Drinking blood, and other natural family values

Speaking of kids and childish things, it turns out that blood drinking is natural. At least, so elementary school kids are being taught in Philadelphia:

"Why," asked one third grader from the Independence Charter School, "do they drink blood?"

Her question, directed at Herman Bingham, a board member of the East Africa Resource and Study Center, contained a universe of incomprehension.

It's not that the eating habits of nomadic peoples in northern Kenya seemed ghoulish. Rather, they just made no sense at all.

Bingham, giving a talk and conducting a tour of the center, had heard it before. He kept it simple.

"Because it's nutritious," he said, "and because they don't slaughter their animals."

Fouzia Musse, a dynamic board member born in Somalia, took over from Bingham.

"Let me tell you about the blood," she said to the children gathered around her, amid the artifacts on the first floor of the center in West Philadelphia. "It is natural. The food you eat is transformed into blood."

And she went on with a mesmerizing description that American city children understood completely.

(The same teacher elsewhere extols the value of juju healers in helping rape victims. Former slaves are believed to be among the best healers, and popcorn and coffee aromas are said to excite the spirits.)

I don't have a problem with kids being taught that Masai warriors and other East Africans drink blood. It's a fact, and there are reasons why they do it. But I'm a little concerned about the science behind teaching third-graders (or anyone, for that matter) that blood drinking is "natural" simply because "the food you eat is transformed into blood." While it's true enough, isn't food also transformed into every type of cell and tissue in the body -- including human waste? Or is critical thinking something to be discouraged?

I'm no expert on the Masai or other blood drinkers, but I'm hardly the first to question whether "natural" foods like blood have really helped them achieve what we in the West might condescendingly call quality of life:

If calcium were in fact an overriding factor in determining health, freedom from disease, and longevity, the Masai tribe in Africa would have some very elderly elders. Interestingly, while they consume exhorbitant amounts of calcium (the mainstay of their diets is a mix of cow blood and milk), they have a life expectancy of only 45 years.

Just for kicks, I contacted the Centers for Disease Control and asked if I were to travel to Africa to visit with the Masai, what diseases would I need to be innoculated for or protected from. Here's an abbreviated list:

* Cholera
* Influenza
* Filariasis
* Anthrax
* African tick typhus
* Chikungunya fever (explosive urban outbreaks have occurred)
* Echinococcosis Leptospirosis
* Lyme disease
* Malaria
* Meningitis
* Black plague
* Tuberculosis
* Intestinal worms
* Rabies
* Typhoid Fever
* Yellow Fever

That's quite an impressive list for a population consuming several liters of calcium rich food every day. Maybe calcium is not the great protector Barefoot promotes it as.

Not that I'm into judging anyone's quality of life, mind you. But are all things "natural" necessarily desirable? Aren't disease and death at least as "natural" as drinking blood?

Never mind that. Let's continue, with a lesson about family values:

"Africans know everything there is to know about community and family," he told the children. "That's what holds it all together... . They've mastered their environment by keeping their eyes open and taking care of their goats and sheep and camels."

The children listened with complete attention to Baumann's description of the 115-degree desert heat, the lack of water, the portable housing, the camels, and, yes, the bloodletting.

But the high point of the visit came when the children were turned loose among the objects crafted by people halfway around the world.

About a dozen boys and girls immediately crawled into a portable hut, assembled from grass and sticks, that had served as desert housing.

While the kids might have just as immediately crawled into a pup tent, I'm curious about the logic of a statement that any group of people knows "everything there is to know about community and family." Does this mean that everything they claim to know is necessarily right?

For example, there's no question that Somalians know a lot about how to perform female genital mutilation:

The most extreme form of female circumcision entails the female genitals being mutilated, whereby the clitoris and sometimes the labia are removed. Thereafter, the vagina is also more or less sewn up. The mutilation of girls is often carried out by inexperienced people, who use dirty instruments such as pieces of glass, razors or sharp stones which are often re-used without being sterilised first. This increases the chance of HIV infections.

The effects of genital mutilation can result in death. At the moment that the mutilation is carried out, all kinds of side effects may occur such as intense pain, bleeding, shock and damage to the organs surrounding the clitoris and the labia. After the operation, urine may be left behind which may cause nasty infections. Complications which frequently occur are long-lasting infections, recurrent bleeding, abscesses and small benign tumours on the nerves which can result in discomfort and serious pain.

....In Somalia, circumcision of the clitoris and sometimes the labia as well is not punishable by law. According to women of Nagaad, the Somalian umbrella organisation with 32 members, it will take a very long time to change cultural views on this matter – not only among men but among women as well. The age at which girls are circumcised is being lowered all the time. Children who are sometimes no older than six are operated on by private doctors or traditional healers. The circumcision ceremony usually takes place within the family circle.

European summer holidays

‘In Somaliland (the northern part of Somalia that declared itself independent in 1991), an estimated 98 percent of Somalian girls are circumcised. But no-one talks about it’, says Asmara Abdelsaksam, chairman of Nagaad....

[NOTE: The lowest estimate of the percentage of Somalian women who have been mutilated is the U.N.'s figure of 90%.]

Holy cow! That's even more gross than drinking blood! And as young as six?

Is my unenlightened cultural bias showing? Perhaps I should recognize that children should be taught to get over these Western cultural hangups, and learn to be, er, daring!

Should I, like, get with the program?

OK, just for today I'll stick with the lesson in culture:

"This is very stimulating," he said. "Some children are very daring. Some hesitate. They are so honest. Their attitude is 'Let's find out more!' It isn't 'Oh, that smells funny' or 'That smells different' or 'I don't want to have anything to do with it.' "

Then he told the children the same thing.

"Your questions are great!" he said. "Just keep asking!"

I have no problem with the "just keep asking!" part. Well, as long as they don't ask about what happens to third-grade schoolgirls in Somalia.

Actually, considering that only seven percent of Somalian girls receive primary education, it must truthfully be acknowledged that very few schoolgirls are sexually mutilated. 90% of 7% would be only 6.3% of the total elementary school-aged population.

(Another example of how right wing, culturally bigoted bloggers exaggerate?)

Well, to show how fair I am, I'll bend over backwards and remind readers of the argument for female circumcision: it's done to enhance the status of women. (More here.)

Enhance the status of women? Obviously such lessons on advancement of the status of women should be taught at an early age.

(So should the notion that the West is inferior to cultures of blood drinkers who circumcise eight year old girls.....)

posted by Eric at 04:16 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

Star Wars is childish!

Everyone's talking about Star Wars, including me. Only I haven't seen the latest entry in the series, which makes me more objective. Justin's doing a good job of keeping readers informed, which lets me completely off the hook -- not only as a reviewer, but even as a spectator. I don't need to see it. Besides, who would go with me? I have no children, and most of my friends (the people I might normally go to the movies with) are saving this one for their own kids.

From what I've read, it's definitely about kids. About child development -- especially what happens when that process in which a boy becomes a man is contaminated.

Contaminated by what? Hell, I don't know. I haven't seen the damned thing (which I had assumed was about the evil, Imperial-mongering Bushitler Vader or something). But Dean Esmay has, and he offers some intriguing insights:

I remember all too well being a surly, angry, resentful, rebellious teenager (and early 20-something). Me? I bought into the whole thing as a refusal to grow up and face your own demons--which to me is the ultimate in cowardice.

It was made pretty clear to me that Anakin never really loved Padme--he loved the idea of her. She, on the other hand, really did love him even though she often found him incomprehensible.

Maybe this all because I grew up with what they call "father issues." Growing up, I didn't really have a father so much as a series of men who sort of tried to fill that role in various half-measures.

With the hope that this isn't getting too personal (I don't think I'm talking out of turn or saying anything secret here) I note that Solomon Mason loved Episode III as much as I did, and grew up in a similarly broken home. I suspect that as a result we both related to Anakin and his dark side almost instinctively. After watching Episode III I felt like I totally "got" Darth Vader. I thought, "Damn, yeah, if I were who I was back when I was 21, and I'd had that kid's powers, I could well have turned into Darth Vader."

That moment after Obi-Wan had defeated him in battle, and Anakin screamed, "I hate you!!!"--man, chills ran down my spine. He was filled with rage at Obi-Wan for not validating everything he wanted to believe about himself.

It does help if you keep in mind that Anakin was young--very young--and quite conflicted and alone most of his life. The Jedi Council was probably right that he was waaay too young for the responsibilities he was being given. But it wasn't just his youth: it was obvious from day one that Anakin was kind of a mess.

Maybe others who didn't grow up like that, or know anybody like that, can't relate. I don't know. Me, I thought it was beautiful. Especially in seeing how his son Luke, faced with many of the same problems and limitations, overcame them and became a better man.

To be painfully self-revealing here, I often hope my sons will be better men than I was at their age. In truth, I often guage my effectiveness as a father with that as my yardstick--not to push them or bully them or try to make them someone they are not, but because I was a train wreck back then. My boys are not me, and they have to make their own way and discover who they are. Indeed I often marvel at how wonderful they are as people, even in their imperfections. I am only an imperfect (to say the least) guide when it comes to being a good person.

Still: it was obvious to me that the self-conflicted mass of insecurities that was young Anakin was like clay in the hands of Palpatine. It was so obvious to me I didn't feel it needed any further explanations.

That's damned good. And damned scary. I don't know whether I'd rather have kids or just watch the damned movie.

Childish issues frighten me because of often-repeated myths associating childhood with innocence. (When I was two, I learned that children are not innocent, and it's a lesson I never forgot.) What if the "Dark Side" is childish after all?

The innocence of evil is probably the worst kind of innocence. And evil.

Not that any of this would matter to a child.

posted by Eric at 02:04 PM | Comments (3)

Second Opinions

Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings posted this link weeks ago, but I've been too lazy to point it out. Till now. Cause I know you want it.

The Jedi Order’s mistakes in dealing with Anakin Skywalker are numerous and damning. First, the Order was aware from the very start that Anakin missed his mother, yet did nothing to free her from slavery, nor did they arrange to keep an eye on her.

Second, while acknowledging that Anakin might be “The Chosen One”, the Jedi entrusted his training to Obi Wan Kenobi, who began training Anakin just after having graduated from being a Padawan learner himself. Surely if the Chosen One was important enough to potentially bring balance to the Force, he was important enough to receive instruction from their best teacher...

Third, the Jedi Order did not realise that they should have instructed Kenobi to be more flexible in his approach. Obi Wan was a strictly rules-based Jedi who forced his rebellious young charge to adhere to the letter of the law...

Fourth, the Jedi Order did not allow Anakin to follow his premonition regarding his mother’s torture and death. He was merely told, “dreams pass in time”; the Jedi did not send anyone to investigate, nor allowed Anakin to go to his home planet to check. It was not until Kenobi was otherwise occupied that Anakin actually disobeyed orders, and by then, it was too late.

Arrogance has deep roots in the Jedi Order: as their librarian Jocasta Nu showed in her disregard of the absence of the planet Kamino from her records (“if a planet does not show up in our records, it does not exist”) the Jedi believe their knowledge is perfect. This was by no means an isolated incident...

Don't be shy, there are nits enough for all. My own efforts begin to look amateurish. Perhaps I can redeem my geek reputation by pointing you toward this amusing livejournal entry by Maya. I found it at Brian Tiemann's blog, Peeve Farm.

From time to time I'll mention that you should "read the whole thing". This time I really, really mean it. Really. She's very funny.


...it amazes me how much people love it. There was an enormous queue of people who already had tickets but wanted really good seats! Two queues!

MAYA: Muahahahahahaha. I mock you all.
MY FRIENDS: You. Write. Harry Potter. Porn.
MAYA: ... now the Star Wars fans are laughing at me. This is rock bottom.
MY FRIENDS: I dare you to kiss that lifesize cardboard cutout of Angelina Jolie!
MAYA: And behold, we drilled through rock bottom and struck humiliation oil!

And then... wonder of wonders, I... think I liked it...

OBI-WAN: Right then, it's time to fight General, er... (Ewan nobly controls himself) Grievous.
ANAKIN: Grievous? Seriously?
OBI-WAN: Yes. General Grievous. Seriously. Because that is what his name is.
ANAKIN: You know, if I was evil, I'd want something with a more sinister ring to it. Not that I'm evil. Totally not evil.

COUNT DOOKU: I will fight you both, Jedi! I am leader of this rebellion, and I could completely have a higher rank, but you see how Duke Dooku would be an unfortunate name, don't you?
ANAKIN: Don't even care. Killing you like whoa.

EVERYONE: God, Anakin, you are one hot piece of ass.
ANAKIN: Well, yeah, I've been lifting weights... Oh, hey. There's my secret wife, to whom I am secretly married. I have to go passionately embrace her behind a pillar a couple feet away from the Senate leaders right about now, because it's a secret...

PALPATINE: I want you to be my special friend.
ANAKIN: Jedis aren't allowed to do that kind of thing.
PALPATINE: Special representative on the Jedi Council.
ANAKIN: Really? Oh my God, what an honour! I'm not ready!
PALPATINE: Sure you are. You've been working out.

OBI-WAN: Now that you're pissed you weren't made Master, is this a good time to ask you to go against the Jedi way and spy on Palpatine, who you really like?
ANAKIN: *does a very good impression of an angry, vain kid who doesn't understand about moral shades of grey*
AUDIENCE: That's weird. It looks like Hayden Christiansen, but it's acting.
OBI-WAN: ... that'd be a no, then?

DOCTORS: So, Padme's fine and all, but she's dying of a broken heart, just like in a Victorian romance OMG! Who here has read Richardson's Clarissa?
PADME (faintly): Oh la, sir, I do believe I have the vapours...

There's plenty more where that came from, and believe me, I was sorely tempted to post it here.

But that would be wrong.

posted by Justin at 11:43 PM | Comments (2)

Green on the inside

Walking through Valley Forge National Park, I came across a rotting greenhouse, which is being taken over by disorderly vegetation.


There are probably some wild flowers growing inside of it, but I preferred the tiny buttercups in the field of tall grass nearby.


I'm still using the lazy old clunker Epson camera. One of these days I'll upgrade. (I consider myself very green as a photographer and I only wish there weren't so many confusing choices!)

MORE (05/31/05): Later last night, Coco contemplated fire for the first time:

posted by Eric at 05:18 PM | Comments (4)

Happy Memorial Day!

A lot of people are probably traveling, and I'm not going to be around much today. So I'll leave a travel tip based on something that happened yesterday when I wasn't looking.

When you're packing, be sure to check the trunk before you slam it and leave!

Otherwise, this might happen:


Without making a sound, Coco (who's always trying something) slipped stealthily into the trunk. I'm sure there would have been mysterious noises hours later on the PA Turnpike, but fortunately, she was caught, and dragged out, but only after I allowed her to pose for this public service photo.

Happy Memorial Day!

ONE OTHER REMINDER: while you're remembering stuff, please remember that this day is also about something important: remembering the veterans and all members of the Armed Forces.

MORE: Are you looking for ways to support the troops? Here's how.

posted by Eric at 09:20 AM | Comments (2)

More Star Warz

Reader Clint thinks that I should devote more time to the political elements in "Revenge of the Sith", and forget about the engineering shortcomings. I am mildly rebuked for focusing on minutiae. He further maintains that the secessionist, tax-dodging villains might have been the real heroes of the piece.

It’s an intriguing notion. That interpretation would of course cast the Jedi as the morally bankrupt enforcers for an oppressive, corrupt regime. On the other hand, the Jedi never indulged in orbital mass bombardment of noncombatants or the indiscriminate execution of juveniles, did they? And the invasion and blockade of Naboo look more like a mercantilist power grab than a quest for libertarian free trade. Clearly, mistakes were made on both sides.

De Gustibus, Clint. It takes all kinds.

Meanwhile, let’s just step back a bit and think. Sure, there was plenty more wrong with the movie, but my lack of commentary doesn’t mean I didn’t see it. It just meant that this particular flaw tickled my fancy. Equally egregious (good name for a general, huh?) examples abound.

For instance, why is there never an escape pod right there on the bridge in these sorts of movies? It’s always at least two decks away and down a burning corridor. Bad design philosophy, yet again.

The blowout shutters were a nice touch, and long overdue in my estimation, but then they went and forfeited my warm good feelings when I remembered the shutters on the hanger deck were sliding shut along the portal’s lengthiest possible dimension. Instead of racketing along from left to right, any sane designer would have had them close from bottom to top, or better yet, bottom and top.

I can hear your objections. It’s just an adventure movie. We need jeopardy to provide the thrills. We need fast paced, harum-scarum action, with pitfalls, booby traps, and skin of our teeth escapes. Therefore, the demands of the narrative absolutely require that Anakin pilot a disintegrating juggernaut all the way to the surface, that he dive his starfighter through the closing shutters with inches to spare, that he be subjected to much humorous elevator travail. Lighten up fanboy, it’s only a movie!

Sorry. That is not the fanboy way. Would you really have this or any other movie be immune to criticism? Of course not.

Leaving the trivial criticisms behind us for a moment, I have a more sensible objection to this kind of thing. If a movie is trying to produce a given effect on its audience, perhaps to sweep them up in a grand tide of emotion, it would seem prudent for it to avoid distracting them at crucial dramatic moments with annoying incongruities. The audience shouldn’t start questioning things too much, so the movie should avoid giving them things to question. For me, the auto-destructing civil engineering was a real mood breaker.

In fact, the whole idea of auto-destruct in general has always struck me as an iffy proposition. Why would you even want it? It’s just one more thing to go wrong.

Now if you had been raised in the Federation, where auto-destruct sequences seem to be a way of life, you might be able to explain the value to me. Federation kids grow up around auto-destruct mechanisms, so naturally they respect them and handle them properly. A Federation kid will commonly have an auto-destruct on his first tricycle. It's not unusual to see rural children toting surplus auto-destructs out to the woods to hunt squirrels with.

For that matter, if anyone remembers "Forbidden Planet" there's a planetary auto-destruct located in the Krell Machine control center. It looked very much like a bicycle pump. Now why would they have put that there?
It was in plain sight, without even a guard rail. Auto-destructs. Ha!

You know, I wanted to go along with The Lucas's promptings, but I just spun out and lost momentum. Why aren’t Obi-wan and Anakin being toasted by the lava’s heat? Why do those little floaty-droids have such dinky lava-buckets? Why doesn’t Obi-wan do the right thing, the merciful thing, and finish Anakin off?

Well, it had to be that way. There’s that next trilogy to keep in mind.

Others may have their own hot-buttons. Fine, it’s a big tent. How about an illicit love affair, carried out in a transparent penthouse apartment? An apartment surrounded by, I don’t know, maybe a million windows? Ah, but maybe it was tunable one-way glass. Space glass.

Okay. I can’t prove it isn’t. But what about Padme’s terrace? The Republic can build flying surveillance droids smaller than a basketball, but nobody seems to give that fact a second thought. I guess they’re illegal or something.

My mother once told me that it isn’t so much the big, expensive mistakes that kill a marriage. Those are usually forgiven (even if never forgotten). No, she said it’s all the little stupid mistakes, piling up day by day.

I want a divorce.

posted by Justin at 01:16 AM | Comments (9)

Sympathetic thoughts

The sculpture above (with its glaringly empty eye socket) reminded me that yesterday, just as I was brushing up on sympathetic ophthalmia, I checked my yahoo email, and a reader sent me a biographical essay mentioning the visual problems of Paul Linebarger, aka Cordwainer Smith:

Linebarger was reared in a High Church Episcopalian family. Alan C. Elms's sketch of the older Linebargers does not lead one to believe either was particularly devout. Paul's father was evidently rather overbearing and placed many demands on his son. His mother was apparently rather self-centered and controlling. At the age of six, young Paul was blinded in his left eye as a result of an accident while playing, and the resulting infection damaged his right eye as well, causing him distress throughout his entire life. A sensitive, introspective, and apparently rather lonely and sickly youth, Paul Linebarger was to develop into a remarkable scholar, thinker, and writer.
That looks like a classic case of sympathetic ophthalmia, which isn't really an infection, but a poorly understood immune reaction:
Sympathetic ophthalmia is a potentially blinding, immune-mediated, inflammatory condition, which usually follows severe trauma to one eye. It is the fellow to the injured eye (the sympathizing eye) that is affected by the disorder, and the risk of the condition is approximately one in 500 severely traumatized eyes. The traumatic ocular event must be a penetrating or rupturing injury of the eye, typically involving a large laceration, which involves the region of the ciliary body of the eye. The immune system is then exposed to antigens in the eye, which had never previously been "seen," and subsequently mounts an inflammatory response to the fellow of the injured eye. The immune-mediated attack on the fellow eye may be relentlessly progressive, despite all attempts at control, with eventual complete vision loss.
Which means that often for the sake of the good eye, the bad eye has to go. (The procedure is called enucleation -- not to be confused with this kind of enucleation.) Leave in one lost eye, and you can lose both.

It just never struck me as fair that a blind eye could lead a good eye to ruin, but I guess I shouldn't confuse value judgments with human physiology.

The result might be the "visualization" of values.

MORE: Here's Paul Linebarger/Cordwainer Smith on truth:

Propaganda vs. Truth. How can I tell the apart? The answer is simple: If you agree with it, it is the truth. If you don't agree, it's propaganda.
OK then?

posted by Eric at 09:24 PM | Comments (2)

Expanding the war on terror to Star Wars?

Does the war on terror now include a federal war on unlawful Star Wars downloads?

United States law enforcement agents raided a series of servers allegedly hosting file-sharing servers. Operation D-Elite targeted sites supporting files using the BitTorrent protocol, focusing especially on the EliteTtorrents site. "Torrents" make files available in many small sections, which increases uploading and downloading speeds.

The action follows a well-publicized complaint by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who criticized the wide availability of torrent versions of the new Star Wars movie.

According to Wired News, the Department of Homeland Security was the force behind the copyright raids:
ICE, the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, spearheaded the investigation because of its international scope.

The raids came less than a week after the Motion Picture Association of America publicly slammed BitTorrent for accelerating the spread of a pirated copy of Revenge of the Sith. According to the government, the third Star Wars prequel was available through Elitetorrents.org more than six hours before it was first shown in theaters, and was downloaded more than 10,000 times in the next 24 hours. A Google cache of the site's front page taken May 19, the day the film was released, shows administrators complaining that the site was creaking under the load of the sudden influx of Star Wars fans, and requesting donations to help fund a server upgrade.

Elitetorrents.org granted users varying levels of access depending on how much of their bandwidth they shared with other downloaders, with generous uploaders getting first crack at newly released content.

The Justice Department wouldn't comment on how officials zeroed in on Elitetorrent's biggest players, but ICE's Sevel credited the MPAA, which somehow got a line on the site's server logs.

"The MPAA provided us with information that led us to the logs and data for the servers ... the logs for the users as well as the uploads and downloads," said Sevel. The organization did not just provide a list of IP addresses of file swappers -- which is easy to get on any peer-to-peer network -- but found some of "the actual records from the server," Sevel said.

There's much more at BitTorrent News. And I really hope the hyperbolic rhetoric is just hyperbole, because despite my penchant for morbid sarcasm and sometimes bitter satire, I'm trying -- hard -- not to be an alarmist about this.

But I find myself forced to ask whether the federal government really believes such bullshit should be in any way a part of the war on terrorism.

I hope not, because I don't want to have to rethink my support for the war.

(No word on whether the Patriot Act might be applied.....)

MORE: It's worse than I thought. Via Glenn Reynolds, I found this trumped up nonsense on stilts, which would be comical except that certain poseurs are pretending to take it seriously:

Counterfeit DVDs and cigarettes may be funding terrorists.

That's what the Senate Homeland Security committee heard Wednesday from John Stedman, a lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department who's responsible for an eight-person team of intellectual property (IPR) investigators.

"Some associates of terrorist groups may be involved in IPR crime," Stedman said. "During the course of our investigations, we have encountered suspects who have shown great affinity for Hezbollah and its leadership."

Even though Stedman's evidence is circumstantial, his testimony comes as Congress is expected to consider new copyright legislation this year. An invocation of terrorism, the trump card of modern American politics, could ease the passage of the next major expansion of copyright powers.

Sheesh. I've seen plenty of political hackery, but none crasser than this.

Why be in such a frantic hurry to get rid of freedom, anyway?

(You'd almost think they were afraid that pretty soon there won't be any more!)

Today, DVDs and cigarettes.

If we're not careful, the supporters of Hezbollah will go into in the oil business!

posted by Eric at 12:02 PM | Comments (2)

Unburying more hate crimes

More hate crimes! And here's the proof:


If that's not hateful, I don't know what is. And for a city like San Francisco to allow hate crime like the above to go on is shocking!

While it remains to be determined what actual crime was committed, the victims clearly were selected because of their race and/or nationality:

SAN FRANCISCO - An exhibit showing Chinese bodies and organs is drawing protests from Chinese-Americans who say the display of corpses is offensive to their culture.

Fiona Ma, a Chinese-American San Francisco supervisor, said Friday she is working with city attorneys to draft legislation that will keep exhibits like "The Universe Within" out of the city unless organizers can verify the consent of people who donated the bodies or their families.

"Chinese culture has very strong beliefs about death," said Ma, who represents a heavily Chinese district. "Chinese people are very private and wouldn't want to have their bodies displayed for commercial purposes."

The "Universe Within" — now on display in San Francisco — is among a string of exhibits touring the country that have been wildly successful. The collection of bodies and organs was once used to instruct medical students in Beijing.

The corpses were preserved through "plastination," which replaces body fluids with liquid plastic. The plastic is hardened, leaving tissues intact. The bodies can then be displayed without formaldehyde or glass containers.

A recent visit showed bodies propped up like department store mannequins, and individual organs displayed with veins and capillaries intact.

Francisco Hsieh, a retired Chinese-American who visited the exhibit, is advising his friends and family to stay away.

"Chinese people want to keep their whole body when they pass away and no one would want their bodies displayed," he said. "I feel disgusted and terrible ... some parts look like cuts of meat."

Ma is asking the district attorney's office to investigate the promoter, Gerhard Perner of Austria. The city's Department of Public Health also is investigating.

Chinese corpses, of course, were selected deliberately by the plastinators. As I pointed out before, human remains for sale these days are of Chinese origin.

It is a hate crime if the perpetrator "intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person." While I'll leave it to better minds than my own whether a corpse could be considered a "person," [or whether death is a form of, um, disability] a corpse is certainly property! And in the event that any crime is found to have been committed with that property, it's certainly because of the race and national origin -- for the simple reason that only China allows easy trafficking in human remains. It's simple logic, really. If trafficking in live humans because of their race and national origin is hate crime, then so is trafficking in their remains.

All that needs to be shown is that some kind of crime occurred. In San Francisco, they're looking into public health violations.

Archaeologists should think twice before digging! And so should purchasers of ethnic artifacts.

Illegal purchasers of Indian arrowheads beware!

posted by Eric at 10:28 AM | Comments (5)

Fear of hatred? Or hatred of fear?

I was talking about hate crimes so much that I never stopped to ask some basic questions.

What is hate?

Is hate just another loaded term, or does it mean something? I always thought of hate as an emotion. The opposite of love, perhaps. Something that makes you lose control.

When I was in law school I learned that crimes of passion are treated differently than crimes not involving passion. If, for example, a man discovers his wife in bed with another man, is overcome by passion and shoots the guy, the heat of passion involved normally reduces the murderer's culpability, so that instead of first degree murder, he's only guilty of second degree murder (or even manslaughter).

But let's say the same man never experienced marital infidelity, but merely tires of his wife. After reflecting on the matter, he decides he'd be better off with the proceeds of her life insurance policy than the wife, so he poisons her.

There's no heat of passion, no sudden quarrel, no hate of any kind.

The law recognizes that as the worst kind of murder: first degree murder, with premeditation and deliberation.

So what is it about hate that has made it suddenly become transformed into a more, not less, criminally culpable mental state than being possessed of a clear, reflective, sober, rational mind?

Might it be that "hate crime" isn't the correct phrase to be used in describing crimes motivated by racial prejudice? Let's look at hate crime in the context I mentioned. Suppose a white man had an absolute, irrational, blinding hatred of race mixing, and that this was driven by the sexual aspects of his hatred.

There's the well known phenomenon of sexual racism -- people unable to have sex with anyone except members of certain races.

It's racially prejudiced to rule out someone for a job based on their race or to keep them out of a pub. Ruling out someone as a potential partner based on their race is just as prejudiced.
Hmmmm..... What about ruling out someone based on that person's sex?

(Nah! Sexual sexism is off limits, and will remain that way! Achtung baby!)

Let's return to hard facts of life. I once knew a white man who not only was turned off sexually by other races, but he claimed to be unable to have sex even with white women if he discovered they'd ever had sex with members of other races. (In my unprofessional opinion, that's true sexual pathology!) But let's suppose a guy like that found his wife in bed with a black man, went absolutely berserk, and shot the black man to death. Absent any racial prejudice, such a killing would traditionally be seen as second degree murder, but now the added factor of uncontrollability (assuming the passion involves racism) adds to the guilt. Presumably hate is to be more severely punished than cold, emotionless states. Assuming that the hate means less control, and not more control, how much judicial sense does this make?

And what about fear? Is that the same thing as hate? If crime is motivated by fear, from where do we obtain the supreme confidence of knowing that this is a thing which should add to criminal culpability? Suppose a man (or a woman) was raped as a child, and as a result of the rape develops lifelong fears manifesting themselves against sexual offenders. If he lashes out against a child molester, is this a hate crime? Is the sexual attraction to children a form of sexual orientation? If the relevant hate crime statute includes "sexual orientation" on its list, then why wouldn't the deliberate murder of a child molester be a hate crime? Shouldn't the protected sexual orientations be listed? Not that I'm advocating the murder of child molesters or rapists, but are these hate crimes? Or does hatred based on sexual orientation necessarily involve only some sexual orientations? While the statutory language is very general, and most likely is intended to give protection to homosexuals only, laws invite this sort of technical squabbling.

Parenthetically, I'm wondering whether a nexus of fear and hate can be found in the term "homophobia." In the normal usage of that word, fear and hate are all but synonymous; those who hate homosexuals are said to be afraid of them.

What if fear is at the root of the kind of crime which is being punished here? Should prejudice crimes properly be called "fear crimes?" Some yes; some no. I think there is such a thing as calm, calculating, cold-blooded hatred. Maybe that's what the laws aim to punish.

But that still begs the question of what is hate, and I'm afraid I haven't answered it at all.

Here's Dean Esmay:

....Hate is a healthy emotion. An utterly appropriate emotion, in fact, so long as, like all other emotions, it is kept in its place.

Indeed, I go further: if you cannot hate, then there is something fundamentally wrong with you. If you tell me that you cannot or will not feel hatred, then there are only two possibilities: you are either a liar, or there is something dark and twisted about your soul.

.....if you cannot or will not ever feel hate, then I assert that, ultimately, you are perverse. Because hate is an entirely normal, entirely healthy emotion. When, like all other powerful emotions, it is kept in its appropriate time and place.

Dean is right. Hate is so normal that it is abnormal not to hate.

I can't shake this feeling I have that hate is not a thing decided, any more than people decide to love. Hate is very, very tough to define. There isn't agreement on whether it is good or bad, much less what things or people should be hated, or who should get to decide these things. That's why I think making hate a target for legislative regulation will ultimately create more problems than it will solve.

A race-based society full of the hate that dare not speak its name?

MORE: Since I so love hypotheticals, here are a few more:

  • A man convinced that his daughter was brainwashed by cultists (and who therefore believes Scientologists and Moonies are evil incarnate) overturns recruiting tables belonging to both the Church of Scientology and the Unification Church, and defaces their literature.
  • A gay man who hates the Westboro Baptist Church for its crude misinterpretation of Leviticus 18:22 hacks into the GodHatesFags.com web site, and causes property damage.
  • A fundamentalist Christian interprets certain passages in the Koran (which read "kill them wherever you find them") as proof that Islam is evil, then goes on a rampage of vandalizing mosques.
  • Hacking and vandalism? Or hate crimes?

    MORE: The best working definition of hate crime I can come up with is found in Section 280003 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

    a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.
    These two pending bills would make all crimes falling into the above definition federal crimes.

    UPDATE: Here's a New York Times report about a bank executive who allegedly jumped naked from the bushes along a New Jersey nature trail and exposed himself to a woman.

    If it is determined that the banker "intentionally select[ed] [the] victim because of the actual or perceived .... gender," (i.e., he wouldn't have done this to a man) then under the statute, it's a hate crime!

    Am I alone in thinking this a bit ridiculous?

    posted by Eric at 01:04 PM | Comments (4)

    Starfleet Engineers? On Mustafar? Woooo!

    Did Starfleet tender the low bid, or what?

    Given that we're talking about a lava refinery (or whatever) that is probably worth millions, you would think a smidgen of redundancy would be built into the system, right?

    So we're supposed to just accept that a single swipe with a light-saber through a single console will cause a massive girder array to hoot like a herd of wounded Mûmakil and trundle itself into the lava?

    And naturally, the room containing such vital equipment is used to warehouse a gang of corrupt politicos. "What does this switch do, Nute?"

    Have these people never heard of detents? Emergency power cutouts? FUSE BOXES?

    Yeah, right.

    Of course, the rot only went deeper with time. How else to acount for the loss of "Executor" at the Battle of Endor?

    A single A-wing snubship hit the bridge and the entire ship was destroyed.

    The ship was twelve point eight kilometers long and they couldn't find room for an auxiliary bridge. Some design philosophy.

    I guess we know where Leah Brahms ended up.

    posted by Justin at 11:31 AM | Comments (3)

    Appearance of access

    Here's something for all you manhole cover lovers (and I know you're out there, because if you can think of it, it's out there somewhere):


    That's from this vast collection of Japanese manhole covers.

    I love the idea of making even such a mundane thing as a manhole cover an object of beauty. The Berkeley City Council never cared much about the appearance of their manhole covers; instead what they did was argue over the appearance of language (what the manhole covers should be called). The arguments went on and on, and finally they began to realize that "personhole cover" had an even dirtier sound to it:

    "[Personhole] is not an acceptable de-sexed word."
    --Shirley Dean, councilperson from the Berkeley, (California) City Council, explaining why the Council changed the wording in a sewer equipment request back to manhole cover
    I prefer the way the Japanese deal with appearances.

    posted by Eric at 08:35 AM | Comments (2)

    Some Fellow Optimists

    If you read Winds Of Change regularly, you may have come across the work of John Atkinson. He's the fellow who compiles their monthly feature "New Energy Currents"and he makes a pretty good job of it too. I haven't missed one since he started them and they have never yet failed to put me on the trail of an unexpected and pleasing development.

    This latest effort is no exception. It's a real grab bag, so I can't give you an exhaustive recap, but a couple of my personal favorites involve sun and wave power.

    Nanosolar is hinting that their printable plastic solar cells will be ready for deployment within the year. Mr. Atkinson provides a link to Monkeysign, who was justifiably sceptical of some of the figures he's seen quoted, primarily because they don't account for balance-of-system costs. It's a good thing to be wary of outrageous claims.

    On the other hand, I find myself agreeing with a comment by Engineer-Poet.

    I think this is only a small issue in the long run. NanoSolar may indeed be blowing smoke, but there are so many developments along so many avenues (semiconductor nanoparticles with conversion efficiencies up to 60%, to name just one) that something is certain to lead to a breakthrough.

    To borrow a term Virginia Postrel is fond of, there is a plenitude of fascinating research going on behind our backs. Our boffins are plumbing the depths of natural arcana with a subtlety and craft that must surely astonish the receptive observer. One would hope so, anyway.

    But I digress. Returning to our narrative thread, we find a putative nanosolar VIP leaving a comment at Monkeysign.

    Hi there -- thanks for your interest in what we're up to at Nanosolar. We very much share your passion about this topic and surely wish we could tell you all right now. But I obviously cannot preannounce our product/technology/solution here. Still here's a few hints: - The balance-of-system argument made above is a popular one. But one that turns out to be wrong too. Or said differently: There's more innovation than you assume. - We've heard "impossible" so many times from so many people -- fortunately often only after we made it happen already. - Solar electricity will be dirt cheap, yes. Soon. Very real. And when we launch the product, you're going to read about it in the WSJ.

    Good news, if true. I'll strive earnestly to hold my enthusiasm in check. More on this here and here.

    Now for those waves...

    UK company Ocean Power Delivery has signed a contract to build the world's first commercial wave energy project off the coast of Portugal. The project will begin with a 3-machine, 2.25 MW capacity test installation that, if successful, will be followed by the addition of 30 more machines with 20 MW capacity by the end of 2006.

    Huh. They all look so happy and Scottish don't they? Let's see what the dour Northland is up to...

    A Norwegian company has developed a new wave energy device called the Seawave Slot Cone Generator (SSG). Details are sketchy on both, but there's certainly a lot of technical innovation going on in this relatively young field.
    This energy concept is based on storing potential energy of the incoming waves in several reservoirs placed one above the other. The incoming wave will run up a slope, and on its return it will flow into the reservoirs. After the wave is captured inside the reservoirs, the water will run through the multi stage turbine.

    The multi-stage turbine has the advantage of using different heights of waterfall on a common turbine wheel.

    This technology will prevent any start/stop sequence on the turbine even if only one reservoir is supplying water to the turbine. From tests carried out by this company, a 500m long full scale SSG construction along a coastline with a 15kW/m wave climate will be able to produce 18 GWh/year. And this without any plume of smoke in sight.

    Let's give thanks for our enthusiasts. We have them here in America too. Check out the permanent magnet linear generator buoy.

    An electric coil surrounds a magnetic shaft inside the buoy, and while the coil is secured directly to the buoy, the magnetic shaft is anchored to the sea floor. When waves cause the coil to move up and down relative to the fixed magnetic shaft, voltage is induced and electricity is generated. Each buoy could potentially produce 250 kilowatts of power, and the technology can be scaled up or down to suit a variety of energy needs...

    Mr. Atkinson is a credit to the Winds of Change team, as are so many others. Yesterday was his one year blogiversary, so mosey on over and check out his place. There's much more than tech there.

    If you can spare the time, here's a bit of Kunstler bashing from another Winds of Change contributor, Cicero.

    Mr. Kunstler leaves out human ingenuity in his dire predictions. He discounts how well Americans respond to crisis and change when confronted with it. Crises are history's great motivators, forcing humanity to adapt and leap forward. Modern technology, such as it is, has convinced me of one thing: Anything's possible. We shouldn't be so smug as to presume we can predict the future in this era.

    Precisely my own thoughts. Thank you. They're echoed (to a degree) over at Peak Oil Optimist. I very much enjoyed his post on Peter Gordon. The Optimist refers to Kunstler as his bête noir and links to this article, which contains the following Gordon quote about Kunstler and the New Urbanism.

    "This Doomsday stuff is always wrong...People who are ignorant of the previous track record of Doomsday forecasts blithely go on making them, which is fine. But it's when they prescribe harsh measures for the rest of us to live by that we ought to take serious notice."

    Gordon says the New Urbanist model of living has one crucial flaw: People actually like suburbs.

    "What I define as a livable city is where real people are choosing to go. That's the only way I can define it...That may not jibe with the image of what's livable to certain writers..."

    Peak Oil Optimist has a couple of other posts that are well worth a fellow optimist's while.

    First up is a new (to me) mode of electrical power storage that might someday be useful for load leveling and off-grid power storage. For some commercial applications it's useful today. It uses an electrolyte of sulphuric acid and emulsified vanadium, generating electricity (and recharging the electrolyte) with a proton exchange membrane. The system is sealed (no effluent), and the electrolyte is re-usable more or less indefinitely.

    Very sweet. It would be nicer if it cost less. Wouldn't everything?

    Also available is this post on latter day ocean thermal power in Hawaii, linking back to an article in Wired.

    I've never really thought OTEC was a realistic primary power source, but if you check out the project website, you'll find that power is almost an afterthought.

    ... the initial site-specific developments of CHC have been focussed on an integrated deep ocean water system...of which electricity is only a small part.

    This facility now demonstrates air conditioning, industrial cooling, agriculture, and desalinization. A vineyard and a chill house are now under construction and an aquaculture facility will soon be initiated...all of the components of any possible Cold Ocean Water system that CHC is advocating can be examined at...NELHA or at the CHC demonstration facility.

    These include the commercial production of spirulina, lobster, various sea "vegetables", shrimp, shell fish, flounder, a cold bed aquaculture garden, the "hurricane tower" for desalinization, industrial cooling and air conditioning, etc.

    From the Wired article...

    Running the frigid pipes through heat exchangers produces unlimited air-conditioning that costs almost nothing. Draining their sweat yields an endless supply of freshwater for drinking and irrigation. The cold water also creates a temperature difference between root and fruit that Craven believes speeds growth. And by turning the flow on and off, Craven has found he can further accelerate the plants' growth cycle by forcing them in and out of dormancy - he can get three crops of grapes a year and pineapples in eight months instead of the usual 18...

    "What the world doesn't understand," says Craven... "is that what we don't have enough of is cold, not heat."

    Fascinating stuff.

    A thermal gradient between root and fruit is produced which pumps nutrients into the plant at a rate which is perhaps three times greater than that produced by nature in spring or fall. Although the experimental scale of operations has not permitted quantification of the cost of this form of agriculture, the cost of water for the half acre demonstration farm is negligible.

    Amortized costs for deep ocean water will run about 10 cents for 1000 gallons. This compares with about $1.00 per 1000 gallons in dry climate areas. Of greater significance is the fact that once chilled the ground loses very little heat and the water flow required to maintain this temperature is consequently small.

    More than 100 fruits, vegetables and herbs have been tested in the CHC garden. All have rapid growth, high yield with high sugar and aromatic content. One ought not make any decisions with respect to the value of this subsystem without a visit to the CHC garden. Although much evidence appears on the CHC web, the description of the nature of this agriculture tests credulity unless a site visit is made.

    This Craven guy reminds me somewhat of my dad. Just another retired navy guy, pottering happily about in his garden. Also, they have the same regrettable taste in poetry. Lucky is the man who can retire as a mad scientist in Hawaii.

    I honestly don't think this technology is going to save the world. I never have. The notion of sipping electrons out of the oceanic thermal gradient always seemed impractical to me. Just as well then that it won't have to, that we have better options available. However, for certain limited applications it looks promising. And fun.

    Not to beat the subject to death, but there is a vast number of passionately engaged enthusiasts in the world, beavering away at a remarkable assortment of pet projects. This profusion of hopeful creation that we see around us is one of the main reasons I find the Kunstlers, Ehrlichs, and Rifkins of the world so distastefully misguided.

    Whether it's flying cars, or salt water farming, or electronic retinas specifically, isn't so very important, its the sheer relentless amount of originality that clinches the argument. Our "fragile" civilization is an adaptive system, to a degree unknown and unachievable by any precursor culture of which I am aware. We really are living in a golden age.

    Of course, it could be better.

    Last on my itinerary today is a former fan of hydrogen powered cars. Like so many others, he thought they made good sense in terms of cleanliness and renewability, but no longer. These days, he favors a more exotic auto fuel.

    He thinks we should be burning boron. And he makes a great case for it.

    The case for boron as fuel begins with a safety advantage. Although very combustible, it also is very hard to light. Spools of boron fibre like those shown could not be lit even if a loose end were attacked with a blowtorch. Not in air.

    Risk reduction through the use of this fuel that won't burn can be realized if combustors provide an unearthly environment where it will: pure oxygen, high pressure. Hard though this may be, it will yield other benefits.

    In a four-mile, sub-four-minute dash a hydrocarbon car might produce 1.43 kg of carbon dioxide. That's most of a cubic metre, enough to make many cubic metres of air unbreathable. But if it could be reduced in volume a thousandfold, and made to cohere in a lump that wouldn't stale any air, it might begin to resemble the equivalent shown here: 1.25 kg of boria. This 184 mm piece of glass is near in size and mass to an Olympic women's discus...

    Ash in boron cars would start out as similarly lustrous, transparent ingots. They wouldn't be thrown anywhere, rather, they would go back to nuclear or solar power plants to be de-burnt. "Boron Decombustion" proposes a thermal method. The boron would be sent forth to be fuel again...

