Time to play "Remedy of the Month"!
(And it pays not to be an "eyesore" loser....)

Here's a picture of Susette Kelo's house:


That's the same house that five Supreme Court justices recently ruled can be condemned, taken from Ms. Kelo, and handed over to private parties, so that local property tax revenues in New London, Connecticut can be enhanced.

It looks like a fairly simple house to me, and I'm inclined to feel sorry for it, and for Ms. Kelo.

But right now I'm wondering what the house snobs like James Howard Kunstler would think of it. Here's what he said about a plain brown house with too many cars when he gave it his "Eyesore of the Month" award:

When you live in a high entropy society, as we do, the entropy manifests in many ways: toxic waste, poor air quality, social alienation, epidemic obesity, odious popular culture, AND immersive ugliness.

Everything that could have gone wrong with this house did go wrong. Garage facing street, monkeyshit brown and beige paint job, horrible window proportioning, screw-on shutters, pitiful canopies, service cables and pipes visible, stunted fake cupola, roof pitch sandwich on right, yard 50 percent asphalt and filled with automobiles, chain-link fence. . . .

And let's not forget the eagle right between the eyes. Perfect.

When I commented on this in April, here's what I said:
I think it's incredibly mean and smallminded to pick out a stranger's home and publicly ridicule it like this on the Internet. Kunstler may justify this by imagining that he's making a statement against evil America, or working class people whose taste in decor strikes him as patriotic kitsch. But I don't think that's a defense to such spiteful arrogance. And ugliness.

It is ugly to attack the unsophisticated to score points with the sophisticated. I've been around snobs all my life, and they don't come any worse than this.

There's more than one way to be an ugly American, and I think James Howard Kunstler has a lot of nerve complaining about ugliness.

That was my reaction to just one "Eyesore of the Month" award. There are many more, and I'm not going to further invade the privacy of ordinary homeowners whose homes weren't made famous by Supreme Court decisions and upload pictures (which aren't mine anyway). However, they're right there for everyone to see, and I think the most cursory glance at them will reveal distinct similarities between the homes Kunstler loathes and the home condemned by the five justices in the "Kunstlerite" majority . . .

Is there an architectural culture war afoot? I'll link to a few of them, and readers can judge for themselves.

Here's Kunstler's indictment of another simple home which won his "award":

The vernacular house in small town America as influenced by eighty years of Modernism. A total lack of skill meets a total rejection of history. The result: all the charm of a packing crate and none of the structural integrity. Here's a chilling thought: is the interior as well-organized and charming as the exterior? One imagines a dark warren of off-gassing carpets, empty pizza boxes, and a cat box that hasn't been changed in a month and a half.
And another award winner he considered an eyesore because (as he notes saracastically) the window is too close to the roofline:
I especially like the way those mingy windows on the second story, right side, creep right up to the soffit. The front door for humans (as distinct from the front doors for cars) is reached by that ladder-like jumble of lumber on the left. The supergigantic Palladian window with the pop-in muntins doubles as a neighborhood heat-exchanger. This case study also illustrates a fascinating paradox of culture: the better our power tools get, and the more clever our systemization of assembly becomes, the worse our houses look. The law of diminishing returns never rests.
Gee, aren't the windows of that Kelo house also suspiciously close to the roof line? Plus, they appear to be modernistic, and made of aluminum or some other metal. On top of that, the house is painted non-designer pink. And it has an American flag! According to Kunstler, the flag on an "eyesore" house "helps us remember what country we're in!"

Well, in defense of Ms. Kelo's poor house, at least there aren't any Snow White figurines in the yard -- or sea gull silhouettes on the wall -- for Mr. Kunstler to ridicule. Still, I don't think he'd like the Kelo house. Not one bit.

In the old days before last week, people on planning commissions who thought like Kunstler had to content themselves with ridiculing homes they didn't like. Now they can do something about them.

Clearly, people who live in "Eyesore of the Month" homes don't pay enough property taxes.

Their eyesores are in need of gentrification.

MORE: Via Donald Sensing I see that churches are next in line for condemnation.

(Especially the "tackier" churches -- the ones that don't have money to hire lawyers.)

posted by Eric at 06:08 PM | Comments (6)

Peak Oil...Episode IV : A New Hope

Via Green Car Congress, the following fascinating article...

An international research consortium has successfully built a 300-kW pilot plant that uses solar energy to reduce zinc oxide to zinc.

The zinc can be used in zinc-air batteries or be used to produce hydrogen by reacting it with water vapor. In both cases the zinc recombines with oxygen and zinc oxide is produced, which can be reused in the solar reactor to produce zinc once more.

In essence, the process stores solar energy in a transportable metal carrier that then can release the energy as electricity or hydrogen.

The first trials of the solar power-plant have used 30% of available solar energy and produced 45 kg of zinc an hour, exceeding projected goals. During further tests this summer the team hopes to achieve a higher efficiency. The consortium projects efficiency levels of 50%–60% for industrial-size plants.

Straight thermal dissociation of ZnO requires operating temperatures above 1,750ºC...However, the use of a carbonaceous material as a reducing agent...reduces the required operating temperature to between 1,000ºC–1,400ºC...

One side-effect of operating at the lower temperature with carbon as a reactant is the release of CO2. The research team determined that:

...compared to the conventional fossil-fuel-based production of Zn, the solar-driven carbothermic process can reduce CO2 emissions by a factor of 5...

Well, isn't that nice. We may someday be able to use the heat of the sun to power clean electric cars. I'm reminded of the boron burning enthusiast I mentioned a few weeks ago. Or the emulsified vanadium power storage mentioned here. Apparently, exotic energy storage chemistry still has some unexplored potential. That's a good thing. An inexpensive, high capacity energy storage system would go a long way toward allowing intermittent sources to come into their own.

Let me restate that. Windmills and solar cells become much more attractive if we can find a cheap way to stockpile the juice.

I was all enthused and hopeful about this development until I recalled that renewables can't save us. Like the Bandar-log, James Howard Kunstler and his ilk say so, and therefore it must be true.

Here's a relevant quote from the yoinker himself...

No combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run American life the way we have been used to running it, or even a substantial fraction of it. The wonders of steady technological progress achieved through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome…

That's it, short, light and sweet. No troublesome numeracy required either, which is certainly a blessed relief, me being a humanities major and all. The collective strivings of some of the brightest people on the planet are rendered irrelevant, moot, null and void, by reason of pundit fiat. Do I hear any objections?

Perhaps just a couple. Peak Oil Optimist points us toward the following review of Kunstler's latest opus. A compressed excerpt follows...

Kunstler is a font of vitriol with a BA in theater. His book has been excerpted in Rolling Stone, he has written for the Atlantic, and he has a large following among urban planners and environmentalists.

Kunstler despises the way most Americans live, and his arguments are soaked in intolerance. The result is a book that disserves a worthy topic...meticulousness and patience have never been Kunstler's strengths...The economists, the geologists, the energy experts—all are delusional. Kunstler's book...has no bibliography and miserably few footnotes. None of its footnotes references scientific journals.

The real business of The Long Emergency is to describe in lurid detail the forthcoming and well-deserved collapse of suburban America...he takes clear glee in imagining the punishments Americans will endure for their profligate ways.

These punishments include but are not limited to: famine; war; epidemics of deadly disease; governments releasing viruses into their own populations to cull the weak...a return to local, even pre-industrial, economies; and—I'm not making this up—Asian pirates plundering California...

Kunstler is sometimes described as a radical...but the correct adjective for him is "puritan." America to him is sinful...Americans have squandered their opportunities to repent...So now it is too late.

Kunstler likes to think he is telling us hard truths, but in fact he is taking the easy way out. It is easy to be a pessimist, to peddle inevitability and call it analysis...

Damn me, but that was gratifying. Reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould reviewing Jeremy Rifkin. Read the whole thing.

On a more positive note, The Ergosphere takes a look at some of the numbers involved in solar-driven zinc power chemistry and finds them good.

I can't pretend to any degree of competence evaluating his work. I'm barely clear on the concept of moles. Something to do with Avogadro's Number, if memory serves, so make up your own minds. While you do, I'll dish up a few more bowls of steaming Kunstler...

June 12, 2005

I just paid $3.25 for a twelve-ounce diet coke in the Los Angeles airport, known by the affectionate name LAX by the locals...The truth is, LAX is just the airport code on the baggage label that they slap on your suitcase...Evidently there was an earthquake here today, but the vibe of the city (if you can call this toxic hyper-mega-burb that) is so catastrophic generally that I didn't even notice.

I've been on a long book publicity road trip around California...and it's hard not to feel hopeless about this country after being here...But I stray from my point.

Which is that what you see in California is a society with a tragic destiny. I was all over the Bay Area earlier in the week, from San Francisco to Silicon Valley to Berkeley and even down to Santa Cruz, and that was bad enough, But then I got down to Los Angeles on Friday and have been in a state of pathological reflex nausea ever since.

...life here is all about cars and it will never not be about cars -- until the reality of our oil predicament falls on the hapless public like a hammer of God and the people of California die for their fucking cars in their fucking cars and over their fucking cars.

I was invited to give a talk at Google headquarters down in Mountain View last Tuesday. They sent somebody to fetch me (in a hybrid car, zowee!) from my hotel in San Francisco -- as if I had any choice about catching a train down, right?

Google was probably just being polite. As the above links clearly demonstrate, Mr. Kunstler could have caught the 10:07 at 4th and King and been in Mountain View by 11:21.

The schedules are plainly posted online, but Kunstler has a low opinion of electronic connectivity. "...all this talk about "connectivity" just leads to more commercial shilling, shucking, jiving, and generally fucking with your headspace in the interstices of whatever purposeful activity one may be struggling to enact on the internet."

Like, for instance, obtaining a local train schedule. Poor little country mouse. Can't read the signs in the big city. So sad.

Google HQ was a glass office park pod tucked into an inscrutable tangle of off-ramps, berms, manzanita clumps, and curb-cuts. But inside, it was all tricked out like a kindergarten...The employees dressed like children. There were two motifs: "skateboard rat" and "10th grade nerd."

I suppose quite a few of them were millionaires. Many of the work cubicles were literally modular children's playhouses. I gave my spiel about the global oil problem and the unlikelihood that "alternative energy" would even fractionally replace it, and quite a few of the Googlers became incensed.

"Yo, Dude, you're so, like, wrong! We've got, like, technology!"

Yeah, well, they weren't interested in making a distinction between energy and technology...

The taxi-cab ride to Berkeley (on Google's tab) ran over $160 on the meter.

More vile corporate politeness. They should have sent him back on the train. He could have transferred to BART in San Francisco, and been in the very heart of Berkeley just 21 minutes later.

In Berkeley a radical leftist grandmotherly lady interviewed me for a radio show and once that was over she began to tell me about the chemical contrails that Dick Cheney was cross-hatching across the Berkeley skies...

Flying into LA...and traversing its decrepitating central core clean out to Pasadena in the airport van, was like being immersed in an updated Hieronymous Bosch landscape of hell...

At every turn of the odometer, one wondered: what will become of this entropic socio-economic sink...I gave a talk at the closing session of the annual Congress for the New Urbanism...My message was one that readers of this blog are familiar with...we are sleepwalking into desperate circumstances...But they don't really believe what I said to them.

The sad truth is that they are addicted to the same economic mechanisms as the sprawl-meisters...

Is there no safe haven that the rot hasn't penetrated? No comrade to guard his back?

I hope the New Urbanists come around. They have a whole lot of very useful knowledge that will allow us to make our derelict towns habitable while we re-assign the remaining countryside for growing the food that we need locally.

Emphasis mine. Lusting after agrarian land reform is one of the classic precursor symptoms...

Ah, I admit that I am in foul and turbulent spirits. I have been into the land of the American Moloch among its Moloch-worshippers and I am brainsick from it.

Take heart, country mouse. At least one town mouse finds you fascinating. Join the ranks of such illustrious pundits as John Aravosis, and the eloquently bugling Steve Gilliard. He's been on Air America, you know. Join that exalted, critically praised few. Feel the soothing caresses of James Wolcott's admiring, yet manly, prose. Then sleep. Sleep, and rest easy. We will all get what's coming to us.

posted by Justin at 03:17 PM | Comments (3)

Tempting targets?
...the age of skyscrapers is at an end. It must now be considered an experimental building typology that has failed. Who will ever again feel safe and comfortable working 110 storeys above the ground? Or sixty storeys? Or even twenty-seven?

-- James Howard Kunstler

Architecture, like education, is another one of those subjects beyond my expertise, and normally not considered political.


What does normally mean these days? Everything is political. Architecture, in fact, has now become the epitome of politics. There's talk of building "Why They Hate Us" pavilions at Ground Zero, and such luminaries as James Howard Kunstler and Jeremy Rifkin love to weigh in on politically charged visions of "Eurocities" in America:

The highly urbanized Kerry voters, we were told, represented "the real Americans" who reject "heartland 'values' like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia." The suburbanites and small-town denizens came from places where "people are fatter and dumber and slower." "Let them have the shitholes, the Oklahomas, Wyomings, and Alabamas," the Seattle paper raged. "We'll take Manhattan."

Urban sophisticates' longstanding disdain toward the suburbs and sunbelt cities is developing into an aggressive hostility. Author James Howard Kunstler now wows Euro-American audiences with dire predictions of an energy-driven apocalypse that will leave the sprawling aspirational cities and their suburban hinterlands in ruins. Kunstler, for one, is so thrilled with the prospect that he says it's time "to let the gloating begin."

Given their contempt for much of the country, it is not surprising that Euro-Americans seek inspiration from abroad. For many, European cities, with three times the density of their American counterparts, are to be hailed as role models. New urbanists like Roberta Brandes Gratz look across the Atlantic and see our urban future. Americans, she concludes, "want what Czechs have," that is, highly concentrated, expensive cities of apartment-renters like picturesque Prague.

On an arguably more serious note, some Democratic theorists also advocate adopting European-style economic and social policy. Back in the 1980s, Robert Reich, for example, suggested the United States adopt the kind of "industrial policy" then de rigueur in Germany and France. Recently, other leftist writers--from the American Prospect's Harold Meyerson to environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin and Euro-enthusiast T.R. Reid--have embraced European approaches to Kyoto, land use, immigration, and technology.

To the denizens of Euro-America, John Kerry's obsession with "global tests" and appealing to the E.U. were not misplaced or ill-conceived. The American dream, Rifkin tells us, is failing, economically, culturally, and politically. "We need Europe," Meyerson writes in the American Prospect, "to save us from ourselves."

Justin has written several posts about leading skyscraper critic James Howard Kunstler (who also hates ugly homes with too many cars).

This Eurocentric "smaller is better" anti-skyscraper movement was given a boost with today's scathing attack on the Freedom Tower by the New York Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff. In a piece titled "Appraisal: Fear in a soaring tower," Ouroussoff likens the design to the work of Nazi architect Albert Speer:

But if this is a potentially fascinating work of architecture, it is, sadly, fascinating in the way that Albert Speer's architectural nightmares were fascinating - as expressions of the values of a particular time and era. The Freedom Tower embodies, in its way, a world shaped by fear.

What the tower evokes, by comparison, are ancient obelisks, blown up to a preposterous scale and clad in heavy sheaths of reinforced glass - an ideal symbol for an empire enthralled with its own power, and unaware that it is fading.
Just like the Nazis, enthralled with the power of their empire, and unaware that it's fading?

I find it ironic that Ouroussoff complains about the politicization of the Freedom Tower, because as someone who hates bureaucracy and thinking by committee I'd normally be inclined to be sympathetic with that argument.

I too would love to see some classical elements added to the design. But, that would only compound the irony by inviting more Nazi comparisons, for despite New York's ubiquitous Neoclassicism, it just so happens that Neoclassicism was at the heart of Speer's work!

Yet, when the "Speer smear" is coupled with the conclusion, I'm left with the feeling that Ouroussoff wants to manipulate us into believing that tall buildings are synonymous with Nazism. That's a direct slap in Ayn Rand's face. It's too much, and loses me completely. Here's his conclusion:

Absurdly, if the Freedom Tower were reduced by a dozen or so stories and renamed, it would probably no longer be considered such a prime target. Fortifying it, in a sense, is an act of deflection. It announces to terrorists: Don't attack here - we're ready for you. Go next door.
Take the word "freedom" out and make the building smaller? Why? Because freedom is dangerous and smaller is safer?


Being a leading architecture critic, Ouroussoff is of course entitled to invoke the Speer smear as justification for his scapegoating of tall buildings. However, much as I hate to resort to cycles of Speer recycling, I feel I have no choice but to close with Speer's recollections of Hitler's actual plans for American skyscrapers:

In his prison journals, Albert Speer recalled an astonishing scene towards the end of the World War II: Adolf Hitler, in a kind of delirium, "pictured for himself and for us the destruction of New York in a hurricane of fire." The Nazi leader described skyscrapers being turned into "gigantic burning torches, collapsing upon one another, the glow of the exploding city illuminating the dark sky."
Burning torches? Collapsing buildings? How could we have dared tempt Hitler by building such prime targets?

If only we'd built them smaller!

posted by Eric at 09:53 AM | Comments (3)

Fanboy Ravings

I just got back from seeing the new "War of the Worlds" movie, and I have to say that I'm stunned. As a long time fan of mindless alien invasion epics, I'm what you might call a discriminating consumer, and trust me, this one really delivers the goods. Hopefully, it permanently raises the bar for stupendous, colossal, end-of-the-world extravaganzas. There's not a false note of any importance in the entire film.

Cloying, saccharine moments? A few, but only as needed. It's as though Steven Spielberg had his treacle sac surgically removed for the duration of the production. Never fear, it's probably in cryo-stasis somewhere, waiting for another chance to ruin his work. Damned shame, too.

If Spielberg could excise his sentimentality (as he did for this film) on a regular basis, his films might be critically adored masterpieces for the ages instead of just being the hugely popular mega-scale money machine cultural icons, beloved by millions, that they are.

Oh well. He had his chance. With this movie, he partially redeems himself. And why is that, exactly? I'm happy to tell you.

This is quite simply the finest screen adaptation of H.G. Wells that I have ever seen. Ever.

Purists may argue that liberties have been taken. True. Nevertheless, I believe that they were necessary and beneficial. Let me go further. I believe that if we could resurrect H.G. Wells and show him this film, he would be delighted with it. Genuinely delighted. It's that close to the spirit of the original. In fact, it manages to fuse an intelligent and informed appreciation of the book (the entire text of which is available here) with an equal knowledge of and respect for George Pal's 1953 production of the same name.

Realistically, I could not be better pleased with this movie.

Carpingly, small-mindedly, ungratefully, I find that there are just a couple of small points bothering me.

First, I grow weary of Hollywood physics. Normal people cannot fall seventy feet without grave injury. More and more, characters in modern movies just shake off impacts that would kill a trained paratrooper or martial artist. Whenever I see it happen, it jars me. I can't help myself.

More reasonably, continuity errors rub me the wrong way. A reviewer at IMDB has already remarked on the still-working camcorder. Yeah, that's annoying. A more subtle error, but still readily apparent, was the sliding-scale size of the tripods. A small spoiler follows...

Comparing the sizes of the (presumably) identical war machines, we find that they expand or contract as needed for purposes of awe-inspiring spectacle. The ferryboat capsizing machine is a behemoth compared to the more modestly sized blood-sucking abduction machine. I blame arrogant storyboard artists. They think the average moviegoer won't notice such things. They think that their eyes are more sensitive, better trained, than ours. They condescend to us, and it irks me.

But these are mere quibbles. If you enjoy a good alien invasion (as who among us does not?), this is the movie to see.

As an extra-special bonus feature, it came bundled with a trailer for Peter Jackson's newest movie, which looks absolutely terrific. No, really. The first minute might make you think it's a depression era showbiz movie. Nice fake. Only gradually do you realize that it concerns an ocean voyage by tramp steamer, a lost island, hostile indigenes, prehistoric beasts, and a profound exploration of the limits of "Furry" culture. Can love conquer all? I think we all know how it ends.

posted by Justin at 11:40 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (3)

Life (and Death) at the Carnival

This week's Carnival of the Vanities is hosted by Adam Gurri at Sophistpundit. There are many good posts, some great ones, lots of life, and some death. As is my habit, I'll just mention a few that stood out for me.

  • Considering that there are so many Carnivals these days, and so many new bloggers, Bad Example's Harvey has a must-read post called "HOW TO ENTER A LINK-FEST CARNIVAL." Good advice!
  • Mr. Snitch offers some great video of Hoboken, New Jersey.
  • A Muslim in Palestine dares to teach (a bit tentatively) that the Holocaust actually happened -- and he's hated for his effort. But as Solomonia carefully demonstrates, the Associated Press's Holocaust minimization of the Holocaust is much more appalling than that of Palestinians.
  • Kevin at The Smallest Minority highlights a Supreme Court case confirming what many have learned the hard way: the police are not there to protect you, and they don't have to. (So you'd better learn how to protect yourself.)
  • Much I hate to end this mini-review on a sad note, this last post strikes near to my heart. Laurence Simon's spirited and talented cat Edloe has passed at age 14, and Laurence has written a very touching tribute. All he has is an empty collar:
    But every now and then, an empty collar means something else:

    A friend is gone.

