the poor -- do we stand a chance of beating it."
    The widely touted term "lead poisoning" has itself taken on a whole new meaning. Elevated levels are now routinely called "lead poisoning." But as this researcher points out, doctors almost never see a single case of lead poisoning:
    Government agencies are telling people that childhood lead poisoning is often named as the leading environmental threat to our children. This conclusion is not accepted by most practicing physicians, who almost never see a case of symptomatic lead poisoning.
    The article is well worth reading, as the author makes a compelling case that there was flawed if not dishonest research by one Herbert Needleman (whose work nonetheless made him famous):
    The validity of Needleman's original studies and the scientific work and statements of some others involved with the 1991 CDC report have been questioned, as have other actions taken by the CDC, the EPA, and HUD. As early as 1983, the methodology and validity of Needleman's 1979 studies were challenged and were the subject of an investigation, as was the work of Claire Ernhart, whose studies on childhood lead poisoning did not support Needleman's conclusions (22). The findings of the investigatory board confirmed Ernhart's results but raised questions about inconsistencies in Needleman's work which were never resolved (22). In spite of this, Needleman, with support from federal grants and environmental advocacy groups, assumed an increasingly influential role as chairman and member of the CDC advisory committees and as consultant to government agencies--including the EPA. He played an important role in the CDC Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning in 1977, 1991, and 1993, during which time the official CDC threshold of concern about PBb was lowered from 60 µg/dL (before 1970) to 40 µg/dL (1970-75) and then progressively to 30 µg/dL (1975-85), to 25 µg/dL (1985-91), and to ]0 µg/dL ( 1 991). It seems logical to empirically set the BPb level of concern lower than the reported symptomatic mean BPb ( 178 µg/dL) by a reasonable multiple. Indeed, the BPb level (25 µg/dL) which the CDC set as a cutoff for concern prior to 1991 was seven times lower than this mean symptomatic value and twice as low as the generally-accepted minimum symptomatic level (50 µg/dL). However, lowering the level of concern further to 10 µg/dL in 1991 at the behest of Needleman and other low-lead crusade protagonists at the CDC has unjustifiably resulted in a tenfold increase in "abnormal" results, thus creating parental anxiety, lack of acceptance among practitioners, and exorbitant costs--all based on contradictory evidence.

    In 1990, Needleman cited his 1979 studies when he testified for the EPA in a case against a steel company (23). The validity of these investigations was challenged by Ernhart and Sandra Scarr, a psychology professor from the University of Virginia. Because his work was financed by federal grants, Needleman was ordered to reveal his original data (23). Partial review of these data by Ernhart and Scarr unearthed questionable data and methodology and resulted in an inquiry of Needleman's work by his own university, the University of Pittsburgh (24); and by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) (25). The findings of these investigations--released in 1993 and 1994--were critical of the quality of Needleman's scientific methodology, but the multiple misrepresentations in his work fell short of the rigid current ORI definition of scientific misconduct: fabrication, falsification. and plagiarism (FFP).

    The report of the University of Pittsburgh Hearing Board (24) found Needleman's studies to consist of a "pattern of errors, omissions, [and] contradictions" going back for many years.

    In regard to a 1979 article by Needleman (14 ), the University of Pittsburgh Hearing Board unanimously believed that Needleman was deliberately misleading, stating that "if the paper had contained all the caveats it should have contained regarding subject selection and model selection, it might not have been published, and it certainly should not have been a basis for federal policy" (24). Nonetheless, this study was published and Needleman became a consultant for the federal 1991 CDC recommendations (1), which introduced universal childhood lead screening as well as lower BPb levels of concern.

    A subsequent review by the ORI (25) seconded the University of Pittsburgh findings, confirming the "pattern of errors, omissions, [and] contradictions," and discovering additional defects. Needleman was found to have misplotted graph points in a way that was "difficult to explain ... [as] honest error" and to have ignored the pleas of Gunnoe, coauthor of the 1979 article (14), to correct known methodological errors before submitting the article to the journal. However, like the University of Pittsburgh, the ORI [begin p. 264] concluded that Needleman's scientific deficiencies could not be defined as FFP and thus did not constitute scientific misconduct. Commenting on this "fuzzy verdict," Taylor questioned the Pittsburgh Board's decision "for what most scientists would consider a reprehensible act: deliberately misrepresenting procedures used in a study to enhance the study's perceived value or its chances of publication" (26).

    With these questions about validity of his scientific methods coming from both his own university (24) and the ORI (25), one would have thought that Needleman would have opted to moderate his views. A more realistic expectation was that medical journals, federal granting agencies, and the scientific community would have hesitated to support Needleman's work. Very little has happened, however. Because his multiple scientific infractions were not found to be FFP, Needleman claimed that he was "vindicated." He instituted lawsuits against his university (27) and the ORI (28), and preemptively published an article in Pediatrics attacking his critics and claiming he was a victim analogous to the Salem witches (29). Although Needleman was directed by the University of Pittsburgh to submit a correction to the New England Journal of Medicine indicating that his studies "were not as originally reported and did not meet scientific standards of reproducibility," he initially failed to do so. When he finally submitted a "correction" (30), his statement did not reflect the true nature of his errors as the University had directed (24). He was successful in gaining the support of environmental advocacy groups and a strong activist organization--which, however, he helped to found--the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

    In 1996, after the reports of his university and the ORI had been released, Needleman published a paper claiming that increased delinquency was related to elevated bone lead (31). This study was again criticized for methodological irregularities (32. 33. 34), consistent with earlier demonstrated patterns of substandard science and contradictions. The article contained a major contradiction: that African-American boys with high bone lead levels not only had a higher rate of delinquency but had a greater mean IQ (31). In other words, according to the study. elevated bone lead levels resulted in smarter delinquents. When this contradiction was pointed out to him, Needleman's response was that it was "puzzling" (35).

    Puzzling or not, Dr. Needleman won the Heinz Award. This means that Needleman is a great man, and his critics are at least wrong, more likely evil and stupid.

    I am not an expert on lead, although I did play with lead soldiers as a child, ate food which came from leaded tin cans, brushed my teeth with toothpaste from lead tubes, and I have fired, cleaned and handled firearms for many years. Not to be morally judgmental about other people or their parenting techniques, but I don't think my mom would have let me eat paint, so maybe I didn't ingest as much lead as the kids whose moms did let them do things like that. Actually, I don't think I was particularly known for eating paint, plaster, or even dirt.

    But what if the dangers are being exaggerated? It strikes me that if they are, the public would never be told. The resources devoted to debunking and questioning these things are few and poorly funded, and usually amount to private skeptics like an occasional scientist, a writer here or there, or maybe someone with an axe to grind. They're all easily dismissed, and I'd be willing to bet that scientists like the one who questioned Needleman are denied funding, or (as I noted in an earlier comment), people see to it that they don't advance.

    Thus, Robert Maas (the guy who says costume jewelry shaves points off your child's IQ) cites Needleman repeatedly in his research papers. (Like this one, arguing that we need to regulate plastic Christmas trees, which Maas claims contain lead.)

    Obviously, attacking lead is the smart thing to do. Defending lead is for the brain damaged.

    Will you be serving your child plastic Christmas trees to eat with the jewelry?

    UPDATE: More on Herbert Needleman from Steven Milloy:

    As pointed out in the New England Journal of Medicine (search), University of Pittsburgh and federal investigators determined that Needleman’s work involved a “pattern of errors, omissions, contradictions and incomplete information” in the original and subsequent publications.

    The University of Pittsburgh found that Needleman engaged in “deliberate misrepresentation” and “substandard science.” The university referenced Needleman’s dismissal of critics as lead industry representatives and further noted his attempts to intimidate investigators.

    The federal Office of Research Integrity (search) said Needleman’s results were “difficult to explain as honest error.”

    Are you getting the picture? Well, there’s more and it’s particularly ironic since Needleman is featured on the “Silencing Scientists” panel at the CSPI conference.

    There's a lot more, and I am not an expert in the scientific details in these matters, but if I didn't know any better I'd swear there's at least a correlation between bad science and prestigious awards.

    But does bad science cause prestigious awards? Do prestigious awards cause bad science? Obviously, further research is necessary!

    MORE: Here's a more glowing summary of Needleman's work, via Bill Moyers:

    Dr. Herbert Needleman is a distinguished researcher who, after having determined the developmental implications of excessive exposure to lead, played a key role in the five-fold reduction in the prevalence of lead poisoning in American children. In 1979 he mounted the first large-scale study of intelligence and behavior in children with no outward signs of lead poisoning. He followed these children into adulthood, showing that lead exposure is associated with increased risk for failure to graduate from high school and for reading disabilities. His work was instrumental in the decisions made by the Environmental Protection Agency to mandate the removal of lead from gasoline and by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban lead from interior paints. Additionally, Dr. Needleman's studies prompted the Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove lead from thousands of housing units across the country. He founded the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, an education and advocacy organization with which he continues to work to reduce the hazards of lead-based paint in many inner city homes.For his extraordinary contributions to the understanding and prevention of childhood lead poisoning, Dr. Needleman received the Heinz Award in the Environment in 1995. Currently a professor of pediatrics and child psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Dr. Needleman has been a consultant to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Housing and Urban Development, and to state and local governments, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania lead program. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences, and co-authored Raising Children Toxic Free with Dr. Phil Landrigan and Mary Landrigan, M.P.A. Dr. Needleman earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and trained in psychiatry at Temple University Health Sciences Center.
    I may be biased, but I'm skeptical about psychiatry as hard science, and I find myself wondering whether Needleman might be one of those guys who sees what he wants to see, and then makes the common error of asserting that correlation is causation.

    MORE: Hmmph! I guess I must have misunderestimated Dr. Needleman's credentials. According to SpaceDaily, he's a prominent physicist who's angry at the Bush administration:

    Several climate experts have complained that they were unable to include in official reports information linking pollution and global warming.

    "It's so egregious what this administration is doing, particularly in regards to the environment," said Herbert Needleman, a physicist at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "And their whole approach to global warming has been ignorant and cynical."

    Gee. Does lead cause global warming too?

    posted by Eric at 08:10 AM | Comments (9)

    More on Blogs and the Press

    Steve Outing of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies has published his first of two articles on 'What Mainstream Journalists Can Learn From Bloggers.'

    I haven't read it all, but some of you may be intrigued to hear that he suggests blogging ethics to be downright Libertarian (though I should be transparent and tell you that he's referring specifically to Ana Marie Cox, the crotchety Old Media's favorite example).

    PS: Once again Matt Drudge is noted as a blogger (as crotchey ol' Engberg did in the post linked above), which instantly reduces the credibility of the piece.

    PS2: No, I'm not live blogging my reading of this article. Sheesh.

    posted by Dennis at 07:13 AM | Comments (1)

    Cold realities

    Well, frostbite hasn't claimed my fingers, but all things considered I'd rather be in California right now. This is ridiculously cold, nothing works properly (the car's transmission would barely go into gear and everything's dehydrated) and it makes me feel like a damned whining crybaby complaining about it, but to do last minute Christmas shopping in weather like this is just no fun. Procrastination does not pay, and I know it. One of these days I'll have to get around to planning ahead.

    Slight dusting of snow on the ground, but not enough to look Christmasy or anything. Just mean and icy-looking. Where's the damned global warming the Democrats said I'd get if I voted for Bush? I could use some right now.

    Makes you appreciate some of the things we take for granted. My grandfather pioneered in the Dakotas, and my father was born in South Dakota in 1909. When he was three they moved to an Indian reservation in North Dakota and built a sod house in which my father lived for several years. The whole Plains area was just god-awful cold in the winter. Like Siberia. The blizzards were blindingly deadly, and you could lose your way and die just going to the outhouse at night to take a leak, so they ran a wire between the house and the outhouse to guide you out and back. Yeah, you could use a chamberpot, but you have to empty them at some point. Modern plumbing is something we take for granted like we do heat. My grandparents didn't have plumbing until the mid 1930s when my dad paid a contractor to install an indoor toilet and a sink. Not that long ago, if you think about it; things like a daily bath and an indoor flush toilet are modern, yet are now seen as necessities. If my grandfather were alive today, they'd arrest him for building the sod house my dad lived in as a boy.

    His house fell down, but I've scanned a picture of an identical one built by some friends who followed my grandfather and homesteaded on a nearby parcel (both were on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which I see is still there). This picture was taken sometime in the 1940s before it, too, fell down:


    This old house is too late for Bob Vila, I think.....

    Where was the government when my ancestors needed building codes to "protect" them?

    posted by Eric at 10:53 PM | Comments (3)

    Post election frosting

    Via Joe Gandelman (at Dean's World) I see a pleasant reminder that the election is over:

    that this election could not be over soon enough for me, since to do a credible weblog I had to write about main campaign issues and developments to keep the site updated and relevant...which meant ignoring some other big interests (such as foreign affairs, popular culture and serious media issues). I don't mourn the end of the campaign; I truly celebrate it — because it opens up more opportunity for writing and more challenges to work to expand and broaden readership. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)
    Well, I am glad to be unburdened, because (much as I felt obligated to cover it) Classical Values was never intended to be an election blog, and I'm pleased to return to what I hope regular readers enjoy.

    Amidst this Christmas rush, I'd almost forgotten how much I wanted the election to be over, so I could kick back and.... And what? Relax? Devote more time to the subjects I most care about?

    Alas! Relaxing is not what I'm doing today, and nor is blogging; I'm doing my last minute Christmas shopping and mailing in TEN DEGREE weather.

    More later, if I don't lose my fingers to frostbite.

    posted by Eric at 10:42 PM | Comments (2)

    Real life hypothetical

    A good Tort Law exam question appeared in today's news:

    A New York truck driver who police believe was driving drunk struck and killed a Hamilton Township, N.J., man yesterday as he took a sobriety test after being stopped on Route 130 in Bordentown Township, police said.

    When police stopped Shane Gildersleeve of Valatie, N.Y., less than a mile away, they found open containers of alcohol in the vehicle and charged him with driving under the influence, according to prosecutors.

    An officer had stopped William F. Grieb, 34, of Hamilton Township, Mercer County, on Route 130 just after 2 a.m. on suspicion of drunken driving, according to Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi.

    As the officer was giving Grieb a sobriety test at the side of the road, a tractor-trailer driven by Gildersleeve crashed into the police car, which then struck Grieb's vehicle, Bernardi said.

    The officer was able to get out of the way but was unable to move Grieb, who died instantly, Bernardi said.

    Clearly, alcohol was a major cause of this accident, but is it relevant whose drinking caused the car which was ultimately hit to be stopped in the first place? When the police officer detained the motorist, once he was no longer free to leave the scene, was he (or his estate) still liable? Was he contributorily negligent or was the stop an intervening act [a superseding cause?] which effectively broke the chain of causation? Might the officer have been negligent had he not made the driver pull all the way over to the side of the road? (There can be liability for negligently parking a car.) Can the driver's family recover from the trucking company as well as the county? Are there public policy considerations?

    In law school I enjoyed hypothetical questions like that. It's not every day you see them in real life.

    UPDATE: It's not every day that a real life hypothetical blog entry gets linked by a real life law professor! Thank you Glenn Reynolds, and welcome all InstaPundit readers. Law students, good luck on the exams!

    posted by Eric at 12:15 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBacks (2)

    Innocence is touching

    Here's something communitarians of all persuasions can seize upon in blaming everyone except the guilty:

    Shocking sex acts in schools

    Philadelphia students as young as 5 are being caught in a variety of situations - even the rape of classmates. The district has hired abuse counselors to intervene.
    By Susan Snyder

    Inquirer Staff Writer

    At one Philadelphia public school earlier this month, two boys were caught alone in a rest room, one atop the other, their underpants off and their groins in each other's faces.

    They were kindergartners.

    And it was no isolated case.

    Dozens of Philadelphia School District police reports over the last year detail instances of youngsters' ordering classmates to perform sex acts, grabbing private parts, simulating sex acts on one another, and writing sexually explicit notes that sound like something out of a pornographic movie.

    It's happening in classrooms and hallways, in rest rooms and on playgrounds.

    While the number of morals offenses declined in Philadelphia's schools in the last year, high-profile - sometimes violent - incidents involving the youngest of students have emphasized the problem anew. The cases have prompted the district and the city's Department of Human Services to hire a private counseling agency to screen children and provide help if necessary.

    Last school year, of the 462 morals offenses, 145 cases - nearly a third - occurred among the district's 71,370 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Through Nov. 30 this school year, 36 incidents were reported in those grades.

    It's a very long article, but it appears that the kids are either imitating stuff they've seen their parents do, or else the parents couldn't be bothered to pay attention to the stuff their kids read, or watch on line.
    What years ago used to be natural curiosity that manifested itself in "playing doctor" or "show and tell" has taken on a more aggressive and sexual tone in some children, who are exhibiting acts that should be far beyond their knowledge.

    Experts say Philadelphia's experience is part of a growing problem nationwide as youngsters are exposed to more explicit material on television and the Internet and in their homes.

    "The stuff available at their fingertips - that is really going to change the development of a whole generation of youth," said Jill Levenson, a professor of human services at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., who researches sexual violence.

    While some acts constitute assault, others appear consensual, such as the kindergartners' case at Willard Elementary in Kensington.

    Students are acting out what they have seen or experienced in an abusive relationship, experts say.

    "The more children are exposed to adultlike sexual behaviors, the more likely they are to try some of that on," said Thomas Haworth, director of child and adolescent services at the Peters Institute. "The children with their faces in each other's groins, that's not something you would come upon in normal childhood. That's adult sexual behavior."

    The incidents have upset and shocked staff and parents.

    Viviana Sweeney has yet to send her 5-year-old son back to school after a Nov. 8 incident in which a kindergarten teacher at Drew Elementary in University City discovered the boy and a classmate in a rest room, their underpants down. The other boy was lying atop her son, simulating sex with him.

    Sweeney is upset that the boys were allowed together unsupervised in the rest room, which is in the classroom. Her son, she said, knows nothing of sexuality and was instructed by the other student.

    The school plans to implement "screening" and of course, "counseling." And they're not going to allow more than one child at a time to use restrooms.

    When I was a kid all the kids took bathroom breaks at the same time, and the boys peed in a long trough. Now it's One. At. A. Time.

    Any wonder why there's no time to learn anything?

    It would never occur to anyone that the tiny minority of kids who behave this way might not belong in school. For whatever reason, they're wildly dysfunctional, and I don't see why the other kids should be made to tolerate sexual abuse at their hands, any more than they should have to tolerate violent behavior. Schools are more and more like prisons -- with more and more prison-like behavior occurring.

    I realize that the communitarian approach is to blame "society" -- which includes me. But just because I live in the same world and my taxes pay for the same slop that goes into the same trough, how am I in any way responsible for where some kid sticks his little peepee -- any more than I am to be blamed if he had a gun? It is this conflict -- a basic inability to see the same set of facts in the same way -- which drives the "Culture War." It is as self apparent to me that I am not responsible for the conduct of others as it is to some people that I am. This is not rational, nor is it easy to debate, because people lose their rationality when they are blamed for conduct with which they had nothing to do. In "Bowling for Columbine," Michael Moore blamed entertainer Dick Clark (I am serious, folks) for the fact that a six year old girl was shot to death by a little boy in school. I know Moore is an abject demagogue and an extreme case, but there were all sorts of attempts on all sides by people to blame their favorite enemies for the Columbine shooting. Like we're all involved in a vast national Lockheed U.S. military Gay Goth Trenchcoat Mafia plot, or something. (I guess it would have been worse had Harris and Klebold been in the first grade....)

    What is it about children which invites hysteria? Their alleged innocence? Even if we assume for the sake of argument that there is such a thing as childhood "innocence" (something which didn't really stand out as memorable when I was a child), clearly a five year old who sticks his peepee in the face of another five year old has crossed the line separating the innocent from the not-so-innocent. What sort of egalitarianism is it which allows the already-damaged to harm the yet-undamaged, then blames "society"?

    What sort of egalitarianism puts bureaucratic screening programs in place which (by factoring in sexual abuse as something assumed as a lowest common denominator) might end up treating innocent childish curiosity as a sex crime? I can remember an incident in the second grade when another boy peed on me, and I "returned fire." He went and "told" on me, but fortunately the teacher yelled at both of us, then reminded the whole class of our civic responsibilities. With today's screening and testing, I don't like to think what might happen.

    Why, I could even imagine some of the bored, smarter kids figuring out how to game the system by pushing society's hot buttons. Hardly a new idea; kids have been engaging in such antics since at least 1692.

    Of course, Salem had no Ritalin. Or Paxil.

    posted by Eric at 11:21 AM | Comments (3)

    No escape from withdrawal

    I read you can't escape (whether from life, death or the blogosphere) and this test confirms that hypothesis with flying colors.

    Which David Bowie are you?

    Via the Flea, who's also Berlin-era Bowie. Channeling withdrawal and depression is what makes life good.

    And inescapable.


    UPDATE: Drawn out horse now has a complaint few will understand.

    posted by Eric at 12:09 AM

    "C" for censored?

    There won't be any posting from me until possibly tonight, as I recently discovered that Christmas is a week away, and I need to send out cards and take care of much-neglected holiday-related stuff.

    As a logical person and as someone who barely manages to call himself a Christian (despite the fact that many would deny me that label too) I respect Christmas, and see it as a holiday clearly related to the guy it's named for. I hasten to add that the guy's name wasn't Jesus Season's Holiday Greetings, and wanted to echo James Lileks's sentiments (via Glenn Reynolds) with a personal anecdote.

    I stood in line for much too long just to buy stamps at the local post office, only to make what I thought was a robotically routine request for "CHRISTMAS STAMPS." The woman stared silently, and said "What do you want?" I thought she hadn't heard me so once again I asked for "Christmas stamps." Without answering, she showed me the selection, and if I didn't know any better I'd swear she'd been ordered not to utter the word.

    But the bright side in all of this is that if you're a last minute procrastinator like me, you'll find that there are plenty of boxed cards for sale which use the "C" word! I think they're the last to sell, because people are afraid to use it.

    Excuse me for saying so, but Christmas is Christmas. When people go too far out of their way to avoid being offensive, it gets a little, well offensive!

    posted by Eric at 02:54 PM | Comments (5)

    Friday Catblogging

    Late news (April, 04), but still news to me. The association of cats with humankind has been pushed back a few thousand years.

    Researchers have often given Egyptians living around 4,000 years ago credit for having first domesticated wildcats and then bred the tame felines. However, discoveries on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus indicate that people domesticated felines there by about 9,500 years ago, long before the cat-worshipping Egyptians' time.

    So there. Consarned Egyptians, always worshipping their cats. Cyprus beat you to it.

    ...a team led by archaeologist Jean-Denis Vigne of the CNRS-National Museum of Natural History in Paris unearthed a cat's skeleton from a small grave. The animal's remains lay near a larger grave that contained a human skeleton along with offerings such as polished stones and flint tools.

    The grave is the real clincher. Cat bones have been found associated with human archeological sites before, but the reasoning was that they may have been feral opportunists, sneaking around for scraps. Not enough proof for a committed sceptic.

    The new feline find underscores the emerging view that colonizers of Cyprus propagated a sophisticated culture, remarks archaeologist Alan H. Simmons of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
    A recently completed excavation of a 12,000-year-old site on Cyprus, directed by Simmons, shows that residents there hunted pygmy hippos and several other native animal species nearly to extinction within about 2 millennia. Island settlers then brought over a variety of animals from the mainland, Simmons says.

    No Hobbits, I suppose. Too bad. Anyway, it gives me a warm feeling to know that people have been putting up with the furry little dictators for ten thousand years. Even in the stone age, a cat could sit by your fire and feign inscrutability.


    posted by Justin at 06:50 PM | Comments (3)

    Spread, as in jam?

    The statistics I cited in the last post will serve as a pretty good illustration of how science can be contaminated when people look for what they want instead of objectively pursuing the truth. An anti-gun activist will see guns as the primary cause of murder, while a feminist will see men as the cause and so on.

    The principle (that people look for what they want) illustrates one of the most painful difficulties I have found in having a libertarian viewpoint: being a libertarian means letting most people down. That's because most people are liberal or conservative, and when they follow this natural tendency to see what they want, why, liberals often try to see a libertarian as a liberal, while conservatives will see him as a conservative. But then, once the libertarian is forced to let his new friends down (by saying stuff they don't want to hear), then liberals will call him conservative, and conservatives will call him liberal.

    Which means that in real life, to be an honest libertarian means that you'll be at the very least letting most people down, at worst hated.

    Unless you do what so many of us have had to do at one time or another: engage in selective reporting of one's thoughts and beliefs.

    This touches on what I was saying yesterday about the blogosphere being like Ebay. And I think it expands upon what Glenn Reynolds said today:

    ....[P]eople blog so that they can express themselves -- to be producers, not consumers -- and we see this impulse across the world of new and alternative media. But it's not really new. Lots of musicians play music in spite of the fact that most of them won't get rich. (Most won't even do as well as my touring rock-musician brother, and believe me, he isn't rich). They do it because they like to play, and they want their music heard. I think the same kind of thing drives most bloggers, too. It's certainly what's driven me.
    Ditto for me. And what's at least as important as being heard is knowing that you aren't alone.

    Small "l" libertarians and other assorted non-conforming thinkers (as if there's such a thing as "conforming thinkers") are spread throughout the country, but until now they haven't had a practical way to discover each other. They're still spread throughout the country, but now they're spreading each other's thoughts as they expound and expand upon them. (A phenomenon known among musicians as "jamming.")

    And they might be spreading too.

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: I didn't really factor the liberal MSM into this post, but it's a phenomenon which tends to push libertarians and conservatives into a strategic alliance (if not exactly the same camp). The resultant anger explains, I think, why it seems that more liberals call libertarians "conservative" than do conservatives call libertarians "liberal." I don't know whether I prefer to be called "conservative" or "liberal"; I guess that depends on whether it's meant as a compliment or an insult.

    posted by Eric at 12:53 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (2)

    Urgent warnings -- from SCIENCE!

    Because the point is often made that guns cause murder and other crime, I thought I'd take a look at some statistics in the hope of drawing some serious scientific conclusions.

    I'll start with some statistics I found in a 1999 study, "An Analysis of Variables Affecting the Clearance of Homicides: A Multistate Study" by Charles Wellford and James Cronin.

    People who believe that correlation equals causation (especially those who already hate handguns) will be delighted to see that handguns indeed appear very, very guilty:

    Table 3 lists the primary cause of death for all homicides, closed homicides, and open homicides. The majority of homicides involved being shot by a handgun (65.7%). This was distantly followed by being stabbed with a knife or other instrument (11.0%), being shot with other than a handgun (9.5%), and other causes of death (13.7%).

    Looks pretty damning, doesn't it? Handguns are clearly the cause of the overwhelming majority of murders, so obviously, the question becomes, what are we to do about handguns?

    But this is true only if we look at the guns as the culprit. Suppose we take a look at the race and sex of the shooters in the same study.

    Table 7 displays the offenders' age, sex, and race. The offenders were 24 years old or younger in 53.7% of the cases. In 93.5% of the cases the offender was a male and in 74.8% of the cases the offender was an African American.
    Readers can see Table 3 and Table 7 below.

    So, if 65% of the murders were "caused" by guns, why isn't it equally valid to say that 74% were "caused" by race? Or that 93% were "caused" by sex? Because that would be manifestly unreasonable. And why? Because we are supposed to be a fairminded people living in a country which does not judge people by statistical correlations. Each person is theoretically held responsible for his actions, and we know that race no more causes murder than does sex.

    So why do so many people single out guns?

    One of the authors of the above study (Charles Wellford) was featured in an article in today's New York Times. Mr. Wellford is the Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council which has released a report blaming the NRA for the lack of what he calls a "science base":

    The National Rifle Association and its supporters in Congress have long opposed collecting information on gun ownership and sharing the bureau's gun-tracing data, describing such steps as an invasion of privacy.