    What is unusual, and helps make this alternative fuel truly an alternative with a difference, is its high energy density, per pound and especially per gallon. A chamber for it plus a bin for all the glass ingots it will become would together be not much larger than the liquid hydrocarbon tank they replace. Sections "Boron the Dense" and "If a Car Retains All Its Ash" give comparative data.

    A compact energy reservoir should mean plenty of range. Release of the energy in a hot flame at high pressure should mean good ratios of power to mass in boron motors, and quickness in boron cars. People who read about global warming will want them, but so will people who don't read the papers at all. Voluntary customers will line up around the block.

    Hmmm. No Effluent. Total Enclosure.

    My uninformed intuition tells me that it's too radical a shift for society to buy into. Too much change is required, too quickly. Still, it's fun to think about. I would bet that if we don't end up burning boron, it will be because we found something else that's as good or better. Someday.

    posted by Justin at 10:39 PM | Comments (3)

    Political Humor

    From the pages of Mossback Culture comes this must see piece of visual persuasion.

    Please press here. Do it now.

    Personally, I'm not too keen on either side.

    It is kind of funny though.

    This bit from Tom McClintock is good too...

    Across California, children are bringing home notes warning of dire consequences if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's scorched-earth budget is approved -- a budget that slashes Proposition 98 public-school spending from $42.2 billion this year all the way down to $44.7 billion next year...

    The governor proposed spending $10,084 per student from all sources. Devoting all of this money to the classroom would require turning tens of thousands of school bureaucrats, consultants, advisers and specialists onto the streets with no means of support or marketable job skills, something that no enlightened social democracy should allow.

    So I will begin by excluding from this discussion the entire budget of the State Department of Education...I also propose setting aside $3 billion to pay an additional 30,000 school bureaucrats $100,000 per year...

    This leaves a mere $6,937 per student, which, for the duration of the funding crisis, I propose devoting to the classroom.

    To illustrate how we might scrape by at this subsistence level, let's use a hypothetical school of 180 students with only $1.2 million to get through the year.

    We have all seen the pictures of filthy bathrooms, leaky roofs, peeling paint and crumbling plaster to which our children have been condemned. I propose that we rescue them from this squalor by leasing out luxury commercial office space. Our school will need 4,800 square feet for five classrooms (the sixth class is gym). At $33 per foot, an annual lease will cost $158,400.

    This will provide executive washrooms, around-the-clock janitorial service, wall-to-wall carpeting, utilities and music in the elevators. We'll also need new desks to preserve the professional ambience.

    Next, we'll need to hire five teachers, but not just any teachers. I propose hiring only associate professors from the California State University at their level of pay...

    Since our conventional gym classes haven't stemmed the childhood obesity epidemic, I propose replacing them with an annual membership at a private health club for $39.95 per month...

    Our bare-bones budget comes to this...

    Read the whole thing. It would be funnier if it weren't true.

    posted by Justin at 05:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Knives cause crime.... (And hate?)

    For many years I have heard Second Amendment supporters ridicule gun control opponents by calling for kitchen knife control -- a concept so absurd on its face that the analogy should send liberal gun grabbers scurrying back to the drawing board.

    I now see that in England (which has had total gun control for years), they did scurry back to the drawing board, and are now demanding knife control:

    A&E doctors are calling for a ban on long pointed kitchen knives to reduce deaths from stabbing.

    A team from West Middlesex University Hospital said violent crime is on the increase - and kitchen knives are used in as many as half of all stabbings.

    They argued many assaults are committed impulsively, prompted by alcohol and drugs, and a kitchen knife often makes an all too available weapon.

    The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

    The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all.

    They consulted 10 top chefs from around the UK, and found such knives have little practical value in the kitchen.

    None of the chefs felt such knives were essential, since the point of a short blade was just as useful when a sharp end was needed.

    The researchers said a short pointed knife may cause a substantial superficial wound if used in an assault - but is unlikely to penetrate to inner organs.

    In contrast, a pointed long blade pierces the body like "cutting into a ripe melon".

    The use of knives is particularly worrying amongst adolescents, say the researchers, reporting that 24% of 16-year-olds have been shown to carry weapons, primarily knives.

    The study found links between easy access to domestic knives and violent assault are long established.

    Notice that test of need for knives is measured by "practical value in the kitchen" and nowhere is self defense mentioned. In this country the expression "legitimate sporting need" is often kicked around.

    Well, just as I don't hunt with my guns (or hunt at all, for that matter), I don't need my so-called "sporting" or "hunting" knives to cut up meat or skin carcasses. These are all legitimate tools for self defense, and the call for knife control highlights that the real agenda is an anti-self defense one.

    Self defense is all but illegal in Britain, and many people want it to be illegal here.

    Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if the knife control advocates in Britain called self defense a form of hate crime.

    MORE: Actually, self defense might easily be construed as a hate crime were prosecutors able to show that the defender was racially prejudiced. La Shawn Barber analyzes the recent case of a Laotian who hated white hunters and killed several of them:

    Chai Vang, a Hmong immigrant (who’s actually an American) is accused of shooting eight people and killing six of them. He claims he shot the white people because they called him bad names and fired a shot at him, but the two survivors of the slaughter said Vang shot first. And get this: four of the people he murdered were shot in the back. One was shot four times in the back. Vang was trespassing, hunting on someone else’s property, and he’d been warned before by these same hunters. Vang also has a history of trespassing on private property and getting into “confrontations” with other hunters.

    Let’s see. A so-called hate crime is one motivated by someone’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender, age, blah, blah, blah. Based on all the stories I’ve read about this massacre, it looks and smells like a hate crime, given the fact that all the victims were white and Vang may have expressed hatred of whites. If so, will the prosecutor charge him with a hate crime?

    Suppose a white hunter with a history of hating Asians had shot Chai Vang? Should a history of having bad thoughts cloud the right to self defense?

    posted by Eric at 09:17 AM | Comments (6)

    Unconsciously defensive?

    I'm in a quandary. I don't know whether blogging is interfering with my life or whether life is interfering with my blogging.

    The more I ponder this question, the more unanswerable it seems.

    I had a very unsettling dream about a blogger who because of an accident of birth, turned out to have two right hands (in addition to the left hand, of course). It sure as hell wasn't my fault, and I don't know why I would be blamed for noticing it in a dream. (Obviously, much is being concealed.)

    So I woke up and saw some architectural news:

    MIT assistant professor of architecture J. Meejin Yoon has designed a self-defense dress that mimics a porcupine, protecting its wearer from attacks and unwanted advances. The “quills” on the dress are stiff piano wires that are controlled by proximity sensors, although it’s not clear if they’re actually designed to stick into the attacker or just scare them off.
    Stiff piano wires controlled by proximity sensors?

    Why that sounds comforting, I'm not sure.

    I must have overlooked whatever I'm missing.

    posted by Eric at 08:33 AM | Comments (3)

    Art to die for?

    I've been incredibly busy and incredibly absent, both mentally and physically. Yesterday I accompanied guests to see the Dalí exhibit for the second time, which was good, because there's so much there I had to hurry through the last half of the exhibit the last time. I mean the first time, because the first time was the last time. (But now the second time is the last time.)

    A problem with analyzing Dalí is that anything he did can be made the subject of much conjecture and interpretation, none of which can be satisfactorily resolved. That's because the nature of surrealism is that the artist usually has at best only a fuzzy idea of what his art depicts, and the meanings are even less clear.

    You'd almost have to be a shrink. And as we all know, shrinks are notorious for being wrong. Interestingly, Dalí and Freud hooked up late in Freud's life. I think it's fair to say that Dalí was more fascinated with Freud than vice versa, as Freud was no fan of surrealism.

    Until (in 1938) he met Dalí:

    This fantastic meeting between Dali and Freud, which took place in London in 1938, was one of the most important in Dali’s life. Dali considered Freud one of the most vital influences in his life and on his art. The surrealist had considered Freud their patron saint. Dali had unsuccessfully tried to set up meetings with Freud in Vienna. In London, Dali was finally successful in arranging a meeting through the intervention of a mutual friend.

    Freud was always of the opinion that the surrealists were "complete fools." His taste was classical and Freud was not easily dissuaded from his opinions not to mention that he was very resistant to meet with a man he considered a "lunatic."

    The meeting was a significant one. Dali claimed that the founder of psychoanalysis, as a result of their encounter, was forced to reconsider his view of Surrealism. Freud wrote "that the young Spaniard with his fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery" did indeed change his view of modern art. Freud recognized in Dali a combination of passion and control, which he himself also possessed.

    What most fascinated me was Freud's statement (on display at the Museum) that while our reaction to classical art is to search for the emotional, our reaction to surreal art is to search for the rational.

    This can create problems when the surreal meets the political. Political surrealism is contradictory, because politics takes itself so seriously that surrealism is abhorrent. Manipulation of the emotions (by clever dissembling of the manipulation istelf!) is the stock in trade of politics. Surrealism, a direct nosedive into the emotions and the unconscious, would almost seem to be at war with politics. Yet the surrealist movement had a distinctly leftist bias, and Dalí was criticized for not leaning to the left. (Whether his leanings were genuinely towards fascism is much open to debate, although I think the inherently chaotic and uncontrollable nature of his art is at once anti-communist as well as anti-fascist.)

    Hunter Thompson warned of the danger of artists becoming involved with politics. And of course, we know that Hitler was an artist, although a rational one whose tastes in art were undoubtedly more in line with Freud's than Dalí's.

    One of the things I did yesterday was to attempt to unfocus my mind as I focused on one of Dalí's most controversial paintings -- The Enigma of Hitler.


    Here's the view of the Dali exhibit's curator:

    ASK: Would you say that The Enigma of Hitler is a political painting?

    MT: I would say that's probably one of the greatest damnations of fascism that I've ever seen. Hitler, if you notice in that painting – which of course the Surrealists interpreted as being, "Oh, he's glorifying Hitler" – is a scrap of a magazine...He's in the middle of a plate with boiled beans, and the plate is sort of circular, almost like he's being flushed down a toilet, and all around him are bats, images of Chamberlain's umbrella. It's gloomy, that room is incredibly gloomy. This is Dalí realizing that, unfortunately, what he was predicting in 1934 is actually happening. Hitler's going to invade Poland, he's going to take Czechoslovakia, and it's going to lead to a world war. And Dalí hated that because we also have this idea of artists being heroic like Hemingway, but Dalí was a coward. Dalí didn't want to fight. He really felt that European and, indeed, worldwide civilization would come to an end with a world war. He really thought that was Hitler's aim: to destroy everything and be killed with Wagner playing in the background. So I find that a very moving painting. I think it's the damnation not just of the Munich Pact, although that was clearly referred to in the telephone being disconnected, but also I think it's kind of about the end of his life as he knows it. In the next year, he's expelled from the surrealist group.

    The painting is gloomy and grim. Drab colors, and the focus is on Hitler's plate, which has only a few beans. It's being fed by bat drippings and by the broken telephone. Notice that the earpiece is shattered while stuff drips from the receiver and the cut cord. Clearly, there's talk, but no one is listening. Chamberlain's umbrella is both meaningless and devoid of substance. You can see through it. The dead branch is described as an olive branch. Peace is dead, Hitler is hungry. The bats of peace (dare I say "moonbats"?) are feeding him. Peace is dark, and war is inevitable.

    At least, that was my interpretation of it. I'm unable to discern any sympathy for Hitler, although I suppose that any attempt to understand him might be seen that way by Communist sympathizers. The latter often forget that the Communist strategy towards Hitler (aka the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) was even worse than appeasement; it bordered on an outright alliance, and mutual engulfing and devouring of helpless countries. At any rate, Communism is forgiven, and to dwell on its horrors risks a charge of redbaiting.

    I was also intrigued by the enigma of Dalí's last painting -- The Swallow's Tail (1983) -- in which I think the artist anticipates his own death:


    When he painted that, Dalí was 79, his wife Gala had died the year before, he'd been diagnosed with Parkinsonism, and he was to become seriously burned the next year in a fire in his home which some have called a suicide attempt. The painting's ostensible theme is catastrophe, and it is part of a series he did partly in homage to Rene Thom, the father of catastrophism:

    It studies and classifies phenomena characterized by sudden shifts in behavior arising from small changes in circumstances.

    Catastrophes are bifurcations between different equilibria, or fixed point attractors. Due to their restricted nature, catastrophes can be classified based on how many control parameters are being simulataneously varied. For example, if there are two controls, then one finds the most common type, called a "cusp" catastrophe. If, however, there are move than five controls, there is no classification.

    Thom's theories of course remain controversial, but the respected Economist concedes their possible ongoing value:
    Mr Thom's theory may have been treated unfairly. It was philosophical as much as mathematical. The theory continues to be cited occasionally in discussions of how catastrophes have suddenly intervened to reshape history. Mr Thom was keen to explain how the theory worked in the history of his own country. The French revolution was the big bang of catastrophe theory, he said, and its effects had not yet been exhausted.
    Dalí's Topological Abduction of Europe - Homage to Rene Thom, also painted in 1983, applies catastrophic theory to Europe, although again, it's tough to interpret. I'd hate to think Dalí was being prophetic again, but here it is:


    If Europe is cracked because of catastrophe, how and why? I guess this was left open to futuristic interpretations, but when was the future? I hope it's not now, as I'd avoid it like hell.

    Avoiding the future? That may be the real theme of Dalí's last painting. Notice that the edge of the canvas is dark, but there's a white sheet tacked over it.

    An obvious coverup? By death? Of hidden mysteries?

    The tacks are crudely obvious, and while neat mathematical chaos (a contradiction if ever there was one) overlays the sheet, there's no way to avoid the figure underneath. I can barely see the bent, frail, knee on the right which exists in so many of his paintings. Is the figure Dalí? Is it a butterfly? (The Swallowtail is a butterfly, and Dalí likens himself to a butterfly in this interview.) The butterfly is of course the end stage of life, as well as the beginning (assuming reproduction is that.)

    I think it's fair to conclude that for most of us, death is the ultimate catastrophe.

    Consider another painting done the same year, Pieta.


    I suspected the sheet was a shroud symbolizing death, but in my mind Pieta confirms it.

    Like Dalí, the future remains under a shroud.

    We'll never be able to pull it off.

    Not now.

    UPDATE: I found a picture of Dalí in his last years, posing in front of his last painting (The Swallow's Tail). What really stands out in this photo is not only Dalí's shround-like attire, but the apparent piercing of the shroud-like canvas. Because of the way the painting is cropped, it really looks as if the catastrophe graph has pierced it, (echoing Pieta again, I think), even though it's just painted on.


    Style meets and greets death?

    posted by Eric at 10:16 AM | Comments (5)

    Some illustrations of tyranny

    David Neiwert recently left a comment to a post I wrote last week, which touched on the hate crime issue. Because I try to at least make a stab at being fair (possibly a bad idea in blogging) and I'm afraid readers might miss it, I thought it should be addressed in a new post.

    Here's Mr. Neiwert's comment:

    The Supreme Court has always been quite clear in its rulings that hate-crimes laws do not violate the equal-protection clause of the Constitution.

    It's pretty clear why: The laws are written in a way that applies them across all sectors of society.

    To illustrate: The four chief categories of bias motivation listed under most hate-crimes laws are race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

    It doesn't take much to realize that these are universal categories: everyone has a race, an ethnicity, a religion, a sexual orientation.

    And indeed, if you check the FBI's annual hate-crime statistics, you will see that they are indeed generally applied evenly. Out of the 9,000 or so hate crimes reported every year, nearly 1,000 of them are anti-white hate crimes. Others include a large number of anti-Christian hate crimes, etc. The list goes on. The majority is protected by these laws just as assuredly as minorities.

    Raging Bee, you have a very solid handle on this issue. And you argue well too. Thank you.

    I disagree with David Neiwert about hate crimes (and also with his assessment of Raging Bee's argumentative style, for the latter is fond of putting words in my mouth and accusing me of dishonesty for not discussing what he wants discussed).

    I keep saying that I am not running a debate forum here, but people who enjoy debates (which they probably imagine that people "win") don't seem to hear me.

    And now I seem to be tasked (at their insistence) with arguing not with their position, but with that of the Supreme Court.

    This is really a bit much. At the risk of being redundant, I do not write this blog to engage in debate or to be told what I must write about (least of all by someone best known in the blogosphere for his repeated attempts to tar Glenn Reynolds with a charge of racism). I don't have to address anyone's opinion, answer any commenter, and I am not here to be "accountable" to anyone. Nor is there any rule which says I should. If people disagree, they can say so, and if they don't like me, they can go elsewhere. I'm not obligated to do anything, even write this blog. I just say what I think, and what I think is my opinion. My opinions are not altered because someone has an opinion to the contrary.

    I don't care whether the opinion to the contrary is held by a commenter, another blogger, or even the Supreme Court.

    What David Neiwert accomplished above, by reciting what the Supreme Court may have held (and I am not about to wade through their opinions) was to advance an argument to authority. It ignores the point I am trying to make, which is that I think hate crime laws are tyrannical, and violative of Americans' right to equal protection under the law. At the risk of stating the obvious, I already know that those in authority disagree with me about hate crime laws. Otherwise, how could there be hate crime laws? Telling me that they disagree with my position on hate crimes is about as relevant as telling me that Leon Kass or his Commission disagrees with me on longevity or stem cells. It's the sort of thing which might interest people who enjoy debating, but I find it a little tedious.

    Without getting into the endless nuances of the Supreme Court's holdings (which I have no intention of reading), I do think it's at least fair to point out why I don't attach much value to their interpretations of the Constitution. Time after time, the Supreme Court has upheld tyranny. Most people are familiar with the infamous Dred Scott decision, which upheld slavery laws, and held that the black man has no rights a white man must respect. There's Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld deliberate segregation in accommodation by race. Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the internment of Japanese Americans based on their race. Most recently, in McConnell v. FEC (the McCain-Feingold case), the court upheld restrictions on free speech which had been passed by Congress in direct contravention of the First Amendment.

    I recognize that the Supreme Court is an authority, and an authority with great power. But that no more makes them right than Leon Kass's position makes any of his opinions right.

    Interestingly enough, even Neiwert has acknowledged that the Supreme Court can be wrong. In an individual case, what does its wrongness depend on? Apparently, not the "authority" of the Supreme Court itself. The variable seems to be whether or not Mr. Neiwert (or others he thinks are right) agree with it. Such a factor might be persuasive to him and to those who agree with him, but to me it's superfluous.

    I'm sure that if Michelle Malkin (or someone taking a position in favor of internment) were to cite Korematsu in support of such a position, Mr. Neiwert would exclaim that the Supreme Court was wrong. That it reversed itself. Fine. I have just as much right to think the Supreme Court is wrong, and should reverse itself. For what it's worth, I think they were wrong in Korematsu, wrong in Dred Scott, wrong in Plessy, wrong about McCain Feingold, and wrong about hate crimes.

    Let me illustrate by simple example why I think hate crime laws are wrong. I can't think of a simpler example than one used by David Neiwert: a swastika painted on a synagogue. Neiwert scoffs at the idea that this is mere vandalism:

    Harsher sentences traditionally have been assigned to crimes committed with intentions and motivations considered more harmful to society at large.

    Now, you may ask, are hate crimes more harmful than the crimes for which, as the editorial points out, there are already laws on the books? Well, ask yourself this: Is a swastika painted on a synagogue the same thing as graffiti scrawled on a downtown wall? Is an assault in which the perpetrators sought out gay or black people to send a "message" the same thing as a bar fight?

    Are hate crimes truly different from their parallel crimes? Quantifiably and qualitatively, the answer is yes.

    First of all, common sense tells us that a swastika on a synagogue is not the same thing as graffiti scrawled on a downtown wall. Any judge who did not sentence the swastika painter to the maximum term would be derelict in his duty. But that is a sentencing consideration; it doesn't change the nature of the crime, which (fortunately) manifested itself as graffiti instead of violence. If the legislature made it a crime to paint a swastika on a synagogue (without the consent of the synagogue, of course), that law would not violate equal protection. But criminalizing conduct based on the political beliefs of the offender does. Let's assume the swastika was painted by a street anarchist or agent provocateur with a view towards turning people against each other, or a Communist hoping the swastika would be blamed on neo-Nazis. Would not the synagogue's congregation be just as terrorized and oppressed? Suppose it was a Muslim who believed passionately that Israel is the moral equivalent of Nazism. Should he be treated differently than another Muslim who believed Hitler and the Holocaust were right? And further, should these Muslims be treated any differently than a white American skinhead? For the life of me, I cannot understand why.

    In the absence of hate crime laws, these factors are sorted out by a judge as he decides what sentence to impose. Hate crime laws, though, would require an examination of the political views of the offender not in determining his sentence, but in determining his guilt. Politics becomes the basis of the offense. Thus, the anti-Nazi prankster would not be charged with a hate crime, while the skinhead would. I think they're both equally revolting and stupid, and equally offensive to the congregation so victimized.

    How about a swastika or "God hates Republicans" painted on a Republican Party office? Who is to say that wouldn't be just as upsetting to them as "God hates fags" painted on a lesbian gay center would be to the occupants of the latter? (For what it's worth, I happen to think the "God hates fags" people are so ridiculous that they are discrediting the cause of anti-gay bigotry, and I am not intimidated by that silly slogan in the least. Who the hell has a right to tell me that I am, or should be?)

    Suppose someone spray-painted a swastika on my house. Do I have to be Jewish in order to be a hate crime victim?

    And why should the criminal have to be in actual sympathy with Hitler, anyway? Might it not be at least as offensive for a swastika to be intended to falsely associate someone with Hitler as it would for the same swastika to be proclaiming the author's solidarity with Hitler?

    I think it is better to punish the crime, and not get into the politics behind it. To give another illustration, the ACLU defended the right of uniformed Nazis to march -- in full Nazi regalia, with Nazi flags, through the heavily Jewish retirement community of Skokie, Illinois. I would be willing to bet that some of the elderly Jews felt just as terrorized and oppressed as they would have felt had one of those same Nazis spray-painted a swastika on their synagogue. In fact, a good argument could be made that a uniformed marching group is far more oppressive than a lone coward wielding a spray can at night. Yet the elements considered off limits and irrelevant as protected free speech become an integral element of a new crime even though they are otherwise protected by the First Amendment? Am I alone in thinking this is an anomaly?

    In ordinary life, however, there just aren't that many Nazis. But there are plenty of people who hate other people for a wide variety of reasons, and who might be inclined to commit crimes. Why should only some of these offenses be treated hate crimes, but not others? Typical hate crime laws limit their use to crimes committed out of hatred for a race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender. But why stop there? Isn't it just as hateful to assault someone for being old as for being gay or for being a woman?

    In the recent movie Crash (discussed infra), a pair of carjackers targeted only members of the white race, yet this was portrayed sympathetically, as if it made them morally superior to criminals who'd just carjack anybody's vehicle. Despite my problems with the film's credibility, assume for the sake of argument that a criminal only preyed on white people because he didn't want to harm members of his own race. Is this a hate crime? The fact is, many criminals select only those they consider weak -- meaning less capable of defending themselves. Is this hatred? Suppose a big tough guy deliberately selected women because he was convinced they were "easy" targets. Does the picture change if he only selected homosexuals for the same reason?

    I think these laws invite institutionalized victimization, in which victims who can show they are "better" victims have a better chance at seeing their attackers punished. Old people and disabled people have to wait in line for now, as they just didn't make the grade.

    If that isn't discrimination, I don't know what is.

    And no! I am not advocating adding the elderly and the disabled to the hate crime laws. I just don't think creating new crimes based on which form of hate is deemed the most politically unpopular is good policy.

    MORE: A New York phenomenon called "Chink bashing" led to a savage and deadly beating, which (according to Andrew Popper) was not treated as hate crime.

    Apparently some victims of racist murder warrant more sympathy from the media than others. It is time that all victims of such vile hate crimes receive equal attention and that the evil hypocrisy of selective indignation is ended.
    It was a brutal murder, and (regardless of the minority-versus-minority aspects of the crime) it should have been treated as a brutal murder -- regardless of which minority might have more political clout.

    posted by Eric at 11:17 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (1)

    Pilots Of The Purple Twilight

    The Speculist has sometimes asked the question, “Where’s my flying car?” So has the Instapundit. What kind of a second-rate 21st century doesn’t even have flying cars? I can tell you what kind. One with diminished expectations.

    Certain grim, gray, cheerless souls would have us believe that Jetson-like mobility is a hubristic industrial-age fantasy, foredoomed to failure. I suppose that could be true, but it won’t be for lack of dogged tenacity on the part of our doughty inventors. They have a dream. And good for them, I say. Please, bring back the fun future, where sleek, sexy, energy-gobbling vehicles whiz around at anti-socially high velocities.

    By now, I imagine that most people have heard of the Moller Skycar. When people think “flying car”, a Moller 400 is a petty safe bet for what they’re imagining. It periodically surfaces in the mass media, makes a wee bit of a splash, then dives back into obscurity for another year or so, leaving only the bittersweet memory of a Sunday supplement. And it’s been doing it for years. I think it has an unfair public relations advantage simply because it looks so incredibly cool. It’s said to be almost ready for primetime. Well now, readiness isn’t necessarily the primary determinant of coolness.

    If it were, the Cartercopter would end up being cooler than the Skycar, and we all know that’s just not so. Never mind the fact that it actually, you know, flies (In fairness to Moller, I should point out that his vehicle has actually been airborne too).

    The Carter Gyrocopter is a little bit, um, ungainly looking. From its portly ovoid cabin to its awkward looking twin tail booms, it fairly radiates aggressive lack of style. It seems to be saying, “I’m all about function over form. Piss on your effete esthetics.”

    I love it. I also love that its inventors have big dreams. Quite big dreams, actually. Still, there’s no law of nature that says a gyrocopter has to look like a squatty little egg. These other fellows have produced designs for some very handsome (if derivative) craft.

    In “Barking Dogs”, I made a brief reference to an Israeli effort along these lines, the CityHawk. It bears a second look. Here too, we find a tubby, unassuming vehicle that just gets the job done. Nothing wrong with that. Its developer does have some grand hopes for his baby’s future, however. All the best to him.

    If all you want is some attractive pixels, check out Skyrider. Their prototype may not be as impressive as those of some other companies, but their promotional video is charming.

    The Kestrel Aerospace PAV has a bit more hardware to its name than Skyrider, but it still seems to be a mostly virtual craft. Nice lines, though. In fact, it’s beautiful. I would love to see one fly. Picture one with a black and gold wasp stripe customization. Just the thing to lighten your mood.

    For a look at some other flying car concepts (there are many), several of them fairly antique, check out the Roadable Times. It’s quiet, rainy day fun.

    Air car promoters aren’t the only folks who rely on their art departments. As has been pointed out before, the aerospace industry can produce wonderful concept art, but sometimes the actual vehicle never quite materializes.

    T/Space has some new artwork up. It depicts their latest notions for sensible shoes access to LEO. As described, the unlovely yet practical beast has one job and one job only. Carry four to six passengers safely to orbit, with the emphasis on safely. Cargo rides a different rail. T/Space is working with Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites, on the possibility of flying the first leg of the trip secured to the belly of a purpose built mother ship. Air launch would occur at 25,000 feet. Hat tip for this goes to the excellent RLV News feature at Hobbyspace.

    They note that Elon Musk’s new booster, the Falcon I is due for a hotfire pad test at Vandenburg AFB on the twenty seventh of May. If all goes well, Musk hopes eventually to see his boosters cut the cost of access to low earth orbit by ninety percent. He seems optimistic about his chances. So am I.

    RLV News also points us toward this fascinating story. Sometime in the next month, the Planetary Society hopes to launch an experimental light sail craft into Earth orbit. They then plan to mess around with it till they get the hang of maneuvering with sunlight. Beautiful. It should be a naked eye object, and you can bet that I’ll try to spot it. Visual acquisition data will be available here.
    The project website notes that science fiction writers anticipated this development by several decades, and mentions both Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson favorably as early purveyors of the idea.

    Before the great ships whispered between the stars by means of planoforming, people had to fly from star to star with immense sails - huge films assorted in space on long, rigid, coldproof rigging. A small spaceboat provided room for a sailor to handle the sails, check the course, and watch the passengers who were sealed, like knots in immense threads, in their little adiabatic [temperature-constant] pods which trailed behind the ship. The passengers knew nothing, except for going to sleep on Earth and waking up on a strange new world forty, fifty, or two hundred years later. This was a primitive way to do it. But it worked.

    That was their Smith quote. Next up is their Anderson.

    The sail now nearly bisected the sky, four and a half miles across. The foam-filled members that stiffened it were like Brobdingnagian spokes with its slow rotation. That disk massed close to two tons, and yet it was ghostly thin, a micron's breadth of aluminized polymer. . . . They cost money to build, out in free space, yet far less than a powered ship; for they required no engines, no crews, no fuel, simply a metal coating sputtered onto a sheet of carbon compounds, a configuration of sensors and automata, and a means to signal their whereabouts and their occasional needs. Those needs rarely amounted to more than repair of some mechanical malfunction.

    It’s a shame that they’re both gone now, but at least Arthur C. Clark has lived to see these pre-launch preparations. This development, along with the recent popularity of space elevators must be very gratifying for him.

    Dropping from the elevated and aerial to the mundane and marine, Eric’s hometown of Philadelphia has been selected as the American terminus for FastShip, Inc. Technology Review ran an article on fastships a few years ago, but I figured they had suffered the same ignominious fate as Cargolifter. Looks like I may have been mistaken. The basic idea is to redesign a cargo ship’s hull for high stability and low drag, then use massive gas turbine engines to blast that puppy along at over forty knots.

    That may have been incredibly cool back when they were building the Crystal Palace, but in today’s fast-paced world, so what? Is this really a big deal? Actually, assuming the market for it exits, it just might be. You’re dispatching ten thousand tons of cargo across the Atlantic by jet ship in just four days. Prince Albert would swell with pride.

    It’s a different metric for “fast” than what you would apply to a 747, and impressive in its own right. The airplane carries less than one hundredth of the cargo at twelve times the speed and (at a guess) charges 40 to 90 cents per ton-mile.

    On the other hand, a plain vanilla cargo ship averages two cents per ton-mile. If we unrealistically assume that all of that money goes for fuel, and allow a generously higher rate of five cents, then sending a ton of five dollar tee shirts weighing a pound apiece (hey, they’re extra dense weave) on the 5,000 mile voyage to Japan will set us back 250 dollars, 2.5 percent of the retail value.

    Has James Kunstler sat down and worked the numbers, do you think?

    At two cents per ton-mile, water-borne shipping is not at risk of extinction. And if fossil fuel prices should rise, they will rise for most modes of transport. Shipping will still be mega-cheap when compared to air, truck, and rail. FastShips are fuel hogs, relative to more conventional ships, so they might not fare too well in a future without cheap oil.

    On the other hand, they’re still way less expensive than air freight. They might snag all those air-borne customers whose cargo is only modestly time sensitive. The future, clouded it is.

    Basically, FastShip hopes to exploit the niche that lies between slow and cheap (ships) and fast and pricey (planes). They think there’s a market for a little more expensive but not quite so slow. Airship builders hope to use a similar strategy.

    I now have the answer to a question I asked in “Bigger Dirigible.” That question was “Whatever happened to the SkyCat airship project?”

    Apparently, it’s alive and well. And again, we see that the unsung heroes in the art department are holding up their end very nicely. Check out these big beauties. Aren’t they fine?

    Skycat is without a doubt the sleekest, baddest, coolest airship on the planet. Why? First of all, it looks good. The double wide proportioning reduces the unfortunate “flying whale” effect. The landing pontoons are helpful there, too. Second, because they actually went out and built it. Or at any rate, a working scale model that flew beautifully for the demonstration videos. Some giant airships never make it out of the art department. Not so, in this case.

    They plan on a modest beginning, but have high hopes. If reality conforms to their desires, they might eventually produce a transcontinental cargo hauler with a thousand ton payload and a four thousand mile range, traveling at over one hundred miles per hour, more than twice the speed of a FastShip.

    Niches again. Perhaps we should be asking where the flying cruise ships are.

    posted by Justin at 11:33 PM | Comments (3)

    Carrying the culture war too far?

    It just figures that not long after I stood up for the right of Americans to keep and bear prosthetic penises, the penis control people would provoke me by deliberately running this sexed-up story about a prosthetic penis which allegedly caused highway chaos.

    Suspicious package indeed: Device that forced I-75 and Daniels shut was a prosthetic penis

    The suspicious object that jammed traffic Monday on Interstate 75 and Daniels Parkway was not an explosive pipe bomb, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office -- it was a prosthetic penis..

    There's no word yet on whether the device — found on the side of Daniels under the northbound I-75 overpass — was designed to serve medical or recreational needs.

    A motorist called the Lee County Sheriff’s Office shortly after 3 p.m. about the suspicious package on the side of the road under the northbound Interstate 75 overpass.

    The cylinder was more than a foot long in a plastic bag and wrapped with duct tape. It looked like pipe bomb.

    Deputies arrived and alerted the bomb squad, which used a robot to disable the cylinder. The north- and southbound lanes of Intestate 75 were closed for about an hour between Alico Road and Colonial Boulevard. Traffic was blocked on Daniels Parkway at the overpass for an hour while the device was removed.

    A robot versus a penis?

    Can they be serious?

    As if it weren't bad enough that we are beaten down by the real culture war, now the penis control forces resort to using robots to wage war on fake penises in a grotesque sort of Culture War by proxy. Is this an appropriate use of our tax dollars?

    It makes sense, in an oddly symmetrical sort of way. If toy guns are more illegal than real guns, by the same perverse logic, a fake penis should be more illegal than a real one.

    It's getting tougher and tougher to avoid seeing life itself as satire.

    UPDATE: There's already blogospheric speculation that the prosthetic penis may have been a Whizzinator (subject of my previous post.) This looks more and more like a set up, so I'll say this: Wizzinators don't cause accidents! People, er, uh (Hmmmmm.......)

    Oh, forget it!

    posted by Eric at 06:21 PM | Comments (6)

    When they pry my DVD burner from my cold, dead fingers . . .

    Anyone remember the jack booted thugs of the ATF?

    The FBI's hostage rescue team (also known as the Hostage Roasting Team)?

    Well, move over for the newest bullies on the block. Get ready for Hollywood's finest -- the black-Kevlar-clad, deadly-as-Ninjas, MPAA!

    That stands for the Motion Picture Association of America, and no, I am serious.


    They're here, and they obviously want to draw fear! So get used to it! They're going to put an end to high tech pirates and Information Superhighwaymen!

    A picture is worth a thousand words, but here's the story:

    “We are rooting out these DVD thieves one by one and tracking their networks in order to shut down illegal DVD and CD pirate operations,” says Jim Spertus, an ex-assistant US attorney who's now one of the people who runs the MPAA’s US anti-piracy SWAT squad.
    We should all be feeling safer in the secure knowledge that Hollywood SWAT teams are on the job. As we all know, copyright infringement now ranks among the top threats to Homeland security, so it's high time we forgot about this national fetish for imaginary freedom and start tackling the problem. Civil liberties crackpots will just have to get over their hissy tantrum and face facts. Or else! Nervous nelly types with their quavering concerns about "freedom" must be made to realize that the pussyfooting around they propose has dire, real life consequences.

    Remember, the Copyright War affects everyone. You're either on the side of Hollywood's new heroes, or you're on the side of a dark, slippery slope which will download your soul directly to Hell.

    If we can prevent just one digital download, this war will have been worth it.

    Of course, some of the usual nattering nabobs of copyright nihilism will claim that there's been MPAA payola:

    ....on at least four occasions in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island, the task force officers arrested the vendors, confiscated the illegal movies and then allegedly received gratuities of several hundred dollars from the MPAA itself or its investigators" a source told the New York Post. The Motion Picture Association of America has strongly denied the allegations.
    Typical anti-Copyright enforcement smear! In fact, there's nothing new about allegations of Hollywood-style corruption. The tabloids are filled with such lies.

    The truth is, we will never have enough Hollywood SWAT teams.

    It's too late for anyone to just say no.

    UPDATE (05/29/05): According to this report, homeland security now includes federal raids for copyright violations!

    Does the federal government believe such bullshit is really part of the war on terrorism?

    I hope not, because I don't want to have to rethink my support for the war.

    posted by Eric at 01:20 PM | Comments (4)

    99 fires so far

    Be sure to check out the worst of the worst at this week's Bonfire of the Vanties. This week's host is Donna Barber, posting to the excellent blog Pajama Pundits.

    A few burnt offerings I yanked from the fire:

  • Susie's startling admission (on a White Trash Wednesday no less!) that she hadn't (gasp!) "wandered the blogroll for inspiration." Susie, there but for the grace of Blog go I!
  • Aaron is not looking to Arianna Huffington for inspiration; instead he's plugging Huffington's Toast. (I think I'll take a cue from Aaron.)
  • KADNINE has a real life horror story about what can happen if you answer the telephone. Life sometimes resembles horror movies in that we always end up doing things we all know we shouldn't do.
  • Please try not to miss the Bonfire, folks. It's one of the smaller carnivals, but one I really believe in because it affords an opportunity for bloggers to laugh at their own silliness and mistakes. When we start taking ourselves too seriously, we begin to resemble Those Who Take Themselves Too Seriously.

    No, seriously!

    posted by Eric at 12:37 PM | Comments (5)

    Saving a spammer? Are you kidding?

    I don't usually comment on spam, but this morning I received an unusual form of spam: an email complaining about a very typical form of spam which is probably familiar to most readers:

    Dear Mr. [Name Deleted],

    I am copying all of the parties, to whom you sent the attached e-mail. Over the past years, many Americans have been scammed via pleas such as this one. Someone like you gets an American to Nigeria, follows through with the transaction, and the American is arrested for money laundering, and has to pay more corrupt lawyers, and other officials to stay out of jail. What you are doing is highly immoral, and you know it. How dare you do it in the name of Christ! There is no such thing as free money. One must work for it in an honest way. I will be in prayer for your soul.


    The Reverend Doctor [Name Deleted]
    Well, I've seen spam in the name of Allah, spam in the name of Jesus, spam resorting to flattery, illness, spam claiming honesty, but this is the first time I've received a spam attacking spam.

    Or it it spam to complain about spam to all the people whose names were gleaned from the spammer's list? Most likely, the new spammer would disagree that this new unsolicited email constitutes spam, because no money is being solicited. Does that change anything? It's still an unwanted email, and I'd be willing to bet that some people would dislike it more than the original spam. Does that matter?

    Isn't it free speech?

    What bothers me about this is the supreme foolishness involved. It's one thing to take spam so seriously as to write to all the people on the spammer's email list. But actually praying for the soul of the spammer?

    What could be less important than the soul of a spammer?

    They belong in Hell, and I'll never be caught praying for them. Even if I did such a foolish thing, I'd keep it to myself.

    I'm not going to dignify the email and create more spam by answering it, nor will I use the reverend doctor's name. But why would anyone would do such a thing as pray for a spammer? I don't mean to attack anyone's religion, but is it reasonable of me to ask whether (assuming a belief in God), if you are going to bother God by invoking his name in prayer, it shouldn't be about important things? Spammers are simply criminals and con artists who do not mean what they say. Sure, spammers shouldn't invoke deities, but it's just the way they are. Insincere and dishonest, like millions of other crooks.

    I can't think of a group less deserving of prayer.

    But is praying for the spammer really the reverend doctor's point? I don't know, but I suspect that the spammer is only the ostensible audience, and that the intended audience consists of the people who were targeted by the original spam -- people who are now told that some eminently forgettable slimebag who harassed them deserves prayer because he invoked Jesus.

    Spam only begets spam. Without invoking the name of Jesus, isn't it enough?

    Continue reading "Saving a spammer? Are you kidding?"

    posted by Eric at 09:33 AM | Comments (3)

    Simple questions deserve simple answers

    A group called Reporters Without Borders asks Google a simple question:

    Following Google's announcement that it is to open an office in China, Reporters Without Borders has written to the company's two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, asking them for a clear response to the following question : "Will you agree to censor your search engine if asked to by Beijing ?"
    As the letter notes, there are warning signs that Google may be ready to capitulate to censorship forces:
    "Until recently, Google always refused to bend to the Chinese government's will in this respect. But recent decisions have led us to fear that your commitment to respect freedom of expression is giving way to commercial logic.

    "We were astonished to learn that you invested in July 2004 in a competing Chinese search engine, Baidu, which filters its search results. We find it hard to understand why you have become the partner of a website to which the authorities redirected your users in 2002, when Google was banned in China. We are even more disturbed by your agreement in November to withdraw news media considered "subversive" by Beijing from the Chinese version of your news search engine.

    "We simply ask you to reject self-censorship. If the Chinese authorities want to block access to certain websites, they must do it themselves. Indeed, they do block many sites. But we would find it extremely disturbing if you yourselves were to participate in the Chinese government's policy of suppressing press freedom. It is true that your main competitor in China, Yahoo !, bowed to China's demands in this respect. But we expect a more courageous stance from Google, which has displayed a determination to respect ethical principles since its creation.

    "Your company is sufficiently powerful to be able to impose certain conditions on the Chinese authorities. We therefore ask you to stand by your principles on free expression.

    I hope Google, will, in accordance with its stated tradition, refuse to cooperate in any way with government censorship. But I'm cynical, and doubtful.

    But there's something worse than Chinese government censorship, and that's United States government censorship. It is supposed to be against the most important principle upon which this country was founded, as embodied in the First Amendment.

    I don't know what part of the First Amendment the FEC, or Congress, or the President don't understand, but I refuse to acknowledge that the FEC has any jurisdiction over the blogosphere, and I don't care whether they imagine they do, or whether the Supreme Court says they do.

    I simply defy them. I will write whatever I want, whenever I want, and I will endorse or oppose any candidate I feel like endorsing or opposing, and while I haven't sought advertising, I'd accept accept any ad I felt like accepting from any person or organization who might be willing to run one. No matter how close it might be to the election. This blog is my free speech. I'll disclose whatever I want, whenever I want. If the government wants me to disclose anything else, I'll refuse to disclose it.

    McCain-Feingold is unconstitutional. Period.

    It's been almost two years since I warned about the regulation of bloggers under McCain-Feingold, and I don't feel any differently about the issue. The bastards simply don't have jurisdiction. While I'm not opposed to the idea of arguing with them as a tactic, I don't think it is wise to do so in such a way as to implicitly agree that they have (or ever would have) jurisdiction.

    If I as a blogger accepted or took advantage of a regulation purporting to "exempt" me from regulation, would I not be acknowledging the validity of regulation? Would this not be akin to countenancing the licensing of speech? I'm worried that it would. And were I to countenanced the licensing of speech, I'd certainly be in no position to criticize Google.

    The answer to censorship is simple.

    It's free speech.

    Notwithstanding my concerns, I have written to FEC Assistant General Counsel Brad C. Deutsch. My email is titled "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" because that's the language used by the FEC. Here's the text:

    Mr. Brad C. Deutsch
    Assistant General Counsel
    Federal Elections Commission

    Via email to mailto:internet@fec.gov

    Dear Mr. Deutsch:

    I have seen postings at various web sites informing me of the existence of some sort of June 3rd "deadline" for "public comment" on the FEC's proposed rulemaking regarding freedom of speech on the Internet. I am further advised that the FEC has not yet received nearly as many comments as expected, and that polite letters of comment should be written in the hope that online free speech might be somehow preserved. (It's also recommended that commenters refrain from abusive or insulting language in their emails. No problem, as even though I don't have to, I always try to exercise my free speech rights in a polite manner.)

    In brief, yt strikes me that with the passage of the McCain-Feingold Act, Congress lost sight of an important portion of the First Amendment, which reads as follows:

    "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."

    I'm referring to the "no law" part. It's quite literal language, and I take it quite literally. To the extent that McCain-Feingold abridges free speech (and let's face it, McCain-Feingold is what gives your "Commission" the false impression that it has jurisdiction over speech on the Internet), there can be no logical doubt that by passing the legislation Congress did what it lacks the power to do. That the president signed the bill into law (and the Supreme Court upheld it) adds nothing to a nonexistent congressional power. In simple fact, Congress violated the Constitution.