    How I know. I'm looking at Puff's empty collar right now. It's been empty for two weeks now.

    I'm truly sorry, Laurence. Wish I'd known Edloe.

  • There's a lot more of course. As Adam concludes,

    the blogosphere is not lacking in activity.
    Sometimes it's too not lacking, but that's OK.

    posted by Eric at 09:31 PM | Comments (5)

    Two incendiary years

    The Second Anniversary Edition of the great Bonfire of the Vanities has been posted by Kevin Aylward at Wizbang.

    This week's theme?

    "I've Been Naughty, Please Spank Me...."

    I'm on my way out the door (so I can't do them all the injustice they deserve), so I'll only spank two --

  • If you want to know how to mulch a blogroll, Susie's got a fertile post.
  • I haven't thoroughly researched Mary Carey's views on Eminent Domain, but her thinking and the rest of her are most likely far better developed than David Souter, who's in need of well, development!
  • Read 'em all! (Then douse the fires with Sean Hackbarth's Raspberry Coke.)

    Blog nostalgia freaks, be sure to check out the Bonfire's First Edition here.

    posted by Eric at 06:21 PM | Comments (4)

    Demoted again!

    I just took this test, which says I'm 30:

    You Are 30 Years Old


    Under 12: You are a kid at heart. You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe.

    13-19: You are a teenager at heart. You question authority and are still trying to find your place in this world.

    20-29: You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences.

    30-39: You are a thirtysomething at heart. You've had a taste of success and true love, but you want more!

    40+: You are a mature adult. You've been through most of the ups and downs of life already. Now you get to sit back and relax.

    (Via Right On the Left Coast, who's an overstated 28.)


    You'd think that at age 50 I'd have earned the right to have a midlife crisis, but no!

    Setbacks like this are utterly unnerving, but serve as another reminder that going through life is (as a well-connected friend said):

    like trying to climb to the top of a greasy pole. The closer you get to the top, the greasier it gets!
    Yes, he really said that.

    MORE: I can't help noticing that certain bloggers want to rub it in (at least in the comments below) by claiming that according to the test they're younger than I am!

    Well, I'll have them know that if Tom Cruise can have a midlife crisis, so can I! (Crisis tip via Donald Sensing.)

    posted by Eric at 05:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Education is more exciting than I realized

    Even though I know nothing about education (and even less about a field of study called "Education"), I was frightened enough reading about the teaching of "Education" to write a post about it. That post (and many other, far-better-informed ones) now appears in this week's Carnival of Education.

    I never thought I'd be so interested in something so "non-political" as education, but my morbid fear and loathing of politics is heightened every time I see politics reach out and destroy another important thing in our lives which should not be political.

    Here are a few examples from the Carnival:

  • This horrifying post reveals that teachers (at least in Virginia) no longer have to know basic math, while this post reveals why: teachers tend to study a thing called "Education" -- which in no way guarantees that they have any knowledge of what they will teach.
  • (The easiest way to solve the problem might be to simply prohibit anyone with a degree in "education" from teaching anything but, well, "education.")

  • And here's a common sense question: How can standardized tests be called "biased" if the low scorers had low scores because they were unable to read? Doh? What sort of idiot would argue that if you flunk a reading test because you can't read that the test is biased? I don't know, but I'll just bet that it would be the sort of idiot with a degree in education.
  • I had no idea how bad things were.

  • This post about dress codes is depressing, too. Students need dress codes in elementary schools -- not to instill self-respect or a sense of seriousness or professionalism in the kids, but to prevent gang violence. In elementary schools? (I've long thought school dress codes are good for kids, because, by inviting the trivial rebellion of flouting the dress code, they provide a rebellion-absorbent sort of buffer, thus distracting kids who might otherwise rebel in more destructive ways. Whether they're legal in public schools is another matter.)
  • Anyway, whatever the students might wear, the important thing is what they learn, right? But according to this post, "educators" can't teach reading, and they're upset to have people find out about it.
  • If that isn't bad enough for you, consider "ethnomathematics" -- a "culturally sensitive way to teach mathematics:
    we are now seeing the rise of "ethnomathematics":....could you image teaching one student only how to use quarter notes and another only whole notes because of their cultural background. That is insane of the face of it, and so is this "ethnomathematics." It would be like teaching pink kids that a chair is called table, brown kids should call it aardvark and yellow kids should call it kumquat.
  • I'm beginning to get it. The goal of the educrats seems to be to foster as much ignorance and illiteracy as possible as quickly as they can, thus creating more problems which demand solutions in the form of more and more money, and more and more "educators" with degrees in the mumbo jumbo which creates the mess. Nice way to build a political power base, but I think they should be made to stop calling it education, because it isn't.

    The Carnival of Education makes me glad we still have the First Amendment.

    Thank God for the Carnival! Until today, I never knew that mathematics could be made political, but the above post aroused my curiosity, and I found this:

    By showing that math is not just the product of white-male thinking, a number of professors hope to make math more agreeable to nonwhite students and to women.

    Or math meets politics: In the words of Ubiratan D'Ambrosio, a Brazilian mathematician who is a founder of ethnomathematics, the movement, which tries to increase respect for other cultures, is nothing less than "a step toward peace."

    "Mathematics is absolutely integrated with Western civilization, which conquered and dominated the entire world," Mr. D'Ambrosio wrote in response to an e-mail interview. "The only possibility of building up a planetary civilization depends on restoring the dignity of the losers and, together, winners and losers, moving into the new."

    I don't see what such nonsense has to do with dignity.

    Will it "restore the dignity" of my dead white illiterate ancestors?

    No. I much prefer thinking forward to backward thinking.

    Read the rest.

    posted by Eric at 10:51 AM | Comments (4)

    A book that invades privacy?

    A couple of book-related, um, issues...

    Not long ago, I speculated that Ed Klein, the author of "The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President," (a mouthful of title, if ever there was one) might be working as a sort of secret agent for her campaign. Why else, I reasoned, would an author known for previous lefty associations accuse Hillary of having been raped by Bill?

    Well, in a riveting, no-holds-barred interview by John Hawkins, Klein denies ever saying that:

    John Hawkins ...Can you give a quick explanation of what you were getting across there and also do you think Drudge did you a disservice with the way he handled that?

    Ed Klein: The book has a scene in which I describe Bill Clinton telling a bunch of friends that he’s going back to his cottage -- in Bermuda, in 1979 – and he had been drinking and said in jest, as a joke, “I’m going back to my cottage to rape my wife.” They all laughed, nobody took it seriously and nobody thought, “God, he meant it seriously.”

    He did go back to his cottage and the next day he called a friend over. The friend found the place in a kind of shambles; however, this friend whom I spoke to did not suggest to me -- nor did the friend say -- an actual rape had occurred.

    Three months later Bill called this friend and told him that he was reading in the newspaper that his wife was pregnant and that she had the announcement without even telling him about it. That’s the point of the story.

    The point of the story is that the conception of Chelsea Clinton, which would be of nobody’s business, if Hillary herself hadn’t written about it in "Living History," was an example of how the Clintons are not an intimate couple, but are a political team – and that’s what I meant by that whole scene.

    John Hawkins: Do you think Drudge took you out of context?

    Ed Klein: I think Matt Drudge, whom I admire and respect a great deal -- sometimes his headlines – he gets carried away with his headlines. I certainly think that as a result of that headline a lot of people, especially the good people on the conservative side of the fence, were initially misled by what kind of book this is.

    This is a serious book about a serious subject which is Hillary Clinton’s quest for the presidency and it’s by a serious author, me; I’m a serious guy. I’m not a right wing person; I’m not a left wing person. I’m certainly not a liberal.

    I’m a journalist and a biographer and this book is a character study -- a character study of a woman who has a very good chance of becoming our next President and who I think would make a very bad President -- and a President that we should not have in the Oval Office.

    At least he admits his biases. Moreover, Klein indignantly denies being at all like the Kitty Kelley-style muckraker as he's been portrayed, steadfastly maintaining that the Clinton spin machine is at work, and cites campaign threats to networks which dare to interview him:
    John Hawkins: Is this on or off the record?

    Ed Klein: It’s on the record. I thought maybe I’ve already said – you know, I’ve spoken to so many people I can’t remember what I said 10 minutes ago – but, you know, Hillary and the Clintons have a tried and true method of destroying their opponents. In my case what they’ve done is they identified my strongest point – which is my reputation, my background which is solid, and my track record which is, you know, impeccable -- and attacked that by trying to compare me to the tabloid Kitty Kelley type of writer -- which I’m not.

    By throwing a lot of mud at me, some of the mud has stuck. Then when I try to respond to them on a national level through the mainstream media they have gone to the mainstream media -- meaning the TV news presidents, and executive producers of the major TV shows -- and threatened them with retaliation of withholding Hillary’s appearance on those shows. So I can’t respond on those national shows.

    This is, I would say, you know, from their perspective, brilliant strategy, which has even seemed to work with some of my – I would think -- potentially conservative supporters because, you know, after all, we read all this stuff about somebody in the press and you say, “Gee, where there’s smoke, there must be fire.” But in fact, if you read my book, and it is my view, you’ll find it to be utterly responsible and not at all sleazy and a very intelligent assessment of a woman who is on the verge of becoming the next President of the United States.

    What this means, of course, is that despite a damned good interview (which I think is a credit to the blogosphere), John Hawkins can kiss goodbye any chance of scoring an interview with Senator Clinton.

    (Sorry to have to be the bearer of such news, John, but it happens to be what I think.)

    Bloggers, be advised: talk to Ed Klein at your peril. Why, right now, by even citing the Hawkins interview I might have blown any chance I had of obtaining the long awaited "Classical Values Interview With Hillary Rodham Clinton." (A shame, really, because we all know she's read the Klein book herself. While that's just speculation, sooner or later there'll be another one of those inevitable "reading list" campaign questions, and maybe we'll get a peek at her reading.)

    Here are more details about Klein's "blacklist blackout":

    Ed Klein: ...I interviewed 96 people for this book. Of those 96 people, about half of them are on the record and about half of them are off the record.

    The reason they are anonymous is because they are afraid of Hillary Clinton and I think they have good reason to ask for anonymity because Hillary can be a vicious person. For instance, because of my book, Hillary and her war machine have called every major television network in the United States and suggested to them that if they have Ed Klein on to discuss his book, they can forget about Hillary being a guest on their network.

    As a result, the entire mainstream media – NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC – have blanked me out. This is my 5th best seller in a row. I’ve been on all of those networks for all my books up ‘til this one book. I’ve been a constant guest on the Today show, the Good Morning America show, you know, the Chris Matthews show, etc. Suddenly I’m anathema and the reason I am is because the Clintons, Hillary in particular, have threatened all these mainstream media outlets. That’s a good reason in my view for the conservatives to get behind this book.

    I don't know about "getting behind" the book, but then, I don't get behind anything just because someone tells me to get behind it. To "get behind" something because conservatives are doing so makes about as much sense as getting behind it because liberals are doing so.

    Get thee behind me, all conservative and liberal Satans?

    Sorry, but mere curiosity about what Klein said (and whether he's a Kitty Kelley muckraker or Hillary agent) does not constitute "getting behind" anything.

    I'm not sure whether there is such a thing as morality in the context of book buying, but the fact is, every time a human buys a book (at least in any retail outlet), digital data is recorded which tends to increase the book's ratings. Computers being dumb, there is no way that they can record whether the buyer is buying the book out of love, hate, or a research project (paid or unpaid). So, merely totaling up the purchasers of the Klein book (say, by looking at the Amazon ratings) does not give a clear picture of Hillary's enemies. For all I know, half of the people buying fully intend to vote for her. And some of the Hillary haters might very well hate the book but buy it anyway. I know that Amazon keeps track of the other books purchased by the same customer, because every time I buy a book on Amazon suggestions consistent with my previous purchases are thrown at me.

    What this means is that Amazon has information which would be of great value to the Hillary Clinton campaign. What that means is that her ops probably have it. So it could be argued that buying such a highly charged book through Amazon is likely to drag a decent company into campaign skullduggery.

    Which means that I won't say whether I bought it at all, or where.

    In the interests of fully deniable disclosure through innuendo, though, I will state that on Saturday I bought a book at an undisclosed bookstore in downtown Philadelphia, and yesterday I bought another book at another undisclosed bookstore at a local shopping center (I won't state the name or names of either bookstore, but the first letter is "B"). And I'm pretty sure I paid cash, although I can't swear to it. One of the books was Paul Johnson's History of Christianity, which looks absolutely fascinating, and begins with a riveting account of the Council of Jerusalem. (Stocking up on books for a long upcoming trip BTW.)

    I have to say that what happens at these bookstores makes me yearn for the illusory anonymity of Amazon! While the latter compiles digital stats, the actual bookstores, even if you pay cash, are not content to just let you pay for the book and leave. Last night I was plied with what I considered to be a series of annoying questions:

    "Would you care to contribute ___ dollars to help the ______ in their campaign for ______ ?"

    "Um, no," I grunted.

    Do you have our ______ Card?"

    "Unh unh."

    "Would you like to have more information about advantages of having the _____ card?"

    (Waves shiny slick pamphlet promising me many "advantages" -- meaning one more slippery piece of trash I have to throw away.)

    "NO." (I was more firm, as I just wanted to Take. The. Book. And. Leave!)

    I'm sure plenty of bloggers have complained about this before, but for God's sake, why these mandatory interviews? Why the charitable guilt trips? Who the hell decided somewhere in some committee that every cashier has to interrogate every customer?

    Experiences like that is why agoraphobes like me prefer Amazon!

    I'd rather have my privacy invaded anonymously than my anonymity invaded publicly.

    posted by Eric at 09:41 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Who said Google has no Values?

    Google has regularly been receiving heavy criticism around the blogosphere -- mostly quite deserved, and some of it coming from this blog. This time, I want to thank Google.

    (More properly, maybe it's Google Values I should thank.)

    I get a fair amount of Google traffic, which is usually said to be bad, because it's not considered as "clean" as traffic coming from other blogs. Obviously, I'd prefer "clean" readers from blogs to "dirty" readers from Google, but I don't have much choice in the matter. Which is why I haven't been as interested as I perhaps should in the type of reader sent here by Google, and I've only given the Google hits an occasional glance.

    But even my cursory glances began to reveal a pattern. Many readers directed here by Google had used the word "Values" in their Google searches.

    Values? What kind of values? I wondered. So I googled the word "Values" and I was blown away to see that Classical Values came up first.

    That's Number One out of 129,000,000 hits.

    (A hell of a thing for someone who's never googled his values before to see, I assure you.)

    This gave me a start, and the more I thought about it, the more humbled I felt. After all, this web site engages in satire, and satire means making fun of stuff. Especially the stodgier, more intrusive type of "Values" so often hurled in our face by people who feel that they alone possess the moral high ground to use that horribly overwrought word. I meant to poke gentle fun at them when I started this blog, and now I'm taken aback to see this funny little blog ranked higher than the Goliaths it makes fun of.

    It's almost not funny, and I doubt it would be funny at all to some of the Goliaths of "Values."

    The ultimate irony is that my own values are actually pretty conservative, as I hope most regular readers would acknowledge. Yet my conservative values mean nothing to the people who love to scream about values, for the simple reason that I don't agree with their way of looking at things. I think too many of the people who scream about values view the world through a sort of penis prism. (May Steven Malcolm Anderson forgive me for that bit of spectrumology!)

    But seriously, they're more inclined to judge people by the content of their orgasms than by the content of their character. To the other "Values" people, homosexuality (and other sexually oriented things) is what it's all about. Christianity, morality, culture -- for them it all comes down to where a man sticks his penis.

    And it's not so much actual homosexuals or even the practice of homosexuality that bothers them. As I remarked to a friend in an email the other day, the people I complain about have always struck me as more rattled by opinions than by conduct. It isn't physical homosexuality that bugs them the most; it's ideas. And despite the current media hoopla, it's about a lot more than the relatively recent idea of gay marriage. To the people I'm complaining about, mere tolerance of homosexuality means the breakdown and ultimate destruction of Western Civilization. That's too much. That deserves satire and ridicule. I grew so sick to death of this homos-destroy-Western-Civilization meme that it was a major reason I selected the name "Classical Values" for this blog.

    And that's why I thought I should take a moment to thank my Google readers.

    While I'm at it, let me reassure everyone that just as "the homosexuals" are not out to destroy Western Civilization, neither is Classical Values!

    No quarrel here with tradition, either.



    MORE: John Beck's comment below ("Kofi Annan rapes dead horses") coupled with Glenn Reynolds' "Michelle Malkin + Kinky" plot, makes me yearn for greater culture Googlification.

    So why didn't I get any hits when I Googled "Kofi Annan rapes Michelle Malkin's Kinky dead horses"?

    Can't we get along?

    MORE: In the interest of full disclosure, I ought to note that a few holes are beginning to appear in my values. Commenter Urthshu thinks I should "start talking about dholes" (a new playpal for pits) so I can corner the word, but after researching and giving the matter considerable thought, I have concluded that the dholes may be suffering from a phthalate imbalance.

    One breeding female for ten or more males?

    Has anyone checked the dholes' phthalate values?

    posted by Eric at 02:50 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Speaking of absurd comparisons . . .

    Here's San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom:

    "People like pit bulls, but there's a reason we don't have polar bears or mountain lions in the city."
    Lions and pit bulls and bears, oh my!

    I see several problems with this comparison. Let's start with the polar bears. San Francisco not only has them, they run sex ads for them:

    "Single white female needs mate."

    As personal ads go, it's simple and understated. Aspiring matchmaker Deb Cano jokes that it couldn't hurt. Although her candidate is only 23, her biological clock is ticking. And there's another problem, too: Ulu, a onetime provocateur, might be more than most males could handle.

    Still, Cano -- an animal keeper at the San Francisco Zoo -- is undeterred. She's hoping a betrothal might materialize at a four-day meeting of the International Polar Bear Husbandry Conference, which begins Wednesday in San Diego.

    Before anyone starts laughing about the racist implications of the polar bear sex ad, bear in mind that some of San Francisco's other polar bears are, well, gay:
    On the whole, polar bear courtships at the San Francisco Zoo have not gone smoothly.

    Two years ago, a Wisconsin polar bear destined for Ulu's lair had some medical issues that eventually doomed his transfer.

    Two decades ago, Andy and Pike, the zoo's two other polar bears, were supposed to mate someday. Andy, born in Atlanta and named after then-Mayor Andrew Young, was imported as a companion for Pike (pronounced pee-ka), a female born at the San Francisco Zoo. They turned out to be a same-sex couple when it was finally discovered that Andy was a girl.

    So what's with this polar bear comparison, anyway? As he made quite clear with pit bulls, the sexually intolerant Newsom wants (at minimum) to cut their balls off. Yet his government is apparently doing everything it can to force Exodus-style heterosexist breeding programs on its polar bears!

    No wonder he's denying they exist.

    In fairness to Newsom, he probably doesn't mean all polar bears; just wild ones. The kind that would run around loose and rifle through people's trashcans, make off with the family pet, and waylay the occasional hiker or two. Is he suggesting that existing laws don't already allow the city to deal with dogs that do that? San Francisco has leash laws, a vicious dog ordinance, a well-financed animal control agency, and packs of lawyers who'd be all too delighted to go after the owner of any dangerous dog.

    The polar bear comparison, therefore, is as factually false as it is metaphorically inapt. Frankly, Bush is more like Trotsky than pit bulls are like polar bears. At least Bush and Trotsky are both members of the same species... (and please no wisecracks about that, OK?)

    But what about the mountain lions? They might not be limited to the San Francisco Zoo! That's because mountain lions have already attacked and killed California hikers and there have been repeated sightings and incidents right in the San Francisco Bay Area -- including places such as San Jose, Palo Alto, and Oakland. (Perhaps they can change the name of nearby suburban Mountain View to Mountain Lion View.)

    Most intriguing to me is this disappearing report of a mountain lion sighting in South San Francisco.

    The driver -- whose name will not be released by California Fish and Game officials until their investigation is closed -- spotted what appeared to be a mountain lion behind Forbes Boulevard businesses, said police Cpl. Mike Toscano, who reported to the scene.

    Although six South City police officers arrived on the scene within three minutes of the 7:52 a.m. phone call, none was able to find the animal after combing the area, said Toscano, who explained that the Peninsula Humane Society and California Fish and Game were immediately notified.

    A mite too close for Gavin Newsom's comfort, which is probably why he'd never want to acknowledge it. Because if a mountain lion was spotted in San Francisco, near a school, menacing children, do you think they'd shoot the critter dead as they would a pit bull?

    I'd be surprised if they did, especially considering that when police shot a mountain lion menacing children in the San Francisco suburb of Palo Alto, instead of being thanked as heroes, they were compared to the Americans at Abu Ghraib.

    I guess by Newsom's standards, that's another fair comparison.

    posted by Eric at 01:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    Well, the Hitler comparisons were wearing thin . . .