    Charles F. Wellford, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said that among the major questions that need answers are whether gun violence could be better controlled if there were more restrictions on who can buy firearms, whether customers should be limited to buying one gun at a time and whether safety locks work.

    "These and many related policy questions cannot be answered definitively because of large gaps in the existing science base," said Mr. Wellford, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Maryland.

    Such "scientific" data are needed to explore such questions as whether "owning a gun increases the risk of a gun injury."

    Again, is correlation causation?

    Am I allowed to ask exactly what it is that passes for "science" these days?

    Unless one merely makes an argument based on correlation (and I believe I've shown how stupid that is) how could such a "risk" ever be accurately assessed?

    Does owning an automobile increase the risk of a car injury? Well, if you drive the car, it obviously does. However, the mere ownership of a firearm (or a car) in and of themselves cannot increase "risk", because firearms and cars are inanimate objects.

    I have to assume that the term "ownership" includes possession. But does possession include ownership? If someone owns a gun and uses it to commit suicide, how can it be shown that the gun contributed to the "risk" of the suicide? The only way you should show a connection between the gun and the suicide would be if you could demonstrate that the presence of the gun made the owner want to commit suicide – and only with the gun, and not by any other means. There's no way to do that.

    As to children, I suppose it could be argued that a gun increases the risk of a child finding it, because if there were no gun then how could it be found?

    But can't that be said about cars?

    Children Driving Cars
    A nine year-old girl, with a 4 year-old boy accomplice, took the keys to her parents' Mistubishi Montero and managed to drive it a mile from Little Ferry, NJ to Hackensack, before crashing into cars and hitting an 84 year-old man.
    Of course, that was an SUV…. Had it been a normal car, it never would have "caused" the child to drive it.

    Besides, according to this survey the mere presence of children in cars makes cars more dangerous:

    Parents are stressed, tearful, frustrated, and unable to concentrate on the road when they have young children in the car, a survey says.

    The pregnancy health charity Tommy's Campaign quizzed members of the Huggies Mother and Baby club about their feelings on driving their children.

    The charity says an "astounding" 59% admitted to feeling stressed, angry, tearful, or unable to concentrate on some journeys.

    In fact, using the same logic, can it not be said that it is the presence of the child that increases the risk both of child gun violence as well as child SUV violence?

    And what about the "risk" that owning a gun will make it more likely that someone will use your gun against you? Again, can't that be said about cars? I mean, if you don't own a car, how can a bad guy ever take your car away from you and use it against you?

    In fact, I am so sure that my "science" is correct that I am willing to stick my neck out here and now and declare that people who own cars are far more likely to have their cars used against them than people who don't own cars! With SUVs, the risk increases dramatically, of course, because they are bigger and more deadly.

    As to suicides, cars are used regularly as a method -- both by carbon monoxide poisoning and by deliberate suicidal driving. It is just as reasonable to blame the cars for these deaths as it is to blame guns for suicidal shootings. So why isn't the National Safety Council issuing warnings about car suicides?

    Hey, at least Swedes are consistent. Not only do they blame guns for suicide, but here are some Swedish recommendations for suicide proofing of cars:

    Ostrom, M. (1996) Carbon monoxide suicide from car exhausts. (Study of 194 victims who committed suicide by CO poisoning from car exhausts during 4-year period. Males dominated (88%), most of them middle aged. Most victims committed suicide in a car outdoors; ETOH was detected in 51% of the victims and other drugs in 7%. Suggest law requiring catalyst exhaust, automatic idling stop, and exhaust pipes incompatible with vacuum cleaner tubes) Sweden

    Now, while readers know how much I hate laws against inanimate objects, in the interest of truth I thought I should point out another study contending that cell phone driving is more dangerous than drunk driving!

    ....the fatality rate for innocent victims of cell phone-talking motorists might be comparable to or even higher than the fatality rate for innocent victims of intoxicated motorists.
    According to the same study, sleep is almost as lethal.

    My scientific conclusion?

    Don't use a gun with your car phone while driving in your sleep!

    And finally, in the interest of advancing science, I feel obligated to conclude with an additional paradox involving guns in cars. In a highly provocative piece, Dave Kopel proves that having a gun in the car can be very dangerous (but not for the reason most people think):

    Dr. Suzanna Gratia, a cafeteria patron, had a gun in her car, but, in conformity to Texas law, she did not carry the gun; Texas, despite its Wild-West image, has the most severe law in the country against carrying firearms. Carry-reform legislation had almost passed the state legislature, but had been stopped in House Rules Committee by the gun-control lobby.

    Gratia later testified that if she had been carrying her gun, she could have shot at Hennard: "I know what a lot of people think, they think, 'Oh, my God, then you would have had a gunfight and then more people would have been killed.' Unhunh, no. I was down on the floor; this guy is standing up; everybody else is down on the floor. I had a perfect shot at him. It would have been clear. I had a place to prop my hand. The guy was not even aware of what we were doing. I'm not saying that I could have saved anybody in there, but I would have had a chance." Hennard reloaded five times, and had to throw away one pistol because it jammed, so there was plenty of opportunity for someone to fire at him.

    Even if Gratia hadn't killed or wounded Hennard, he would have had to dodge hostile gunfire, and wouldn't have been able methodically to finish off his victims as they lay wounded on the floor. The hypothetical risks of a stray bullet from Gratia would have been rather small compared with the actual risks of Hennard not facing any resistance. But because of the Texas law, Gratia had left her gun in the car and couldn't take a shot at Hennard. Instead, she watched him murder both her parents. (Emphasis supplied -- to advance science!)

    As if we needed more evidence that guns in cars cause murder!

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: Please bear in mind that the Wellford study I cited above is based on the authors' selection of four large American cities, and relates more to urban crime than the demographics of the United States as a whole:

    This study examined 798 homicides that occurred in four large U.S. cities during 1994 and 1995. These cities were selected to maximize variation on homicide and total index crime clearance rates measured from 1980 through 1993. The cities include one that had relatively low homicide and total index crime clearance rates; another that had high homicide clearance rates and low total clearance rates; a third that had a high total clearance rate, but low homicide; and a fourth that had high total clearance and high homicide crime clearance.
    Readers seeking detailed national statistics might start with this analysis at The Smallest Minority, which I found via the ever-reliable SayUncle. The point I am making is that blaming guns makes about as much sense as blaming race. Or sex.

    Hmmmm..... Don't some people blame sex?

    Continue reading "Urgent warnings -- from SCIENCE!"

    posted by Eric at 08:57 AM | Comments (5)

    Fraternization of ideas as Culture War treason?

    Speaking of political fashion, I met someone at a party who seemed very interested in me until I made the mistake of saying I was a member of the National Rifle Association. Eyes which had been wide open with dilated pupils turned to narrow, pinpoint slits, and I was promptly discarded as a piece of suddenly unattractive intellectual (and sexual) rubbish.

    I say this lest anyone think logic has anything to do with guns or penises. Moms who have lost children to "guns" are about as logical in blaming those who are against gun control as parents are who blame child molestation on those who are against penis control. If you are on the "wrong" side of one of these arguments, you are more than wrong; you're akin to being a criminal.

    Ditto abortion. If you don't want to imprison women for having an abortion, if you think abortion might not always be murder, why, you've become a murderer, if not a Himmler.

    I've been told that the smart thing to do is simply not to have these arguments, for they are not arguments at all, but hopeless, intractable cultural differences. (And to the extent that they are that, it is a bit like arguing over likes and dislikes; a waste of time which will get you labeled "rude" or "offensive.")

    For years I thought that offering logic and reason in such a sea of personalized emotion and ad hominem rhetoric was little more than symbolism. The blogosphere changed that, because it did for ideas what Ebay did for physical things.

    I don't think it will ever come to this:


    (Idea progression generated by InstaPundit.)

    posted by Eric at 10:40 AM | Comments (9)

    Too late to be fashionably late

    A couple of thoughts on thought. Thoughts are too often like fashion. I hate fashion, but I don't hate thought, which means I hate most thought even though I love thought.

    How the hell can I hope to explain a nonsensical utterance like the above? Might as well start somewhere.

    A few weeks ago, I was reminded of something I had seen decades ago as a student at UC Berkeley: that many young people do not actually think what they say they think. Rather, they parrot the thoughts of others. Usually, those whose thoughts are parroted are deemed to be cool, and no one in college wants to be uncool, so in order to be cool (which means to fit in), one must parrot the cool thoughts of the cooler people.

    Of course, if the cooler people are deemed more intelligent, this confers on the imitators the right to claim they're more intelligent than the people who might happen to disagree with the cooler people.

    As I was reminded, if you were in college and were for Bush, you were definitely stupid and definitely not cool. Therefore, students faced enormous peer pressure not to be for Bush, lest they not get invited to cool things, maybe even not get laid. Of course, it's also cool to be for socialism and to believe in victim theories -- regardless of whether you can justify or explain them.

    Logic, reason, and independent thought set in years later, when coolness is no longer a primary consideration.

    In any event, it has always perplexed me to attempt to get involved in a serious discussion with someone whose thoughts are not their own, because you quickly find they can't follow their thoughts out and explain them in a logical manner. All too quickly, the discussion becomes loaded with ad hominem references about class, race, or sociological and economic status of those disagreeing -- as if these are the issues under discussion.

    Many years ago I reached a sort of turning point when, in the midst of horrendous personal problems (including watching the slow and tortuous deaths of longtime lovers, deciding to kill myself, etc.), I was told that I had never known suffering because I was white. This was just one of the things which made me stop and think -- really think -- and the result is that my life has not been quite the same since. I am one of the lucky ones, because most people never experience that sort of clarifying event. To put it mildly, I was way past the "fashion" stage.

    (I'm still trying to explain in a more articulate manner why it took actually being a victim to learn to stop being one. It might have something to do with the fact that in the game of victimhood, pretense and reality are irreconcilable. Yet as some of the most honest people have found, honesty can spawn dishonesty in its own defense.)

    posted by Eric at 09:30 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)

    Let the real victory be a symbolic one!

    Via Bill Quick, I see a wonderful opportunity for wolves who like to dress in sheep's clothing (hmmm.... maybe that's only-in-San Francisco sheep in wolves' clothing....):

    San Francisco supervisors want voters to approve a sweeping handgun ban that would prohibit almost everyone except law enforcement officers, security guards and military members from possessing firearms in the city.

    The measure, which will appear on the municipal ballot next year, would bar residents from keeping guns in their homes or businesses, Bill Barnes, an aide to Supervisor Chris Daly, said Wednesday. It would also prohibit the sale, manufacturing and distribution of handguns and ammunition in San Francisco, as well as the transfer of gun licenses.

    Barnes said the initiative is a response to San Francisco's skyrocketing homicide rate, as well as other social ills. There have been 86 murders in the city so far this year compared to 70 in all of 2003.

    As Bill correctly opines, the "socialist idiots who make up the majority in San Francisco are perfectly capable of passing this monstrosity," even though its illegality is well settled as a matter of state constitutional law.

    Dianne Feinstein tried a similar hare-brained scheme back in 1982, and it was promptly thrown out by the California Supreme Court. (More modern fallout here.) However, the struggle against San Francisco gun control was what led to a new phenomenon: open left-wing and libertarian defiance of the politically correct agenda, and the birth of openly pro-Second Amendment homosexuals, a phenomenon best known today as gay gun nuts.

    The point is not whether this unconstitutional ordinance will pass. I think it will. The point is, it is a major propaganda opportunity for gun owners and Second Amendment supporters to show brazen, politically incorrect defiance in the belly of the beast. But most important of all, it presents an opportunity to smash the stereotype of gun owners as ignorant, stupid, trailer park wife-beaters.

    This is not a new topic for me, but I think it's important enough to return to something I wrote last year about the use of theatrical tactics to win the war against stereotypes. As I explained in a somewhat long post, what worked for pit bulls can be made to work for guns:

    Twenty or so years ago, the Berkeley City Council considered one of those onerous breed-specific bans which would have outlawed pit bulls. I had been breeding and selling puppies and I knew enough local owners of a more or less theatrical bent that I was able to throw together a small (mostly gay) group to demonstrate with cute pit bulls and cutesy signs saying things like "DON'T KILL MY PUPPY!" and "I ('heart') MY PIT BULL!"

    A couple of councilmembers I knew saw this on their way in and sheepishly came over. They said we needn't have gone to all the trouble, that they would never enact the ban. That they just didn't know that "we" cared so much. That all we needed to do was call. Over the years, I have seen the pit bull metamorphose from the poor Southern "white-trash" dog-fighting stereotype, to the urban ghetto crack dealer dog-fighting, child-killing stereotype, and now, to my amazement, to a celebrity hipster, trendy loveable dog stereotype. The other pit bull stereotypes, of course, are still to be found. But my point is, now you have Los Angeles actresses, San Francisco pierced kids, lesbian skateboarders, and hipsters of all varieties walking these adorable dogs around. In places where this has happened, they cannot, and will not, be banned. Moreover, once you involve hip celebrities, you make it tougher and tougher for any large city to enact anti-pit bull legislation. Indeed, having, say, Rosie Perez walk into a City Council hearing with her pit bull to the flashes of the photographers makes such legislation all but impossible. In contrast to the old days, there are now hip, dedicated, political organizations like this one.

    At this rate, the lowly pit bull might once again become a breed loved by the middle class.

    Get to know one of these dogs. You might find yourself charmed. Even, disarmed!

    "Disarming" works both ways.

    Just as pit bull owners were once invariably shown as antisocial if not psychotic misfits, gun owners are painted as anything but hip. In some ways, this unfair stereotyping is made easier by the fact that owning a gun is now considered a right wing act. Never mind the fact that Rosie O'Donnell, Dianne Feinstein, Sean Penn and other big liberals carry guns; they don't admit it publicly. Instead, they think they are in a different league from everyone else and that their gun ownership is not real gun ownership. (This reminds me of religious mullahs who feel justified in executing homosexuals for admitting to something which they deny doing even as they do it.)

    Gun ownership needs to be made at least as cool as owning a pit bull. There are many bloggers who do a great job of doing this in their own way -- Glenn Reynolds, Rachel Lucas, Jeff Soyer, Eugene Volokh, and Kim du Toit (even if he wants me to fuck off and die) are all outstanding examples. (What I would like to know, is how does one get Reynolds, Lucas, and actor James Woods on the board of the NRA? Believe me, I am deadly serious.)

    Everyone has a different style though. This being a media war and a propaganda war, intelligence and style are everything.

    Homosexuals, whether you like them or not, are hopelessly wedded to the middle class. Through a poorly understood, tough-to-explain form of symbiotic shamanism, they are both followers and leaders of the middle class. They decorate the houses, wait the tables in expensive restaurants, teach the kids, sell the makeup and perfume at Macys, style the hair, write the scripts for the shows on TV, tell people what to wear, help women lose weight, and assist generally with countless other middle-class-bolstering pastimes. I really don't like the stereotype because I don't fit it, but it really doesn't matter whether I or anyone likes it, because the close connection between homosexuals and middle class America is there, and ineradicable.

    What is not ineradicable is the illogical tendency of homosexuals (and many other trendy types) to dislike guns, and consider them un-cool, un-hip, un-stylish. Every homosexual like Jeff Soyer is a dagger in the heart of the plan to disarm middle America. Because of this, those who want to arm middle America would do well to remember that the Second Amendment is no one's exclusive turf, nor should it be a battleground for culture wars which, if they must be fought at all, are best fought in some other arena.

    One last observation: I am in no way suggesting that homosexuals are better qualified or more capable of leading the opposition to gun control. Such a thing would be as absurd as suggesting that they lead the country away from draconian anti-pit bull legislation. I am saying that they are a useful, very disarming weapon to confuse, frustrate (and, well, even emasculate) the politically correct -- and they counter a ridiculous, deliberately misleading stereotype which has not been countered, and which often turns off the middle class.

    Isn't the Second Amendment more important than the preservation of a stereotype?

    I think the Second Amendment is more important than preserving a stereotype, and I'll go one further: the stereotype shouldn't have been there in the first place. But like it or not, we are living in a world ruled by cultural stereotypes, television sound bytes, in which emotional slogans and catchy one-liners substitute for (and even prevent) rational argument.

    I mean, I can carry on at length in this blog about gun statistics, how they're misused, the intent of the founding fathers that every man be armed, the racist history of gun control, etc., till I'm blue in the face. But we are not dealing with rational arguments or rational people. (If we were, acrimonious debating would be the exception and not the rule.) Rather, we live in a world run mostly by power seekers, power holders, media manipulators, and cultural ideologues. The vast majority of people are made to sit and watch or listen with what little time is left to them when they aren't working. They like underdogs, and they dislike being preached to. And they tire of seeing victimhood glorified by people who ride victim status all the way to power. (Dianne Feinstein is a good example, touched on in the comments here.) If there's one thing professional victims can't stand, it's having their audience -- the ordinary people too busy to dress up and play victim -- see the tables turned on them. Gun owners, stereotyped as stupid and brutal by these professional "victims," have a wonderful opportunity to show that the stereotypes are wrong, and that owning guns does not lower one's IQ!

    So, it's not whether or not the situation in San Francisco is "hopeless."

    Pyrrhic victories are always found in "hopeless" situations.

    Let the gun control people revel in their symbolic victory, while their symbology is destroyed from within.

    POINT OF ORDER: I want it noted that in calling the San Francisco scheme a "hare-brained" one, I am with the solid Google majority of 37,000 who still believe in the proper terminology. A growing minority of 25,400, however, use the term "hair-brained." (Paradoxically, it is the latter group who are hare-brained.)

    This has nothing to do with my previous post, as rabbits and hares are not the same animal, although both are Lagomorphs. (A hare harem would be another matter, though.....)

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Publicola has a long and thoughtful post about this latest Second Amendment threat, in which he suggests starting a resistance movement. (That's exactly how I felt in the Gay Guns days....) I think fighting this thing from within is extremely important, especially to show San Francisco that living under their tyranny exist many who oppose politically correct gay Stalinism -- and not just the usual stereotypical homo-haters. (But please don't get me wrong; I think it would be very helpful the latter would help the cause notwithstanding their distaste for San Francisco.)

    Eugene Volokh (also via Glenn Reynolds) was quick to spot the national importance of this proposed ordinance and sound the alarm against dismissing it as just another local measure.

    Wasn't it Franklin who said something about hanging together lest we hang separately?

    IMPORTANT UPDATE: Anyone who think homosexuals are a mindless, monolithic force for political correctness should read Sean Kinsell's post about the 1.5 to 2 million gays who voted for Bush in direct defiance of their self styled "leaders." One of Sean's gems:

    "Gay activists and journalists seem to be standing around and asking, 'Why the hell didn't you guys do what you were told?'"
    There are more free-thinkers in the so-called "gay community" than most people imagine. Sean's blog should be on everyone's reading list.

    AND ANOTHER IMPORTANT UPDATE: My blogfather, Alphecca, the Blogosphere's Original Gay Gun Nut©, has weighed in on the assault on freedom:

    It hasn't worked in Chicago, it hasn't worked in DC, it's a total failure in England and Australia. And showing what complete morons they are, the San Francisco tyrants think that somehow it will be different in their town? Lunacy is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

    And given the liberal make-up of the city, the vote will probably pass.

    All I can say is that the San Francisco tyrants are lucky the Blogosphere's Original Gay Gun Nut© lives in Vermont!

    But be forewarned, ye San Francisco Gay Stalinist tyrants and all other nebulous nutjobs of nitwittery! Jeff's "Weekly Report on Anti-Gun Bias" can now be heard on the radio -- in (gasp!) San Francisco!

    Tuesdays at 2:20 PM (EST)
    on the Cam Edwards'
    "NRA News Live" Show
    via the Web or Sirius Satellite Radio
    on channel 141.

    posted by Eric at 07:33 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    What's up doc?

    Don't know much about "rabbbits used vibrators," but I'm learning. (Isn't that both sic and sick? Not only was "rabbit" spelled wrong, there's no apostrophe!)

    While Glenn Reynolds linked to the Amazon gift item, I'm all confused because he didn't say anything about the intended users, only that used was refurbished or something and that he didn't think it would sell well. Not really to disagree or or be a prude or anything, but I tend to agree with the guy who gave the rabbits' used vibrators only one star, and well, even though he said he didn't "know" the used vibrators (obviously, he meant "know" in the Biblical sense) I have to agree with his reasoning:

    I can't imagine why a rabbit would want this, even with pearls. If you are looking for a nice gift for the long-floppy-eared family pet, I suspect they would prefer some new pellets or a nice collar.
    It's simple logic. Why would a rabbit want a vibrator?

    But I'm still confused.

    Amazon reviewer Anne Haight (might she be related to blogger Anne Haight?) gives it five stars, though, and points out that the company, MyPleasure, "accepts returns on vibrators (even used ones)."

    Well that's a commendable company policy, but I'm still trying to figure out how the rabbits could possibly have used them, much less managed to send them back.

    Something just plain doesn't make sense.

    (Unless there's another inside joke about how "Bugs" get his name, perhaps this is all a Feeble attempt at humor.)

    posted by Eric at 06:51 PM | Comments (1)

    Liberal student sounds off for academic freedom!

    I find it admirable that David Horowitz has published a long editorial from a liberal student who, among other things, is offended by Horowitz!

    I find most of David Horowitz's right-wing views to be offensive. I lead an anti-war rally at Foothill College, and I voted against George W. Bush both times. That having been said, intellectual pluralism is not a political issue. We must treat intellectual pluralism as an issue of intellectual freedom. Both liberal students and conservative students ought to be free to express their ideas in the classroom. My story describes the denial of student rights and opinions, grade manipulation and favoritism. It also describes the six-month long battle I fought with Foothill College, and the College's attempt to silence myself, my views, and my retelling of what happened in within a Foothill College classroom.
    The entire piece is a must-read, as it documents intolerance and bigotry by a professor on the right as well as another professor on the left. The right wing professor blatantly assigned an "F" grade because a student disagreed with his views on abortion, while the left wing professor "recommended psychological therapy to an Arab student who had praised the U.S. Constitution." In both instances the school refuses to respect academic pluralism:
    the Foothill College bureaucracy, all the way up to President Bernadine Fong, have chosen to treat to ignore the larger issue and silence individual cases. As a result, intellectual pluralism has been ruined, and Foothill College no longer an institution of free ideas.
    The student concludes with a plea that Foothill College's board of trustees implement the Academic Bill of Rights.

    While I haven't verified the student's allegations, I applaud David Horowitz for publishing the views of one of his critics. In any event, I wholeheartedly support the Academic Bill of Rights, which consists of a simple, common-sense codification of what I always thought was supposed to be traditional academic freedom.

    posted by Eric at 11:02 AM | Comments (6)

    Little help?

    On election day this year my father gave me this FDR campaign button with the original ribbon. Neither one of us knows the value or rarity of the item, but I was hoping some of our readers might have a clue or point me in the right direction.

    Here it is:


    posted by Dennis at 10:20 AM | Comments (6)

    Divining and dividing the pi in the sky

    If God is the source of law and government, and if law and government are the source of education, then logically, that means God is the source of the educational system which, um, teaches children how to, um, calculate and stuff.


    With that in mind, I want to turn to an item accompanying this article on American education:

    A Sample Question
    A scoop holds 1/5 kilogram of flour. How many scoops of flour are needed to fill a bag with 6 kilograms of flour?
    According to the Inquirer, only 52% of eighth grade students were able to answer that question. This means that 48% apparently don't know that six times five is thirty. The percentages are so tantalizingly close to the election results that I'm tempted to ask which group votes for which party.

    But I won't!

    Instead, I'll return to the task at hand in today's Inquirer, which (apparently) is to determine why eighth graders do not know that:

    5 x 6 = 30

    On this central point, there doesn't seem to be much disagreement.

    Huh? What point? Am I talking about whether five times six is thirty, or the fact that so few eighth graders can make such a determination? I don't mean to be facetious, but yesterday I heard a conversation in which an engineer agreed that engineers were not political because there's no way you can politicize Pi. I don't have the symbol for Pi handy right now, but most of us, um, know that it's 3.14 and then some. Certainly, that wouldn't strike any reasonable person as political.

    Would it?

    Well, maybe I should back up a bit, and return to today's Inquirer. Here's someone who ought to know:

    Cathy Seeley, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said that the call for change boils down to this: "From K to 12... we must embed computation in a strong foundation of problem-solving... . You anchor arithmetic by shifting from teaching kids math procedures and then giving them word problems to getting them involved in a much broader range of problem-solving techniques" from the beginning.
    What does that mean? Learning about Pi, perhaps? I don't know, but the article talks about real life situations and making math "meaningful...." ("Meaningful?" Isn't that doubletalk for simply defining a definition?) In any event, there's a difference of opinion:
    Bruce Normandia, chairman of the department of curriculum and instruction at Monmouth University and a cochair of the task force, said he agrees with many of Seeley's and Schmidt's observations. "In many K-8 programs, there still remains a great deal of emphasis on obtaining procedural knowledge and less on conceptual knowledge," he said. "When we develop more of a conceptual approach, we'll see more children turning to math."

    Some education experts, however, say that a one-sided emphasis on teaching problem-solving and math concepts is holding back U.S. students. Tom Loveless, of the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, says that, instead, mastering basic math procedures should be the foundation.

    "The successful countries have in common... a relentless emphasis on arithmetic, especially in the early grades," he said. "In learning about arithmetic, students learn how numbers work; it's the phonics of math. There are some things you do have to memorize. Drill and practice have their place."

    How are we to conceptualize Pi? Telling children that there's a ratio really isn't helpful if they don't know the number, or how to obtain it. And what makes these educators so certain that conceptualizing meaningful theories will cause children to learn that 5 x 6 =30? Why would they?

    I have to ask, in all seriousness: why would "showing" a child that there's a "meaningful" ratio between the diameter and the circumference of a circle make him want to learn it?

    Whatever the process is, apparently, the kids have to repeat the same stuff year after year without learning it. So says William Schmidt, of the International Policy Center for Curriculum Studies at Michigan State University:

    In many middle schools, he said, students "are still relegated to studying the same basic math they studied for the previous five years, except at a higher level."
    Well, I'm glad they're studying the "same stuff" at a higher level! We wouldn't want them studying at lower levels, would we?

    Pi is not political?

    I say it is political. (At least, the gulf between those who know it and those who don't certainly is.) There's only one way the problem of students studying basic math at ever-higher levels can occur -- and that's by politicization of education. Somehow, somewhere, there has been an official determination (and implementation of that determination) that there can be no such thing as failure. It is axiomatic that when failure is prevented, success is also prevented. I realize that a strong argument can be made that children should be promoted in school regardless of failure to learn things like 5 x 6 = 30, but such an argument always boils down to simple politics.

    At the heart of the argument in favor of promoting the ignorant to a higher grade is the assumption that ignorance is OK: that it does not matter whether or not a child knows 5 x 6 = 30. At the heart of the other side is the assertion that it does matter. This is a policy argument. By definition it is political, and it is called "social promotion," defined by one critic as follows:

    the misguided belief that school children should be kept with their age group regardless of their academic performance lest it adversely affect their self-esteem and their attitude toward school.
    Which means that according to the people who are making the rules, things like pi are highly political.

    If you still doubt me, I suggest asking the advocates of the "socially promoted." Just don't ask the socially promoted themselves, because they can't be expected to know about things like Pi.

    Maybe ignorance is strength after all, but is it really fair to blame God?

    MORE: Via Joanne Jacobs, I found this New York Times piece, which highlights the politicized nature of "social promotion" -- even at the third grade level.

    The debate in New York City over promotion standards in the public schools has played out across the nation and has long been the subject of intense discussion among education experts.

    Over the last two decades, dozens of studies have led many educators to conclude that policies forcing students to repeat a grade are costly and counterproductive, resulting in no gains in student achievement and sharp increases in dropout rates. Such policies, like one in New York City in the 1980's, are often quietly abandoned after just a few years.