    The First Amendment was not intended as a grant of a right, but a recognition of a fundamental, preexisting right human right that could not be taken away. By its nature, it is self activating, and self enforcing, and so when a law is passed which plainly violates the right to free speech, there is no duty to obey that law. In fact, many would argue that disobedience of such laws is a civic duty. I can't speak for others, but I consider disobedience of McCain-Feingold to be my civic duty, and I have no intention of complying with any of the Internet restrictions currently under consideration. Inasmuch as possible, I will try to violate them.

    There has been some discussion about whether or not protest letters like this are legitimate. As one commenter (http://redstate.org/story/2005/5/20/122244/721) puts it,

    "We should not be protesting these rules. There is no such thing as an acceptable set of speech regulations."

    While I see his point, I do not think that stating my disagreement in this public email countenances that there might be "acceptable" regulations on speech. What I wish to make clear (by way of reminder) is that this Commission lacks power to regulate free speech, and that any regulations on Internet speech which it might purport to issue are illegitimate, beyond Congressional authority, and unconstitutional.

    If they are passed, I think it's fair to predict a protracted campaign of massive civil disobedience.

    Sincerely yours,

    Eric Scheie

    P.S. I apologize if I have too loosely applied the term "civil disobedience," because it's not entirely clear to me that violating unconstitutional laws would constitute law breaking in the first place.

    Maybe I should have made the title "Notice of Proposed Rulebreaking."

    Anyway, I feel strongly about this, and I'd urge other bloggers to at least write. If you have a problem with their jurisdiction as I do, then tell them so. This is still a democracy, despite ominous indicators like McCain-Feingold.

    UPDATE: Yuck! I already see a couple of glaring errors in the email that I just sent the people who'd take away my freedom to commit writing errors in the first place! First, I misspelled the word "it" as "yt." Second, I failed to credit Glenn Reynolds as the source for the redstate.org link!

    But email cannot be edited or corrected.

    A lesson to all bloggers!

    (May the FEC forgive me....)

    posted by Eric at 03:19 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)

    Osaddama Huladen

    I was just playing around with Google Sets, which may actually have its uses, though what follows isn't promising.

    Inspired by Chairman How's confusion between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, I made the two evildoers 'a set.' The results were bewildering:


    The only conclusion is that the folks over at Google know intimate details about the relationship between these two men. A careful analysis of this data set reveals that Osama and Saddam had a secret rendezvous in a seedy saloon where the details of their ::ahem:: partnership were hashed out amid fawning praise, soft touches, and gifts of rare and valuable Pokemon trading cards.

    The folks at Google, however, have covered their tracks. When I enlarged the set to include Google it returned zero results.

    The truth is out there!

    - - -

    [ed.'s note: I actually thought I'd invented the clever moniker 'Chairman How' for Howard Dean, but I was beaten to the punch. It's got a nice ring to it ... sure would be nice if more people started using it, especially in light of his recent fumbling, bumbling, and stumbling over that pesky issue of socialism.]

    posted by Dennis at 01:35 PM | Comments (4)

    Why is Spring not yet on fire?

    Spring is here.

    At least I think it is. In late May it's not supposed to be in the low 50s (as it has been the last few days).

    Anyway, the rhododendrons don't seem to mind the unseasonably low temperatures.

    My front porch:


    And a closeup:


    And now for some plariarized photography. While touring downtown Philadelphia with my guests yesterday, I forgot to bring along my camera. Fortunately, these days almost everyone has a digital camera, so I didn't have to miss the "gargoyles" on the old Philadelphia Fire Department headquarters at 13th and Race.

    This first one shows one of the little stone firemen in proportion to the doorway:


    A closer shot of another one reveals a mischievous nature:


    And this one seemed to be waving the photographer away:


    They're so subtle that most people walk right past the building without seeing them.

    I hope the gargolyes aren't responsible for this cooling trend, though. The traditionalist view of gargolyes is that they're supposed to be hot as hell! A more classical view is that they're another Pagan accomodation.

    In any event, both Pagans and Christians associate religious rites of Spring with fire:

    Scholars say the people of long ago worshipped the spirit behind the sun who sent shining life-giving rays over the fields of grain. The sun became the symbol of resurrection. Happy, joyful Spring festivals were held for their gods. The Druids and others, would gather around blazing bonfire, chant, sing, dance and leap through the flames.

    These ancient Spring fire rites honoring the sun and performed by pagans, were banned by the Christian church until 752 A.D. It was then that St. Patrick, while performing his work as a missionary revivalist, saw that the early Irish Celts and Scandinavians held spring fire rites, and were not willing to give them up.

    In order to replace their "old" pagan custom, St. Patrick created a "new" Christian fire rite. Borrowing on the old Druid customs, on Easter eve, he gave them huge bonfires just outside the churches. Europeans soon picked up the practice of annually blessing a new fire and it eventually became a part of Easter service.

    I'm not saying this is a conspiracy, mind you.

    But what if the Philadelphia gargoyles are more powerful than I thought?

    Could these gremlins be putting out the fires of Spring?

    UPDATE: There may be a Gremlinist Fifth Column at work in New York too. (Gargoyles are a subspecies of the gremlin race.)

    posted by Eric at 11:54 AM | Comments (2)

    Forgotten trash?

    Considering Newsweek's latest horror, I guess I really didn't need to frame my previous question along the lines of whether it's more disrespectful to burn the flag or the Koran.


    (Link via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Taken together with the Koran toilet story, what does all this mean? That when Newsweek puts out trash they forget to burn it?

    I don't know. Perhaps I'm forgetting about the important role played by recycling. (Compost as well as green-friendly techniques.)

    posted by Eric at 11:03 AM | Comments (4)

    Can it be?

    I've been out of time for almost the entire weekend, and this morning is the first chance I've had to look at the accumulating email.

    But before I do anything else, I want to welcome back Steven Malcolm Anderson (aka Steven Malcolm Anderson the Lesbian-worshipping man's-man-admiring myth-based egoist) -- longtime favorite commenter here at Classical Values -- from a long hiatus. Sabbatical?

    At any rate, his recovery is a miracle! I had been worried.

    It should be pointed out that Steven is more than a commenter. His comments are a genuine art form, and more than one reader has told me that a primary reason for visiting Classical Values is to read Steven Malcolm Anderson's comments.

    Visitors who like Steven's comments (as well as those who don't) should also visit Dean Esmay, who often posts about topics Steven finds irresistible.

    Welcome back Steven!

    posted by Eric at 08:54 AM | Comments (4)

    A note on Dean

    I caught the last few minutes of Howard Dean with Tim Russert as I finished my breakfast.

    Did Howard Dean really just deflect a question about socialism by insinuating that Bush's judicial nominees would work to repeal minority rights? This kind of rhetoric is unconscionable.

    I think he did. Here's the transcript:

    MR. RUSSERT: In your home state of Vermont, there's a vacancy for the United States Senate about to occur. Bernie Sanders, the congressman from Vermont, wants to run for that seat. He is a self- described avowed socialist.

    DR. DEAN: Well, that's what he says. He's really a populist.

    MR. RUSSERT: But is there room in the Democratic Party for a socialist?

    DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, he's not a socialist, really.

    MR. RUSSERT: He...

    DR. DEAN: He hasn't said that for a while.

    MR. RUSSERT: Oh, he has a--he wrote in his book Outsider in the House: "I am a Democratic socialist." [corrected. MSNBC's transcript read "Outside or in the House, I am a Democratic socialist."]

    DR. DEAN: Well, a Democratic socialist--all right, we're talking about words here. And Bernie can call himself anything he wants. He is basically a liberal Democrat, and he is a Democrat that--he runs as an Independent because he doesn't like the structure and the money that gets involved. And he actually has, I think, some good points about campaign finance reform. The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time. And that is a candidate that we think...

    MR. RUSSERT: So you'd support him?

    DR. DEAN: We may very well end up supporting him. We need to work some things out because it's very important for us not to split the votes in some of the other offices as well.

    MR. RUSSERT: In 1996 you said you would never have voted for Bernie Sanders. Instead, you opted in recent years to leave the ballot blank.

    DR. DEAN: Bernie and I have had our difficulties over the years. We've had our strong disagreements. He's a strong personality. We're fighting for the future of America, and a Bernie Sanders in the United States Senate is going to be a whole lot better than somebody who will vote to confirm right-wing judges, somebody who will vote to undo minority rights, somebody who will vote to kill Social Security. This is a battle where personalities and differences have to be put aside, and we have to do what's right for America.

    He was incredibly uncomfortable when Russert posed the question, stumbling over his words and smiling broadly as if to say, 'damnit, Tim ... why'd you have to mention that.' He recovered well and was downright Clintonian when claiming that this socialism thing was really just about semantics.

    He's a slick one, and dirty too.

    MORE: Does anyone doubt that the Democratic Party is becoming the party of Michael Moore? The cover of Bernie Sanders's book bears the endorsement of that great apologist for Islamic terrorism. And remember that according to Chairman Dean, Sanders is 'basically a liberal democrat.' Is this really representative of the Democratic base? I think not, but I also tend to think that Democrats settle for radicalism because the party will give them nothing else, besides ghost stories about the evils of the right.

    posted by Dennis at 11:30 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBacks (1)

    Racism for Crash test dummies

    If there's one thing worse than seeing a crummy movie, it's writing about it days later when you should have put the ordeal behind you. The reason I feel this sense of obligation is that for whatever reason, respected critics (Roger Ebert being a good example) seem to like the film Crash. For the life of me, I'm having trouble understanding why.

    Do they like it merely for being an anti-gun, multiculturalist advocacy film? It is certainly all of that, but to make a good film you have to have more than just a bias. I saw it with a liberal friend who (unlike me) had no problem with the message the writer was trying to convey, but despite our political disagreements, we both thought that as a film it failed miserably.

    From any objective standard, the film would seem to have everything going for it: written and directed by Paul Haggis (who wrote the screenplay for Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby), and very decent if not excellent acting with well known stars like Matt Dillon.

    The problem is that the writing (while technically skilled) all revolves around a simplistic idea which just doesn't work. An insufferably stultifying sense of boredom sets in early, and never leaves. While I know it was the whole point of the film that almost every character was so blinded by racism as to be unable to see reality, the fact that they were reduced to absurd and unbelievable caricatures instead of characters left me behind. I've lived all over the place, and ordinary people just aren't like this. Racism is far more subtle, and far more denied.

    Early in the film, an Iranian shopkeeper has a showdown with a Los Angeles gun dealer who balks at selling him a handgun. The gun dealer, an undisguised bigot, calls the Iranian "Osama," mocks his inability to speak English and refuses to refund the money or give him a gun. Finally, he hands the gun over to the Iranian's pretty wife, only because she tolerates his crass sexual innuendo. The dealer was a thoroughly despicable, thoroughly malevolent bigot who wouldn't remain in business for more than a month. Perhaps the director has never known a gun dealer. I have and I've never seen one who would ever, ever behave in his store the way this loony tune did.

    From then on it gets worse. If you have any friends who are cops, be sure to warn them not to see this film. Matt Dillon's portrayal of an unhinged racist cop (who pulls over an attractive black couple to get his rocks off by sexually humiliating them at gunpoint) would upset almost anyone. I'm sure the director would claim this wasn't meant to be stereotypical, and it certainly doesn't typify real life.

    Unfortunately the whole premise of the film is that these stereotypes are typical.

    Over and over again, my reaction was one of, "Come on! People just aren't like that!" And they aren't.

    But it doesn't stop. It just gets worse and worse.

    Then there's the soundtrack. Most of the film consists of the same wailing song played over and over again. Talk about belaboring the point! Even if you liked it the first time, by the time you get halfway through the film you'll hate it. On top of that, the director uses an insipid technique I hated back in the 1970s (and which I thought had died) of showing long sequences of no action or dialogue, but just scenery, maybe people walking, to an endless musical score. It's just filler masquerading as profundity, and I wouldn't even let a college film student get away with it.

    A central "character" in the film is the gun the bigot reluctantly sold to the Iranians. I know it's tough to get a gun to act, but the director almost succeeded, and from a rhetorical standpoint this was the best aspect of the film. For years, I've heard gun owners complain about how the gun control people think guns actually have an evil animus. Well, this guy damned near manages to prove cinematically that they do! The gun -- an evil looking snub-nosed .38 -- lurks malevolently in the Iranians' drawer. They look at it, and it's obvious they consider it stronger and tougher than they are. It's Big Brother watching over them. Always there. And When All Else Fails, and some racist thugs have broken into their store and vandalized it under the mistaken belief they're Arabs, why, the first thought is to check to see if The Gun is still there. And sure enough, there it is, not only in the drawer, but looking almost as if its about to levitate, and Avenge The Crime. Sure enough, All Else does fail. The insurance company refuses to pay the Iranians' claim because the Hispanic locksmith who looks like a gang member (really an innocent family man who happens to sport prison gang-style tattoos) had warned them they needed a new door and not a new lock, and instead of understanding they assumed he was a crook and the door was never fixed. Thinking this over with the assistance of the sullen .38, it became quite clear that the Only Thing To Do was what the gun was there for: the Hispanic locksmith had to be killed. So, with the gun seeming to guide his every move, the Iranian drives to the locksmith's home, and lies in wait for his return from work. Just as the man returns home and is confronted by the Iranian with the gun, his cute little daughter (who, we're told earlier, was terrorized by guns) leaps into her daddy's arms. The gun, of course, reacts instantly to this sudden outburst of love, and fires itself point blank at the little girl. (Ironically, no one is wounded, as the bigot gun dealer had maliciously supplied the Iranians with blanks.) The Gun and the Iranian drive back to the store, and hold each other for an incredibly long time.

    It could be my overactive imagination, but somehow, I could just swear that the writer/director has a major problem with firearms.

    What I did not know when I went to see the film was that this film is based on an interpretation of his own experience being carjacked at gunpoint. Over time the story evolved, with his criminal attackers becoming objects of artistic sympathy, even lovers of foreign films:

    ....[B]eing white and newly privileged, I would gladly have bought a home north of the divide without a second thought; we just couldn't afford one. And as our sprawling Spanish home was five times the size of our former North Hollywood bungalow, we had no complaints. It was a great house. And if we hadn't stopped off at a video store that night, we would never even have had to change the locks.

    I can't recall whose idea it was, probably mine. Having an addictive personality, I find if one movie is good, two can only be better—so we parked on a side street and ran into our local Blockbuster in search of a companion piece for Jonathan Demme and Ted Tally's terrifying fable. As this was a ritual we practiced several times a week, the pickings were thin and we finally chose what I remember to be a Norwegian or perhaps Finnish film quite well reviewed by a less prominent mid-western paper.

    The Porsche was a convertible, with something akin to a picnic table protruding from the rear engine compartment. A "whale tale" is how enthusiasts describe it. Less enthusiastic people suggested it would look better draped in a red and white checkered cloth. I was not one of those people. It was my first expensive car; in truth, my first new car since my dad bought me a 1974 Ford Ranchero. The Ranchero rusted until replaced by a used Chevy Nova, which drove bravely until I adopted a three-year-old Alpha Romeo. I loved my new Porsche.

    So, all things considered, I would really rather not have given it to the two young black men who approached us with guns, but their argument, while simple, was compelling.

    As I turned over the keys, they suggested Diane and I walk toward the dark parking lot. I thought this ill-advised, so putting Diane in front of me, we walked briskly toward the well-lit boulevard. "Stop," came the command. I froze—heard footsteps running up behind us—felt the gun barrel pressed into my back—and watched helplessly as he…snatched the video tape out of Diane's hand. The passenger door slammed and my Porsche disappeared around the corner.

    I almost started laughing.

    The police arrived within moments. After describing the car and what we remembered of our assailants, I then passed along my theory of the crime. I believed, I said, that these two young men had come to the store often, each time in search of that particular video, and it was never in. This time they arrived only to see us leaving with it, and it was just too much to bear. They grabbed the video and took the car to make a getaway. Realizing I was most likely in shock, the officers kindly nodded and drove us the three blocks to our home; which is when we realized that the car thieves had our address and house keys. We called a locksmith and paid them after-midnight rates to change all the locks.

    Ten years later, I woke up at two in the morning wondering about those young men. I'd thought about them before. Fear long ago gave way to anger. Anger faded and became curiosity. Who were these guys? Did they think of themselves as criminals? What did they care about, laugh about? How had this incident affected their lives, if at all?

    I began writing their story. Diane and I became fictional characters, our midnight locksmith became a Hispanic kid with troubling tattoos, and I let my fears and hopes and prejudices and dreams for a better world run loose. Bobby Moresco and I wrote the script and I shot it last year, staging the car jacking scene much like it happened. But, upon viewing it in the editing room, I realized what I'd known all along. The performances were good, but the act itself was so ridiculous as to be unbelievable. So the genesis of the film ended up on the cutting room floor. Well, they still steal the car, but no self-respecting car thieves would stop to grab a Norwegian movie. Some things are better left for real life.

    It's an odd life we live in Los Angeles, a city that uses freeways and wide boulevards to divide people by race and class. We spend most of our time encased in metal and glass; in our homes, our cars, at work. Unlike any real city, we only walk where "it's safe"—those outdoor malls and ersatz city blocks we've created to feel like we're still part of humanity, if only humanity could afford to shop where we do. We no longer truly feel the touch of strangers as we brush past them on the street.

    Don Cheadle's character sums it up in the first moments of the film. "I think we miss that touch so much," he says, "that we crash into one another just to feel something." And it's those moments, those slim yet defining moments, that often take us to places we'd not seen coming, making us into who we are, for better or for worse. My car, the one I'd worked so hard for, was taken from me—but it was the young men who brushed against my life that I never forgot. Fifteen years after the fact, I still feel their touch.

    Well, I should at least be glad that the carjackers' appreciation for Norwegian films was left on the cutting room floor. I'm of Norwegian descent, and my tender psyche simply could not have withstood this most unkindest "cut" of all. But it does occur to me that some things shouldn't be given more meaning than they have. If this guy feels guilty about being rich and white, does he really have to portray carjackers as sympathetic characters, and the gun as the much greater evil? Over time, that's exactly what happened in the director's mind:
    Paul Haggis can't remember the faces of the L.A. punks who carjacked his white convertible Porsche in 1991, but he'll never forget the guns they used. "Snub-nosed .38s," says the screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, who now owns a Mini Cooper and three Toyota Priuses. "When the barrel is three inches from your face, it's tough to forget."

    Haggis has written the horrifying experience into his directorial debut, Crash -- a film about race relations in L.A. (the ensemble cast includes Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and Matt Dillon). But what does this 52-year-old guy who grew up in London, Ont., know about racism?

    Hell, what difference does it make what he knows about racism? Or guns? They're both bad, and if you're a victim of crime, it's obvious that the root causes are racism and guns.

    According to Haggis, September 11 was what finally gave him "focus."

    When September 11, 2001 arrived, Haggis finally found his focus. "I'd seen what happened," he says reaching for the ashtray in a Toronto hotel suite. "And I'd seen our President say that the only thing you can do is watch out for suspicious people." Haggis, a social activist on the board of a number of organizations promoting non-violence, literacy and environmentalism, pauses and feigns a stunned look. "All I know are suspicious people! Look at me, I'm suspicious as you get. And I thought, `That's what we're supposed to do as a nation?'" In Crash, all the characters a gripped by this vague but insinuating fear, and all it takes to stir it are a series of random incidents: a carjacking, a car accident, a robbery, a sexual assault. But when that fear manifests itself, the form it most frequently takes is racism. A robbery victim lashes out at the Hispanic locksmith sent to her home. A cop insults the black hospital official who declines to admit his ailing father. A white gun-shop owner refuses to sell a firearm to a man he's convinced is a terrorist. Fear is the boil these incidents prick, and racism is what spurts out.
    I get so weary of the increasing tendency of moralizers -- whether on the left or the right (and make no mistake; this film is moralistic in the extreme) -- attempting to reduce everything that is wrong to one simple vision, that if I didn't have this blog I don't know what I'd do.

    As it is, I am far too busy this weekend with out of town visitors to give this film the attention I should.

    It deserves a sound fisking, by reviewers more serious than I.

    Like Crash and Fizzle by David Edelstein.

    All the coincidences—there are more, involving Persian and Chinese families—make for one economical narrative: Haggis wants to distill all the resentment and hypocrisy among races into a fierce parable. But the old-fashioned carpentry (evocative of '30s socially conscious melodrama) makes this portrait of How We Live Now seem preposterous at every turn. A universe in which we're all racist puppets is finally just as simpleminded and predictable as one in which we're all smiling multicolored zombies in a rainbow coalition. It's strange, but I came out of Crash feeling better about race relations—not because of anything in the screenplay, but because of the spectacle of all those terrific actors (of all those races) working together and giving such potentially laughable material their best shot. And, really, whites in L.A. are at one another's throats all the time, too.
    Laughable material?

    But I thought laughter was disrespectful....

    UPDATE: Laughter is disrespectful.

    posted by Eric at 04:00 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

    Something worse than a hate crime

    Via David Neiwert (who titles his post "The worst kind of hate crime"), I learned about this report of a murder of a gay man which is being called a "hate crime":

    Amancio Corrales, a 23-year-old Yuma man who was dressed as a woman when he was murdered, may have been the victim of a hate crime, according to the Yuma County Sheriff's Office.

    "A hate crime is not ruled out," Sheriff's Capt. Eben Bratcher said. "Until we find who did it, we don't know the motive. The situation lends itself for one to believe that's the case. Thinking someone is a woman and then finding they were a man would not sit well with some people."

    Bratcher said Corrales was dressed as a female while attempting to pass himself off as a woman at one or more local bars on the night of May 5.

    Bratcher said it was "a significant possibility" that Corrales left one of the bars with people who thought he was a woman.

    Corrales' body was found May 6 submerged in shallow water about 500 feet west of Paradise Cove, just west of Yuma's Joe Henry Park. Corrales was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, and was a cosmetologist.

    YCSO has said only that Corrales died as a result of "violent trauma." Bratcher declined to describe Corrales' specific injuries.

    Rumors in the community and on Internet message boards have alleged that Corrales was brutally beaten to death, possibly even mutilated.

    Bratcher said he had heard many of the rumors about the murder, several of which he said were not true. He said YCSO would prefer that people who believe they have information about the crime come and speak to sheriff's investigators or call them at 783-4427.

    The rumors include this (apparently) unconfirmed report that Mr. Corrales's penis was cut off:
    While dressed as a women, it is reported that Corrales flirted with a well known US Marine named "David." Eyewitnesses at the bar that night said "David" was furious when he found out Corrales was a man. Corrales was seen leaving the bar in a silver Honda with "David" and two other men whom appeared to be US Marines. "David" and the two other men took Corrales to a location near Paradise Cove, where the next morning Corrales was found dead and mutilated. Corrales' family who lives in Yuma, confirms Armancio's penis was cut off, his throat slashed and that Mr. Corrales suffered severe trauma to the head. The viewing was May 11th at Yuma Mortuary; the funeral was May 12th. Armancio is burried at Yuma Cemetery in Yuma.

    Whether or not the man's penis was severed (and I would think that could be easily determined by looking at the autopsy report), any crime like this obviously involves hate. What I've never been able to understand is what classifying a murder as a hate crime is supposed to do. Is murder plus hate worse than murder without hate? Interestingly, in California at least, murder for financial gain is taken more seriously than murders in the heat of passion, although the conduct here would certainly fall into several other "special circumstances" categories.

    If there's the death penalty for murder, what can be added by way of punishment? This man's murderer should get the death penalty, period.

    It may be that the murderer killed Corrales in a rage after discovering that he wasn't a woman. That is certainly no defense to a murder charge, but does it make it any worse than if Corrales had been killed, say, for refusing to have sex? Suppose Corrales had actually been a woman, and been murdered. Why isn't that a hate crime? And if it is, how does it change anything?

    Certainly, if Corrales was mutilated in this heinously gruesome manner, it makes the death penalty even more appropriate. But doesn't murder plus mutilation ratchet this case up into a category worse than mere "hate crime"?

    What am I missing? Whether the victim or his murderer were or were not gay? Considering the extreme and depraved level of violence in this murder, I think it's more likely that the murderer himself suffered from an inability to face his own homosexual leanings. A healthy heterosexual male who was not interested in sex would simply have walked away from a homosexual encounter. It's obvious to me from the picture that Mr. Corrales was a man, and I think you'd have to be a moron not to sense that. Perhaps his murderer was a moron, but I think not. I've lived in both in San Francisco and Hawaii, and I've been in plenty of places frequented by drag queens. I've known a number of drag queens, and I am familiar with what's called "trade" sex. I think the murderer probably knew Corrales was a man, and freaked out at some point (maybe even at the moment of arousal) for reasons involving his own sexual pathology. Might be homosexual adjustment disorder, but I'm not a shrink... (although I'm proud that one newly blogrolled blogger -- The Cliffs of Insanity -- so classifies me!)

    I don't doubt he was motivated by hatred; he may have hated himself, too.

    Parenthetically, I once knew a man who'd have regular sex with an apparently heterosexual professional football player. The latter would fly into violent rages after intercourse, and he'd leave screaming things like "I'm not a fa--ot!!" -- only to return a week or so later for more. There are crazy people in this world. If they murder other people, I think they should be punished regardless of sexual motivations.

    How much worse does worse get?

    UPDATE: The recent gay bashing of an American journalist in the Netherlands (apparently by Moroccan men) illustrates that even in the gay press some hate crimes are are more hateful than others. (Link via Cathy Young.)

    MORE: Here's La Shawn Barber on hate crime:

    I’m going to demonstrate the silliness of these laws. Let’s suppose I’m bashing you over the head because you cut me off in traffic. There’s a law against that. Now let’s suppose I’m doing the same thing because you’re white, and I hate whites. Does the crime change? Why should I get two extra years in jail because I hate whites? If I’m beating you just because you’re white, does it hurt worse than if I’m beating you just because you cut me off in traffic? What if I’m bashing you over the head because you’re white and because you cut me off in traffic?

    Let’s say I, a black person, set you on fire because you’re black and I hate black people, even though I’m black. In addition to other criminal laws broken, is it also a hate crime?

    Don’t you see how ridiculous it gets? You cannot penalize what I think. It’s insane! There are already laws on the books for the hypothetical crimes I committed. Only a bored, technologically advanced society would come up with something this stupid. Hate crime laws are just more government power and intrusion. I feel stupid even writing “hate crime laws.” That’s how stupid they are. It’s just an attempt to codify political correctness, something I already loathe.

    So we already know blacks and homosexuals are among the “protected classes” the laws are designed for. Skin color and sexual preferences. That’s all liberals care about. But let’s say you’re a man and you hate women. Is wife-beating a hate crime? Is raping a woman a hate crime? What about raping a black woman? Is it a hate crime only if you’re doing it because she’s black? Is the crime qualitatively worse because you hate blacks, women or both?

    Even if hate crime laws are content-neutral (no specific group named), they’re redundant. For every criminal act you can think of, there’s a law against it. What other reason besides criminalizing thoughts do these laws serve?

    If someone is convicted of a hate crime against black people as a class, and La Shawn doesn't want to be among the class of victims, can she be made a victim against her will?

    posted by Eric at 11:38 AM | Comments (33) | TrackBacks (1)

    Elrond Wants Brisket

    Amazing what you can find on the internet by accident, isn't it?

    In this particular case it's only the most beautiful barbeque grill I've ever seen. If Tolkien elves did barbeque, they would use a Kamado. You could fit an orc in one.

    It's also the most expensive barbeque grill I've ever seen. If I ever win the lottery, I'll use a Kamado. It will be my dream grill for my dream house. Otherwise, it'll just remain a dream.

    A testimonial from a satisfied user can be found at Odograph.

    posted by Justin at 07:02 PM | Comments (3)

    Your children are in danger! And so are your mules!

    From time to time I get annoyed by comments which many other bloggers would simply delete as the product of left wing moonbats (or something like that).

    My view is that unless a commenter uses foul language (which can get me blocked by the various filters), launches a pointlessly insulting personal attack against me, or insults other bloggers (which is worse, as they're not here to defend themselves) I'll just put up with the comments. There are two reasons. One is that I believe in free speech and the uninhibited airing of differences, and the other is that commenters are my readers. If they've gone to the trouble of reading through my long-winded posts and want to comment, that's fine. Unless I suspect there's something else going on like spamming, or blatant trolling to promote another blog, hey, commenters can say pretty much anything they want. That doesn't mean I'll address it or even read it, but it will usually stay there.

    What prompted this was reading a remark from a supposedly intelligent former (and current) government official which is probably more inane than the most inane comments I've ever gotten here. Eleanor Holmes Norton accused the "gun lobby" of deliberately seeking to have more children killed:

    Here's a version in quotes, via the Washington Times:

    "They're trying to see to it that more children get killed," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat.

    It's so outrageous that it's funny. If a commenter left such a remark at a blog, he or she would immediately be the subject of extreme ridicule and much snarktimonious laughter.

    It is my belief that people are delighted by remarks like Holmes Norton's (at least, those who disagree with her are) because they are so self-discrediting. And so genuinely funny.

    Laughing at moonbattery, of course, is hardly limited to the right wing, because moonbats are not limited to the left wing variety. John Hawkins (hardly a left blogger with the name "Right Wing News") recently linked to some of the funniest remarks I have ever seen attributed to a "conservative" (assuming this Neal Horsley character qualifies for that label). Here (from Right Wing News) is the actual radio dialogue between Neal Horsley and Alan Colmes (on the latter's radio show):

    Colmes: "You had sex with animals?"

    Horsley: "Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule."

    Colmes: "I'm not so sure that is so."

    Horsley: "You didn't grow up on a farm in Georgia, did you?"

    Colmes: "Are you suggesting that everybody who grows up on a farm in Georgia has a mule as a girlfriend?"

    Horsley: It has historically been the case. You people are so far removed from the reality...Welcome to domestic life on the farm..."

    Intrigued by this (after all, my dad grew up on a farm), I streamed the Fox news feed, and sure enough, that's what Horsley said. In fact, in the same interview, Mr. Horsley took sex a step further:
    If it's warm and it's damp and it vibrates, you might in fact have sex with it.
    Er, sorry, but Saddam Hussein just isn't my type.

    HorsesAss.com has more discussion of this moonbat, complete with pictures of some very cute looking watermelons grining coyly during Mr. Horsley's discussion of sex with, um, vegetable matter. (Horsley's point in saying all of this and more appears to be that Jesus "saved" him, but I find myself wondering whether Jesus himself might take umbrage at such a gratuitous personal attack.)

    What I'd like to see now is a public debate between Norton and Horsley. On Moonbat TV. (They really need to add a show like that, because I know I'd watch it, and I'm sure others would too.)

    Interestingly enough, Horsley was sued by Geraldo Rivera over remarks the latter made on his TV show accusing Horsley of being an "accomplice to murder" for publishing names of abortion doctors for others to kill. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stated in part:

    Defendant/appellant Geraldo Rivera appeals the district court's determination that a statement Rivera made to plaintiff/appellee Neal Horsley during the course of a television program hosted by Rivera is not protected as a matter of law by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution nor by applicable state law. Rivera asserted that Horsley was an "accomplice to murder." Because we find that Rivera's allegedly defamatory statement is absolutely protected as rhetorical hyperbole by both the First Amendment and applicable state defamation law, we reverse.
    What this means (I think) is that bloggers can call Moonbat Horsley the moonbat that he is. And Moonbat Norton can call the NRA a bunch of child killers.

    (Yes, Eleanor, I have an inside tip that the NRA headquarters is readying a big McDonalds-like movable numbers sign reading OVER 50,000 CHILDREN KILLED SINCE 1979! Planned Parenthood is working on a sign with a much bigger number of "fetuses murdered so far." All of this leaves Operation Rescue in a quandary because the actual number of murdered abortion doctors looks embarrassingly small. So they're trying to perform a "head count" on the number of mules that went missing.)

    UPDATE: PLEASE note that I am neither saying nor implying that Eleanor Holmes Norton is the moral -- or mental -- equivalent of Neal Horsley. She's smarter and much kinder than Horsley! (And smarter -- as well as sexier -- than his mules.)

    posted by Eric at 03:09 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    Kloning and klucking, and code language

    According to the New York Times, scientists in Korea report substantial, even dramatic progress in somatic stem cell research. But already, opponents in the United States are using the politically loaded, inflammatory expression "cloning" to describe the procedure:

    Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, commented in an e-mail message that "whatever its technical merit, this research is morally troubling: it creates human embryos solely for research, makes it much easier to produce cloned babies, and exploits women as egg donors not for their benefit."
    Obviously, Justin saw this coming or else he wouldn't have been complaining about the blog becoming a "Kass free zone."

    Well, I can't turn Dr. Kass on or off. Nor can I make him stop using the "c" word. He loves the word, which is becoming as loaded as "sodomy", "family", or "choice."

    Notice that the more the technology improves, the more the debate shifts subtly toward whether or not this procedure should be called cloning:

    Dr. Kass, however, says that cloning and extracting stem cells from the embryos is not the only way to do such work. A majority of the President's Council on Bioethics called for a moratorium on cloning for research, he said, and the council recently suggested other ways of getting stem cells that could develop into the desired tissue types and that would match a patient's own cells "without these violations and moral hazards."

    Opinion polls have had varied results, often depending on the words that are used to describe the work. In a recent Gallup poll, just 38 percent of respondents approved of cloning embryos for research. Another poll, which used the term "somatic cell nuclear transfer" instead of "cloning," found that 72 percent approved.

    Dr. Hwang's paper goes a step further, using "S.C.N.T." instead of "somatic cell nuclear transfer."

    Dr. Ruth Faden, the executive director of the bioethics center at Johns Hopkins, said the moral debate would change if the research led to new treatments with dramatic benefits for some patients. "That could really shake it up," she said.

    But Dr. Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics and religious liberty commission, said his group would not be assuaged.

    "We believe a cloned embryo is a human being," Dr. Land said. "We should not be the kind of society that kills our tiniest human beings in order to seek a treatment for older and bigger human beings."

    In other words, cloning is a word which people have been led to believe is Frankensteinian (if not Mengelean) technology run amok. Explain the procedure to them as "somatic cell nuclear transfer" and people become more thoughtful. Might it be that they don't like having their intelligence insulted? I'm not suggesting bamboozling anyone with complex terminology or high-faluting scientific language, but I'd be willing to bet that if the scientific community would take the time to sit down and explain what "somatic cell nuclear transfer" means in practical terms (i.e. that you could take a skin scraping and use it to grow a new liver), that most ordinary people would support it.

    I'll echo Kass's proposal for a "moratorium on cloning."

    I propose a moratorium! On the word "cloning."

    A "clone" is an identical copy of an organism. A good argument can be made that a stem cell line created by a somatic cell nuclear transfer (and which cannot ever develop into a human being) is not a clone.

    That's because according to most definitions a clone is supposed to be a copy of the organism. Typical definition:

    noun (plural clones)
    1. GENETICS genetically identical organism: a plant, animal, or other organism that is genetically identical to its parent, having developed by vegetative reproduction, for example from a bulb or a cutting, or experimentally from a single cell
    Is an embryo really a clone?

    Once again, is a seed a tree?

    These are basic questions, which should not be obscured by pseudoscience, philosophical gobbledygook, or the perpetuation (as Kass clones cluck) of code language which obfuscates the debate.

    You'd almost think they were debating political party platforms and not science.

    posted by Eric at 08:23 AM | Comments (1)

    Regulatory flow invites national "pee" party!

    I'm pissed.

    Earlier tonight I heard about a wonderful new drug-law aid called the Whizzinator:

    The WHIZZINATOR© is an easy to conceal, easy to use urinating device with a very realistic prosthetic penis. It has been extensively tested and proven to work under real-life conditions!

    The WHIZZINATOR© is designed to be comfortably worn as an undergarment for extended periods of time!

    Used with our organic heat pads, it is GUARANTEED to maintain body temperature for EIGHT HOURS! And our quality production and materials assures you that the WHIZZINATOR© will let it flow, again and again, anytime, anywhere you need it!

    How wonderful (I thought) to live in a still relatively free country, where willing sellers can still sell even zany contraptions like these to willing buyers.


    But just as I learned about this wonderful new technology, I discovered that our nation's lawmen have gotten themselves quite lathered over prosthetic penises:

    WASHINGTON, May 11 (Reuters) - A life-like prosthetic penis called the Whizzinator and other products promising to help illegal drug users pass urine tests provoked U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday to take legal action with subpoenas of manufacturers.

    Lawmakers objected to attempts to circumvent drug tests with products such as The Whizzinator, a fake penis that can provide a flow of clean urine "again and again, anytime, anywhere you need it!" according to the Web site www.whizzinator.com.

    A congressional subcommittee voted to subpoena the owner of Puck Technology of Signal Hill, California, the company that makes the Whizzinator. The panel also voted to subpoena the owners of Health Choice of New York City and Spectrum Labs of Cincinnati, two companies that lawmakers said also were suspected of selling products aimed at circumventing workplace drug tests.

    The owners were required to provide financial and operational records by Monday and to appear at a congressional hearing on Tuesday.

    "These companies seek through deception to make a buck by violating our trust and compromising our security," said Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations panel.

    "It is a risk we simply cannot tolerate. This panel will uncover how widespread these products are and recommend the necessary steps to end their use," Whitfield said in a statement.

    A Republican? Why do they always seem to be Republicans?

    Where are the good South Park Republicans when we need them?

    All this is is a glorified dildo with a harness and a tube. If dildos can be sold for the purpose of sexual gratification, I don't see why they can't be sold for other reasons:

  • 1. To help pee-shy men pee in public places;
  • 2. To help a variety of men and women achieve the fulfillment of their sexual fantasies, by helping them overcome sexual pee-shyness.
  • 3. To help women make a political statement by challenging the traditionalist view that they are incapable of using urinals.
  • 4. As a teaching aid for parents and teachers.
  • 5. As a way of protesting the nation's ever encroaching drug laws by deliberately making a mockery of them -- especially by drug free citizens with clean urine.
  • 6. As a constitutionally protected penis parody device. (It should be noted that political parody and mockery are protected by the First Amendment.)
  • (As for the owner of the company, he's invoked the Fifth Amendment.)

    For what it's worth, I have long been on record against penis control of any kind -- especially federal penis control. This is even worse, because it's federal control of virtual penises! (I'm reminded of a term I used in this blog not terribly long ago: "facsimiles of archaic penises.")

    How would we explain this situation to the founding fathers? Well.....

    First the Congress passed laws purporting (under powers hitherto unknown) to grant federal government jurisdiction over the physical and chemical substances Americans could put in their very bodies. But not enough people obeyed them so eventually the Congress, in incremental stages, made these laws ever more draconian. But still people did not obey. So the Congress encouraged and started a national campaign consisting of the coercion of citizens to share with the government their natural fluids (by the addition of same into paper cups) so that in this way, tests could be performed to determine whether or not those substances which Congress disapproved could be found in the people's fluids. The people were not keen on allowing that with which their creator had endowed them to be probed and monitored by swarms of officers sent hither and yon to harass our people and drain out their substance! So the various entrepreneurs among them offered for modest fees a way to protect the peoples' natural endowments by means of devices to disguise and hide them and their bodily fluids from the prying eyes of the bureaucrats who had been sent hither -- instead substituting for their natural endowments certain man-made devices quite cleverly contrived to resemble that with which they'd been Endowed by their Creator, and which, by Disguising the people's Natural Fluids, did imitate cunningly the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God so as to thwart and evade the evil whims of aforesaid bureaucratic swarms employed by the usurpers and tyrants now engaged in the disgraceful plundering of those remnants of Republican freedom once considered the People's Birthright.....

    Who among our founders would have believed such a thing possible?

    UPDATE: In other urine news, a prisoner was strapped down and repeatedly subjected to 50,000 volt shocks because of his refusal to give a urine sample:

    ORLANDO, Fla. - A police officer twice used a Taser stun device on a drug suspect who was restrained to a hospital bed because the man refused to give a urine sample to medical staff, authorities said.

    Antonio Wheeler, 18, was arrested Friday on a drug charge and taken to an emergency room after telling officers he had consumed cocaine, police said.

    Because Wheeler said he had used the drugs, Florida Hospital officials wanted a urine sample. A police affidavit said Wheeler wouldn't provide a sample on his own, so workers tried to catheterize him to get one.

    The police document said Wheeler was handcuffed to a hospital bed and then secured with leather straps after he refused to urinate in a cup. When medical staff tried to insert a catheter to get the sample, Wheeler refused and began thrashing around, the affidavit said.

    At one point, police officer Peter Linnenkamp reported, he jumped on the bed with his knees on Wheeler's chest to restrain him. When Wheeler still refused to let the catheter be inserted, Linnenkamp said he twice used his Taser, which sends 50,000 volts into a target.

    "After the second shock (Wheeler) stated he would urinate and calmed down enough to be given the portable urinal," Linnenkamp wrote.

    Apparently, Amnesty International is investigating:
    Said Amnesty International USA spokesman Edward Jackson: "If this had taken place in China, it would be an egregious violation of human rights, and the public would be outraged.

    "I hope that they don't allow the fact that it happened on U.S. soil deter from the fact that this may very well be a case of torture." (Via G. Gordon Liddy.)

    Well, at least it was Orlando Florida, and not Abu Ghraib....

    posted by Eric at 10:28 PM | Comments (8)


    When I read this headline:

    Lake Disappears, Baffling Villagers

    I imagined loony conspiracy theorists on left-wing blogs blaming the US military. I can't say I was shocked when I read the punchline:

    "I am thinking, well, America has finally got to us," said one old woman, as she sat on the ground outside her house.

    Rumsfeld wrings his hands with glee saying, 'today Bolotnikovo, tomorrow a park bench in Bolivia! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!'

    Come on now, people! Isn't it high time you looked yourself in the mirror and asked, 'why does the world hate us? Why do they think we magically drain their lakes? What can I do to effect real change?'

    Are you with me?

    posted by Dennis at 06:13 PM | Comments (2)

    Chewing tirelessly on every detail?

    Andrew Sullivan's gratuitous criticism of La Shawn Barber intrigues me. Here's Sullivan:

    Instapundit's coverage suggests that he believes that the erroneously-sourced Newsweek story is actually more offensive and important than what happened at Abu Ghraib. A more direct expression of an even more hardline position is given by LaShawn Barber:
    Let me clear up one thing. Whether Americans flushed the Koran down the toilet is irrelevant. Newsweek should not have reported it, even if true.

    Now there's a new standard.

    Yeah, self censorship is as new as discretion. It's what I do every day. Some things I write about; some things I don't.

    As La Shawn put it:

    They make judgments all the time, for various reasons, about what is and isn’t newsworthy. In a 700-word story, for example, they can’t include every single fact associated with every single event. They decide what’s important and true, what’s unduly inflammatory, etc., with every story they write.
    Just yesterday, I complained about yet another pit bull story I considered inflammatory. Whatever the facts were, I just resented the story being there, and my gut feeling was that I'd rather the news media not have reported it. Why? Because people get all stirred up, they want to ban pit bulls, and it increases the pressure on people like me who don't want their pit bulls taken away. I worry that my local board of supervisors might try to pass some horrendous law that I would have to devote precious time and resources to opposing. I also worry about people screaming and running away, about mothers snatching up their children, simply because my dog wagged her tail at them.

    Is this a call for censorship? No. Read the First Amendment. (Congress shall pass no law.....) I'd die to stop the government from passing laws telling news media or citizens what they can and cannot print. But discretion in reporting? All reporters use discretion all the time. There is no such thing as reporting all news. And, inasmuch as there is such a thing as discretion, what the hell is wrong with criticizing the news media for misusing or abusing their discretion? It might take the form it did with La Shawn's comment (that it would be better not to report certain things) or it might take the opposite form (that some things should be reported). A private citizen advocating more reporting of one thing or less reporting of another is not censorship.

    Nor is it a "new standard."

    Those who slam La Shawn Barber for slamming Newsweek are saying that she shouldn't have said what she said. Lots of people attack Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs for reporting what he reports, and they say he shouldn't report certain things because they're inflammatory. Is there any logical difference between that and attacking Newsweek for what it reports? Some would argue that Newsweek has a higher "duty" than bloggers, but does it? Why? Under the First Amendment, we are all equal, and we are all equally subject to criticism, both for what we discuss, and what we do not discuss. Such criticism is of course not legally enforceable, and as Andrew Sullivan showed, it can generate more criticism, and in turn that criticism can then generate its own criticism.