    So I guess this had to be expected:

    ....Bush is truly a Trotskyite, a believer in permanent revolution. We have never had one as a president before. He wouldn't understand that, but Wolfowitz would. He truly is. And he's doing it -- what he thinks he has to do, the revolutions he has to create, without any information, without any -- without an ability to absorb information that's counter to what he wants to hear. And so, I don't know where you are when you have a man with as much power as he controls and as much ability to do something. I don't know how we can get at him.
    Seymour Hersh, speaking at the University of Illinois, May 10, 2005.

    But what if Hersh is right?


    How can we ever hope to get at him?

    UPDATE (06/29/05): While I didn't see President Bush's speech last night, other bloggers have commented on it extensively, but nowhere did I see any discussion or mention of Trotskyist (or Trotskyite) tendencies in Bush's speech.

    Well, Trotsky's name did come up in Roger L. Simon's post, but only in a Jeffersonian context. (Link and general roundup to speech reactions via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Obviously, further studies (like this one positing a "Trotskyist ascendancy over the conservative movement") are needed.

    posted by Eric at 08:47 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    Feeding time at the aquarium

    A couple of photos from my trip to Camden yesterday:

    posted by Eric at 05:48 PM | Comments (5)

    I question the timing of my damage control

    In an awfully predicamenting embarassment, I just learned that Tom Brennan had tagged me with the book game before I was tagged by Matt Sheffield.

    But I already responded to Matt. The question now becomes what to do. Should I delete the previous book post and explain to Matt that I had a previous unknown engagement? Or should I fess up to Tom that I am a blithering dolt who fails to notice when he is "it"?

    I'm in a true dilemma. There's no way to handle such a thing gracefully even now. I can't retract the previous post because it was true. And I can't reissue it because that would be, well, redundantly repetitive. Which means that I'll have to incorporate it by reference, using the magic words,

    "My previous post, as evidenced by this link, was, and at all times herein mentioned is, for all purposes pertaining to the current post, hereby incorporated herein by reference, and all answers previously given to Matt Sheffield's tagging shall retroactively be deemed to have been also been given in response to Tom Brennan's tagging."
    Now that that's out of the way, I am now prepared to accept my punishment.

    In my defense, I would remind my judges that Tom and I shared a book in the Books That Mean A Lot To Me category -- Witness, by Whitaker Chambers. (Nothing like being on the right side where it comes to the wrong side.)

    I hope at least that will be taken into account at sentencing. I understand and have been informed that Pay or Play is a serious charge locally, and I hereby state for the record that I am without 20 dollars Canadian.

    Further your affiant saith not.

    posted by Eric at 04:41 PM | Comments (3)

    I'm running this monkey farm now, Frankenstein!

    If you're like me you're a huge fan of George A. Romero's living dead series. Then again, you're probably not.

    At a party the other night a friend remarked that watching Night of the Living Dead with my running commentary enhanced the experience, which isn't normally the case when some know-it-all fanboy won't stop yapping. But Romero's first zombie flick is in my opinion the perfect film. It's got it all -- internal drama compounded by an external threat, social commentary that isn't over the top or preachy, an unrecognized hero, and did I mention the gore? It's actually tame by Romero's later standards.

    (Do yourself a favor and steer clear of Tom Savini's 1990 remake of the original, which completely misses the point and turns the cheese up to 11.)

    The sequels are great for their own reasons, and they're quite different. The allegory (which, despite critics who pretend to come bearing keys, is never subtle) was simpler and more direct in Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead was just good fun with a big gory budget.

    Now that Romero has completed the series with Land of the Dead it's appropriate that boffins are close to perfecting the art of zombification with the aim of preserving life. It's doubly appropriate that those boffins are in Pittsburgh, where Romero's films were shot:

    SCIENTISTS have created eerie zombie dogs, reanimating the canines after several hours of clinical death in attempts to develop suspended animation for humans. US scientists have succeeded in reviving the dogs after three hours of clinical death, paving the way for trials on humans within years.

    Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research has developed a technique in which subject's veins are drained of blood and filled with an ice-cold salt solution.

    The animals are considered scientifically dead, as they stop breathing and have no heartbeat or brain activity.

    But three hours later, their blood is replaced and the zombie dogs are brought back to life with an electric shock.

    Plans to test the technique on humans should be realised within a year, according to the Safar Centre.
    . . . . . .
    Tests show they are perfectly normal, with no brain damage.

    Kudos to the editors for choosing the most menacing dog pic they could find. Looks like a zombie dog if ever I've seen one.

    (I should add by way of postscript that while Return of the Living Dead is an unofficial sequel, it's a (campy) classic in its own right. The film, made by disgruntled producers and the co-writers of Romero's first two films, actually begins with the claim that Night of the Living Dead was based on a true story, but that the government made the filmmaker change the details. One of the 'true' facts is that zombies eat brains. And to this day more than half the people I talk to about Romero's original say, 'brains! brains!,' a testament to the power of a good camp a send-up.)

    posted by Dennis at 04:31 PM | Comments (1)

    Political privacy in a crowded shopping center

    Troublemaker Eugene Volokh believes that you have just as much right to talk to someone over the telephone as you do in person! Critiquing Robin Wallace's idea that it's bad to discuss personal business in public, Professor Volokh distinguishes between rudeness (talking during performances or concerts) and simple discussions with friends or family:

    Now back to the first two paragraphs (and setting aside the conversations in the yoga class and the dinner party, which I agree are generally rude, setting aside extenuating circumstances). Imagine that the writer had been sharing a cab with two other people, who were saying the same things to each other in person, or overheard two people conversing in the gym or the grocery store. Would he have said that it was rude for them to talk to each other? Well, maybe, if they really were quite graphic in dicussing their sex lives. But I had never, until the advent of the cell phone, heard of people complaining "I was on a bus -- or at a grocery store or in the gym -- and two people were complaining about their creepy bosses and their financial woes; how rude!"

    Talking to a friend in public is generally seen as perfectly well-mannered behavior, if one isn't too loud, one isn't socially obligated (or, in the case of driving, obligated by the needs of safety) to pay attention to others, and one stays away from a small set of extremely private topics. In fact, it's often thought of as good -- instead of shopping or riding in solitude, one gets to socialize with a friend. As a matter of manners, I don't see any reason why the rule should be different when one is talking on a phone to a friend who's physically absent.

    Volokh's a man after my heart, and not only did he remind me of a previous post, he also reminded me of an incident at a local shopping center which might shed some light on the emerging anti-cellphone mentality.

    There I was, staring intently at one of those huge display maps, trying to figure out the location of particular store when my cell phone rang, and I dared to answer it. Lo and behold, it was Justin, and yes, I confess, we dared to chat. At some point, an issue in the blog came up (I can't remember what, but it wasn't especially earthshaking), and while I was talking, a total stranger walked right up to me and snapped, "ARE YOU TALKING TO YOURSELF?" Nonplussed, my reaction was to say "YES! I LOVE TO TALK TO MYSELF!" The guy stormed away, looking even more annoyed, with one of those "there ought to be a law!" looks on his face.

    Now, I was wearing an earbud, and I know that this might be confusing to some people, especially the technologically unsophisticated. But I think my earbud is obvious. I have short hair and I make no attempt to hide the thing, and the man who came out of his way to barge into the conversation was considerably younger than I am. He appeared to be in his mid thirties, and was wearing glasses, which meant he could probably see. And he obviously could hear. While it's all unprovable and speculative, I think he just didn't agree with what he heard me saying to Justin (which I'm pretty sure was political in nature.) I very much doubt this same man would have come up to me had Justin been there and I'd said exactly the same thing. Nor do I think he'd have been as annoyed had I really been some mental case talking to myself. I think he knew damned well I wasn't talking to myself, and this was just his way of being rude.

    He, of course, would say that it was rude of me (or "exhibitionistic") to discuss politics. In a shopping center. He'd probably also opine I shouldn't have been "sharing" my "personal life."

    Not that such a characterization of my conversation would make any difference.

    If the personal is now political, then the political must now be personal!

    I have some lingering questions. Is it ruder to discuss politics over a cell phone than to discuss "personal" issues? Is it ruder to use an earbud than to hold the phone to your ear? Is the polite thing to crawl into the darkness somewhere and hunch over? This is an evolving area of etiquette and I am not sure. I prefer not to talk on my cellphone in public, but if it rings in a place like a shopping center, if I'm alone I'll tend to answer it.

    Rights are one thing. I was well within them legally. But are there rules?

    Bear in mind that I was slow to get a cell phone, as I dislike telephones of any sort because I have problems with interruptions. I do have friends who are possessed of the "I refuse to get a cellphone ever!" mentality, and while I'm somewhat sympathetic, I think they're making too big a deal out of what is just another way of communicating.

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

    RINOS smash stereotypes with new Carnival

    There's a great new Carnival, certain to appeal to anyone who reads this blog (regardless of whether they agree with me).

    It's called the "RINO Sightings Carnival," (a product of the Raging Rinos -- a group created by the Commissar):

    for secular and moderate conservatives who don’t drink the party Kool-Aid on issues such as whether it’s legal for dudes to diddle dudes and all that God business. Republican, without all the crazy.

    The RINO Sightings Carnival is hosted this week by a longtime favorite of Classical Values, SayUncle, and of course he does a great job of hosting.

    While I am sure that the individual bloggers who've affiliated themselves with the Raging Rinos do not all agree with each other, I have noted a certain ability to view things logically instead of emotionally, as well as the ability to sort things out according to individual issues. This post on the ACLU is as good an example of any. Blogger Pigilito notes that contrary to the usual assumptions, the ACLU was supporting the right of a student "suspended at Liberty High School in Las Vegas in September for wearing shirts bearing religious symbols" -- in violation of a school dress code. Pigilito linked to the case because it dispels the popular stereotype, even though he agreed with the court's upholding of the dress code.

    ....this is not intended to support the ACLU's position in this case. I posted this news because the ACLU is often portrayed by the religious right as being a first cousin to the devil. I thought it nice to discomfit them, however slightly.

    From the sketchy info available in the article, I happen to agree with the court's holding here. If the school district bans all messages on t-shirts, then I have no complaints. However, if only religious messages are excluded, then I 'm with the ACLU.

    I hadn't heard about this case, but I also agree with the trial court. And like Pigilito, I would agree with the ACLU only if religious messages alone were excluded -- which it appears they are not. I'm not surprised that the case didn't receive much attention.

    Things which defy stereotypes usually don't.

    Speaking of stereotype smashing, don't miss Environmental Republican's fisking of the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial attacking the prosecution of the Bio2005 protesters:

    Whether or not the protesters intended for a cop to die, the fact is that he did indeed die as a result of breaking up a scuffle that the protesters started and the police were forced to attempt to break up.

    These are not college kids protesting the Dean because he decided to shut down a frat house. These are trained protesters who travel to every event and they have the goal of creating anarchy. They are worldwide as was evident in Genoa, Italy.

    By inciting violence, they had a direct impact on a police officer's death regardless if the man was pumping sludge through his arteries and needed a quadruple bypass. It is not murder and Lynne Abraham is not prosecuting for murder, but they were criminally responsible.

    I had two posts along similar lines, and I'm glad to find another kindred spirit.

    With a touch of tongue-in-something satire, SayUncle also points to Bill Hobbs' link (via Donald Sensing) to these thoughts from Chicago Boyz on homosexuality:

    ... by calling a homosexual union marriage, and making it a Constitutional right, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and soon many like-minded courts around the country, are more or less intentionally making Christianity illegal. Repeat: Christianity is being made illegal. The teaching that homosexuality is a sin is embedded in Christianity. It is in the Pauline letters. There is no getting around it. I have heard the counter-arguments, and they don't cut any ice. The Christian teaching against homosexuality is organic, it was part and parcel of the attack on the pagan society of the Roman Empire and it is fundamental to the Christian conception of marriage and sexuality. So, again, if gay marriage is a Constitutional right, then anyone preaching the moral teaching of Christianity is committing a hate crime or otherwise attacking the exercise of a Constitutional right. I object to this as a Christian, obviously.
    While I don't think Christianity ever should have been an "attack on the pagan society of the Roman Empire," much less bound today by such past mistakes, addressing this again right now is way beyond the scope of this post.

    (However I've covered the topic in a lengthy series of essays.)

    But it just goes to show what a thought-provoking and enjoyable Carnival this is.

    Don't miss it! And you RINOs out there, you know who you are.

    Join in!

    posted by Eric at 09:44 AM | Comments (2)

    Racism and terrorism in Atlanta?

    Has the specter of racism reared its ugly head in Atlanta? According to advocates for the homeless, the city's proposal to place restrictions on panhandling is, well, white racism, and even terrorism:

    Clergy and advocates for the homeless railed against the proposal, calling it harsh, unconstitutional and uncharitable. Several cited the Bible, saying that begging is an ancient practice and that giving alms is a blessing.

    Murphy Davis, a Presbyterian minister who with her husband, Ed Loring, runs the Open Door Community, a homeless shelter on Ponce de Leon Avenue, said the city should provide less expensive housing instead of passing "one more law to hurt and harass the poor."

    Loring, who is white, was more blunt, labeling the proposal a "Negro removal" policy because many panhandlers are black. He likened the ordinance to efforts a half-century ago to raze homes in impoverished areas with mostly black residents.

    Although panhandling and begging are considered constitutionally protected speech, the proposed ordinance was written in a way that can be defended in court, the city Law Department says. That is in part because it is restricted to specific locations, unlike a citywide ban in New York that was thrown out by the courts.

    Last week, city lawyer Stacey Abrams described the ordinance, which the Law Department has been drafting since June 2003, as a "kinder, gentler" version of the city's existing panhandling law.

    But Joe Beasley, one of the critics at Monday's meeting, saw nothing kind or gentle about it.

    "This is a mean, cold, calculated move," said Beasley, the Southern regional director for Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH coalition. He raised the specter of terrorism, saying that if the city mistreats its poor, "at some point, they'll strap a belt around their waist and blow you up. We've got to become a more loving city."

    More terrorism in Atlanta? By homeless suicide bombers?

    Must be a pretty tough law to inspire such selfless acts of martyrdom and courage.

    Intrigued by this, I decided to research the matter further. While the text of the law says nothing about race, MSNBC links to the text of the proposed ordinance:

    (a) It shall be unlawful for any person to solicit funds or any item of monetary value within the parameters of downtown Atlanta [the latter is defined as being bordered by certain streets].

    (b) It shall be unlawful for any person to request a donation of money from another person while being within fifteen (15) feet of an automated teller machine, Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) station, bus depots, sports coliseums or Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

    It appears to be utterly silent on matters of race, and as it turns out, the author of the law, one H. Lamar Willis, is himself black. So are the mayor, chief of police, and the black city council members who all support it. Nonetheless, the law is being called racist -- and by white people:
    The Rev. Murphy Davis, a white woman who runs Open Door Community to assist the homeless, dismissed the argument that the panhandling ban cannot be racist because it is backed by black council members and the black mayor, Shirley Franklin, in a city of 425,000 that is more than 60 percent black.

    "The white business interests still run this city," Davis said.

    I'm not quite sure what the logic is here. Apparently, the argument is that because a majority of panhandlers are black, that the ordinance is racist. (Or that it is racist because white "business interests" support it.)

    But Atlanta is a majority black city! Which means that by simple math, any law passed there will necessarily tend to have more of an effect on black citizens than on white citizens. Laws against shoplifting, vandalism, or even running stop signs could, if enforced equally, be expected to have what is called a "disparate impact" on black people. The argument made against panhandling laws could thus be made against any law.

    While none of the activists seem to have raised it, is there may be a legitimate first amendment issue here? Is there a right to ask someone for money? Or does asking for money cross the line from speech to conduct? According to the First Amendment Center, the Seventh Circuit has upheld laws similar to Atlanta's:

    The panel also determined that the ordinance, because it did not completely ban all panhandling, should be analyzed as a time, place and manner restriction on speech.

    According to the panel, the ordinance was constitutional because it was narrowly tailored to serve a significant government purpose and because it left open alternative avenues of communication.

    The panel wrote that a beggar "may hold up signs requesting money or engage in street performances, such as playing music, with an implicit appeal for money." The appeals court panel also noted that the ordinance still allowed daytime panhandling as long as it was not "aggressive."

    According to the same web site, the United States Supreme Court turned down a challenge to a similar anti-panhandling law in Florida which prohibited
    'soliciting, begging or panhandling' on a five-mile strip of Fort Lauderdale's city beach.
    Legally, it would appear that Atlanta is on fairly safe ground.

    Is there a religious issue here? Back to the white ministers who

    ...cited the Bible, saying that begging is an ancient practice and that giving alms is a blessing.
    While giving alms is charity, that is supposed to be related to taking care of actual human needs. I haven't spent much time in Atlanta, but I well remember Berkeley's experience with a form of "homeless money" which citizens could buy and hand out as alms. This was an informal sort of scrip which local businesses would honor for food. The homeless, however, treated this scrip as a joke. They wanted money for booze, not food!
    Needless to say, this program was detested by Berkeley's homeless and street people, even those who did not spend whatever cash they came into on booze or drugs. The coupons often were sold on the street or simply tossed as soon as the presenter was out of sight.
    The streets became littered with the free food coupons, and the program died. (I wonder what happened to Gavin Newsom's similar idea.....)

    While I use the term myself because it's so readily understood, I've often thought that "homeless" is the wrong label to place on people whose lack of housing is a result of larger problems in their lives. I've taken in homeless people, and while I'm no expert on the subject, I've known some who just wanted to be left the hell alone to live in a tent. Others suffer from mental illness or drug problems which prevent them from working normal jobs and thus paying for a home. To call them "homeless" makes about as much sense as to call them "inappropriately groomed." The name "homeless" falsely implies that a home will fix the problem. Neither free homes, nor a brand new Giorgio Armani suit, nor direct distributions of cash, will cure alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness.

    But activists thrive on false labels.

    And poverty is violence!

    posted by Eric at 08:01 AM | Comments (1)

    Link free sausage (and other polite indigestibles)

    While Justin's remarks about James Wolcott being a "Vienna Sausage twiddler" struck me as just a wee bit on the disrespectful side (after all, mocking a man's dietary habits comes precariously close to resembling ad hominem), they were nonetheless highly amusing. And the more I thought it over, the more I realized that Wolcott is bringing this all on himself, because he isn't being polite.

    Far from it.

    And the irony here is mouth-wateringly rich. What prompted this latest strand of the various Wolcott "threads" was Glenn Reynolds' quote from Heinlein regarding a certain inescapable truth about polite society. (A concept I believe in despite my regular failings.) Wolcott, diving in headfirst, attacked the view that an armed society is a polite society with a barrage of petulant ad hominem attacks against Glenn Reynolds and Robert Heinlein.

    If I may paraphrase Heinlein and Reynolds, the argument advanced strikes me as along these lines: if civilized people have at hand deadly force to protect themselves, they will tend to show more respect for each other, and will be more polite. And even uncivilized people will think twice if they know the civilized are armed.

    This is a fact of life with which I couldn't agree more. Having deadly force at your disposal is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. I own a number of guns, and it is at least as humbling as it is empowering to know they are there. I think it makes me slower to anger and more careful, especially in situations which might provoke people to become violent. I don't want to start trouble with anyone, and one of the reasons is that I'm awed by the responsibility of knowing I can defend my life with fatal force. This is a form of self confidence which resembles the feeling one gets after extensive martial arts training. While I only reached the purple belt stage in my own training (and really should pick up where I left off), that was enough to experience firsthand the feeling that that sort of physical self confidence can bring. Self training leads to self discipline, which leads to respect for others (because you don't want to hurt them unless you have to), which in turn leads to self-respect. Admittedly, it might be argued that guns are a shortcut, but there is no question that unless you're an uncouth criminal asshole of some sort, owning guns brings a similar type of self respect -- and respect for others. It is humbling, and I really believe the politeness factor is greatly increased.

    So, I know from the lessons I have learned in my life that Robert Heinlein is right, and Glenn Reynolds is right. Whoever else has voiced that sentiment is also right.

    It would be one thing if James Wolcott offered some sort of thoughtful disagreement. Instead, he lurches into a raving personal assault:


    I stray into Instadunce as rarely as possible, wishing to spare myself the antic-less antics of a performing flea with only a couple of tricks in its repertoire. But today my wanderings took me there--I must have been following a link--and in one sentence Reynolds disclosed an impressive depth of ignorance worthy of a hick hack.

    That's polite?

    I think it's the height of rudeness.

    It is unworthy of polite society, even if its rudeness is clothed in a sort of rhetorically foppish Sunday best.

    By his own example, I think Wolcott only proves how wrong he is. Certainly, he's in no position to be holding court on the subject of politeness.

    I notice that Wolcott continues his stubborn habit of not providing links to what he references. But me, I'm so darned polite, I even placed a Vienna Sausage "link" right there up at the top.

    And I'll be even politer than that!

    After accusations like Justin's (coupled with the so utterly "linkless" Wolcott) I feel the least we could do here is help the man come up with his own brand of link-free sausages.


    Hopefully they're boneless (despite Justin's rather crude insinuation to the contrary).


    posted by Eric at 09:21 PM | Comments (5)

    An Ascot Wearing Man

    Cultural micro-icon and probable ascot wearer James Wolcott is trolling for hits again. I shall oblige the greased (just a dab, please) vienna-sausage twiddler by taking him half-way seriously. More, and I might choke on a small bone.

    Whatever one might say about Heinlein's talent and character, worldly he was not.