    "The problem is not social promotion," said Jay P. Heubert, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University and co-author of a major National Research Council report on the issue. "The problem is low achievement, and just about anything we can do for low-achieving kids will be better if we simply leave retention out of the equation."

    But if illiteracy and ignorance are rewarded by promotion, isn't it obvious why schools turn out functional illiterates?

    Add to that this Christian Science Monitor piece (also via Joanne Jacobs):

    The rise in retention and dropout rates has revived and retooled a controversy over whether schools retain students for the right reasons, and whether the shame and frustration of retention is prompting more teenagers to quit school.
    Is it heresy to ask whether chronic low-acheivers even belong in regular schools?

    posted by Eric at 09:43 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

    Did God write this post?

    I want to get back to the "The Constitution Restoration Act," because I have a couple of petty questions.

    Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an element of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official personal capacity), by reason of that element's or officer's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.
    Is that limited only to the acknowledgement of God? What about the specific denial of God? Does the Act mean that believers in God are immunized from lawsuits, but that non-believers may still be sued?

    And what about the acknowledgment of gods plural? Are pagans such as Hindus, Shintoists, animists, Wiccans and American Indians being discriminated against here? Might there be an equal protection problem?

    What about the statue of the Roman goddess Justitia which adorns many of the nation's judicial buildings? Depending on how "God" is interpreted, this Act might, by prohibiting lawsuits based on the acknowledgment of one particular god (typically Yahweh, aka Jehovah), discriminate against acknowledgment of others. Shouldn't all religions be treated equally?

    Just wondering. . . I mean, it's one thing for the Ten Commandments to replace the scales of justice, but another for the law to judicially protect the former but not the latter.

    Then there's the idea (and yes, it is an idea, and ideas are not facts) of "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government." Many -- including many who believe in God -- would dispute whether God is the "sovereign source" of anything designed by men, especially law and government. Isn't that a matter of religious opinion? I have a problem with God as the source of tyrannical governments, and frankly, I am not entirely sure I'd consider God to be the "source" of this statute if it ever passed. That's because the god I believe in is not necessarily the same god as the one the authors of the statute apparently believe in. However, I'm not yet so arrogant as to attribute God's authorship to stuff I might write -- not even this post! Whether or not I'd sue anyone is another issue, but if we're going to allow any lawsuits at all, is it fair only to strip courts of jurisdiction to hear ONE CLASS of lawsuits, based on beliefs pertaining to one particular interpretation, of the thoughts of one particular deity?

    Is this a theological dispute or a philosophical one? Millions, possibly billions, would disagree over exactly what God authored, and what things he's the sovereign source of. Law, liberty, and government are only three of these things, but a compelling philosophical and religious case could be stated for the proposition that all three are man-made. If I disagree (and if I think they are man-made) why is my disagreement any less valid than the argument advanced by the other side?

    Why should they enjoy special legal protection not enjoyed by me?

    While it cannot be denied that there is a distinct possibility that God is the sovereign source of law, liberty and government, by any fair standard this is an unsettled theological dispute. I think the advocates of one side have simply drafted themselves a statute granting them a particular legal immunity (exemption from suit, really) not enjoyed at all by the other side.

    That simply strikes me as unfair, no matter what anyone thinks God may have authored.

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: Beyond the scope of this post is the topic of what it is that might be seen as constituting the acknowledgement of God. Rastafarians acknowledge God by smoking pot, the Nation of Islam believes that the white man was created in test tubes by an evil black scientist, and followers of Sun Myung Moon believe their guy talked to Jesus, Stalin, and Hitler and set them all straight or something. (I just can't keep up with today's issues....)

    MORE: As an afterthought, I'm wondering whether an unconstitutional statute may, by its own terms, exempt itself from being declared unconstitutional. By doing that, the "Constitution Restoration Act" strikes me as such a radical overreaching that it might be more appropriate as a constitutional amendment.

    This all assumes, of course, that the proponents are serious. Here's a liberal blogger who seems to imply they're not:

    ....someone emailed me over the weekend to argue that I frequently highlight crazy pieces of legislation, most of which stand no chance of passing, just to make Republicans in Congress look foolish. To which I responded, "Guilty as charged."
    I am not trying to make the "Republicans in Congress" look foolish, but I am wondering about the strategy here.

    Perhaps it's an echo of the Roosevelt court packing "plan." (It didn't work, but it scared the tar out of the anti-New Deal justices, most of whom resigned to take advantage of FDR's convenient new retirement package.)

    MORE: On the other hand, here's an example of why the people supporting things like the Constitution Restoration Act are so angry:

    Rossford cancels Christian rock band; local group was to play at anti-drug school assembly next week

    Rossford High School officials were considering letting a Christian rock band play during an anti-drug assembly next week, but decided yesterday to cancel the performance because of concerns over having religious music played in a public school.

    "We are just shutting the whole thing down," Rossford Superintendent Luci Gernot said. "There is some controversy, and I'd rather err on this side."

    The school district's law firm, Whalen & Compton of Akron told school officials yesterday that it "wasn't appropriate" to let the band Pawn perform at the school, Ms. Gernot said.

    A representative of the law firm could not be reached for comment last night.

    Pawn's songs regularly make reference to Jesus and God, said David Kleeberger, the band's manager who is also a member of the Rossford school board.

    Religion has been politicized, but even if it wasn't, it's just as much free speech as is talk about politics, sex, or drugs. Yet it seems that it's religion which bears the brunt of government censorship. No one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction why the First Amendment rights of any citizen end the moment that person starts promoting religion in a public place. I think it's an outrage to censor that rock group, and something the founding fathers never would have countenanced.

    MORE (12/16/04): In a related issue, Dean Esmay shows that the ACLU now advocates censorship and book banning, provided the subject involves Christianity:

    Sadly, I see that the ACLU is once again suing a local school district, this time in Dover, PA, for wanting to have discussions and questioning of evolutionary theory in the classroom. Story here.

    Apparently now the first amendment means that the Federal government should ban books that have any content that remotely smacks of religion.

    These people have no idea the damage they're doing--how much they turn people against science every time they muck about with how a local school district decides to run its business, I mean. It's pretty sad. It's even sadder that some parents, rather than respecting diversity of opinion, or using their right to attend school board meetings to voice their concerns and then allow the elected majority of the board make their choices, instead runs to the court to try to "protect" their children from hearing ideas they don't like. This just ratchets up resentment of scientists, resentment of government, resentment of the courts, and resentment of science as a whole.

    And it's another reason why resentful people resort to things like the Constitution Restoration Act.

    posted by Eric at 07:00 AM | Comments (1)

    herez ur hot tip 4 2day

    I must run out, so I don't have the time I like to spend listing my favorite posts from my favorite carnivals. I am sorry about that, because this week they're all especially good.

    But anyway, be sure to check out this week's Bonfire of the Vanities, hosted at feste a foolsblog.

    And, of course there's 117th Carnival of the Vanities, hosted by the Pryhills. How Ace managed to catalogue all these posts in such an entertaining fashion is mind-boggling.

    Better go and read 'em while they're still hot!

    posted by Eric at 06:24 AM

    Some cures are worse than the disease

    And now for something from someone I'd not ordinarily cite (and who probably wouldn't like this blog) . . .

    Phyllis Schlafly has a fascinating piece reflecting on (among other things) gender proportionality in women's sports:

    Gender quotas are created by the invention of an informal regulation called the "proportionality test," which means that the male-to-female ratio on competitive sports teams must equal the male-to-female ratio of college enrollment. About 56 percent of college students today are women, yet only a fraction seek to compete in intercollegiate sports.

    The senseless numbers game called proportionality has resulted in the elimination of hundreds of male teams: 171 colleges dropped wresting, 37 colleges dropped football, 27 dropped outdoor track, 25 dropped swimming and 10 abolished ice hockey.

    The abolition of wrestling teams proves that Title IX enforcement has nothing to do with equalizing funding or scholarships, because wrestling is one of the cheapest of all competitive sports. Eliminating wrestling does nothing for women; it simply feeds the anti-masculine animus of feminists.

    Bush had the chance to remedy this nonsense when he appointed a commission to study the problem. But he put feminists on the commission, and then chickened out because the commission's report was not unanimous and allowed the proportionality rule to remain.

    Feminists assert that proportionality is only one part of a three-prong test. But proportionality is the only prong that matters because college attorneys warn that the bean-counting approach is the only safe way to protect universities from lawsuits.

    It is an incontrovertible fact that men are more interested in competitive sports than women, and it is typical for colleges to have difficulty finding women to meet their quota targets. Despite the claim that Title IX helps women athletes, the numbers game has actually caused the elimination of traditional girls' teams such as gymnastics (100 teams have been abolished) in favor of large-squad sports such as rowing or horseback riding.

    In ridiculing the senselessness of gender quotas, the University of Kansas college newspaper published this ironic comment. "College sports for women should be compulsory. Granted, many women may insist they don't want to play sports, but after generations of patriarchal oppression, it isn't realistic to think women really know what they want. The goal of perfectly equal gender ratios is more important than what anybody 'wants.'"

    Women should be made to play sports?

    Because they don't know what they want?

    What should men be made to do? Stop wrestling because women don't like to wrestle? I don't know how accurate Schlafly's allegations are, but if they're even half right, the situation is outrageous.

    But two wrongs do not make a right.

    And in my opinion, what's more wrong than misguided feminism is Ms. Schlafly's idea (shared by many others) that Congress should strip the Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction:

    Don't let anybody tell you that Congress can't tell the federal courts what cases they can and cannot hear.

    Article III, Section 2 states: "The Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make."

    Thus, Congress can make "exceptions" to the types of cases the Supreme Court can decide.

    Article III, Section 1 states: "The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Article I, Section 8 states: "The Congress shall have power ... to constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court."

    Thus, all federal courts except the Supreme Court were created by Congress. Congress defined their powers and prescribed what kinds of cases they can hear, and so Congress can redefine, re-prescribe, uncreate, limit, regulate and even abolish those federal courts.

    While she's certainly correct in her citation of the Constitution, I don't think removal of the safeguard of judicial review is a good idea.

    The advocates of these bills (called "The Constitution Restoration Act") want to start by removing the right of the courts to review cases involving certain religious issues, such as the display of the Ten Commandments, or pledge of allegiance cases. Here's the partial text of one such statute:

    Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an element of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official personal capacity), by reason of that element's or officer's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.
    As interpreted by the Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin, the statute means the following:
    This means, that the federal judiciary would be prohibited from interfering with any expression of religious faith by any elected local, state, or federal official. In other words, federal judges could not prevent the Ten Commandments from being displayed in public buildings or Nativity Scenes from appearing on court house lawns or "under God" from being recited in the Pledge of Allegiance or prayers being spoken in public schools, etc. This bill would limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts in these matters.
    Well, suppose a government official decided to violate his statutory duty, or a judge decided cases based on religious views he claimed were derived from God, and based his action on his "acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government?" Suppose a fundamentalist Muslim police officer refused to arrest a man for wife beating, or prosecutor refused to prosecute him for it, or a judge set aside his conviction? Would the battered wife be without constitutional recourse if the government impropriety was based on religious belief? I'm sure (at least I hope) the proponents of these statutes would argue that the laws exempt only statements of belief, but not action, but what about religious bias? Religious compulsion?

    Even if my concerns about the statutes proposed are unfounded, once the precedent is there, what's to stop other limitations on judicial review? Why not stop all criminal appeals in death penalty cases, for example? Or tax cases?

    For now, I guess we should be more worried about blasphemy laws. (Via InstaPundit, who has another blasphemy-related link.) Blasphemy laws are becoming politically correct.

    I guess if they pass blasphemy laws again, we shouldn't expect much help from "The Constitution Restoration Act." (I'm wondering whether a better name might be "The Constitution Deconstruction Act.")

    MORE: Voluntary praying is one thing, but I mentioned "religious compulsion" because the First Amendment guarantees that there be no compulsion in matters of religion. Suppose a public school principal decided that in his view, children should be forced to recite the Apostles' Creed or the Shahada? There are a number of people who believe that compelling others to believe what they believe is not only an expression of their religion, but a religious obligation. The idea that a parent would be unable to stop such state action is simply outrageous. To the extent the "Constitutional Restoration Act" blocks parents from suing in such cases, it violates freedom of religion.

    posted by Eric at 03:10 PM | Comments (3)

    Hopeful News for a change

    You've probably seen this already, but I hadn't, so here goes:

    Researchers at Rutgers University have developed a trio of drugs they believe can destroy HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to a published report.

    The drugs, called DAPYs, mimic the virus by changing shape, which enables them to interfere with the way HIV attacks the immune system.

    Tests conducted in conjunction with Johnson and Johnson have shown the drug to be easily absorbed with minimal side effects. It also can be taken in one pill, in contrast to the drug cocktails currently taken by many AIDS patients.

    posted by Dennis at 01:00 PM | Comments (4)

    Celebrating crime deterrence

    If the goal of locking up the obviously dangerous Martha Stewart was to "break" her, or harm her career (much less end it), the people behind it ought to think again. According to TV columnist Gail Shister, the prison stretch was the right career move at the right time:

    Life in the slammer will make Martha Stewart more likable to viewers, says Susan Lyne.

    "People's perceptions of her have changed," says Lyne, new chief executive officer of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. "Any sense of her being entitled, or arrogant, or moving in a different sphere than the rest of us, has been cut away by her going to prison.

    "Six months ago, people would say snarky things about her. Now, some have true admiration that she's taking it like a man. She's not whining about the experience."

    Stewart is serving a five-month term at a minimum-security federal prison in Alderson, W.Va., after being convicted of lying to federal investigators about a 2001 stock sale. She's scheduled to be released in March.

    NBC honcho Jeff Zucker and Lyne announced last week that the domestic dominatrix would host an hour-long syndicated show, to be produced by reality wiz Mark Burnett (The Apprentice, Survivor.)

    The show, complete with a studio audience and visiting celebs, will launch in September - after Stewart finishes her five months' house arrest. Complete with a tasteful ankle bracelet.

    Another example of backlash, possibly aggravated by guilt. Those who hated Martha Stewart and cheered her downfall can now tune in and assuage their guilt. Martha takes it all in stride:
    Martha Stewart was dumped by CBS owner Viacom after 11 years when she was convicted in March. It's in reruns on the Style Network.

    When Lyne visited her at "Camp Cupcake," Stewart "was great. She has a sense of humor. An enormous number of women stopped by to say hi or introduce their families.

    "People have a Midnight Express idea of what prison is. While it's not a place you'd want to spend time in, the women there, for the most part, are pretty terrific." (How about a show with all ex-cons?)

    They don't call this the land of opportunity for nothing.

    Moral lessons, anyone? While I don't think prison is appropriate for nonviolent offenders, I've long been puzzled by the fact that once a person has been convicted and paid whatever penalty was imposed, an enormous moral stigma remains for life. This is often way out of all proportion to the offense, and is often not related to the offense itself, but to the punishment. Someone who has been to prison is seen as "worse" than someone who managed to escape prison for the same offense. This is unfair as well as illogical. But there are people out there who'd sincerely believe that Martha Stewart should not be allowed on television, simply because she's been to prison. In their view, this makes her a bad "role model," as well as a lesson that "crime pays." I'm not quite sure why this is so, especially in the case of someone who's been to prison. But the whole idea of a role model has never made much sense to me. Are children going to see Martha Stewart on TV and imagine that it's cool to get involved in stock shenanigans or white collar crime? Somehow I doubt it. But here's a contrary opinion:

    Do not be deceived by the technical nature of her crime: just as we don't celebrate a high school student who cheats on his SATs, neither should we celebrate a woman who cheats in the stock market.
    That was written before anyone had "celebrated" the release of Martha Stewart and her new show.

    It occurs to me that if the idea was to avoid celebrating celebrity crime, it would have been a far better idea to keep her out of prison in the first place!

    Americans not only admire the underdog, but they love strength under pressure, grace under fire. Such is the stuff of real life moral lessons.

    (I have to admit, much as I never cared for Martha Stewart, I'd watch her now . . .)

    posted by Eric at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)

    Iconoclasm on parade . . .

    Much as I hate to admit it, I'm beginning to see a practical (if fascistic) reason behind the Islamic prohibition on depictions of images. When the human image is rendered artificially, the result is often called art. Yet for murky cultural reasons, if the image is produced or created for commercial distribution on a large scale, it is less likely to be called art than if a single image is produced.

    Thus, these Japanese pillows (via Drudge) are not considered art. They are sold and used to help Japanese men and Japanese women sleep.

    Here's the guy pillow:


    And here's the girl pillow:


    Many Americans find this baffling, even frustrating. Yet if identical items were made here in the United States and displayed in art galleries, they'd raise nary an eyebrow.

    Increasingly, if an image has a political message, no matter how strident or offensive that may be, it is considered by many to be the essence of art, and the failure to display it (or the removal of it from display) is called censorship. A recent example is featured in the New York Times:

    Artwork in an exhibition that drew thousands to the Chelsea Market for its opening last week was abruptly taken down over the weekend after the market's managers complained about a portrait of President Bush fashioned from tiny images of chimpanzees, according to the show's curator.

    Bucky Turco, who organized the show, said that a market director had expressed reservations about the Bush portrait, a small colorful painting by Christopher Savido that from afar appears to be a likeness of the president but viewed up close reveals chimps swimming in a marshy landscape.

    I don't consider the work especially attractive, and even though I voted for Bush, in all honesty I don't think a similar image of Senator Kerry would get as much attention. It's art, but it just strikes me as a bit of a hustle, if not a cheap shot. The artist, of course, does not monkey around; he's claiming that his art is being censored:
    The 23-year-old artist at the center of the controversy had been excited about the show. Mr. Savido said, "It's a portrait-slash-landscape and the monkeys just seemed to make sense. I saw one woman gave it the finger but I think it wasn't directed at the painting.""I came to New York to express myself," said Mr. Savido, 23, of Pittsburgh. "I would never have expected this censorship to happen here. I really feel powerless."
    Powerless? In this article he appears quite delighted by the attention:
    The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-bred artist said he was happy for all the attention paid to his work but said the decision to shutter the exhibit was "a blatant act of censorship."

    Savido plans to auction the painting and donate proceeds to an organization dedicated to freedom of expression.

    "This is much deeper than art. This is fundamental American rights, freedom of speech," Savido said. "To see that something like this can happen, especially in a place like New York City is mind boggling and scary."

    It might have been even scarier to see what would have happened had his art similarly depicted Kofi Annan. Anyway, in fairness to the artist, here he is with his painting, basking in his 15-minute American birthright:


    But we must move on!

    There are more images, and, as they're compellingly close to the theme of this blog, I must discuss them.

    Dennis forwarded me a news report about male dancers depicting 5th-6th Century Greek Kouroi statues. Outraged viewers complained to the FCC about nude dancers portraying nude statues, forcing the NBC network to hand over a tape of the broadcast. Here's an uncensored image:


    (Via Tea Leaves.)

    Whether these statues are "historically accurate" is at least open to debate. The dancers are painted in gray, although according to a Reed College web site, it appears that the actual Kouroi were:

    almost certainly painted so that the figure was skin-toned in hue with details like eyes, lips and hair picked out in appropriate colors.
    (More on the historical Kouroi statues here and here.)

    While the legal issue will turn on whether or not the dancers' penises [they appear to be facsimiles of "archaic penises" if such absurdities can be] were shown on television, NBC claims it showed the dancers from the waist up. Is nudity the issue? I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect that the people who are upset about these dancers are upset because they think they smell a gay theme. They're not alone; some of the statues' proponents are unable to contain their suspicions. Again, "gay" is the wrong word, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, but that's irrelevant to the proponents and the opponents of the statues, who want to see a modernistic "gay" theme. Culture war thrives on romanticized idiocy on parade. (No such romanticization at this web site -- which ties together the Kouroi of ancient Greece with the Kuroi of modern Japan.)

    If traditional Islam had its way, of course, all these images and more would be treated the way the Taliban treated the famous 2000-year-old statues in Afghanistan.

    Right now, I think it's entirely appropriate to return to the theme of Greco-Buddhism (touched on in an earlier post), because the giant statues the Taliban blew up were considered classics of Greco-Buddhism:

    In 327 BC, Alexander the Great led his army through Afghanistan towards India. Shortly after, Buddhism spread in Bamiyan, developing a unique form of art known as the Greco-Buddhist style from the Gandhara area.

    The Buddhas and the fresco paintings on the surrounding niche walls were examples for this style, the figures‘ showing the Greek influence clearly in the style the folds of their dresses were carved.

    The statues - one 53, the smaller one 38m in height - were constructed between the 2nd and the 7th century, the first one being built by order of Emperor Kanishka. They were carved from the soft sandstone of the Kohe Baba mountains around and then covered with a mixture of straw and mud to model the details of their faces. Both were painted, allegedly one red, one blue, and covered with gold which of course disappeared over the centuries.

    But the gold fading away was not the worst happening to the Buddhas. Their faces were sawn off following an order by the Persian King Nadir Shah Afshar in 1747. The Taliban were not as sensitive and by far better equipped; they completed the statues destruction in 2001 and by that wiped out the until then biggest known standing statue of Buddha in the world.

    Greco-Buddhism? Can't have that, can we? Someone might get ideas about starting a new ("gay") religion or something.

    The violently iconoclastic approach of radical Islam, while perhaps understandable in light of their medieval cultural frustrations, creates a backlash which ultimately ends up promoting the message they seek to destroy. Here's Charles Paul Freund:

    Until their destruction, the statues were mostly unknown except to those specializing in Gandharan art, a syncretic Greco-Buddhist mix. Even admirers of Buddhist art have focused on more graceful examples found elsewhere in Asia.

    Modern Western travelers failed entirely to appreciate the statues' value. Robert Byron, in his 1934 account of Central Asian art and architecture, The Road to Oxiana, wrote of the statues that "Neither has any artistic value. But one could bear that; it is their negation of sense, the lack of pride in their monstrous, flaccid bulk, that sickens. … A host of monastic navvies were given picks and told to copy some frightful semi-Hellenistic image from India or China. The result has not even the dignity of labor."

    That they'd served as military targets for Muslim armies, that the legs of the larger Buddha had been destroyed in the 18th century by Persians, was unlamented. As recently as the 1970s, the art academic and historian Wilfrid Blunt dismissed the statues as merely "grotesque."

    So how did the carved Buddhas of Bamiyan go from reviled grotesquerie to "things which are valuable to humanity and its heritage," indeed so valuable they must be rebuilt? There's nothing like a staged spectacle of barbaric destruction to transform otherwise obscure artifacts. Such an act provides relevant and apparent meaning to a work even as it destroys that work. The Taliban actually alerted the world to their impending act, allowed it to be recorded, and released the images, multiplying the effect with drama.

    There is of course a very long history of intentionally destroyed art. Sometimes the destruction involves works acknowledged to be art, even by the destroyer; sometimes, as in the Taliban's case, the issue of "art" is beside the point. But whether the perpetrators have been Nazis destroying "degenerate" art, French or Russian revolutionaries destroying religious work, or the many examples of iconoclastic uprisings and library burnings, the story usually ends the same way: The lost artifacts leave behind them a shadow of martyrdom, a meaning that will long outlive the destroyer.

    I'll bet the Taliban crackpots never imagined they'd be breathing new life into Greco-Buddhism, especially in light of the renewed interest in Hellenistic culture.

    Speaking of Hellenistic stuff, no one seems to be in any hurry to excavate the Roman baths in Nazareth. (Original link via the Flea; also discussed infra last year.) The official Palestinian line, of course, is that the Romans were never in Israel (er, "Palestine") at all -- because that would mean the Jews once lived there. (No, seriously!) Modern Christian sects don't seem to be terribly enthusiastic about the idea of Nazareth as a Roman military town either.

    (Politicized history is another subject, of course, but it's almost as bad as politicized art. )

    posted by Eric at 08:10 AM | Comments (1)

    Oil for pardons?

    Was the Saddam Hussein William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library built with money derived from the Oil for Food Program?

    WASHINGTON — Billionaire Marc Rich has emerged as a central figure in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal and is under investigation for brokering deals in which scores of international politicians and businessmen cashed in on sweetheart oil deals with Saddam Hussein, The Post has learned.

    Rich, the fugitive Swiss-based commodities trader who received a controversial pardon from President Bill Clinton in January 2001, is a primary target of criminal probes under way in the U.S. attorney's office in New York and by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, sources said.

    "We think he was a major player in this — a central figure," a senior law-enforcement official told The Post.

    Investigators are looking into a series of deals that took place in the months after his pardon from Clinton. If criminal wrongdoing is established in these deals, he could be subject to prosecution.

    Investigators say they have received information that Rich and Ben Pollner, a New York-based oil trader who heads Taurus Oil, set up a series of companies in Liechtenstein and other countries that they used to put together deals between Saddam and his international supporters in the controversial oil-voucher scheme — which the dictator designed to win international support against U.S. sanctions at the United Nations.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I don't know whether there was a tit for tat (much less whether it can be proven) but the flow of Marc Rich's money into Clinton coffers is intriguing:
    The Rich connection is the latest wrinkle in a rapidly mushrooming scandal that has thrown the United Nations into its gravest crisis and has led to numerous calls for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to step down.

    Rich, who fled the country to Switzerland in 1983 to escape an indictment for racketeering and tax evasion as well as trading oil with Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, has not set foot inside the United States since his pardon.

    In January 2001, in the final hours his presidency, Clinton bypassed law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to wipe the books clean for Rich after being subjected to intense lobbying from former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Rich's jet-setting ex-wife, Denise, who donated more than $1 million to Democratic campaigns — including Sen. Hillary Rodham's first Senate race — along with an additional $450,000 to Clinton's library fund.

    Investigators still do not know how recipients of the vouchers led to Rich, but say his relationship with Saddam goes back more than a decade.

    A report by the House Government Reform Committee on Rich's clemency deal established that it was well known to the CIA and other U.S. law-enforcement agencies at the time of the pardon that Rich had been dealing with Saddam since the early 1990s — after the Persian Gulf War when Iraq was the subject of an international embargo.

    The report, which relied on several classified briefings by the CIA, said Rich loaned money to the cash-strapped dictator in exchange for favorable treatment on oil prices at a later time.

    An internal U.N. document dated June 1992, released to The Post by the House International Relations Committee, also revealed that U.N. officials were concerned about Rich's involvement in an earlier attempt to launch the oil-for-food program.

    Bill Clinton, for his part, has said that the scandal has been misconstrued by the media. Perhaps it has. It's one thing to buy a pardon; it's another thing to use Saddam Hussein's money to do it.

    I said it before and I'll say it again: President Bush should have pardoned the Clintons.

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: As it's been a few years, readers who might not remember the circumstances surrounding the Rich pardon can peruse this excellent timeline here. What I find most remarkable is that Senator Hillary Clinton co-sponsored a bill by Senator Arlen Specter to crack down on abuses of the pardon process. (More below.) Take a peek below at what she allowed to be said on behalf of her bill. Talk about CYA!

    Here's an excerpt from what's below [Senator Specter speaking for himself and other senators including Senator Clinton]:

    The Rich case highlights the need for public disclosure of donations while the President is still in office. Denise Rich, Marc Rich's former wife, was deeply involved in trying to get a pardon for Rich. She also gave at least $450,000 to former President Clinton's library foundation. Beth Dozoretz, former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee who pledged to raise $1 million for the Clinton library, also worked on the Rich pardon.

    Ms. Dozoretz's involvement in the Rich case is remarkable in that the former President spent far more time talking to her about it than he did talking to the prosecutors in the Southern district of New York. Ms. Dozoretz had at least three conversations with former President Clinton about the Rich pardon, including one at 11 p.m. on January 19, 2001, the night before the pardon was actually issued. Ms. Dozoretz had been scheduled to meet with my staff, but she changed attorneys and declined to be interviewed. But we found out that she had called the President on the night of January 19, at about 11 P.M. to thank him for granting the pardon for Marc Rich. If Ms. Dozoretz knew of the Rich pardon in time to call the President at 11 P.M. on the evening of January 19, she found out about the decision at least two hours before Pardon Attorney Roger Adams, the official who was charged with actually writing up the pardon warrant. Mr. Adams testified that he had not heard that Rich and Green were being considered for clemency until almost 1 A.M. on the morning of January 20.