    Speaking of pit bulls and censorship, from time to time I report on the growth and development of Coco, who I'm attempting to groom as at least a co-blogger (perhaps even my replacement). When she demonstrated her ferocious opposition to document shredding and coverups, I dutifully reported that. When she fisked the Philadelphia Inquirer, that too went into my blog.

    Seasoned blogospherians have probably heard all about a phenomenon called tireblogging which was all the rage not so long ago. Well, Coco's only a six month old puppy, and she's just not up to speed on everything. (When tireblogging was in vogue, I don't even think Coco had been weaned.) This made me feel a little guilty yesterday, because I was in such a hurry to replace a couple of tires that when I went to the tire store I forgot to bring either a camera or my laptop.

    I hope readers will forgive the fact that I didn't post (as I have before) about getting the tires replaced, OK? No tireblogging yesterday. Once again, I was guilty of self censorship.

    But I did think to bring home one of the bad tires. You know, as a sort of leftover, like bringing food home in a doggie bag.

    As this video shows, Coco was thrilled! (To play the video, click on the arrow below or try the link.)

    [NOTE: If there's too long a delay, clicking a second time seems to start the damned thing for me.]

    Not only is Coco delighted to learn about tireblogging, but unless I am wrong, this is not a retread of an old idea, but a new first for the blogosphere:

    pit bull tire-videoblogging!

    No discretionary censorship on this one.

    But Coco is a very active, very inquisitive, highly judgmental animal, and I cannot promise that everything she does will be discussed here, much less videoblogged.

    For example, I have some books lying about. Some of them I don't read much, and some of them I've never read at all because they're boring translations of things that don't make much sense to me but which I bought in the fall of 2001.

    And Coco has a penchant for grabbing doggone things like books. And chewing them when I'm not around.

    (Heaven forbid that she ever read about being unclean.)

    Obviously, I have to censor certain things. I wouldn't want Coco to flush with pride.

    posted by Eric at 09:37 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBacks (1)

    May the force be not against you!

    Is the new Star Wars film a bad case of art imitating life? Political hype imitating art? I haven't seen the film, and I don't know how badly I want to see it. But from what I've read, I might be bored. After all, the New York Times thinks the film "can't hold a candle" to what David Halbfinger calls the "blogging, advertising and boycotting forces of the right and left."

    That's quite a mouthful. Even worse than the vast right wing conspiracy. What are these "blogging, advertising and boycotting forces" doing?

    Here's a sample:

    Conservative Web logs were lacerating Mr. Lucas over the film's perceived jabs at President Bush - as when Anakin Skywalker, on his way to becoming the evil Darth Vader, warns, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy," in an echo of Mr. Bush's post-9/11 ultimatum, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
    Well, I don't know whether I would interpret that as exclusively a jab at Bush. The Bush/Vader talking point "line" (if that's what it is) also echoes a 1960s slogan I grew up with:

    "Anyone who doesn't take direct action to make things better is just an obstacle to changing the status quo (the current state of affairs). The saying originated in the United States in the 1960s. The American activist Eldridge Cleaver is generally credited with its coinage (1968). However, according to Ralph Keys, it was used earlier by City College (N.Y.) president Buell Gallagher (1964). Either part can be used separately in the affirmative or the negative: part of the solution or part of the problem." From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

    It also echoes the Bible (assuming this blogger got his quote right):
    The one who isn’t with me is against me, and the one who doesn’t gather with me scatters.’ ” (Luke 11:23, SV)
    However, the same blogger points out that Jesus gave himself a little wiggle room:
    ....earlier in the same gospel, John says: “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in you name, and we tried to stop him, because he isn’t one of us. But [Jesus] said to him, ‘Don’t stop him; in fact, whoever is not against you is on your side.’ ” (Luke 9:49-50, SV)
    That's a little more optimistic.

    Probably the best I can hope for.


    I used to think politics was an escape from Science Fiction.

    posted by Eric at 08:23 AM | Comments (3)

    Hurts so good ...

    That blonde Brillo pad (whom many swear by, but just rubs me the wrong way), Ann Coulter, has a little jingle reminiscent of one often bandied about in lefty circles, though this is far more clever:


    The rest of what she's got to say is as incendiary as ever, but a few salient points should not be overlooked:

    When ace reporter Michael Isikoff had the scoop of the decade, a thoroughly sourced story about the president of the United States having an affair with an intern and then pressuring her to lie about it under oath, Newsweek decided not to run the story. Matt Drudge scooped Newsweek, followed by The Washington Post.

    When Isikoff had a detailed account of Kathleen Willey's nasty sexual encounter with the president in the Oval Office, backed up with eyewitness and documentary evidence, Newsweek decided not to run it. Again, Matt Drudge got the story.

    When Isikoff was the first with detailed reporting on Paula Jones' accusations against a sitting president, Isikoff's then-employer The Washington Post -- which owns Newsweek -- decided not to run it. The American Spectator got the story, followed by the Los Angeles Times.

    So apparently it's possible for Michael Isikoff to have a story that actually is true, but for his editors not to run it.

    Why no pause for reflection when Isikoff had a story about American interrogators at Guantanamo flushing the Quran down the toilet?

    And this:

    Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas justified Newsweek's decision to run the incendiary anti-U.S. story about the Quran, saying that "similar reports from released detainees" had already run in the foreign press -- "and in the Arab news agency al-Jazeera."

    Is there an adult on the editorial board of Newsweek? Al-Jazeera also broadcast a TV miniseries last year based on the "Protocols of the Elders Of Zion." (I didn't see it, but I hear James Brolin was great!) Al-Jazeera has run programs on the intriguing question, "Is Zionism worse than Nazism?" (Take a wild guess where the consensus was on this one.) It runs viewer comments about Jews being descended from pigs and apes. How about that for a Newsweek cover story, Evan? You're covered -- al-Jazeera has already run similar reports!

    I think I could get used to this ...

    posted by Dennis at 10:07 PM | Comments (18)

    "At The Narrow Kassage"

    This blog has been a Kass free zone for an entire week. That's just not acceptable. And yet, weary into death of his leaden prose, I feel a distinct lack of enthusiasm for pitching in and shoveling.

    What to do? Sigh. Time for more outsourcing, I suppose.

    Filched from the pages of Neuroethics and Law Blog, we have this review of Dr. Michael Gazzaniga's new book. A paragraph or two hit me where I live.

    In December 2001, Dr. Gazzaniga was invited to join the bioethics council by Dr. Leon Kass, its current chairman. "I said, 'I don't know anything about bioethics,' " Dr. Gazzaniga recalled. Dr. Kass assured him that the council wasn't supposed to be a group of bioethicists, and Dr. Gazzaniga agreed to join.

    The council immediately took up the debate on stem cell research. Dr. Gazzaniga supports the cloning of cells to produce embryos that can be used to extract stem cells. Others on the council felt very differently...

    Dr. Gazzaniga is quick to point out that his differences with other council members were strictly intellectual. "There's no one I don't respect on the committee. They're all smart people," he said. "I heatedly disagree with some of them, but they're not lunatics."

    Nevertheless, he did not shy from argument. At one meeting in 2002, Dr. Kass described his sense of awe at watching cells divide.

    I'm actually familiar with the passage in question. Dr. Kass is a firm believer in the "Waste not, want not." school of wordsmithing. He has elevated prose recycling to an art. Or perhaps he just lacks originality. Could go either way.

    "I countered him with, 'You ever see a tumor cell divide?' " Dr. Gazzaniga said. "It's also a pretty miraculous event, but all it does is fill you up with rage. You can look at it in two different ways."

    Can one surf the tide of awe by watching "lesser" creatures fission? Absent the binding cords of sympathy, perhaps a euglena doesn't pack the same emotional punch as a human cell. I wonder.

    Dr. Gazzaniga argues that it is meaningless to call a fertilized egg a potential human being. "There's potential for 30 homes in a Home Depot, but if the Home Depot burns down, the headline isn't '30 Homes Burn Down.' It's 'Home Depot Burns Down,' " Dr. Gazzaniga said.

    According to the latest polls, almost two thirds of the country incline toward this viewpoint.

    My other outsourcing today comes from The Common Ills, regarding the President's Bioethics Council...

    Council member Janet Rowley, a professor of medicine, molecular genetics, cell biology, and human genetics at the University of Chicago Medical School, says she had concerns that staff members weren't adequately conveying the dissenting views in their published reports. "On occasion when these discrepancies were brought to their attention, they were more or less ignored."

    Whattaya know. I had forgotten that Blackburn wasn't the only troublemaker.

    Rowley, who remains on the council, says the panel has become less diverse since the new appointments...Rowley says Kass has discontinued the process of taking votes on issues and "runs this like a graduate seminar," she says. "You don't get council members who are expressing points of view that are at variance with the President's point of view."

    Interesting, eh? It's an excerpt from an article in, ahem, The Progressive. Good to see some common interests across the aisle. Sadly, the article isn't available on line. Tell you what though. If I get so much as one comment expressing interest, I'll toddle off to the bookstore and buy The Progressive on dead tree. I will then transcribe, BY HAND, any interesting bits therein. So what do you say?

    "Please God, no!" will not be considered a valid response.

    Crickets chirping...

    posted by Justin at 09:41 PM | Comments (2)

    Never mind the facts; beware of feelings!

    One of the things often forgotten in arguments between people (and bloggers as well as mainstream media are people) is the difference between problems with reporting (bad journalism) and reaction to the facts (often bad news for one "side" or another).

    Something can be reported quite accurately, but if the subject matter, the story, or the facts are distasteful, one person might become quite annoyed and defensive, while another might feel vindicated and triumphant.

    Take, as an example, the latest pit bull incident. It's all over the Internet, has been linked by Drudge, ABC, you name it. And frankly, I can't stand the damned story. Usually in cases like this, the closer the news source geographically, the more detail provided. Drudge's "Pit Bull Kills Toddler in West Virginia" story did not provide the details I wanted. In fact, none of the stories really did.

    I just wanted to know exactly what the hell happened, and when I am not told that, but instead I am treated to emotional descriptions, I get annoyed and impatient. Now, if the emotional description emanates from the police, that's part of the story, and while reporting it as part of the story doesn't bother me, I when police seem to be invoked as authorities with special knowledge and the ability to make judgments, I get annoyed. Here's a good example:

    The homeowners had signs in the windows that said "Beware of the Dog," and the mother and children were told not to go inside the house, Underwood said.

    But he also said he was told over the phone by someone at animal control that this dog has bitten another person.

    According to Buffington Street resident Eric Mason, the dog has bitten a number of people. He said the dog bit him last week. He lifted up his shirt to show a large scab on the side of his chest -- a bite mark, he said.

    His wife, Sara Mason, said she knew the mother and children and had just taken the little girl to the store before the incident. She bought her a sucker.

    "It’s terrible," said Deputy Chief Jerry Beckett of the Huntington Fire Department. "I don’t understand anyone owning a vicious dog. You wouldn’t leave a loaded weapon around for a child to play with. A pit bull is just as dangerous. Pit bulls are notorious for attacking children."

    The dog that attacked was not right, Price said. The hair was raised on the back of its neck and its eyes were wild, he said.

    "Hollywood couldn’t have made this dog look more evil," he said.

    "You know if you have a dangerous dog," added Williams of the fire department. "I believe you do." (Emphasis added.)

    The officer's statement only makes sense if the dog's owner left the dog "for a child to play with." If these facts are correct, the man knew he had a dangerous animal and warned people. While I wish dangerous animals were not owned by idiots (something the man may well be), no breed of dog has a monopoly on being dangerous or vicious. Pit bulls are no more notorious for attacking children than any other breed. It depends on how they are raised. The problem is, a lot of thugs like pit bulls, and pit bulls are loyal and athletic.

    It wouldn't matter who reported these statements or how, because I am always annoyed by human idiocy. Sometimes, just seeing this fed to me as news pisses me off. Yet that really can't be said to be the fault of the journalists, who are, after all, only reporting statements made to them in the heat of the moment by people who, like it or not, are the authority figures in the case.

    The death of a two year old toddler is horrifying by any standard, of course. But would the death have been worse had the child been run over by a car? Or fallen into a vat of caustic lye or acid that the homeowner might have been using to etch glass?

    What causes the trouble in analyzing or discussing a case like this is that two people will see the same set of facts in a completely different manner. Certain facts don't seem to be disputed here. One is that the dog was known to be vicious. (Making it analogous to having a wild animal in the house.) Another is the posting of signs warning people that there was a dangerous dog. Here the interpretation of facts gets murkier:

    The pit bull's owner, who also was not identified, had posted several "beware of dog" signs and was keeping the dog inside the house because it had previously bitten another person, said Debbie Young, office manager for Huntington-Cabell-Wayne Animal Control.

    "A lot of people are under the impression that once they put those warning signs, they are in the clear. … They are responsible for that animal," Young said.

    True, there is always a duty to behave in a non-negligent manner, and the owner may have been negligent in allowing people on his porch without locking the door. I'm not even sure about that, though. Some time ago, an erratic-looking young man attempted to sell me magazines, and I didn't trust him. My dogs growled, and he said "Don't shoot, man!" He was on my front porch. If I told him not to enter the house, and had warning signs about dangerous animals, would I really be responsible if he came in anyway and got hurt? Extending this to the earlier officer's gun analogy, suppose he entered my house, found a gun, then shot himself or someone else. Is it fair to hold me responsible?

    I realize that some people would say yes, and others say no. There's a wide gulf separating these two types of thinking, as one is grounded in individual responsibility and the other in collective responsibility. But factual situations like this one is where the same set of facts can provoke very different responses. Including a reaction to unpleasant facts as being a product of media bias.

    I mean, I could scream, "Why did they report this story?" But obviously, they reported it because it was there, and each news outlet knows that if they don't report it their competitors will.

    Had the same two year old entered that same house and shot herself to death with the homeowner's gun, that would prompt a chorus of people blaming the gun and wanting gun control. My reaction would be similar to what it is now. Suppose the man had rattlesnakes in his house, and put up a sign, and told people to stay out.

    What's the difference?

    What kind of mom lets her two year old enter a house with "several 'beware of dog' signs" which she's been specifically warned not to enter?

    That's my reaction.

    Others, I know, would ignore the mother's conduct, and demand criminal prosecution of the dog owner (who negligently, but not criminally, allowed people on his front porch) as well as laws banning an entire breed.

    There's no bridging these gaps in understanding. Arguments do not work. People talk at each other instead of with each other. The goal is simply winning. I recognize that "winning" is legitimate, and it has its place in adversary systems, such as law or politics. But I don't write this blog in order to "win" anything. People might agree with me, and they might not. I write in order to find out what I think, and share that with others.

    My goal isn't to persuade anyone of anything, because people only persuade themselves.

    This causes much misunderstanding.

    When historical facts are in dispute, it's much worse than a simple news item.

    Alger Hiss will do. In a recent column, Jonah Goldberg touched on Hiss, and an important (if now largely obscure) historical point:

    One of the many layers to the controversy is the fact that Alger Hiss, the proven Communist spy — once beloved by liberals everywhere — was an advisor to FDR at the conference. How much of a role he played remains hotly debated. But only fools and Communist sympathizers would today disagree with the statement that he played too much of a role.
    Only fools and Communists? The problem I've found in discussing Alger Hiss is not with fools or Communists. It's that many (if not most) people don't even know who Alger Hiss was.

    Alger Hiss has become an American unperson. High schools teach little or nothing about him. I suspect only a very small percentage of graduating high school seniors know about Alger Hiss.

    (Might this be because they are taught that Nixon was bad? That in the Hiss case, the forces of Nixon collided with the forces of Stalin, so the kids might get confused?)

    Here's Wikipedia's entry:

    Whether Hiss was a Communist or a spy for the Soviets remains unproven. Proponents on either side of the discussion will of course characterize the case differently, with liberals charging Hiss was victimized by a prosecutorial vendetta and that the charges against Hiss were actually an attempt to discredit the United Nations, and conservatives charging that the Hiss case proved that FDR hired traitors and spies for high ranking positions in his administration.
    That's despite reams of evidence, including the Venona transcripts. Numerous discussions, in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere.

    The case remains an emotional hot button, because for those who know about it, it was a showdown between Alger Hiss and Congressman Richard Nixon's star witness, Whitaker Chambers:

    It was so clear, though, to the political and media elite, e.g., George Bernard Shaw, John Dos Passos, Felix Frankfurter, Dean Acheson, etc., that, in the words of Thomas Sowell, "the tall, trim, cool and well-dressed Hiss was so obviously 'one of us' -- and the portly, rumpled and pedestrian-looking Chambers 'one of them' -- that Hiss' innocence was taken for granted."
    The debate (with red state/blue state overtones) goes on and on, and the New York Times' Janny Scott has an excellent overview. Remarkably, anti-Nixon historian Stanley Kutler thinks Hiss was guilty. (But Dan Rather stands accused of being a Hiss defender.)

    Here's the Wall Street Journal:

    Refusing to acknowledge what is obvious and established is exactly what Alger Hiss did. Hiss was a high ranking official in the State Department of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. He was also a communist spy. The evidence was overwhelming and interestingly enough also involved a typewriter. Yet, Hiss denied to his death that he was a spy. Because of his denials, even decades later, loopy apologists continue defending Hiss -- despite KGB papers that list the information he stole, his contacts, and what he was paid by the communists. Had Hiss admitted the obvious, no one would defend him. Rather is following the Hiss strategy of denying what is plainly obvious so as to leave the debate at least partly open.
    The Hiss case came up again during Rathergate. Here's Bob Formaini at Tech Central Station:
    But what is interesting today about this case, in light of the current flap over CBS and Dan Rather, is that as the Hiss case unfolded, liberals displayed a skepticism concerning the authenticity of the evidence that bordered on the irrational. Hiss's own testimony, when confronted with the fact that the duplicated State Department documents in question were definitely typed on his family-owned Woodstock typewriter, was to say that he had no idea how Chambers could have entered his home secretly and typed the documents. Liberals believed this preposterous "explanation," and many still do with a religious fervor that remains amazing.

    At first, it appeared that the microfilmed documents retrieved from the hollowed-out pumpkin at Chambers' Maryland farm could not be genuine because Kodak's initial investigation declared that the film they were shot on was not manufactured prior to 1945. That appeared to be a death blow to Chambers' accusation that he received them from Hiss much earlier. Subsequently, Kodak corrected itself and said that the film was available in 1938, and the documents were probably photographed at that time. All the documents were from the office that Hiss worked in during that time period at State.

    And of course, the Hiss case has been linked to Watergate:
    Years later John Dean, in his book Blind Ambition, asserted that he was informed that Nixon at one point in his Presidency told Charles Colson, "The typewriters are always the key. We built one in the Hiss case." Colson denied ever having such a conversation with Nixon, and it has never been found in Nixon's tapes, despite his having recorded nearly every conversation in the oval office while he was president.
    My point here is not to debate the Hiss case, because I think the man is incredibly guilty and the overwhelming evidence proves it. My point is that I don't want to debate it. There's nothing could be gained from debating facts which have been gone over time and time again for decades. Hiss's defenders will always defend him, though and the people on the other side will always consider him a traitor. A Hiss defender would be utterly wasting his time with me, and most likely would end up insulting me for refusing to see "the truth."

    Some facts are not agreed on, and never will be.

    The unacknowledged issue is that strong feelings are beyond the realm of debate. For people with strong feelings, facts only supply fuel.

    This is why I dislike debates. Feelings always win, and no one is persuaded.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I should probably add that what's on my mind is not pit bulls, toddlers, or Hiss -- but whether a dispute over whether a book went into a toilet is really a dispute over facts.

    posted by Eric at 05:09 PM | Comments (5)

    A call to action

    The editors at the New Criterion have a good question for protest-minded environmentalists:

    But what we wish to know is, why are they so selective in their exhibition of outrage? A logging camp in Maine or the Pacific Northwest gets the full Green treatment: demonstrations, press conferences, sabotage. But what about a major university press whose activities darken hundreds of acres of wood pulp for no good reason?

    Their target is the execrable Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature which is filled with errors and marked by omissions.

    A good read. And don't miss the blunt assessment of Andrea Dworkin's intellect at the bottom of the page. Ouch.

    posted by Dennis at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

    Carnival and more

    The 139th Carnival of the Vanities has now been posted by John Behan at the Commonwealth Conservative, and I'm honored that my post on Kofi Annan at Penn was placed in John's "Cream of the Crop" category.

    Because that post was also linked in today's Blog Cabin column at the Philadelphia Inquirer, I want to take this opportunity not only to welcome Inquirer readers to Classical Values, but to direct their attention to the Carnival.

    This especially applies to new blog readers from the Inquirer who want to learn more about the blogosphere. Whether you like my blog or not, today's Carnival of the Vanities is a wonderful opportunity to familiarize yourself with the blogosphere, because it's a collection of reviews -- what I'd call a "BEST OF THE BLOGOSPHERE."

    Many excellent blog posts submitted by a wide range of bloggers.

    A particularly good example of what's there is this ferociously eloquent post (obviously written from the heart) in which Bad Example's Harvey discusses the personalized hard work which is the nature of blogging -- but which Harvey maintains is not the nature of newest kid on the blogosphere, the big media's Arianna Huffington:

    She looks at the blogosphere as a single entity with enormous power, and she lusts after it with deepest envy. She has fantasies of stepping in with a cabal of sycophants and grabbing this power for herself so that she can control "the public's imagination". She's under the delusion that all the scandals exposed by the blogosphere in the last year or so are directed from a single point of control, as though there were a handle that could be pulled to steer all the blogs in a single direction.

    What she wants is to grab that handle.

    To mangle a line from the Matrix, "there is no handle".

    Arianna, darling, the blogosphere isn't a machine to be controlled from a single point, it's a herd of cats, and it'll go where it sees fit in ways that can be neither controlled nor predicted. It's not an actually entity, but rather the sum total of the individual human lives behind every blog. If you persist in your insane beliefs to the contrary, your project will disintegrate before your eyes, leaving you alone, ignored, and wondering what went wrong.

    It is a cat herd -- and there's a lot of justifiable caterwauling over the Huffington blog, (although I notice Arianna is starting to include long established bloggers like Eugene Volokh -- which is good).

    Whether you agree with Harvey or not (or with me or not) isn't the point. Each blog resembles a life form -- living organism endowed by its creator with its creator's unique attributes. Taken together, these life forms have spawned another, much larger life form called the blogosphere.

    But that's just this blogger's view. There are millions more.

    UPDATE: In his comment to an earlier post, Harvey reminded me that he cited the interview used for the basis of his opinion (i.e., his criticism of Ms. Huffington is no spontaneous rant).

    MORE: In addition to Eugene Volokh, the Huffington Post features Roger L. Simon with a post about Newsweek and editing. In response to one of his surprised blog readers, Roger replied:

    As for going over to the dark side, lindenen, I'm an optimist. You know, one of those people who's crazy enough to think he can change people's heads. I'll go where the heads are.
    Assuming it's possible to change people's heads, I can't fault Roger's logic at all.

    posted by Eric at 08:59 AM | Comments (2)

    His death might be fake, but the real story is essentially true!

    According to what passes for wisdom in some circles, it "doesn't matter" whether certain allegations are true, even if they later turn out to be false:

    After the Brawley hoax, an article in the Nation magazine argued that it "doesn't matter" whether Brawley was lying, since the pattern of whites abusing blacks is true. And when Rigoberta Menchú's famous account of class and ethnic warfare in Guatemala was revealed to be largely false, many professors said this didn't matter much because her book contained emotional truth.

    (Via the Quietest.)

    Applying this principle to the allegations that Michael Crook was murdered, a few things become clear:

  • Michael Crook was hated.
  • The people who hated him were professional killers belonging to America's murder machine, and they wanted him dead.
  • The murderers were driven by a mobilizing passion to impose a fascist one party state in America.
  • They had the military training and expertise, as well as the murder weapons necessary to do the job.
  • Therefore, they might just as well have killed him. And really, it's just as if they did. The mere fact that he survived this time doesn't mean that they wouldn't have succeeded on another occasion. Nor does it mean that they won't succeed in the future.

    Millions of victims of the same military machine that wants him dead are already dead.

    Therefore, the much-touted "fact" that he appears to be alive is completely irrelevant in larger terms of reality-based truths. It simply doesn't matter whether the assorted wingnuts avail themselves of their technically accurate claims that he's "alive," because when seen in terms of the overall global picture Michael Crook might just as well have been killed.

    Avenge Michael Crook!

    UPDATE: Michael Crook has revenged on silly me.

    posted by Eric at 10:04 PM | Comments (6)

    Murder mystery or murder hoax?

    A commenter has alerted me to an interesting question of fact, the answer to which I do not know, as (despite my usual flippant attitude) I lack details.

    Is this man -- one Michael Crook -- really dead as this website claims?

    The Democratic Underground says he is, but according to the United States Marine Corps, the police say he isn't [at least, there's apparently no body]:

    A controversial Web site that has called wounded soldiers “leeches” and celebrates when U.S. servicemen are killed in action, is claiming its Web master was beaten to death yesterday.

    But local police say no murder has occurred.

    The site, www.foresakethetroops.info, posted a claim Tuesday morning that Michael Crook was physically attacked by two men and later died in a hospital from his injuries. The statement speculated that the attackers are “thought to be members of the military, in response to their opinions about this Web site.”

    Crook is the registered owner of the Web site, though the Web site has never revealed his name or location. The domain registry puts Crook’s address as Syracuse, N.Y., and a phone number on the site is a Syracuse area code and exchange.

    The site also says the two attackers were “taken into police custody.”

    But officials with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in Syracuse told Army Times Tuesday that they have no record or knowledge of any such attack in the region.

    A message left at the phone number listed on the Web site was not immediately returned.

    I guess we'll have to stay tuned.

    UPDATE (9:07 pm):


    No sooner did I get back from dinner than I got an email from Dennis (with whom I just ate dinner!) directing me to Michael Crook's website. He's alive, of course:

    Mike is revived!
    Submitted by mike on Tue, 2005-05-17 20:32.

    Well, I suppose the cat's out of the bag, so....I'm not dead.

    To those that sent heartfelt messages, and felt that this was a true story, I truly apologize. This situation quickly got out of hand, when national media outlets called looking for clarification.

    I honestly thought people would shrug it off, and go on their merry way. I even got a kick out of the numerous hate messages from people, including an e-mail message from this numbnuts:

    How lame. Michael Crook might get some fake-but-accurate hits for a while, I suppose. His life is now a poor imitation of his art.

    MORE: This same Michael Crook (or are there multiple versions?) has a long history of hoaxes, and while it's tough to tell precisely what sort of agent provocateur he is, he doesn't appear to like Philadelphians!

    posted by Eric at 05:02 PM | Comments (2)

    Warring sides on the Ivy Coast

    "We cannot seal ourselves off from the world's benefits - or the world's curses."

    So opines University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann on the selection of Kofi Annan to deliver the commencement address yesterday (where the university also honored him with a Doctor of Laws degree).

    As part of the buildup, President Gutmann had previously described Annan as the "perfect speaker":

    Annan's commitment to international peace, human rights, and the universal values of equality, liberty, opportunity and human dignity make him the perfect speaker to address Penn students.
    I believe in free speech, and I am against all forms of censorship.

    And at the risk of being called a fascist, I just don't think "perfect" is an adjective I would use to describe Annan, and with all due respect for Dr. Gutmann, I don't think it's appropriate.

    Nor do all Penn students agree that Annan was perfect for their commencement. Those against honoring him at commencement formed a group called Kofi Off Campus, and gathered signatures on a petition -- "200 online, and 500 on paper" according to the website. The group's president, Brian Quimby was a guest on Fox News Live this past Sunday:

    A spokesman from the Penn College Democrats declined an invitation to appear with him.
    Oh well. I'm sure someone is learning something about the U.N. (More in the Philadelphia Weekly.)

    Last week's Carnival of the Vanities host Fresh Politics, a blog run by Penn students, has been following the Ivying of Annan:

    All those "freedom froms" should tell you right away what brand of philosophy he follows. Annan is the quintessential statist, a believer in a philosphy inherently opposite to the American philosophy of individual liberty. (It's not freedom of (speech, press, congregation...), it's freedom from.)

    Freedom from fear? Not the richest tycoon in the world does not live free of fear.

    UPDATE: I've got good news, it looks like I'll be able to videotape Kofi as he tries to sell his statist garbage to the Penn audience. I'm planning to host the speech on Fresh Lila (our trusty webserver) for the greater good. I'll keep you posted.

    Fresh Politics also provided a link to the live webcast yesterday, but that doesn't seem to be working now, so those who want to watch the video should probably check back.

    The honoring of Annan was noticed by New York blogger Slant Point, who linked to a particularly scathing piece by Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The latter, writing in the New Hampshire Union Leader, called the event a "ray of sunshine" for Annan:

    through the cloud that hangs over Annan, a ray of sunshine has found its way to him. Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, that prestigious Ivy League seat of learning, has invited Annan to serve as this year’s commencement speaker. And that’s not all: In what can only be seen as an expression of wacky collegiate humor, the university also will award Annan an honorary — yes, honorary — doctorate of law — yes, law.

    I suppose one could say, “Oh what the heck! So a few billion dollars fell through the cracks. It’s only money!” But that would not be correct. Oil for Food (OFF) was meant to ensure that the international sanctions imposed on Iraq targeted Saddam Hussein — not innocent Iraqis. Because the program was corrupted, not only did Saddam end up with plenty of funds to build palaces and buy weapons; more distressingly, money that was meant to buy food and medicine was diverted. As a result, Iraqi children died and their grieving parents were robbed — by Saddam with U.N. connivance.

    I suppose one could still say, “Oh, fiddlesticks. OFF was one U.N. program out of dozens. In other ways, Annan has been the very model of a modern secretary-general.” But that, too, would not be correct. The United Nations, almost eight years after Annan assumed leadership, is embroiled in more scandals than at any time since its founding. As serious as OFF — in a different way — is the scandal involving U.N. peacekeepers in Africa sexually abusing the women and children they were sworn to protect. The exploitation continued even after press reports had forced a U.N. internal investigation.

    Nor does Annan deserve high marks for the work he did before becoming secretary-general. As head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, he failed to raise alarms over rising ethnic violence in Rwanda. As a result, the Rwandan genocide took place on his watch. The mass murders at Srebenica and Darfur also occurred during his tenure in top U.N. jobs.

    And straight out of a George Orwell novel has been the U.N. Human Rights Commission — a body where the worst human rights violators gather to criticize others.

    There have been other scandals as well — too many to detail here and perhaps some we’ll never know about: A U.N. survey last year showed that a significant portion of Annan’s staff fear retaliation if they call attention to management failings.

    So, recently I wrote to Gutmann to share these concerns about her decision to honor Annan. To do so, I argued would be an embarrassment to the institution she leads.

    Leslie Laird Kruhly, the “Secretary of the University,” responded on Gutmann’s behalf. She said she was “sorry to learn” I disagreed with the choice of a commencement speaker. Nonetheless, she added, “I believe that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is deserving of this honor” in recognition of “his career of devoted service to the goals of development, international peace and security, human rights, and the rule of law.”

    That he has failed to make progress toward these goals is, apparently, irrelevant. What lesson might graduating seniors draw from that? That there is nothing wrong with failing as long as you convince people you’re “devoted”?

    She then told me that “Dr. Gutmann’s administration has passionately committed itself to protecting intellectual freedom. We believe that a great university must never compromise on its devotion to free speech.”

    What has intellectual freedom and free speech to do with the appropriateness of honoring a man who has presided over mass corruption — well beyond the wildest dreams of anyone at Enron — while turning a blind eye to genocide, organized sexual abuse and long lists of human rights violations? Who knows? Who cares? Apparently, no one at the once-great University of Pennsylvania.

    Whew! Tough words for tough times, but I guess we shouldn't seal ourselves off from the world's curses.

    I have to disagree with Clifford May's characterization of Penn as "once great," though. Because if he is right, then it might follow that no commencement speaker could have been more perfect.

    UPDATE: In other Ivy news, Power Line has an unconfirmed report that Columbia students were treated to a speech likening Americans to an obscene gesture:

    Ms. Nooyi began to compare the world and its five major continents (excl. Antarctica and Australia) to the human hand. First was Africa - the pinky finger - small and somewhat insignificant but when hurt, the entire hand hurt with it. Next was Asia - the thumb - strong and powerful, yearning to become a bigger player on the world stage. Third was Europe - the index finger - pointing the way. Fourth was South America - the ring finger - the finger which symbolizes love and sensualness. Finally, the US (not Canada mind you) - yes, you guessed it - the middle finger. She then launched into a diatribe about how the US is seen as the middle finger to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees us as an overbearing, insensitive and disrespectful nation that gives the middle finger to the rest of the world.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Assuming this happened, I think that such attempts to shame students who are just starting out in life might have a way of backfiring in the long run, because not everyone subscribes to the idea of collective guilt.

    MORE: I don't know how many people are interested in historical trivia, but according to Straight Dope, the middle finger is a classical tradition:

    The "one-finger salute," or at any rate sexual gestures involving the middle finger, are thousands of years old. In Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution, Desmond Morris and colleagues note that the digitus infamis or digitus impudicus (infamous or indecent finger) is mentioned several times in the literature of ancient Rome. Turning to our vast classical library, we quickly turn up three references. Two are from the epigrammatist Martial: "Laugh loudly, Sextillus, when someone calls you a queen and put your middle finger out."

    (The verse continues: "But you are no sodomite nor fornicator either, Sextillus, nor is Vetustina's hot mouth your fancy." Martial, and Roman poets in general, could be pretty out there, subject-matter-wise. Another verse begins: "You love to be sodomized, Papylus . . .")

    In the other reference Martial writes that a certain party "points a finger, an indecent one, at" some other people. The historian Suetonius, writing about Augustus Caesar, says the emperor "expelled [the entertainer] Pylades . . . because when a spectator started to hiss, he called the attention of the whole audience to him with an obscene movement of his middle finger." Morris also claims that the mad emperor Caligula, as an insult, would extend his middle finger for supplicants to kiss.

    Let's have some respect for the ancients around here!

    UPDATE (05/18/05): Many thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer for linking this post in its Blog Cabin column. Welcome Inquirer readers! If any of you are new to the blogosphere and want to learn more, well, you're in luck! Because, the post you are reading was also linked by today's Carnival of the Vanities, which provides an overview of the blogosphere with reviews of many excellent blog posts submitted by a wide range of bloggers. It's a sort of BEST OF THE BLOGOSPHERE, so be sure to click on this Carnival link to learn more.

    posted by Eric at 08:55 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBacks (1)

    Happy belated!

    In honor of the 2nd Blogiversary of Classical Values, Karl Rove sent me a copy of Irving Kristol's NeoConservativism: The Autobiography of an Idea.

    Continued funding for the site is now contingent upon certain proofs of allegiance to the neocon cause, and as our actual posts fail to offer such proof, Karl has asked me to post a photo:


    I've been reading it dutifully between faxes of the latest Republican talking points.


    PS: Lest you doubt my pedigree, the pajama bottoms clearly mark me as a blogger.

    posted by Dennis at 12:02 AM | Comments (5)

    NPR is more exciting than you think!

    I just received the following email from Iranian writer Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi (recently interviewed by Jamie Glazov):

    Hello Everyone,

    Now NPR interviews assassins of innocent Iranians and airs their garbage as news worthy...Please listen to this broadcast ( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4652644 ). If you are as offended by this rubbish, as I am, please contact NPR's Ombudsman, Mr. Jeffrey Dvorkin (jdvorkin@npr.org) to graciously let him know that interviewing this murderer is an utter abomination! David Bellfield (a.k.a Salahedin) is a criminal and MUST pay his debt to society!

    This transgression by NPR is very embarrassing indeed.

    Thank you.

    Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi
    Intrigued by this, I went to NPR's site, and found a rather bland description of the interview:
    From Mujahadeen to the Movies: Salahuddin

    NPR's Mike Shuster profiles Dahwud Salahuddin, a black Muslim born in the United States who has lived in Iran for most of the last 25 years. Salahuddin fought with the Mujahadeen -- the Iranians who opposed the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s -- played an American doctor in a recent Iranian film, and is a fugitive from American justice.

    Yawn. A disgruntled American expatriate who once fought the big bad Russians and now likes to act in films. What on earth could the fuss be about?

    I did a little digging through my usual far right sources, and finally settled on the extremist New Yorker. The man is in fact a cold blooded assassin who admits to gunning down a member of the Iranian opposition here in the United States, for which he was paid $5000. His philosophy is, well, murderous (but polite enough for public radio):

    On the street in Tehran, Salahuddin looks more like a visiting Islamic scholar from Qom than like a murderer. He is about six feet tall, has a closely cropped beard, and wears a knee-length tunic. "Generally, I blend in," Salahuddin said earlier this year. "I could be an Iranian Arab or an Iranian Baluch." He is a cordial, soft-spoken, and, it seems, even-tempered man. Yet he has declared that he is ready to kill again, "in certain circumstances." He also approves of bombing buildings if, in his opinion, they are "symbols of arrogant American power."
    Here's his description of the murder:
    In conversations that took place over five days in Tehran last February, Salahuddin admitted to murdering Tabatabai. "I shot him," Salahuddin said, with no sign of discomfort or remorse, when I asked him about the killing during our first meeting. In a later e-mail, Salahuddin insisted that there was nothing "murderous" in his killing of Tabatabai. "It was an act of war," he wrote, and a religious duty. "In Islamic religious terms, taking a life is sometimes sanctioned and even highly praised, and I thought that event was just such a time." Some interpretations of Islamic law allow for killing when it is seen as a way to protect the Muslim community, and Salahuddin seems to have appropriated this view for his own ends. He was, by his own description, an "angry and alienated" African-American with "a good dose of rage with the American establishment." He told me that if the opportunity to kill Tabatabai had not come along, he is sure that he would have done something else like it, or something on an even larger scale. "I was primed for violence, and I thought about cratering the White House a quarter century before Al Qaeda did," he wrote to me. "It would be accurate to say that my biggest aspiration was to bring America to its knees, but I didn't know how."
    The guy's a case study in human psychopathology. Here he imagines how it would feel to assassinate Henry Kissinger:
    I asked Salahuddin what he thought he would have accomplished by assassinating Kissinger. "It's like this—you deal with a bully," he began. "You go to school the first day, a guy takes your lunch money, and that's going to go on every day of the year until you do something to him that will discourage that kind of behavior." He added that even though he knew there was "an excellent chance" that he would get shot by Kissinger's bodyguards, he was prepared to go ahead. "I don't see myself as being in love with danger," he wrote in an e-mail, but "the excitement of it is a psychic drug and in the midst of potential life-and-death circumstances you understand what it is to be alive."

    Salahuddin discovered, in his early years in Iran, that even though he believed in violent jihad, there were limits to his militancy. In the eighties, he said, a branch of Iranian military intelligence asked him to hijack planes, but, he said, "there is something about being trapped inside of something that I would not give in to." He added, "I might do other things if it's just bang and gone, but the idea of keeping people under pressure. . . . "

    Fun to read if you're the kind of person who enjoys reading about Gein, Gacy, Manson....

    The way NPR wrote up this interview, I'd have never known they were interviewing such an exciting character.

    I wonder how they'd bill an interview with Charles Manson, anyway.

    posted by Eric at 10:48 PM | Comments (7)

    In a disposable world, life is cheap, and so are cameras!

    This camera phone website reports a story from India, with implications anywhere:

    Nikhil Niranjan Alva, a documentary filmmaker who won a Green Oscar and who also is the son of an Indian government official, saw a traffic warden beating a taxi driver who refused to stop when asked to.

    Nikhil used his camera phone to record the incident and the traffic warden assaulted him. "An assistant inspector, a head constable and a constable were present but they did not interfere," the article says.

    The author concludes with a warning to "citizen" journalists and photographers:
    This is one more example of how camera phones are helping to document abuses of power. But it also highlights a problem with camera phones usage: Camera phone users are in danger of being assaulted, shot, imprisoned.

    I've written before about my fear of camera phone users who could get into trouble documenting illegal activities. We are just beginning to see the effects of "citizen journalists" and "citizen photographers."

    That's one advantage of having a throwaway camera like the $59.00 AIPTEK I used to film this near riot in Berkeley. It doesn't have the features of many cameras, but hell, the quality is better than the Zapruder film.

    Let's suppose you decide to film a group of anti-American activists burning the flag. Or a Koran desecration in progress. You might get attacked and beaten (more likely they'll just target your camera) but at least you won't be out the cash it takes to replace valuable equipment. And if you have to run away, you'll feel less inhibited about harming the equipment.

    I mean, I hate to be a relativist about these things, but human life is cheap, and cameras are still pretty pricey. I suppose the costs of both will keep going down. (Meanwhile, based on additional information supplied for this this InstaRecommendation, I bought one of these for slightly more money, and I can't wait to try it out.)

    posted by Eric at 04:09 PM | Comments (3)

    Making a serious case?

    In an amusing twist, Newsweek's flushing-of-the-flushing story (discussed dismissively infra -- and now I'm wondering whether should it be called "Korangate" or "Flushgate") has not made the Philadelphia Inquirer's front page. In its place, I find a story about huge story about new roles for virtual cadavers, AND this clever writeup linking Pajamas Media to the Arianna Huffington "trend."

    A hell of a way to marginalize a story the blogosphere's calling Newsweek's Abu Ghraib.

    One which gave me pause for over ten minutes!

    Am I wrong in seeing a little surrealist absurdity here? Not that bloggers shouldn't be delighted by such official confirmation (with an exciting psywar twist) of their new role as cyber dissecters, but when bloggers and cyber cadavers bump the biggest MSM scandal in months off the front page, well, the serious side of me is tempted to make a serious case against seriousness.

    I mean that in all seriousness. Where is the rule that says I or any other blogger should be a relentlessly moralistic media scold? I'm not the first to complain of media bias and distortion, nor will I be the last. But it's a little tough to have to work myself into full dudgeon every single time they act the way they are. I'm human too. I make mistakes, and I try to correct them. All I can ask of the MSM is that they drop the arrogance and stop taking themselves so seriously.

    I'm glad to see that at least in this case, they're not, although I don't think any story on bloggers or cavaders trumps Newsweek's too-little-too-late faux retraction.

    Yes, it's nice that the Inky now has a blog called "Blinq." But it's not the first time I've seen the Establishment hopping aboard the rebel bandwagon. For years I grew accustomed to spotting bizarre new street fashions sprout up in places like Berkeley and San Francisco, only to see them for sale six months later in "collections" at Macy's (while the hipsters moved on to new outrages). This is a little like McDonalds starting a "Slow Food" division.

    It's funny, and I don't like being forced to take it seriously. But as usual, I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't.

    UPDATE: Roger L. Simon describes Newsweek's conduct as "journalism at its most insidious and dangerous," and likens them to Pravda. Roger's "I may seem to be taking this lightly" is a good way to put it.

    I mean, did anyone take Pravda seriously?

    UPDATE: Michael Demmons quite rightly thinks that the people who've used this story as an excuse for homicidal rampages are worse than Newsweek:

    You really have to wonder what kind of a barbaric people would react this way to the Newsweek story. Really. Newsweek deserves to be punished. But are they really responsible for deaths here? I mean, if I insulted the schoolyard bully, and he stabbed me for it, is it my own fault? I might have instigated the aggression, but I’m not going to be held responsible for my own death - even if I knew about the bully’s dangerous temper.
    This is an important point which should not be overlooked. I'm not persuaded by the analogy to the Rodney King riots I've seen elsewhere, because the police beating story was not made up, and because harm to a person is not comparable to harm to a book.

    And, as Glenn Reynolds observes,

    I don't recall any riots resulting from Serrano's Piss Christ, or the large number of tiresomely blasphemous imitators he spawned.
    I don't recall them either.

    MORE: Via the ever vigilant Atrios, I see that a blogger (who delinked me, which I don't think was very nice) now accuses Glenn Reynolds of advocating censorship! The things I'm supposed to take seriously these days. Sheesh.

    MORE: I know I don't need to clarify the obvious, but I don't understand how anyone could confuse warnings like this with calls for censorship (precisely the opposite). But they do.