    No, of course not. Whatever one might say about Heinlein's talent and character, if he were worldly, he would agree with James Wolcott. Using a simpleton's definition of worldliness, Heinlein would surely qualify. But we must never confuse the quality of worldliness with merely being well traveled, must we?

    Still, he was well traveled.

    He had letters of introduction to prominent persons in many places, which meant he usually had a little help navigating viscous local bureaucracies. Newspapers occasionally took the trouble to interview him. This prominence helped. Sometimes.

    There was the unsuccessful struggle to convince the British consul in Denver, for instance, that you could travel anywhere in the Commonwealth on a visa issued by his office. There was the Australian requirement that tourists file income tax forms before they leave the country. There was the South African requirement that train reservations be made a month in advance, in person, and preferably in Afrikaans...

    The description of South America is a prose poem to Latin courtesy and civilization. (Because of Virginia Heinlein’s aversion to flying, they took a tidy passenger cargo ship from New Orleans and through the Panama Canal to Chile, and then went east across the southern cone by train). Heinlein even admired the Argentine dictator Juan Peron’s ability to speak at length with no semantic content. Heinlein declared Uruguay a welfare state that worked. He admired the free-market dynamism of Brazil...By the time the Heinleins left the continent, the book threatened to become tedious for lack of something to criticize.

    Fortunately, the next major stop was South Africa. Heinlein was suitably appalled by apartheid. He had the extra incentive that being a monoglot English-speaker already put him on the wrong side of a lot of minor officials...

    Indonesia was the only country where the Heinleins ever felt threatened, though nothing bad happened to them there. They visited Singapore before it became spic-and-span and high-tech, but liked it anyway for much the same reasons they had liked Brazil. On the passenger cargo ship to Australia...the Heinleins meet the sort of shady people who usually get introduced at the beginning of an adventure story...

    Heinlein liked what he saw of Australia, but scheduling problems made it impossible for them to see much outside Sydney. He devoted a great deal of space describing the unusual liquor laws...

    Apparently, the pit of misery, the region without hope, the most god-awful place in the whole southern hemisphere circa 1954, was New Zealand...This is the only piece of travel literature I can recall in which the writer truly, deeply hated a Post Office system...for once the Heinleins forbore to seek private hospitality.

    They did have a letter of introduction, to a former prime minister no less. Heinlein would not use it, however, because it would have been so difficult to stop himself from telling his host how much he hated his country and everything in it.

    Heinlein does record one good thing about the visit: a nice young woman at a zoo showed him and Virginia a kiwi. This was just before the Heinleins left for the airport. Virginia had dropped her objection to air travel in order to leave the country with the greatest expedition.

    So we can see that mere mileage is not enough. One simply must have a properly cultivated comprehension of the facts one is presented with. As the article at The Heinlein Society continues...

    His apocalyptic understanding of the Cold War has become sufficiently alien half-a-century later that it takes a certain anthropological sympathy to grasp it.

    Well, there you have it. Wolcott lacks anthropological sympathy. How could he possibly sympathize with the following sentiments?

    I came back to the U.S. convinced that it was an even better country than I had thought it was...But I came back, too, convinced that our peril was very great and our friends very few. The extent and the viciousness of the propaganda campaign against us must be heard to be believed...

    Travel all you want. If you return home with certain firmly held opinions, it will all have been in vain.

    Envy and hate are the inevitable concomitants of wealth and power; we have been uneasily aware of this and have tried to curry favor wherever we could. But it is not possible; we are hated not for our behavior but for what we are -- and they are not...

    You can take the boy out of Kansas City, but you'll never take Kansas City out of the boy. And perish the thought that you might evince something so terminally uncool as uncritical patriotism. Take it from a certain influential contributing editor at Vanity Fair, the folowing quote can't hold a patch to Ray Bradbury...

    England, in the days of her strength, paid no attention to what other peoples thought of her; she acted in her own best interests as she conceived them to be and ignored world opinion. We should learn from our predecessor at least part of this lesson: never let a decision be swayed by what the neighbors will think, for they will gossip about us whatever we do. Let us be honest and brave - but not politic.

    It just occurred to me that there is such a thing as The Heinlein Society, seventeen years after his death. Does anyone suppose that there will ever be a Wolcott Society?

    Yeah. Me, neither.

    But if a certain influential contributing editor at Vanity Fair should ever want for Heinlein info, he could do worse than to seek out the critical pages of Alexei Panshin. Now, I love Panshin's Anthony Villiers novels (Torve the Trog, visible here on the lower right, totally rocks) but his H-crit has more than a whiff of sixties idealism gnawing its own entrails. It verges on Rob Reiner as The Meathead...

    So where had things gone awry between us? Where had the line been drawn?
    From Heinlein's side, it had to be the issue of Communism.

    I'd asked Heinlein what could justify bomb tests. And he'd replied, "The threat of Communist aggression."

    To Heinlein at that hour, this was a sufficient answer to just about any question I might pose. It was where his line was drawn...

    I, on the other hand, was no more convinced of the reality of the Red Menace than the rest of my generation. That was a fixation of our elders.

    Our attitudes would be expressed by the movies Dr. Strangelove and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming a few years later. We thought that through some horrible miscalculation of brinksmanship, the Bomb might go off, but we never expected to see the Red Army march into town.

    Not only did it seem that Heinlein had his tail in a knot over something that wasn't going to happen -- and which, in fact, never did happen in the space-time continuum where he and I lived -- but it also appeared to me that by opposing Communism so singlemindedly and self-righteously, Heinlein had discarded all his previous knowledge and perceptiveness and turned his back on the broader frame of reference he'd introduced me to in order to revert to a simpler state in which the only thing that mattered was who was to be top dog.

    Top dog? That's all he could see? Time out for a historical anecdote. My family on my father's side can trace its roots back to the Ukraine and beyond. For my grandfather's generation, the Red Army actually did march into town, no kidding, and they were in no mood for backchat. End result? Nothing pleasant. I'm told the town is no longer on the map. My grandfather and his parents had already left for America. The folks who chose to stay on (it was their home, after all) ended up dispossessed, or dead, or shipped off to the gulags. A relative handful fled to Germany to start new lives. They had been left with nothing. Top dog posturing? What a fool.

    Wolcott ought to love it.

    In the spring of 1960, Robert and Virginia Heinlein made a trip to Russia to look the Communist beast in the eye for themselves. On May Day, one of those major Soviet holidays where tanks and missiles used to pass in review before Communist leaders standing on the tomb of Lenin in Red Square, the Heinleins were in Moscow for the parade.

    How very worldly of them. In the simple, uncritical interpretation of the word.

    That day, a U.S. spy plane was shot down 1500 miles inside Russian territory. When the plane went missing and it wasn't yet clear what had happened to it, the U.S. government issued a statement to the world. We said forthrightly that a weather plane had gone astray.

    Good heavens. We lied.

    When the Russians officially announced the incident on May 5, the Heinleins were in Alma Ata in Kazakhstan. They were told to report to Intourist, the Russian agency in charge of their travels. There they were forced to sit in the office of the local Director of Intourist and put up with a long, stern, fatherly lecture on the bad behavior of the United States, culminating with this latest outrage.

    Now, there could be more than one possible way of handling an embarrassing experience like that.

    If, for example, you identified yourself with the United States of America and felt responsible for what it did in the world, then you might honestly hang your head in shame over what had just taken place. And if you didn't, then you might shake your head instead and marvel at the foolishness of the idiots presently in power in Washington. You might pass the time wondering how the equivalent scene involving a stray Russian in Dallas might play out if a Soviet spy plane had just been shot down over Kansas City on the Fourth of July. Or you might sit there in silence waiting for the lecture to finally be over so that you could get on with life.

    Options one and two strike me as repugnant. I would probably opt for that last choice, always keeping in mind the ancient family wisdom that Commissars can kill you.

    Heinlein did none of these things. Instead, he went ballistic.

    As long as the lecture seemed one more canned lecture, he was able to tolerate it. But when he heard of the U-2 that had just been shot down, Heinlein felt on the spot. He'd known about the U-2 spy plane from his friends in the military, and he'd been aware that reconnaissance flights had been going on over the Soviet Union for four years. And now we'd been caught -- although he didn't believe the Russians when they boasted they'd shot the plane down.

    But he'd be damned if he was going to apologize for it. As he would declare a few weeks later, "If there is going to be any groveling done it won't be by me."

    Instead, he counterattacked. He threw a fit. He deliberately turned red. A vein stood out on his forehead, and he began to shout.

    As he would say: "It is much better to pretend to lose your temper before things have grown so unbearable that you actually do blow your top; it saves wear and tear on your ulcers and enables you to conduct your tactics more efficiently."

    Heinlein out-shouted the Intourist Director with a list of American grievances against the Soviet Union. Mrs. Heinlein backed him up by pointing out the location of Soviet slave labor camps on a map hanging in the office...

    When Heinlein reached the West again, he would feel as though he had escaped from the Soviet Union. While he was still in Finland, and then again several weeks later in Sweden, he would write articles about his experience justifying how he'd behaved.

    How terribly unworldly of him. What a bad, bad man.

    Say, is Switzerland a polite society? I'm just asking.

    posted by Justin at 01:03 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

    Rube awakening

    Here's James Wolcott, detector of "rubes":

    Now I enjoyed reading Heinlein when I was, like, thirteen, but he's something you outgrow once you acquire a dab of literary and intellectual sophistication. Even the teen me was more enamoured of Ray Bradbury, whose sci-fi cast a much more poetic mood of discovery and desolation than Heinlein's adventures. (I still think The Martian Chronicles is a wonder.) Whatever one might say about Heinlein's talent and character, worldly he was not.

    Reynolds has far less excuse for being such a rube, considering the global advances in tourism and communications.

    Well, at least Rube Reynolds and Rube Heinlein didn't root for Hurricanes.

    Or tell Americans to go choke on their own vomit.

    MORE (06/27/05): As I posted this when I was on my way out the door yesterday morning, I didn't link as thoroughly as I normally do, and I forgot to credit Glenn Reynolds for pointing me to the rube detector, James Wolcott!

    Why would Glenn do such a thing as link a man who would never link him? Might he be less afraid of Wolcott's arguments than Wolcott is of his?

    I don't know, but while I'm linking, I absolutely insist that anyone who got down this far go and read this very careful examination of Wolcott's claim that Heinlein is a rube:

    The very social and political situation that Heinlein argues for in 1938 would not be unwelcome by today’s Gay Activists. Nor, in fact, by many social libertarians.

    I could go on and on, but what Wolcott’s statement really shows is that he, himself, is the rube. A bumpkin trapped by his own parochial social situation. It is he who should get out and see the world. Wolcott denounces Heinlein as a rube because a quote from Heinlein clashes with Wolcott’s thoughts on gun ownership. Anyone who disagrees in anyway with Wolcott is denigrated as a dullard. Such is the desire for open and honest debate by Vanity Fair’s intellectual elite…little different than the debates on the third grade playground where arguments are won by who can yell “you’re stooopid” the loudest.

    Justin of course has more -- which you've probably read already -- except those of you who might arrive at this post as an isolated link at some vague time in the future.

    Anyway, I'm glad to see that others took the time to show how richly Wolcott deserved the title of this post.

    AND MORE ME TOO ME TOO! Fit-to-eat Wolcott links here! And I want it remembered that I'm a proud wearer of one of those shirts (something this guy hates. "...not something to be taken lightly even with the intention of humor." Would the doctor have me take mine darkly?)

    MORE: For some fascinating perspective, don't miss Dean Esmay's comparison of Heinlein and Ayn Rand. (I have a feeling that despite their differences, Rand and Heinlein would share a similar view of Wolcott's philosophy, if that's the right expression.)

    posted by Eric at 11:28 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

    Is a picture worth a few words?

    I'll be gone most of the day today, but I wanted to touch upon something I largely ignored in blogging about the puzzling tragedy of the death by asphyxiation of three little boys in Camden.

    That's this picture of David Agosto, the father of one of the boys, shown just after opening the trunk:


    When I wrote about the incident, I didn't think the photo was all that significant to the story. That's just the way I am. I get all stirred up about the facts, and when I can't find out what the facts are, I tend to get frustrated.


    It's a little like getting stuck in a huge traffic jam that stretches on for miles. If I can turn on the radio and find out what happened and how far down the road the jam-up is, that makes the wait more bearable. If I can't find out, I suffer more until I do find out.

    Likewise, when I read about something like three boys dying in a car, I want to know the details. Showing me a picture of the grieving father, well, that does highlight the tragic nature of what happened, but it just isn't helpful information.

    But to others, the picture is the whole story, or at least the most important part of the story. Here's the Philadelphia Inquirer's Managing Editor, Anne Gordon:

    The Inquirer, on an inside page, displayed the CN8 images of Agosto opening the trunk, and his reaction. A photograph of Agosto being consoled by a friend [that's the photo above] ran on the front page.

    Managing editor Anne Gordon said the images captured a moment of pure emotion. "These photos were not an invasion of privacy because the pain, the hope for recovery, and, later, the sense of loss was shared by many, many more people who had come to care for these young lives as this story unfolded," Gordon said. "The photo we ran on 1A was also a powerful photo, but it was chosen for the front page because it showed something more than the pain of the loss. It showed the loving support of the community. That was, in the end, the greater part of this story."

    A sentiment I can't quarrel with, because obviously, for some people, the picture is the greater part of the story. I agree that it's part of the news (and of course "a picture is worth a thousand words"), but it doesn't satisfy my need to know what happened.

    Call me heartless if you will, but I'd rather be given an accurate figure of how many people were killed -- and by a newspaper with some idea of what the word "kill" means -- than a picture of a victim or a grief-stricken relative.

    Death and grieving are familiar enough to me that when someone dies (especially suddenly) I already know that next of kin will grieve and be in shock. The horror of a father discovering his son's body is normal, and to be expected. The image above is not unlike the many images I've seen of grieving parents in wars or terrorist bombings.

    Had the man's son been shot to death in crossfire between two drug dealers, stung to death by bees, or mauled to death by someone's pet lion, I'd also expect to see a look of profound, agonized grief.

    The news is what happened, when it happened, and where and how it happened, not the entirely predictable feelings of the people immediately affected.

    Whether it's death by car trunk, death by fire, death by firearms, or death by "pit bull," only an abnormal parent would fail to be upset. (A picture of an emotionless, expressionless parent would be more newsworthy, IMO.) The rest of us (the ones who aren't the immediate victims) are upset, but not in the same way. While there's always the "rubbernecking" phenomenon, we are usually more interested in finding out what happened so we can avoid having that happen to us, or prevent it from happening to others -- something I hasten to add is not always possible in ways consistent with upholding freedom, because the latter comes with inherent risks.

    People's emotional nature often demands justice in cases like this, There are victims, and there must be villains to be punished, laws to be passed. It's natural enough to feel this way, but it isn't always rational. What interested me about the fatal Toyota trunk story is that the usual villains are completely absent. There's no "evil breed" of dog to be blamed. No gun. No evil landlord whose negligence caused the building to collapse. So I jokingly offered the evil Toyota Corporation as the scapegoat. Fortunately, most people are not quite so stupid as to blame Toyota (at least I hope they're not), so it works as satire, and makes my point, which is that feelings, while they have to be acknowledged, should not get in the way of rational analysis. Or fairness.

    If an image of a grief-stricken parent causes people to become irrational and emotional, if it causes them to advocate things they rationally would not advocate (such as banning guns, pit bulls, or Toyotas), then that picture is more inflammatory more than it is illuminating. It's still news, but putting it in context becomes all the more appropriate.

    Considering that it's equally as ridiculous to blame Toyotas as it is to blame guns or pit bulls, I think it's fair to share the picture of the grieving father above, as a reminder that there are as many dangerous things that can cause death as there are illusory villains and scapegoats to blame.

    posted by Eric at 07:32 AM | Comments (1)

    Scouting out Allstate

    Thanks to an annoying mailing list I somehow managed to get on, I just learned about an interesting case alleged to involve First Amendment violations and religious persecution by Allstate Insurance. (A guy named J. Matt Barber published an article which mentioned his employment with Allstate, and slammed the evil homos):

    Barber says the human resources assistant vice president told him the column didn't reflect Allstate's view and that he was suspended with pay. Barber was immediately ushered off company grounds – "which was humiliating," the former employee said.

    "I explained to Allstate that the article was a reflection of my personal Christian beliefs, and that I had every right to both write it and to have it published," Barber told WND. "I further explained that I had written the article while at home on my own time, that I never mentioned Allstate's name and that I neither directly nor indirectly suggested that Allstate shared my Christian beliefs or my views on same-sex marriage."

    Three days later, on Feb. 3, Barber, who had worked for Allstate for five years, says he got a call informing him he was fired "for writing the article," he said. Now, with the help of the Christian Law Association and David Gibbs III, who represented Terri Schiavo's family in the final weeks of her life, Barber is challenging Allstate in federal court.

    According to an investigation by the state of Illinois' Department of Employment Security related to Barber's claim for unemployment benefits, an organization – likely a "gay"-rights group – complained to Allstate about the column. But how did the group connect Barber to the insurance company? It turns out one site that posted the column, MensNewsDaily.com, added to the bio line on the article the fact that Barber worked for Allstate.

    Barber says he did not include that fact in the original column submission but that the site "disclosed that without my knowledge or consent." According to Barber, he is somewhat well-known in the boxing field in Chicago, and Allstate would sometimes tout the fact that he worked for the company.

    I'm intrigued by the whole thing, especially because back in December Mr. Barber himself seemed to have gone out of his way to send me the article in question, and I couldn't resist a quick reply:
    Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 20:21:08 -0800 (PST)
    From: "Eric Scheie"

    Subject: Re:
    To: "J. Matt Barber"

    Dear Mr. Barber,

    Interesting piece, and I have a couple of thoughts:

    1. Whether or not a person is "born that way"
    (homosexual) or any other way is irrelevant to
    considerations of personal freedom or privacy.

    2. I think you're misusing the word "sodomy." More


    You make a good point about bigotry. I for one don't
    think opposing same sex marriage is bigotry, although
    I think advocating the imprisonment of adult human
    beings for private consensual conduct is.

    Perhaps you can shed some light on a question which
    has long perplexed me: why would anyone would concern
    himself about what others do with their genitalia
    (barring mutual interest of something like that) any
    more than he'd concern himself with their consumption
    of tobacco, drugs, alcohol, or fatty foods?

    I'll worry about myself, but I think life is too short
    to be worried about what other people do unless they
    come to me for advice.


    Eric Scheie

    I never heard back from Mr. Barber, who obviously has bigger fish to fry, and while this whole thing is probably a waste of time, a few points seem worth discussing.

    There is just as much right to hold antigay views as there is to hold racist views or anti-Semitic views. Whether one bases one's claims on the Bible is irrelevant. If the Boy Scouts have the right to refuse to accept homosexual members, then wouldn't a gay group have just as much right to refuse anti-homosexual members? Does a Jew hater who thinks Hitler was right have a right to work for a Jew? If he claimed justification for his views under the Koran, why would that make any difference?

    This man has a right to say anything he wants, but I fail to see how the First Amendment (which forbids the government from stopping him) creates any particular duty for Allstate, any more than it would require me to allow comments I disagreed with on this blog. Whether it is wise of Allstate to invite scrutiny from Mr. Barber's supporters (who may well decide to boycott Allstate for disagreeing with him), well, that's a business decision for Allstate. I suppose they could fire all Democrats if they wanted.

    The thornier issue is of course whether this constitutes religious discrimination. If it could be shown that Barber was terminated for the status of being a Christian, then it would. But as I've said before, religion does not confer any special protection to opinions or actions just because they are said to be grounded in religion. An opinion said to result from religious conviction is no more protected than the same opinion uttered in the absence of religious conviction. I don't see how Allstate can be said to have "violated" this man's religion, as it's not as if they made him work on Sundays, or eat pork. That other people in the company are doing things that violate what he considers God's commands in no way forces him to do anything, or prevents him from doing anything.

    But here's how Barber's lawyer, David Gibbs III (who WND says "represented Terri Schiavo's family in the final weeks of her life"), sees things:

    "To have Fortune 100 companies like Allstate firing people for expressing their sincerely held religious beliefs and even their personal viewpoints on their own time demonstrates just how out of kilter things have gotten," Gibbs told WND.

    "Allstate aggressively pushes and promotes the homosexual agenda in the name of tolerance, but the minute someone speaks up with what would be considered the traditional moral-values viewpoint, the tolerance disappears and it results in a termination."

    Gibbs rhetorically asked if Allstate would take the same action against someone who put forth a pro-homosexual viewpoint.

    "The answer is absolutely not," he said. "The tolerance is only running one way."

    Such discriminatory action violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Gibbs contends.

    Said Gibbs: "The law was intended to make sure people of faith didn't have to leave their religion or viewpoints at the workplace stairs."

    Gibbs compared the situation to that of racial discrimination.

    "Just like Allstate can't go in and say, 'We've discovered your ethnicity and we're going to fire you,' I don't believe Allstate should be able to go in and say, 'We've discovered your anti-homosexuality viewpoint and we're going to fire you.'"