    What a pardon party that must have been. (Just read some of Don Imus's remarks on the late night visitors.)

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: As to why the Clintons were never prosecuted nor pardoned, I suspect it's part of the only kind of coverup that works: a bipartisan coverup. When an investigation into wrongdoing threatens to expose things too foul for a full public investigation (lest there be a major erosion of public confidence in government), then senior players will huddle together -- and the result is a mutually beneficial deal. It stinks, but that's politics.

    Continue reading "Oil for pardons?"

    posted by Eric at 12:24 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    But what should we want?

    Heard the news? Everyone is talking about falling readership, including the Miami Herald Philadelphia Inquirer's Leonard Pitts, Jr.:

    Dear colleagues:

    Have you had enough bad news?

    I don't mean the bad news we report. No, I'm talking about the steady diet of doom and/or gloom that goes with working for a daily newspaper these days. I'm talking about reports that, despite all the focus groups, re-designs, shorter stories and bigger typefaces we employ, readership is still falling like a boulder from a skyscraper.

    According to Pitts' analysis, that's because the news isn't fun. If American newspapers followed the Chilean lead (in which editorial decisions are ratings-driven), news would be fun, and ratings would, well... Pitts doesn't say (although he does mutter something about opening a bed and breakfast in Modesto):
    Publisher Augustine Edwards says he will soon offer a financial incentive for his staff to write stories readers want to read. A reporter's salary will be based on how many clicks he or she racks up online.

    Colleagues, I can hear you harrumphing from here. This will never happen in a U.S. newsroom, you say. We have higher standards. We take our profession too seriously.

    All I can say is that you must work in a different newspaper business than I do. The one I work in has been hijacked by bean counters. It is a place where costs are cut with the glee of an ax murderer, talented people are being shoveled out the door and editors are required to prostrate themselves before the altar of the holy profit margin. It's not hard for me to imagine newspapers in that industry following the Chilean lead.

    After all, what would we have to sacrifice? The obligation to be a watchdog of the public interest? The mind-set that says maybe you publish a story because readers need to know a thing even if they don't know they need to know it?

    Get over yourself. How 20th century can you be?

    As Edwards puts it, "I am not of the school that says, 'Eat porridge, it's good for you.' I'm focused not on what people should be reading, but on uniting them around what they want to be reading."

    In other words, no more stories about budget deficits, congressional hearings, and other boring stuff nobody really cares about. From now on, no news but fun news.

    Welcome to the future, guys. Enjoy.

    If you need me, I'll be running a little bed and breakfast outside Modesto. Look me up if you're ever in the area.

    I think it's fascinating that to see the way the "choice" is framed: what readers should be reading versus what they want to be reading. I may be old fashioned, but it seems to be that the word "should" in this context is about as relevant to journalism as "want."

    Let's start with what people "should" be reading. To separate that from what people want to be reading strikes me as a proper job not for a journalist, but for a parent of a lazy child who'd rather spend the summer watching TV or reading comic books when he should be reading Charles Dickens.

    How is what "should" be read or what people want to read a journalistic function in any way? While there's no way around the fact that some people will find certain stories more interesting than others (that's why most newspapers have different sections for things like sports, business, entertainment, human interest, local news, etc.), there's ultimately no way to force anyone to read anything, much less make them want to read it. One person may want one thing, another person may think he should want something else.

    I mean, suppose, like Leonard Pitts, Jr. you're a bit of a political junkie. This means that politics and political developments (maybe even political gossip) is what you want to read about. It strikes me as the height of arrogance to decide that other people should want to read what you want to read.

    I tend to ditch the sports sections as well as entertainment and fashion sections. Should I be reading them? Probably. I can't tell you anything about "Friends" (a show I have never watched) nor do I know much about which sports team is ahead. I don't read SciFi either. I consider it regrettable to be so culturally illiterate, but I'd be very suprised if I opened my paper only to be greeted by scornful editorials telling me that my newspaper will go broke because I'm not reading enough stories about TV programming or fashion. Or that I should care whether the contents of the sports section is henceforth to be driven by ratings and popularity of the various sports and teams.

    But it's a fact of life that politics and current events are placed in the category of shoulds, while fashion, entertainment and sports are in the category of wants.

    What about bias? Would I care whether a local sports columnist favored the Philadelphia Eagles (pronounced "Iggles") over a rival team? Would I have as much fun scrutinizing his columns for evidence of bias, parsing his thoughts for logical errors, as I might with a column apologizing for or minimizing Kofi Annan's corruption or misstating the history of the Vietnam War? I doubt it.

    But hey, I'm feeling reckless and dangerous, so let's give it the old college try, right now! This is from today's Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Page:

    This game was 6 ounces of water in a 12-ounce glass. The way you view it says as much about you as it does the Eagles.

    Was it, at long last, a competitive game with an NFC East rival? Or was it proof that the division is so bad, the Eagles can turn in a stinker and still win?

    So which is it? Are you an optimist or a pessimist, a believer or a cynic?

    Wasn't that a thrill? Even a Roman stoic would be amused by the philosophical conundrum posed by the sports analyst. Maybe I'm missing something by not searching the sports pages for hidden insights. After all, human nature being what it is, there's lots of nature -- with all its ugly, raw beauty -- occurring there, but my editorial bias keeps it out of Classical Values. (This despite the well-known mania of the ancient masses towards sporting events makes me wonder whether I'm guilty of hypocrisy . . .)

    Does this make my preference for politics over sports a correct one? Should everyone else prefer politics to sports? How the hell should I know? I'm not here to judge the readers of this blog, but I guess now that I think about it, if I spent more time on sports and entertainment I might draw more readers who want that, and I might eventually lose the political junkies if I went too far. Considering the plethora of sports talk radio around here, it wouldn't surprise me if more people read sports blogs than political/cultural satire, but sports blogging is not what I do.

    Should I?

    I don't see how to make the word "should" enter into my thinking or that of any reader. I write about what I want, because what I want to write about is what interests me. Often, I think I should write about something (Mr. Pitts' column is a perfect example) and then I force myself to write about it. But the decision to force myself results from my own moral judgment on myself; whether readers want me to do it or want to read it is something over which I have no control.

    What if I played the role of Leonard Pitts' hypothetical editor?

    I will write not about what you want to read, but what I think you SHOULD be reading. No more fun! I'm not going to unite you around what you want to read, but I will feed you politically correct porridge. You will eat it, and you will like it!

    Otherwise, it's to bed without breakfast for the lot of you!

    Before you go to bed, though, here are a couple of items which may (depending on reader preferences) fit into either the "shoulds" or the "wants" categories of discipline and restraint. (The former is from a blog recently linked by Glenn Reynolds, the latter (via Drudge) is a favorite old theme.)

    Is the pleasure/pain principle implicated here? I'm reminded of one of life's lessons which I still refuse to learn.

    Well after my adolescent crisis had passed (but before my midlife crisis had been fully developed), a well-meaning relative honestly believed that I should play golf even though I hated it. He thought that it was socially the right thing to do, that it would advance one's career, and all that morally righteous stuff. But the bottom line for him was that he loved golf! So, he could carry on all he wanted about how golf was good and even virtuous, but the fact remained that it was fun for him, and torture for me. The odd thing is, when I was a kid I noticed that many of the harder working men used to criticize men who enjoyed playing golf as shirkers of their responsibilities. (Like the doctor out whacking a golfball while his patient dies from complications.)

    Where does that leave someone like me who, if I played golf, would absolutely hate it? Shouldn't I get some moral "credit" if I force myself to do something that I hate? Is it fair that others would have a good time doing it? How do we know that many of the people who lecture us about what we "should" do aren't secretly enjoying themselves while doing what they want and scolding the rest of us for not wanting what they want?

    Why should I want to do that?

    MORE: In a related vein, here's Roger L. Simon on freedom of thought:

    If there's one thing I have learned in the last few years it's that allegiance to any political party should be transitory. I don't care what the party thinks. I care what I think. The minute it is the other way round, I have lost freedom of thought. The same thing is true of "isms" for me.
    While other people have every right to to tell me what they think I "should want," freedom of thought consists of being in charge of one's own wants as well as one's "shoulds." The constant struggle between independent thought and the creeping tyranny of "isms" is worse than the Culture War.

    (And what if it is the Culture War? Are we being rendered increasingly unable to see individual people through a vast "cultural" forest of "isms?" With simple language being ever distorted and simple communication ever obfuscated, how are we to know?)

    posted by Eric at 08:57 AM | Comments (3)

    Absolute truth must be spun absolutely
    The American elite is almost beyond redemption. . . . Moral relativism has set in so deeply that the gilded classes have become incapable of discerning right from wrong. Everything can be explained away, especially by journalists. Life is one great moral mush--sophistry washed down with Chardonnay. The ordinary citizens, thank goodness, still adhere to absolutes. . . . It is they who have saved the republic from creeping degradation while their "betters" were derelict.

    -- Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

    That strikes me as a mostly true statement, and certainly many Americans would agree with it. But when someone delivers such a lecture on moral absolutism, I'd prefer that at least in practice he make a stab at upholding the "absolute" standards he claims to champion.

    With the above in mind, I want to return briefly to yesterday's post in which I speculated about possible inaccuracies involving a "cat in the washing machine" in a story by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

    I wrote an update to the post, but readers who come here looking for new posts might miss it. Because I think it's important I want to to re-stress yesterday's point: what reporters say should not be taken at face value.

    While I focused on the cruelty to cats angle (which struck me as possibly untrue character assassination), I now see something worse in Mr. Evans-Pritchard's blatantly untrue claim -- asserted quite boldly, to emphasize his central point -- that the Pim Fortuyn killing had been "the country's first political assassination since 1584." A commenter named Kozinski refuted that claim with this reminder of a brutal 17th century political double murder:

    Pim Fortuyn was the Netherland's first political assassination since 1584? Tell that to the De Witt brothers, who ruled Holland in the 17th century. John and Corneilius were literally torn apart by a frenzied mob in 1672 when their policy of appeasment towards France resulted in an uprovoked invasian by Louis XIV.

    22 year old William of Orange (later Englands's William III) then took control, opened the dykes, and drove the French out. It helps to be reminded that the Dutch used to be made of sterner stuff.

    (NOTE: This historical fact is hardly obscure; it's considered noteworthy enough to appear in the American Heritage Dictionary.)

    On top of that, there was an even worse omission in the Evans-Pritchard piece. As I showed below, he ignored the 1979 assassination of Sir Richard Sykes, Britain's Ambassador to Holland.

    1979: British ambassador assassinated in Holland
    British ambassador in Holland Sir Richard Sykes has been shot dead outside his Dutch home.

    Two gunmen opened fire on Sir Richard and his Dutch footman as they left his residence at The Hague to make the short five minute car journey to the embassy.

    It wasn't clear at the time whether the IRA or a Palestinian faction was responsible, but the assassination was widely reported, and now a British reporter old enough to remember it essentially says it never happened.

    What I'd like to know is why?

  • Why say that Theo Van Gogh mangled cats if he didn't?

  • Why lie about a country's older history as well as its more recent history?
  • Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on this reporter. After all, he's been around long enough to see that hardworking reporters who do the proper research get nowhere (they might even end up being punished!), while the sleazebags (those who write fictitious stories) end up being rewarded. There's probably a slippery slope there. It's a dog-eat-dog world. Maybe cat-eat-cat . . .

    (Must have something to do with the "spin" cycle.)

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: Some of my more politically conservative readers might admonish me for this apparent "attack" on a conservative reporter, and may wonder whether I'm becoming a cog of the liberal attack machine. The fact is, the overwhelming majority of my "attacks" (if pointing out inaccuracies is an attack) have been directed against liberal reporters -- most often those writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think at minimum, I should apply the same standard to those who would replace the liberal media. I've seen enough agenda-driven reporting to dislike it wherever I see it. The extent to which I agree with the agenda is irrelevant. (Actually, the argument can be made that dishonest reporting, by harming the conservative agenda, does more damage to it than dishonest liberal reporting.)

    While I know this is irrational, on a more personal note, I feel a bit betrayed, because years ago I bought one of this reporter's books, and probably fell into the "wanting to believe" mindset I'm now cautioning people against.

    But please, folks, this is just some friendly advice from my hardened and cynical heart -- not to be misread as a moral lecture!

    posted by Eric at 12:27 PM | Comments (4)

    Of nannies and hell

    The Romans had a saying (voiced by Cicero) that in time of war the rules do not apply:

    Inter arma silent leges.
    Did Cicero mean to except rules about paying the taxes of a nanny hired by one's wife? Am I alone in finding it more than a little ironic that Bernard Kerik -- by most accounts a tough street cop whose first goal was getting the job done -- was prevented from getting the post which cried out for such a man because he wasn't squeaky clean?

    While I don't know whether the authors envisioned a scenario like this when they wrote the book, I can't think of a more classic illustration of the problem presented in The Appearance of Impropriety than this latest national goatscrew. I'm tired of writing (and I usually take a break on Saturdays), so I hope readers (and James Wolcott) will forgive me if I quote from my own review of the book:

    . . . today's corruption is governed by an elaborate, appearance-based regulatory system in which compliance with the rules, by eliminating any real need for personal integrity, places honesty and integrity about on the level of compliance with such things as IRS codes or affirmative action quotas. Thus, the truly corrupt are enabled, and those with genuine integrity are burdened with humiliating and stultifying regulations which would keep many people away from public service. (As the authors note, Dwight Eisenhower was such a notorious rule breaker that it is doubtful that he could survive today's appearance-based scrutiny.)

    Actual example of an ethics rule cited by the authors: "...[A] federal worker can legally accept pay for a "comic monologue" -- unless, that is, the government decides that the talk was actually an "amusing speech," in which case the federal worker could be fined $10,000 and drummed out of the service."

    All of this and more can be traced to the post-Watergate explosion in ethics reform (a period the authors call "the Big Bang"). This has ended up deepening the entire country's cynicism, not by restoring integrity, but by creating a monstrous system of appearance-based regulations which encourage moralistic posing while actually undermining genuine integrity.

    Like Eisenhower, Kerik was an action-oriented, get-things-done kind of guy.

    I submit that men of action do not spend their time worrying and fidgeting about things like the proper bureaucratic paperwork for their wives' nannies! In fact, I'd go one further, and suggest that men who do spend their time fussing over such things are not the kind of men we want heading wartime security.

    How quickly people forget the nature of September 11 and its aftermath. Anyone remember that Alan Dershowitz (a liberal's liberal if ever there was one) even advocated allowing torture? I for one disagreed with him, because I do not agree that rules against torture should be relaxed in wartime. (Of course, in emergency situations, they'll simply be broken. Illegal torture is in my view far less risky than legal torture.) I mention the advocacy of torture by someone like Dershowitz as a Ciceronian reminder that war changes things dramatically. Obviously, not for the nanny state bureaucrats. They do not consider the country to be at war.

    After all, rules are rules.

    OK fine. Even if we look at this from a get-tough, everything-by-the-book, viewpoint, why not hire the guy and punish him anyway? Just fine him and/or his wife (for the nanny stuff as well as the stupid condo lawsuit arrest warrant) and let him do his job. (I think he can take the punishment. Just please, spare everyone the moral lecture!)

    War is hell. Hell is not for the squeaky clean!

    UPDATE: There are allegations here that Kerik may have tried to cover up the nanny tax issue. If this is true, it is much more relevant to his fitness than the nanny issue itself. As the saying goes, the coverup is always worse than the crime. It makes me wonder, though, how many "Mr. Squeaky Cleans" have a successful coverup in their history. . . Would it not be better if penalties for wrongdoing -- assuming such wrongdoing doesn't rise to the level of malum in se/moral right and wrong -- stopped with the actual punishment for the offense? Or am I being hopelessly idealistic?

    UPDATE: I thought I was being a bit facetious with my title, but via Glenn Reynolds, I've learned that indeed there's a link between nannies and hell. The road to hell is paved with nannies like this.

    posted by Eric at 11:18 PM | Comments (9)

    Comings And Goings

    I was browsing a depressing little book the other day, Sherwin Nuland's"How We Die". Interesting stuff, and helpful too. What I took away from the book was a simple insight.

    We don't die all at once.

    In fact, the whole process is sometimes rather lengthy and complicated.

    I'm not referring to the prolonged and painful prequel, but rather the intricate cascade of events that commences with our last gasp. Various parts of our bodies will soldier bravely on for minutes, hours, and even days, long after "we" have irreversibly perished.

    This is not news. Zombie lore has long noted the talon-like nails and flowing hair of the recently buried. Those little cells just keep on chugging, don't they?

    It makes for an interesting symmetry. At life's ending, though "we" are well and truly gone for good, the cells comprising our corporeal self can continue to metabolize, continue to live...for a while at least.

    And at life's beginning, cells metabolize furiously, while the "we" that will eventually come into being is nowhere yet to be found.

    It's an interesting question. If, as many people acknowledge, we don't die all at once, then why is it logical to assume that we come alive all at once?

    And if both processes stretch out over time, then the lines we draw regarding either are merely our best guesses, laid down for the convenience of custom and law.

    Cessation of breathing, or heartbeat, or brain function have all served as markers of death at one time or another, but all these definitions have depended upon the state of the contemporary medical art. If you should happen to stop, and we can't restart you, you're gone.

    If I were to shoot a man who was already legally dead, would I be guilty of murder? Most would say no. Yet the body, were it sufficiently fresh, might contain living cells in profusion. Given a more advanced resuscitative science, the deceased might well be thought of as a patient in critical condition. Extremely critical condition. Till that day arrives however, I cannot be convicted of murdering a corpse.

    You do see where I'm going with this?

    posted by Justin at 05:07 PM | Comments (10)

    Is there a rat in the cat?

    Is it time to "call the whole thing off" because Theo Van Gogh filmed kittens being mangled to death in a washing machine, and further because he thought that was funny?

    I'm having a bit of trouble with this logic, which derives from the following assertion by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph:

    A shrill provocateur, Mr van Gogh was not to everybody's taste. He once filmed kittens being mangled to death in a washing machine, which he thought was hilarious.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    OK, I Googled and Googled, and I still haven't been able to locate the mangled cat link. And, much as I am appalled by cruelty to animals of any sort, I don't think two wrongs (mangled cats plus Islamic assassination) make a right. Nor do I see how three wrongs ("calling the whole thing off") improves the situation.

    I have to say that I wasn't especially reassured by some of the comments at the credited link to the Telegraph piece either. Like these:

  • Reply 23 - Posted by: Talk2, 12/11/2004 6:02:38 AM

    ....Liberalism has given the Dutch an army of unionized homosexuals and pretend soldiers. Liberalism has given the Dutch rampant drug use and an immigrant population which can refuse to learn the language or customs and culture of the country. Liberalism has provided the skids upon which the Dutch now find themselves.

    The rest of Europe as well as the USA had better wake up to the long term evils of liberalism.

  • Reply 27 - Posted by: LetGeorge1, 12/11/2004 7:51:31 AM

    We have over 600,000 illegal aliens in jails and prisons all across the US. Once these people become US citizens there will be welfare and other programs for them paid for by US hardworking citizens. I don't think we are too far behind Europe in this country being taken over by foreigners. Activist judges that block every attempt by concerned citizens,the ACLU, which stands for AntiAmericans Communist Liberals United, and foreign organizations that operate here are destroying this country.
    So Americans shouldn't feel too smug when they read such stories as this one.

  • Smugness is hardly what I felt. I'm just trying to figure out whether Van Gogh mangled cats, and the logical connections of stuff like "an army of unionized homosexuals", America's aliens and the ACLU.

    Islamofascism is hardly a friend to homosexuals, regardless of whether "unionized" in an "army" or not. The ACLU, in my opinion, needs to be infiltrated and taken over by Second Amendment supporters, but whether it is "destroying this country" is at least debatable. As to our aliens, well, they're mostly Catholic, and Western. (Not much different than the immigrants who upset so many people in the 19th Century.)

    But I want to return to the assertion about the mangled cats. A cat would probably drown in a washing machine, but it would not be mangled. That bit of hyperbole makes me wonder whether there might be a bit more hyperbole. Hyperbole is not helpful in assessing very serious matters like this.

    Normally, this wouldn't have bothered me, but I've been reading too many reports about "homeless Iraq War veterans."

    Nearly 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and almost half served during the Vietnam era, according to the Homeless Veterans coalition, a consortium of community-based homeless-veteran service providers. While some experts have questioned the degree to which mental trauma from combat causes homelessness, a large number of veterans live with the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to the coalition.

    Some homeless-veteran advocates fear that similar combat experiences in Vietnam and Iraq mean that these first few homeless veterans from Iraq are the crest of a wave.

    "This is what happened with the Vietnam vets. I went to Vietnam," said John Keaveney, chief operating officer of New Directions, a shelter and drug-and-alcohol treatment program for veterans in Los Angeles. That city has an estimated 27,000 homeless veterans, the largest such population in the nation. "It is like watching history being repeated," Keaveney said.

    Is history being repeated? Are we really being inundated with homeless Iraq War vets? Or are the stories as phony as the innumerable tearjerkers about homeless Vietnam war vets? I'm reminded of the crack baby/child molesting crazes of the 1980s. . . The Pulitzer Prize winning story about Jimmy the child heroin addict. . .

    Who checks these things, and why are statements of reporters treated as facts?

    Here's a typical story of the sort I tend to distrust:

    Veteran Glenn Hubbard lives in a culvert behind the trailer. Frank’s girlfriend, Mary, lives in the trailer.....

    Staying in a nearby concrete culvert about four feet high is Hubbard, 50, who said he spent 16 years in the service, including hitches in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

    He said he was injured in the service and was honorably discharged in 1987. He spent 18 months at the domiciliary.

    "But they are pretty much phasing out long-term treatment over there so here I am," he said.

    Several empty bottles of Magnum 40 stand near his culvert.

    "I got a couple of sleeping bags in there and collect empty bottles and cans," Hubbard said. "I pretty much eat just canned goods."

    He goes to the Medford Gospel Mission a couple of times a week to check his mail.

    "I just try not to get in a rut," said Hubbard, who is an outpatient at the domiciliary.

    Army, Navy, AND Marine Corps? Might be possible, but it doesn't pass my smell test. Yet there's no way to verify it; we just have to take at his word the reporter who took this "Glenn Hubbard" at his word. (Just like we have to take the word of this one too.)

    Yet the largely unreported stories of fake Vietnam War veterans are so legion as to not require serious discussion. There are web sites devoted to debunking them. But nevertheless, every large city has a bureaucracy of dupes waiting to take them at their word, pander to their lies, and and make the rest of us feel guilty.

    None of this is to suggest that the story of cats mangled in the washer is not true. It's just that I wonder how many poorly documented stories are planted and thrive in the hungry minds of readers who want to read stories confirming what they want to believe. Not that there's anything wrong with finding confirmation of what you want to believe. But isn't it a good idea to confirm the "confirming" story?

    MORE: A commenter at sisu has more on the cat story:

    I found two articles on the kittens thing. One said the scene was faked, the other said it was real. For whatever it's worth, the scene was not "because Van Gogh thought it was hilarious" but involved a woman who was kidnapped and the kidnappers killed her cats. It doesn't sound like the kind of scene that would "require" real kittens.
    No, it wouldn't require real kittens. The mangling is what strikes me as odd. Kittens have supposedly been accidentally thrown in washing machines and survived. (And yes, that is what I want to believe, so I can't vouch for its accuracy any more than the accuracy of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard!)

    More on Milo the kitty from the BBC.


    I'm more curious than I am critical. I know, I know, curiosity can kill. I'd rather avoid, er, critical condition.

    UPDATE: Link to Jimmy story added; grammatical and spelling errors fixed per my usual twenty minute editing deadline. (God, how my tired eyes would love true WYSIWYG editing capability.)

    MORE: A group connected with Van Gogh's assassin has been implicated in a plot to attack Amsterdam's red light district:

    Muslim extremists, the paper said, were allegedly furious at the lack of morals in the prostitution zone.

    Justice authorities took the tips very seriously and arrested the pizza deliverer at the Nasr mosque in the Celebesstraat in Amsterdam East. The man has been identified as a 20-year-old Amsterdam resident of Moroccan descent, Bilal L., alias Abu Qataadah.

    L. was allegedly in contact with Syrian Redouan al-Issa, the fugitive leader of the terror network Hofstadgroep (Main City Group). The Syrian was an illegal immigrant in the Netherlands and gave Koran lessons in the home of Mohammed B., the suspected murderer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. B. is also a member of the Main City Group.

    Kitties aside, I'm glad Dutch authorities aren't pussyfooting around with these people.

    And what's with the targeting of sex? I just wish there weren't a lingering aroma of divide and conquer in all of this . . .

    MORE: My concern is that the Islamofascists are smart enough to exploit the tendency of people to commit logical errors like this:

  • A. The Netherlands has legal drugs and prostitution;
  • B. Amsterdam's red light district was attacked, and therefore;
  • C. Drugs and prostitution were the cause of the attacks.
  • By attacking red light districts and other sinful places, Islamists are deliberately encouraging moral conservatives (who naturally do not want to be in a position of defending red light districts or legal drugs) to acknowledge their moral authority, in classic divide-and-conquer fashion.

    I am not arguing that moral conservatives should suddenly favor red light districts or drugs; only that it be kept in mind that they are part of the strategy and not the reason for the attacks. To grant the attackers moral high ground when these things happen is almost like saying a woman deserved rape for wearing a miniskirt. (In fact, the attackers do not distinguish between promiscuous sex and the wearing of miniskirts. Similarly, licensing women to sell their bodies is as acceptable to Islamists as allowing them to enter male professions.)

    I may sound paranoid, but I have a long memory about September 11, and some of the things I'm reading now about the Netherlands remind me of statements like this:

    I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."
    As I've said before, the Blame America crowd is not limited to one side of what passes for a political spectrum.

    AND MORE: Is what we call the "Culture War" a modern vestige of ancient, poorly understood (but long-simmering) war between spirituality and sex? Might it never have been necessary in the first place? Newer readers who are interested might enjoy a long essay I wrote over a year ago, titled "Before the Fall."

    UPDATE (Sunday, December 12): Another inaccuracy in the Evans-Pritchard piece was noted by "Kozinski" in a comment to sisu's post:

    Pim Fortuyn was the Netherland's first political assassination since 1584? Tell that to the De Witt brothers, who ruled Holland in the 17th century. John and Corneilius were literally torn apart by a frenzied mob in 1672 when their policy of appeasment towards France resulted in an uprovoked invasian by Louis XIV.

    22 year old William of Orange (later Englands's William III) then took control, opened the dykes, and drove the French out. It helps to be reminded that the Dutch used to be made of sterner stuff.

    Excellent point, and excellent research. (And, er, not to quibble, but I thought it was politically incorrect to say "dykes.") William of Orange. Now there's a guy who's historically and politically complicated.

    MORE: Out of idle curiosity, I did a little more research on Mr. Evans-Pritchard's statement that Pim Fortuyn's killing was "the country's first political assassination since 1584." As Kozinski already proved, Evans-Pritchard either ignored older history or failed to do any research. I might be able to forgive a reporter for not being well-versed in the William of Orange period, but what about a political assassination carried out by terrorists in 1979?

    1979: British ambassador assassinated in Holland
    British ambassador in Holland Sir Richard Sykes has been shot dead outside his Dutch home.

    Two gunmen opened fire on Sir Richard and his Dutch footman as they left his residence at The Hague to make the short five minute car journey to the embassy.

    1979 was not all that long ago. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is, I believe, British.

    What's up with this guy? Is he a reporter or some sort of hatchet man? I don't think it's necessary to spend any more time refuting his assertions to prove my point, which is simply that assertions by reporters should be viewed no differently than assertions by anyone else, anywhere else. The mere fact of publication does nothing to render an assertion true, nor does it matter how many people are gullible enough to believe it.