    AND MORE: Clayton Cramer makes an excellent point:

    I know that most Muslims kept their cool--but there is something truly bizarre about the intensity of childish behavior in response. If this same crowd were this angry about Muslims being murdered, most of the Arab world's governments would have been overthrown decades ago.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    By the way, Clayton Cramer has always been a real gentleman with me despite disagreements dating back to the first posts in this blog.

    (If you're a reader who enjoys studying "childish behavior," one of my more intensely aroused commenters has created a blog which dotes on Mr. Cramer in the most assiduous manner! I'm only human, so naturally I'm a little jealous.)

    MORE: While he can't ruin a meme I never had, my friend Say Uncle has reminded me that I never used the catchy slogan that needs reworking. As I said on Saturday, I fail to see any logical difference between burning the Koran and burning the Bible -- or the American flag, for that matter.

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds I see that Newsweek has issued a full retraction -- and an apology.

    Which is as it should be. What this story shows is that anyone can say anything. That does not prove that what they say happened in fact happened. I'm sure that a majority of the Guantanamo detainees would allege whatever the leaders of their misguided and evil cause told them to allege. That does not make the allegations true. Nor does repeating their allegations in blog comments make the comments true.

    I have to say that I find all this sudden concern over the sanctity of religious books to be quite touching.

    Glenn has the last serious word:

    And anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be willing to apply the same kind of criticism to things like Piss Christ, or to explain why offending the sensibilities of one kind of religious believer is "art" while doing the same in another context is "torture." If, that is, they want to be taken at all seriously.
    Art as torture? An old idea, really. Do I have to take that seriously too?

    posted by Eric at 07:46 AM | Comments (25)

    Nepotism is a family value!

    Despite the fact that I have serious reservations about nepotism, I don't see any reason why bloggers shouldn't be allowed to utilize the services of family members -- especially when a family member shows early and promising talent.

    And Coco is an exceptionally talented dog. As I demonstrated in a previous post, she understands basic office procedures, has a knack for zeroing in on suspicious documents, and abhors coverups.

    The other day as Coco and I were reading the Inquirer together a thought struck me!

    The moment was captured for posterity:


    I assure you, I don't normally look that happy when reading the Inquirer. But it was then that I realized that if I started Coco early, she might be the first pit bull to become a genuine media blogger. If you examine this closeup of her face, you will see that she has one blue eye and one brown eye -- a recessive condition known as "bi-eyed."


    It's become obvious that the two halves of her brain process information differently, allowing nothing to escape her scrutiny. Everything is constantly being reevaluated and seen in an entirely new way.

    In all candor, I am forced to admit that Coco isn't as intelligent as some of the better bloggers. But give her a break; she's a dog after all. Her brain is the size of a lime.

    I mean, what would you do if you had a brain the size of a lime? Great talent and a knack for spotting details is fine, but let's face it, there are limits to the capabilities of the canine mind. I say this not to insult or belittle Coco in any way; only to highlight the importance of starting her early, and never allowing anyone to hurt her self esteem.

    Coco is just as good as any other blogger!

    And here's proof.


    That's Coco, fisking the Philadelphia Inquirer. She thought that piece was written by dummies, for dummies, and about dummies.

    Puff, of course, didn't have the advantage of an early start in life, but he's very proud of Coco's head start in fisking.

    Here they are, just a few hours ago.


    Obviously, talent runs in the family.

    MORE: Readers who think Coco is unqualified to be a blogger should bear in mind that blogging is an art form. And at least one pit bull has been successful as an artist:

    Referred to as the "Pitcasso" of the art world, southeast Valley resident Spanky cuts quite a wide swath locally. One of his paintings recently sold for $550 at the American Diabetes Association's Valley of the Sun Celebrity Art Auction.

    The pit bull's artistic sphere of influence is not confined to the Valley. At Santa Fe's famous Indian Market, his works usually command four figures.

    Already, bloggers are dogging the art world. Why not the inverse?

    It's the age of convergence.

    posted by Eric at 10:43 PM | Comments (3)

    Me Two?

    Hey, I think Classical Values is two years old today. (Yup, I just checked.)

    I was startled to realize that it's my blogiversary, and now that I've had a little time to think it over, well, I do feel very much like a two year old.

    I just thanked my blogfather Jeff Soyer, and I think it's high time I started acting my age.

    How should I celebrate?

    Should I celebrate?

    I mean, should I have a cake like the one my blogfather had last year?

    How might the stereotypical pagan goth look go over?

    Something like this, perhaps?


    Hmmm.... I dunno. A big fire like that might be considered a bit precocious for a two year old.

    Furthermore, does the fact that birthdays are pagan mean that any celebration at all might be misinterpreted?

    I doubt it, and I think the above is an extreme position. The mainstream view is that whether they're pagan or not, birthdays, anniversaries and celebratory cakes are at once both classical and traditional. Historians know the Romans had them, and maybe the Greeks too:

    Some historians think that the custom of the birthday cake was observed in ancient Greece, and they report that the birthday cake began with the Greeks who used to make honey cakes or bread. Ancient Romans celebrated three different types of birthdays: Private celebrations among family and friends, the birthdays of cities and temples, and the birthdays of past and present emperors or members of the imperial family. The 50th year was celebrated with a honey cake made of wheat flour, grated cheese, honey, and olive oil.
    I do try to be as historically accurate as I can, but I wouldn't know how to track down such a cake. Another site speculates that it might have looked something like this:


    Not too dramatic, but it looks edible.

    I'm not sure about candles, although again, there's evidence of a classical tradition there too.

    Candles on birthday cakes have been around for some considerable time. Birthday celebrations were originally not celebrations at all, according to some; instead, people worried that they would be attacked by spirits on the anniversary of their birth, and so clustered with family and friends in order to keep safe. This quasi-religious aspect to a birthday "celebration" continued; we have birthday cakes because either the Greeks made round cakes to venerate Artemis, goddess of the moon, or because the Germans made a special bread (which might be called Geburtstagorten and might not) in the shape of the baby Jesus' swadding clothes. The candles were an extension of this; Gibbons stated in 1986 that the Greeks put candles on their round cakes to make them glow like the moon, hoping to gain Artemis' special favour. Alternatively, the candles were intended to carry the birthday wishes up to God (or the gods), along with the smoke.


    But I haven't made my wishes yet!

    posted by Eric at 03:13 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (2)

    respecting disrespect
    It was all because of what Glenn started.

    -- Arianna Huffington

    (Via He Who Started It.)

    I'm amazed to have seen Arianna Huffington make that remark on Howard Kurtz's Reliable Sources show on CNN. It might have been good politics, but for whatever reason I think was quite decent of her to say that, and while I still harbor old disrespect, tough as it is, I must now grudgingly acknowledge that I have new respect for her.

    It goes without saying that I'm also here because of what Glenn started.

    So are a lot of people who'd never dare ackowledge it.

    (I'd have more respect for them if they did, too....)

    posted by Eric at 02:36 PM | Comments (3)

    Dissing elections?

    v : deprive of voting rights [syn: disfranchise] [ant: enfranchise]

    In a Sunday front page article entitled "Many fear Iraqi vote escalated the violence" Hannah Allam (of the Philadelphia Inquirer's Foreign Staff) claims that Iraqis have been disenfranchised:

    When the ballots were collected, about 58 percent of eligible voters had made it to the polls. Among the remaining 42 percent were most Sunni Arabs, who stayed away because of a boycott or the fear of insurgent retaliation. Now, the Sunnis' 20 percent of the population is grossly underrepresented in the government.

    Insurgent leaders immediately seized on the Sunni disenfranchisement. They stirred up sectarian emotions with a propaganda campaign that focused not only on the sidelining of Sunnis, but also on their replacement at the head of government by Shiites with close ties to archenemy Iran.

    Not being much of an Iraqi forgeign policy wonk, I'm not in a position to validate or debunk Hannah Allam's election data.

    But I am a bit troubled by the word "disenfranchisement." It's increasingly used as code language -- not for people who've had their voting rights taken away (which is what the word means), but for people who simply don't vote.

    Now, we can argue that the Sunnis who were too intimidated to vote were effectively disenfranchised. Fearing for your life is more intimidating than long lines in Ohio (even though the latter has been called disenfranchisement).

    But is boycotting an election disenfranchisement? To vote or not vote is a certainly a choice, and boycotting the elections is a form of protest which may ultimately be of benefit to people who would have lost anyway or who don't believe in the legitimacy of elections. However, when you have the right to vote, and deliberately decide not to exercise it, I'd say that is precisely the opposite of disenfranchisement. To not do something you have a right to do is one way of exercising that right. Free speech does not give me any obligation to say anything; refraining from speech is one way of exercising it. And not owning a gun (when gun ownership is a right) is an exercise of one's Second Amendment right to own guns.

    Why would this writer call people who deliberately refrain from voting "disenfranchised"? To provide food for bloggers like me?

    It's bad enough that many people would reading this story uncritically, and would just let the word "disenfranchisement" sink into their brains without engaging in any critical thinking. That's why I blog. But even when the word is misused to describe deliberate non-voting protesters, a far more important point is lost -- and that bothers me much more.

    I'm sure it's obvious to most bloggers, but I'll spell it out anyway. The word "disenfranchise" means losing a preexisting right to vote, does it not?

    When did the Iraqis finally obtain this right? Wasn't it this year that they were in fact newly enfranchised?

    The word "disenfranchisement" refers to the deprival of a preexisting right. Considering that there was no preexisting right, isn't the use of the word "disenfranchisement" in the context of new elections a little disingenuous?

    I think so, unless the assumption is that somehow the purpose of the Iraqi elections was to disenfranchise the voters.

    But if that was the goal, wouldn't it have been a better idea not to hold elections?

    posted by Eric at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

    Criminal Outlets

    If, like millions of people, you enjoy performing simple home repairs, you better hope you don't live in California. Beginning August 1, it will cost you -- big time -- to replace a two dollar light switch:

    At least when it comes to electrical things, do-it-your-selfers may find their craft considerably more expensive.

    Starting Aug. 1, when the 2004 California Electrical Codes automatically take effect, residents will have to apply for a city building permits to replace or add wall, porch and ceiling lamps, light switches, electric receptacles, and other common do-it-yourself chores.

    So changing that noisy electrical switch with a quieter mercury switch will cost a lot more. Besides the costs of the new switch, there’ll be the $81 basic permit fee plus an additional surcharge of $2.15 for each receptacle, outlet or switch and—if you want to add more—$21.50 for altering or changing wiring.

    Under the current city code, such small changes can be made without permits and inspections; starting Aug. 1, not so.

    Not that anyone will obey these laws, mind you. They're just there to remind Californians that there's more freedom in Arizona or Nevada.

    posted by Eric at 07:41 PM | Comments (5)

    Hearts And Minds

    I saw a Yale professor change his mind recently. It was over on a milblog called Chapomatic, which I'm finding quite enjoyable. It brings back memories of my navy brat days, but it's not all military. There are pictures of cute little mammals here. Some interesting links to water purification, etc. are here. But the best so far is the text of a speech at Middlebury College by John Lewis Gaddis of Yale.

    Allow me to present some free samples.

    The story begins with the publication of my book, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, which appeared a year ago last March.

    Late in June, I had a cryptic e-mail from a former student, now working in the White House speech-writing shop: “the boss has read your book, and has told all of us to read it.”

    I wasn’t quite sure which boss he meant, but soon there was a call from Condi Rice which cleared things up: “The President has read your book, and has told all of us to read it. Could you come down and brief the National Security Council staff?”

    I of course said yes, but then started quickly flipping through the book to review what I’d actually said about the President and his policies. Here are some sample quotes:

    I said that he had “failed miserably” in getting United Nations support for the invasion of Iraq.

    I said that his solutions to complex problems tended to be “breathtakingly simple.”

    I said that the phrase “axis of evil” originated “in overzealous speechwriting rather than careful thought.”

    I said that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had “diminished, in advance, the credibility of whatever future intelligence claims Bush and Blair might make.”

    I said that the so-called “coalition of the willing” there had been “more of a joke than a reality.”

    I said that, “within a little more than a year and a half, the United States had exchanged its long-established reputation as the principal stabilizer of the international system for one as its chief destabilizer.”

    And I said that although great grand strategists know the uses of “shock and awe,” they also know when to stop. Here I cited the example of Otto von Bismarck, who had shattered the post-1815 European state system in order to make possible the unification of Germany in 1871, but then had “replaced his destabilizing strategy with a new one aimed at consolidation and reassurance – at persuading his defeated enemies as well as nervous allies and alarmed bystanders that they would be better off living within the new system he had imposed on them than by continuing to fight or fear it.”

    So I was not too sure how all of this was going to go over at the White House.

    I did indeed meet with Condi and the NSC staff in mid-July for a lively discussion of points made in the book and possible future directions for the administration’s grand strategy.

    At the end of it, she casually asked: “Could you spare a few minutes for the President?”

    I allowed as how maybe I could, and so she took me into the Oval Office where the President and the Vice President were waiting.

    I expected, at best, a handshake and photo op.

    But the President said: “Sit down. Loved your book. Tell me more about Bismarck.”

    I interpret the above as an establishment of his academic bona fides. A brief introductory ritual to lend his later remarks credibility.

    There followed a twenty minute conversation with Bush asking all the questions. After which we found, cooling their heels outside, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Under-Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers. “This is Professor Gaddis,” the President said, waving the book at them. “I want you all to read his book.”

    Well, I don’t know how you would have responded in such a situation, but I was somewhat surprised.

    I’d been told, first of all, that the President never read anything beyond his daily press and intelligence digests. So it was certainly a surprise to find that he had read my book, and that he had done so ahead of his own staff. We’ve since learned, of course, that the President has a pretty eclectic reading list, ranging from Nathan Sharansky and Ron Chernow to Tom Wolfe.

    I’d been told, second, that this was an administration that could not take criticism – that it listened only to people who agreed with it. But the criticisms I’d made didn’t seem to bother anyone.

    And I’d been told that this was an administration that was incapable of changing direction, of learning from mistakes, of assessing its own performance. But the whole tone of the discussions was one of acknowledging that, while the overall direction of policy was right, much had gone wrong along the way, and that in the second term – if the voters were to grant one – there would have to be certain changes.

    It's not so much what Dr. Gaddis is saying that I find startling, but the fact that he is saying it at all. I admire his courage. It can't be easy to be where he is and say what he says. Moving right along...

    The key to understanding the administration’s position now, I think, is this: that while everyone in the world may not know what democracy is, everyone certainly does know what tyranny entails.

    The validity of that assumption became a lot clearer on January 30th, when even in the face of persistent insecurity, literally at the risk of their lives, Iraqis who’d not had the opportunity to vote in a free election for decades turned out to do so in percentages that compare favorably with the number of Americans who turned out to vote in their own far safer presidential election last November.

    So while there may still be all kinds of disagreement about what kind of government will be best for Iraq, there is apparently agreement about one thing: tyranny is not that form of government.

    That much the Bush administration has accomplished, and let us be clear about how that happened: without the invasion of Iraq – and without the sacrifices of a lot of Iraqi and American and British lives – it would never have happened. As even The New York Times, at last, has got around to admitting.

    Finely spoken. And how has the wonderful world of academe received such statements?

    I’ve learned to be careful about this ever since, a couple of years ago, I gave a talk at Harvard and a very distinguished professor whose name most of us know announced, quite majestically, after I’d finished: “I’ve been at this university for 47 years, and I have never heard a presentation with which I disagreed more.”

    So please be advised of the following: “This lecture will contain material that some may consider to be complimentary toward the Bush administration. It may, therefore, strike some listeners as unsettling, naïve, partisan, propagandistic, chauvinistic, muddle-headed, or paid for by Karl Rove.”

    Changing the world, one professor at a time. Best of luck to him. Meanwhile, get thee hence and read the whole thing.

    posted by Justin at 07:41 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    I stink therefore I am

    Rosemary Esmay (via Michael Demmons) looks at the gay/straight pheromone study and observes:

    If it can finally be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that homosexuality is biological, then perhaps true equality for gays and lesbians can finally be achieved. Also, from a religious standpoint, the idea that homosexual behavior is sinful should be called to question. If it is biological, then we can't fault people for behaving in the manner that God made them because God doesn't make mistakes.
    While I am no more impressed by this study than I would be by one "proving" that meat eaters like the smell of meat but vegetarians don't, I do have my biases. I don't think it can ever be proven that all homosexuality is biological, because common sense and personal experience tells me that some is, some isn't. No "rule" is right all the time. I've known gay men who I'm sure were born that way, but I've known others who've simply enjoyed homosexual acts because they've wanted to. The element of choice and the word "choice" are so over-invoked that I almost hesitate to use the word, but I'd like to ask a rather cynical question along the "what if" line.

    Let us suppose that homosexual practices can be deliberately chosen and that homosexual desires can be preprogrammed before birth. Does this make those who choose to engage in homosexuality any more "guilty" than those who don't? Unless something is wrong with homosexuality, I fail to see why.

    If we approach this from a purely Machiavellian perspective, and assume that there is one no right or wrong theory explaining homosexuality, which theory more advances the cause of freedom? The one which maintains homosexuals are born that way and have no choice would seem more likely to stigmatize them by asking society to make allowances for them. It has a patronizing, even debasing feel to it, and it encourages political chicanery.

    On the other hand, simply acknowledging the right to do what one wants with one's own body and leaving it at that does more to advance human freedom and dignity. Not only of homosexuals, but of heterosexuals, people into various sexual minority group interests, and bisexuals. Regarding the latter group, in the comments section, Dean asks,

    Also, what about bisexual people--is it okay to kick them around because they clearly DO make a choice?
    No, in my opinion it is NOT OK to kick them around because they have a choice.

    Freedom is about choice.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I'd most likely have to be considered bisexual (as opposed to "gay" or "straight") but I hate these labels. I realize that some people maintain that there are no bisexuals. Fine. I'll just allow them to stick whatever label they want to stick on me. Liberal conservative, gay straight -- I get tired of it all. I'll be "whatever."

    The right to love who you love trumps labels anyway.

    posted by Eric at 03:51 PM | Comments (4)

    Just another thing that flagged my curiosity . . .

    Is it more disrespectful to burn the Koran than the American flag?

    Worshippers in Pakistan poured on to the streets after prayers, chanting “Death to America”, and burning American flags. In Jakarta, hundreds gathered noisily at a mosque. Thousands marched through the streets of a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza.

    The unrest began this week after Newsweek published an allegation that American military interrogators had desecrated the Islamic holy book in an effort to rattle detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The report said that they had placed the Koran on the lavatory inside inmates’ cells and had “in at least one case, flushed a holy book down the toilet” .

    The report was condemned by the Pakistani Government, and Khurshid Kasuri, the Foreign Minister, demanded an apology and severe punishment for any soldier found guilty. Hardline Islamic groups said that they would hold protests but before that could happen violent protests erupted in Afghanistan.

    Significantly, Saudi Arabia, a key US regional ally which is usually slow in speaking out, became the first Arab state to comment officially yesterday, expressing “deep indignation” and calling for a quick investigation and for the perpetrators to be punished.

    The report was denounced initially by the US chargé d’affaires in Kabul and then by the Pentagon and the State Department. As unrest gathered pace, Dr Rice issued an appeal: “I want to speak directly to Muslims in America and throughout the world. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, tolerated by the United States. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is abhorrent to us all.

    “There have been recent allegations about disrespect for the Holy Koran by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and that has deeply offended many people. Our military authorities are investigating these allegations fully. If they are proven true, we will take appropriate action.

    “Guaranteeing religious rights is of great personal importance to the President and to me. During the past few days, we have heard from our Muslim friends around the world about their concerns on this matter. We understand and we share their concerns.

    The article is accompanied by this picture of an activity so common that these days it raises nary an eyebrow:


    I have no way of knowing whether U.S. soldiers burned or desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo, as has been alleged. (Or Abu Ghraib, for that matter.) But I would like to take a logical and objective look at the essential nature of this allegation, which seems to be causing at least as much of an uproar as the allegations of torture. Maybe more.

    The Koran is a book of various assertions. Whether or not it contains the literal word of God is a religious dispute. It is certainly a symbol to many people -- at least as much of a symbol as a flag. I am not in favor of burning books, nor am I in favor of burning flags. But is burning one any worse than burning another? Bible burnings are not particularly in vogue these days, but considering the legality of flag burning as symbolic speech, there's no law I know of that would stop something like this:

    Another idea I had right after the election was to mount a campaign of Bible Burning. Remember a few years ago when the political establishment had to drop what it was doing to try to stop flag burning? For some reason this totally symbolic act by a tiny number of wingnuts drove the political establishment nuts. So I was thinking, if flag burning drives ‘em crazy, how about Bible burning? But I think this is probably not a great tactic for a few reasons: it’s scary and negative, evoking images of Nazi book burnings, it ignores the liberatory threads of some religious folks, and it only highlights what we’re against, not what we can be for. I do like it because it could be an insane diversionary tactic – wouldn’t it be great if church groups spent time banning bible burning instead of banning abortion? We need to be creative, but also be thoughtful and not allow our own fear and prejudices to lead us into our own intolerant actions. Intolerance is a far greater threat to the fringe than to the mainstream.
    In a similar vein, I also read that one Rev. Flip Benham sponsors Koran-burning events:
    Rev. Flip Benham is the Director of Operation Save America and Operation Rescue. Kneeling on the sidewalk, trying to stay out of the view of cops whose nod to order was insisting that people keep moving rather than completely blocking the walkway, he explained the mission. “This is the church in the street. Where faith becomes biography.”

    This was the closing of Operation Save America’s week of activities in Columbus. It was Family Day in front of the women’s clinic. OSA came to Columbus to burn the Koran, a Pride flag, a copy of the Roe v. Wade decision. They came to “burn those abominations” and call the “nation to repentance.”

    Is the test of what constitutes free speech simply to be one of how many people are upset?

    Another question: would the Times dare to display a picture of a Koran being burned at a demonstration? If I discovered demonstrators doing that and uploaded a picture of it to this blog, why would that be any different than what I just did by uploading the Times picture?

    I am at a loss to understand why.

    Another example of how logic fails.

    UPDATE: According to Little Green Footballs, there's no evidence to prove the allegations of Koran burning.

    That's the MSM for you folks! Getting people all stirred up for no good reason, and making me waste valuable blogtime!

    UPDATE (05/15/05): A Sunday headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer is referring to the unevidenced report as the "Koran case." Does that mean the case isn't closed?

    AND EVEN MORE (05/15/05 -- 9:16 pm): Newsweek now admits that the story was wrong:

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newsweek magazine said on Sunday it erred in a May 9 report that U.S. interrogators desecrated the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, and apologized to the victims of deadly Muslim protests sparked by the article.

    Editor Mark Whitaker said the magazine inaccurately reported that U.S. military investigators had confirmed that personnel at the detention facility in Cuba had flushed the Muslim holy book down the toilet.

    The report sparked angry and violent protests across the Muslim world from
    Afghanistan, where 16 were killed and more than 100 injured, to Pakistan to Indonesia to Gaza. In the past week it was condemned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and by the Arab League.

    On Sunday, Afghan Muslim clerics threatened to call for a holy war against the United States.

    "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst," Whitaker wrote in the magazine's latest issue, due to appear on U.S. newsstands on Monday.

    That's nice. At least they apologized.

    Will the Inquirer will issue a correction too?

    As for those who died, their bad news is permanent.

    posted by Eric at 02:56 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (1)

    Lies that last a lifetime (or more)

    Via Roger L. Simon, I found a very disturbing post by neo-neocon -- "A mind is a difficult thing to change" -- which attempts to grapple with some very stubborn, unsettled issues still surrounding the Vietnam War. All her points are well taken, but I want to focus on the issue of the draft:

    Then there was the fact that, despite this lack of conceptual understanding, all of the young men in the country were vulnerable to being called up to serve because of the draft. This particular combination--lack of a strong belief or clear evidence that the war was in our best interests, coupled with the fact that any young man could be drafted to fight it--led to feelings of special frustration and even rage on the part of those who might be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice (John Kerry perfectly expressed this feeling when he asked his famous question about who would want to be the last man to die for a mistake). The war itself was perceived as being so far away as to be almost irrelevant to America, while the danger to the average young man was potentially huge, up close and personal.

    This geographic distance, combined with the lack of cognitive clarity about the reasons behind the war, and the powerful emotional valence of susceptibility to the draft, were a new and volatile mix in American history. For many, the combination led almost inevitably to action: antiwar sentiment and demonstrations, many of them pitting the younger generation against the older, whom they felt were callously sacrificing them on the altar of a war whose purpose was murky and whose execution was inept. So another new element (new, at least, in its intensity) was the idea of a generational war that pitted sons against fathers, and vice versa.

    The widespread and new idea of the war as a "mistake" was twofold. For example, when Kerry used the word "mistake," he was speaking not only of the reasons behind the war, he was also speaking of the conduct and strategy of the war itself. Some moderates or conservatives (or even some liberals), who had no problem with the first (they accepted the domino theory, or felt strongly about the need to keep the South Vietnamese from Communist domination) were angry about the second--the limited war strategy, for example. So the idea of "mistakes" in this war came from all sides--left, right, and center, for somewhat different reasons for each group.

    Somewhere along the line--and most agree it had certainly happened by the Tet offensive of 1968--press coverage of the war turned extremely negative. As far as I can tell, this was another huge change; to the best of my knowledge, it seems to have been the first time in American history that the press turned on a war en masse while that war was still ongoing. There are many studies of the role of the press during the war (Big Story by Peter Braestrup and The Military and the Media by William V. Kennedy, to mention two), and it is a subject far too vast for me to cover adequately here. But the general thrust of coverage changed after the Tet offensive, not because it was a military defeat for us (it was actually a military victory, particularly over the Vietcong, who after that were never again to be a major player), but because the press perceived it for the most part as both a military and a psychological defeat and presented it as such to the American people.

    The most lasting damage caused by the Vietnam War was that lying became institutionalized. And I'm not talking about the kind of lying students are taught to associate with the Vietnam War. ("The Generals lied about casualties!" "They kept saying there was light at the end of the tunnel!")

    I'm referring to the worst kind of lie: an inability to acknowledge personal reality. The antiwar portion of the Vietnam generation (and that's a large and currently powerful portion, certainly the majority of the well-educated) was driven and consumed by one overarching, salient factor: THE DRAFT. If I could go back in time and draw a great dividing line in the draft age generation, it would be between those who were willing to serve, and those who were not. The latter lived in mortal fear of the draft, and (thanks to an inequitable and elitist deferment system) oriented their lives in a variety of ways calculated to do one thing: avoid the draft.

    We can speculate about why some young men would avoid the draft, while others served, but that's what happened, and it remains the great division. It's always tough to generalize about people, but there is one thing I will never forget as long as I live, it's the way the massive numbers at antiwar demonstrations dried up completely as soon as the draft was ended.

    Had the war to stop Communism suddenly become less "immoral?" No; what had happened was that the demonstrators had become less mortal.

    I know this will sound simplistic, but it all comes down to fear.

    Fear of DEATH.

    We all have it to varying degrees. Bravery and cowardice are defined by how we respond to personal danger. It is my thesis that the draftable young men who avoided military service in Vietnam were more fearful than those who served, but that because it was unmanly to admit to cowardice, this fear had to be falsely disguised as virtue.

    Therefore, opposition to the war was almost never (at least publicly) voiced as a fear of getting killed or wounded, but almost always voiced (usually at high decibels) in terms of the highest and noblest possible principle. They were so loud and so vociferous that even I as a cynical teenager believed them. It wasn't until I saw the demonstrators disappear that I began to wonder....

    Might they have simply been afraid to die?

    Might it have been that simple?

    Certainly, it is understandable. I spent a decade watching my friends die, and I would have done anything to avoid it. I mean, nothing sucks like death. It's the end of everything. Just because I am intimately familiar with it and have held so many dying hands does not mean that I like it. No one likes it and no one wants it. That is why bravery is defined as the degree of willingness to risk it or face it.

    To admit to cowardice is not easy to do, and it was harder in the early 70s than it is now. Remember, the parents of the Vietnam generation were the famous Greatest Generation. They'd won World War II and Korea, and cowardice was not part of their equation. It's tough to admit to such a dad that you don't want to serve because you're afraid of becoming a casualty. No; it's much easier (and seemingly much braver) to attack the war itself.

    Better yet, claim your country is on the wrong side.

    I'm sure there's nothing original about these thoughts, which are so obvious that they've probably been voiced many times by countless commentators. They're just my personal observations, and they're necessarily generalizations. No doubt the outer ends of the bell curve would include cowards who served, and heroes who avoided service.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, my temporal accident of birth occurred in 1954, which put me into the tail end of the lottery system. I was never even close to being drafted, and I knew it. The year 1953 is another great division among Baby Boomers; those born before had to deal with the draft, while those born later didn't. It shows too. One of the most annoying aspects of this age cutoff was to be scolded by my slightly elder peers that I just "didn't understand" what it was like to face the draft. They were right; I really didn't, because it (the draft, which meant possible death) had never been personal and in my face.

    And I didn't even begin to understand the power of death until the mid 1980s. When faced with this ultimate fear, denial of any sort becomes a sort of lifeline.

    Neo-neocon's essay concludes:

    So the investment in believing this particular "narrative" of Vietnam was huge for liberals. As the years went by, decades of beliefs, affiliations, and activities were added to the mix, and the stakes grew even higher. To have disbelieved it all at some later date would have meant facing a profound disillusionment, not just with institutions such as the press and the government, but with the self itself.
    Especially the self itself, which tends towards selfishness.

    At the risk of sounding morbid, I'm not sure there's any getting over any of it.

    posted by Eric at 12:19 PM | Comments (6)

    Like A Thousand Iron Curtains

    All this science fiction must be weakening my mind. I've been musing about Star Trek, of all things, and realizing just how much I dislike the Federation's "Prime Directive."

    Sure, it sounds all noble at first. Hands off the little guys. We don't want to negatively influence them. Let them grow at their own unique pace. But what if it were applied to us? What if we were the primitives? Not so nice then, eh?

    Imagine for a moment that there really was a benevolent Federation of manlike beings out there, just like in the movies. I know it’s improbable, but work with me. They know we're here. They have observers watching us, and they maintain a strictly observed embargo. Unless and until we invent faster-than-light travel for ourselves, we'll be left to sink or swim. Is this really such a great idea?

    All their advances in medicine, science, industry and agriculture, not to mention the arts, faiths, and philosophies of a thousand worlds are…simply off-limits to us. What a raw deal. No way to trade for them, even at the most disadvantageous rates we’d be willing to accept. No scholarships for our bright young people. No way for them to deadhead their way off-world. No firewater and blankets for us old folks. No missionary-run clinics, no trading posts, no tawdry transistor radios, no nothing. Lucky it's for our own good. Is this what we would really want for ourselves?

    I think not.

    I think most people in the real world would prefer to take their chances at being swindled by the sky gods. Rather than assigning ourselves the role of hapless savages, I think we would try to emulate the nineteenth century Japanese. But not the twentieth. It would be better all around that way.

    But say we did it their way and eventually invented the freaking warp drive. Okay, so we’re grown-ups now, and the mighty Federation deigns to reveal its existence. Uh, come again? Are we any more “mature” as a civilization than we were at this time last year? Nope. We simply can no longer be ignored. Barring the unpleasant “Gort” option, there’s not a lot they could do with us at that point, except to preemptively colonize all of the best real estate around us. Hey, in the movies they’re already doing that!

    As a former co-worker of mine used to say, “It’s just a Conspiracy, perpetrated by The Man to keep The Brother down!”

    Again, if such a situation were really to occur, would we thank our new alien overlords for allowing us to marinate in our own squalor, disease, and poverty for so long? I think we would hate them for it.

    The idea that benign criminal neglect is enlightened didn’t start with Roddenberry. It’s all over the damn place. In 1961, Poul Anderson won the Hugo for best short fiction with a story called “The Longest Voyage.”

    A brief synopsis is in order. It’s a lost colony story, set hundreds of light years from Earth, which is very far off the beaten path. After surviving the loss of their high-tech civilization and having endured centuries of dark age barbarism, the human colonists in one small area of the planet have struggled back to a roughly Elizabethan level of culture. Captain Rovic, a swashbuckling, vaguely Francis Drake-ish type is engaged in the first circumnavigation of his world.

    Having reached the antipodes, he has discovered his world’s equivalent of Polynesia, and on one of those lovely tropical isles he discovers a marvel, a grounded starship, almost completely intact. The pilot has been marooned there for years, a permanent “guest” of the local priesthood, but he is still in his right mind, and given the right materials (basically, a bucket of quicksilver) he could get his ship up and running again.

    What to do?

    If his ship is repaired, he’ll light out for home. Not a problem as such, he seems a nice enough sort. But when he gets there he’ll tell everyone about those poor retrogressed savages out past the frontier. Cultural Engineers will soon start arriving, with the scary glint of Good Intentions in their eyes. No Prime Directive for them. Much good needs to be done.

    Again, what to do?

    This is one of those moral litmus-test stories that english teachers should presumably love. I can’t imagine why they haven’t cottoned to it. They seem to like “The Cold Equations” well enough. Anderson’s story would allow the kids to explore their own moral frameworks by trying to second-guess the Captain. Bleh.

    (Spoilers ahead)

    I was in high school myself the first time I read this story. I guess we can take it as evidence that I’ve experienced some sort of moral growth, given that my opinion of Rovic’s choice has undergone a full 180 since then. Moral change at least, if not an improvement.

    Let’s recap his two options.

    One, do nothing. Sail on towards home and leave the spacer stranded. Remember, Rovic is from the most advanced culture on his world, equivalent to Europe in the age of discovery. Most other folks are still at the Aztecs and Incas stage, or worse. They will all be doomed to spending centuries (well, their descendants anyway) climbing back to what we would consider an acceptable standard of living. On the plus side, they’ll retain any cultural uniqueness that they acquire along the way. Anderson always was a bit Volkish.

    Two, he can help the spacer on his way, and eventually face an onslaught of kindly strangeness from the sky. The stranded pilot has told them what life is like out there, and it’s a lot like Captain Picard’s Federation. No disease. No hunger. No war. No poverty. No crime. Rovic bridles a bit at that last one, but comes to accept it as fact. If a man does something criminal, the pilot explains, he is swiftly caught, and forced to undergo sure and certain treatment. By the time the doctors are through with him he is absolutely incapable of committing a crime, and as such, he is highly honored, trusted by all, and considered fit for high office. Creepy, isn’t it?

    Well, Rovic is a decisive kind of guy, and he doesn’t take kindly to either option. He decides to follow a third way, and blows the ship up.

    It’s the only way to be sure.

    If they simply sailed on, who’s to say what might follow? Some other joker might happen along and fork over the quicksilver, and then where would they be? On the wrong end of an uneven cultural exchange, that’s where. So despite every famine, or plague, or war of dynastic succession that follows, despite every baby dead of cholera, every raped serving wench or flogged to the bone apprentice or hanged poacher, despite, in fact, every avoidable horror that will afflict millions in the centuries to come, his fellow natives should actually thank Rovic for preserving their cultural autonomy. Because that’s what’s really important.

    I can’t believe I ever approved of that choice. And for a fact, I don’t believe Anderson did either. He was just telling a tale.

    How lucky we are that it’s only science fiction, and that such men don’t exist in real life.

    Don’t get me started on “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”

    posted by Justin at 02:12 AM | Comments (5)

    If this is who "investigative journalists" honor . . .

    . . . then it's an honor not to be an "investigative journalist."

    Cam Edwards (of NRANews) reports that the keynote speaker at this year's Investigative Reporters and Editors conference is none other than Dan Rather:

    If this doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the media, I don't know what will.
    And it certainly speaks volumes about the integrity of so-called "investigative journalism" as that is practiced today.

    No wonder those who refer to themselves as "investigative journalists" hate bloggers so much. It must be awful for them to see that there are still real investigative journalists in the world. (Even if they're called other things these days.)

    posted by Eric at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)

    Liveblogging Friday the 13th nostalgia

    For my dose of Friday the Thirteenth nostalgia, I'm watching Eraserhead. It's a 1977 film I hadn't seen in many years, and I forgot how genuinely weird and inventive it is.

    The baby:

    At the centre of this mechanical world is Henry (Jack Nance), one of Lynch's many alter egos, who is a mixture of innocence and dark desires. Henry is forced to look after his deformed baby who constantly traps and enslaves him in the automated world of death-like existence. In this world, the baby, resembling an overgrown penis, both represents male sexuality and symbolises Henry's own sexuality. Similar to uncontrollable sexual urges, the baby-penis constantly demands attention from Henry who becomes its slave. Henry realises that he must kill the baby-penis in an act of self-castration to rid himself of his loathed sexuality. The baby-penis is the centre of the world created by unnatural sexuality, hence its destruction obliterates the world of Eraserhead.
    Well, that's one interpretation, although it didn't really stare out at me that way. Seeing this is a highly individualized experience.

    Then there's In heaven:

    "In heaven, everything is fine,
    In heaven, everything is fine.
    You've got your good things and I've got mine."
    Fats Waller's organ music (from Young Fats at the Organ, where you can play clips) adds the perfect surreal touch.

    A little like Dali -- pushing the limits of reality.

    Here's one reviewer:

    Eraserhead is truly the most bizarre movie I've ever seen (and I love bizarre). It pushes psychological buttons that I never knew were there. It's extremely hard to watch all the way through. If you do see it, remember that many of us used to watch it under the influence of hallucinogens.
    That may have been the case for the audience, but according to director David Lynch, the film was inspired more by Philadelphia than anything else:
    ....in later years whenever an interviewer would ask Lynch what was the main influence or inspiration for Eraserhead he almost immediately reply, Philadelphia. Lynch and his first wife, Peggy had lived in the city from 1966 to 1970, buying a 12-room house for $3,500 in an industrial district across from an old city morgue. Lynch experienced first hand the feeling of urban decay and the evil nature that man was capable of as violence, danger, and fear surrounded him on a daily basis. Their house was broken into three times, twice when he and Peggy were at home. Lynch remembers one such eye opening event that stayed with him for some time, an event that led to him writing and filming Eraserhead.

    "And a large family was going to a christening of this small baby. And a gang came swooping down on the other side of the street, and attacked the family. And in the family there was a teenage son who tried to defend the whole bunch, and they beat him down, and they shot him in the back of the head" (Breskin 57).

    For all of its negative aspects, Philadelphia was a positive experience for Lynch. "I never had an original idea until I came to Philadelphia" (Heller 7D). His stay there marked an intellectual awakening of sorts. Lynch became even more fascinated and in tune with the philosophy of light and dark, good vs. evil that would later become the focal point of his films.

    Real nostalgia, watching that film. I'd still like to know how the hell he made the "baby."


    Pleasant dreams!

    posted by Eric at 09:49 PM | TrackBacks (1)

    But hey! At least they have the Sopranos . . .

    Iowahawk answers a vexing local question which I'm reporting entirely out of context:

    Why is New Jersey the butt of so many cruel jokes? I recommend traveling there by car. You’ll see many charming, well-kept towns, filled with attractive, friendly, intelligent people. Then, when you finally arrive at the New Jersey border, you will understand why it is the butt of so many cruel jokes.

    (Via Roger L. Simon.)

    One of these days I'll have to shlep over there and take some pictures of that unique mix of suburban ghettos, industrial gloom, and psychotically incomprehensible road signs so often associated with New Jersey.

    One of these days.

    The thing is, I love too much of the state to dwell on its ugliness. The Pine Barrens, the shore, Cape May, and various historic suburbs scattered throughout New Jersey are lovely. When it's beautiful, it's truly beautiful. But when it's ugly....

    I'll say this for the ugliness of New Jersey: it is so uniquely ugly that maybe it ought to be preserved for future research.

    Attempts to beautify certain things have a way of making them worse.

    posted by Eric at 04:44 PM | Comments (1)

    Bits and Pieces

    I mentioned Michael Gazzaniga and his new book the other day, and thought it was so fascinating that I should plug it again.

    Judging from the on-line example I've seen, it reminds me somewhat of Oliver Sacks territory. Neurological disorders are both fascinating and appalling, particularly when they present a first impression of normalcy. The fragility of not just our bodies, but our inmost selves, is worth a moment or two of nervous reflection.

    Our brain is not a unified structure; instead it is composed of several modules that work out their computations separately, in what are called neural networks. These networks can carry out activities largely on their own...Yet even though our brain carries out all these functions in a modular system, we do not feel like a million little robots carrying out their disjointed activities. We feel like one, coherent self...How can this be?...if the brain is modular, a part of the brain must be monitoring all the networks’ behaviors and trying to interpret their individual actions in order to create a unified idea of the self.

    Our best candidate for this brain area is the “left-hemisphere interpreter.” Beyond the finding...that the left hemisphere makes strange input logical, it includes a special region that interprets the inputs we receive every moment and weaves them into stories to form the ongoing narrative of our self-image and our beliefs.

    I'm strongly reminded of an elderly woman I know. During an extended hospital stay, she would create the most outlandish explanations for what was happening around her, based upon overheard scraps of conversation that she had collected during the day. The overall effect was weird and unsettling if you had been present for all of the conversational inputs, which I had been.

    I have called this area of the left hemisphere the interpreter because it seeks explanations for internal and external events and expands on the actual facts we experience to make sense of, or interpret, the events of our life.

    Much of political discourse becomes explicable from this perspective.

    The left-hemisphere interpreter is not only a master of belief creation, but it will stick to its belief system no matter what. Patients with “reduplicative paramnesia,” because of damage to the brain, believe that there are copies of people or places. In short, they will remember another time and mix it with the present.

    As a result, they will create seemingly ridiculous, but masterful, stories to uphold what they know to be true due to the erroneous messages their damaged brain is sending their intact interpreter. One such patient believed the New York hospital where she was being treated was actually her home in Maine.

    When her doctor asked how this could be her home if there were elevators in the hallway, she said, “Doctor, do you know how much it cost me to have those put in?” The interpreter will go to great lengths to make sure the inputs it receives are woven together to make sense—even when it must make great leaps to do so.

    A little bit chilling isn't it? And yet another reason to view the merely articulate with scepticism. Talk really is cheap.

    posted by Justin at 04:42 PM | Comments (2)

    Hypothetical hints from Hell

    I found an intriguing household tip from Tom Brennan on what to do if you need to open a sealed envelope without ruining it:

    Put in the freezer for a few hours, then slide a knife under the flap. The envelope can then be resealed.
    It's perfectly legal to do this as long as long as you haven't placed the letter in the mail yet. Otherwise, unless it's addressed to you, opening the mail of other people is a distinct no-no, regardless of whether or not they know it.

    Here's a tip for the neatniks:

    Blood stains on clothes? Not to worry! Just pour a little hydrogen peroxide on a cloth and proceed to wipe off every drop of blood. Works every time! Now, where to put the body?
    Surely they can't be serious! Again, removing bloodstains is one thing, as plenty of people get blood spilled on their clothes for entirely innocent reasons. But if you've committed a crime, why, covering it up would be obstruction of justice, which is illegal. Another no-no.

    But speaking in purely hypothetical terms, thanks to Deadwood, we all know where to put the body. Feed it to the hogs! A large Burmese python will work too, but you might have to rub some rat or rabbit scent on the corpse to coax the python into eating it. Humans aren't their normal prey.

    A friend I knew who did a lot of construction told me that reinforced concrete piers are plenty wide enough to hold a body, but I'd have long-term concerns about weakening the structural support so I'd want to tightly wrap the body with cyclone fencing as well before the pour. This would compensate for the inevitable hollowing which might take place over time.

    But if done to obstruct justice, any of these methods of body disposal would be wrong. And as they say in Philadelphia, "eee-liggle."

    Is it ever right to dispose of a body? Well, I'm not sure about the "rightness" of this, but I think it's at least theoretically possible to come into possession of an unwanted dead body which was not the result of murder. If you came home from a long trip and discovered that a burglar broke into your house and died, well, the decent thing to do would be to call the police, but suppose you just weren't in the mood for decency. Or paperwork. Is there really a moral distinction between burying the corpse in your yard and dumping it in a vacant lot? I don't know. I'd never suggest that anyone become a test case, either -- either as a gravedigger or a grave occupant!