    The complaint claims Barber was "terminated from his employment and discriminated against by Defendants, with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because he expressed during non-work hours his sincerely held religious beliefs."

    It's hard to take seriously the analogy to racial discrimination, but again, I'd return to the Boy Scout analogy, which is legally settled, and fair under the circumstances. Change Allstate to "Boy Scouts, and here's his argument:
    "I don't believe the Boy Scouts should be able to go in and say, 'We've discovered your pro-homosexuality viewpoint and we're going to fire you.'"
    Is that what Mr. Gibbs thinks? To be fair, the rule has to work both ways.

    But I'm not sure fairness is the goal here.

    More likely, it's publicity.

    I guess I haven't solved the question of what the rule should be. If an employer has no right to fire on the grounds of homosexuality, should the same employer have the right to fire on the grounds of opposition to homosexuality? I think it depends on whether the employee was fired for a state of mind or for stating what was in his mind. It is one thing to be gay, and another to express the opinion that heterosexuals would be better off gay. The same rule should apply to Christians, Muslims, heterosexuals, and I don't think the First Amendment offers much assistance. Nor does hiding behind it.

    I'm not sure what the rule should be, but to return to the "sodomy" issue, I think that if an employer disagreed with my biblical assessment and fired me for discussing it, I should have just as much right to fire employees who disagreed with me.

    As a Pagan Christian/Christian Pagan, I see religious freedom (and religious discrimination) as a two edged sword.

    posted by Eric at 10:47 AM | Comments (13)

    Toyotas kill children! Something must be done!

    Three missing boys who prompted a massive, two day manhunt (which included checking sexual offender registries) have been found -- in the trunk of a car right where they'd last been seen playing:

    ....it ended abruptly around 7 p.m., when David Agosto opened the door of a maroon Toyota Camry parked inside Cruz's yard and popped the trunk as TV cameras recorded the event.

    He looked inside and recoiled in horror, hopping away, crying, hitting a wall, jumping, sitting on the ground. He was later taken away by ambulance, moaning.

    It was not immediately clear what prompted Agosto to open the trunk of the Camry, and Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi offered no explanation when asked.

    "We have not determined if it is foul play or just a tragic accident," Sarubbi said.

    Investigators, who did not note any sign of trauma on the boys' bodies, were awaiting the results of autopsies to determine how they died. The autopsies were being conducted through the night, and results were expected sometime today.

    Camden Police Chief Edwin Figueroa said last night that the car had been searched during the hunt for the boys but that he did not know if the trunk had been opened.

    Sarubbi asked residents who had been keeping vigil at the Cruz home to stay away to let investigators work.

    "Right now, that's a crime scene, and we're treating that as a crime scene, despite the fact that it happened in such close proximity to one of the residences of one of these boys," he said.

    Apparently, police searched the car and numerous houses in the area, but it just never occurred to them to search the trunk

    Many questioned whether the search was thorough and why the trunk had not been opened.

    "It's really a shame. That should never happen," said John DiPompo, 59, of North 33d Street, a block from where the bodies were discovered. "It makes me mad. The neighbors are all up in arms that they didn't search the car first."

    DiPompo said two detectives combed through his home, including the cellar and the basement, as well as garages and bushes in the neighborhood, even a doghouse.

    Figueroa said police started searching the area Thursday morning and checked the car.

    "We're also going to look at our logs, find out exactly what officers were in that area," he said.

    He said that the car was an older model, not equipped with a release button that the boys could have used to free themselves once inside the trunk.

    David Rivera, who has lived across the street for 20 years, said the Cruz family had moved in within the last month.

    "The kids used to come out and play," he said. "The oldest used to chase butterflies. The middle one used to watch out for him."

    Ingrid Hartman, a neighbor, said she saw children playing around the car Thursday.

    "I saw kids opening the front door," she said. "I just thought they were kids being kids."

    Imagine that! The neighbor saw them playing with the very car they were found in. You know, were I allowed to play Sherlock Holmes, that car might have been a very logical place to start the search. And the search might very well have included opening the trunk.

    But never mind that! We are now told the car was at fault -- for being "an older model, not equipped with a release button that the boys could have used to free themselves once inside the trunk."

    Good work men!

    The only thing to do now is to draft appropriate legislation making it a crime to have older cars with trunks that can't be opened! Children might manage to get inside and lock themselves in. Certainly it isn't the fault of police for not looking. (And we can't expect parents to search their own cars, can we?)

    I have no idea why, but the New York Times is a bit harder on Chief Figueroa:

    It was also not clear why the 150 police officers who had been searching rivers, drainpipes and tick-infested woods for the last two days had not searched the trunk of a car parked in the yard of the home where the boys disappeared.

    "We're still looking into that," said Camden's police chief, Edwin J. Figueroa.

    Police officials were also unable to explain why none of the bloodhounds used in the search did not pick up the scent of the children near the car, a maroon Toyota Camry.


    Bloodhounds? Sexual offender registries? The cops did absolutely everything they possibly could, didn't they?

    While I think the bloodhounds (who have some brains and should know better) can be faulted for not finding the boys, the evil Toyota Corporation is the primary culprit! Toyota built that unsafe car trunk! Toyota failed to send out notices to every owner that even in the event of a massive search, it might not occur to police to open the unsafe car trunks to find children last seen playing with the car.

    The buck has to stop somewhere.

    MORE: It's theoretically possible that I was too hard on the cops involved, and I note that an autopsy is being performed, but the results aren't in. It might yet turn out that the boys were murdered and then placed in the trunk after the police searched it. (It would renew my faith a little.)

    AND MORE: According to a more recent story, police are more and more sure they did search the trunk:

    The parents of the three Camden boys and investigators are now haunted by the same impossible question: were they there the whole time?

    "Right now, we know the car was searched. We did begin the search Thursday morning in that area along with a canine, a bloodhound," said Camden Police Chief Edwin J. Figueroa.

    "We're also going to look at our logs to find out what officers were in the area, to make a final determination of what areas of that vehicle were searched."

    they focused on the possibility that the boys were murdered and placed in the trunk afterward. "It is weird. I think it had to have been someone else," said Sarah Rivera, a family friend who joined more than a dozen devastated family members outside of Camden Police Headquarters last night.

    There was no evidence to suggest that the boys were slain, Figueroa said.

    Camden County Prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi added that a medical examiner would probably work all night on the boys' autopsies, to determine a cause of death.

    I'm thinking they already know, but are keeping mum. (Might be either to avoid spooking the murderer, or to buy time for "damage control.")

    UPDATE (12:22 p.m.): CASE CLOSED!

    Autopsy: Boys died from accidental suffocation

    POSTED: Saturday, June 25, 2005 11:54:50 AM
    UPDATED: Saturday, June 25, 2005 12:01:15 PM

    CAMDEN, New Jersey -- Autopsy results show three boys whose bodies were found in the trunk of a car following a massive, two-day search died from accidental suffocation.

    Authorities in Camden, New Jersey, say foul play is not suspected.

    The bodies were discovered by the father of one of the boys, who opened the car’s trunk last night after searchers had spent hours scouring the neighborhood. There, he found the bodies of his six-year-old son and his son’s five- and eleven-year-old playmates.

    The boys had vanished without a trace Wednesday night while playing in the same yard where their bodies were found.

    Toyota better get ready for the inevitable lawsuits.

    AND EXCUSE ME for asking, but why is this Philadelphia-area news coming out of Cleveland?

    MORE: The Philadelphia Inquirer now has a writeup on the autopsy. (Don't know why the Cleveland story was the first to make it onto Google.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I hope readers will remember that my mind was on pit bulls as I focused on the stupidity above. In these cases, feelings trump logic, and even facts. (Related thoughts here.)

    AND EVEN MORE (06/25/05, 10:15 p.m.): This is going to sound even stranger, but I just heard a reporter on Philadelphia's KYW News Radio (1060 AM) state that the mystery is deepening, as apparently the police now insist that they did search the trunk, and it was empty.

    I thought this over, and my initial reaction was that the police were lying in a bad attempt to cover up their negligence. But that really doesn't make sense, because unless they're absolute idiots, cops are well aware of the problems posed by bad coverups. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made. Surely no one could have killed the kids and put them in there, with the autopsy showing no foul play....

    Then suddenly, it occurred to me that there is a reasonable explanation consistent with the police story.

    The kids were playing hide and seek somewhere else (they'd most likely been doing something they shouldn't have), then once they started back and saw what a fuss the grownups were making with the cops, they realized they'd be in huge trouble, so they took their first opportunity to hide, without thinking it through. This would explain how they could have hidden inside the trunk, but after it had already been searched.

    If you think about it, guilt would supply a kid with a motive to do something exactly like that. Simply going into a trunk doesn't make much sense, especially for an 11-year-old, unless there's a reason. Hiding in the trunk is stupid and childish, but hell, these were kids.

    If the cops are telling the truth, that's my theory.

    (Toyota's liability is unchanged.)

    MORE: And now it's back to an admission they didn't search the trunk, along with the announcement of a bureaucratic investigation:

    Police officials began an investigation into why none of the 150 officers assigned to the search checked the trunk of the car, a battered Toyota Camry parked just feet from where the boys were last seen Wednesday evening.

    Chief Edwin Figueroa of the Camden Police Department said that officers did search the car on the night the boys were reported missing but added that he did not know why the trunk had been overlooked.

    "I can't guess what went on in the individual minds of the police officers out there," Figueroa said.

    150 officers? And not one of them searched the trunk?

    The family would have done better to hire a private detective!

    MORE: A forensic expert from New York confirms that the boys only had around three hours of air. Considering that the disappearance was at 5:00 p.m., and parents didn't call the police until after 8:00 p.m., any negligence by police may have been moot. Notwithstanding my amazement that it never occurred to a single one of the 150 officers to pop the trunk, I'm inclined to agree with commenter Persnickety below that if anyone is primarily to blame, it's the parents.

    In lawyer language, of course, it'll be Toyota.

    LAST (AND I HOPE LAST) UPDATE (07/01/05): An attorney for the family of one of the boys is looking into liability issues:

    Authorities said that the deaths were accidental, and that the children apparently had climbed into the trunk while playing.

    A medical examiner has not ruled on when the boys died, but a forensic pathologist has said they likely perished before police were called.

    Peter M. Villari, a Conshohocken attorney for Anibal's mother, Elba Cruz, said it was possible that no one was to blame for the deaths. Still, he said, he is investigating whether authorities or Toyota might bear some responsibility.

    Even if there are grounds for a lawsuit, Villari said, that does not mean Elba Cruz will want to file one.

    I hate to sound cynical, but once the grieving ends, such decisions are usually influenced by money.

    posted by Eric at 07:27 AM | Comments (7)

    Love a dog, go to jail!

    I don't know why stories like this always seem to hit the press on Fridays, but the forces of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom have struck again. Working through State Senator Jackie Speier (who, BTW, has been trying to ban gun shows for years) he's trying to get state law changed to allow San Francisco to enact breed-specific legislation against pit bulls:

    This week, state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, introduced a bill that would change state law to allow local governments to enact animal-control laws directed at specific breeds. Speier's bill doesn't mention pit bulls explicitly, but given the recent attacks in the Bay Area involving the breed, most people see it as aimed at the squat, square-faced animals.

    ``Clearly, there has to be a response,'' said Richard Steffen, Speier's staff director. ``There has been a rash of attacks lately.''

    Under the proposed SB 861, a city could decide whether it wanted to force pit bulls to wear muzzles or be neutered, or ensure that Rottweiler owners carry liability insurance. A hearing on the bill has been set before the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

    Historically, courts around the country have struck down breed-specific animal-control laws, saying they violate due-process and equal-protection guarantees for dog owners. But supporters are heartened by a court decision in Colorado last month that upheld breed-specific legislation.

    So far, Speier's bill has been met with cautious enthusiasm by several Bay Area city leaders and some skepticism from those who believe that legislation is ineffective. The real solution, they say, is encouraging dog owners to voluntarily take steps to curb their pets' behavior.

    The biggest support for Speier's proposal comes from San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom asked the senator to craft legislation to make the streets safer from aggressive dogs, and Concord, where in March an 11-year-old boy was seriously injured by a pit bull. On Thursday, San Jose Councilwoman Linda LeZotte said she will ask the full council to support Speier's legislation.

    (More here.)

    Meanwhile, the incredibly stupid woman I discussed twice has been indicted for felony child abuse. Predictably, people are seeing her as innocent, and the dogs as evil creatures which must be banned:

    Faibish, 39, was arrested Thursday at San Francisco police headquarters and remained in custody in lieu of $75,000 bail. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. This would be longer than the usual two- to six-year sentence on these charges because the endangerment resulted in death, Harris said. The district attorney said she ruled out a manslaughter charge.

    Calling it ``a tragic case,'' Harris said in a statement that there ``is clear evidence that the defendant knew her child faced serious danger when she left the home.''

    The Faibish family could not be reached for comment Thursday.

    Raisa Akinshin, a neighbor who called 911 after seeing Nicholas' bloody body through her window the afternoon of the attack, said she was outraged by Harris' decision.

    ``She's a good mother. We all were naive. I used to play with the dogs,'' Akinshin said. ``It's the dogs' fault, not the mother's fault.''

    Akinshin said she believes the intense media coverage of the tragedy was ``enough to send a message'' about the dangers of pit bulls and a trial is not necessary, especially because Maureen Faibish still mourns deeply.

    Unbelievable. Again, it's tough to know where to begin.

    This moronic woman (who says it was her son's "time" to die) was simply incompetent to own dogs, much less kids. To blame the dogs (when she knew she had a bad dog which had earlier bitten her son) makes about as much sense as it would to blame her car if she got drunk and plowed into someone. Once a dog -- or any animal -- has shown itself to be dangerous as hers had, there's a duty as a parent to do something about it. Had this woman owned a rattlesnake, and had she not been able to keep her son away from it, would we blame the snake?

    What makes even less sense than blaming a dog for a bad owner who let it get out of hand is to blame other dogs which had absolutely nothing to do with it. Blaming dog B for the action of Dog A is about as logical as blaming person B for the action of person A.

    Yet this is exactly what they are doing. A bunch of emotionally driven politicians and bureaucrats would make me into a criminal for owning my dear departed dog Puff, and my puppy Coco. All because someone else couldn't manage her dog.

    They've also trotted out a seven-year-old CDC study claiming that "pit bulls" (a term impossible to define) are the number one dog problem, even though a more recent study contradicted the CDC and said that Rottweillers surpassed them. Never mind that the odds of being struck by lightning are five times greater than being killed by all dog breeds combined.

    Why couldn't the founders have given us the right to own dogs?

    I'm sorry but I'm very emotional about this, having recently lost Puff. I've tried to avoid making any hyperbolic comparisons, but I will say this: Breed specific legislation is evil, as all dogs are members of the same species -- Canis familiaris -- and the human counterpart of such legislation would never be countenanced by the people who are proposing to go after innocent dogs which have never harmed anyone, and the responsible pet owners who love them.


    MORE: Here's Gavin Newsom, pontificating pompously about how he'd like to reach out and regulate my dogs:

    I, for one, have had enough. I think it's time we get serious about pit bulls in this city, we get serious about pit bulls in this state, get serious about pit bulls across the United States of America.
    Who the hell does he think he is?

    Get serious?

    He's picking on my dogs.

    Some things are more serious than differences of opinion.

    posted by Eric at 04:50 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBacks (1)

    Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy?

    I probably shouldn't obsess so much over ancient burglaries, but now that it's one week past the Thirty Third Watergate anniversary, I didn't want to forget this tempting tidbit from Bob Woodward:

    In 1970, when I was serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and assigned to Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, the chief of naval operations, I sometimes acted as a courier, taking documents to the White House.

    One evening I was dispatched with a package to the lower level of the West Wing of the White House, where there was a little waiting area near the Situation Room. It could be a long wait for the right person to come out and sign for the material, sometimes an hour or more, and after I had been waiting for a while a tall man with perfectly combed gray hair came in and sat down near me. His suit was dark, his shirt white and his necktie subdued. He was probably 25 to 30 years older than I and was carrying what looked like a file case or briefcase. He was very distinguished-looking and had a studied air of confidence, the posture and calm of someone used to giving orders and having them obeyed instantly.

    I could tell he was watching the situation very carefully. There was nothing overbearing in his attentiveness, but his eyes were darting about in a kind of gentlemanly surveillance. After several minutes, I introduced myself. "Lieutenant Bob Woodward," I said, carefully appending a deferential "sir."

    "Mark Felt," he said.

    I began telling him about myself, that this was my last year in the Navy and I was bringing documents from Adm. Moorer's office. Felt was in no hurry to explain anything about himself or why he was there.

    I'll just bet he wasn't!

    As it turns out, Felt placed improperly authorized wiretaps on Moorer's aide Radford.

    Moorer spied on Nixon, and Radford was spied on by Felt, who (it is now claimed) in turn became Woodward's leaker in chief. (His senior handler, perhaps?)

    Journalism gets spookier all the time!


    (I apologize for the missing third spy.)

    For those who really enjoy halls-of-mirrors games, don't miss David Corn's and Jeff Goldberg's analysis (from a left-wing perspective). The authors demonstrate that Felt faced the additional challenge of being the chief spy assigned to spy on and identify . . . himself! (Yes; Felt was charged with finding Deep Throat!)

    This story of spooky heroism is as old as the geezers involved, but the ironies remain rich.

    (Old spooks never die; they just get spookier.)

    posted by Eric at 10:00 AM | Comments (2)

    The victory of the quagmire?

    Via Jeff Goldstein, I see that Ted Kennedy is in high dudgeon over, over...

    Well, over a quagmire:

    "I'm talking about misjudgments, gross errors and mistakes. Those are on your watch. Isn't it time for you to resign?" Kennedy asked. "Our troops deserve better, the American people deserve better. They deserve competency and they deserve facts. In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out. What is it for the secretary of defense?"

    Rumsfeld replied: "I've offered my resignation to the president twice and he's decided that he would prefer that he not accept it. That is his call."

    Kennedy also got the attention of the panel when he called the situation in Iraq a "seemingly intractable quagmire ... with no end in sight."

    "Well, that is quite a statement," Rumsfeld responded. "First, let me say there isn't a person at this table who agrees that we're in a quagmire and there isn't an end in sight."

    "The presentations today have been very clear. They've been forthright. The suggestion by you that people like me or others are painting a rosy picture is false," Rumsfeld added, repeating an oft-made complaint that his words are often taken out of context and used against him.

    Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, called Kennedy's description of the situation as a quagmire a "misrepresentation of the facts" and suggested it was an insult to the Iraqi people.

    "You have an insurgency with no base of support, and Iraqi security forces are fighting and dying for their country every day. That is not a quagmire," Casey said.

    Today's Philadelphia Inquirer features as its front page headline, "General: Enemy in Iraq unbowed" and quotes General Abizaid:
    "I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago" and that "in terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it was the same as it was" six months ago.
    If enemy strength is the same as six months ago despite the fact that more foreign fighters are coming in than six months ago, is that evidence of a quagmire? If it is true that despite an influx of more fighters, the enemy has the same strength, that would indicate ever-diminishing returns. For the enemy! How is that a quagmire? If anything, more coming in than six months ago means they've been getting killed at an ever faster rate than before.

    Let's assume, though, that even having the enemy replaced as fast as they're being killed constitutes a quagmire. Does that mean that the best way to stop the quagmire is to stop killing the enemy? That would work, and it would certainly end all talk of a quagmire, because the enemy's numbers would increase, and without anyone to kill them, doesn't that simply mean the enemy would win?

    In whose interest is that?

    Let's play Devil's Advocate Ted Kennedy and assume this is a quagmire. There are only two ways to end a quagmire: give up (and pull out), or slug it through. I'm constantly reading about polls which show that Americans are tired of this war.

    Guess what? I'm tired of this war too.

    Does that mean we should consign Iraq to Vietnam "quagmire" status, followed by defeat? I have friends who were very antiwar in those days who think we should, and I've also seen Vietnam veterans against the war who've been quoted extensively on Iraq.

    What I was suprised to see, though, was a report in USAToday that Vietnam veterans serving in Iraq see an "entirely different war":

    If there are parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, these graying soldiers and the other Vietnam veterans serving here offer a unique perspective. They say they are more optimistic this time: They see a clearer mission than in Vietnam, a more supportive public back home and an Iraqi population that seems to be growing friendlier toward Americans.

    "In Vietnam, I don't think the local population ever understood that we were just there to help them," says Chief Warrant Officer James Miles, 57, of Sioux Falls, S.D., who flew UH-1H Hueys in Vietnam from February 1969 to February 1970. And the Vietcong and North Vietnamese were a tougher, more tenacious enemy, he says. Instead of setting off bombs outside the base, they'd be inside.

    "I knew we were going to lose Vietnam the day I walked off the plane," says Miles, who returned home this month after nearly a year in Iraq. Not this time. "There's no doubt in my mind that this was the right thing to do," he says.