    Ditto for Eric Boehlert at

    Once again, thank God for the blogosphere.

    posted by Eric at 10:55 AM | Comments (8)

    Political Dirty Tricks

    Yuschenko had 1000 times the normal level of dioxin in his system and doctors feel it was intentionally administered, adding it could easily have been ingested in a bowl of soup.

    If you're wondering where you've heard dioxin before, think Agent Orange.

    posted by Dennis at 10:51 AM | Comments (2)

    Expensive Speech?
    Exactly how much does speech cost?

    Last week I asked what I considered a sarcastic question:

    Are doctrines of Constitutional Law henceforth to be driven by network ratings?
    Now that question is looking less and less sarcastic, more and more serious, and more and more ugly.

    Beware of humor, folks; yesterday's jokes have a way of becoming today's law.

    As most denizens of the Internet or the blogosphere know, there's no simple way to draw a line between "bloggers" and "journalists." Bloggers are journalists by definition, and many journalists are also bloggers. The difference between any of the top bloggers and, say, Charles Krauthammer is mainly in where they're published, and even there, the line is becoming indistinguishable. Most hard copy journalists are available online, and bloggers routinely "cross over" to "off line" journalism. The Internet is simply a medium.

    So I don't think the legal approach is going to take the form of a "let's regulate blogs" approach so much as it would likely consist of a size-based litmus test based on the amount of attention the blog gets.

    No one, for example, cares about a college student starting up a Blog for Dean or a Blog for Bush. But let that same student's readership level hit the 10,000 a day mark (chosen arbitrarily -- which is what laws do), and the usual suspects will begin screaming about "fairness."

    I think it will come down to bandwidth, which consists of numbers. Something like that has a definable, assignable value, and is capable of metering and regulation, just as much as is money. (To "follow the money" simply "follow the hits.")

    Considering that political speech has now been defined as money (and everything -- even sexual speech -- is now political), AND as a "contribution," if that speech draws a certain amount of listeners, then it can literally be said to have a certain value. McCain-Feingold, unfortunately, has already been held constitutional (and I have warned last year that it could be applied to blogs), so the only thing left to do is what the regulatory bastards are already set up to do: DRAW THE LINE. The greater the traffic, the more it's regulated.

    So in answer to my question, "Are doctrines of constitutional law to be determined by ratings," the answer seems to be a sickening YES.

    I wonder what the founders would say about the price of "free" speech.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: I don't think the dynamics of ambition and the human ego will escape the attention of those wielding regulatory power. Many a blogger would, I fear, be more than willing to wear the badge of government regulation. Not as a stigma, but as a badge of honor, of officialdom!

    Of (dare I say it?) power!

    Why, the regulators could even encourage this mindset in clever promotional mailings....

    "As a highly visited blogger, you're a shaper of public opinion!"

    "A very powerful position to be in!"

    "With power goes responsibility!"


    I could almost write such garbage for the bastards.

    AND MORE: The above principle is of course called "DIVIDE AND CONQUER." A bit like the tax code.... "I should be so lucky as to be in a higher tax bracket!" etc.


    posted by Eric at 10:42 AM | Comments (8)

    Mice don't die if the cat stays high!

    It's been some time since I've resorted to such juvenile antics, but I think it's still my traditional (?) prerogative to celebrate Friday as Online Testing Day at Classical Values.

    I'll start with a test of my political persuasion:

    You Are a "Don't Tread On Me" Libertarian

    You distrust the government, are fiercely independent, and don't belong in either party.

    Religion and politics should never mix, in your opinion... and you feel oppressed by both.

    You don't want the government to cramp your self made style. Or anyone else's for that matter.

    You're proud to say that you're pro-choice on absolutely everything!

    This isn't the first time I've taken a test which says I'm a libertarian, but I got a pretty picture and it was fun. Not only that, my result is the same as Persnickety at Ordinary Galoot, one of the few remaining sources who can be counted on to supply these endangered tests.


    Testing one's politics might not interest everyone, though. If you prefer more spice in your life, well, here's a test called "What herb are you?"

    I'm a well known, mood-altering spice (which would probably be regulated by the government if cats ran things):


    What herb are you?
    brought to you by Quizilla

    (Also via Persnickety, who was Moly.)


    But Catnip? Such a result cries out for a some sort of immediate cat test, and I found one:

    You are a Siamese! You are fun-loving, playful,
    energetic, talkative, and exotic. You are the
    center of attention and you love every minute
    of it.

    What breed of cat are you?
    brought to you by Quizilla

    I guess if I'm simultaneously catnip as well as a Siamese cat, then I can eat myself and get high doing it. (Something I believe is still legal.)


    Hey, wait a second. Is this supposed to be Friday Online Test Day or Friday catblogging?

    Either way, I'd say it's a Thai.

    UPDATE: I should probably add that in my state (Pennsylvania), cats are obviously very intelligent; one received an MBA degree! (Via the dave.)

    posted by Eric at 09:58 AM | Comments (11)

    MoveOn has a mandate
    Liberal powerhouse MoveOn has a message for the "professional election losers" who run the Democratic Party: "We bought it, we own it, we're going to take it back."

    Read more creepiness via Yahoo.

    posted by Dennis at 09:05 AM | Comments (2)

    Get your bloody hands off my blog!

    The movement to regulate blogs (also called "regulating Internet speech") is growing rapidly, as evidenced by remarks like this:

    “The question is: What are the appropriate regulations on the Internet?" asked Kathleen Jamieson, an expert on political communication and dean of the Annenberg School for Communications. “It’s evolved into an area that we need to do more thinking about it. (Via Tom Maguire.)
    That's the question? Actually, I think the question is, "What part of the First Amendment do you not understand, Ms. Jamieson?"

    As to the partisan nature of blogs, I read them anyway, depending on whether I'm interested in what the blogger says. If I read a blog, whether I agree with its philosophy is my problem, whether I like the style of writing is my problem; if I don't like either I might not continue to read the blog. But whether it's partisan? That's also my problem -- and it's my business (as well as that of the blogger). If a blog conceals its partisanship, hey, that might make it more fun to unscramble the mystery, and speculate about what is being hidden. I might or might not like it. Again, it's my business as a reader to make that determination, and I'm horrified by the idea of the government stepping in and doing it for me.

    Partisan? Partisan about what? Are blogs about music partisan depending on what music is preferred? Kate at Reflections in d minor recently linked this discussion about whether artists are "on the left." A major focus of Kate's blog is music. Is she "partisan?" Does she "favor" classical music? And what politician might she be "for?" Should this be "disclosed" to government bureaucrats?

    It isn't anyone's bloody business but hers and her readers! How dare anyone demand that blogs be measured, rated, disclosed? Really, how dare they?

    If you don't like the blog, don't read it, and don't link it!

    I don't care how big it is, or how small it is, it's a simple question, one called free speech. I or anyone else can start a blog on any subject, advocate or oppose any human, idea, animal, or inanimate object, and I don't care whether it gets 10,000,000 hits a day, under the First Amendment no one has any right to compel that it be regulated.

    I don't have to disclose a damned thing to anyone, but at the same time other bloggers can say anything they want about my nondisclosure, and readers are free to come and go as they please. If a blogger's partisanship appears offensive or dishonest, the bare lie will shine through. The readers can still come and go as they please. It's their business; not the government's.

    Where do these people get off, anyway?

    This is like gun control; one of those unbelievably simple no-brainers so obvious that I can't believe I'm having to discuss it. What am I missing? Are we supposed to be protecting the stupid from their own folly?

    MORE: In another excellent post, Tom Maguire opines that licensing of journalists is a bad idea. But it's been tried all over the world! Why not here? From the last link, a good line:

    ...if you ever want to get journalists on the side of gun owners, just require that any law requiring Second Amendment registration be constructed in line with laws on First Amendment registration.

    posted by Eric at 08:15 AM | Comments (3)

    The ranks are thinning . . .
    We are foolishly polite when we need to be fiercely determined. To give this vaunted "war on terrorism" legitimacy and determination and purpose, we might recall the words of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," written in 1861, during a time of national crisis like none we’ve seen till now. The Civil War was waged to save the republic; today’s war against Islamist terrorism must be waged to save Western civilization. It requires precisely, in Julia Ward Howe’s unparalled image, that "terrible swift sword."

    --David Brudnoy, September 11, 2002

    Unfortunately, David Brudnoy is on his way out.

    Last night, WBZ radio paid tribute to him with a three-hour retrospective of his career, including an interview taped earlier in the day. ''I've said to corporate for the better part of a decade that he's the best talk host in America," said Ted Jordan, the station's general manager.

    His show was often an eclectic cocktail of modern culture -- a philosopher one hour, a novelist pitching a book or a movie star promoting a new film the next, and maybe a US senator in the last slot of the night.

    ''David is a Massachusetts treasure," Governor Mitt Romney said in a telephone interview. ''He is an unadulterated voice of truth.

    ''The two most important days in your life are the day you're born and the day you leave," Romney continued. ''On the day you leave, you measure your life on two things -- what you're taking with you and what you're leaving behind. What he's taking with him is a soul that's pure, honest, and full of character and integrity. What he leaves behind is literally millions of listeners who have gotten new perspectives and insights from his unprejudiced voice."

    We need more like him.

    And less from the people who believe in the Bigot God of 9/11 (and who'd be likely to think that good people like Brudnoy who die are being punished by their wretched "god").

    I notice Brudnoy's an agnostic, which I think is a more honest view than the cowards who fear the gods of bigotry.

    No wonder so many people are emotionally stuck on atheism. It's amazing that a few of them -- like this guy -- eventually conclude that there is a god, but to their amazement he's not a bigot.

    At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

    Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

    "I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

    Why do so many want their god to be a cosmic Saddam Hussein?

    And what will they do if it turns out there is a god, and he's not?

    UPDATE: I now see that David Brudnoy passed away two minutes after I saved the first draft of this. He has what might pass (hopefully non-arrogantly) as a form of prayer from at least one nonpracticing pagan pantheistic christian.

    posted by Eric at 06:08 PM | Comments (2)

    Completely lacking in horse sense . . .

    Former Clinton official Sidney Blumenthal has compared President Bush's new Homeland Security head Bernard Kerik (along with Condeleeza Rice and Alberto Gonzales) to Caligula's horse.

    In line with other second-term cabinet appointments - Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state - Kerik will be an enforcer, a loyalist and an incompetent. The resemblance is less to Inspector Clouseau or Chauncy Gardner than to Caligula's horse.
    I have a few logical problems with this analogy. Let's take a look at Caligula's horse, named "Incitatus":
    Caligula doted on his horse Incitatus most of all. It had a retinue of eighteen servants. Its diet consisted of oats mixed with gold flake, as well as a variety of meats, including mice, squid, mussels, and chicken. Not to mention wine. According to Suetonius, the emperor saw to it that Incitatus lived in perfect luxury: "Besides a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones, he even gave this horse a house."
    While a political career for Incitatus was contemplated, it never happened.
    Suetonius wrote also that Caligula supposedly wanted to make his horse a Consul.

    The horse would also "invite" dignitaries to dine with him, and had a house with full complement of servants to entertain such guests.

    (If interested, here are actual quotes from Suetonius and Dio Cassius.)

    Clearly, Incitatus was more of a friendly, entertainment-oriented horse than a politically-oriented horse. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that Incitatus served as an "enforcer," and while horses are generally considered loyal, to call him a "loyalist and an incompetent" simultaneously seems a bit unfair. They don't go hand in hand; for example, Sidney Blumenthal could be said to have been a Clinton loyalist. Did this make him incompetent? No reason why it would.

    And considering the sparseness of the Roman record, how does Sidney Blumenthal know for sure that Incitatus was either loyal or incompetent? Even attributing typical equine loyalty to him might be risky, for his appointment by Caligula as Consul (threatened but never carried out) was considered a supreme insult to the Senate. And who knows what sort of Consul he might have been? It calls for speculation.

    Well, on reflection, I think it's probably a fair assumption that Incitatus would have been incompetent to serve as Consul. But then, Incitatus was a horse!

    And where's the marble stable? The ivory manger? The purple blankets? The collar of precious stones? The oats with gold flake? And where's the teensiest bit of proof that President Bush feeds a single one of his officials mice?

    What's with Sidney Blumenthal, anyway? Doesn't he do his homework?

    Perhaps the idea was to compare Bush to Caligula. Again, the differences are too numerous to list. But for starters, George W. Bush is hardly known for abusing women. Caligula was. You'd think Mr. Blumenthal would display a little sensitivity about such things.

    Tut tut.

    posted by Eric at 02:02 PM | Comments (2)

    Name shame game

    Dean Esmay has a fascinating discussion and thread about a pet cause (if not obsession) by some leftists and feminists:

    It looks like some well-known left-wing bigots are now attacking Michelle Malkin for keeping her maiden name for legal purposes, but using her married name for most other purposes.

    This reminds me of when another well-known lefty blogger said that women who change their last names when they get married should be shunned and shamed because the practice was so reactionary and backward and implied that husbands own their wives.

    You know, back when I was a lefty-liberal myself (which I did used to be--vehemently so) I considered the entire practice of women changing their last names to be barbaric and backward and sexist. Ditto the term "Mrs." I was married once before I married The Queen, and I actually begged my then-wife not to change her name. She never did.

    (Michelle Malkin did a pretty good job of defending her name here.)

    What's in a name change, anyway? There's a tradition about these things going back many, many years (Roman women added their husband's names upon marriage), and some people respect it, some don't. No one can force anyone to change his name, to take someone else's name, or even to keep his own name. (My father, by the way, told me that my life would be a lot easier if I changed the spelling of my name from "Scheie" to "Shay," but I prefer the misery I have always known.)

    Who the hell is anyone to tell a woman (or a man, for that matter) what name to use? Isn't that the business of the individual? The idea that someone has any say in the life of someone else -- to me that's one of the most ugly aspects of human behavior, and because I'm likely to overreact and do exactly what such people tell me not to do, the trickiest part of life has been figuring out how not to be influenced by it at all.

    Michelle Malkin was said to be a hypocrite for changing her name (to her husband's name) but leaving her maiden name on some form somewhere for the leftists to discover. For that she belongs in a concentration camp and has no right to criticize Teresa Heinz for adding the "Kerry" only for politics or something. (I admit, I'm having a bit of trouble following the logic.)

    But hey, wait a second! Isn't Teresa's full name really "Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira Heinz Kerry?" Why pick and choose, stopping with the "Heinz?"

    How are we supposed to parse this insanity in political terms? She took and kept one husband's name, right? She might want to lose the Kerry, right? (I wouldn't blame her; in the long run, "Heinz" will probably retain its value and have better name recognition than "Kerry.")

    So what's the big deal?

    Why must personal decisions be seen, criticized and analyzed in terms of crackpot theories of dominance and subordination, anyway? Suppose they legalized same sex marriage. Would anyone criticize one spouse's decision to take the name of the other spouse? I doubt it.

    I suspect this has to do more with judging and shaming the woman (there's that hideous shame topic again) than anything else. These are personal, private decisions, and they're public only to the extent that one's name is public.

    The topic does lead, however, to something that has long intrigued me about feminist theory. It's wrong for women to be dependent, right? OK. I can accept the idea of independence and individuality for anyone who wants it -- male or female. To be less than independent is akin to slavery.

    So that would appear to make me a feminist.

    So what I want to know is: why do the vast majority of feminists believe in socialism? Feminism has even been defined as socialism (perhaps as environmentalism too) but it makes no sense, and libertarian feminists are left out of the picture.

    Socialism means dependency on the state. Why would anyone supporting independence be in favor of socialism? Slapping the label of "feminist" on it only adds insult to injury.

    If (as the logic goes) dependency on men is bad, what makes dependency on government good?

    I mean, isn't there a power imbalance there too?

    I also strongly suspect that there's a power imbalance going on with the very name "Socialism." I think it's another one of those true names that dare not speak its name.

    posted by Eric at 10:01 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBacks (1)

    How to avoid morning frustration the night before . . .

    I should have read InstaPundit before I went to bed last night. Ought to be a ritual like brushing my teeth. Seriously, I'm not saying this to compliment Glenn Reynolds, but he has a way of spotting the really important stuff -- things that Drudge misses, and things I'd certainly miss. Had I seen that link last night, I'd have been less frustrated this morning.

    A blogger called Silent Running spotted this exchange on PBS and put it in his blog:

    TERENCE SMITH: Well, what about a blogger, Floyd Abrams?

    FLOYD ABRAMS: I was asked that today, and I said as I say here, I think a blogger ought to be protected also. It seems to me that the purpose of this privilege is to protect the people who play a function in American life.

    It's not to protect reporters as such. It's to protect people who gather information and disseminate it on a widespread basis to the public. So I think eventually if there is a privilege, and that's one of the things the court's going to deal with, but if there is a privilege here, whether it's rooted in the First Amendment or what's called federal common law, I think it should apply to bloggers as well. (Emphasis added.)

    Floyd Abrams, of course, is the lead attorney in what is the most important First Amendment case (and news story) to come along in years. Saying bloggers are included in the journalistic privilege is huge news.

    Yet according to a story I managed to spot in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer, the issue is merely whether the New York Times (and Time magazine) reporters should be forced to comply with subpoenas in the Plame case:

    WASHINGTON - An attorney for two journalists subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury asked a federal court yesterday to rule that they do not have to disclose their confidential sources in an investigation into the leak of a covert CIA officer's name.

    Floyd Abrams, who represents New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine, urged a three-judge panel on the federal appeals court to rule that the two do not have to comply with the subpoena.

    Abrams said journalists were protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney James Fleissner argued that under a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, journalists were not granted absolute First Amendment protection in criminal cases.

    Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle appeared to side with the government, asking why reporters were more privileged than others who are required to testify if subpoenaed.

    "The role of the press as a critic of the government, as exposing... what's going on, is... different," Abrams responded.

    For over an hour, I've had only one question:


    It's not even in the front section, much less the front page!


    This made no sense at all, until I caught up with last night's reading.

    What's good news for bloggers is not considered good news.

    And of course, what's not reported in the Inquirer accounts for the burial of this otherwise highly important story. As Jonah Goldberg puts it:

    What's particularly ironic is that the big-media lawyers fear the courts will allow a blanket shield for journalists because there's no way to exclude one-man-band web journalists — bloggers — from the new right. And what's the point of giving the nobility a new privilege if any peasant can take advantage of it, too? (Via Glenn Reynolds.)
    Ah, but the peasants can't take advantage of it if they don't know about it!

    MORE OLD NEWS: Now I'm having an attack of recovered lost memory syndrome.... Does anyone remember last summer when bloggers attended conventions? Some REAL journalists didn't like it at all, and didn't mind letting us know about it:

    "I think that bloggers have put the issue of professionalism under attack," said Thomas McPhail, professor of media studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who argues that journalists should be professionally credentialed. "They have no pretense to objectivity. They don't cover both sides."
    They don't cover both sides? (Like both sides of the Plame litigation?)

    Funny, but all these years I thought that was a major complaint about "real" journalists....

    posted by Eric at 08:35 AM | Comments (3)

    Cruising with a clean Slate?

    Eugene Volokh, who has been documenting what appears to be highly partisan demagoguery at Slate, highlights another out-of-context quotation in one of Slate's many columns deriding "Bushisms," and makes Slate an offer:

    If you're going to criticize someone, it seems to me that you should do it fairly and aptly. Many of the Bushisms strike me as unfair and inapt, which is why I comment on them. Finally, someone suggested that this is petty nitpicking on my part, and that I should move on to more important things. I offer a deal: If Slate stops its petty nitpicking of Bush -- and nitpicking which strikes me as often incorrect -- I'll stop my petty nitpicking of Slate.
    Via Glenn Reynolds, who opines quite correctly:
    for a web-only publication to consistently refuse to link to the original source is also disgraceful.
    Isn't it possible, though, that in some cases such a refusal to link to the original source might be, simply, because there is no original source to link?

    This leads to an unanswered, nagging question of my own. Why did refuse to provide any original sources for alleged military regulations cited by Eric Boehlert in support of his speculation that Bush avoided Air Force drug testing? I posted about it repeatedly, and never saw or found any explanation from Salon. At least one military authority has declared that the Air Force had no drug testing regulations during the period in question. Yet neither Boehlert nor Salon ever offered a single link to the regulations they claimed existed. Such arrogance reminds me of Dan Rather -- and makes me wonder whether the regulations might have been made up out of whole cloth.

    I hope I'm not engaged in what Professor Volokh calls "petty nitpicking" here. If I am, I too would be glad to offer to stop it with Salon, and we could all start again with a clean, um, slate.

    But hell, I've already offered to go on one of Salon's fabled sea cruises -- an offer some might even call a bribe!

    And still, nothing!

    Simple fairness is all I seek -- but at what price?

    posted by Eric at 11:49 AM | Comments (9)

    Toast and Roast

    The 116th Carnival of the Vanities is hosted this week at Vik Rubenfeld's The Big Picture. Vik is a fine blogger who does a great job with too many posts to mention, but the following stood out for me:

  • Josh Cohen has an excellent, passionate states' rights argument supporting plantiff's position in the famous Raich v. U.S. medical marijuana case argued by Randy Barnett.
  • Where else but in the blogosphere could you find such a delectable
    history of Key Lime Pie?
  • If you thought Americans were ignorant, read this.
  • Taken in Hand discusses a grotesque new perversion in which men dominate women!
  • Solomonia offers a must-read post on anti-Semitism at Columbia. Important history is being ignored at our peril!
  • Some very interesting Catholic perspective on gay marriage: contrary to popular opinion, we're all sinners, "God does not hate fags," and more.
  • Here's news that morality is instinctive. Hmmmmm..... What would the environmentalists say?
  • And that was just the Carnival.


    Meanwhile, at, the Bonfire of the Vanities continues to burn, baby burn!

    A few scorched tidbits:

  • Susie's alive, but not in the mood! (Susie, I'm always that way -- and it's probably how I managed to survive decades of wild orgy parties!)
  • Dr. Rusty Shackleford is running an ad along the lines of "blasphemer seeks fatwa for fun and games!" Some sick's sheikh's sixth sick sheep's mighty sick!
  • And Donna B. is now a grandma. Congratulations, Donna!
  • Be sure to go back and read them all.

    posted by Eric at 11:28 AM | Comments (3)

    Snake oil and other unnatural things . . .

    According to today's Philadelphia Inquirer, the culprit responsible for the recent Delaware River oil spill has been identified as a large (3-4 feet wide and 15 feet long) submerged pipe, possibly a sewer pipe. The Army Corps of Engineers seems to have missed it during inspections last summer, and if that turns out to be the case, they'd be liable.

    A rusty pipe did it.

    The Coast Guard said yesterday that a cast-iron pipe sticking up from the bottom of the Delaware River lanced the steel hull of the Athos I just as the Greek oil tanker prepared to dock, causing one of the worst oil spills - if not the worst - in the river's history.

    Investigators said they had found the U-shaped pipe jutting 3 feet from the river bottom about 700 feet from a marine terminal owned by Citgo Petroleum Corp. in West Deptford.

    But as one question was answered 12 days after the environmental disaster unfolded, others emerged in an investigation that is expected to last months.

    What are the origins of the pipe, and how did it end up in the river? If it was there long enough to corrode, how did other ships pass over it unharmed? And how did it avoid detection in June when the Army Corps of Engineers did a routine sonar scan of the riverbed?

    I'm sure further investigation will find out.

    Liability is complicated by strict liability statutes passed by Congress after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, however:

    Under a federal law passed in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez disaster that had fouled Alaska the previous year, tankers that carry oil and their insurers are responsible for damage, whether or not they caused it, said Brian O'Neill of Minneapolis, lead lawyer for groups suing Exxon Mobil Corp. in the Valdez legal fight, which has dragged on for 15 years.

    But provisions of the law make it likely that much of the Athos cost may ultimately be paid by a U.S. fund financed by a surcharge on every barrel of imported oil.

    In other words, we're all ultimately paying for it! (Which is in divine accordance with Nature's Laws. As pointed out in previous posts, we are adjudged evil and unnatural goose-despoiling drivers of SUVs.)

    Strict liability, of course, is just the legal picture. To the extent that there's actual, specific responsibility, the lion's share of the blame would appear to be with the U.S. Army. Whether this is fair or not depends on how broad and how general a view one wishes to take of these things.

    Considering that environmentalism appears to be a man-made morality doctrine, it might be fair to examine the big picture of oil spills generally. I think we are somewhat programmed and conditioned to see oil as "unnatural" and hence, profoundly immoral.

    What might the laws of nature and of nature's god have to say in this regard? What is crude oil?

    Geologists generally agree that crude oil was formed over millions of years from the remains of tiny aquatic plants and animals that lived in ancient seas. There may be bits of brontosaurus thrown in for good measure, but petroleum owes its existence largely to one-celled marine organisms. As these organisms died, they sank to the sea bed. Usually buried with sand and mud, they formed an organic-rich layer that eventually turned to sedimentary rock. The process repeated itself, one layer covering another.

    Then, over millions of years, the seas withdrew. In lakes and inland seas, a similar process took place with deposits formed of non-marine vegetation.

    In some cases, the deposits that formed sedimentary rock didn't contain enough oxygen to completely decompose the organic material. Bacteria broke down the trapped and preserved residue, molecule by molecule, into substances rich in hydrogen and carbon. Increased pressure and heat from the weight of the layers above then caused a partial distillation of the organic remnants, transforming them, ever so slowly, into crude oil and natural gas.

    Although various types of hydrocarbons - molecules made of hydrogen and carbon atoms - form the basis of all petroleum, they differ in their configurations. The carbon atoms may be linked in a ring or a chain, each with a full or partial complement of hydrogen atoms. Some hydrocarbons combine easily with other materials, and some resist such bonding.

    The number of carbon atoms determines the oil's relative "weight" or density. Gases generally have one to four carbon atoms, while heavy oils and waxes may have 50, and asphalts, hundreds.

    There's lots more technical detail about methods used to separate and refine the crude oil into gasoline, kerosene, heating oil, etc., but the bottom line is that the source material -- the stuff that leaked from the Athos I into the Delaware River -- appears to be as "natural" as, say, the Grand Canyon.

    Whether it is "unnatural" to have something otherwise natural in an inappropriate place at the wrong time is another matter. That's where moralists like environmentalists and religious leaders enter the picture.

    How very odd that crude oil was itself the original "snake oil":

    There were few takers of the 19th century elixir that came to be called "snake oil." It was one of the less successful uses of petroleum, but not the first to claim healing properties. Ancient Persians, 10th century Sumatrans and pre-Columbian Indians all believed that crude oil had medicinal benefits. Marco Polo found it used in the Caspian Sea region to treat camels for mange, and the first oil exported from Venezuela (in 1539) was intended as a gout treatment for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

    The mysterious oil that sometimes seeped to the earth's surface had other uses as well. In Mesopotamia around 4000 B.C., bitumen - a tarry crude - was used as caulking for ships, a setting for jewels and mosaics, and an adhesive to secure weapon handles. Egyptians used it for embalming, and the walls of Babylon and the famed pyramids were held together with it. The Roman orator Cicero carried a crude-oil lamp. And, in North America, the Senecas and Iroquois used crude oil for body paint and for ceremonial fires.

    Sheesh! Did they really have to drag poor Cicero into this debate? I mean, sometimes I go out of my way to avoid dragging the classics into these posts lest the writing appear contrived, but here I was just trying to be all naturalistic and everything, and Cicero seeped in (along with the ancient Egyptians and the Babylonians).

    Back to nature. I was shocked to discover that like many activities subject to conventional moralistic judgments, oil spills themselves occur in (GASP!) nature! The following chart comes not from another amoral petroleum-based web site, but from the vaunted Smithsonian Institute (the numbers represent "how many millions of gallons of oil each source puts into the oceans worldwide each year"):


    Gee.... 62 million gallons worth of oil spills occur in nature? (This is even worse than the Kinsey Report, folks....) For those wishing to see nature in action, here's a satellite photograph of a large oil spill (can a spill be a called a "seep"?) triggered by the the eruption of the Lewotobi laki-laki, just off Flores Island. (A place where "hobbit men" went extinct for reasons unknown.)