    Questions like these are best posed hypothetically in classes on criminal law or ethics, and not in a blog.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I neglected to address the ghoulish utilitarian aspects of dead bodies. May the moral relativists forgive me!

    Well, Jeremy Bentham's invaluable personal example aside, our remains are worth at least a few hundred dollars....

    UPDATE: Envelope freezing does not seem to work with older sealed mail; I suspect it would only be of value with recently moistened flaps. (Somehow, that didn't come out as dry and scientific sounding as I thought it might....)

    MORE: I hope regular readers will remember the fact that today is Friday the Thirteenth, and treat my attempt to mollify the forces of darkness accordingly. As Lord Vader opined earlier,

    We are all connected.

    Anyone who awakens to the Force knows this. The divisive issue is what to do with this knowledge.

    Which means that we can all agree. The rest is hypothetical.

    MORE: Or am I sounding like Darth Winer? As the saying goes,

    Do not be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed.

    posted by Eric at 02:11 PM | Comments (2)

    If you can't join 'em, beat 'em!
    Increasingly, we are surrounded by people who write and speak to a single constituency - their own.
    So says Cal Thomas, of all people, about "the blogosphere."

    The above comes (via Glenn Reynolds) from John Hawkins, who asks what's changed since Cal Thomas's more favorable view of the blogosphere a couple of months ago.

    Is Cal Thomas really as peeved at "the blogosphere" as he seems? Or did his wrath originate with his "friend" Arianna Huffington? Here's Thomas, writing about her newly announced blog, on May 2:

    They are self-absorbed, face-lifting, Botox-injecting, breast-augmenting, GOP-bashing, serial-marrying, Democrat-voting, Michael Moore-loving and fornication-practicing as a divine right … if they believed in the divine.

    Barbra Streisand has her own Web page. Anyone can visit it for the liberal line. Or they can read the New York Times editorial page. Why do we need another liberal blog?

    Arianna, you used to be a conservative? Maybe it's the water in Hollywood that changed you.

    Whew! This from the same guy who suddenly complains that "bloggers" are too opinionated? That they speak to a single constituency?

    Back to Thomas's latest rant remarks on blogs:

    With blogs, we do not know if what we read is true. For most blogs, no editor checks for factual errors and no one is restrained from editorializing. The Big Media sometime are guilty of these same shortcomings, but at least with them there is a presumption in favor of accuracy and fairness, plus there's a way to shame them and occasionally force a correction if they mess up. Blogs have no checks and balances.
    Well! At least he didn't call us a bunch of "self-absorbed, face-lifting, Botox-injecting, breast-augmenting, GOP-bashing, serial-marrying, Democrat-voting, Michael Moore-loving" fornicators.

    I'm wondering. (Just wondering, mind you.) Could it be possible that Cal Thomas was promised a slot at the Huffington blog? For years he has shared the stage with Arianna at JWR (although she doesn't appear to be at JWR's current lineup) and as recently as May 2 he refered to her as his "friend."

    Or might he working in collusion with his old friend, in a sort of joint effort to protect turf? This might explain his unrestrained editorial ranting against those who engage in unrestrained editorial ranting.

    How suddenly convenient to have Arianna as a scapegoat!

    Earlier this week (just two days before Thomas's latest column), I tried to sound the alarm about the Huffington blog:

    I don't know what's going to happen, but I refuse to be judged or tarred in any way by the content or conduct of this newly spun, highly provocateurish blog.
    It didn't take long, did it? Just two days.

    Might there even be a joint (if covert) Huffington-Thomas "blogosmear" campaign? There's no way to prove it, of course, and it's deniable as hell, but I think Iowa Voice may be onto something:

    ....when bloggers unite in a sort of "Associated Press" type of venture (like Pajamas Media is planning), then THAT is when the MSM is going to get a run for it's money. More resources will become available to bloggers as time goes on, and that is when bloggers will make the true transformation to being full-blown members of the media.

    That is, I think, the problem facing the MSM, and why we are seeing an increase in attacks on blogs and bloggers. They are trying to discredit us before we get a serious foothold and start to do real "damage" to their business.

    Old friends that they are, Thomas and Huffington are now positioning themselves as enemies. But where there's common ground worth defending, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    All the more so when legacy "enemies" face an outside threat.

    My suspicions may of course be very wrong, and as is so often the case, I really do hope I am wrong. And it's tough to analyze this because, in Thomas's words, "we do not know if what we read is true."

    If those who can't beat the blogosphere are now joining it in the hope of discrediting it, it's laughable, because this isn't a zero sum-style barrel of apples waiting to be spoiled by a few "bad ones." It's a vast playing field as infinite as the number of players.

    MORE: Artificial fluffery and puffery are nothing new in the blogosphere. (Nor, apparently, is Huffery.)

    posted by Eric at 08:06 AM

    Who's afraid of the Big Bad Bolton?

    What's the Bolton fuss about?

    I agree with John Cole that the Bolton appointment won't have all that much effect on the U.N., and while I've been completely unimpressed (to put it mildly) by the merits of the attacks against Bolton, the manic way these largely groundless attacks were sexed up got my attention. I mean, since when has there been such an uproar over allegations which -- even taken as true -- suggest a harsh and overbearing boss?

    Then there are the quite late-in-the-game TV ads in support of Bolton -- of which Glenn correctly asks

    why [didn't] the vaunted Karl Rove machine [] have these things ready to go when Bolton was nominated?
    I think I know why. It's a tried and true pattern of giving your enemies enough rope. I think the Democrats were allowed to create another showdown they have no hope of winning. Yet this had to be allowed to build momentum, with one hyped up (then discredited) witness after another. By not doing much, the Bush administration has allowed Democratic critics to spin their wheels and make horses' asses of themselves yet again. The last minute ads are necessary to show that Bush isn't abandoning his man, and to heighten the sense that he's a victim of the shrill Democratic attack machine.

    For whatever combination of reasons, the Dems are unable to realize they're being set up to play the role of the boy who endlessly cries wolf with unreasonable and shrill accusations. (It's sure as hell not my job to advise them, but they sure as hell don't know how and when to choose their battles.)

    This is all practice. Like a cat toying with its food.

    I think Bush may have some bigger nominations in mind.

    posted by Eric at 10:44 PM | Comments (5)

    Pure Fun

    Only one week to go till the final Star Wars movie. How the time flew. Seems like only yesterday it was 1977. In honor of the historic event we'll hit a few Star Wars related sites, just for the hell of it.

    First up, The Darth Side. Some people don't think it's funny. To help you make up your minds, here's an abridged excerpt. Needless to say, read the whole thing.

    Boba Fett is one of the few people with whom I will share a meal. He was horribly disfigured by acid years ago, and I feel we hold a bond in common in that respect. He has never so much as winced at the ghastly noises that come through my ventilator while I chew, because he is a gentleman.

    He is also a bounty hunter, which is why I have invited him over to chat...

    "By the way, your scars are looking quite good."

    "I've been using a new cream," he told me.

    I did my famous corpse of Mace Windu imitation, which made Fett snort wine through his nose. "This party's over," I quipped, and Fett howled. Long ago Windu was First Speaker of the Jedi High Council, a fierce warrior who slew Boba's father and tried to kill my master. In vain, of course. These days the Emperor uses Windu's purple light-sabre to trim his hedges.

    Anything at all? Try another.

    At the top of my game. Capturing Cloud City. Breaking Solo's will.

    The signal from Boba Fett came in the early morning, and we took the fleet to Bespin. Shadowed by the girth of the gas giant the armada's sensitive sensor network marked the approach of the rebel freighter. Admiral Piett contacted me down in Cloud City: "M'lord, the Millennium Falcon has entered the system."

    "Very good." I turned to face the metrosexual city administrator as he strained to appear at ease, sweat running down his brow in a constant, beading film. "Calrissian: escort Captain Solo and his party to the dining hall first thing in the morning."

    Still nothing? Cheez, you're a tough audience. Try this one.

    "Have you tried one of these Ewoks, m'lord?" asked Admiral Piett, offering me a crisp kebab. "Delectable!"

    Veers himself was surrounded by a cadre of identical troopers holding their helmets in one hand their drinks in the other. "Lord Vader!" Veers greeted me. "I'm so glad you could join us. Did somebody get you an Ewok?"

    Best served cold is what I've always heard. How I loathed the furry little brutes. But they got theirs. Hushed up it was, but still inevitable. I blame the laws of physics.

    What happens when you detonate a spherical metal honeycomb over five hundred miles wide just above the atmosphere of a habitable world? Regardless of specifics, the world won't remain habitable for long.

    Yes. It's The Endor Holocaust. Blow up a Death Star. Ruin the world it's parked next to. The dinosaurs could tell you a thing or two...

    No animal larger than a few kilograms and incapable of long sheltered hibernation could survive the Endorian calamity. The air might even have been poisoned and deoxygenated for a few years until simple plant life could return to growth. If so then it is possible that all animal life perished. In any case any ewok on the surface who was not equipped with impressive high-technology survival gear and a nuclear shelter must have died.

    For those unfortunate beings not painlessly obliterated by the impact concussions, the initial night of celebration would linger on and on with days of darkness. A chill would fall, the waters would turn to ice and the vegetation would wilt into death or dormancy, depending on species. Provided that radioactivity was insignificant and the air remained modestly breathable (a very generous assumption) the doomed ewoks might survive for days or weeks huddling around bonfires, until they starved.

    You have to love the purity and focus of a dedicated Star Wars fan. Diana Schaub should take notes. If you're going to cite science fiction, you should bloody well do your homework.

    Next up is a site that does that homework and then asks for the extra credit assignment. Michael Wong asks whether or not the Federation could take the Empire in a fair fight. With a name like Stardestroyer.net, I think you can all guess the answer. Caprica and those other eleven colonies aren't even in the semi-finals.

    Mr. Wong has done an amazingly detailed job. Here's an example...

    The absolute lower limit for the gravitational binding energy of an Earth-like planet is 2.2E32 joules (click here for the derivation of this figure). There are many different ways to damage a planet, but you can quite literally slice, dice, melt, or vaporize a planet without destroying it. The only way to destroy it is to scatter its mass at incredible speed, so that gravitational forces cannot re-assemble it.

    Of course, absolute limits are usually much lower than realistic figures, and this is no exception. If Alderaan exploded at mere escape velocity, it would have taken more than ten minutes to double in size. This obviously wasn't the case; the planet exploded very violently. Scaling of the Alderaan destruction scene in ANH leads to the conclusion that the approximate speed of the debris cloud's outermost region (not the meaningless pyrotechnic "ring" seen in the SE's) is roughly 1.8E7 m/s. Therefore, if we assume that the average velocity of the "cloud" was roughly 1/3 this amount, then a more accurate energy estimate is 1E38 joules (click here for the evidence behind this figure).

    It is often stated that the Death Star takes one full day to charge its main weapon for a planet-destroying blast, although this is actually over-conservative since the original Death Star destroyed Alderaan and was already charged and ready to destroy the rebel base on Yavin's moon later that day. Nevertheless, we can use the 1-day figure to determine that it must generate at least 1.2E33 watts on a steady-state basis to charge the weapon, plus whatever it needs to power the station's systems and propel the station through space. This amount of energy is enormously large- equivalent to 3 million times the power output of our sun!

    Which should be definitive enough for anyone. The squirming Federation Cultists may refuse to accept defeat, but their rebuttals are less rigorous. Time to move on and leave Star Wars behind us.

    I'm very pleased to mention that J. Storrs Hall has a new book out. Josh used to moderate the old sci.nanotech newsgroup (happier times) and wrote a number of interesting essays on various speculative topics, such as flying cars, utility fog, and ethics for machines. His notion for a high volume space launcher never really got the exposure it deserved, but since you need construction diamond in vast quantities to make it work, we still have plenty of time. I actually prefer it over space elevators. It would be sturdy and durable.

    Being a cock-eyed optimist, I've enjoyed everything Josh has ever written. Bring back the fun future. In fact, most any of his stuff would make a fine addition to The Carnival of Tomorrow over at The Speculist. Hint, hint.

    And as long as we're talking about The Speculist, I should mention that they are offering an early review of Joel Garreau's new book, Radical Evolution.

    Radical Evolution is a gold mine of information about coming technology. I especially enjoyed the section on DARPA. Just a quick example: Garreau mentions DARPA's "Unconventional Pathogen Countermeasures" program. The goal of this project is to create super-soldiers that are resistant to all disease.

    "The object of the game is to discover the essential part of life common to many of these pathogens...and interrupt them. An example would be finding an enzyme that appears only in bacteria, but not in us... Another [method of attacking disease in general] is "genomic glue" - something that sticks onto the genome of the pathogen so tightly that it prevents the genome from being read..."

    How far along is DARPA in the development of this kind of wonder drug? The interview subject wouldn't say, but there is this tantalizing clue:

    "The nice part, so far, is that the bugs have not been able to develop resistance to the treatment no matter how hard the researchers have tried to induce it."

    Check out the entire review. This one sounds good.

    Over and out.

    FURTHER THOUGHTS: Mr. Wong has put his finger on at least a couple of the reasons why I find the Star Trek universe an uncongenial role model. The Federation is a communist polity.

    Goodbye, Wall Street: The concept of an investment portfolio is so alien to them that when a frozen 20th century tycoon was thawed out in "The Neutral Zone", Picard was completely dumbfounded at the man's desire to check on his portfolio. He couldn't even understand the concept, and complained that he couldn't understand what the man was talking about!

    Obviously, this is typical of a communist state, but hardly typical of a capitalist state. Even before modern stock markets and investment vehicles, the concept of investment still existed. Businesses started with the aid of financial backing, loans, etc. Banks and other financial institutions existed long before NASDAQ. But according to Star Trek, they didn't last into the 24th century.

    State seizure of transportation (leading to reduction or elimination of freedom of movement): 100% implemented in the TNG era Federation. Vehicles in Star Trek are either government property, or they travel outside the Federation (eg. Ferengi vessels, ships from non-member systems, etc).

    They're all company cars: What was the last time you saw a privately owned personal starship? Starships are either government warships, diplomatic vessels, or transports. The only one-person vehicles (apart from non-Federation vehicles such as Quark's ship or Bajor's spacecraft) are runabouts and shuttles, and they are always government property. Some might argue that starships must be very expensive or difficult to operate and therefore impractical for personal use, but Quark's ship disproved this idea.

    A palpable hit. And weren't Picard and Sisko just a little too fond of busting freighter pilots for hauling contraband? What about the Prime Directive, Ben?

    Vin Suprynowicz had much the same thing to say a few years ago. I went looking for "Where Are The Federation Death Camps?" and found this instead...

    But inevitably, a universe concocted for us during the administration of Lyndon Johnson must wear at the edges, irrevocably betraying its socialist/utopian roots.

    In all four "Star Trek" series, the good guys represent the shadowy "United Federation of Planets," headquartered in San Francisco (historical birthplace of the U.N.) to which aspiring cultures have to "apply for admission," based on their having "matured" to the point where, so far as I can determine, no more than one government is tolerated per planet, and all have agreed to foreswear money, salaries, arms dealing, or eating meat, in favor of the fair and equal sharing of the reconstituted soy protein that pours forth in endless profusion from the omnipresent "replicators."

    Now, this Ivory Tower future does seem to be breaking down a bit in the last two spinoffs, where folks do wager "replicator rations" (rations?!) at the D'abo tables, and some smuggling (what? a lingering demand for commerce?) is occasionally acknowledged. But only rarely does the slightest qualm surface over the fact that, to be "admitted to the federation," the planet Bajor will apparently be expected to "integrate its militia into Star Fleet."

    Compare such status-quo worship of centralized authority to the Hugo Award-winning "Babylon 5," where the commanders have recently seceded from Earth after the home planet's takeover by a totalitarian regime, providing us with a set of heroes routinely referred to by the earth government as "seditious traitors."

    "The Prime Directive doesn't apply, Bones. They're not a living, growing culture."

    posted by Justin at 07:50 PM | Comments (2)

    I take back everything I've said in this blog! So hire me!

    Here's something which ought to be obvious to anybody, but which apparently isn't. Your blog can actually be read by anyone -- including prospective employers:

    Cell phone callers connect with one person at a time while bloggers put their lives on the Internet for dozens to follow. Some of the online diarists document everything from their carnal cravings – mostly for sex, drugs and alcohol – to bad breakups and skirmishes with authority figures.

    But even after those adolescent adventures end, the stories stay in cyberspace. And career counselors say the day is coming when the hiring process will include an online name search in addition to the credit and criminal background checks that are already common.

    College seniors graduating in the next few weeks might encounter employers who search for personal blogs and Web sites as part of the hiring process.

    “When we are kids, we all do kiddish things. But whatever you put out on the Internet, you can’t take back,” said Rae Pearson, founder and president of Alpha Rae Personnel Inc., a Fort Wayne-based employment agency.

    What I'd like to know is, how many people possessed of sufficient intelligence to start a blog don't realize that the Internet is public? It's not as if this is a confidential process. Hell, even email isn't confidential.

    But a blog?

    It's about as public as you can get, and it can get more public at any time, without warning or notice of any kind. The interesting thing about about this kind of "being public" is that you have no real way of knowing if or when it will happen. When Classical Values was featured on CNN, I not only had no control over it, but had a commenter not told me about it I might never have known.

    Is there a distinction to be made between a political/cultural blog written by a cynical middle aged attorney and the types of blogs often created by young students? People have told me that there is, and that it really wouldn't be fair to expose both types of blogs to the same level of public scrutiny. The problem is there's no way to avoid it. Today's high school student is tomorrow's congressional intern, and his juvenile blogger life can well be expected to be searched and researched to discover anything of possible interest to the scandal-obsessed culture.

    It's easy for me to say that I wouldn't want to work for anyone who didn't like my blog.

    But that's something for the kids and their parents to think about.

    (Gee..... What would I do if I ever had kids?*)

    * Doh! I'd simply demand that the federal government pass laws to prevent them from being able to read this blog. What a no-brainer.

    UPDATE (05/13/05): St. Lawrence University has sued these anonymous bloggers, demanding that Time Warner Cable (the owner of Blogger.com) divulge the bloggers' identities. While I am unfamiliar with the litigation, it illustrates that anonymity is about anonymous as "confidentiality."

    posted by Eric at 11:09 AM | Comments (5)

    Classical optimism? Or traditional "Treason"?

    Via Ace at The Pryhills, I found an excellent column by David Brooks, who finds optimism alive and well -- and living right in the middle of the "Culture War." It should be read in its entirety, but I can't resist sharing these excerpts:

    it's becoming clear that we are seeing the denouement of one of the longest and increasingly boring plays on Broadway, the culture war.

    ....today's young people appear not to have taken a side in this war; they've just left it behind. For them, the personal is not political. Sex isn't a battleground in a clash of moralities.

    They seem happy with the frankness of the left and the wholesomeness of the right. You may not like the growing influence of religion in public life, but the lives of young people have improved. You may not like the growing acceptance of homosexuality, but as it has happened heterosexual families have grown healthier.

    Just lie back and enjoy the optimism.

    I don't know how I managed to miss the piece (is an overload of unfiltered information any defense?), but I'm glad I found it.

    Occasional optimism is not necessarily bad.

    Are people ignoring the Culture War?

    (Maybe I should come up with a new blog slogan like "ignore it and it will go away!")

    Or how about something like this:



    The above is the Capitoline Wolf. And anyone who thinks it's just another boring old statue should bear in mind that its public display once generated considerable controversy -- of the sort reserved today for Ten Commandments displays.

    (For what it's worth, I've always been against throwing the baby out with the bathwater.)

    posted by Eric at 09:23 AM | Comments (3)

    Alive and streaming

    Poor old Puff has just about everything wrong with him right now, and it's really painful to be in a state of denial mixed with rage. It is not easy having to lose a fifteen year friend, and Puff's death will mark the end of a particular dynasty of dogs I bred myself beginning back in the mid 1970s.

    While I was away last week I boarded the dog for a 24 hour period when no one could be around to take care of him. Puff, of course, was outraged to be locked up, and made it very hard on the vet and his staff by barking, relieving himself in the cage, and utterly refusing to cooperate in any way. The vet called and told me that he thinks things have now reached the point where I should seriously consider putting him down. His point is well taken, but I think he was also misinterpreting Puff's stubborn -- but typical -- refusal to cooperate as part of his health problems (when in fact it's more indicative of his still-strong life spirit). Bear in mind that this vet has never boarded him before; Puff's regular kennel is a long drive out in the country, but the woman who runs it thinks he's too old to board there and she's right. Puff is now a canine patient, and not a normal dog.

    While he can't walk, and has lost more and more of his functions, Puff continues to have a remarkably good time with Coco -- as you can see in this short video clip (filmed this past Saturday):

    I have never attempted to stream video directly in this blog before, and I want to thank Trey Jackson for technical advice at BlogNashville (and for having an intuitively user-friendly web site allowing me to configure this myself). Figuring out the conversion to wmv and the blog streaming html I had to manage myself -- so if it doesn't work blame me.

    TECHNICAL NOTE: To play the above, press the Start arrow on the lower left. Windows Media Player required, and there may be a slight delay in loading.

    MORE: Here's another clip (shot with the $79.00 $69.00 video camera) of Puff and Coco playing just a half an hour ago.

    If it won't stream, the file is here.

    UPDATE: I see that the price on the AIPTEK video camera has dropped to $59.00, and as low as $49.00 if you buy ten or more. (At prices like that, you could end up paying more for memory than the device itself!)

    UPDATE (05/13/05): In light of Glenn Reynolds' remarks about videoblogging, I thought I should point out that the above two video clips were shot with two different cameras: the first [top] one with a Toshiba PDR-M700, the other (as well as this riot footage) with the much cheaper AIPTEK. Obviously, the quality of the former is superior, but the price of the latter makes it a throwaway, and the quality is at least passable. (Something riotbloggers might want to keep in mind, as well as bloggers facing potential camera "confiscation.")

    MORE VIDEO: Here's a party which was filmed inadvertently, which was never intended to be seen by human beings:

    Please do not watch the above; it is for my own internal viewing only.

    posted by Eric at 08:22 AM | Comments (3)

    Traditionary Position

    I've just returned from a secret indoctrination session and am just a few short steps from Neo-Condom. Is that the right term? Hmm ... I have been Neo-Condemned. No, that's not it either. Perhaps I've joined the Neo-Conspiracy.

    Or so some of our readers would like to think.

    I did attend a talk on the value of a classical education in the strictest sense of the phrase.

    Most attendees seemed to be real human beings with lives beyond battles over cultural turf and politics, people who had some interest in the subject whether professional or personal.

    But then there was the woman whose every movement seemed planned or controlled from a remote location, everything from the turn of a lip or the tilt of a head, to the awkward pat on an arm: the Stepford homeshooler in a flower print dress. She never seemed to blink. It's as though unwarranted self-confidence and a sense of moral superiority were inversely proportional to one's lachrymal needs.

    In league with her was the man fighting the good fight in the culture war against the nefarious THEY:

    They say there's no such thing as absolute truth but they pretend what they're teaching you is absolute. You can't know anything without God. All knowledge comes through God. It's that simple. How can you know anything that doesn't come from God? What they're teaching you is built on Christian principles, but they remove Christianity, see?

    Not really.

    Oh, we're fighting the culture, alright. We definitely go against the grain! We're fighing the culture one step at a time.

    They kept each other occupied while the rest of us enjoyed the food and avoided making eye contact. It was a difficult task though, when they've got eyes like this:


    I imagine many others wondered with me whether we really had anything in common.

    posted by Dennis at 08:21 AM | Comments (1)

    Sensible Thoughts, Clearly Expressed

    Via the Longevity Meme I found this heartening and amusing discussion between George Khushf and Christine Peterson. Here are a few lines from Ms. Peterson's part of the presentation. I particularly admire the concreteness and simplicity of her examples.

    Let's look, for a moment, at a longer-term issue, which is this question of extending the human life span. Actually, this is—here at UCSF the idea of making people healthy may not seem too controversial, but it turns out in Washington , D.C. , it is controversial.

    I have brought three props with me to help explain this issue. I doubt that our UCSF folks need this, but I have found tremendous confusion in the public and I want to use these props to make a point.

    I brought three longevity pills with me. OK? Here is the first one: what this one does is take the last day of your life, which I would argue may very well be the worst day of your life—there's a good chance you are in pain and pretty miserable—and gives you one more day of those. OK? You get two of those days instead of one.

    Now, I don't think anybody is interested in this pill, OK? But when you say longevity, this is what people think they are going to get, and they say, “No, thank you.” Very understandable, right? They don't want that!

    That's sort of what they get now from some medical research I read. It will say, “Well, we tested this new drug for cancer and it gave the cancer patients two more weeks.” Oh, great.

    Maybe those are two good weeks. I hope they are. But a lot of folks think they are going to be pretty bad. So this is a pill people do not want.

    I brought a second pill. This pill gives you immortality and lets you live forever. This pill is physically impossible. I think these words “immortality” and “forever” are not helpful. Talk to any physicist, I think they'll tell you your atoms are not immortal and will not exist forever. So it's unlikely your body will last forever.

    I brought the third one, which, of course, is the one that I want. Here's the way to think about it. Let's say you're healthy. I'm pretty healthy. What it does is it gives you—it inserts another day, but it inserts it tomorrow. In other words, it takes your current state and says, “No, no, we're not tacking it on the end when you are really ill and pretty miserable. No. You just get another day just like today. You are as healthy as you are today. It's inserted tomorrow. Every time you take a pill, you just get one. OK. So that would be health extension, not miserable life extension, but health extension. This, I would argue, is what people would prefer.

    But there are folks who are against this pill. Francis Fukuyama, prominent writer; Leon Kass, who runs the president's Bioethics Council, is opposed to health extension, morally opposed. I heard a talk by him. One of his points was—and I think he has some good points; I'm not saying he doesn't have any good points. But this is the kind of point he makes: he says, “Wouldn't it be sad if the sons could never exceed their fathers in physical ability?” OK.

    How sad is that? Well, I brought my mom. Mom, wave to the audience. I want you all to know that my mom has better upper body strength than I do, and you know what? I've been working on it! The fact is it's just going to be this way—she's just good at this. I have grown used to this concept, and I think it's OK.

    So I disagree with Dr. Kass. I don't think this is a big deal. I think we can live with this.

    So do I. And I think bringing her Mom may be dirty pool, but I still love it. It's a debating point that anyone can relate to.

    Somewhat later in the program, Dr. Khushf voices a modest demurral regarding the timetable for eradicating cancer, and the need for a deeper consideration of the bigger picture. Here is Ms. Peterson's response.

    ...one thing that helps me think about this is to go back in time and replace the word cancer with polio, and we could have said, we could have had a little panel and talked about, “Well, you know, is it really just about curing polio and don't we need to have these ethical debates about curing polio?”

    Well, maybe we didn't, you know. Maybe we should just cure polio and the heck with it. It's gone! So now, we could probably make a case cancer is different in some fundamental way. But oftentimes, when you hear, let's not speak of George here, but perhaps of some of the actual opponents to this, such as Francis Fukuyama and Leon Kass, some of their arguments you could—you again replace the—you know, extending human life span with getting rid of pain in childbirth. I mean, this was a big issue. It was a very controversial thing and was seen as a morally bad thing.

    Another thing that was seen as ethically bad was anesthesia during operations because what if you died during the operation. Then you would have not have been in the right spiritual state, etc., etc.

    These were real issues at the time, and now we look back and go, “What was that about?” So sometimes there are real ethical issues and we want to engage, and I want to engage with George on those, and sometimes maybe it's just OK if polio goes away.

    I don't want to paint Dr. Khushf as the bad guy here. He's actually a pretty nice guy, as you'll find if you read the whole thing. He certainly isn't claiming that suffering is good for us. He thinks living longer is problematic but worthwhile.

    Some readers might consider the notion of adding healthy years to our lives to be an utterly fanciful folly, bereft of common sense. Am I as gullible as all that? All I can say in my defense is that if they weren't already doing it with lab animals, well, I might be sceptical too. Luckily for my self-esteem the mice are alright.

    The transgenic mice Rabinovitch’s team created produce higher-than-normal levels of the antioxidant enzyme catalase. Cells use catalase to convert damaging hydrogen peroxide to harmless water and molecular oxygen, but the enzyme is usually found only in the cytoplasm of cells.

    His team made mice that produce high levels of catalase in their mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells. They found that cellular damage, as well as age-related damage in the heart, decreased in comparison to control mice that produced catalase in just cytoplasm or in cell nuclei. The lifespan of the mitochondria-catalase mice was extended by more than five months - an increase of around 20%.

    And they didn't even have to diet! More on this at Betterhumans. Take good care of your mitochondria and they'll take care of you.

    So what will He Who Must Not be Named make of all this? Something equivocal and platitudinous, I'll wager. Oh, to be a fly on that wall. Which, now that I think of it, is actually an option. But only retroactively.

    See, Michael Gazzaniga has written a book. As you may recall, Dr. Gazzaniga was one of the good guys on the President's Bioethics Council. While it may not approach the level of a tell-all tabloid, it's sure to provide a fascinating insider's view. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "The Ethical Brain"...

    I can't wait to dive in.

    posted by Justin at 06:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

    Don't be a bigot; read the Carnival

    The 138th Carnival of the Vanities has been posted at a delightful blog (which I'm honored to add to the blogroll) called Cynical Nation.

    Host Barry N. Johnson describes himself as "a southern, small-l libertarian still trying to adjust to life in the New York City area." Just thinking about such a plight is enough to make anyone cynical, and supplies reason enough to go read the Carnival immediately as a strong protest against regional bigotry in the blogosphere.

    But in addition to that, it's one of the better Carnivals. Barry's accurate post reviews flow quickly and effortlessly.

    It takes a cynic to do that. And a good writer.

    posted by Eric at 02:28 PM

    White House and Capitol evacuated?

    I first heard it on the radio, and now Drudge is running a major headline:

    U.S. FIGHTER JETS FLYING ABOVE WHITE HOUSE... The U.S. Capitol and White House were evacuated Wednesday and alarms range through the buildings. War planes were seen flying overhead and security cars rushed away from the building. Reporters in the White House were told to move to a more secure location.


    No further information. Perhaps it's time to turn on that dreadful device called the television.

    MORE: CNN says they've given an "ALL CLEAR," so I guess this was nothing.

    MORE: I just heard the District of Columbia's Fire Chief state that the evacuation was triggered by a violation of restricted air space.

    WHAT CNN WILL NOT TELL YOU (05/11/05 -- 03:49 p.m.): While they're only being described as member of the "Vintage Aero Club," the pilots have been identified by a woman who claims she saw her husband on television:

    (SMOKETOWN, Pa.) - The wife of a student pilot who is believed to have been aboard the small plane that entered restricted air space over Washington, DC, Wednesday says she believes it was just an error.

    Jill Martin says her husband, Troy, left late Wednesday morning with pilot Jim Sheaffer of Lititz, Pennsylvania. They were apparently heading for an air show in Lumberton, North Carolina. She says she saw her husband on television.

    Jill Martin says her husband was discussing the flight with her Tuesday night after he and Sheaffer made their flight plans. She says he talked about no-fly zones and how they were going to avoid them.

    The Martins live in Akron, Pennsylvania.

    MORE (03:53 p.m.): Just minutes after refusing to report the names, CNN is now releasing them. (Why not? The pilot names were all over the Internet.)

    And if CNN is slower than the Internet, then Jon Stewart doesn't look quite as funny. (Via Ed Cone and Glenn Reynolds.)

    MORE: A report was moblogged (with a Blackberry) here before I even heard about it on the radio!

    AND MORE (04:29 p.m.): CNN just reported Andrew Cochran's moblog link. (Nice to see credit given where credit is due.)

    A-AAND MORE: Declan McCullagh has the details on the tiny Cessna 150 and asks,

    was the panic justified?

    By the time the buildings were evacuated, F-16s and Blackhawk helicopters appeared to have been in the air and the feds should have known that the threat was minimal. The area around Washington, D.C., is well-monitored by radar and security agencies should have realized that the plane was a small aircraft (the cruise speed of the Cessna is lower than the slowest speed at which large jets can fly). It should have a very different radar profile too.

    There's also a broader question about whether the size of the "controlled airsapce" near Washington, D.C., is too large and raises too many false alarms.

    Contrary to popular belief, it's not just the airspace directly over the White House. I'm looking at the FAA's visual flight rules Terminal Area Chart right now, and the "Air Defense Identification Zone" stretches from the east side of the Chesapeake Bay almost to the mountains an hour's drive from DC to the west. Any pilot who wishes to fly in the ADIZ must have an altitude-encoding transponder and open a flight plan.

    It's easy to second guess these things after they happen, though. A tiny plane could be outfitted with all sorts of awful things like nerve agents, anthrax, dirty nukes. Or loaded with C4.

    posted by Eric at 12:17 PM | Comments (4)

    Respect and other false flags

    On top of anti-Republican prejudice noted before, I now see clear evidence of regional prejudice emanating from Dave Winer:

    We should return the favor and host an open blogging conference in a blue state, and import some of the south's most famous bloggers. Before the conference we should make sure that the most flamey left-wing bloggers are present, the people who posted in the comments on Dean For America, for example; and urge them to hurl insults at our southern brothers and sisters, while we sit back and enjoy the scene (and leave early because we have better things to do). Then, when they return to their red state homes, in Tennessee perhaps, they will feel properly chastised as we continue to slam them on our blogs, and they'll hate the north even more than they did before. Think how much better we'd feel about ourselves! (Sorry for the sarcasm.)
    No apologies are needed for sarcasm. In fact, if you need to apologize for sarcasm, why bother being sarcastic at all? What bothers me about this more than the sarcasm is that it confirms the regional hostility I suspected Winer was engaged in when he came up to a group including Trey Jackson and said "HEY Y'ALL!" in a mock southern accent.

    I'm from Philadelphia, and I didn't detect the slightest hint of regional prejudice -- much less hurling of insults -- towards the north or northern (or non-southern) bloggers anywhere at the conference. As explained, I thought I did detect its flip side from Dave Winer, and although I gave him the benefit of the doubt, it's now clear that my suspicions were right. Apparently, this man has a real problem with southern people.

    What I don't understand is why he gets a pass. Had Glenn Reynolds (as Winer insinuates) displayed anti-northern sentiments or made anti-northern remarks we'd never hear the end of it. The idea of him doing that is as laughable as it is unimaginable.

    So what's with this confederate flag reading "YOU LOST" and "GET OVER IT," anyway?


    Get over what? Winer doesn't explain. The only difference I see between this and some of the anti-Hispanic prejudice I've seen in some circles is that Winer gets away with it because people tiptoe around him. I guess one of the perks of being a rich white leftist is that you can poke all the fun you want at "hicks," "rednecks," and "trailer trash," certain in the knowledge that no one (at least, none of the sycophants who think you're cool) will dare call you a bigot. If someone dares to disagree, why, you can just pull out the Confederate flag and try to shame them with it. It's so crass it's unbelievable. What's next? Glenn Reynolds in a Klan robe? The InstaKleagle?

    Please! Someone wake me up and tell me that Dave Winer is engaged in satire and not bigotry. I can't believe this nonsense is being spouted by a man considered intelligent.

    I guess I should be grateful that I'm from Philadelphia and I don't have to worry about not being "over" something that was lost in 1865. I have other insecurities. That's why I redesigned the Confederate flag.


    Because bigotry comes in all shades.

    MORE: I realize there's nothing new about attacks on Glenn Reynolds for being from the south. What annoys me about Winer's ad hominem cheap shots is the pretense of sincerity.

    (Would anyone believe me if I said "I thought Dave Winer was MUCH more than that"?)

    UPDATE: My thanks to Donald Sensing for linking to this post. It was a real privilege to meet Reverend Sensing at BlogNashville, as his blog has long been a favorite. Welcome, One Hand Clapping readers!

    MORE: Bill Hobbs isn't buying Winer's "apology" for sarcasm:

    As for Winer saying he was "sorry for the sarcasm," - no he isn't. If he was sorry for it, he wouldn't have posted it. That's a transparent effort to dodge responsibility for what he posted.
    Bill also has more on the laughter incident, noting that what was laughed at was Winer's contention that we all agree on the economy being in bad shape. Regardless of who is right, there are so many views of the economy that it is indeed laughable to contend we all agree. I was laughed at when I called myself a "Pantheist," but I wasn't surprised, nor was I hurt. Different people react differently to such things, and after all, I was attending a panel on evangelical/faith-based blogging.

    What Winer said was even more of a stretch -- as if I had said that "we can all agree that pantheism is the universal religion." Had I said this, I'd have expected to be laughed out of the room.

    I'm seriously wondering whether Winer should just stick with the promulgation of technology standards. The problem is, his unquestioned technological expertise does not qualify him to promulgate political standards -- especially when he's shown himself unable to uphold them.

    UPDATE (05/14/05): My thanks to Sisyphean Musings (a leading milblogger I was honored to meet at BlogNashville) for kindly linking this post. Sisyphean readers, welcome!

    posted by Eric at 09:21 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (1)

    Quote of the day
    Al-Qaida didn't inflict abortion on demand (including the horror of partial-birth abortion) on this nation. Nor did it open the floodgates of pornography - or make it harder to interrogate and hold suspected terrorists. Osama bin Laden isn't trying to deconstruct the American family by imposing same-sex marriage on us.

    -- Don Feder


    Does this mean we're fighting the wrong enemy? Or does it mean we should bring the war home?

    A lot of folks would still defend the country.

    posted by Eric at 04:50 PM | Comments (2)

    Classical Stonewall!

    Glenn Reynolds has noticed what's beginning to appear to have all the earmarks of a delay.

    It has now been 100 days since John Kerry vowed to sign his form 180. But hey, at least the man has offered a decent explanation for the delay:

    ask not whether Senator John F. Kerry has signed his Form SF-180, but rather, what Form SF-180 can do for that disadvantaged youth.
    Stirring words for stirring times.

    But speaking of time, Classical Values is keeping track of the number of days since this blog has asked Kerry to sign Form 180 (a document we were generous enough to provide here on October 28 of last year!)

    Let's see, thirty days hath September.....

    Well, according to my calculations, Kerry has been stonewalling Classical Values for 193 days so far.

    I think we've been more than patient.

    To put things into an international perspective, 193 happens to be the same number of days as there are countries in the world!

    To give the number the classical perspective it requires for this solemn occasion, the year 193 was quite a big one in Roman history. Three emperors ruled:

  • Pertinax -- installed the year before after the assassination of the madly tyrannical Commodus, and who was in turn assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, who then auctioned off the throne to -->
  • Marcus Severus Didius Julianus -- an incompetent emperor whose purchase of the throne sparked the Roman Civil War of 193-197, and who was ousted and killed by -->
  • Septimius Severus -- who managed to usher in the relatively stabler Severan Dynasty.
  • I think its highly appropriate that 193 denotes international chaos.

    And tyrannical games of musical chairs.

    How much longer will Kerry be able to stonewall Classical Values?

    I'll close with the same words I used 193 days ago:

    Download this document (Standard Form 180) and get Senator Kerry to sign it!
    In the spirit of this, er, timeless occasion, I'll even translate it into Latin.

    The whole world is watching!

    History awaits!

    UPDATE: My abysmal translation has been dutifully corrected by Dennis (who ought to know, as he's soon to be a Ph.D.)

    MORE: Mick Wright has been kind enough to put together a care package for Senator Kerry. All who care should join in this selfless venture.

    posted by Eric at 01:12 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    Peter Paul and Pardon

    Amidst the huge stories involving local (Philadelphia) corruption, it's a wonder the LA Times report on the Rosen trial ever made its way into today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

    LOS ANGELES - A former finance director for Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign will go on trial in federal court today on charges of lying about the cost of putting on a star-studded fund-raiser for the senator's 2000 campaign, a case being seized upon by some of Clinton's political enemies.

    The New York Democrat has not been charged and is not expected to testify, but the trial is sure to be scrutinized for revelations that might provide ammunition for those who oppose her 2006 bid for re-election or a possible run for president in 2008.

    Charged with three counts of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission is David Rosen, 40, a Chicago consultant who served as Clinton's finance director in 2000.

    He contends he was scammed by two convicted con artists, men the government investigators allegedly relied on to develop their case. Rosen could face 15 years in prison and $750,000 fine if convicted.

    The allegations involve a lavish party held Aug. 12, 2000, at a Los Angeles estate two days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Aside from Hillary and Bill Clinton, the event was attended by an array of stars, including Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Cher, Diana Ross and Muhammad Ali.

    Why would Rosen lie about the cost of the event? Apparently, to cover up the real source of unreported money which went into it. The LA Times story supplies a few hints:
    The indictment against Rosen contends that he falsely reported spending about $400,000 to put on the extravaganza while it actually cost more than $1.2 million, including $1.1 million worth of in-kind contributions of goods and services.

    Persons familiar with campaign finance law have suggested that such a maneuver might have freed up more unrestricted campaign funds for Clinton's successful 2000 Senate bid.

    So far, federal prosecutors have offered no motive for the alleged underreporting, and Justice Department officials have declined to comment about the prosecution.

    The source of the unreported contributions has been identified as Peter Paul, a three-time convicted felon who says he helped bankroll the affair in hopes of securing former President Clinton's participation in an Internet venture he had launched with Stan Lee, creator of "Spider-Man."

    Paul has filed a lawsuit against the Clintons in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming they turned against him in the venture after learning about his criminal past.

    There's an important word which does not appear anywhere in the article: P-A-R-D-O-N.

    Peter Paul claims that he poured money into this event to help get Hillary elected to the Senate, and that he was later he was promised a presidential pardon. If this is true (does anyone still remember Pardongate?), the assertion that "they turned against him in the venture after learning about his criminal past" would seem a bit disingenuous. According to this account, the Clintons turned against Paul only after the Washington Post had prepared a story about his criminal past:

    Mr. Paul personally put up $2 million to finance the California gala at Stan Lee's ranch, Verney said. As part of the deal, Clinton was promised an additional $15 million in Stan Lee stock.

    Mr. Paul got the idea to recruit Clinton after meeting another key Pardongate witness, Denise Rich.

    "Peter Paul, through a person who used to work for him, became acquainted with Denise Rich and many of the Clinton fund-raisers around the country. ... The idea kept snowballing. Peter Paul wanted Bill Clinton on his team," he said.

    "So eventually Peter Paul said, 'In order to get Bill Clinton I'm willing to help get Hillary Rodham Clinton elected U.S. senator. And I'll put up money to help elect her."

    But the night of the gala fund-raiser, Paul's deal with the Clintons began to unravel, as the Washington Post readied a report on his criminal record, Verney said.

    The report prompted the Clintons to immediately distance themselves from the media mogul. It was at that point that Paul decided to seek a presidential pardon.

    After making the pardon request, Paul was contacted by then-Democratic National Committee chairman Ed Rendell, who allegedly suggested it would be "nice" if he made a $150,000 contribution to the DNC.

    "Here's a guy who just gave $2 million and the Clintons disavowed him the day after the event because of some news stories that came up in the Washington Post," the Judicial Watch official said. "And then after that, Rendell asks for another $150,000."

    Paul never got his pardon and the deal for Clinton to join Stan Lee Media's board collapsed.

    The Pardongate connections to this story won't go away. Here's the Washington Post in October, 2004:
    The Justice Department is trying to secure the cooperation of an indicted businessman as it pursues Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign for possible fundraising violations, according to interviews and documents.

    The FBI told a U.S. magistrate in Los Angeles two years ago that it has evidence Clinton's campaign deliberately understated its fundraising costs so it would have more money to spend on elections. Prosecutors contend that businessman Peter Paul made donations because he wanted a pardon from President Bill Clinton.

    Paul has denied he raised money for Mrs. Clinton to boost his chance for a pardon, and he asserted that campaign officials told him the contributions would be disclosed as required by law, his defense team said. He did not receive a pardon.

    Noel L. Hillman, the Justice Department's top public corruption attorney, has met three times -- most recently in May -- with lawyers for Paul to discuss a plea deal. The investigation has continued for more than three years. The department wants to interview Paul to determine whether he can substantiate allegations of wrongdoing, his defense lawyers said.

    (There are also plenty of juicy allegations Paul has made in litigation against the Clintons, with more documents here.)