    The Army says it's impossible to know exactly how many Vietnam veterans are serving in Iraq, and there might be only a few dozen. Most of them came to Iraq last winter with the 42nd Infantry, a National Guard division headquartered in Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

    I admit my bias, but I attach more credibility to these guys than the quagmire-talkers. There's more, but I'm struck by the apparent failure of the Iraqi "insurgents" to win over many hearts or minds -- either in Iraq or in the U.S.:
    "There was a lot more action in Vietnam than there is here," says Chief Warrant Officer Herbert Dargue, 57, of Brookhaven, N.Y. But the danger in Iraq is higher for those who are shot down but survive. "There's no such thing as a POW," he says, referring to the terrorists' penchant for executing Westerners.

    The enemy in Iraq has "absolutely no value" for life, Dargue says, who flew Huey helicopters in Vietnam from June 1968 to June 1969.

    Miles says the biggest difference he saw was that, over time, Iraqi civilians grew more positive toward U.S. forces. He says he saw more people smiling and waving near his base here than there were 10 months ago when he arrived.

    1st Sgt. Patrick Olechny, 52, of Marydel, Del., an attack helicopter crew chief and door gunner in Vietnam from March 1971 to February 1972, says the most important difference to him is the attitude of the American public.

    "Vietnam was an entirely different war than this one," he says. The basic job of flying helicopters is the same, but the overall mission now is clear when it wasn't then. "We thought in Vietnam we were doing the right thing, and in the end it didn't seem that way," he says.

    Plenty of people -- soldiers, Americans, and even Iraqis -- still think we are "doing the right thing." But others want "the quagmire" to lead to "the end."

    How do they want it to seem?

    UPDATE: Here's another view of the insurgency -- from Michael Yon in Iraq:

    The insurgents here are not trying to topple an established and oppressive government. The converse, actually--they are trying to prevent a new democratic government from gaining a foothold in the sand. The zealots employ proven methods of past insurgencies by engaging in operations that destroy the economic infrastructure and destabilize and discredit the government, thereby undermining its ability to govern. While the insurgents have seriously hindered the process of reconstituting Iraq, the new government is getting stronger by the day, making insurgency a game of diminishing prospects. The insurgency does not appear to be weakening, but the government is definitely getting stronger. (Via InstaPundit.)
    Again, if the insurgency is a game of diminishing prospects, I'd say that the "quagmire" is more meme than reality.

    UPDATE: Much more discussion here, particularly about the wide disconnect between the troops in Iraq and folks like Linda Foley and the quagmire club.

    posted by Eric at 08:20 AM | Comments (4)

    Beyond imagination
    A narrow majority of the court simply got the law wrong today and our Constitution and country will suffer as a result.

    -- Scott Bullock, of the Institute for Justice, commenting on today's outrage.

    These narrow majorities don't stop, either. Thanks to the Gang of Five who usurp by interpretation, local bureaucrats will be tearing down the nice little post World War I downtown area where I grew up -- to make it more like La Jolla or some upscale place. More tax revenue that way, they imagine. When governments enter the market, they just make things worse. And more corrupt. What could be more corrupt than taking people's homes and businesses and giving them to political favorites?

    The sheer arrogance of permitting the taking of private property for private use is astounding. When they wrote the takings clause, the founders never imagined that the government would seize property belonging to person A in order to give it to person B. They'd have correctly seen that as serfdom. But like a lot of things the founders never imagined, serfdom is now quite imaginable, while limitation on government has become unimaginable.

    MORE: In the good old days, politicians were known for abusing eminent domain to play political hardball. As the late William S. Burroughs said (mocking the mindset):

    he'd better play ball or I will route a sewer through his front yard...
    How passé. In the exciting new world of modern political hardball, why, you could just threaten to confiscate his house to give it to a political crony! Then, after only a head-nod to the concept of some "public benefit from increased taxes," you'd have enriched your crony and destroyed an enemy!

    A wide open world with a whole new playing field, I'd say.

    MORE MORE MORE! Since we're on the subject of the thinking the unthinkable and imagining the unimaginable, it just occurred to me that Kelo's clearcutting of property rights might provide a marvelous way for environmentalists to restore open space by condemnation of lands so condescendingly called "developed." In the past, open space planners had to content themselves with "reactive" measures like merely preventing development. Now, armed with Kelo, urban environmentalists can be retroactively-proactive, and bring to fruition dreams like this:

    "We have to have in place an imagination based on intimate knowledge and love of the places where we live, so that we can push programs forward rather than just react to environmental despoiling for the rest of our days. It can begin in small and symbolic ways, like the day-lighting of Strawberry Creek in Berkeley. To open up the fact that we live on a watershed, that where we live is really a drainage from the Contra Costa Hills into the Bay -- and that we've lost that connection -- can be solved with imagination. Imagine our streams flowing freely again, with the egrets and the herons working their way up the creeks through the city, fishing for minnows and sticklebacks. With this imagination we can restore the ecological cycles of this place, reminding us daily of the larger issues involved in preservation and restoration, the healing of the planet.
    As to those few antisocial misfits who don't think restoring open space is in the interest of the public good, why, there's plenty of Ritalin to make sure their kids don't grow up to be like them!

    MORE: Eminent domain authority is already being used to block development. (Preventing growth is of course the "public purpose," but you already knew.)

    posted by Eric at 10:11 PM | Comments (8)

    A rise, not a raise!

    I just took a so-called IQ test which told me that I was underpaid and that I should:

    Demand a pay rise while you still have your faculties.

    (Via Tom Hamilton, who was told the same thing.)

    I can't demand a damned thing -- because I'm self-employed and my faculties wouldn't help me even if I still had them. I don't know how an IQ test is supposed to determine sanity, anyway, and I dislike IQ tests intensely. (Had a bad experience years ago with street scientologists who used to give "FREE IQ TESTS".....)

    I did get a bit of a rise out of some of the logically unanswerable questions, though.

    posted by Eric at 04:33 PM | Comments (7)

    Who chooses the choices?

    It scared me yesterday to see blatant political indoctrination being passed off as "teaching." Unfortunately, I soon discovered that many if not most of the people who are working against this stuff turn people off with their moralistic fervor, thus preventing many ordinary, reasonable people from seeing that there is truly a horrendous, institutionalized, problem.

    To give one example, why is it that the people working the hardest to fight political indoctrination in the schools also tend to be outspoken anti-evolution, anti-gay activists?

    I mean, are homosexuals responsible for ruining the educational system in this country? I don't think so, and I find it tough to take seriously the claims of anti-homosexual activists that homosexuality is the problem. (Same thing for evolution.) I think there are a lot of people in this country who are not intolerant of homosexuals, who are not against evolution and who aren't fanatically against abortion who'd nonetheless be infuriated by what I saw yesterday. The problem is, unless they start reading blogs, the only way they'll hear about it is from listening to ideologues whose agendas will turn them off.

    I think this is exactly what the nonsense-spouting educrats want.

    Everything is highly politicized. But to stay with the gay example, it really is getting harder and harder to see homosexuality in laissez faire terms, and as a matter of personal privacy. It has not only been politicized, but through the collusion between left-wing and right-wing activists I so often complain about, politicized homosexuality has insinuated itself into things which once had little or nothing to do with homosexuality.

    Why is it that when people think of the Boy Scouts they think about things like "the gay agenda" (as well as the "Family Values" agenda)? This will only cause ordinary people to avoid the Boy Scouts (something which was once for kids), thereby increasing the ascendency of political activists on both sides.

    I used to complain about contamination of the word "family." Now the word "marriage" has been politicized; it's no longer assumed to be a consensual contract between two people, but an "institution" which must be seen as a bulwark against homosexuality.

    I'm tired of this, but it's getting worse. Homosexuals are losing the right to be left alone. So is everyone.

    When my depression gets the better of me, this type of contentiousness often makes me fantasize about leaving the country. What kind of people obsess over sex to the point of creating thought control camps in which to put gay teenagers?

    And what kind of people think disagreement with same sex marriage is Nazism?

    I mean, how many Americans think the "choice" is between gay marriage or sodomy laws anyway? Or between Marxism and fundamentalism? Evolution and God? You name it.

    Is it really the country? Or is it just that only a small minority of nuts get to be heard? The problem is, the endless false dichotomies tend to drive me nuts.

    Thanks to the blogosphere, I know I'm not as alone as I used to feel.

    Yeah, the blogosphere has its share of political assholes too, but what are they ultimately going to do?

    Criticize your political makeup?


    UPDATE: This post has inspired me to join the "Raging RINO" community, and I have not only submitted it to this week's RINO Sightings Carnival at SayUncle, but I'm also sending a link to the Commissar right now.

    People have called me a RINO, just as they used to call me a DINO. If there's one thing I love, it's seeing another term of derision and political manipulation fail! As I keep asking, may I be allowed to just think what I think?

    posted by Eric at 01:42 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    He's Your Pusher Man

    George R.R. Martin, that is. And man, have I been feeling that monkey on my back, bad.

    The wait for his newest book, "A Feast For Crows" has seemed interminable, in no little part because "they" keep announcing release dates, then reneging on them. Cruel they are, the lying publishers.

    If you like medievalesque fantasy (I usually don't), and have never read Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" books, you are denying yourself a marvelous treat. Even if you don't like medievalesque fantasy you're denying yourself a marvelous treat.

    I don't know anyone who doesn't like these books. People who hate fantasy and science fiction like these books. People who hate mythology like these books. People's moms like these books. In fact, I can't think of anyone who's read these books who hasn't wanted more. And they all want to know when their next fix is due out. Sadly, all I can tell them is that it won't be published till he finishes it.

    Why do I like these books so much? Aside from the gorgeous exotic locales and the timeless themes of love, lust, honor, and betrayal? Oh yeah, and revenge. Much, much revenge.

    Because they play with your head.

    They are unpredictable yet satisfying because they often (but not to the point of being obvious about it) set the reader up for a predictably cliched situation and then break that implicit contract in a number of interesting ways. Some are amusing, some are horrible, some are both, but the end result is that you can't take anything for granted. Martin has no compunctions about putting his characters through the worst sorts of suffering. Nice people can and do die horribly, with shocking suddenness.

    I don't think this technique would work so well if Martin was merely displaying contempt for his readers, but his work is clearly informed with a deep and honest love for the genre. When he rings a few little changes, you know it's because he wants to make it better for you. In this, he has certainly succeeded. Fair warning. Once you start these books, you will find yourself wanting to know "What happens next?"...

    For a storyteller, can there be a finer compliment?

    posted by Justin at 11:27 AM | Comments (2)


    As the recent demonstration against the biotech conference in Philadelphia reminded me, free speech -- especially contentious demonstrations -- can be a major pain in the ass. (For one Philadelphia police officer, they proved to be a fatal pain in the heart.)

    As I remarked in the comments, professional demonstrators who travel from city to city are good at what they do. They want attention, and they get it. In the process they cost municipalities millions of dollars, but I'm sure that doesn't bother them at all, because their goal is to win. Winning means getting their way! (All in the name of "democracy," of course.)

    Winning means encouraging cities to shy away from events like Biotech 2005. Eventually, it is hoped that increasingly timid city officials -- acting out of fear of lawsuits, insurance hikes, police overtime and disability claims, having to pay out death benefits (as just happened), or even just having to be yelled at and insulted by professional yellers and insulters -- will be cowed.

    That's precisely what the professional demonstrators want. And it's what they already have.

    Power out of all proportion to their numbers.

    (In business terms, it's called leverage.)

    The unique dedication to purpose of professional activists is often overlooked by politicians and lower level bureaucrats who mistake them for spontaneous grassroots-style citzenry (or even "neighborhood activists").

    A fundamental mistake often made by those who should know better (a mistake the activists do everything to encourage) is to confuse an organized hard core of professional activists with the democatic process -- or with "democracy" itself. Hardly champions of democracy, the activists nonetheless use the "D" word constantly, and scream as if democracy itself is at stake at any obstacle they encounter. This naturally frightens the bureaucrats who issue parade permits, as well as officers on the scene, and it goes a long away towards making the people who have to live and work in these places more tolerant than they should be of things like having traffic disrupted, sidewalks littered, buildings graffitied, store windows broken, or even worse things.

    Yet things like disruption and vandalism have little to do with democracy. Certainly they do not go to its essence.

    Some lessons in democracy I remember vividly, and one of them was in the early 1990s at a meeting of Berkeley's Police Review Commission. A quasi-judicial review board, we were there not only to review policy, but to hear complaints brought against individual police officers. At the time there were two kinds of complaints; those brought by individual citizens who felt genuinely aggrieved, and those brought by activists to advance their political agenda -- the latest of which was the umpteenth in an ongoing series of "People's Park" riots. The Berkeley Police are about as tolerant and inclusive a group of officers as can be found anywhere. But the problem is, even they must respond when crimes are being committed, and when demonstrations become violent. Much as the officers hated doing it (and much as they knew the procedure that would inevitably follow), they had to make arrests in the People's Park riots. And of course, every time they did so, the arrested activists would proffer charges of police misconduct. Which we (including me!) had to hear.

    On to the unforgettable "lesson in democracy" that absolutely galled me.

    Unlike regular complaints brought by aggrieved citizens, the activists' complaints were:

  • almost always frivolous (anticipating charges, involved officers would bend over backwards to do everything right); and
  • invariably accompanied by a screaming mob of demonstrators, who'd threaten violent action, hand out leaflets with home addresses of commissioners, and (worst of all) deliver unending tedious harangues during the "public comments" portions of our meetings.
  • I don't know whether it was the threats against me, the actual threats of violent attacks, actual violence, (vehicles belonging to commissioners were torched, but it's tough to prove any legal connection), or the fact that on several occasions, all officers were ordered to leave our hearings "for reasons of officer safety" (leaving us to the tender mercies of the activists), but I grew incredibly tired of what passed for (and had to be endured in the name of) "democracy." I remember one night I remarked to a fellow commissioner -- a Marxist activist himself -- how tired I was of sitting there and being not spoken to -- but yelled at.

    Instead of being sympathetic, his face reddened and he indignantly told me that we were "living in a democracy!" "And it's vital that we hear from the people! And we have to then vote the way the people tell us we should vote!"

    The problem is, these weren't "the people." "The people" who lived in Berkeley were for the most part nice people who didn't like riots, vandalism, trashing of stores, or any of that stuff. Some politically savvy neighbors who knew I was on the PRC once told me that they were afraid to go to downtown Berkeley and asked if there wasn't anything the police could do to make Berkeley safer. But when I asked them to please, please, show up and voice support for the cops, they almost laughed at the idea, because they knew they'd most likely be yelled at by the activists.

    The common principle at work here is called intimidation.

    The First Amendment protects many forms of intimidation, and I would defend to the death the right of people to intimidate me or others as long as they do so legally.

    However, whether it is constitutionally protected or not, it is regrettable when a small minority manages to get its way by intimidation. While legal intimidation might be (and often is) constitutionally protected, that fact neither makes it democratic, nor does it make it an attribute of democracy. It's an unpleasant fact of life, and it's part of the price we must all pay for freedom.

    It took me years to understand that intimidation is not a synonym for democracy. Yielding to the demands of a mob is actually the antithesis of democracy -- no matter how loudly the mob screams that they are engaged in "democracy."

    I wish the two weren't so frequently confused.

    I realize that others would disagree with me. In particular, the proponents of a hopeless contradiction between "democracy" and "republic" argue that even a lynch mob constitutes "pure democracy," but I think that our republic is also an orderly form of democracy -- one which attempts to balance between liberty and democracy:

    One thing that we have done a very poor job of in this country is teaching people that democracy and liberty are not only not synonymous, they are often in conflict. The founding fathers knew this well. Indeed, the entire purpose of the bill of rights was to protect liberty from democracy, that is to protect the rights of the individual against the whims of the majority who would seek to deny those rights.
    Such a poor job has been done of teaching this distinction that most Americans don't know the difference between liberty and democracy, nor do they understand the fragile nature of each.

    Protecting the liberty of the minority against the whims of the majority is important, but it is not "democracy." (And even if it were, the idea that it means the minority should rule by tyrannical tactics is absurd.)

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds links to Worstall's Rule (that we are ruled by those who stay awake on committees). And as Tim Worstall points out,

    ...we don't actually want to be ruled by those who stay awake in committee meetings.
    This is certainly true, and I think it explains why a lot of crazy things happen in addition to the U.N, like the deterioration of school textbooks (who would stay awake at their committee meetings except angry Marxists and angry religious conservatives?).

    My problem on Berkeley's Police Review Commission was not so much staying awake (adrenaline took care of that problem nicely) but forcing myself to endure the insults and tirades that never would have been aimed at me had I simply yielded to the demands of the mob. This is why reasonable people tend not to serve on city commissions

    So, based on my experience, I'd offer an addition to Worstall's stay-awake rule:

    All and any city commissions will in the end be run by those willing to agree to the angry demands of organized professional activists.

    posted by Eric at 10:24 AM | Comments (4)

    Running on lemonade

    Jeff Jarvis thinks Dell sucks.

    InstaPundit thinks otherwise.

    Me, I'm way too cheap to invest in a new computer, but I do have three used Dells -- all running smoothly. (Two Precision WorkStation server machines -- a 530, a 410 -- and my laptop, a Latitude C600.) Considering that if I total up the prices I paid less than $750.00 for all three machines, I wouldn't complain even if one of them died and went to computer lemon heaven. (Besides, old computers never die; I cannibalize them for parts. What's a computer, anyway? The 410's supposed to be an old clunker Pentium II, but I just pulled the clunker CPU, inserted one of these slotket adapters, then put in a 1200 mHz CPU and I'm damned near as fast as what would cost me five times the price.)

    And as far as customer support goes, what the hell need do I have talking to someone in Pakistan if I can check for myself to see whether the damned thing is plugged in and turned on? There's no way for me to rate Dell's customer support, but it can't be as bad as what I get if I call Verizon.

    All that aside, I don't blame Jeff for being pissed. Had I paid for "four-year, in-home service," and then they refused to fix the damned thing, I'd probably start googling for variations on "Dell sucks" (although the latter only GoogleSucks half as much as Apple....)

    I don't see how my lemons can ever be made to suck, though, so I'm probably not being objective.

    Truth is, I like broken computers! They're a nice diversion from reality.

    posted by Eric at 03:38 PM | Comments (3)

    The Carnival! At its CAT-egorical best!

    This week's Carnival of the Vanities is simply magnificent, and it is truly the first Carnival that I can wholeheartedly recommend even to people who would never bother to read the Carnival.

    I'd go further than that, and recommend this carnival even to the illiterate!

    That's because host Laurence Simon (Laurence Cardinal Simon to those in the know) has assigned cats not only to each, well, "category," but to each post. That's right; each post in the catalog is scratched and sniffed by its own cat or cats -- all of whom are excellent (and, of course, "catty") analysts.

    My post about killing was double catted by this feline duo:


    (I just made Coco jealous by posting that picture.)

    So don't sit there taking a catnap.

    Seriously, if you like the Carnival (and especially if you like cats or cat photoblogging) don't miss this one.

    MORE: Probably because I was unconsciously ashamed of my own inabilities, I failed to mention my earlier lame attempt at catblogging. (Obviously, I should leave such things to the pros.)

    posted by Eric at 11:10 AM | Comments (3)

    On being culturally responsive

    While stumbling around in an early morning attempt to research a couple of small items in today's paper, I inadvertently struck a veritable gold mine of bullshit, and I guess because I write this blog I have a um, "responsibility" to share it with my readers.

    Please prepare for something as tedious to read as it is politically tedious. I wish I could make this stuff interesting, but I just don't know how.

    Anyway, Philadelphia is going through something I hesitate to call a "Culture War" but it has to be called something. Perhaps a debate. The idea is requiring African History to be taught as part of the required curriculum in Philadelphia schools. I have no problem with teaching history of any kind -- as long as it's factually correct, and as long as some perspective is provided. For example, the history of the Hatfield-McCoy feuding, while interesting (and definitely a part of American history), is not as significant as the Civil War.

    What always annoys me is to see history misstated, and in today's Inquirer I ran into the following:

    Slavery persisted in the United States for 246 years, from the arrival of those first slaves in 1619 until 1865, when the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery throughout the United States, took effect.
    Slavery did not persist in the United States for 246 years. The United States was founded in 1776, and slavery was abolished in 1865 -- a period of 89 years. While slavery was certainly a horrible feature of the the British colonies, and it is undeniable that the feature was inherited by the United States, that does not transform the colonies before the founding into "the United States." Am I being picky? Well, the subject is education, and what students should be taught, and right away I see a misstatement of history being promulgated by those who want to change the way it is taught.

    The same article goes on to quote Julian Bond:

    The former Georgia state senator recalled that he attended George School, the Quaker college-prep high school in Newtown, Bucks County.

    "I can remember studying Charlemagne, but I can't remember a word about Africa," said Bond, a 1957 George School graduate. "That is just so completely wrong."

    While I'm not as old as Bond, I too can remember being taught about Charlemagne. Christmas Day 800, all that white ethnocentric bullcrap. But I also remember a word or two about Africa. Well, at least a place in Africa. It was called Egypt, and they had a huge civilization there! I did a class project in the fourth grade on it. Seems that after the Romans took over the place went into decline. I remember that, and I remember specifically looking at it on the map, and thinking it was part of Africa.

    I guess it's not part of Africa for Julian Bond, or else he was never taught anything about Egypt.