    Well, just because something occurs in nature, that doesn't mean it's natural! As pointed out in a previous post (and as a Eugene Volokh reader made clear):

    what nature does is no guide for how humans should act!

    Perhaps the Smithsonian should burn that heretical chart!

    UPDATE: The Smithsonian can go ahead and burn their chart; the National Research Council has one that's even worse:


    AND MORE: I left some interesting links on the possible renewable nature of petroleum in the comments below. Are the Russians and Ukrainians right? (If so, is there a possibility that American science is, um, tainted?)

    posted by Eric at 09:04 AM | Comments (5)

    UKRAINE: Yuschenko was Poisoned

    Drudge links to a Times UK article on confirmation that Viktor Yuschenko was indeed poisoned:

    MEDICAL experts have confirmed that Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s opposition leader, was poisoned in an attempt on his life during election campaigning, the doctor who supervised his treatment at an Austrian clinic said yesterday.

    Doctors at Vienna’s exclusive Rudolfinerhaus clinic are within days of identifying the substance that left Mr Yushchenko’s face disfigured with cysts and lesions, Nikolai Korpan told The Times in a telephone interview.

    Specialists in Britain, the United States and France had helped to establish that it was a biological agent, a chemical agent or, most likely, a rare poison that struck him down in the run-up to the presidential election, he said. Doctors needed to examine Mr Yushchenko again at the clinic in Vienna to confirm their diagnosis but were in no doubt that the substance was administered deliberately, he said.

    Here are the famous photos:


    posted by Dennis at 08:51 AM | Comments (4)

    Natalism or fatalism?

    This article by David Brooks reminded me of some wonderful neighbors I once had:

    Natalists are associated with red America, but they're not launching a jihad. The differences between them and people on the other side of the cultural or political divide are differences of degree, not kind. Like most Americans, but perhaps more anxiously, they try to shepherd their kids through supermarket checkouts lined with screaming Cosmo or Maxim cover lines. Like most Americans, but maybe more so, they suspect that we won't solve our social problems or see improvements in our schools as long as many kids are growing up in barely functioning families.

    Like most Americans, and maybe more so because they tend to marry earlier, they find themselves confronting the consequences of divorce. Like most Americans, they wonder how we can be tolerant of diverse lifestyles while still preserving the family institutions that are under threat.

    What they cherish, like most Americans, is the self-sacrificial love shown by parents. People who have enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a culture war. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    A few questions.

    Are "natalists" (gay separatists used to call them "breeders") communitarians?

    Can a natalist be an individualist or are these two things incompatible?

    Back to my neighbors. Maybe they were non-comformists, but as a lovely heterosexual couple who couldn't have children (they wanted to but couldn't), their view of the world was refreshing to me, because they just seemed to have more time to reflect on things. Not so caught up in the chaos which plagues so many others. The fact is, holding down countless jobs to pay for the endless indicia of affluence which peer pressure (or worse, self-imposed ambitious pressure) can bring to bear might challenge beliefs in individual freedom -- even without factoring in the outside pressures on one's children.

    Why a childless couple would not only seem free but actually be free and think libertarian thoughts is still unclear. But as they told me many times, when they'd get into arguments with their communitarian friends, they'd have the same line thrown at them: "You only think that way because you don't have children! IF YOU HAD CHILDREN, YOU'D UNDERSTAND!"

    So naturally, I used to think that libertarians were either gay, childless, or the occasional crazed egalitatarian. Fortunately, I now know there are more.

    But what's with this "natalist" business, anyway? What does it mean to be "too busy to fight the culture wars"?

    Too busy to have an opinion? Too busy to have yourself tattooed and pierced? Or too busy (as Jonah Goldberg's reader suggests) to "to take our kids to ridiculous protest marches, bang bongo drums in the streets, wear stupid contumes, chant silly slogans, and disrupt other people's businesses and schedules." (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I don't do those things, and it makes no difference how much time I might have. Nor would it make any difference if I had children. To me, opposing the culture war has always meant standing up to those who will not leave others alone. This mindset is not limited to the left or the right. Mr. Goldberg's example will do fine as an example coming from the left. In this blog, I have given innumerable examples of what I dislike on the other side. Both sides are tedious as hell, and they make me glad I don't have kids. Imagine trying to raise a child in a culture where the word "family" is seen by ever larger groups on both sides as meaning opposition to homosexuality. Where if you had a kid who wanted to be a boy scout (which kids did when I was a kid), you'd have to drag your 10-year-old kid into either making a stand against the "gay agenda" or else be accused of polluting the culture and ruining Western Civilization.

    I'm sure I'm just being paranoid, but it seems to me that once you have a kid, you lose independence in a major way, and I do not refer to the loss of time spent taking care of the kid or earning the extra money it takes to raise a kid. I mean that suddenly, you're supposed to be worried about what the other kids and their parents are doing, what the damned school is doing or not doing. Whether your kid is going to be drugged with Ritalin because he can't sit still and pay attention to a moronic (and bored) teacher who can't spell, add, subtract or teach, but who instead wants to yell at your kid about "gun violence," tell him his country was founded by bigots who slaughtered and enslaved the world, and make him take classes in things like "anger management."

    I'm glad I never had to deal with that kind of stuff, and if I had kids I'd be terrified that I'd have stuff like this thrown in my face by people who can't mind their own business.


    Whose culture war is this, anyway?

    Even thinking about it makes me want to sue them for pre traumatic stress. Hey, my money goes into those stupid schools; maybe I should file a lawsuit for wasting my money or something.

    Or are you just supposed to do what everyone else does? Justin told me earlier that San Francisco's bohemians are looking unhappy these days, because nobody's different. They're all the same and it's old and tired. Perhaps the "natalist" movement is a form of rebellion against it. As a rebel against rebellion, I ought to be able to relate to that. But I can't, because I really don't need another "ism" to join.

    So what do you do if you don't want to join 'em, but you don't want to beat 'em?

    Beats me!

    MORE FATALISM: In a discussion of the sorry state of affairs in England today, Glenn Reynolds opined:

    Self-defense is a human right. Its denial is monstrous.
    Agreed. I was always taught to stand up to bullies, but now schools will have children prosecuted for doing just that.

    Are we in England again?

    I think we may be. Here's a teacher who was horrified enough to write about the problem:

    I started substitute teaching this May. Today I was monitoring the recess of two first grade classess on the play ground. I caught one kid pummeling another kid. THe other kid just stood there and let the other kid kick him and punch him. I stopped the fight and got one of the regular teachers. The regular teacher found out what happend and THANKED the kid who was being hit for not hitting back. She told him "Thank you. Remember, DON"T HIT BACK EVER!" I asked the kid why he didn't defend himself. He said that it was never ok to hit anyone. I said "Oh yeah." Disgusting, they teach these kids that self defense isn't ok at an early age. I don't know what else I could do. I'd probably lose my job if I said anything else.
    Some things are worth losing your job over.

    MORE: None of this is new, of course. Michele Catalano has been dealing with it for some time.

    You would think that after a year of complaints about this child, after all the trouble he has caused - and not just with my son - after all the times he has been sent to the main office to sit on the bench and sulk, they would stop with the touchy-feely, root cause, search inside yourself crap and realize what the true problem is: this kid is rotten to the core and he does not belong in a classroom with children who are there to learn, not to be bullied.

    One of these days my son is going to turn around and clock S. Of course, DJ will be the one to get suspended, be punished, made an example of. The victims are always turned into the perpetrators in these circumstances.

    Such schools should be made to fear the parents. (I'm thinking that like Noam Chomsky, they're not anti-violence at all; they're just on the bullies' side.)

    Michele's son eventually prevailed.

    But why is self defense being frustrated by school authorities?

    I agree that self-defense is a human right, and that its denial is monstrous. It follows that schools which deny the right of children to defend themselves are guilty of nothing less than child abuse. (The obvious logical implications for parents who send their kids to such schools are unpleasant to contemplate.)

    MORE: Speaking of whether we're in England again, Wretchard at the Belmont Club has a real horror story of where this philosophy of enforced pacifism leads. Glenn Reynolds has linked it already, but don't miss it! (As for active passivity, I think it's strictly for the Eloi!)

    posted by Eric at 04:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Live in infamy . . .

    As today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor (and others are remembering the occasion) I thought I should do some remembering. How about a couple of quotes that will live in infamy?

    I read in the Times this morning an interview with Jeanette Rankin, who was the one member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war on December 8, 1941, to the accompaniment of a chorus of boos and hisses. Looking back, though, we can see that the Japanese had very real grievances, and that the United States had quite a significant share of responsibility in those grievances back in 1941.

    -- Noam Chomsky, December 15, 1967

    After September 11, Chomsky again reiterated his mantra that the United States is ultimately responsible for attacks against it.


    Because we're the EVIL EMPIRE; that's why! And on September 11, 2001, it was finally our well-deserved turn:

    [9/11 is] a historic event because there was a change. The change was the direction in which the guns were pointed. That’s new. Radically new. So, take US history.

    The last time that the national territory of the United States was under attack, or for that matter, even threatened was when the British burned down Washington in 1814. There have been many…it was common to bring up Pearl Harbor but that’s not a good analogy. The Japanese, what ever you think about it, the Japanese bombed military bases in 2 US colonies not the national territory; colonies which had been taken from their inhabitants in not a very pretty way. This is the national territory that’s been attacked on a large scale, you can find a few fringe examples but this is unique.

    During these close to 200 years, we, the United States expelled or mostly exterminated the indigenous population, that’s many millions of people, conquered half of Mexico, carried out depredations all over the region, Caribbean and Central America, sometimes beyond, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines, killing several 100,000 Filipinos in the process. Since the Second World War, it has extended its reach around the world in ways I don’t have to describe. But it was always killing someone else, the fighting was somewhere else, it was others who were getting slaughtered. Not here. Not the national territory.

    If I might be allowed to address Chomsky's logic, he seems to think that violence is relative thing, and sometimes justified. Against enemies.
    I can't accept a general and absolute opposition to violence, only that resort to violence is illegitimate unless the consequences are to eliminate a greater evil.

    Which means war is sometimes justified.

    (Now, if only I could figure out why Chomsky always finds himself on the side of the greater evil. . .)

    posted by Eric at 11:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (2)

    Too much fat in the argument?

    Why is the idea of treating SUVs like guns (or guns like SUVs) so preposterous that it can only be written about in satirical terms? And what is it about shame that makes the whole thing so incapable of logical analysis? I'm wondering about similarities between the shaming SUV owners (scolding them about wasted fuel, oil spills, and conspicuous consumption), and whether that's grounded in the same mentality as the shame typically directed against gun owners (what passes as a safety issue -- children might be killed, you might get depressed and kill yourself, the burglar might use your gun against you, etc.)

    I mean, why aren't safety arguments directed against SUV owners? How would it sound?

    "If you drive an SUV, you're more likely to kill other people if you have an accident than if you drive a small car!"

    "SUVs are more likely to overturn and kill the occupants!"

    "You're more likely to run over your own child with an SUV because you have less visibility!"

    Instead, they scold about the environment, but the scolding quickly escalates to an ad hominem level of rudeness.

    "Conspicuous consumption!"

    Isn't that a moralistic expression directly evocative of gluttony -- (one of the seven deadly sins)? SUV drivers are equated with gluttons who get in everybody's way and consume more of their "fair share." Yet the traditional glutton is someone who eats too much. A fatty!

    Yet wouldn't publicly scolding a fat person by calling him or her a "glutton" be considered the height of rudeness? I certainly wouldn't do that, and I wouldn't call an SUV driver a glutton either. But the nature of the attack is the same, which means I must delve deeper -- to get past the fat.

    I try not to be a moralist, and to the extent that I am, I try to limit it to casting moral judgments on myself and not other people. If I get fat or I spend too much money, or use too much gasoline, that's my business and my problem and I have just as much right to be hard on myself as I want. But if a friend or neighbor does these things, it's not my business unless I am asked for advice. (Even then, I'd hesitate, because it might be interpreted as rudeness.)

    But for the sake of this argument, let's assume that consuming "too much" food and consuming "too much" gas are both gluttonous activities. Why should the latter be considered the more reprehensible? I haven't seen bumperstickers against fat people, nor have I seen editorials blaming the obese for food shortages. While there are health advisories about how Americans have become too fat, they don't take on the same moral tone as the imprecations hurled at SUV owners.

    Might it be that eating too much food is seen as involuntary, while driving an SUV is seen as a voluntary act? Eating is an addiction, but driving is an evil? I'm not sure how much sense that makes, really. Why can't driving be seen as an addictive activity just as much as eating or gambling? Certainly, driving is a necessity for many people who work.

    And what about fear? Many SUV drivers drive them because they are big, and offer more protection in case of accidents. Is this the same thing as eating too much? How is it morally worse to do something out of fear than it is to eat too much for the pleasure of eating or to fuel a food addiction?

    Looking at the overall picture, I really can't see a moral argument against SUVs which is any stronger than any moral argument against overeating. So, what's with the scolding? Behavior modification by cultural busybodies? It's about as fair as telling homosexuals that they're selfish for not having children.

    (And about as much someone else's business.)

    However, if we give the communitarians their due, perhaps (if we're all in it together) there's some moral responsibility to other people not to eat irresponsibly, to use gasoline irresponsibly, even to screw irresponsibly.

    Why single out SUVs for the moral lectures? As I pointed out previously, the Northeast consumes far too much fuel. And if morality includes the risk of death, the argument could be made that SUV drivers are behaving not in a less but in a more morally responsible manner:

    In 1999 USA Today analyzed federal crash data and concluded that 46,000 people had died because of the shift to smaller, lighter autos. This research is backed by a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health by Leonard Evans, on staff at the Vehicle Analysis and Dynamics Laboratory at the General Motors Research and Development Center in Warren, Michigan.

    Evans says, “Replacing any individual car with a heavier one will in the vast majority of cases reduce total population risk.” The reverse is also true: “replacing all the cars in a population with cars lighter by a fixed amount or percentage will necessarily increase population risk.”

    If we could save just one life?

    How many people are killed in accidents with SUVS, anyway? According to Dan Ackman, writing in Forbes, it's 5,579.

    And how about eating? According to the BBC the numbers are a bit larger:

    ....400,000 deaths in the US in the year 2000.
    Again, I don't want to be a scold; I'm just trying to weigh the arguments.

    posted by Eric at 09:37 AM | Comments (3)

    Easy availability, plus culture of death, equals murder and mayhem!
    "How many funerals, how many marches, how many hospital visits does it take before people say it's time to take action?" asks Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth.

    -- Philadelphia Inquirer, December 5, 2004

    Damned good question!

    How many times have we been told SUVs were dangerous and evil? That they drag people to death?

    And how many more stories like this will it take until something is done?

    ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A woman ran over two teenage brothers after they accidentally hit her sport utility vehicle with the golf ball they were bouncing in a parking lot, officials said, leaving one of the boys with life-threatening injuries.

    Isiah Grayer, 14, and his 16-year-old twin stepbrothers, Justin and Jamel Marshman, were bouncing the golf ball in a shopping center parking lot Sunday afternoon when it went astray and struck a sport utility vehicle driven by Kathy Feaganes Allen, 47, St. Johns County sheriff's Deputy Greg Suchy said.

    Suchy said no damage was done, and the boys apologized and began to walk away. Allen started to drive away, but suddenly made a U-turn, ran over a median and struck Grayer, causing severe injuries, and Justin Marshman before knocking over a light pole, Suchy said.

    She then drove after Jamel Marshman, crossing two medians and striking a utility box before her SUV stopped in a ditch, Suchy said. The boy ran away and was not struck.

    Witness Russell McPhee said Allen accelerated to hit the boys.

    "She charged them," he said. "This was the most deliberate act."

    McPhee said he yelled at Allen to stay where she was when she got out of her car.

    "After she ran them down, she got out of the car and lit a cigarette like a movie star," he said. "She watched all three of (the boys) just lying there."

    Allen then used Terry Gerspch's cell phone to call her husband. Gerspch said Allen seemed unfazed.

    "She was as calm as anything," she said. "She said the boys were throwing rocks at her car."

    McPhee said Jamel, the uninjured brother, ran over to Allen's car and confronted her.

    "He didn't get physical with her," he said. "He just kept asking 'Why? Why did you do this?"'

    A judge ordered Allen held without bail Monday on three counts of attempted murder. She is being represented by the St. Johns County Public Defender's Office, which did not immediately return a call Monday seeking comment.

    The only detail they left out is that this was a very nice woman, and none of it makes any sense at all.

    Clearly, the SUV is at fault. Obviously, the only thing to do is ban them. Charging this poor woman with attempted murder solves nothing. What social forces created that fiendish instrument of death? When are we going to address the culture of death and violence that drove her on and was ultimately behind it?

    I'm sure that the conservatives would try to say that this was the driver's fault, in yet another numbing lecture about "taking personal responsibility." Yet there are millions of these deadly machines on our streets. Who is going to take responsibility for their easy availability? Right now, anyone can go to an SUV dealer and buy one of these assault vehicles, no limits, no questions asked. All that's needed is money. Why, they'll even sell you one on credit! Or rent you one? There are even video games like this which glorify them.

    At least one thing is encouraging: we're beginning to have a serious national debate on "assault SUVs."

    Not one day too soon! Take it from prophet Paul Ehrlich -- whose latest book warns us in no uncertain terms:

    An SUV culture will be humanity’s downfall.
    (Ehrlich, of course, is a favorite of Justin, who's even forced me to quote him verbatim, but I'm just too lazy to review the prophet's latest book, which Amazon ranks at 14,177.)

    posted by Eric at 07:21 AM | TrackBacks (1)

    When you buck the stereotype, sometimes the stereotype bucks back

    HumanEvents is reporting that Julian Bond (a Marxist in the vein of Dubois, himself a supporter of Stalin) forced Kweisi Mfume from the NAACP for reaching out to the Republican Party.

    The two began feuding after Mfume nominated National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice for his 2003 NAACP Image Award. Furious that Mfume was reaching out to the Bush administration, Bond responded by nominating "Boondocks" cartoonist Aaron McGruder for his Image Award. McGruder had ridiculed Rice in his comic strip and later called her a “murderer” for her role in the war in Iraq.

    Anything more on this?

    posted by Dennis at 06:09 PM | Comments (1)

    Divinely Discontented Drippings of Deliverance

    Joe Gandelman links to James Wolcott's colonoscopy post, appropriately titled "Too Much Information is Never Enough."

    ....don't let anyone deter you from a colonoscopy with their icky anecdotes. The Demerol drip is divine, the test can nip trouble in the bud, so to speak, and once you've had it, you won't need another for five years. It's sort of like jury duty for your butt, though perhaps that is not the most precise or felicitous analogy.
    That Wolcott guy sure can write persuasively. Reading him makes me feel like an ignorant redneck with a sore ass in need of demerolization. Can't drive a semi without a colon, can you? (Deliverance from evil or something . . .)

    And Joe Gandelman just had to remark that the photos were "blessfully omitted," didn't he?

    That comment (along with the title of "Too Much Information is Never Enough") made me feel obligated to blessfully supply them. I mean, after all, aren't we bloggers always supposed to help supplement and correct each other's posts? Regardless of any political or other persuasions?

    So, while it may be beyond my ordinary "scope," here's an anatomically correct chart showing the two primary colonoscopy procedures:


    And, while Mr. Wolcott's procedure was apolypical, here's a picture of the nasty little bugger they'd have been looking for:


    The polyp is the protrusion sticking out from the white line. More here.

    If this weren't being brought to you as a public service I'd probably be saying "Ouch!"

    posted by Eric at 11:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Born to move on!

    James K. Glassman offers ten suggestions to help the Democrats save their party.

    1. Nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in 2008. A Northeastern senator will be a big advantage this time around as Americans tire of Southern hicks. Sure, her negatives are already 44 percent, but Hillary will resurrect government-run health care, a sure winner. Also, she'll get the support of the New York Times -- the key to the White House.

    2. Be honest about the so-called terrorist "threat." As Democratic leaders know, it doesn't exist. If it did, then why hasn't there been another attack on American soil in more than three years? The platform should advocate disbanding the Homeland Security Department and banishing those screeners who make us get to the airport so early.

    3. Fund a new Michael Moore documentary blowing the lid off religion in America. Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, hailed by Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (whoops, soon-to-be former leader), nearly won the election for Kerry. The new movie will mock those kooky "born-agains," rendering them too embarrassed to show up at the polls.

    4. Involve Hollywood more in the campaign. Kerry failed to make enough use of high-IQ stars like Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Ben Affleck. Whoopi Goldberg's brilliant speech at Kerry's Madison Square Garden fund-raiser galvanized America, but she dropped from sight. Use the woman!

    5. Two words: "Gun Control." Why didn't Kerry emphasize gun control more instead of killing geese? Americans hate guns and understand that criminals do not shoot people, guns do. Ms. Clinton should push for a ban on the hunting of defenseless animals and a repeal of the Second Amendment, that antiquated guarantor of the so-called "right" to bear arms.

    6. Reinstate the draft. America's military has become far too professionalized. Democrats understand that the best way to fight a modern war is with citizen soldiers. Also, do not hesitate to criticize our troops, who have botched the job in Iraq.

    7. Bring foreigners into the Cabinet. The best way to improve relations with our European allies is to ask them to join the next Democratic administration. Jacques Chirac, for example, may soon retire as president of France. Why not ask him to become our next secretary of state? There's nothing in the Constitution that says he can't. Look it up.

    8. Make George Soros chairman of the Democratic Party. Sure, it will be difficult to replace a genius like Terry McAuliffe (and let's not forget the help provided by Harold Ickes and Joe Lockhart). But Soros is a billionaire with a common touch, a rare ability to connect with Middle America (probably because he's from Mitteleuropa). He cleverly compared Republicans to Nazis and judiciously spent $24 million of his own money in efforts that came oh-so-close to beating Bush.

    9. "Vote or Die." Use P. Diddy's catchy slogan, which turned out hundreds of millions of young first-time voters in 2004, as the main theme of the 2008 campaign.

    10. Raise taxes across the board. Of course, fleece the rich. That's normal Democratic policy. But lower-income Americans will feel a stronger sense of community if they, too, contribute more to government. And, goodness knows, Washington could use the money.

    Quite impressive. But I do have one additional suggestion -- humbly offered to reinforce the infrastructure of Mr. Glassman's proposals.

    While it's a brilliant idea, I don't think merely pushing George Soros as chairman of the Democratic Party goes quite far enough. For any number of reasons, Hillary Clinton's campaign might run into various troubles along the way. If Chelsea fails to supply the much-anticipated grandchild, the "family values" platform might suffer. There could also be problems with bloggers posing too many questions which went unanswered (and were ignored by the MSM) back in the 90s.

    Right now, the Democrats are presented with a major opportunity to seize the momentum being created by the Republican plot to amend the Constitution:

    Schwarzenegger, the former actor and bodybuilder, grew up in Austria and became a U.S. citizen in 1983. Under provisions of the Constitution, he - like Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, Sen.-elect Mel Martinez, Commerce Secretary nominee Carlos M. Gutierrez and every other immigrant - is ineligible for the presidency.

    For most of the 216 years since the adoption of the Constitution, there has been little debate about Article 2, Section 1, which states: "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President."

    But now there are four proposals in Congress to amend the Constitution to permit foreign-born citizens to be president, after a lengthy period of citizenship (20 to 35 years, depending on the bill). Three of the measures were introduced before Schwarzenegger became governor last year, and their sponsors say the amendments were not crafted with him in mind.

    Schwarzenegger, though, has become the poster child of the movement, and he has said he would consider running for president if the Constitution allowed. Last month, TV commercials, created by a Schwarzenegger fund-raiser, were shown in California urging support for an "amend for Arnold" campaign. And the campaign's founders have created a companion Web site,, to raise money and rally support.

    Why do these articles only refer to foreign-born Republicans? While I think Chirac is a bit of a stretch, George Soros would be a natural as a foreign-born candidate for president! And surely he's at least as electable as Hillary!

    Why, it's almost no-brainer.

    (Besides, the Democrats are already discussing it.)

    UPDATE: Things are worse than I imagined. As blogger Ian Hamet points out in a comment below, Michigan Gov. Granholm is a Democrat. Obviously there are many Democratic "fureigners" already in place. . . Might it be part of a shrewd Democratic strategy to make Ahnuld appear to do the heavy lifting for them?

    Stay tuned.

    posted by Eric at 10:06 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Magazines beget magazines . . .

    Not long ago, a young man wearing a baggy T-shirt with an image of the German Iron Cross knocked on my door while twitching and sweating. While he appeared to be high on drugs, he was waving a little plastic sheet which said something about "American Community Services." Perhaps because he noticed the NRA sticker on my door, the first words out of his mouth were "Don't shoot, man!" Then he asked me about buying magazines, but he'd already lost the sale because of his general attitude. When he left, I thought I should watch him, and he proceeded to zigzag erratically and impatiently from one side of the street to the other, not seeming to spend enough time for people even to answer the door. I soon forgot about it, but in this morning's Inquirer I read about a 77-year old woman murdered by a representative of the same company. (Better story here.)

    This fascinated me, because I have a friend in the Midwest whose home was burglarized the day after she refused to buy magazines. So I Googled the company and found instances of their employees doing all kinds of way-out things, all over the country. . .

    Menlo Park, CA:

    Police say 19 year-old Dangelo Langford assaulted an 80-year-old woman at her Menlo Park home Wednesday night.

    In court Friday, prosecutors hinted there may be other victims in other states.

    Langford and others went door to door selling magazine subscriptions for American Community Services based in Indiana.

    Sgt. Van Trask, Menlo Park police: "The whole group would be dropped off at certain locations throughout the town and they would solicit magazines all day long and they would be picked up and brought back to like a motel complex and the crew would move on to another city."

    Boston, MA:

    another magazine salesman was making more mischief in another Bolton neighborhood. Another pair of solicitors had been reported on Kettlehole Road, but was gone when police arrived. It was all fairly routine. According to Nelson, police encounter such groups from time to time, out-of-state magazine subscription outlets in town with a van full of young door-to-door solicitors. The solicitors, usually young adults and teenagers, make their rounds from house to house until police respond to tell them to stop, said Nelson.

    What police did not know on June 2, was that one of the two solicitors on Green Road, a 26 year-old woman from Washington D.C., had stolen a box of checks from a mailbox. The Green Road resident did not notice the theft until a bank statement came in August indicating that a check had been written to American Community Services for over $250, according to Nelson. American Community Services is a magazine subscription outlet headquartered in Michigan City, Indiana. The subsequent investigation of the stolen checks led to charges against the Washington D.C. woman for felony larceny by check, felony forgery by check, and misdemeanor theft of the checks themselves. The woman is long gone, and the charges, according to Nelson, will result in a warrant, which will be enforceable should she ever return to Massachusetts. Nelson believes that the theft and forgery were an attempt on the woman's part to meet her sales quota.

    American Community Services has been especially busy in Tennessee with THREE notable incidents in the Knoxville area alone:

    KNOXVILLE — Two years ago, a door-to-door magazine salesman raped and stabbed to death a Knox County grandmother, but area lawmakers were unable to persuade their colleagues to regulate the industry.

    Last May, a salesman affiliated with the same company raped a mother in front of her 2-month-old son in La Vergne in Rutherford County, while in November a registered sex offender selling magazines for another business was accused of fondling a 6-year-old.

    All three had criminal histories.