    I'd love to know all the facts, because the more I look into this case, the more fascinating it gets. For example, here's noted conservative spokesman Paul Weyrich on Peter Paul:

    I have considerable interest in this case because I know Peter Paul. I met him through the children of Clifford Heinz, a former Director of the Free Congress Foundation. Paul subsequently was in touch with me on a number of occasions. He seemed to indicate he wanted to help conservatives, but later he got close to the Clintons.

    Mrs. Clinton needed lots of money to run for the Senate in New York. She and the president turned to Paul to help with a major fundraiser. He ended up putting over $2 million into a "Hollywood Tribute to Bill Clinton" on August 12, 2000. The problem is that Hillary never reported this contribution to the Federal Election Commission.

    That is a federal crime.

    According to Klayman, this payment of $2 million was part of a $17 million offer to Bill Clinton to work with Peter Paul's companies after Clinton left office. Paul has disclosed this, revealing that Hillary Clinton lied to the media when she said she had taken no contributions from Paul and would not do so.

    That would be significant because the only commandment left with the liberal media is "thou shalt not lie to the liberal media."

    Dick Morris has also weighed in on this case, saying that Rosen would be a fool to take the fall for Hillary:
    Did Hillary know? Paul and Tonken say she did, and it seems obvious that she must have: Hillary followed every dime in her campaign, personally calling donors for most of it. How could she possibly not have known of a decision that saved her $800,000?

    But the person who knows if she knew is David Rosen. If found guilty, he faces a potential sentence of 15 years. If the feds threaten him with jail — and it's hard to see how they wouldn't —Rosen faces a choice: Tell the truth or go to prison.

    Rosen is no long-term Clinton loyalist like Webb Hubbell, nor did he have an affair with a Clinton (as Bill implied to me that Susan McDougal did). And there is no Clinton in the White House to pardon him if he goes to prison.

    David Rosen is a young man in his late 30s, with a life ahead of him. He would be a fool to go to jail to protect Hillary.

    If he did, she wouldn't even visit him.

    While it's true that "there is no Clinton in the White House to pardon him," that could change. There are a lot of factors for Rosen to weigh as he contemplates the "life ahead of him."

    UPDATE: Writing in today's New York Post, Dick Morris has much more:

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune has reported on a transcript of a Sept. 4, 2002, audiotape of a dinner between Rosen and Ted Kennedy in-law Raymond Reggie, who was wearing a wire. Most news accounts have left out the fact that Rosen implicated himself with each bite of steak.

    On tape, the paper reported, Rosen "acknowledges that the gala probably cost far more to produce than he reported on federal campaign forms." Rosen says of the fund-raiser, "We woulda never done it if the guy [Peter Paul] said he spent $2 million. So now he's [Paul] saying he spent $2 million on an event that raised $1.4." Rosen goes on to agree that "he may have" spent the $2 million.

    Reggie, whose sister is Ted Kennedy's wife, will get no more than five years in prison on bank-fraud convictions in return for cooperation and testimony at Rosen's trial.

    In the conversation, David Rosen calls himself a "guinea pig" for Clinton's lawyers, noting that "the former Clinton White House wanted to hire, or to argue the [Rosen's] case in a certain way." The indicted former finance director said, "And I did it for them. Like, I bit the bullet and went in as a guinea pig and argued their argument for me. Instead of freeing' and runnin' and coverin' my ass, I was a good soldier."

    Then Rosen adds, ominously, "So far it's worked out, but I coulda done it a lot different."

    As the net tightens around him now, Rosen may indeed "do it a lot different" and begin cooperating with the feds in building a case that Hillary knew about the under-reporting.

    Read the whole thing.

    And while you're at it, read Redstate.org. Here's the conclusion:

    Bob! Get on the phone and hold that order for 500 Hillary '08 stickers! Do it quick!
    Similar optimism by Democrats led to Ronald Reagan.

    posted by Eric at 09:24 AM | Comments (5)

    An appearance-based code?

    As a person who hates rules, I loved this:

    Right now, Gordon and I blog under an unspoken code of human beings, which I'm sure is broader than the journalistic code of ethics. I would hate for us to aim lower in our standards.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I often speak of my own low standards, and I am not about to adopt a "code" which might interfere with my ability to speak freely. I try to post what I think, when I think it, and I try to be fair and logical. I don't know what else I can really do.

    I've often thought of blogging as analogous to ebay in the sense that if you get known for being unreliable, people won't buy from you. Beyond reputation, there's no enforceable code, nor could there or should there be one.

    I'm glad to see that the meme of "Blogospheric Rumblings" about a code of ethics has been discredited.

    First, voluntary codes. Next it'll be about gateways to the Internet.

    Here's Jeff Jarvis:

    For bloggers, just like journalists and their institutions, our key asset is trust. Break that trust and you may never repair it. That, again, is the essence of journalistic and blogging ethics.
    Seriously, the code we need is the internal code -- the one we live by and the one each of us already has. Each blogger has a different idea of what that is, but the extent to which he lives up to it (and acknowledges when he falls short), that's what I call integrity. It is inherently self enforcing, because it is enforced by one's self.

    In any event, I can think of few things less practical and less achievable than a code of ethics for bloggers, and beyond what I've said, I'm just not going to take the idea of an external ethics code seriously.

    But on the bright side, there is something we can take seriously right now. For some time, bloggers have been criticized for various physical attributes as well as their physical appearance. They have been repeatedly slammed for being too white and too male -- something I think is really cruel because none of the bloggers who suffer from these disabling accidents of birth can do anything at all to change them. (Well, OK, I know sex change surgery is available. But is it really fair to ask bloggers to submit to going under the knife? Simply in the name of outreach?)

    What I think we need to take seriously is not an ethics code, but a dress code!

    I realize that I just stated my unalterable opposition to blog regulation -- especially a code of blog ethics -- but this is entirely different. One reason I oppose an ethics code is because it would necessarily be a form of blog regulation. But dress codes are far less restrictive, as they don't regulate blogs, but only what bloggers wear. Why should we sit back and allow bloggers to be freely criticized for wearing pajamas, and (most recently) for being poorly dressed, when there's something that can be done about it?

    Far be it from me to dictate what bloggers should wear, but the neat thing about dress codes is that they're very easily enforced. Throwing another blogger convention? Simply hire a big beefy doorman from, say, one of New York's posh nightclubs, give him a copy of the official Blogger Dress Code, and it's done. To avoid claims that we're discriminating against impoverished bloggers who can't afford new outfits or makeovers, there could even be a charity-funded blogger goodwill "free box" or clothing rack right by the front door (in much the same way that nice restaurants keep neckties by the front door). That way, every blogger would be assured of conforming to the code, at least for the duration of the event.

    As we all know, appearances these days matter more than ethics, so why not establish an official Blogger Dress Code committee, hire some kickass fashion consultants, and get the blogosphere up to speed? I'd be willing to bet that the leading fashion magazines like GQ would jump at the opportunity. I don't mean this as a snub or criticism of any blogger, but I honestly think that if they really looked, the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy producers could manage to find at least one ill-dressed blogger or two who'd cooperate for a special "Worst Dressed Blogger" episode. Winning contestants could then be put in charge to accessorize their more recalcitrant fellow bloggers. What could be more thrilling than that?

    Just think. Never again could bloggers be accused of having no standards!

    UPDATE: Donald Sensing has written a superb post on the code of ethics issue.

    The whole idea of a code of ethics rests on the presumption that blogging (or journalism) is bound somehow by a public trust. That lawyering and medicine clearly hold a public trust is easy to see. But the notion that news media do is, IMO, a bit of a stretch. The idea that papers (and later broadcast media) are “objective” (or in FoxNews-speak, “fair and balanced”) is only about a hundred years old. It was promulgated by William Randolph Hearst, who was one of the yellowist of yellow journalists in the closing years of the 19th century.
    There's a lot more; a must read.

    UPDATE (05/19/05): More on "fashionblogging" -- where the satirical morphs with the sartorial.

    posted by Eric at 08:32 PM | Comments (9)

    Blogicide bomber?

    Over at Scared Monkeys, I saw this bitchily clever LA Weekly report that, far from panning out, Arianna Huffington's much touted "blogging" venture seems destined to be a bomb.

    Judging from today’s horrific debut of the humongously pre-hyped celebrity blog the Huffington Post, the Madonna of the mediapolitic world has gone one reinvention too many. She has now made an online ass of herself. What Arianna Huffington's bizarre guru-cult association, 180-degree conservative-to-liberal conversion, and failed run in the California gubernatorial-recall race couldn’t accomplish, her blog has now done: She is finally played out publicly. This Web-site venture is the sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable, because of all the advance publicity touting its success as inevitable. Her blog is such a bomb that it’s the box-office equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one. In magazine terms, it’s the disastrous clone of Tina Brown’s Talk, JFK Jr.’s George or Maer Roshan’s Radar. No matter what happens to Huffington, it’s clear Hollywood will suffer the consequences.

    It almost seems like some sick hoax. Perhaps Huffington is no longer a card-carrying progressive but now a conservative mole. Because she served up liberal celebs like red meat on a silver platter for the salivating and Hollywood-hating right wing to chew up and spit out.

    Of course, only the fawning mainstream media didn’t see this coming; instead, The New York Times, the New York Observer, the Los Angeles Times et al. were too busy breathlessly reporting Arianna’s big plans and bons mots to bother to do any reporting.

    Conservative mole? Hmmmmm.....

    (Will this be followed by a book entitled "How I Discredited and Ruined the Blogosphere in Less Than 30 Days"?)

    Just over a month ago, I predicted something like this, and what I want to know now is why the LA Weekly hasn't given me credit! Might it be because I'm not as good at penning snitty Hollywood phrases?

    It's odd that this would happen just as the blogosphere is being scolded for not having a "code of ethics," and yes, yes, yes! I question the timing!

    For the benefit of those who are now attacking blogs for a lack of ethics, here's what I said about Huffington last month:

    I think there are degrees of lack of integrity. A smell test, if you will. And the Huffington kind of opportunism just doesn't pass mine. Even assuming all politicians are opportunists, there's something about changing political positions the way an actor might a wardrobe, calculating them for maximum flash and public attention, which turns me off completely.
    I don't know what's going to happen, but I refuse to be judged or tarred in any way by the content or conduct of this newly spun, highly provocateurish blog.

    I think there'll be more such antics, followed by more calls for nonsensical codes of ethics which can't be enforced, followed by a clamor for controls which can.

    It goes without saying that I am unalterably opposed to any and all blog controls.

    If anyone really thinks a thirty day waiting period for blogs would have worked in this case, I'd like to hear about it.


    UPDATE: James Lileks has written a scathingly funny review of the Huffy Blog, which he calls a "48-car celebrity freeway pile-up." Rubbernecking aside, he thinks the idea of celeblogging generally falls flat:

    In the blogworld, a celebrity name adds no value whatsoever. If the blog’s good, the celebrity may earn some blogcred (oh, Lord, shoot me now for that one) for not sounding like someone who just emerged from the isolation tank of LA culture. But I really don’t care what Larry David thinks about John Bolton. I care what Larry David thinks about the itchy tags on shirts that scrape your neck, because I know that he can make a 12-part TV series that revolves around that detail, and George Will can’t.
    I think the fact that bloggers can occasionally become celebrities does not mean that celebrities can always become successful bloggers. Celebrity status would of course give any startup blog a leg up on the competition. But I don't think that pretending to be a blogger could generate the finished product which real blogging demands. It's tough to fake the hard, highly personal work involved.

    UPDATE (05/18/05): In a post which should be widely read, Harvey at Bad Example has a ferociously eloquent post (obviously written from the heart) in which he discusses the personalized hard work which is the nature of blogging -- but which isn't the nature of Arianna:

    She looks at the blogosphere as a single entity with enormous power, and she lusts after it with deepest envy. She has fantasies of stepping in with a cabal of sycophants and grabbing this power for herself so that she can control "the public's imagination". She's under the delusion that all the scandals exposed by the blogosphere in the last year or so are directed from a single point of control, as though there were a handle that could be pulled to steer all the blogs in a single direction.

    What she wants is to grab that handle.

    To mangle a line from the Matrix, "there is no handle".

    Arianna, darling, the blogosphere isn't a machine to be controlled from a single point, it's a herd of cats, and it'll go where it sees fit in ways that can be neither controlled nor predicted. It's not an actually entity, but rather the sum total of the individual human lives behind every blog. If you persist in your insane beliefs to the contrary, your project will disintegrate before your eyes, leaving you alone, ignored, and wondering what went wrong.

    Well done, Harvey. (It's also a good argument against following the herd.)

    posted by Eric at 07:22 PM | Comments (5)

    Is handshaking only for modems?

    Speaking of disrespect, I almost forgot about an incident shortly before the November election in which Stefan Sharkansky claimed to be snubbed by Dave Winer:

    Dave Winer refused to shake my hand because I'm a Republican. He also told me that he'd be more comfortable with the Iranian mullahs possessing nuclear weapons than with George W. Bush possessing nuclear weapons. Yes, he really said that.
    And that's the caption Stefan Sharkansky provides below the actual picture of Dave Winer refusing the handshake.

    Is refusing to shake hands a form of disrespect?

    It might be that and more. Shaking hands is an ancient, time-honored means of nonverbal communication which establishes trust between two human beings. With ample justification, the Nixon Foundation goes so far as to argue that the politics of a handshake is "always of historical signifigance." (Sometimes, there's religious significance.)

    I'm not arguing that the refusal to shake hands in a Seattle bar was an earthshaking international incident. It would normally be an eminently forgettable incident.

    Had it not been for the contentiousness over laughter at a lecture called "A Respectful Disagreement"), I'd never have remembered it.

    posted by Eric at 08:11 AM

    Senatus populusque blogorum!

    After the last panel finished and Glenn Reynolds made his closing remarks, I meandered over to the bar across the street from the Belmont campus and joined another sort of session in progress...

    Sittting to my right were Sean Hackbarth and Blake Wylie:


    Here's the view to my left:


    Front left is Henry Copeland chatting with the distinguished John J. Hooker, who's thinking of starting a blog. At the next table are Stan Brown, Chris Muir, Eric Janssen, and John Cox. The latter was gladly sketching anyone who sat at the end of the table -- which kept me a respectful (?) distance away!

    I had a nice talk with Mr. Hooker, and I just couldn't resist telling him that he looked every inch the courtly Southern senator from central casting. To my surprise, he told me that he had played a southern senator in the movie Reds, and had just been talking with his old friend Warren Beatty about Beatty's new blogging venture. Obsessive compulsive type that I am, I did a little checking and sure enough, Mr. Hooker did play Senator Overman in the movie Reds starring Warren Beatty!

    I'm trying (without much success) to figure out what the difference is between a senator and an actor who played a senator. I suspect the latter is more honest than the former.

    Speaking of appearances, Sean Hackbarth links to this media whitewash:

    If the attendees at BlogNashville are any indication, bloggers are very white, very male and very bad at dressing themselves.
    I must protest! I wore a suit, and I didn't take off my necktie until we went out drinking. As you can see, Mr. Hooker is wearing a suit, as were Glenn Reynolds, and others.

    But since when is there a blogger dress code anyway? First they said bloggers were in pajamas, and I don't own a pair. Now it's bad dressing?

    What would they have us wear?

    Regarding other personal characteristics, yes I'm white, and I'm also male but what is this "very" business? Please. I think it's very tired.

    Later last night I went to my last blog related event, and here's a picture taken after La Shawn Barber's lovely dinner.


    All very male, very white, very bad dressers. Without exception!

    MORE: I almost forgot about Trey Jackson -- yet another blogger wearing a suit!

    posted by Eric at 10:10 PM | Comments (6)

    Some notes on military blogging

    Yesterday morning I started with Dan Gillmor's Citizen's Media panel (good summary at Scared Monkey via Glenn Reynolds), and I heard grim stories about litigation against bloggers.

    That kind of stuff that makes my blood boil, and I wanted to hear more but then my cell phone rang, and I had to run out in the hall. The problem was, the military blogging panel was upstairs and there was no way I could attend both. I might have split personality tendencies, but they don't extend to the physical realm, and I am yet unable to be in two places at once.

    With this in mind, after I finished my urgent phone call (it was dog health care related), I figured that rather than reinterrupt, I'd wander upstairs to Robin Burk's panel on military blogging already in progress.

    I was fortunate enough to enter just in time to hear Donald Sensing discuss not only military blogging, but why he blogs, and how he started. He said that he can't think about something until he writes about it: "My way of understanding the world." (That really struck a note with me, as it's exactly what I do, too.)

    Donald Sensing started blogging with primitive Adobe software and hand wrote all his first links himself. Sergeant Stryker forwarded a link to one of his posts to Glenn Reynolds, which gave him an Instalanche, and one thing led to another.

    Hearing military bloggers reminded me of the dangers and difficulties in writing about stuff you don't really know about. I don't like doing that, and much as I support the war, I haven't written much about miltary matters. As it is, it's tough enough for me to write about things I do know about, but being a civilian blogging about military stuff is not for me.

    What follows is from mostly unedited notes in my laptop.

    Bill Hobbs (who has done a fantastic job all the way) spoke and said that while he's not a milblogger, he helped set up a milblogger (Lance in Iraq) who got 17,000 hits. Thunder6 was another one. The soldiers over there feel they don't get real news, but biased coverage -- coverage at odds with what they see.

    Sisyphus said that the media reinforces steroetypes. The military tends to be cloistered from civilian world. Blackfive brings a personal face. Greyhawk puts his personal touch on things. The Mainstream Media aren't there and haven't served. False sense of "objectivity" -- "wrong" to personalize...

    Ed Cone mentioned the "Diary of a US soldier." Good reporting, described professionalism under fire. Real war story. Greensboro paper published it as a story.

    Next there was a live feed from a soldier stationed at Fort Knox. The soldier (T blog?) spoke about the importance of blogs to get the news they want. Matt Sheffield asked about embeds. Some are very supportive; others are negative.

    BlackFive also spoke live:

    -- the main issue with milblogging is the lack of understanding in MSM over what members of the military go through. Can get in trouble because of political sensitivity, so confidentiality is necessary.

    Mustang23 (running overtime) also spoke:

    -- never thought of himself as a writer. Trying to learn about himself and writing style. Needed hobby and there it was. (Something I can also relate to.)

    -- he wants to make the military look better. People only see negatives. Blogging is a way to communicate with family and friends.

    Robin Burk concluded by telling Mustang23: "We want you to know how much we support you."

    It was quite moving to see these guys right there on video. Their story is not being told as it should be. On the flight back from Nashville, the grandmother of a Marine in training told me that one of the reasons her son wants to be a Marine is to help people get their freedom and have a better lives. She had the same old complaint: you only hear bad things about the military. It's interesting and ironic that the guys who go the extra mile and put their lives on the line for stuff like free speech can't take the latter for granted any more than the rest of us. They also have to go the extra mile to practice free speech.

    Free speech isn't always as free as we might think -- in more ways than one.

    UPDATE: Sisyphus has more information and links.

    posted by Eric at 09:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

    I win!

    As Doug Petch earlier did a comparison between his Cingular air card and Glenn Reynolds' Verizon air card, I thought it only fair to point out that I have them both beaten.

    This game failed even to open up!

    No doubt about it, my Sierra 750 is slowest!

    Hey I'm STANDING in line at the airport for my flight -- blogging with one hand. Gimme a break!

    Sheesh. This laptop is getting heavier by the second......

    posted by Eric at 12:31 PM | Comments (4)


    During Henry Copeland's presentation yesterday on making money with blogs, there was much discussion of blogs as influencers, their niche, sense of community, even trickling down.

    At one point Glenn Reynolds was described as being "like a cisco router," and was asked whether he's a "figurehead." Glenn conceded that he's like the figurehead on a ship's prow, and the fact is, he gets there first. I can testify to that; in fact he had his post written and up when I was far from finished writing a rather laborious rough draft of what I will never, ever be able to call "live blogging."

    This is not idle speculation on my part, as I am about to supply proof!

    And here it is -- an inside, live-action shot of the InstaPundit at the Copeland presentation:


    Please note carefully that while it may appear to the uninformed that Glenn is just staring fiercely into his laptop while Robin Burk asks a question, based on the time sequence I can assure you that what he was actually doing was posting this entry!

    In the blink of some router circuit somewhere, that post was done. Up. Online! There for the whole world to see! Meanwhile I was still slogging through my laborious notes about niche content, Google ads, stuff I don't understand, lots and lots of opinions, and a characterization of blogs as having "loyalty, personality, community." I hadn't even had time to read what I had written, much less reflect on it. I am slow; Glenn is fast. I am only honored that he likes to read my blog.

    Donald Sensing spoke about blogs as self scaling; as issues arise, hit counts surge. Ads should take that into account. (Henry Copeland replied that to a certain extent, Google does that, but then he discussed Google's limitations.)

    At one point, Cox and Forkum's John Cox asked (almost by way of reminder),


    The room then exploded with laughter.

    That seemed to be the bottom line. Blogging is supposed to be fun, even when you're serious.

    And laughter is, I think, good -- even when it is being directed at you. I say this because I've had real animosity and hatred directed at me. I've been laughed at a lot too, but I never thought of that as hatred, and I don't consider myself a victim when I'm laughed at, as Dave Winer seemed to at the conference on Respectful Disagreement.

    Anyway, things are now way past the live blogging point. As is my wont, I am now going to get way off track, and in an irreverent manner.

    I got an email from Mick Wright who pointed out that when, during the conference on faith based blogging, I described myself as a "Pantheist," some of the people laughed.

    As neither my Pantheist remark nor the laughter has been much reported, much less commented upon, I feel a bit obligated ("blogligated" is the techie term) to address this serious laughter issue.

    To tell the truth, I did hear some tittering. I expected much more, but it just isn't my style to explode because of my perception of the appearance of laughter. Nor do I particularly mind even if the laughter was meant to be -- and may Dave Winer forgive me -- disrespectful.

    Dave Winer should lighten up, and I really mean that.

    I'm serious about this goddamned laughter thing, folks. Because, if people laugh, even you are being dissed, that means they think something is funny. At least they're not calling me names or threatening to kill me. And if they don't laugh, well, I hope they don't take me too seriously.

    Is there a bottom line? A long time ago, I had a lover who left me in a total rage after we'd lived together for many years. I was just dumped. Love then turned to festering anger, then real hatred. Many hateful, angry remarks were leveled at me. Bitter characterizations, recriminations, and denunciations. It went on and on, and I grew tired of having to defend myself. Finally, the most annoying, the most downright vicious slander possible to make was leveled at me:

    "On top of all that, you're a lousy lay!"

    That hurt. (No seriously; it really did.) And I should have kept my mouth shut, maybe even cried a few tears for appeasement. Instead, I said the following fateful words . . .

    "So don't pay me!"

    My life hasn't been the same since.

    posted by Eric at 10:20 AM | Comments (2)

    Live blogging faith-based blogging.....

    An evangelical Christian I am not. But I have been sitting here experiencing La Shawn Barber's panel on Faith-Based/Evangelical Blogging, and I have to say there's more feeling in this room right now than in any other panel I've experienced so far.

    During the discussion of definitions and terminology, I described myself as a "Pantheist" who believes in fairness, and pointed out my beef with the inability of people to talk to (instead of at) each other. Why, I asked, does "theocrat" only seem to mean Christian?

    There's now some discussion of whether faith based blogging is political. Ed Cone and Donald Sensing both mentioned a North Carolina church which expelled all Democrats. Reverend Sensing opined that such a church should lose its tax exempt status, noting that his faith comes before his politics, but the latter is not dependent on the former.

    Ed Cone just said that he and his family support gay rights, and he doesn't like being told that makes him (or his family) "against family values." Ed thinks weblogs can bridge some of this gap.

    Things are getting lively. I'm glad I chose this panel.

    More later as it comes, I hope....

    It's very exciting to see the independence of thought, the intelligence, and the imagination of people so often stereotyped as Bible thumping bigots.

    MORE: Liveliness aside, I was quite struck by the civility and lack of contentiousness at this panel, despite obvious and profound disagreement.

    Right now I'm attending Mark Glaser's panel on protecting bloggers, which means I'm missing the contentiousness here.

    Can't be two places at once!

    MORE: Well, I tried to be in two places at once, and I just saw Dave Winer go ballistic because he thought someone in his audience laughed at what he'd just said about being in a global environment. He really yelled at the guy, too. Said it was the most abusive thing he'd ever seen or something.


    I don't think Mr. Winer would especially like my sense of humor. Anyway, I returned to the panel on Protecting Bloggers.

    MORE: I tracked down the guy who got in trouble for laughing. His name is Stan Brown, he has a blog, and with all due respect I think Mr. Winer may be confusing disrespect with the failure to be a stuffed shirt.

    UPDATE: Les Jones saw the whole trainwreck thing, and said this:

    Early on, Winer semi-admonished Robin Burk from Winds of Change when she casually mentioned posters and commentors in the course of her comment. Winer stopped her and said he didn't believe dividing people into posters and commentors because he doesn't believe in hierarchies.

    That was a feel-good groaner in and of itself, but he became a hypocrite once disagreement started by playing the speaker card, saying he was the leader today and that if Allen Forkum John Cox didn't like it he could leave. Winer made the classic passive-aggressive mistake of starting out pretending to be incredibly permissive and then being forced to turn into Attila the facilitator to regain control.

    There's more, and I never realized how moronic I was about RSS.

    Q. How come I never paid attention to Dave Winer before this?

    A. Because I'm stupid, obviously.

    Earlier this evening I was sitting around the lobby talking with Trey Jackson (who has a noticeable Southern accent), and Dave Winer came up and said "Hey, Y'AAAALLL!" He might have meant well, although I could have sworn I detected an undertone of disrespect in his voice. And so without thinking, right away I blurted out, "I'm from Philadelphia!"

    Then I realized I really didn't have to be defending myself. (After all, he wasn't making fun of MY Southern accent.) But Dave Winer would be the first to condemn prejudice based on region, so I must be misreading this, right? See how easily a perfectly innocent remark can be misread?

    This is getting to be contagious, and I obviously need a lecture on civility.

    Can we get along?

    MORE: Dave Winer answers, sort of:

    Most red state and blue state people can get along, even like each other, were it not for a very small number of people who won't let the conversation take place. Five people dominated, if they hadn't, I think we would have found lots of shared values.

    (Via Sean Hackbarth.)

    It would never have occurred to me that red state and blue state people might not be able to get along. I try to get along with people who disagree with me -- even if they laugh at me, and even if they are disrespectful. As I've said before, problems arise when one man's disagreement is seen as another man's disrespect.

    It's also complicated by the fact that it is entirely possible to respect a person without respecting his opinion on a given subject. Respecting another person is what we call civility. Must that necessarily mean respect for opinions unworthy of respect?

    Claiming that you respect a person's opinions when you don't is dishonest.

    Believing that you respect a person's opinions when you don't is self deception.

    I don't think it assists this inquiry to maintain blindly that all opinions are entitled to respect no matter how absurd. Is it possible to "respect" the opinion that the earth is flat? That the white race was created in a test tube by an evil black doctor? Where is the line drawn? Clearly, there is a right to be wrong, and there is a right to be treated with respect. But it smacks of tyrannical mind control to tell me that I must really and truly respect opinions I consider ridiculous. I'd never expect anyone who thinks my opinions are unworthy of respect to respect them. Is Dave Winer demanding dishonesty from people?

    If so, how does that further the cause of respect?

    MORE: Ian at The Political Teen has the video of the interaction between Dave Winer and Stan Brown.

    posted by Eric at 03:40 PM | Comments (10)

    Hurried reflections

    I should remind readers that is not all about partying. The past couple of days have been pretty intense, especially the CARR crash course in working with numbers and spreadsheets (something so new to me it makes my head spin). I learned a lot, and now I need to get the latest version of Microsoft Excel. (This laptop only has an older MS Works spreadsheet, so I can't even practice while I'm here.)

    Serious questions abound about blogs and journalism, and they're unsettled, with everyone having a different opinion. In last night's panel, there were two "regular" journalists (Linda Seebach from Denver's Rocky Mountain News and Mike Cutler, news director at NewsChannel 5 in Nashville) two bloggers who were former "regular" journalists (Bill Hobbs and J.D. Lasica), as well as Glenn Reynolds and Liz Garrigan. Despite the obvious differences (and disagreements involving things like pride and turf), there is no fine line, and the membrane is permeable.

    I really liked Glenn Reynolds's common sense suggestion that the Big Guys like the New York Times simply take advantage of the wonderful opportunity they have in the blogosphere.

    Let the bloggers help do their work for them!

    It's such a simple solution, really. A win-win.

    More later; I'm late again!

    MORE: And here are some hurried pictures....




    MORE: A commenter below (Dan Philips) reminded me of a key point Glenn made last night:

    the number 1 blog is run by some type of Chinese Sex Slave
    That definitely exceeds expectations. (Or would that be sexpectations?)

    MORE: Somehow, I missed noting the name of the blogger sitting between Mike Cutler and Bill Hobbs -- Terry Heaton. His post on Dave Winer is a must read. Excerpt:

    Respect doesn't begin with you; it begins with me. It's foolish to go into a discussion expecting to be respected, because the respect (or disrespect) I receive isn't in my control — it's in the control of the rest of the folks in the conversation. The best I can do is show respect myself. If I'm disrespected while showing respect, well, there's not much I can do about that.

    Dave Winer can be a real ass, and I'm not the first person to have said that. Self-absorption is what I saw from him in that session. He wasn't so much interested in hearing what others said, because he was constantly interrupting speakers to defend his point-of-view. Was this deliberate baiting for the sake of the session? Only Dave knows that for sure. When he stated as a matter of fact that the economy is in deep trouble, the conservative writers in the crowd chuckled, and this infuriated him. He said that the room was free to disagree with him, but not free to laugh at him. However, by his parental admonitions and rebukes to people in attendance, he was — on a very discernable level — laughing at everybody else.

    Dave is a dynamic and intelligent fellow, and I like him a lot. He helped me get this blog going, and the truth is that his role in the creation of blogging deserves respect, regardless of what anybody thinks of his personality or political positions. There would've been no BlogNashville without Dave Winer, and that's the truth.

    The blogosphere is a place where disagreement is not only allowed but encouraged, and while all of us old hippies may long for the utopian day when we all "just get along," I'm not so sure that's really necessary.

    I'm an old hippie myself, if having been a Deadhead from age fifteen is any indicator, and if there's one thing I can appreciate, it's the contradictory nature of such realities. Terry Heaton knows his turf.

    (He also has good taste in cell phone ring tones, if I may say so....)

    UPDATE: Is this evidence that the New York Times might be listening to Glenn Reynolds?

    It appears that as the NY Times struggles to figure out how they fit into the changing news landscape, they're realizing that putting up a big wall between their writers and readers probably wasn't helping matters. So, one of the changes they're looking to implement will be a better system for contacting writers of pieces to allow them to better interact with the community they're serving.
    The headline reads "NY Times Agrees That Hearing From Readers Might Not Be A Bad Idea."

    Now, let's not get too drastic.

    posted by Eric at 08:32 AM | Comments (2)

    Starry night in Nashville

    formally opened with tonight's panel discussion on blogs and journalism. Sisyphus, a super milblogger, did a great job of liveblogging the discussion.

    Here he is at the party held later at Wolfy's:


    And here's Les Jones with Matt Sheffield:


    The best for last.

    Finally, I got to meet the guy I consider the blogosphere's founding father.


    What I still can't believe is that Glenn took a picture of me and actually posted it -- but seeing is believing. (Seriously, I'm honored.)

    posted by Eric at 02:05 AM

    Photos, photos, and more!

    I was lucky enough to attend official Impromptu Dinner last night at the Sole Mio restaurant. Two long tables filled with bloggers is something I've never seen before, and I took some very impromptu pictures. With spontaneous, unposed photography, no one is looking, so I end up with results like this:


    Starting in the lowest right hand corner and working around the table clockwise, there's Tom Biro (he's number "24"), Matt Sheffield, Blake Wylie, Rex Hammock, Mick Wright, Eric Ashley, Kirk Johnson, Bill Hobbs, and Linda Seebach.

    Matt and Tom sat across the table from me, and Tom managed to catch my camera, right in the lens while Matt hid behind a glass of water.


    Nor did I escape the camera. Here's what it looked like to have cameras pointed at me. Trey Jackson is the professional photographer on the left.


    Here's the group they were photographing:


    That last photo I hijacked from Blake Wylie's Flickr gallery.

    MORE: Matt Sheffield has a new blog called Virtual Scratchpad.

    posted by Eric at 07:16 PM

    All theocracy is equal?

    Dean Esmay shares an observation about "theocracy:"

    .....[A]lmost no one who talks in sweaty, jittery terms about "separation of church and state" and "theocracy" ever complains about religious figures who take political positions they agree with; they reserve it for religious people they disagree with.
    I've noticed the same thing, and I've also noticed that the vast majority of the feverishly anti-theocracy rhetoric (including web sites devoted to fighting theocracy) is concerned only with Christian theocracy.

    Why are they silent about Islamic theocracy? If this omission doesn't indicate actual agreement with Islamic theocracy, I don't know what it means. I hope it doesn't evince a preference for one form of theocracy over another.

    That would be religious discrimination.

    posted by Eric at 01:41 PM | Comments (6)

    Vanderbilt sights

    The Vanderbilt University campus is beautiful, and I'm afraid these pictures (taken on my morning run) can't do it justice, as the sun created unwanted shadows, and my camera has no wide angle feature. But hell -- it's the best I can do for now.

    The place just radiates late victorian opulence (a brief history here), and the Mechanical Engineering building (on the National Register of Historic Places) is a perfect example. The cornerstone reads "1888."


    How I love Richardsonian Neoclassical architecture!

    Here are two views of a building labeled "Fine Arts and Gymnasium":


    They don't make 'em like that anymore, nor are fine arts and gym typically combined these days.

    They're getting ready for a big event (obviously graduation), and the gigantic common area is covered with chairs.

    A small portion:


    And now I'm late for the !

    posted by Eric at 09:22 AM | Comments (2)

    The stream of commerce?

    Here's a fascinating medical legal cultural tidbit:

    NEW YORK (AP) - To the dismay of gay-rights activists, the Food and Drug Administration is about to implement new rules recommending that any man who has engaged in homosexual sex in the previous five years be barred from serving as an anonymous sperm donor.

    The FDA has rejected calls to scrap the provision, insisting that gay men collectively pose a higher-than-average risk of carrying the AIDS virus. Critics accuse the FDA of stigmatizing all gay men rather than adopting a screening process that focuses on high-risk sexual behavior by any would-be donor, gay or straight.

    "Under these rules, a heterosexual man who had unprotected sex with HIV-positive prostitutes would be OK as a donor one year later, but a gay man in a monogamous, safe-sex relationship is not OK unless he's been celibate for five years," said Leland Traiman, director of a clinic in Alameda, Calif., that seeks gay sperm donors.

    Traiman said adequate safety assurances can be provided by testing a sperm donor at the time of the initial donation, then freezing the sperm for a six-month quarantine and testing the donor again to be sure there is no new sign of HIV or other infectious diseases.

    Although there is disagreement over whether the FDA guideline regarding gay men will have the force of law, most doctors and clinics are expected to observe it.

    The practical effect of the provision - part of a broader set of cell and tissue donation regulations that take effect May 25 - is hard to gauge. It is likely to affect some lesbian couples who want a child and prefer to use a gay man's sperm for artificial insemination.

    But it is the provision's symbolic aspect that particularly troubles gay-rights groups. Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, has called it "policy based on bigotry."

    "The part I find most offensive - and a little frightening - is that it isn't based on good science," Cathcart said. "There's a steadily increasing trend of heterosexual transmission of HIV, and yet the FDA still has this notion that you protect people by putting gay men out of the pool."

    Aside from whether this is based on good science, I can't imagine why Leland (a guy I knew back in the early seventies) isn't thinking about the United States Constitution.

    While women and their doctors ought to use common sense in deciding what sperm to use, I'd like to know from where the federal government decides it has jurisdiction. Is this sperm used in interstate commerce or something? I mean, if they can regulate this, why not all sexual intercourse? I don't see how the involvement of a doctor (or the anonymous nature of the donor) changes anything.

    There are too many things like this. People just assume the feds should "do something," and then "do something" is exactly what they do. And then there's not a peep from anyone. Arguing about the merits of how the policy is implemented concedes federal jurisdiction. Perhaps the people who run these clinics don't care about what the founders would have thought.....

    Did Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison really imagine federal regulation of our cells and tissues -- even our precious bodily fluids -- as among the enumerated powers? What constitutional provision am I missing? This may be a form of intercourse, but if it's in the stream of interstate commerce, then so is blowing your nose and throwing away the kleenex.

    Can't say I didn't see it coming.

    posted by Eric at 08:16 AM | Comments (4)

    The Lions are hungry!

    At least that seems to be the idea here:

    I once heard of a debate between a Christian group and a Pagan group - it could have been a pretty un-constructive rant like event where one group tells the other group what's wrong with it and visa versa - everyone would have gone home with the same opinions that they came with - however this debate was different.

    Each side was told to prepare arguments against their own religion/faith perspective. The Christians had to say what they didn't like about Christianity, what they felt uncomfortable with and had to deconstruct and poke holes in their own framework for thinking. The Pagans had to do the same for paganism.

    The result was fascinating - rather that the two groups coming away with reinforced hatred of and anger towards the other the event was incredibly constructive. Both groups found that they learned not only a lot about the other group - but about their own perspective.

    Ok - so why am I telling you this on a blog about blogging? Have I mistakenly posted this here instead of on my Spirituality blog?

    No - I''m actually wondering if it might be a helpful exercise as bloggers to do something similar.

    Let's talk about what we don't like about blogging. What are its weaknesses? What are its limitations? How would you construct an argument against blogging?

    Lets learn something about Blogging by deconstructing it for a bit. Put the boots in readers - lets kick it about for a bit - time for a bit of a bitch session!

    By way of an exercise, the author goes on to solicit negative input about blogging.

    But I'm more interested with his analogy to Christians and Pagans. As a Pagan/Christian (or Christian/Pagan) I've got no lion in the modern fight. I think the "war" between Christians and Pagans is an irrelevant holdover from the second and third century Roman culture war which should never have started.

    Everyone lost.

    What I want to know isn't spelled out in the Christian-versus-Pagan analogy: what are bloggers supposed to be?

    The Christians?

    The Pagans?

    And who has the lions this time?

    Is it time to prey? Or pray?


    Now who said this blog was scary?

    posted by Eric at 06:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    I'm lost (but soon we'll all be LOST)

    I just got an email which is distracting me from a course I'm trying to take in Nashville.

    Anyway, I'm no good at math, and while struggling with the basics of Microsoft Excel, I now learn that a dead woman who (let me try to get this right) taught dogs how to play the piano wants the laws of nature of the sea to rule the world, according to the Law Of The Sea Treaty. (aka LOST) :

    The world ocean has been, and is, so to speak, our great laboratory for the making of a new world order. For a combination of reasons it was in the oceans, and only there, that we could introduce a series of new concepts, principles and norms which eventually will have to be applied to the world as a whole." (emphasis added).

    Sounds like a bizarre new form of theocracy to me.

    (Where is Justin when I need him?)

    UPDATE: Speaking of bad math, it turns out that they got the famed demonic "666" of Revelation all wrong. Via Ace of Spades HQ, I see it's actually supposed to be 616. Ace reflects on the implications:

    This is just like when people get annoyed at having to switch from the "good" old area code to the less-desirable new area codes. The Satanists can claim they're willing to switch, but believe me, if you've got a 212 area code, it stings to have to give it up for a lame "917" or "646." They say they're waiting for Christains to "switch" first; that's just Satanist-double-talk for "we're sticking with our old number, even if it means we have to stay forever in the same apartment to keep it."

    So I think 666 is going to be around for a long time to come.

    But seminarians announced that 666 would no longer be refered to as "the Number of the Beast" or the "Brand of the Antichrist," but rather merely "the Number of a Guy You Might Want to Keep Your Eye On" and further that "666" found on someone's scalp constitutes "Suggestive, But Not Quite Conclusive, Evidence That This Dude Might Be a Real Fucking Prick."

    This is indeed a shock.

    Obviously, some of my most serious research will have to be reconsidered.

    What's the world coming to? We really are LOST!

    posted by Eric at 01:14 PM | Comments (1)

    Pillows talk?

    Made it here to Nashville, and the room comes with free Wifi.

    And enough pillows.


    At home I'm lucky to get one.

    posted by Eric at 01:22 AM | Comments (2)

    Going blogwhere!


    That's where I'm headed, but right now I'm sitting at my laptop at the airport (hardly a place conducive to thought -- which is fine because the last post got "swallowed").

    No idea what to expect from the BlogNashville event, but it will be great to meet some bloggers, as opposed to just knowing them. (I think I can I say that.) So far, I've actually met only three bloggers, but in this world you can know people without meeting them.

    An improvement, really; in the old days, you'd meet people without knowing them.

    Anyway, I have literally no idea what to expect. Blogging in the next few days may be light. Or dark. Or heavy.

    posted by Eric at 09:28 PM

    Blogs can't shout as loudly (but they can't be shouted down, either....)

    Texas seems to be much in the news today.

    According to The Daily Texan, a man named Ajai Raj was arrested for talking dirty to Ann Coulter:

    Shouts became so pervasive during the question-and-answer session that Coulter informed the organizers she would no longer take questions if the hecklers were not silenced. For a time, the shouts were considerably lessened, until the issue of gay marriage was broached.

    Coulter said she supported the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman on the basis that a good woman civilizes and inspires a man to strive for something better, leading to a question that was met with a stunned silence.

    "You say that you believe in the sanctity of marriage," said Ajai Raj, an English sophomore. "How do you feel about marriages where the man does nothing but f*ck his wife up the ass?"

    UT Police officers approached Raj to arrest him, resulting in a mass exodus of protesters chanting, "Let him go."

    "The person had been disruptive the entire event," said Matt Hardigree, former Student Events Center president. "He took the opportunity to say something lewd and offensive and then made masturbatory gestures as he exited."

    (And here's the official Complaint.)

    It seems the same Raj (could he be the famous commenter?) has a history of enjoying cigars and seems to revel in being busted. The latter supplies fuel for his colorful way of expressing himself:

    I was led in handcuffs into a waiting room full of crazy yelling degenerates, wife beaters, whores, thieves, and contemptible crying c*nts whose lives were obviously over because they had been led to a police station. Over the next several hours, my clothes were taken from me and replaced with black-and-white striped pajamas, my balls were fondled by leering criminals posing as representatives of justice, and I got the opportunity to sleep in awkward positions in several exciting locales. I was told I would wait for a short while to move on to the next stage of the process, and then made to sit around for hours while eavesdropping on conversations about armed robberies and vehicular assaults.

    When me and the motley members of my cell block were led in front of a judge, I learned that, according to our “justice” system, a straight-A college kid holding a bag of weed is as bad a criminal as a guy who beats his wife and kid. I learned that in Texas, a cop can decide to arrest you for no reason at all and you can sit in jail for 72 hours before you’re even charged with a crime. I learned that, in Travis County jail at least, you get as many phone calls as you like—as long as you’re not calling a cell phone or a landline outside of Travis county. And you can call any one of a number of bail bondsmen to help you out with your $1500 bail, except that half the numbers don’t work and the other half will be answered by assholes who won’t help out anyone under 21. I learned that every single cop in this God-forsaken county thinks he’s the King of Shit Mountain, and that they missed their chance to be comedic wunderkinds. It takes a real man to make fun of a guy who’s in a futile situation and has nothing to do but take your shit. Why not push over a guy with crutches and have a real laugh riot?

    So, having nothing on my hands but my dignity and a jail cell, I spent the next ten hours or so catching fitful sleep full of decidedly unpleasant dreams. I never really got around to worrying about my situation. I had plenty of reason to—for starters, I had a paper due Monday that I’d yet to begin, and if I get a drug conviction—whoops!—there goes my financial aid. My waking hours were filled with musings about Jeff and Nick busting me out of this place, guns blazing. Knowing them, I knew they’d do something, but I didn’t know what. My hands were tied, so I waited.

    That site links to other essays by Mr. Raj, and I wonder whether he has a blog somewhere. I doubt it. He strikes me as a bit too impatient for that.