    In fairness to Mr. Bond, I think he would want students to be taught about what happened in sub-Saharan, Bantu Africa around the time of 800 A.D. Here's one timeline:

    AD 800

    800 - 909 Aghlabid dynasty rules in Tunis on the coast of North Africa; the rulers set up a colony in Sicily (827 - 902) and invade southern Italy

    c. 800 - c. 950 Christian empire in Ethiopia continues after the decline of Aksum

    800s Arabs and Persians explore East African coast and set up trading stations at Malindi, Mombasa, Kilwa, and Mogadishu

    868 Ahmad ibn-Tulun, Egyptian noble of Turkish descent, breaks away from Abbasid caliphate and sets up Tulunid dynasty in Egypt

    OK? So what's wrong with teaching that? I have no particular objection, but is it as important as Charlemagne?

    One of the problems which isn't being faced realistically is that historians are stuck with a stupid thing called the written record -- and with sub-Saharan Africa, the record is a bit scanty. As this Wikipedia entry acknowledges, history has to rely on early Arab traders:

    Much is still not known about the Bantu expansion, including its origin point. Some argue that the Bantu were refugees from the drying Sahara, most believe that they originated in modern day Nigeria. It is known that their expansion was extremely rapid and massive. Over the centuries the entire southern half of Africa was covered, excluding only the Kalahari dessert. It is believed that the Bantu expansion was fueled by iron tools and also cattle based pastoralism, and cattle based economies became central in many of the Bantu lands. Only those lands that were too dry for cattle would in time become Bantu. This expansion only ended relatively recently. In the year 1000 Arab traders show that the Bantu had not reached as far as Mozambique, and European settlers observed the Bantu expansion into South Africa under the Zulu and others.
    How does one teach a history that is largely unknown? Obviously, by focusing on whatever is known.

    Back to Aksum/Axum (which is known). Whether it was as important as the crowning of Charlemagne (and the formation of the Holy Roman Empire) is debatable. But Axum an important enough place to give the Arab invaders a run for their money, but then it declined:

    A kingdom based on the city of Axum, the forerunner of the kingdom of Abyssinia, becomes the dominant power in eastern Africa.

    The city of Axum develops into the main trade centre south of the Sahara. Shortly after the conquest of Meroe, 350 AD, King Ezana of Axum converts to Christianity and declares it the state religion. From 500 AD, Axum, now more properly called Abyssinia, becomes a major power or empire, ruling not only the territory of modern Ethiopia, but parts of southwestern Arabia and much of the Sudan--an area almost as large as the Western Roman empire. An Abyssinian attack on the Arab city of Mecca was defeated in 570. Having to fend off repeated Arab invasions after 800 AD, the empire went into decline but managed to survive as a independent state.

    (More on sub-Saharan history during this period here and here.)

    OK class! Should I ask how many of you have clicked on every link? Or might that harm the self esteem of the non-clickers? (That's a joke; I don't give a rat's ass who clicks on what, as I have no way of knowing, and my self esteem doesn't depend on it.)

    It is generally agreed that by 800 A.D., written history (in Arabic) began in those sub-Saharan places subject to Islam:

    Islam reached the Savannah region in the 8th Century C.E., the date the written history of West Africa begins.

    The Muslim geographers and historians have provided excellent records of Muslim rulers and peoples in Africa. Among them are Al-Khwarzimi, Ibn Munabbah, Al-Masudi, Al-Bakri, Abul Fida, Yaqut, Ibn Batutah, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Fadlallah al-'Umari, Mahmud al-Kati, Ibn al Mukhtar and Abd al-Rahman al-Sa'di.

    As Jesse Jackson, Jr. acknowledges, early African literacy is based on the introduction of Arabic. (Often said to be the "Latin of Africa.")

    I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but just how earthshaking or profound is it to learn that sub-Saharan African history is scanty, and that Arabs introduced literacy there? It might be as valuable as studying Aztec or Mayan or Chinese history, but I want to know what has it to do with anyone's self esteem. Why should it?

    Wait a second!

    I'm of Norwegian descent, and I'm feeling left out!

    To be fair, there isn't a whole lot of history about what was going on in Norway in or before 800 A.D. Here's a typical entry:

    The Age of the Vikings (ca. 800 - 1050 A.D.)

    The Viking era marks the termination of the prehistoric period in Norway. No written sources of knowledge exist, so what is known about this period is largely based on archaeological finds. The Sagas also shed some light on this age. Although they were written down later, the Sagas were based on tales passed down orally from one generation to the next. Viewed as a whole they reveal that the Viking Age was undoubtedly the richest of all the prehistoric periods in the north.

    Many scholars regard the looting in 793 of the monastery of Lindisfarne, off England's northeast coast, as the beginning of the Viking Age.

    That's "my" history up until Charlemagne! Not much there; just an oral tradition, followed by a period of raiding which (ironically) caused the invaders to become literate. How important is a period which can be summarized in a couple of paragraphs? And does my "culturally responsive" self esteem require that I learn about it? Should all American students be forced to learn it in a special course? True Norwegian history begins later, and of course it follows the growth of Norwegian culture and Norwegian literacy.


    That seems to strike a nerve these days, as it is supposed to be the primary function of education. Yet more and more kids go to school and come out illiterate, and we're forced to speculate about the reasons.

    In the course of stumbling around looking for clues, this long and disturbing article directed me to an extremely influential educational innovator from Brazil (said to be a sort of modern/aka-post-modern Dewey) named Paulo Freire. A champion of the theory that all education is political, his views on education have led to incomprehensible theories like Layered Curriculum, and similar nonsense, and to now-standardized views like of teaching like this educrat gobbledygook on how to teach, um, English:

    ....our English program also incorporates the dispositions outlined in the university’s conceptual framework, “Realizing the Democratic Ideal.” This concept underpins all teacher education at Illinois State University (Illinois State University Undergraduate Catalog). It emphasizes the importance of moral and intellectual development and is designed to support and enhance the standards and best practices established in each individual discipline. These concepts, discussed as moral and intellectual virtues include:

    * Sensitivity toward the varieties of individual and cultural diversity
    * Disposition and ability to collaborate ethically and effectively with others
    * Reverence for learning and seriousness of personal, professional, and public purpose
    * Respect for learners of all ages, with special regard for children and adolescents
    * Wide general knowledge and deep knowledge of the content to be taught
    * Knowledge and appreciation of the diversity among learners
    * Understanding what affects learning and appropriate teaching strategies
    * Interest in and ability to seek out informational, technological, and collegial resources
    * Contagious intellectual enthusiasm and courage enough to be creative

    “Realizing the Democratic Ideal,” combined with the five identified strands of English Education— teaching and learning for democracy, multiculturalism and respect for diversity, reader response and process methods of teaching writing, along with teacher-research and reflective practice—represent best practices in the field and reflect the knowledge base and philosophy of education we provide for our students who are preparing to be secondary language arts educators. This strong and flexible foundation for the preparation of future teachers is idealistic and informed enough by the scholarship of literacy to set the highest standards for the teaching of English. At the same time, it is firmly rooted in the practices, struggles, and issues that occupy practicing teachers of English and language arts today. Through this blend of resources, contexts, and orientations we teach our candidates what it means to serve the needs of all students and prepare them to be critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and active and informed participants in creating schools in which all students can achieve and thrive, as well as a more just society built upon democratic practices and principles.

    We've all heard about educational Newspeak, but I've long wanted to know how and where "educators" learn to speak it so, well, fluently (for lack of a better word).

    I found an utterly fascinating approach to the teaching of teachers, which comes from a standard, apparently non-controversial textbook. The whole thing is so appalling that it should be read by everyone curious about what passes for education. Much as I'd like to quote the whole damned thing, space won't allow it, but I can't resist a few excerpts. This leading educrat is a proponent of a theory called Culturally Responsive Teaching -- a rehash of Freire's doctrines:

    WE BELIEVE THAT CULTURALLY responsive teaching (CRT) for ethnically diverse students should be a fundamental feature of teacher preparation and classroom practice. CRT involves using the cultures, experiences, and perspectives of African, Native, Latino, and Asian American students as filters through which to teach them academic knowledge and skills. Other critical elements of culturally responsive teaching are unpacking unequal distributions of power and privilege, and teaching students of color cultural competence about themselves and each other.

    NOTE: Lest anyone think that I'm wasting time on irrelevant, fringe, or marginal theories, "Culturally Responsive Teaching" is a major deal. One web site -- an important one, developed and maintained by The Education Alliance which lists numerous, prestigious "partner organizations" -- even designed this cool logo for it!


    Isn't that cool? (It sure is, so let's get back to the important work at hand!)

    Anyway, anticipating resistance from "overwhelmingly European American, middle-class, monolingual, White females who have had little sustained and substantive interactions with people of color," leading CRT advocate Geneva Gay goes on to offer advice on overcoming "barriers" to the wholesale embrace of "CRT":

    The third barrier to preservice teachers genuinely thinking critically about race-related issues in education is their claims of benevolent liberalism, and guilt over past acts of oppression, injustice, and marginalization. They may profess commitment to promoting educational equity based on their newly found awareness, but they do not think deeply about the implications and consequences of this knowledge for changing their personal and professional behaviors. As discussions about cultural and racial diversity move beyond general awareness toward specific instructional actions that challenge prevailing conventions, resistance is increasingly apparent. It is signaled by statements such as, "Yes, but students of color have to live and work in the U.S., so they need to learn to be American like everybody else," and "If I teach them according to their cultural styles, won't the White kids be discriminated against, and won't I be lowering my educational standards?" As with awareness, many prospective teachers assume that feeling guilty about racism is sufficient to make them worthy promoters of equality and social justice in their classroom instruction. They do not examine the causes, motivations, depths, and manifestations of their guilt, least of all how to move beyond it, and to ensure that the guilt-provoking actions are not perpetuated in the future.

    Some teacher education students even believe that race and racism are non-issues, and are no longer problems in U.S. society and schools. As one student remarked, "Why shouldn't we teach the Western canon; it's the truth." Individuals like this are incredibly naive, do not understand the academic racism and cultural hegemony embedded in statements like this, or are in total denial of their existence. This leads to assumptions that whatever racial problems in schools and society that existed in the past have been resolved. They evoke notions of color-blindness and universality as the standard for how to engage with diverse students. These preservice teachers do not interrogate the sources of their standards of universality, what they mean when operationalized in classroom practice, or how color-blindness may conflict with some other educational principles, such as maximizing human potential, and using students' prior knowledge in teaching new information and skills. One of our major goals in helping teacher education students develop multicultural critical consciousness is to understand how these beliefs and related behaviors are cultural determinations and, when translated into practice, are discriminatory to students who do not share the teachers' values and beliefs.

    There's much more, and as I said, it's a gold mine of bullshit. I was astonished by it, and much as I hate to bore my readers by subjecting them to educrat gobbledygook, I don't think its relevance can be minimized. I think this stuff borders on being out and out brainwashing, and if it's what teachers are being taught, I'm worried that education will be rendered meaningless. That "overcoming illiteracy" will be translated as "overcoming cultural hegemony" that places a value on such "artificial constructs" as "reading" and "writing."

    I mean, what if illiteracy is just as valuable as literacy?

    Can't we all just be culturally responsive?

    MORE: Anyone who assumes illiteracy is not a problem should read these statistics:

    According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 42 million adult Americans can't read; 50 million can recognize so few printed words they are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one out of every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of those who graduate, one out of every four has the equivalent or less of an eighth grade education.

    According to current estimates, the number of functionally illiterate adults is increasing by approximately two and one quarter million persons each year.

    And if you liked that, you'll love the doctrine of invented spelling:
    Wilde and other theorists of "invented spelling" envision a new spelling curriculum that would shift from a "focus on error to a focus on creation." The idea is that kids should be free to misspell words - invent their own spelling - without having their spelling corrected or having the teacher tell them the correct spelling. This hands-off approach, we are assured, increases the writer's freedom and cuts down on frustration. This is far more enlightened, Wilde explains, than the "usual view of spelling as either right or wrong," an archaic conception that has been "replaced by a growing understanding of why children produced a particular spelling."
    Lest anyone think "invented spelling" is just for kids, I'm here to tell you it's becoming an adult activity.

    Oh yes.

    And to promote and assist in these brave new endeavors, organizations purportedly devoted to such things as spelling and literacy are busy doing things like picketing spelling bees. Elitist bigots who still believe that literacy somehow involves spelling had best brace themselves for a shock.

    (Well, at least it came to this elitist bigot as a shock.)

    We must make spelling easier by simply changing the language.

    The following example comes from an actual doctoral thesis posted by the Simplified Spelling Society:

    ...It is concluded that a Surplus-cut spelling wud clarify the morfemic and fonemic structure of th English languaj and be minimly disruptive as a practicabl step towards an optiml English orthografy. All categories of readr wud benefit by spelling modifications that increasd predictrability and reveald th underlying structure of th orthografy mor consistently.

    Furthr cross-cultural studies of th eficiency of riting systems for other languages can clarify useful features for orthografy that may be incorporated into our own spelling, and others may be workd out from fullr knolej of th psychoneurolojicl processes involvd in comunication by languaj. Some posibl directions for orthografy ar discussd. Reserch in spelling design also offers a point of entry towards solving some of th puzls that stil tantalise scolars in th cognitiv psycolojy of reading.

    Th goal is Chomsky's concept of 'optimum orthografy' (1970), - defined as th writn representation most favorabl for readers in a particular languaj, and th best fit to meet the diferent and sometimes incompatibl needs and abilities of users and lerners, readrs and riters, nativ-speakrs and th forin-born, th bright and th dul, th norml and th handicapd, humans and machines, while maintaining access to our heritaj of print (bakwards compatibility).

    I like satire, but I'm afraid that's not what it is. Not when I see the name "Chomsky." (And any lingering hopes I had that this might be satire were dashed when I read more from the same author.)

    Can't we put these divisive concepts like literacy and illiteracy behind us?

    If u dont like it fuk u.

    posted by Eric at 07:27 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (2)


    I was going to try to ignore these stupid, anti-democratic demonstrators, but now that a police officer has died, I can't.

    PHILADELPHIA-June 21, 2005 — A Philadelphia police officer who was hurt trying to make arrests during protests in Philadelphia has died. Protestors are demonstrating against a major bio-tech conference in Center City. Sources tell Action News that some of the radical organizations were threatening violence today.

    The protest was at 12th and Arch streets in Philadelphia. Officer Paris Williams, 52, was kicked by at least one of the protestors after falling to the ground. He was an 18-year veteran of the police force and a father of 2.

    Philadelphia police commissioner Sylvester Johnson was heading to North Carolina. He had his plane turned around came back to Philadelphia because of Williams' death. Johnson says it may have been a heart attack, but the exact cause of death will be determined by an autopsy.

    The incident that preceded Williams' death happened just outside the Pennsylvania convention center at about 12:45pm.

    Homicide detectives are now investigating the case.

    How very democratic!

    They got the attention they wanted, and made their case against evil "biotech."

    Silly fools. They claim to believe in democracy, but they're anything but democratic. They only support democracy if it means they get their way, and if the majority disagree with them, why, that's the primary reason they demonstrate.

    MORE: Here's a photo of the multitudes I missed.


    Obviously, the majority of Philadelphians hate biotech!

    And that's democracy!

    MORE: Unless I'm mistaken, there also seems to be an attempt to politicize skateboarding today:

    Hordes of skateboarders are expected to jam city streets and public spaces on Tuesday for "Wild in the Streets," which could live up to its name if the organizer's estimate of 2,000 to 5,000 participants is on the mark.

    Professional skateboarders will lead the throngs on a chase through Philadelphia to a series of locations that will remain secret until Tuesday, a day that was already shaping up to be hectic in Center City, with biodiversity activists planning a multipronged protest against BIO 2005, the huge biotech show at the Convention Center.

    "I don't know if it'll be crazy or tame," said Robbie Reid, manager of Nocturnal Skateboard Shop at 610 S. Third St., a launch point for Wild in the Streets. "We've had a lot of calls."

    MORE: According to this report, the skateboarders appear uninterested in the biotech issue:

    about 250 biotechnology protestors of all ages marched around City Hall before holding a short rally at the nearby JFK Plaza, where they were joined by more than 100 skateboarders staging their own unrelated "Wild in the Streets" skateboarding rally. The skateboarders were more interested in Love Park, the city park that was once a mecca for skateboarders before the city made it illegal to skateboard there, than biotechnology issues.
    I hope the cops don't overreact, because there's nothing more irritating that the new converted -- to whatever "cause."

    MORE: According to this report, Police Commissioner Johnson has stated that Officer Williams was not involved in the scuffle, and that he died of a heart attack:

    Authorities closed the street in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to traffic as hundreds of protesters chanted and pounded on drums. A small number of demonstrators scuffled with police.

    Authorities did not think Williams was directly involved in the confrontation.

    "I don't think Officer Paris Williams was involved in the scuffle, but anyhow, he saw the scuffle, he went toward the scuffle, he collapsed," Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said outside the hospital.

    "We're not blaming anybody for what happened," Johnson said. "At this point, unfortunately, we have an officer that died today in the line of duty."

    MORE (05:53 p.m.): Video footage I just saw on local ABC television is blurry, but it shows the officer in the middle of the melee, which started after a demonstrator threw liquid on another officer. The report states that "fists were flying." I couldn't tell whether Officer Williams was struck, and I'd say it's too early to know exactly what happened. (However, if a blow from a fist causes the heart attack, legal liability can result.)

    UPDATE (06/23/05): CHARGES HAVE BEEN FILED in the officer's death:

    Four men and a woman were charged yesterday in the melee between demonstrators and police Tuesday in Center City that left a veteran Philadelphia police officer dead of a heart attack.

    District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said the most serious offenses were lodged against Guillaume Beaulieu, 23, of Canada, who was charged with aggravated assault against Officer Paris Williams, 52, the Civil Affairs Unit member who died at Hahnemann University Hospital Tuesday afternoon.

    An autopsy yesterday revealed that Williams suffered from heart disease. Jeff Moran, a city Health Department spokesman, said the cause of death was listed as hypertensive cardiomyopathy.

    Beaulieu also was charged with aggravated assault on another officer, Edward Braceland, 45, and resisting arrest, conspiracy and disorderly conduct.

    At a late-afternoon news conference at Police Headquarters, Abraham said the melee in the 1200 block of Arch Street early Tuesday afternoon began when Beaulieu threw water on Braceland.

    She said Braceland chased Beaulieu and a scuffle broke out between police and protesters. Williams was one of the officers involved.

    "This is the genesis of this event," Abraham said, adding that "the resulting punching, shoving and pushing... caused Officer Williams to suffer his cardiac event."

    Williams, a 17-year veteran, was trying with other officers to prevent protesters from nearing the entrance of the Convention Center where the BIO 2005 conference was under way.

    Abraham said four others were charged with resisting arrest, conspiracy and disorderly conduct. She identified them as Caroline Colesworthy, 25, of Newport Beach, Calif.; Brenton Hall, 21, of Bangor, Maine; Mark Garcia, 19, of San Antonio, Texas; and Charles M. Sherrouse, 46, of the 1400 block of Elbridge Street in Northeast Philadelphia.

    About 20 protesters maintained a vigil in a small park across from Police Headquarters last night and said they would remain until their friends are released.

    In Berkeley, the protesters would most likely have gone straight to the Police Review Commission, filed charges against the officer, then attempted to intimidate the Commissioners into doing their bidding.

    These people are career activists who travel around the country planning and instigating precisely such events. (They're professionals at what they do -- a point often missed.)

    The only thing that surprises me is to see that one of them (Green Party activist Sherrouse) lives in Philadelphia.

    posted by Eric at 02:58 PM | Comments (8)

    Keeping politics out of religion

    Via John at Locusts and Honey, I learned of a plan by the United Methodist Church to divest itself of "stock in companies whose dealings with Israel facilitate the seizure of Palestinian land or the destruction of Palestinian homes."

    The target of course is the evil Caterpillar Inc., manufacturer of bulldozers which ran over anti-Israeli activist Rachel Corrie (currently the subject of what strikes me as a massively anti-Caterpillar beatification campaign).

    I'm sorry to see signs that anti-Semitism is apparently alive and well in the Methodist as well as the Presbyterian churches. I know people will scream that this isn't anti-Semitic (because Palestinians are Semites too, and the Methodists support them).

    OK then. I think it's anti-Jewish.

    And anti-business.

    At the risk of asking the obvious, has it occurred to the Methodist Church that there's a war on, and Israel happens to be an American ally?

    UPDATE: More on Rachel Corrie here (including a lovely picture).

    MORE: Locusts and Honey's John has reminded me that the vote only affects the 340,000 member Virginia Methodist Conference, not the entire Methodist Church (which I guess is a partial relief -- if one surely to embolden the current Rachel Corrie tour).

    posted by Eric at 01:15 PM | Comments (5)

    Itsa, Itsa .... Bonfire!

    ItsaPundit is home to this week's not-to-be-missed 103rd Bonfire of the Vanities. Host "Puppy Blender" (where have I heard that?) begins with a disclaimer:

    No actual puppies or hobo's were hurt during this, but, it can cause carpet tracks and uncontrollable apoplexy from certain fakers.
    I'm at least as guilt of apoplexy today as I am of fake guilt, so I think it's fair to highlight some of the guiltiest posts:

  • Right Wing Nuthouse discusses Jeff Goldstein's achingly funny post about German "thought experiments" about 9/11 and more.
  • Of course, it's wrong to yell at Germans.
  • Or make fun of toilets.
  • (Another crime for which I apologize.)
  • But which can lead to poo viruses!
  • I'm flushed with guilt today!