    Lest anyone imagine that bolting the door will save you, bear in mind that these thugs are also a menace on the highways, leaving a trail of fatal accidents in their wake.
    Des Moines, Iowa – A driver with no license and very little driving experience piloted a van that hit the median and overturned after midnight on Interstate 80 west of the city, ejecting nine people. Five agents killed and six injured. May 3, 1992. Crew known as Total Dedication Inc., linked to American Community Services, both of Michigan City, Ind.
    That last web page, while mostly about traffic incidents, also lists a few more non-traffic capers like these: more
    8. Boston – A 76-year-old retired beautician was stabbed to death by a Detroit sales agent with American Community Services of Indiana. The salesman, who had a prior rape conviction, had sold a subscription to the victim earlier in the day in suburban Woburn. July 13, 1990.

    9. Corvallis, Ore. – Two agents for American Community Services beat a former alderman nearly to death on the courthouse steps after an argument. Aug. 12, 1998.

    10. Plano, Texas – An American Community Services salesman raped a 67-year-old woman after pushing his way into her home and threatening her with a kitchen knife. Feb. 19, 1998.

    Personal injury attorneys who imagine that American Community Services has a deep pocket should bear in mind that their insurance company resists paying claims:
    DeBorde’s children, H. Elizabeth Noffisinger and James Michael Potts, are suing American Community Services Inc., an Indiana magazine clearinghouse, for damages in connection withher death. Lloyds provides insurance for ACS.

    The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in Knox County Circuit Court in October 2001, accuses ACS of negligence for allowing Broadway, who had just been released from prison when he was hired as a salesman, to hawk the firm’s magazines.

    Lloyds, in turn, filed suit in federal court, arguing the policy it issued to ACS excludes coverage for violent acts. Williams called it an "assault exclusion."

    "It’s obvious this whole scenario (of DeBorde’s death) was contemplated by these parties when they negotiated the contract," Williams said.

    Lloyds’ lawsuit made temporary allies of ACS and attorney Bob Pryor, who is representing DeBorde’s children, at Thursday’s hearing.

    Pryor told Jarvis the "assault exclusion" specifically addresses employees of ACS. Broadway was not an employee of ACS but instead was hired by an independent contractor that contracted with ACS to provide a sales force, he said.

    He’s two contracts away from ACS," Pryor said of Broadway.

    The independent contractor, identified by Pryor as The Real Deal, "goes around in a van, picking up salespeople on the street, in the ghetto or wherever they can," Pryor said.

    Broadway was picked up in front of a halfway house where he was living just days after being released from prison, Pryor said. All Broadway was asked to do was fill out a form before he was sent out, Pryor said.

    Pryor argued that ACS controls most of th eoperations of the independent contractors and remains responsible for DeBorde’s death. Buthe insisted Lloyds is also on the hook.

    "The books are full of magazine salesmen (who commit crimes)," he said. "They had a history of that and concede that it is a hazard of this business."

    (In a later story I can't bring up, it was apparently reported that the insurance company did not have to pay.)

    In what was described as another magazine company's "industry trick," one horrendous driver was supplied with a fake birth certificate to get him back on the road.

    I can't spend all day Googling this stuff, but it just goes on and on. Why, there's even a memorial page to the victims of these "traveling crews."

    This is not meant to be a crime fighting blog, but it seems to me that the reason these organizations get away with hiring itinerant young thugs is because the crimes they commit are written off as "local crime" when no one has the time or resources to look for any sort of national pattern. I'm sure the vast majority of the crimes they commit are simple home burglaries that attract little to no attention, and are just written off as "unsolved."

    When the federal RICO Act was passed, I thought it was unconstitutional, because it was written so broadly. (Originally intended to go after the Mob, RICO has been used for things like the prosecution of anti-abortion protesters.) So why can't RICO be used to prosecute purveyors of interstate carnage and put them out of business?

    Until something like that happens, I think the best thing to do is to keep an eye on these "direct sellers" of magazines, while keeping all magazines loaded.

    MORE: Another aspect of this phenomenon is mistreatment of itinerant sales people by their employers. Here's a clearinghouse for information to assist the traveling sales crews.

    posted by Eric at 08:38 AM

    Let's hear it for red and green in the public square!

    If you're tiring of Christmas kitsch, and you've heard Burl Ives played one time too many in shopping malls, be thankful your town isn't displaying icons like this:


    I've criticized the statue before, but it's still there. Now they're saying it isn't about Lenin, but about inspiration -- and art:

    Lisa Perry, owner of the Fremont branch of the Twice Sold Tales bookstore, was one of those who had the idea to light up Lenin. The neighborhood used to light up a Christmas tree at the former headquarters of Adobe, but wanted to move it closer to the center of the business district, she said.

    "I think it means different things to do different people," she said. "For me, it's more a symbol of a can-do spirit, and how people shipped this gigantic sculpture all the way here."

    To John Hegman, founder of the Fremont Sunday market, though, it means all of that. "Art outlasts politics," he said. "Art is not supposed to be warm and funny or even pretty. It's supposed to make you think and interact and cause some sort of emotional reaction."

    I suppose if citizens want Lenin in the public square, they have as much right to do that as they would to place a nativity creche there.

    Doubtless the ACLU would defend Jesus in the public square as well as Lenin. . .

    Well, wouldn't they?

    So, in keeping with the local Christmas colors of Seattle, how about a statue of Hitler too?

    After all, Lenin was red, and Hitler was green!

    MORE: Speaking of public squares, Ann Althouse analyzes atheist intolerance in Madison in the form of an angry sign on a Christmas tree.

    And via Dave Tepper here's a link to a green Hitler, with more here from Mrs. du Toit.

    (Intolerance in drag, I guess.)

    But why does intolerance so often come disguised as tolerance?

    posted by Eric at 07:17 PM | Comments (1)

    Classical settings

    Two classical columns adorn an entrance to Valley Forge National Park, and here's one of them, taken while the sun was setting.


    Obviously evocative of a Roman legion standard, I'd say. [Also the mace.] More evidence that Classical values are deeply rooted in the country's history. Traditional, even?

    Here's a tree which appears to be losing the battle against fungus. Or maybe it's a fungus which is winning the battle against a tree....


    The natural lesson might even apply to politics; if the parasites win, the parasites and the host will both die.

    Yesterday's sunset at Valley Forge was worth a shot too.


    As the expression goes, "Red at night, sailor's delight!" It works most of the time.

    That's why today was a beautiful, balmy 56 degrees!

    posted by Eric at 05:19 PM | Comments (4)

    Criminalizing a crime epidemic

    If you live in Philadelphia today, it's time to be scolded in a front page Sunday sermon about how guns are killing children:

    Philadelphia has a thriving market in illegal handguns, often purchased legally by people who resell them on the streets.

    In some neighborhoods, gun trafficking is barely hidden, experts say.

    "On Saturdays, the gun sellers... roam the inner-city neighborhoods, selling guns out of the trunks of their cars to anyone with the money," said Elijah Anderson, a professor of social sciences at the University of Pennsylvania and an authority on the causes of urban violence.

    Anderson said the cheapest weapons were those known to have been used in a murder. On the street, they're known as "guns with a body on them."

    "We have guns everywhere now," said David Fattah, cofounder of the House of Umoja, which runs one of the city's oldest antiviolence programs. "You have people riding through neighborhoods selling guns from the back of their cars."

    Last year, 171 young people were shot at in the city. Most of them were wounded, police say.

    Philadelphia has long sought to stem the tide of illegal weapons. A bill to limit gun purchases in Pennsylvania to one a month is stalled in Harrisburg.

    "Guns are one of the most serious issues we have to address," said Paul J. Fink, who chairs a multi-agency group that has reviewed every youth homicide in Philadelphia since 1995.

    Their study found that guns were involved in 91 percent of killings involving 18- and 19-year-olds and 59 percent of those younger.

    "People are going to get killed," said Bilal Qayyum, a leader of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, an antiviolence group. "There's going to be stabbings, bats, but the easy availability of guns is creating this explosion."

    But very few of what most people think of as "real" children (the pre-teen group) are killed by gunfire. The overwhelming majority of them are victims of parental child abuse or arson.

    But our sermon has barely begun.

    "How many funerals, how many marches, how many hospital visits does it take before people say it's time to take action?" asks Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth.
    Take action? How does one take action against what the Inquirer itself describes as "a thriving market in illegal handguns?" By enforcing the law? No; the push is for more laws.

    Featured in the hard copy (but not the Internet version) is Dorothy Johnson-Speight (founder of anti-gun group Mothers in Charge), a woman who tragically lost a son who was shot to death by a psychopath angry about a parking dispute:

    Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson, 24, was gunned down early on a Thursday morning over a parked car.

    At the time, Johnson, who worked with kids who had behavioral problems, had lived in the Olney neighborhood just three weeks. He'd moved from Mount Airy to share a house on American Street near Champlost Avenue with his brother, Shamsid-Din Jabbar, in November 2001.

    It didn't take long for Johnson to meet his neighbor Ernest Odom, 28, who had been convicted twice for gun offenses. Odom screamed at Johnson about a friend who had parked on the curb of the narrow street outside their houses. Johnson, who had just been accepted into an accelerated master's program at a Delaware college, went next door to try to calm Odom.

    Two days later, about 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 6, Johnson returned home after driving a friend home. He parked his Jeep in the back. But someone else had parked on the curb out front, and in the dead of night, Odom was quietly waiting.

    Johnson headed up the sidewalk to his front door when Odom ambushed him. He pumped eight bullets into Johnson's torso and legs. When the gun jammed, Odom stood over Johnson's body and kicked him in the face, said Assistant District Attorney Judith Rubino, who prosecuted the case.

    Twice convicted for gun offenses? And the solution is more laws? Why can't people ask an obvious question: why would a psychopath like this observe laws he'd repeatedly been convicted of violating?

    The killer, Ernest Odom, is a multiple murderer who continues his psychotic behavior in prison:

    While on trial for the Dec. 6, 2001, killing of Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson, Odom, 28, allegedly had a homemade knife strapped to his leg when he returned to Curran-Fromhold prison.

    Since January, he has allegedly stabbed two inmates and assaulted a prison guard. Last month, he was sentenced to life in prison for killing Johnson. His trial for the slaying of Justin Donnelly is scheduled for April.

    "He's a clear danger, even in custody," said Assistant District Attorney Judith Rubino, who prosecuted the case. "He's a nasty, violent guy."

    Johnson's and Donnelly's mothers, Dorothy Johnson-Speight and Ruth Donnelly, are on a mission to stop people like Odom. Johnson-Speight spearheads a group, Mothers In Charge, to end violence and make neighborhoods safe.

    I certainly do not blame Ms. Johnson-Spreight for being on a mission. But are more laws going to stop murderers like Odom? How about law enforcement?

    Psychiatrist Paul J. Fink (who ought to know better than to use words like "epidemic" to describe crime) also thinks more gun laws are the solution:

    Paul J. Fink, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Philadelphia's Temple University School of Medicine, chairs the American Psychiatric Association's task force on psychiatric aspects of violence. "There is a real epidemic of intermittent disasters that are difficult to classify and to lump into a single definition," he told Psychiatric Times. "There is a fabric of multiple reasons why we are looking down the barrel at these various mass murders."

    Part of the reason for this epidemic, Fink said, is the increased predilection of individuals to respond violently to problems and frustrations. He blamed, to a significant extent, the news and entertainment media, which "glorify gratuitous violence, and have made it part of the American culture." These images have become commonplace, he explained. Adults see them regularly and, more worrisome, so do children.

    Fink also said that over the past several decades there have been growing numbers of "disaffiliated kids" without two parents. They either have "multiple parents" or only one, and that is a disaster for many children who need an intimate, family-based support system. In addition, too many children in America are brutalized, either physically or through neglect, and they grow up to repeat these violent acts.

    Children who are traumatized by witnessing or experiencing criminal or family violence often go untreated, said Fink. Meanwhile, these shootings are committed by adults and children who have grievances and frustrations but not the life skills to deal with them, so they are only left with revenge as a motivation. Although revenge has been around for a long time, Fink added, the hundreds of millions of readily available guns in the United States allow ready access to the means to accomplish savage payback.

    As a result, Fink said he believes firmer gun control and greater attention to children when they are young are keys to ultimately resolving the problem.

    Gun control? Never mind how many gun control laws are already being violated; the problem is always that there aren't enough laws.

    How about at least kicking the dangerous "children" out of school? Fink believes that's a no-no -- as suspending kids from school contributes to murder:

    "Another great marker for killing somebody or getting killed was multiple [school] suspensions," said psychiatrist Paul J. Fink, who cofounded the group. "We worked hard to get the school district to try to figure out what was wrong rather than to keep suspending him."
    I suspect that there are a lot of people who'd rather not have dangerous criminals in schools at all -- regardless of what might have gone wrong with them.

    But the fault is always with someone else -- in this case, with the law abiding people whose guns haven't yet been criminalized or taken away.

    Or the guns themselves. Another local anti-gun activist, Bilal Qayyum, complains that guns are as easy to buy as drugs:

    In Philadelphia, the drug trade has spawned a flourishing traffic in illegal guns that sprung up to bypass state and federal laws that prohibit felons from owning firearms.

    "Kids can go on the corner and buy guns like they can buy drugs," said Bilal Qayyum, cochairman of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, an antiviolence group.

    "If there was serious gun control and if there were fewer guns on the street, more than half these deaths would not have happened," Qayyum said.

    OK. Drug control has been solidly in place for many, many decades. Penalties are harsh. Yet there's still an "epidemic." Considering the track record of drug laws and the number of guns in existence, without even getting into the Second Amendment considerations, what makes them think that laws work?

    One solution supported by Mr. Qayyum has been simply buying the guns:

    May 6, 2004 5:40 pm US/Eastern
    PHILADELPHIA (KYW 1060) The groups behind a gun turn-in program in Philadelphia are upping the ante to get illegal guns off city streets. Bilal Qayyum, co-chair of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, says people can turn in a gun, no questions asked, to any police station.

    "They will get a receipt to take to Cash Today Financial Center at 1418 Race Street, at which people will receive $100 cash and a $50 gift certificate to any Sneaker Villa. We really need to get to the conscious of the people of Philadelphia to do the right thing. Turn in the gun. If we were offering a penny, or nothing, the right thing to do is turn in a gun."

    Hey, why doesn't the city sponsor a drug purchase program too? If you just get enough money to buy the drugs, then there wouldn't be any more drugs.

    Simple logic, if you ask me!

    Drunk drivers kill lots of people too. When are we going to sponsor an alcohol purchase program? Or a turn-in-your-car day?

    The problem with alcohol and cars, obviously, is easy availability.

    It's so obvious to me that gun control laws do not stop criminals from getting guns that writing this post feels like an exercise in superfluity. But I feel compelled to write it anyway, because I don't think criminals are the target of the anti-gun activists.

    The target is everyone else.

    posted by Eric at 11:14 AM | Comments (4)

    Pax of wolves?

    Not much time for blogging today, as it is a day in which I must get caught up on that part of real life which is non-Internet-based.

    But the last post on Alexander reminded me (again) of Belmont Club's analysis, especially this:

    The world of 320 BC is as distant from us today as the 19th century, the last point in time when men intuitively understood the ancient world. It was then then that the explorer and anthropologist Richard Burton could write these words in his Book of the Sword and expect them to be widely understood:
    The History of the Sword is the history of humanity ... Primitive man ... was doomed by the very conditions of his being and his media to a life of warfare; a course of offence to obtain his food, and of defence to retain his life. ... Peace was never anything to them but a fitful interval of repose. The golden age of the poets was a dream; a Videlou remarked 'Peace means death for all barbarian races'
    Osama has as often said and we have as often misunderstood: 'peace be unto us'.
    I was reminded of this when I saw the following quote:
    All Men Die--Not All Men Live.
    The extent to which peace is death is certainly debatable (context is everything), but few would argue with the idea that death is peace.

    Peace to your enemies?

    posted by Eric at 01:50 PM | Comments (4)

    Dusty curmudgeon shakes fist

    That's my headline. Maybe I should have said "wags finger." That befits a cultural dinosaur like me.

    The BBC was shocked to learn that nearly half of Britons polled had never heard of Auschwitz:

    Among women and people younger than 35, 60 percent had never heard of Auschwitz, despite the recent popularity of films such as "Schindler's List," "Life is Beautiful" and "The Pianist," which depict the atrocities of the Holocaust.

    "The name Auschwitz is quite rightly a byword for horror, but the problem with thinking about horror is that we naturally turn away from it," Rees said.

    The rape of education in the west by politically correct 'studies' programs and legions of literary theorists hell-bent on eliminating the lie of 'history' and 'certainty' surely has nothing to do with that.

    If we had fewer courses devoted to redressing the imbalances of sexual ideology through ecofeminist theory and deconstruction, and had more courses about, oh, I don't know, HISTORY, we wouldn't need the BBC to catch us up on the things that matter.

    Now if you'll excuse me I'm late for a graduate course exploring the theme of maidenhood in the western imaginary. Today we talk about our personal experiences, and I'm woefully unprepared.

    posted by Dennis at 12:08 PM | Comments (2)

    Is Western civilization really so ludicrous?

    Amidst the hoopla over the Oliver Stone film (discussed infra, here and here), Christopher Hitchens wrote a very thoughtful piece acknowledging Alexander's strengths and weaknesses, while touching on the implications for Western civilization:

    Alexander himself was not above using myth for propaganda purposes. He claimed descent from Achilles, the hero of Troy, and from Zeus himself. He took the work of Homer with him wherever he went. He wanted to be acknowledged as Pharaoh in Egypt—the loftiest of all aspirations in those days—and also to be recognized as a god by those who worshipped the Olympian pantheon. Alexandros Megalos, to give him his Greek sobriquet, reminds us of the root of our word "megalomania." But should he be compared with the other great despots of antiquity, or with more modern totalitarians and butchers?

    A very absorbing recent book, Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness, by Guy MacLean Rogers, argues that this modern temptation should be avoided. Alexander's tutor was Aristotle (a fact that supplies endless fascination to those who study the relationship between philosophers and monarchs, from Machiavelli to Leo Strauss). And Aristotle, perhaps sharing in the continuing rage and shame at the Persian desecration of the Acropolis in 480 B.C., urged his pupil to treat the peoples of the Persian Empire as coldly as he would plants or animals. The available evidence is that Alexander did not take this advice.

    There's much more, and Hitchens has done his homework. Alexander the Great is not readily reduced to modern stereotypes, one-liners, or snap judgments based on modern morality. Unfortunately, the Stone film does little but encourage such cultural reductionism.

    I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it cultural nihilism, but I don't see how this rather silly film will help enlighten anyone about Western Civilization.

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: For those wanting another amusing review of the film, Rex Reed has a fun piece in this week's New York Observer. His conclusion?

    The actors are awful. Half of them never speak, and then they die. It’s too long, too boring, too expensive and too embarrassing to make any kind of lasting impact beyond the popcorn stand.

    When the dust clears, the thighs do all the acting, and Alexander is a waste of three years and $150 million that proves, once again, how ludicrous men with fat, hairy calves look in skirts and sandals.

    Lots more, if you like that sort of thing.

    posted by Eric at 12:40 PM | Comments (3)

    Extremophiles seek extremophobes for hot new life !

    While I had thought the question of life on Mars had been finally settled, according to this article it seems not.

    “Before proceeding with sample returns or human missions to Mars, we must review measures for planetary biological protection.”

    His warning appears in Science magazine in an article accompanying the first formal publication of the mass of data from Opportunity, which continues to operate on the Martian surface.

    The search for life on Mars, now more than a century old, is still not finally resolved. But the odds that life existed there and may still exist are shortening, according to planetary experts, Dr Kargel said.

    Nobody any longer expects Martian life forms to be anything like those on Earth. But there remains a possibility that bacteria or other microscopic organisms may survive in regions where there is still water. On Earth, almost every imaginable habitat, including deep underground, has specialised bacteria — called extremophiles — living and thriving.

    The risks are twofold: probes sent from Earth may contaminate Mars with terrestrial bacteria, wrecking future studies of Martian life; or, more important, bacteria brought back from Mars may contaminate the Earth with unpredictable effects.

    A space colonization expert I am not. And shame on me for not being a science fiction reader either. But I do have a question based on common sense: if we earthlings are worried about contaminating Mars with terrestrial bacteria, what are the implications for colonizing the place with people?

    Or is the universe to be regarded as somehow pristine and virginal, like the "virgin" trees which have never been cut down? This view that man is always the enemy (of everything -- even things completely unknown), strikes me as a self-defeating form of self-hatred which is inherently anti-nature. I say "anti-nature" because we are as much a part of nature -- or the environment -- as the extremophiles we fear.

    If not, then the nature of the environment was redefined to exclude humans when I wasn't looking.

    Hope I'm not being an extremist.

    UPDATE: My question about the implications of contamination was thoroughly adressed more than two years ago in Glenn Reynolds' TCS column. Mutual contamination may have been a done deal long ago -- all concerns of "bacteria rights activists" notwthstanding.

    (As is so often the case, my impure thoughts were as unoriginal as sin.)

    posted by Eric at 09:45 AM | Comments (5)

    Spreading troubled oil on troubled waters . . .

    The brilliant Sean Kinsell has a must-read post on the topic of homosexuality in Japan. He starts by observing that unlike ours, Japan's is a shame-based culture:

    Japan, as you've no doubt heard in various contexts, is a shame culture rather than a guilt culture. I love our American forthrightness and sincerity, but (partially on ethical grounds and partially because of plain old temperament) I always feel a sense of release when I'm boarding a plane back to Narita. It comes from the knowledge that I'm returning to a place where every last little turn of phrase or arch of eyebrow isn't mirthlessly prodded for complex psychological motivations, where you can expect people to be polite and considerate in public, and where no one cares about your private life as long as you don't force people to reckon with it.
    No one cares. Attitudes like that are very refreshing for Americans to contemplate, because there's no need for guilt -- something Americans often confuse with shame.

    Sean makes a compelling (if somewhat heretical) argument that American gay activists have been all too quick to overlook hidden benefits of the shame-based view:

    ....there are benefits to Japan's tradition-mindedness that I think a lot of gays in America have been too willing to cast off. The lack of gay ghettos means that it's pretty much impossible to wall yourself into a queer-positive echo chamber and start seeing rank-and-file straight people as an enemy arrayed against you. It also means that very few people see their homosexuality as their entire identity, with anti-gayness blamed for every disappointment, setback, depressive episode, and failed relationship. You never hear Japanese gays getting into princessy snits about not being approved of or officially sanctioned exactly like straight people in every last finicking little detail. At ordinary gay bars, you meet brittle, desperate guys who are obviously using a constant stream of sex partners to avoid dealing with their issues much, much less frequently than you do here in the States. (Even here, they're a minority, of course; their attention-whoring just makes them disproportionately noticeable. But the Japanese in general don't burden put the burden of self-definition on sex to the point that we do in the US.)
    For many Americans, this guilt-free view could be considered quite refreshing in a sexual context. That's because, while on the one hand there is shame if one creates a public spectacle, on the other hand personal privacy is preserved and protected, and there's no need for guilt.

    America is a mongrel culture consisting of people coming from shame-based backgrounds as well as people coming from guilt-based cultures and backgrounds. This leads to a confusion between guilt and shame which often strikes me as quite hopeless to debate, because arguments rarely get past the definitional stages.

    Sean's essay -- and the topic of Japanese homosexuality -- reminded me that there is a culture war within a culture war, and I can't think of a more classic illustration than the debate over "outing." Gay Patriot does an excellent job of stating the case (and explaining this predicament):

    ....I reminded myself that this was the reason I started the blog in September: to shine the light on this despicable and anti-gay 'outing' campaign against supposed closeted gays in an around the Federal Government.

    Now at first glance it may seem strange for me to label this outing effort as "anti-gay." But all you have to do is read the vitriolic and slimy attacks by Michael Rogers and his ilk on actual gay Americans. They make Pat Robertson and Tom DeLay actually seem pro-gay in their statements. Rogers is insulting, invasive and bases most of his "exclusives" on innuendo and zero evidence.

    But let them go on, I say. The Left and especially the Gay Left just don't "get" America. So let them continue with their vicious campaigns of hate. What I have a problem with is how the "mainstream gay leaders" (if there are really any) is letting this happen to gay Americans who could have a positive influence on the Republican Party.

    That being said, I have no bloody clue if Ken Mehlman is or isn't gay. Damn, you know the son of a gun might be STRAIGHT! Horrors! The bottom line is no one cares. He is good at his job, and that is why he may be named the RNC Chairman.

    Shouldn't Log Cabin, the TskForce (spelling error done on purpose), and HRC be HAPPY that a gay man, closeted or not, could be the head of a national political party? But the fact is the gay 'leaders' have no interest in a true grassroots political education strategy that includes Republicans and Democrats -- they just want to elect Democrats who are out of step with the majority of America.

    It is increasingly clear to me that the gay community and its band of radicals are obsessed with being openly gay above all other factors. Never mind if a person is good or bad at their job, if they are a heroic fireman, policeman or member of the Armed Forces. If they are openly and flamboyantly gay... that's universally good. If they are a closet gay, straight and/or especially a Christian, they must be evil and bad.

    I think the real problem that the Gay Left has with gay Republicans is that we are comfortable being part of the true American mainstream. We do our jobs, pay our taxes, live in peace, and don't buy into the radical leftist gay agenda. And most of us are "out" to our families, our bosses and our co-workers. And most don't care. We have gotten past the hate that consumes the gay activists. And we are proud, successful and active citizens. But our core being doesn't rise and fall over the fact that we are gay.

    Michael Rogers, John Aravosis, and Michael Signorile and those spearheading the outing campaign have indeed become the Left's equivalent of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Their entire lives are based on group victimization, succededing only when others fail and are hurt, demonizing individual Americans, and stereotyping gays. How ironic.

    How ironic, indeed. "Outings" are what happen when the forces of guilt and shame join in an unholy alliance. An all out, invasive assault on personal privacy where no one is left alone, everyone is forced to take sides, and an inquisitorial mood prevails.

    But please bear in mind that this discussion of guilt and shame is by no means limited to (or necessarily about) homosexuality. It's just that the latter is an easier topic for most people to understand, because guilt and shame are so commonly -- and obviously -- associated with homosexuality. Less obvious (but more common) are the deliberate attempts to utilize shame and guilt to manipulate people as in the recent examples of oiled geese. Americans feel guilty for a variety of reasons, and ever since I was a child I have seen constant attempts by authority figures to harness this guilt by blatant attempts to shame them. When I was a kid it was usually associated with religion, being scolded in church about poor people starving, and often this would make its way to family dinner tables. As the civil rights movement came into its own, politics and religion tended to merge, and the country saw religious leaders being beaten and arrested as they attempted to introduce a new form of shame to the Old South. Naturally, the Old South didn't like being shamed on national television, and the irony was that the South (which I repeatedly visited as a boy in the mid 1960s) was more of a shame-based culture than the largely guilt-based North.

    This cultural irony was compounded by the uncomfortable fact that the South, while officially segregated, was in practice more integrated than the North! I know this sounds crazy, but I saw it firsthand. In the North, black people were pretty much restricted to black neighborhoods, and if they strayed out of them, they'd be stopped by police, and were often attacked by lower class whites. If black homebuyers managed to buy a home in a working class white neighborhood, there'd be a mass exodus of whites (a phenomenon called "block busting" by the greedy realtors who'd swoop in).

    In the South, there were rituals and rules about what was allowed and not allowed, but there was more actual interaction and less ghettoization. Blacks and whites could talk and socialize in ways that they could not in the North. Please bear in mind I'm not defending this, just reflecting on its cultural aspects.

    It was all too easy for Northern liberals to call attention to the South's obvious, ugly, shame based features like the segregated drinking fountains, lunch counters, and rear bus sections. But in reality, well-off Northerners wouldn't have known what to do with a segregated drinking fountain, as no one would have used it! Blacks didn't venture into white neighborhoods and vice versa. Integration was something to be imposed upon other people -- the "bigots" in the South.

    "Up here" in the North we don't have things like "colored" bathrooms! (Yeah, and if a black man came into your nice lily white office building you'd call the cops and he'd be hurried out if not arrested for vagrancy!)