    Getting himself arrested for harrassing Ann Coulter ought to be good for plenty of hits. It's a cheapshot, of course, but much faster than civility.

    posted by Eric at 03:26 PM

    A fresher Carnival!

    The 137th Carnival of the Vanities is posted at Fresh Politics -- described as "a student-run political blog based out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia." (Which I like, as my dad was on the Penn faculty for years, and I've always been partial to the place.)

    It's a fresh (refreshingly fresh) way of doing the Carnival too. Instead of the typical long list of posts, there are six major groups to choose from. That's a nice idea, because not everyone is into, say, "'isms and 'ocracies, sarcasm and hypocrisy" (which is where my post can be found).

    Nice job all!

    posted by Eric at 12:07 PM

    At last! The Theocratic Left -- uncovered!

    The legislature of Texas has just passed a bill to ban "ribald" cheerleading:

    After an alternately comic and fiery debate — punctuated by several lawmakers waving pompons — the state House on Tuesday approved a bill to restrict "overtly sexually suggestive" cheerleading to more ladylike performances.

    The bill would give the state education commissioner authority to request that school districts review high school performances.

    "Girls can get out and do all of these overly sexually performances and we applaud them, and that's not right," said Democratic Rep. Al Edwards, who filed the legislation.

    Edwards argued bawdy performances are a distraction for students resulting in pregnancies, dropouts and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

    Ribald performances are not defined in the bill. "Any adult that's been involved with sex in their lives, they know it when they see it," he said.

    The bill passed on a 65-56 vote. It still must be approved by the Senate and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

    One critic questioned the legislation's priorities.

    Yeah, we can all question their priorities, but what interests me here is that the legislation was sponsored by a Democrat. I thought only Republicans were into such medieval theocracy.

    I blame Hillary Clinton.

    posted by Eric at 11:56 AM | Comments (2)

    Exercising without artistic license

    I admire courage wherever I see it, and I can't stop marveling over the fact that Glenn Reynolds actually dared to admit he found some topics (like social security) "boring."

    Is it borderline treason for a blogger of Glenn Reynolds' stature to make such an admission?

    It's easy enough for me [as a second string blogger] to say what I like and what I don't like. While there have been attempts to make me write about things (usually by accusing me of ignoring them), for the most part I face no pressure, and I can write about whatever I want, and ignore whatever doesn't interest me.

    The aspect of blogging that I find most tedious is the obligation to write about stuff simply because everyone else is. This is especially painful when it's something I do care about, but there's not much I can add. Yet if I don't say anything, I'll look like an insensitive, uncaring person. The Tsunami is a perfect example. Of course I cared about the deaths. I hate to see people die, expecially innocent, unsuspecting civilians. But when I have nothing to add, and I have to just write about it in order not to look like a jerk, it tries my patience.

    If everyone is screaming about something, am I obligated (blogligated is a better word) to scream too? Can anyone tell me why?

    While I'm at it, Glenn Reynolds linked to another honest admission -- by Ann Althouse:

    I'd say people get tired of talking about politics all the time. And -- the article doesn't mention this -- the debate about Social Security was mind-numbing! Also, even though I'm especially interested in the topic, the subject of judges, religion, and the filibuster is really tiresome. What are the good topics? The other day Rush Limbaugh was going on for hours about ABC's exposé of "American Idol." He tried to tie it to all sorts of big themes about how journalism is left-wing and the left is all about character assassination, but it was a tiny topic and it seemed awfully silly to make such a big deal about it. So what if Paula slept with Corey? (Not saying she did, just that it doesn't matter.)
    To tell you the truth, I don't honestly know who Paula is. Or Carey. (Although I think I saw some deadly dull pictures of them at Drudge.) Perhaps "the culture" is collapsing because of them. I doubt it. Why should I have to learn about these idiots because some bombastic pundit or another spends his time raving about them?

    And guess what? I already know journalism is for the most part left wing! Do I need proof? Why, I seriously suspect that most convicted prisoners are actually guilty of the crimes of which they were convicted. And I should be horrified by the shocking details by having my nose rubbed in it, and maybe by being blamed for helping create a "climate" of "culture rot" which makes people boil their family members in oil.

    I feel a bit guilty even quoting these two bloggers, because it might be taken the wrong way. Someone might even be annoyed at them for supplying me with fuel for my culturally deranged ideas, or chaos-based artistic objection to following the herd.

    If so, I apologize to them.

    And I probably should apologize. To them and to others. Any time you admit that you find something boring, you run the risk of insulting those who find it interesting. People are touchy about these things. I may have just alienated Paula and Corey fans, as well as people who want me to talk about social security. It's a bit like high school, when people took it personally if I didn't like their favorite rock bands. The difference is that aside from the occasional commenters, I have no real idea what blog readers like or what they're thinking. I suspect, though, that when I force myself to write a post about something "because everyone else is" (and I have nothing new to offer) that readers will not spend much time on that post. To me, that's substandard blogging, and a poor excuse for art. More on the level of all in a day's work. I committed myself to this blog for three years, though, and I'm as unlikely to develop the syndrome called "blogger burnout" as I am to stop my daily running. Or the ghastly pushups, leg raises, and chinups. I do 120 pushups with stands each day, followed by awful abdominal crunches, then chinups till I collapse in a panting heap -- but I face a self-imposed requirement of a minimum of fifty goddamned chinups. Believe me, I hate these exercises with a passion! In fact, I'm avoiding and dreading them as I write this post. So because blogging can never be as bad as that, if I can get through my exercises, I can write posts. Even on a detestable subject like Paula and Corey.

    Hey, at least I'm not obligated to write about Michael Jackson. I admit, I might find social security more interesting.

    MORE: Right now (thanks to this link) I'm into admiring Laura Bush. (Especially because these crackpots think she's undermining "traditional" values. Hey, this blog has nothing against tradition!)

    UPDATE: Regarding the letter above, it was (according to Wesley Pruden):

    posted as an "Official Statement" from the "Coalition for Traditional Values," which turns out to be a figment of a clever imagination, meant to be confused with the similarly named Traditional Values Coalition.
    I apologize for calling them crackpots, and I am for once delighted to discover that "traditional values" are a figment of the imagination.

    NOT SO FAST: Here's Michelle Malkin:

    The First Lady resorting to horse masturbation jokes is not much better than Whoopi Goldberg trafficking in dumb puns on the Bush family name. It was wholly unnecessary.

    Self-censorship is a conservative value.

    I'm one of the most self-censoring people I know, and I have no problem with self-censorship as a conservative "value." What I oppose is censoring others. Can anyone tell me why opposition to censorship of others is so often considered a liberal "value?"

    posted by Eric at 08:34 AM | Comments (7)

    Federal welfare licensing?

    I agree with Glenn Reynolds that this drivers license bill by Congressman Sensenbrenner (whose proposed drug laws I dislike even more) is unconstitutional. Yet I also agree that the merits of the law are good.

    As Glenn correctly asks, "why should illegal aliens be able to get drivers' licenses?"

    How then, to achieve the merits, but in a constitutional manner? How about listing the same desired drivers license criteria, but instead of commandeering states' drivers licensing, simply deny all federal welfare benefits to applicants whose drivers licenses (or state identification) don't live up to the desired federal standards?

    This would certainly render the substandard drivers licenses unattractive to illegal aliens, without commandeering state licensing, or even requiring states to to do anything. They could even keep their existing drivers licensing systems if they wanted to, which would allow citizens and non-citizens the right to drive, as well as enact a sort of automatic welfare reform for states wishing to opt out.

    The Alien Driver Welfare Reform Act?

    Why not?

    It would be good for the Constitution, promoting the general welfare and all that founding stuff.

    I guess that means it'd never pass....

    UPDATE: More on the welfare connection here. (Via Jeff Percifield, who really does look like Jon Stewart.)

    UPDATE: Via an InstaPundit reader, it appears that tying the identification to welfare and other federal benefits is what the bill already will do. At least so it appears:

    If a state opted not to comply, its driver's licenses, even those issued to citizens and legal residents, would not be recognized as valid for federal identification purposes — such as boarding an airplane or opening a bank account. As a result, most states would probably adopt the new standards.
    The bill has not been finalized, but there's also talk of a two-tiered system:

    In the negotiations over the bill in Congress, a compromise was reached that would include guidelines for states that wish to create a two-tiered system for issuing driver's licenses, according to those close to the talks. Such a system would allow illegal immigrants to obtain licenses to drive, but those documents would not be valid for purposes of federal identification, the sources said.
    The latter is somewhat inconsistent with the former. Because if certain extra features are required for federal identification, that does not preclude other than standard identification which would nonetheless allow state driving.

    It's tough to analyze a statute which isn't there!

    MORE: According to the LA Times, ACLU legislative counsel Tim Sparapani suggests that people whose states' drivers licenses fail the federal standards would be completely out of luck:

    citizens of states that haven't made the changes won't be able to board a flight, take a train, enter a federal courthouse or even go to a Social Security building
    Isn't he forgetting about a thing called a U.S. Passport? (All that's required is proof of citizenship.)

    AND MORE: Did dilution of citizenship lead to the decline of Rome? For those wanting some classical perspective on this issue, I wrote this post over a year ago. Excerpt:

    The decline of Rome has been considered to include in its origin Caracalla's Constitutio Antoniniana -- which diluted the once-privileged status of Roman citizenship by conferring it to everyone in the Empire with the exception of slaves.
    (There's a lot more in the post, but I get bored by excessively repeating myself.)

    posted by Eric at 05:45 PM | Comments (2)

    Judging not, lest I be judged . . .
    Whiskey is always a cruel tyrant and is a worse evil than chattel slavery.

    -- Carry Nation

    Speaking of cleaning up filth, the following is from the autobiography of Carry Nation:

    ....after Mass I went into the house of the priest's and asked for him. He could not be found but two priests tried to make excuses and treated me well. Said they smoked. I told them God said for them to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh. That they were making provisions for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. I said: "What a shame for a man to dress like a saint and to smell like a devil!"

    One thing I have noticed -- that the Catholic schools taught by the Brothers are saturated with vile tobacco smoke. I would not like to send a son to such a place for that reason alone. There are many things I like about the Catholic church, but why, oh, why is it so silent as a general thing on the liquor traffic? Why are so many of its members in this devil's work? Oh! what a retribution will be theirs when it will be proven that instead of clothing the naked they have robbed children of clothes. Instead of feeding the hungry they have allowed them to starve because their bread was taken to buy drink. They sent souls to prison and did not minister to them!

    Carry Nation. Just slightly ahead of her time.

    Her autobiography is rich, and loaded with wonderful anecdotes and pictures.

    MORE: In what was obviously a sign of the times, Carry Nation was mocked by callused brats at Yale.

    posted by Eric at 04:26 PM

    The unfilthy faithful versus the faithful filthy?

    When WorldNetDaily and Andrew Sullivan agree on something, I think it's at least worth mentioning in a blog post.

    Whether or not such agreement constitutes a "consensus" may be debated. But what they agree on is that there's a coming showdown on homosexuality within the Catholic Church. According to WorldNetDaily, Sullivan -- "the famous commentator who once pretended to be conservative" -- has "figured it out."

    "Sullivan denounced the new pontiff as a 'Grand Inquisitor' who had 'declared a war on modernity' and would launch an 'attack on individual freedom.' Yes, the famous commentator who once pretended to be conservative has figured it out: the Catholic Church is now going to be in forthright moral opposition to the 'modernity' of homosexual priests and the 'individual freedom' of molesting young boys" – a reference to the clergy-sex scandal that has plagued the church.

    Noting that in his Good Friday homily soon-to-be pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger condemned the "filth there is in the church," Wheeler believes the pontiff "will not tolerate [homosexuality's] presence in his church."

    Concludes Wheeler: "Benedict XVI is going to give people what they spiritually hunger for and no longer find in their pews today: a firm place to make their moral stand. This pope is going to regenerate the moral revival of Christianity – to the great benefit of all Christendom, to the great benefit of Western Civilization, and to the great frustration of its enemies."

    I have no way of evaluating either the claims made in WorldNetDaily or the claims made by Andrew Sullivan. (For starters, I don't know what Pope Benedict is going to do.)

    While I don't think homosexuality equates with "filth," I suppose many do, and they think that moral revival means homo removal. Far be it from me to advise the Catholic Church, WorldNetDaily, or Andrew Sullivan. I can only speak for myself when I say that there's too much preoccupation (on both "sides") with religion as the enemy of sex. If you don't agree with a religion, either don't join it, change it if you can, or quit. Likewise, if you don't like a particular form of sex, then don't have it, or quit. Whether it's religion or sex (or drugs for that matter) barring harm to others, there's as much a right to do a thing as there is not to do it. Aren't my soul and my penis my business? If so, then why should I concern myself about the penises and souls of others? And unless I want to have sex with them or join their churches, why should they concern themselves with mine? For the life of me, I'll never understand why these things have to be so emotionally charged.

    All I know is, they are.

    And it gets old.

    posted by Eric at 03:44 PM | Comments (3)

    Discrimination against perception kills!

    A new scientific study shows that discrimination can kill.

    At least, the perception of discrimination:

    WASHINGTON, D.C., April 30 -- The more discrimination African-American women report, the more likely they are to have coronary artery calcification, a buildup of calcium in the vessels that is associated with atherosclerosis, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's 45th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.
    Putting aside for a moment the issue of correlation versus causation, I think it's noteworthy that the correlation studied here involves the perception of discrimination -- something much more subtle than actual, proven discrimination:
    The women answered a nine-item Everyday Discrimination Questionnaire regarding their experience of discrimination and the results were averaged over a four-year period. Coronary artery calcification was measured on the fourth year through electron beam computed tomography.

    The questionnaire measured subtle rather than overt discrimination on a scale of one to four, with four points being the highest.

    Discrimination was measured by things such as feeling ignored or treated with a lack of courtesy or respect, she said. "The women reported discrimination in the form of having poorer service in stores or restaurants, being treated as if they were less smart or being treated as if they were dishonest."

    The discrimination that people face today is more subtle, Lewis said. "It's rare that someone would use blatantly racist language in public, but that doesn't mean that discrimination is no longer a problem."

    Coronary artery calcification was present in 59.6 percent of the women. The more discrimination they reported, the more likely they were to have any calcification, she said.

    I suggest reading the rest of the article, which discusses "coping strategies" as a way to avoid the calcification.

    But my concern is with the issue of perception. It is one thing to be discriminated against. But if there's one thing I've seen in life, it's that when you're expecting something bad to happen, you tend to make it happen. The power of positive thinking versus the power of negative thinking.

    Let's take three of the stressors mentioned:

  • 1. poorer service in stores or restaurants
  • I can't count the number of times I have experienced poor service in stores and restaurants. Fortunately for me, I don't stand out as being especially unusual, so I tend to regard poor service as, well, poor service. The grass always seems greener at another table.

    "They got there at the same time we did, and they already got their salad, while we haven't even ordered yet!"

    There could be countless explanations for such a delay (such as different waiter sections, or simple inattentiveness), but if you're expecting discrimination, you'll definitely perceive it.

  • 2. being treated as if they were less smart
  • Once again, how can one ever know whether one is being treated as less smart? I get treated like an idiot all the time! The now omnipresent dumbing down phenomena almost guarantees it. Plus, it's human nature for those in authority (especially petty tyrants like bureaucrats) to condescend to the public and show off their superior knowledge. If you're expecting to be thought of as less smart, then don't leave your house.

    What really fries me is being asked idiot questions ("Is your modem plugged in?") when I do things like call tech support. The problem is: THEY ARE TRAINED AND REQUIRED TO DO IT! Stupidity has become a mandatory assumption.

  • 3. being treated as if they were dishonest
  • What store doesn't have security cameras and guards at the door inspecting packages? In many cities, stores keep their doors locked until a customer rings the bell. Of course they're treating everyone as if they're dishonest! That's the modern reality of doing business. I don't like it either, but I try not to take it personally. I'm not black, but if I were, I might take it personally.

    I have a friend who's a white cop, working a mostly white suburban neighborhood. He told me that he hates pulling over black motorists, because he can feel this perception -- that he's pulled them over for their race. Yet what has a broken tail light to do with race? If he saw two broken tail lights -- one on a car driven by a white man and one on a car driven by a black man -- and he deliberately pulled over the white driver to avoid this feeling of perception, would the white driver* be a victim of racism?

    Yes, but he'd never perceive it!

    Such is the magic of perception versus reality. When racism becomes "subtle," we're all victims. (Anyone who thinks the subtleties of perceptions of race discrimination are tricky to perceive should try perceiving subtle "homophobia". . .)

    The article concludes:

    Further studies are needed to find out if other minority women experience discrimination and health outcomes in the same way, and whether the stress of discrimination might spark inflammation that could contribute to the onset of atherosclerosis. "Other studies have found that inflammatory markers might be prevalent in people who feel socially rejected," she said.
    Feeling rejected is a self fulfilling prophecy. Attempts to stop people from feeling rejected could only worsen the problem, because that might be perceived as "condescension."

    While discrimination is a regrettable fact of life which cannot be denied, I don't think studies like this do wonders for the mental health of either the victims, or their accusers.

    Sooner or later we'll all be victims of perceptions.

    Only then can we achieve the goal of true equality!

    *In this instance, both the white driver and the black driver would be victims of discrimination. If a police officer avoided doing his duty (ticketing the driver) because of race, is this any less discriminatory than if a waiter avoided serving the same person? Just because we might want a meal and not want a ticket -- how does that change the operative principle? If, to avoid being considered a racist, one avoids negative interaction with members of a certain race, is that not just as racist as if one avoids positive interaction?

    (But have there been any complaints of racism based upon the deliberate avoidance of situations where there might be an appearance of a perception? Like, "Why didn't I get a ticket?")

    Is it illegal to avoid the appearance of perception?

    posted by Eric at 09:09 AM

    Cancel that Missing Person Alert!

    Through the grapevine, I've heard rumors that the blogosphere's Great, Exalted and Specially Privileged Commenter Extraordinaire, Steven Malcolm Anderson, also known as "Steven Malcolm Anderson (Cato theElder) the Lesbian-worshipping man's-man-admiring myth-based egoist", is alive and well.

    It's just an unofficially confirmed rumor, mind you.

    We can't celebrate yet.

    (But I'm thinking about canceling that expensive nationwide milk carton ad I was going to run....)

    posted by Eric at 04:23 PM

    High prices are always immoral

    It's been some time since I wrote a post about animal cloning, but I see that there's now legislation pending which would criminalize the practice in California:

    SACRAMENTO - With a Bay Area company making international headlines by pioneering commercial cloning, a state legislator said Monday he will try to outlaw the practice in California.

    Assembly member Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, plans to introduce legislation banning the sale of cloned or genetically altered pets -- a measure that, if it were to become law, would slam the door on a Sausalito-based company's lucrative new business.

    Genetic Savings & Clone Inc. gained notoriety as the world's first company to clone a cat and then offer the service commercially. For $50,000, the firm delivered a clone to a paying customer for the first time in December.

    The company has four more cats in the works. One could be delivered within the week, company officials said.

    Levine said the practice should be stopped because the nascent industry is unregulated and the pet world already suffers from overpopulation. More than 1 million animals are euthanized at California's shelters each year, he said.

    "Cloning and sale of pets is not ready at this point in time,'' Levine said. "There's no consumer protection, and this is not a regulated industry.''

    Well, any industry which is unregulated has to be regulated, right? When I posted about this back in December, people thought I was out of line to criticize the regulatory mindset -- because they hadn't yet proposed any legislation. Well, now they have, and my objection has not changed. Nor has the "reasoning" of the moralizers:
    . . . Critics say the money used for cloning would be better spent to support shelters or find new homes for the animals stuck there. Others say the practice is ethically wrong.

    Hawthorne defended his business, noting that genetically modified plants and animals are commonplace. If concern over pet overpopulation is driving the bill, then animal breeders should be shut down, he said.

    "What I'm wondering is what's the basis of this,'' Hawthorne said. "You can't start randomly banning things without some justification.''

    You can't? While I have better things to spend my money on than creating a twin of Puff (which I think would be a mistake because he wouldn't be the same dog, and it's better to start fresh), the only moral objections they can come up with are:

  • a. how much the cloning procedure costs; and
  • b. that there are too many unwanted pets.
  • Neither one of these objections makes any sense. As I said in December:

    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.

    I suppose that someone might make the argument that if it's immoral to create a new human life by means of cloning technology, that it's just as immoral to create animal life, but I haven't heard it in this debate. It boils down to the high cost, plus availability of alternatives, and these arguments could be made about nearly anything.

    If something is too expensive, make it illegal! That's at the core of the inane objection to Apple iPods by an MIT professor who complained of a "participation gap."

    Might as well ban expensive guns! (Well, that's after we get rid of inexpensive Saturday night specials.....) And while we're at it, private schools have got to go. Do you realize how much money parents fritter away on elitist education while existing public school districts can't even afford to pay their teachers?

    UPDATE: Randall Parker has much more on this subject (including some very cool hypothetical examples), and links to this press release from GSC answering man of the critics' objections. (If only ideologues were persuaded by having their objections answered!)

    posted by Eric at 07:42 AM | Comments (5)

    Life isn't always a cake

    Regarding the woman who preferred making herself a criminal rather than submit to the indignities of a gigantic, stressful wedding, I see that a number of bloggers are pointing out (quite correctly) the absurdity of the situation -- especially the idea of making a wedding ceremony more important than the marriage itself.

    More than two weeks ago Rachel Lucas showed the world how to avoid the insanity of a giant wedding by her own personal example:

    It was an absolutely delightful wedding, in that there were zero guests. Seriously. I love going to weddings but I have never in all of my life had any desire or intention to be a bride in a white dress with hoardes of people gawking at me and my one true love while we stand in front of them like nauseated performance monkeys and then throw them a party. I love it when other women are brides, oh yes, and I highly encourage you all to have big crazy weddings as often as possible, but for the love of all that is holy, I cannot fathom why you would want to. It's expensive, mostly pointless, and sick-making stressful. Most of my friends don't even remember their weddings because they were too busy freaking out. Cake. Flowers. Guest list. Caterers. Photographer. Drunk uncle. It goes on and on.
    A real wedding. Two people who love each other marry each other without any hoopla. I think it's a sweet idea. By today's standards, even revolutionary.

    Considering what that what you're doing is supposed to be a lifelong deal, and quite a big one, the act of entry into that contract (which marriage is) should logically be seen as a relatively small step towards something much bigger.

    I mean, if you buy a house, signing the contract and following through with the settlement are important, solemn things. But are they as important as living in the house? The contract is what gets you there. What counts is what you do after you're there.

    Not that I'd be expected to know about marriage.

    Never been there or done that.

    posted by Eric at 11:39 PM | Comments (3)

    Not too late to join the party, Comrade!

    As if there weren't enough boring things in the world to yawn about, they're still celebrating Mayday around the world:

    Millions of workers from Tokyo to Havana and across Europe took to the streets in May Day rallies and marches to demand improved conditions and protest government policies.

    From a rally of 5,000 Bangladeshis seeking a minimum wage, to an estimated million Cubans gathered in the Plaza of the Revolution to hear Fidel Castro, workers expressed their solidarity on the traditional international labour holiday Sunday.

    More than 500,000 Germans marched and rallied across the country, many focusing on recent political debate accusing company executives of increasing earnings while squeezing workers’ wages and slashing jobs.

    In Moscow, thousands of Communists rallied under pictures of Lenin and Stalin along with traditional red-and-white, hammer-and-sickle banners with slogans like Rise, Save Russia! and marched down Tverskaya Street, one of Moscow’s main boulevards.

    Isn't that exciting? Just like old times!

    But while millions celebrate Mayday, a certain malcontent American law professor (one G.H. Reynolds) attempts to throw cold water on today's festivities by supplying a link to a highly questionable claim that today should be remembered for the deaths of millions.

    Clearly, mistakes were made in the past. And who has not made mistakes? One cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.

    But must we preoccupy ourselves with trifling matters such as statistics on such a joyous occasion? After all, as Comrade Stalin wisely said, "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."

    So why not picture this?


    If you like that picture, remember that behind every picture lies a story. And here's the story behind it:

    King's book also includes the tragic story of the little girl who was photographed with Stalin in 1936 at a Kremlin reception. There the six-year old Gelya Markizova presented Stalin with a bouquet of flowers, whereupon Stalin embraced the girl. The photograph became famous, depicting Stalin as the joyous "Friend of the Little Children" (the photo was cropped to eliminate another figure who appeared to the side of Stalin, the first secretary of the Buryat Mongol ASSR, M.I. Erbanov). As repugnant as the scene is in its own right with the trusting young child in the arms of the grinning bogey-man, the fate of those connected with the photograph is also a chilling example of Stalin's atrocities. The parents of the girl, Ardan and Dominica Markizov, were murdered just a year after the photograph was taken. The father, second secretary of the Buryat Mongol ASSR, was charged with spying for Japan and shot; the mother was killed as the wife of an enemy of the people.
    As the old saying goes, "It Takes a Gulag!"

    Who ever said that there wasn't room for improvement?

    posted by Eric at 10:41 PM

    No new news about newzzzzz......

    I can't think of a more perfect example of why the mainstream media hates bloggers than this:

    Los Angeles Times editors have edited a Reuters story to remove critical facts supporting the U.S. position on an important international issue.

    This morning’s L.A. Times publishes an article about the March 4 shooting by U.S. soldiers of a car bearing Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. The shooting killed Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari, and created an international controversy, which strained U.S.-Italian relations.

    An important contested issue in the controversy was the speed of the car as it approached a U.S. checkpoint. Sgrena has maintained that the car was traveling at a “regular speed” – no more than 25-30 mph. Americans have said that the car was traveling at least 50 mph.

    The L.A. Times story today portrays that critical issue as a still-unresolved queston....

    (Via InstaPundit.)

    Patterico goes on to prove quite conclusively that:

  • 1. Satellite data confirms the U.S. position that the car was speeding;
  • 2. That this information was included in the original Reuters report; and
  • 3. That the LA Times deliberately edited this out, in blatant violation of its journalistic duties.
  • Not only am I not surprised, I'm so callused to this sort of thing that I feel a bit guilty. My daily paper (the Philadelphia Inquirer) removes critical facts all the time. Sometimes I write about it, but when I do I'm always afraid of boring my readers. Who the hell wants "proof" that the Philadelphia Inquirer engages in selective reporting?

    For what it's worth, the Inquirer also ran a story (AP, not Reuters) with no mention of the satellite data in support the U.S. position.

    Here it is (for what it's worth):

    Italy, U.S. disagree on agent death

    By Nicole Winfield

    Associated Press

    ROME - Italy and the United States said yesterday that they had failed to agree on whether U.S. soldiers were at fault in the death last month of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq.

    In a statement, the two countries said that their joint investigation into the March 4 death of agent Nicola Calipari had ended and that they could not arrive at any "shared final conclusions."

    The statement said the case had now been referred to authorities in both countries. Italy has launched a criminal inquiry.

    He was killed soon after he had secured the release of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena from insurgents who held her hostage for a month. U.S. soldiers fired on the Italians' vehicle as it neared a U.S. checkpoint. Sgrena and a second Italian agent were wounded.

    U.S. and Italian experts worked for more than a month on the investigation. The killing put increasing pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to withdraw his country's estimated 3,000 troops from Iraq.

    From the start, testimony from the two survivors clashed with the U.S. military's account.

    The Americans maintain that soldiers fired warning shots in the air, then shot at the engine block because the car was speeding. The survivors insist that they saw the beam of a warning light at virtually the same time gunfire broke out. The surviving intelligence agent has testified that he was driving slowly.

    The soldiers had been on high alert because the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, John Negroponte, had been due to pass by.

    "The investigators did not arrive at shared final conclusions even though, after examining jointly the evidence, they did agree on facts, findings and recommendations on numerous issues," the statement said.

    Officials from both countries said relations remained close. "Italy and United States are strong allies and enjoy a close and vibrant friendship, based on shared values and ideals," the statement said.

    Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said there was no way the Italians could have approved of the U.S. version of events.

    "Out of a dutiful homage to Calipari," he told reporters, "and out of an indispensable national dignity that a government must have, the Italian government could not have been asked to sign off on reconstruction of the facts that, as far as we know, does not correspond to what happened that night."

    State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said: "The mark of a strong relationship is to be able to work together to find the areas of agreement, to accept the areas of disagreement, to put them all in the proper perspective, and then to move on."

    He said the Americans soon would release what he called a "unilateral" report based on the joint investigation.

    Is anyone awake? I know how utterly tedious this is, but the key paragraph is this one:
    The Americans maintain that soldiers fired warning shots in the air, then shot at the engine block because the car was speeding. The survivors insist that they saw the beam of a warning light at virtually the same time gunfire broke out. The surviving intelligence agent has testified that he was driving slowly.
    This is where the "evidence" is presented, and the exonerating satellite data should be there. It isn't. Nor does it appear in a longer version of reporter Nicole Winfield's story.

    At least the Inquirer didn't remove critical details from the Nicole Winfield story. However, the Reuters report (the one including the satellite information) was dated April 29, the day before. Surely AP reporters like Nicole Winfield read Reuters? Surely they pay attention to CBS reports (especially when they're picked up by Agence France-Presse)?

    Don't they?


    UPDATE (05/03/05): I see that today's Philadelphia Inquirer is running Tracy Wilkinson's LA Times story -- about which Patterico asks the following questions:

    What’s the reason for the omission? Suspicion of CBS News? Appropriate journalistic skepticism? Partisan politics? Not enough room in the paper? Something else entirely?

    I dunno. I’m askin’ – but they’re not sayin’ . . .

    The same questions could be asked of the Inquirer, of course.

    And I'd additionally like to ask why they seem to be going out of their way to run discredited LA Times stories.

    Might the Inquirer might be reading blogs for pointers in their quest for misguidance?

    I don't know, but I think we'll see more outright contempt for blogs. Open defiance of blogs might confound bloggers, but it should not surprise them. (After all, the "anarchic consequences" identified by Glenn Reynolds cut both ways. Who ever said anarchy was fair?)

    MORE: John Cole has written a very thorough post on a much-neglected issue -- the likelihood that the Italians paid ransom money in one form or another to free Ms. Sgrena. Opines John:

    you simply can not give in to these thugs and murderers. They have to be destroyed, not appeased, paid, or otherwise mollified.
    I couldn't agree more with that.

    posted by Eric at 08:01 PM | Comments (3)

    The "T" word leads to mistakes . . .

    The debate over theocracy is heating up -- and not just in the blogosphere. It's reached the point where the Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman now puts it on the front page of the Sunday paper, in a column titled "Right risks a backlash from fears of theocracy." He's even cited a "conservative" Tennessee blogger with a name I've never heard before (but who probably has a brother named Homer):

    Glenn Simpson, a Tennessee law professor who runs the conservative Instapundit blog, wrote recently: "The Republicans' weakness is that people worry that they're the party of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. They tried, successfully, to convince people otherwise in the last election, but they're now acting in ways that are giving those fears new life."

    Those fears are reflected in the latest Gallup poll, which reports that, by a 2-1 ratio, Americans now say that the religious right has too much influence on the Bush administration. This poll, conducted immediately after the Schiavo case, contrasts sharply with surveys conducted between 2001 and 2003, when sentiment about the religious right's influence was evenly split.

    So it's noteworthy that Bush, in his press conference Thursday night, took issue with religious-right orthodoxy. Christian leaders implied a week ago that those who seek to block Bush's court nominees are not "people of faith." But Bush said, "I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith," and he added that he opposed any religious tests: "If you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship."

    No Christian leaders took issue with Bush. But they do expect fealty from the GOP.

    In the words of conservative Christian strategist Gary Bauer: "We are now at such a crucial time in the culture war. The Left is in full screaming mode, and they are counting on Republican knees to buckle, as they have so many times in the past." He said it's critical to overhaul a judiciary "that is replacing our Judeo-Christian heritage with moral relativism."

    The obvious name error above illustrates a key distinction between blogging and print journalism. If I inadvertently misnamed someone (as I have before), I'd either correct it outright, or apologize in an update to the same post. In print journalism, any such corrections or apologies have to come later. And that must be infinitely more painful than a correction in an update to a post.

    But what about theocracy? It's a scary word, and I think it's intended to scare people. If it's misused, who is going to correct its misuse? I'm a little concerned that "theocrat" might degenerate the way the word "racist" degenerated -- until at last it has no meaning at all. When this happens (as for example it did when the word "racist" came to mean things like opposition to affirmative action quotas), then the real theocrats can breathe easy -- just as David Duke must have loved being lumped in with Ward Connerly.

    The problem is that there are real theocrats. Assorted "Dominionist" and "Reconstructionist" crackpots like Terry, Robertson and Kennedy really do want to rule the United States in the name of God, and say so. Yet they do not control the White House, and any suggestion that they do is politically charged rhetoric coming from the other side. It's like the old boy crying wolf syndrome. Yell enough about theocrats, call any religious conservative a theocrat, and then who will listen when a real theocrat comes along?

    For me, the problem is compounded by an inability to find a precise definition of theocracy. Here's Wikipedia's:

    Theocracy is a form of government in which a religion and the government are allied.

    The word "theocracy" comes from the Greek theos which means "god," and kratein which means "to rule." Hence, theocracy literally means "rule by god."

    In the most common usage of the term theocracy, in which some civil rulers are identical with some leaders of the dominant religion (e.g. the Byzantine emperor as head of the Church), governmental policies are either identical with or strongly influenced by the principles of a religion (often the majority religion), and typically, the government claims to rule on behalf of God or a higher power, as specified by the local religion. However, unlike other forms of government, a theocracy can be unique in that the administrative hierarchy of government is often identical with the administrative hierarchy of a religion. This distinguishes a theocracy from forms of governments which have a state religion or from traditional monarchies in which the head of state claims that his or her authority comes from God.

    A more literal term for what is commonly meant by "theocracy" is "ecclesiocracy," which denotes the rule of a religious leader or body in the name of God, as opposed to the literal rule of God.

    Loosely speaking, theocracy is taken to mean religious rule. But what exactly is that? Rule by the religious? We've had plenty of religious presidents -- far more religious than President Bush. Was the United States a theocracy? I don't think so, and I don't see how any country with a Constitution like we have, coupled with the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion (AND a prohibition on establishment of religion) could ever become a theocracy in the legal sense. For starters, free exercise means precisely that. The government simply cannot tell anyone what, how, or whether to worship god, gods, which god, or whether there are gods. Nor can it tell anyone not to. It cannot make laws "respecting an establishment of religion." Probably can't disrespect establishments either. It just doesn't have religious power, and no matter who is elected, it cannot get this power unless some drastic change were to take place.

    Let's assume, as an unlikely worst case scenario, the election of a genuine theocrat as president of the United States. Following his oath of office, what exactly could a President Randall Terry do? Order the Justice Department to round up "secular atheists" and religious heretics? I don't see how. The power isn't there for him to do that. I suspect he'd have to be content with largely meaningless gestures, like censoring references to sex out of pamphlets handed out in government offices. Even if the man wanted to impose what he considered "religious laws" such as the death penalty for homosexuals and Sabbath breakers, he couldn't do it. First, he'd have to first get these laws through both houses of Congress. How?

    Then the crazed religious laws would have to survive the Supreme Court. It's tough to imagine that happening. (The most I can see coming out of that court would be a reversal of Roe v. Wade, but is abortion becoming a state issue once again really theocracy?)

    I think that the theocrats know that the first thing they'd have to do would be a preemptive strike against the Supreme Court, and I don't mean getting more conservatives appointed.

    Might the Constitution Restoration Act be this preemptive strike? It might be, and I think it's a fair question. Might even be a litmus test. A showdown.

    The idea of the CRA is to restrict jurisdiction of courts over certain matters in order to stop "judicial tyranny." It is argued that the courts should be subordinate to the Congress and the Executive branch, and that the Constitution gives Congress the power to limit federal appellate jurisdiction.

    While this wasn't much stressed in my Constitutional Law class, a plain reading of the Constitution certainly allows Congress to limit jurisdiction of the courts. To a certain extent only.

    Here's Article III:

    Article III

    Section 1. 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. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.

    Section 2. The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;--to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;--to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;--to controversies to which the United States shall be a party;--to controversies between two or more states;--between a state and citizens of another state;--between citizens of different states;--between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.

    In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, 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. (Emphasis supplied.)

    The plain language makes clear that if a state (or the United States) is a party, then Congress is without power to limit the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction. While statutes have interpreted the "state shall be a party" phrase as meaning only disputes between two states, the plain language does not; instead the phrase "a state shall be party" is used.

    Let's assume that the Constitution Restoration Act (which I have criticized before as unconstitutional) is passed, and later someone sues the state or federal government (or a government official) in any of the myriad disputes over religion.

    Here's the key provision of the CRA:

    ...[T]he 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 entity of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer or agent of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official or personal capacity), concerning that entity's, officer's, or agent's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.'.
    That is in clear conflict with the "original jurisdiction" language of the United States Constitution.

    While I refuse -- so far -- to take the CRA seriously (because my experience tells me that political common sense will prevail), this bill is being taken seriously by many, many people. If a majority of Republicans vote for it so that it is actually passed, the ensuing debate about "theocracy" will make the Terri Schiavo case look like nothing. The Republican Party will then appear to many (including many Republicans) to have actually become the party of theocracy. (At the very least, it will be seen as far too close for comfort.)

    This view from John Cole (via Andrew Sullivan) typifies the current early stages of such thinking:

    I fully expect to be told I am getting 'worked up over nothing,' that these 'are just a small portion of conservatives,' and that 'everyone has a right to be heard.' Whatever. These aren't your average every day pople who just want to practice their religion freely. We are talking about a coalition of proselytizing zealots who want to control government, codify their religous outlook, and most of all, who want to control you.

    No. We aren't talking about the Taliban or the radical mullahs in Saudi Arabia. They aren't stoning people, or throwing homosexuals off of towers. A pretty peculiar yardstick to measure your behavior with, though- "Hey- we're not as bad as the Taliban!" I feel better now.

    I am particularly dismayed by the people who want to pooh-pooh these groups, claiming they are just a fringe element that should be ignored. Many want us to believe that all of these groups are individual actors- even people like Jay, who can clearly recognize the political ties between George Soros, Media Matters, America Coming Together, etc., but wants to pretend there is not a coordinated effort to impose a specific brand of Christianity on everyone.

    Andrew Sullivan is sometimes over the top in his rhetoric, but he has an excuse- he is homosexual. They are gunning for him, first. You and I are phase two. We ignore these folks and abandon Andrew at our own peril, and if we do not confront these people, you can kiss goodbye the coalition that has swept Republicans into power.

    When faced with a choice of this loose-knit coalition of frauds, bigots, hucksters, and letting the 'evil' loony left in charge, well, suddenly MoveOn doesn't seem that damned scary anymore, particularly when you consider how marginalized the Cynthia McKinney crowd is. They may tax the hell out of me and leave us with an impotent foreign policy, but I can count on them staying out of my bedroom, my science classes, my pharmacy, my marriage, and my Doctor's office.

    Go ahead- force me to make a choice.

    In the context of the Constitution Restoration Act, Cole's view has to be seen as a mere tip of the iceberg.

    Returning to FDR, I hope it will not be forgotten that back in the 1930s, the Supreme Court was declaring one New Deal bill after another unconstitutional. The president, obviously believing quite strongly that he was dealing with an "activist" Supreme Court, tried to rein them in with the court-packing plan which Congress failed to pass. Following this fiasco, FDR got his way because the Court caved, and the bills he ramrodded through dramatically increased the power of the federal government. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that it is the pliant, post-packing-plan court which is often considered to have laid the groundwork for what is now called the "out of control" judiciary.

    In declaring FDR's previously unconstitutional laws constitutional, the Court is often cast as having "rewritten" the Constitution. Did they? Or should the blame lie with Congress? It strikes me as more than a little disingenuous to maintain that by upholding unconstitutional legislation, the court behaved in a tyrannical manner.

    Considering this history of rubberstamping Congressional and executive tyranny, I don't see how eliminating judicial review would eliminate tyranny. If anything, it would give tyrants (especially tyrants in Congress) a freer hand than ever before.

    Let's take the non-religious example of McCain-Feingold. I think it's blatantly unconstitutional. Yet Congress passed it and the president signed it. It survived constitutional scrutiny in the Supreme Court, but barely. 5-4. Eliminating judicial review would take away the only safeguard we've got.

    And if we return to the worst case scenario -- of genuine theocracy -- I think eliminating judicial review for matters of religion would similarly take away the only safeguard we've got.

    What if the Constitution Restoration Act is a genuine theocratic threat? As I pointed out in another post, it favors some religious views at the expense of others, while selectively prohibiting the Supreme Court from intervening.

    Will anyone notice? Or will it be lost in a sea of rhetorical hyperbole, where every Republican proposal is labeled a form of "theocracy" and reasonable people are called theocrats?

    MORE: The point I was trying to make about the judiciary is made and amplified upon at Pete Guither's Drug War Rant:

    I see the Constitution Restoration Act as, at least partially, an attack on the Judiciary. As a drug policy reformer, the Judiciary is generally my friend -- maybe not a best friend, but certainly a better friend than the executive or legislative branches.

    Certainly, there are judicial decisions with which I have vehemently disagreed. I've felt all along that the courts have allowed the destruction of the fourth amendment to go way too far. But it wasn't the courts that conducted the offensive searches or passed the bad laws -- the courts simply didn't go far enough in stopping the Executive and Legislative branches who were violating our rights.

    The courts have not passed a single law that restricts our rights, nor have they conducted a search of our cars or locked us up for possessing a plant. Those things have been done by our elected representatives. All the Judiciary is able to do is act to restrict laws or actions initiated by another branch. They cannot really create.

    Where but the courts can we go if (to give just one recent example) this latest Drug War atrocity is passed?

    If the courts are the last defense against growing totalitarianism (and I think a good argument can be made that they are), it strikes me that weakening them is profoundly dangerous.

    Consider James Madison's definition of tyranny as the "concentration of all powers judicial, legislative, and executive, in one body." The argument made by the proponents of the CRA is that the courts are tyrannical because they have "legislated from the bench." While it is true that too many courts have usurped legislative functions, don't things like mandatory 10 year sentences usurp the judicial function? There's a certain give and take, and in the normal course of things, legislatures are generally more able to pass laws overruling court decisions they don't like than are courts to undermine legislation.

    In theory, all three branches are supposed to bow to the Constitution. But in practice, it is the judicial branch which has intervened when the other two branches violate the Constitution. Take that away, and what recourse is there if the legislature passes blatantly unconstitutional laws? Civil disobedience? Armed citizens militias?

    The Constitution Restoration Act attempts to restrict the jurisdiction of the court in an unprecedented (and in my view unconstitutional) manner. It's very bad business.

    I think it should be renamed the Clintons Restoration Act.

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, here's Joe Gandelman on Pat Robertson's remark that federal judges are worse than al Qaida terrorists:

    This kind of verbal overkill stops political debate — cold. So Robertson now says our judges are in some ways worse than terrorists. Why? Because they don't rule the way HE wants. And Republicans (rightfully) complained about some of the verbal excesses of Michael Moore?

    What happens to a tent when a skunk sprays in the tent? The tent smells. And some people leave the tent.

    Others hold their nose. That's why so many libertarians are having trouble breathing.

    To use another analogy, what happens to the people who don't believe in rocking the boat when others rock it?

    UPDATE (05/03/05): The Inquirer has corrected the "Simpson" error, which was graciously acknowledged by Glenn, er, Reynolds. I must have missed that in yesterday's hard copy. If so, my apologies, and I promise to look harder the next time.

    MORE: The problem is, the Simpson fallout damage had already been done -- before the Inquirer's retraction!

    FINAL NOTE: The retraction appeared under "Clearing the Record" on page A-2 in the hard copy edition of the Monday May 2 Inquirer. The reason I missed it is that Dick Polman's column for May 2 appeared right on the front page, with no mention of the "incorrect name" error.

    (I guess that must mean that the error was the Inquirer's -- and not Dick Polman's. Either that or he didn't want to call attention to his error on the front page -- for which I can hardly blame him.)

    posted by Eric at 12:51 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (2)

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