    Ditto for integrated schools. These were for anyone's kids but those of the affluent blue staters! Schools in the North were segregated not by official policy, but by neighborhood, and money.

    All of this led to a North which felt guilty trying to shame a South which appeared to be more guilty, but which felt less guilty. While that battle has been largely over for decades, whether American culture is based more on guilt or more on shame is far from settled.

    Plenty of people around here felt guilty when oil was spilled in the Delaware River, and their kneejerk reaction was to shame as many people as they could. Considering that it's rather hard to shame a Cypriot shipping company which didn't want to lose money or oil in the first place, they used the Philadelphia Inquirer to slam SUV owners, to make everyone feel terrible about oiled geese, and to upset as many children as possible.


    More harm to the local economy than would have been caused by the spill alone, with shippers rerouting their tankers elsewhere. (A small price to pay if we can transform children into shame-based environmental activists!)

    In Japan, the captain would simply have committed suicide.

    UPDATE: In a related post, Andrew Sullivan sees a parallel between the Old South's treatment of blacks and the "cordial" treatment of gays by the "Republican right."

    Relations between many blacks and whites were often cordial; and the cordiality depended on the implicit acknowledgment of one group's inferiority to the other. Essentially, the position of the Republican right is now identical on the matter of homosexuals. The Bush line, essentially is: "We are not homophobes; we are happy yo live alongside gay people, as long as they recognize that they can never have the same civil rights as we do. Accept your own inferiority, and we will accept you."
    He's right that politeness, while important, is not everything. But I've seen from personal experience that Democrats are less tolerant of dissent -- and far less polite to dissenting gays -- than are Republicans. (Also, opposition to gay marriage is by no means limited to the "Republican right"; those state initiatives passed by substantial margins in eleven states.)

    Sean Kinsell adds (in a comment):

    I just can't see the "civil rights" line of argument as anything but a desire to coerce people into postures of approval, and the comments Sullivan has appended to that e-mail do nothing to change my mind.
    Try as I might, I can't see marriage licenses as being indicia of full citizenship.

    posted by Eric at 07:57 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (2)

    Taking insecurity seriously?

    Echoing Bill O'Reilly and Hillary Clinton, former CIA Director (and Arafat supporter) George Tenet suggests that only people "who take security seriously" (the "responsible"?) should be allowed access (by "the authorities"?) to the Internet:

    The way the Internet was built might be part of the problem, he said. Its open architecture allows Web surfing, but that openness makes the system vulnerable, Mr. Tenet said.

    Access to networks like the World Wide Web might need to be limited to those who can show they take security seriously, he said.

    Mr. Tenet called for industry to lead the way by "establishing and enforcing" security standards. Products need to be delivered to government and private-sector customers "with a new level of security and risk management already built in."

    The national press, including United Press International (UPI), were excluded from yesterday's event, at Mr. Tenet's request, organizers said.

    Really? Who does Tenet consider to be people who "can show they take security seriously"? Who gets to do the defining, and allow access, pray tell? The "authorities"?

    Surely he doesn't mean guys like his predecessor John Deutch?

    And certainly he can't be referring to classified document-stuffer Sandy Berger.

    With all due respect to Mr. Tenet, I think his statements are irresponsible. But I know how tough it can be to lose a campaign, so I'll just leave it there.


    posted by Eric at 07:33 AM | Comments (4)

    Specially protected slime?

    Maureen Dowd is upset about male authority figures:

    The networks don't even give lip service to looking for women and blacks for anchor jobs - they just put pretty-boy clones in the pipeline.

    "I think we're still stuck in a society that looks at white males as authority figures," Mr. Brokaw conceded.

    Bill Carter, a TV reporter at The Times, agreed: "Katie Couric may be a much bigger star and even more experienced than Brian Williams. But when the next 9/11 happens, it'll be Brian, not Katie, in the central role. The attitude still seems to be, 'We want a daddy in that chair.' "

    As noted by Jim Geraghty, to be an "authority figure" (at least, to be on more than an equal footing with "someone in a bathroom with a modem") one must not only be male, but one must have the right facial appearance: work in a medium where you would still be doing the traffic report back in Elmira, N.Y. if you looked like Dennis Kucinich. In other words, you've got your job because you're pretty. I'm not sure you should be shooting your mouth off about other people's qualifications to do the news. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)
    So, it's not just daddy the masses are looking for; it's pretty daddy!

    It's interesting that pretty daddy Williams' bathroom attack was launched shortly after Bill O'Reilly called Dan Rather a victim who'd been "slimed." Not that I like ad hominem attacks, but Rather was not attacked for being Dan Rather (which, after all, he's been for decades), but for adamantly refusing to do what any blogger would do if he relied on forged documents: admit and correct his mistake.

    But wait a minute! No true "authority figure" is ever supposed to admit making mistakes! Not even pretty daddies.

    This may touch on a crucial distinction between bloggers and the MSM. By launching his latest attack on the blogosphere, O'Reilly makes clear that it is not attacks per se that he is against; indeed, how could this quarrelsome, pugnacious man oppose attacking others? Rather, his quarrel is over who should get to do the attacking. O'Reilly thinks that only the anointed -- what used to be called "the authorities" -- should have such privileges.

    As Eugene Volokh (via Glenn Reynolds) made clear in today's New York Times, these so-called authorities should enjoy no special privileges. Yet they do. It's one thing for someone to be hired because he has a pretty face, or has an authoritative "look" which might assist in bringing bigger network ratings. But when special legal privileges are granted exempting the pretty daddies from the same rules which apply to everyone else, that's unelected power. I can't think of a worse form of tyranny than actually making a real authority figure out of someone hired largely because of his appearance. Where is the accountability? Are doctrines of Constitutional Law henceforth to be driven by network ratings?

    Worse yet, once exemptions from the law are created, the authority figures will want them extended. Bill O'Reilly has it in for the blogosphere because they repeatedly dared to criticize him. This, he feels, is unfair, because only he and similarly situated "authorities" should be allowed the First Amendment right to criticize. By implication, O'Reilly imagines that bloggers are "immune" from criticism and the tactics of "sliming" he condemns. He forgets that bloggers are all in the same playing field. They can just as easily be criticized -- and have their jobs threatened -- as can Bill O'Reilly or Dan Rather. (More here from Joe Gandelman, via Glenn Reynolds.) The difference is that in the blogosphere, while there may be unfairness, there's no anointed, unaccountable class. It's pretty much a level playing field and a meritocracy.

    That's something many of the Old Media authorities and like-minded people would love to change. How? Installation of gate-keepers was proposed back in 1999, but never implemented.

    I suppose the "authorities" could always orchestrate a vast "sliming" of individual bloggers, but the blogosphere has already shown itself to be pretty resilient.

    Many of us are accustomed to being slimed . . .

    Besides, as O'Reilly himself admits, we can't be fired!

    MORE: As a typical example of what distinguishes blogging from MSM reporting [in this case, opinion writing], in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, columnist Monica Yant Kinney attempts to target SUV drivers for shame/blame in the context of the recent Delaware River oil spill:

    Seventy percent of the oil that winds up in Northeastern SUVs first makes a pit stop along the Delaware.
    Ms. Kinney surely reads her own newspaper, and so she must be charged with knowing that the spilled oil was headed for a CITGO asphalt refinery. Asphalt goes into roads and roofs, and has little or no relationship with SUVs. Scolding SUV drivers with such statistics is, under the circumstances, disingenous, although I don't expect anything like a correction.

    (More below on the oil spill.)

    posted by Eric at 10:22 AM | Comments (3)

    Thumbs down on evil doers!

    And now for something completely boring and mundane -- far less shocking than an oil-covered Canada goose:


    Why is it that when two cars collide, society calls this "an accident," and generally attaches no moral evil or shame to either party? Around 40,000 Americans die each year from automobile accidents. As nameless and anonymous as hits compiled by a blog site meter, automobile death statistics pile up year after year, and since the invention of the automobile, millions of Americans have been brutally killed.

    In my days as a young lawyer, I used to do plaintiff's personal injury work, and I'll never forget talking with an accident reconstruction expert who'd retired from the CHP for a more lucrative career as a paid courtroom witness. Being a cop, he was in the habit of noticing details which most people might miss, and it didn't escape his attention that I spent a bit more time than I should have staring at a particularly gruesome photograph. I admit, I was intrigued by a glossy color blowup showing our client's beloved deceased's squashed intestines and what looked intriguingly like mashed human liver laying right there on the asphalt where they'd been yanked by tires (which left visible tread marks in the flesh) from the front half of his mangled corpse just a couple of feet away.

    "Yup, in our society, if you really want to see brutality, auto accidents are the place to go!" he said, with a bit too much enthusiasm.

    At the time, I was reminded of an account I'd read about the Roman games being the place to go for ancient Roman medical students interested in studying anatomy.

    In modern America, the gore and carnage of highway slaughter fails to interest the masses, who are much more shocked by pictures of oily geese.

    Yet no one is claiming that the Delaware River oil spill was other than an accident. An accident which was as directly related to the driving of automobiles by human beings as any collision between two drivers. Considering the amount of fuel which has to be delivered by evil tankers, and refined by the evil men who work in the evil refineries so that it can be put in the gas tanks of evil cars and eviler SUVs, or burned in the even more evil home heating furnaces of the evil humans who occupy these homes, I'm surprised there aren't more such accidents.

    Now, considering that it is settled that all oil is evil, along with all consumption of it, it follows logically that those who consume more oil are more evil than those consuming less oil.

    While environmentalists like Maya K. van Rossum tend to focus on oil consumption by SUV drivers, I feel compelled to ask, just how evil is home heating oil?

    According to these API statistics,

    Residential and commercial heating oil accounted for over 17% of all distillate oil supplied in the United States.....
    And according to this evil oil company (which ought to know about such evils) the Northeast consumes 70% of all the heating oil in the country!

    If you're as shocked as I was, you should see the graphic chart they prepared. Hell, it's so shocking I'll share it with you. Evidence of evil, straight from the producers own web site:


    Hey, wait a second! Aren't those the blue states? Why are they yelling about SUVs and making everybody feel guilty about oily geese if they're the biggest energy gluttons in the country?

    I guess I should address the inevitable argument that heating is "good" but driving is "bad." This, I suppose, is based on the notion that everyone needs heat, but no one needs to drive. The problem with that is that if people can't drive, how can they get to work to pay for the oil that they use for heat? I realize I sound like a hopeless moral relativist, but it's always a slippery slope to hell, and it begins once we admit that we have to live, drive, work, buy things, and have heat. I'm a little troubled by the fact that energy gluttons in the Northeast consider themselves in a moral position to blame SUVs for oil spills, when the same oil is used disporportionately to heat their homes. I find myself wondering whether their stated concern with oily geese (as opposed to dead humans) is motivated by guilt. Perhaps even self hatred?

    Maybe the dead drivers got what they deserved!

    UPDATE: Things are more complicated than I thought. As it turns out, the oil spilled into the Delaware River was headed for a CITGO asphalt refinery in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

    Asphalt is used to pave roads! It's used in construction! Why, most roofs are made of the stuff!

    Which means that if you take advantage of streets (whether as a driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian), or if you live in a building (or even on the streets), you're a goose killer!

    posted by Eric at 08:43 AM | Comments (4)

    Baby goose steps?

    My earlier post on Canada geese reminded me of the importance of environmental issues in the last election.

    According to this survey:

    24% of respondants considered the environment as an "extremely important" issue (compared to 53% rating terrorism, the top spot, as "extremely important").
    24% might not seem all that high a figure (and obviously it isn't as important as terrorism), but does anyone remember the huge fuss over "moral values" as the most important issue?

    I'd almost forgotten about the other issues, so I returned to the CNN poll to see how the environment fared on the list.

    Well I'll be horn-swaggled! Here, once again, are the topics in the CNN poll, folks:

    Taxes (5%)

    Education (4%)

    Iraq (15%)

    Terrorism (19%)

    Economy/Jobs (20%)

    Moral Values (22%)

    Health Care (8%)

    The environment isn't there. And why not?

    What would you have told the CNN pollsters if you were an environmental activist? The environment certainly isn't taxes, Iraq, education, terrorism, jobs, or health care, so I guess you'd be stuck with "moral values."


    I'm getting confused. Considering that there are at least two cabinet level departments dedicated to environmental issues, that environmental regulations affect nearly every large company in the United States, and that international treaties are the subject of much debate, why didn't the environment at least show up as a issue?

    Maybe it is one of the "moral values" after all. Here's an environmental activist who sees abortion not only as an environmental issue, but as a profoundly moral issue:

    We must begin to directly address the true moral implications of abortion, which are these:

    It is utterly immoral to force a woman to bear an unwanted child. It is immoral not just because of the impact to women but because of the impact to the earth and future generations. Billions of people today live in poverty on the edge of starvation. The World Wildlife Fund reports that we currently consume 20 percent more natural resources than the Earth can produce and that we have permanently reduced Earth's capacity to support life. The skyrocketing curve of population growth is about to meet the plunging curve of resource depletion.

    If a woman does not want a child, then the Earth does not want it either. Far better to let a tiny embryo, the merest spark of life, be extinguished, than to risk the lives of so many who are already here. This is a moral choice of the highest order and it is one that all women are empowered to make.

    Those who oppose abortion and reproductive choice are the ones who are anti-life.

    Those who support a woman's right to choose and who want to help women all over the world gain access to reproductive health care are the ones who are morally righteous and who are on the side of life.

    There is no cause more moral than this one: We shall leave a living planet to our children, not a wasteland.

    Seen this way, abortion is not merely something to be tolerated, nor is it a woman's right control her own body, and not even the privacy right enshrined in Roe v. Wade. It is a positive good, because people are bad, so ridding the world of people is good.

    But if abortion is a moral good because there are too many people, then why expend money and manpower to save oiled geese if there are already too many of them?

    I suspect that what's good for the goose is a moral lesson for the goslings. Utilitarian arguments are for adults. There's an ostensible audience out there who are seen as in need of moral values.

    And like it or not, oiled geese beat dead fetuses!

    Don't ask me why; the manipulation of the human mind is something I abhor as much as groupthink. Watching the process is bad enough.

    MORE RELIGION: Who's "in charge" of the Delaware River? Today I read there's actually someone with the title of "Riverkeeper" -- one Maya K. van Rossum. Among other things, she's opposed the Delaware Deepening project. (Deepening the river might well have prevented the recent spill -- a point highlighted by new post-spill restrictions on vessels at low tide). But whatever anyone might say about her, she's a true believer:

    The Delaware Riverkeeper is not an elected official.

    Van Rossum, a lawyer by training, is more of an environmental evangelist.

    The river is her religion. And it needs our prayers.

    The Delaware is home to the second-largest petrochemical complex in the country, she explains.

    Seventy percent of the oil that winds up in Northeastern SUVs first makes a pit stop along the Delaware.

    For shame! Every damned one of you evil drivers is to blame! (SUV drivers are of course the most evil of all, and hence, must be singled out for special treatment.)

    Don't get me started on home heating oil! That's even more evil than SUVs!

    posted by Eric at 04:10 PM | Comments (5)

    Another victim of a power imbalance!

    My neighborhood suffered a major power outage earlier, when I was in the middle of the last post. Fortunately, I had saved most of it, and was able to finish editing and posting at a local Starbucks. The problem is, this is the second power outage in less than a week, and I heard an weird electronic sci-fi zapping sound outside when this one happened. So I have no idea when I'll be back and I'm glad Justin has a couple of posts up.

    For other suggested reading, I recommend this week's Carnival of the Vanities, as well as the Bonfire of the Vanities.

    Can't summarize all of the latter, but the Flea's post on freedom is delicious.

    So are Interested-Participant's cardboard burritos.

    Wash 'em down with Russian beer.

    I promise to return -- after I'm empowered, of course.

    posted by Eric at 01:26 PM


    I haven't smacked Leon Kass around lately, mostly because I haven't seen him in the news. That's a good thing.

    Still, like mucking out the stables, it's something that needs to be done regularly. But not always by me! Check out "The Speculist" for a sensible, temperate article on cloning, grey areas, and ethics.

    A few years from now, it may be possible to create an embryonic clone of myself. (Biology dictates that women are easier to clone than men, so it will be a while before I can do it.) Let's consider that embryo at four weeks. If I put it in the right environment, that blastocyst might grow into my identical twin brother. It isn't my twin brother now. It's just some growing tissue taken from my body and an egg I borrowed from somebody else. It would be an amazing little bud of life, similar to (genetically identical to) the amazing little bud of life that eventually grew into me. But we have a different developmental path for this bud. Rather than growing it into a separate human being, we're going to grow it back into me

    It's even got a new Kass quote! Check it out.

    Oh, and I was just kidding about not smacking Leon around lately.

    If you scroll to the bottom of this article, you'll find a veritable Kassfest of links.

    If you enjoy a splash of vitriol with your Classical Values, you might enjoy some of these oldies. They're from the heart.

    UPDATE: Apparently I should read the fine print. The Speculist article in question was a re-run from several months ago. Therefore, the Kass quote in question is not new after all. I am ashamed of my inadvertant misrepresentation and beg forgiveness.

    posted by Justin at 01:09 PM

    Cranking out morality faster than crap through a goose!

    Because they face no natural predators and are still protected by the 1916 Migratory Bird Act, so called "Canada geese" are seriously overpopulated in many areas, including the Philadelphia area.

    Philadelphia International Airport's proximity to the Delaware River makes it attractive to geese. Airport spokesperson Mark Pesche says that can cause trouble for planes during takeoff and landing.

    "When you have a fully loaded 747 rolling down a runway, and the aircraft ingests a bird, it could cause an aircraft disaster," says Pesche. He adds any sort of wildlife on the runway can be extremely dangerous.

    Scott Johnston is with the Fish and Wildlife Service's migratory bird division. He says problems arise because of goose overpopulation. When protection measures were put into effect for Canada Geese nearly 90 years ago, most of the birds were migratory. Problems arise at areas like airports because too many Canada Geese have made states like Pennsylvania their long-term home.

    "They can denude grassy areas including parks, pastures, golf courses, lawns," says Johnston. "In addition, believe it or not, excessive droppings are also a health concern, and they've contributed to the closing of public beaches in several states."

    He says the agency's new rules would remove an obstacle to effective goose management.

    "It required a federal permit to be able to control any of these geese," says Johnston. And that can be a relatively time consuming process. So what we're trying to do is provide the states a little bit more individual control."

    Johnston says one method of population control involves extending hunting seasons. But there are other ways to reduce, or at least relocate geese.

    Two years ago, the Philadelphia Water Department managed to move a flock whose droppings had been polluting a nearby drinking water intake. Sourcewater protection manager Christopher Crocket says the trick is to make the geese feel less comfortable.

    When geese collide with airplanes, it isn't a case of size prevailing -- like a dinky subcompact hitting an 18-wheeler. Here's a typical example of what Canada geese do in Philadelphia's airspace:
    Date: 23 August 2000
    Aircraft: B-747
    Airport: Philadelphia Intl. (PA)
    Phase of Flight: Take off
    Effect on Flight: Aborted take off
    Damage: Engine, wing
    Wildlife Species: Canada geese
    Comments from Report: The aircraft flew through a flock of about 30 Canada geese and ingested 1 or 2 in the #1 engine. The high-speed aborted take off resulted in 9 flat tires. The aircraft was towed to the ramp. Time out of service was 72 hours. Engine was a total loss. Cost was $3 million.
    Well, at least no one was killed. No one is killed by goose droppings either. Yeah, I suppose they'll foul the pools and golf courses, and children will pick up the turds and eat them, but that's part of life.

    They're a nuisance.

    So what I want to know is why the taxpayers are shelling out large sums of money to do stuff like this:

    Treatment: A warm bath is only part of the attention the birds get.

    By Sandy Bauers

    Inquirer Staff Writer

    In a darkened corridor filled with tubs of 104-degree water, two volunteers held tight to a sudsy Canada goose, while Perry Lee Prouty grasped its neck and dabbed inside its mouth with a cotton swab.

    The swab came out black. So she dabbed again, frowning with concentration.

    Dressed in rubber boots and gloves, disposable coveralls, waterproof aprons, and goggles, the three continued in silence - talking would stress the bird still further.

    Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Del., is where the luckier victims of Friday's oil spill on the Delaware have come - the ones that are still alive and have been caught.

    Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 birds may have been oiled, and most have little chance of survival, authorities said.

    As of yesterday evening, 45 birds and one turtle were under the care of the organization's 40 staffers and volunteers. Five other birds at Tri-State had died.

    Picked up at or near the site of the oil spill, they were taken first to a staging area at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, near Philadelphia International Airport.

    There, workers placed the dead birds in boxes and tagged them as evidence. The live ones were also boxed, then driven to Tri-State, a private, nonprofit wildlife rehab organization that responds to spills worldwide.

    In fact, when staff veterinarian Erica Miller first heard about the Delaware spill, it was Saturday morning and she was in Newfoundland, working to save murres, penguinlike birds, that had been oiled in a spill at an offshore drilling rig.

    At first, she thought the spill on the Delaware was a bad joke. Then her heart sank.

    All afternoon, her mind was racing. How soon could she get there? Was there enough equipment? Tri-State had already used so much in Newfoundland and, just a week before, near Savannah, Ga. A ship bound for Philadelphia, oddly enough, had leaked.

    The largest number of birds at Tri-State, 22, are Canada geese; 14 are mallards. The others include gulls, a coot, a northern gannet, and a swan.

    All "are heavily oiled," Tri-State's executive director, Chris Motoyoshi, said yesterday. "This is thick, gunky oil. It is going to be a long and difficult process to rehabilitate them."

    I do not countenance animal cruelty, and I support efforts to prevent oil spills like the one last week.

    But cleaning up Canada geese? How much does this cost? Here's a web site which claims it is expensive, but won't say how much:

    Q. How much does it cost to rehabilitate oiled birds?

    A. The cost for wildlife rehabilitation will differ from spill to spill. For example the cost per bird during the "Exxon Valdez" oil spill was extremely high due to the costs per day for the rescue vessels and the extended period of time we spent in Alaska. The modification of facilities on each and every spill adds to cost as well. There is really no average amount.

    What the hell does that mean? Don't they care?

    Is this a moral crusade or is there utilitarian value in saving Canada geese?

    According to USA Today, at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill, the cleanup and rehabilitation cost was $10,000 per bird. That was 1989.

    I'm afraid to ask who pays. And I'm afraid to come across as a hard-nosed utilitarian, but considering the problems caused by Canada geese (the recent oil spill was not far from the Philadelphia airport, by the way), I can't see shelling out thousands of dollars per bird. Bald eagles are one thing, but this is ridiculous.

    There's also a scolding tone to the whole business, and when I read through these articles and see the pictures of the birds, I get the distinct impression that someone is trying to manipulate me, to treat me as a small child.

    "Mommy, why did the bad men spill oil on the birdies?"

    I'd be willing to bet that similar questions are being asked daily, in hundreds of homes around here. The way the papers cover these things, you'd think there was a religious war going on. Good versus evil?


    The rate such "moral lessons" are cranked out by the MSM approaches the rate of goose defecation:

    Bunnell said geese hop from neighborhood to neighborhood to rest on retention ponds and graze on grass.

    "They eat about 4 pounds of turf a day," Bunnell said. "And they give you back 2 pounds."

    He added that geese defecate every seven minutes.

    Every seven minutes?

    That's quicker than you can start a morality, er, movement.

    UPDATE: Link to this Philadelphia Inquirer article added.

    AND MORE: Has anyone ever asked whether geese like this?


    Or does the panic-stricken animal know its life is to be saved by the loving workers?

    Soap-based "tough love" used to be applied to humans, who at least were supposed to have known it was "good for them."

    Which is why I spoke of "crap" through a goose . . .

    posted by Eric at 12:21 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    Machine Gun For An Idiot Child

    What if something magical happened?

    What if all our energy worries ended tomorrow, with the happiest of happy endings?

    What if a new power source came along that was so powerful, so clean, so abundant, that the greenest of green activists couldn't find fault with it?

    And what if it was really, really cheap?

    Who could be against that?

    Ahem...I think you know.

    "In April 1989 the Los Angeles Times interviewed a number of top-environmentalists about their view on cold fusion. With the assumption that the technology would be cheap and clean, Jeremy Rifkin nevertheless thought 'It's the worst thing that could happen to our planet.'
    Inexhaustible power, he argues, only gives man an infinite ability to exhaust the planet's resources, to destroy its fragile balance and create unimaginable human and industrial waste."
    "Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich was cautious. While cheap, clean inexhaustible power could be a boon for mankind, the problem was that 'industrialized societies, so far, have not used power wisely,'but caused massive pollution.
    In summary, Ehrlich said that cold fusion, even if clean and cheap, would be 'like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.'"

    There's no pleasing some people. The above madness was excerpted from a fine article in Oregon Magazine. Check out their article on the HIV-positive muppet! And be sure to scroll to the bottom for a truly positive graphic. Really. It made my morning. Both articles are from 2002, but have retained their relevance in our hyperkinetic, harum-scarum world.

    Turning back to those gun-toting idiot children, we are given Bjorn Lomborg's insightful take on the question.

    "What these statements of opposition to an almost ideal energy source show is that the relevant agenda is not about energy or the economics of energy. Indeed this could not be the case, since the question from the Los Angeles Times was originally formulated 'what if cold fusion would be cheap and clean?'
    Instead the opposition is based on a different agenda, focused on the potentially damaging consequences from using cold fusion. Essentially, the criticism points to other values, arguing for a change to a decentralized society which is less resource oriented, less industrialized, less commercialized, less production-oriented..."

    One of the things I like about Lomborg is his penchant for quiet understatement.
    He's just so bloody reasonable.

    Not like some of the intemperate, self-righteous, cranks who infest the internet.

    No, sir. Rather than merely venting, Mr. Lomborg attempts gentle persuasion, using facts and logic to make his case. I admire his efforts.

    posted by Justin at 11:05 AM | Comments (1)

    Internet Freud just won't go away!

    I don't know if I'm the ony person who has Internet-related dreams, but for some time now, my dreams have been taking the form of various web pages, and web-based graphics which appear or disappear, on a variety of subjects. Sometimes I can edit them in the dreams. Other times not.

    Ho ho hum. Nothing terribly interesting about my dreams, and I try not to get too personal in posts, so instead of dwelling on details I'll stick to generalities. What I want to know is: How would a strict Freudian analyze Internet dreaming? Precisely what is the symbology? Can a symbol of that which is largely a symbol even be symbology?

    Once that's answered, I have a much more disturbing question. What about recurrent POPUPS? They're now starting to leap out at me in my sleep, and I can't shut them down.

    If there's one thing I can't stand, it's when reality begins to intrude on dreams! Reality-based dreaming sucks.

    And no; online dream sharing is not what this is about.

    A book called Internet Dreams: Archetypes, Myths, and Metaphors may have touched on this subject:

    Stefik, along with a host of prescient techno thinkers and doers, examine four richer, more powerful metaphors and their Jungian archetypes that together should expand anyone's thinking about the cyber world... And those metaphors are: digital library (The Keeper of Knowledge), electronic mail (Communicator), electronic marketplace (Trader), and digital world (Adventurer).
    Fine, but that was in 1997 when everyone was high on potential, but before reality had set in. I'd be willing to bet that the book contains nothing about the popup as a metaphor!

    Will writing about it make them go away? I'm sure not.

    Popups are a good metaphor for stuff that won't go away, actually.

    How very appropriate to have them invading dreams.

    (I apologize for this tantrum of self-indulgence, but it beats being stared at quizically by some "therapist" who'd say, "Hmmm.... Tell me more," and then bill me $175.00 or something.)

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Deliberately tormenting people with unwanted popups (not to make money; but they could be spread by the same innocuous ad virus route), might be an interesting psy war strategy. Doubtless the usual people have given this matter some thought. And should have, if they haven't.

    posted by Eric at 09:20 AM | Comments (1)

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