    If you think feeling guilty is funny, check out this very funny, very guilty Bonfire!

    posted by Eric at 12:01 PM

    I hate to be a nag, but . . .

    I see that Bill Gates has held talks with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in an effort to stop software piracy:

    Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai pledged to combat software piracy during talks with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Monday as he became the most senior official of the communist state to visit the United States since the Vietnam War ended 30 years ago.

    Khai signed two agreements committing Vietnam to work with Microsoft in curbing theft of intellectual-property rights and removing licensing barriers for used computers donated to schools, said Microsoft spokeswoman Tami Begasse.

    The Business Software Alliance, a Washington-based lobby group, estimates that 92 percent of the software used in Vietnam in 2004 was pirated, the highest rate in the world.

    Gates's concern is completely understandable.

    But since he had the Prime Minister right there, I would have liked to see him put in a word about government Internet and blog censorship. In that regard, Vietnam imitates China, as documented in a report from Reporters Without Borders:

    Vietnam follows the example of neighbouring China. Web content is extensively censored and e-mail is monitored in order to track down "subversive" Internet users. Seven cyber-dissidents are in prison.

    Although the Internet has so far only reached 3 per cent of the Vietnamese population, it is growing fast. As in China, the government is grappling with a dilemma. It wants to develop online access as a vehicle for economic growth but it also wants to control its use. The authorities proudly launched broadband connections in 2003 but they also announced their intention to created a new police force to track down cyber-criminals.

    (Those interested in knowing what happens to Vietnamese cyber dissenters should read the whole thing.)

    Obviously, no one likes cyber crime, or cyber criminals. But when governments lump Internet dissent with cyber-piracy, I don't think it's too much to ask that someone put in a kind word for the unjustly imprisoned.

    Maybe next time...

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: In light of earlier reports of Microsoft's collaboration with Chinese blog censorship efforts, maybe I'm being naive. I hope not. Asking people -- even repeatedly -- to stop and think shouldn't be considered naive.

    posted by Eric at 11:26 AM | Comments (2)

    Launch Day

    If all goes well, today should mark the launching of Cosmos 1, the first fully operational light sail propelled spacecraft. The launch will proceed SMERSH-like from a submerged Russian ballistic missile submarine in the Barents Sea , using a surplus Russian ICBM. The official site for the project is loading unusually slowly today. I hope their servers are up to snuff.

    Assuming the craft reaches orbit safely and manages to unfurl properly it should be easily visible to naked eye observation. Go here for information on when and where to look. As I mentioned last month, light sails have been a recurring element in science fiction for decades. Niven, Pournelle and Clarke should be enjoying this. I wish Bob Forward and Poul Anderson could have been here, too.

    Cosmos 1 will eventually take part in an experiment in beamed energy propulsion. A NASA tracking station will shine a microwave beam on the sail and alter its orbit. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. All that's for the future.

    posted by Justin at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

    I apologize for everything I don't deny (as well as some things I do deny!)

    I woke up this morning only to discover that misunderstandings abound!

    And some of them come close to touching upon things and concepts near and dear to the heart of this blog.

    Particularly startling were some academic remarks (pointed to by Glenn Reynolds) and noted by Juan Non-Volokh:

    ...Brain Leiter offers this "somewhat tangential comment":
    in every society of which I'm aware the vast majority of the preeminent academic figures were, in general, cowards when it came to their own regimes, and apologists for what later generations would see clearly as inhumanity and illegality. This was clear in Germany in the 1930s, as it was in America in the 1950s. There is no reason to think the United States today is any different. (Emphases in original).
    While this statement might not equate Nazi Germany with the current regime, it certainly suggests an equivalence between those who failed to oppose Nazism, those who failed to oppose McCarthyism, and those who do not oppose the Bush Administration. Haven't we had enough of these sorts of comparisons?
    Apparently not.

    In a comment last night, libertarianism came so precariously close to being unfairly compared to Roman gladiatorial events that I had to speak up in its defense. (And I mean in libertarianism's defense!) Here's the relevant portion of the comment:

    The "let the idiots kill themselves" approach outlined here is most definitely "Classical" - in that fine tradition of gladiatorial entertainments that involved the "weak" or "foolish" being mauled to the delight of the crowd.
    And the relevant portion of my reply:
    I fail to see the relevance of gladiatorial entertainment -- which was opposed by many thinking Romans at the time. (Pliny, Seneca, Cicero -- to name three -- all complained.) Throwing innocent people into an arena for entertainment is indefensible by any moral standard that I know of, classical or modern. But even granting for the sake of argument that the Romans were all a bunch of bloodthirsty and sadistic bastards, how does that indict the libertarian view of leaving people alone?
    But because (alas!) many readers are likely to miss the comments, I thought this was important enough to issue another one of my pointed reminders that just because this blog proudly and playfully features Roman themes, that does not mean that I agree with every aspect of Roman culture or society. Let me state right now -- again -- that I am against throwing innocent people (or even guilty people) into the arena to engage in combat, or to be slaughtered for entertainment, or for any other reason. Additionally, let me state for the record that I disagree with all the following: slavery, imperialism, torture, genocide, pedophilia, dictatorship, subjugation of women, persecution and oppression of Jews, Christians and other minority religions, unfair and oppressive taxation, demonetization, inflation, government-promoted official superstition, and a whole host of other things of which the Romans were guilty at various times during the many hundreds of years that Rome held sway in the ancient world.

    This blog engages in satire, and I enjoy poking fun at modern political and sexual problems, with occasional glimpses from a distant lens.

    I'm feeling especially touchy right now because (as Juan Non-Volokh also reports) the same guy (Professor Leiter) is ominously shifting the geographical basis of the "fascist" comparison from Germany to Italy:

    There is nothing unreasonable, plainly, in worrying that the Bush Administration and its policies represent the coming of fascism in the above sense to the American landscape (mainstream economists, like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong, have documented the merger of state and corporate power during the Bush years at length)--but it is perhaps more fascism of the Italian, not Nazi, variety, since it has no racial component.
    Vy iss ziss Professor Leiter shifting ze focus avay from ze Germans, anyvay?

    Seriously, though, this really makes me paranoid, because Italy is, like really close to Rome! And Rome was, well, a long time ago, it was, um, like, the center of the Roman empire! Thus I'm concerned that because some of these guys who want to shift the focus away from Germany (perhaps, understandably, to avoid confusion because of German-sounding names) that might cause people to think that my blog is (gasp!) fascist oriented!

    It doesn't help me much that Benito Mussolini fancied himself to be a sort of modern avatar/revivalist of ancient Rome, does it?

    So now I have to deny any connection between fascist Italy and this blog, in addition to denying that I support the things that ancient Rome supported, and it all gets really complicated!

    Too much denial to have to face first thing in the morning.

    I should probably take back many of the things I've said, but I don't know where to begin.

    I should probably start by apologizing for fascism. I also apologize for the Roman games. For slavery too. And for denial! I'm also sorry for everything Bush did which made people mad. Like blowing up the Twin Towers. And invading Afghanistan and Iraq and stuff. And I apologize for attempting to make light of Mussolini. (Twice!)

    Certain things go too far, even in humor.

    (The darker side of my brain will probably think of other, lighter things eventually....)

    UPDATE: As Harvey at IMAO reminded me, I forgot to apologize for lynching. No excuse, really. I just forgot. I'm sorry!

    UPDATE: Drilling deeper into Professor Leiter's mental cavities, Juan Non-Volokh (with the help of reader Steven Hamori), finds evidence that the professor might be confused about fascism.

    Leiter (like many contemporary commentators and perhaps the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary as well) is confused about the definition of fascism, and misinterprets the oft-repeated Mussolini/Gentile quote that "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
    Gee. What if fascism properly belongs on the left?

    MORE: Clayton Cramer cites Mussolini on collectivism following which he asks a question:

    If the nineteenth was the century of the individual (Liberalism means individualism) it may be expected that this one may be the century of "collectivism" and therefore the century of the State.
    Is there anything that more clearly identifies where American conservatism and libertarianism differs from Fascism--and where Fascism is most clearly a form of progressivism?

    posted by Eric at 08:47 AM | Comments (5)


    I see that Bill Whittle has posted part II of Sanctuary. If you like Bill's work you might want to mosey on over there.

    posted by Justin at 06:06 PM | Comments (2)

    Leave the scene!

    This seems like a good law school exam question:

    DAVIE, Fla. -- An altercation in a casino parking lot escalated into road rage and ended with a man killed in a hit-and-run accident, officials said.

    Julio Cesar Roqueta Reyes, 24, of Miami, died early Sunday morning when he was knocked into traffic and struck by a vehicle at a Davie intersection, police spokesman Bill Bamford said.

    Roqueta became involved in a heated dispute around 4 a.m. with another man over Roqueta's souped-up Dodge Neon in the parking lot of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, police said.

    Both men got in their own vehicles and continued hurling insults at each other as they drove north toward Davie, police said.

    At the intersection of State Road 7 and Griffin Road in Davie, both men got out of their cars and began fighting. Roqueta was punched in the face, knocking him into northbound traffic, Bamford said.

    Police said Roqueta was killed instantly, and the driver of the vehicle that stuck him never stopped.

    Bamford said the man who punched Roqueta fled after the incident, but was soon apprehended. Police did not release his identity Sunday night. It was not known if he would be charged with a crime, Bamford said.

    One of my worst fears is hitting a pedestrian, and I'm still haunted by coming within one inch of hitting a small boy who darted out in front of my car without warning. I screeched to a stop so suddenly that my passenger's head hit the windshield and the battery was jarred loose from it's compartment. I lost my temper, and got out of the car screaming bloody murder at the child, who stared blankly at me. No parent anywhere. So I continued on. Thoughts of "what if, what if" still plague me, and I'm always aware that something like this can happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone, no matter how good a driver.

    Then there's the duty to stop and render assistance after you hit someone. Depending on the circumstances, this could get you killed. If I saw a fight in progress, I'd be inclined to drive to the nearest police station instead of stopping at the scene. Even though this might be construed as hit and run, at least I'd be alive.

    What's interesting about this case from a criminal law perspective is that but for the car striking Roqueta, the fight would probably have gone unreported.

    I found another report of the incident ("Robot whiz dies in scuffle") which describes Roqueta as a bit of a hothead, and a driver of "Rammstein" on Comedy Central's "Battlebots" show:

    Roqueta got into a shouting match with one of the man, but no punches were thrown. It looked like a fight would be avoided.

    Moreno, Roqueta and Espinosa left, turning northbound on 441. They were stopped by a red light at Griffin Road. The Mercedes also stopped. The trash-talking resumed, and apparently escalated. Someone got out of the Mercedes and came around to the passenger side of the Neon, where Roqueta was sitting in the front seat. Roqueta got out.


    Fists began to fly, police said. One of the men from the Mercedes cocked back, swung, and landed a punch on Roqueta's face, sending him stumbling backward, police said.

    Roqueta fell down, his head hitting the bumper of a car headed northbound on U.S. 441, police said. The sound of the crash was so piercing, someone called 911 and reported it as a gunshot. When police arrived, they realized Roqueta had suffered a violent death, but not from a bullet.

    ''This kid hit [Roqueta] right in the mouth,'' said Davie Police Lt. Bill Bamford. ``He lost his balance, fell backwards, and the car hit him in the headlight area. It was just bad timing.''

    After the accident, Roqueta's friends and the other men drove away from the scene, leaving his body behind, police said.

    Espinosa said everyone left but all later returned.

    Bad timing? Murder? Manslaughter? (I worked on a murder case in which our client had struck another man in a fistfight from which both parties had walked away appearing normal if bloodied. But because the other man died the next day of internal bleeding, our guy was charged with murder.) You set in motion a chain of events, and you can be held criminally liable. This might very well be charged as manslaughter, especially if the other man was the aggressor in the fight.

    And what about the still-unidentified driver who hit Roqueta? There's clearly hit-and-run culpability, and if he'd been speeding, there might be a theory of manslaughter against him too. (It would depend also on whether pedestrians are permitted on U.S. 441 -- described as "a four lane highway" in that location.)

    As I say, it's a good law exam question.

    AFTERTHOUGHT AND UPDATE: I think I've finally figured out what caused this fight. It puzzled me that anyone driving a Mercedes would pick a fight with the driver of a Dodge Neon, so I read this account again:

    The group left shortly after 4 a.m. and returned to the parking lot where they prepared to leave in Moreno's souped-up Dodge Neon, Espinosa said Sunday.

    In the parking lot, three or four people in a black Mercedes began ridiculing the Neon, and an exchange of trash-talking ensued, Espinosa said.

    The car was an older model, but it had a specialized exhaust system, typically reserved for faster, newer cars.

    And, considering that the owner was a builder of robots, I'll bet it had more than that. According to the accounts, the Mercedes driver was the aggressor, and he was the one who struck the blow.

    I'd be willing to bet that the reason for the "ridicule" was that the Mercedes driver was absolutely infuriated by the idea that an older Dodge Neon could possibly be cooler than a Mercedes.

    Simple jealousy!

    I'd be willing to bet that the Neon was cooler than the Mercedes too -- way cooler!

    (I should probably be careful with my '64 Ranchero...)

    posted by Eric at 03:26 PM | Comments (4)

    Isn't tyranny impolite too?

    Am I too polite?

    Now that I've spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time proving the stupidity of the San Francisco pit bull owner whose conduct is now endangering the rights of other dog owners, I have more questions.

    Other bloggers (Doug Petch is a good example) had no problem acknowledging immediately something that was so painfully tedious for me.


    Might it be that I don't want to concede that some people are stupid because I fear the implications? Or is it because polite society deems it rude to call a stupid person stupid? My goal was not to label or insult this hapless woman, but to make a connection between stupidity and tyranny -- and I'm now realizing that the same principle which prevents polite people (a category into which I try to fit) from calling people stupid might also lead to the mistake of promoting a tyrannical form of egalitarianism. By that I mean that instead of treating everyone as equally intelligent, the legal system increasingly treats everyone as equally stupid.

    And yes, there is a difference; it's called respecting people's intelligence. We're all supposed to know that dogs can bite, guns can shoot, and you can get AIDS from screwing. Respecting other people's intelligence is a good form of egalitarianism; degrading them by treating them like morons is tyrannical egalitarianism. (Likewise, allowing all people their freedom is a good form of egalitarianism, while imprisoning or enslaving all people equally is bad. A good thing to remember, lest equality be at war with freedom.)

    Few of us would deem it insulting to assume that people are supposed to know how to read, and I haven't yet heard anyone condemn street signs and books as "elitist" for daring to make this assumption. Those who cannot read are simply at a disadvantage, and that's all there is to it. Were this society truly run by phony egalitarianism, why, we'd be getting rid of street signs and removing books from schools to eradicate any advantage possessed by the literate.

    But I'm worried when I see law schools proclaiming that Starbucks is exploiting law students who spend too much on coffee. It's one thing to treat morons like morons, but law students are supposed to be intelligent young people. If any group of people should be assumed to be intelligent, theirs should be.

    So what the hell is going on? If the tyranny of the stupid is threatening to engulf and devour otherwise intelligent people, then I'd say we're all in trouble.

    Did that sound too harsh? Should I have said we're all "at risk"?

    posted by Eric at 12:59 PM | Comments (3)

    Protection from helplessness?

    One of the things which most disappoints me about people is their frequent inability to think. Perhaps even there I'm being charitable; inability is more excusable than unwillingness, because mental slowness cannot be helped, and what annoys me cannot fairly be attributed to organic mental deficits. I'm not arguing that there aren't stupid people wholly incapable of independent thought. Nor am I arguing that there aren't people who want to be led.

    What torments me almost to madness is the existence of people whose existence seems to scream "SOMEONE PLEASE LEAD ME!" A perfect example is this owner of a pit bull which recently killed her son Nicky in San Francisco:

    "It's Nicky's time to go," she said. "When you're born you're destined to go and this was his time."
    What kind of person would say such a thing about the death of her son? Such helpless, uncomprehending stupidity almost invites public scrutiny of something completely external to her (in this case, pit bulls as a breed) to avoid looking at her own incompetence as a mother.

    Here are more details about how and why the mom barricaded her son in the basement (if you can stand it):

    Before she left the house, Faibish sent her 9-year-old son to the store to buy Nicholas a soda, bagel and chips. He also had video games to keep him busy.

    "Nicky was happy down there," she said.

    Faibish declined to say what triggered such concern that she insisted her son stay in the basement, away from the dogs.

    "I don't want to go into any of that detail," she said. "That's between me and the detectives."

    Right there, I'm suspicious. I think she knew that there was trouble between the dog and her son. Either the dog hated the boy, or vice versa. Something was wrong, and she knew it, but her incompetence prevented her from doing what any competent mother would have done. (Like, doh! Get rid of the dog, perhaps?)

    In my view, the real tragedy tragedy here is the failure -- by anyone -- to acknowledge that this woman was stupid.

    Not that anyone can stand reading it, but the ghastly narrative continues, subjecting readers to Mrs. Faibish's "thoughts" -- about what she might have done differently, as well as her political ruminations about Gavin Newsom:

    Deeply remorseful, Faibish says she continues to think of what she might have done differently. For one, she wishes she'd persuaded Nicholas to go to a picnic with his younger sister, Ashley.

    But she insists, "I have no regrets about that day," Faibish said.

    She's also fed up with the second-guessing from public figures who, she feels, do not understand the situation. She says San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who made strong comments about restricting pit bulls, got an earful when he called.

    "Just for the record, I yelled at Gavin Newsom,'' she said. "I told him off. How dare him say anything about my family?"

    Newsom spokesman Peter Ragone said Saturday the mayor is deeply remorseful over her loss.

    "Certainly, she's going through a very difficult time, and we extend our deepest sympathy to her for her loss," said Ragone.

    Ragone said the mayor must also consider what policies should be taken regarding the wider issue of public safety.

    "There's no question about the fact that the mayor, like most in the city, believe actions must be taken to prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future," Ragone said.

    More here, including a picture of the mother, and here, in a discussion over whether to file criminal charges against the mother.

    Criminal stupidity, perhaps? I doubt it. More likely, she'll be portrayed as a victim in need of government "help."

    In a somewhat more objective discussion, an animal control officer likened pit bulls to firearms:

    Smith likened pit bulls to firearms. You can keep a loaded gun in the house. If you take care of it, respect it and use it properly, everything is fine. If it is misused or mistreated, bad things can happen. People can die.
    Whether it's dogs or guns, stupid people almost scream to be led.

    And unfortunately there are plenty of people who can't wait to lead them. What that means, tragically, is two ever-growing classes: the leaders and the led.

    There's a scary common denominator (scary to me, at least).

    Something that used to be called serfdom.

    I hate to say this, but some people are and will always remain serfs. (Fortunately, they are not in the majority.) I dislike intolerance of any sort, so my natural inclination is to leave them alone, and allow them to be serfs. What worries me is when those who want to be their lords and masters try to put the rest of us in the same category as their serfs.

    Freedom is an easy thing to offer in theory (or in a blog), but there are always people who either don't appreciate it when they have it, don't understand the risks involved, or actually don't want it.

    I'll say this for Mrs. Faibish: pathetic as she is, at least she isn't calling for laws protecting her from pit bulls. Years ago, when the AIDS epidemic was relatively new, there was a hue and cry to close down San Francisco's bathhouses. Obviously, anonymous promiscuous sexual intercourse is a great way to contract the disease, and the bathhouses certainly made that easier. Intelligent and rational gay men simply stopped going to the baths, or if they did go they no longer engaged in risky behaviors. I was as much a libertarian then as I am now, and I was against bathhouse closure for the same reasons that I am now -- and for the same reasons I'm against banning guns or breeds of dogs. Governments should not limit personal freedom because some people abuse it.

    But what I'll never forget is one particularly helpless patron interviewed on television as he was entering a San Francisco gay bathhouse establishment. After admitting to being a regular, he stated emphatically that the government should shut the place down -- because he couldn't help going there! That scared me then, and it scares me now.

    Sean Kinsell offers more on this mindset of helplessness, and links to this Village Voice piece by gay activist Patrick Moore. Among other things, Moore believes gay drug addiction is caused by heterosexuals:

    Some of our problems are self-inflicted but others are a direct result of America oppressing, demonizing, and isolating gay people. The very serious effects of oppression on gay people have been long apparent—those of us living on the West Coast know that crystal meth has been steadily killing gay men for years. Historically, gay people have had significantly higher addiction rates than those found in the straight world. In short, too many of us have been torching our lives for decades now with coke, Special K, GHB, poppers, and even good old alcohol. But the real story is not told in the media, because that would require straight people to take responsibility for the harm they have caused us.
    No one is responsible for an individual's drug addiction but that individual. Only he can help himself. Blaming others -- especially the "heterosexist power structure" (or the "white power structure") only further degrades freedom.

    Freedom includes many risks -- including the risk of drug addiction and death. But as Sean recognizes, such risks are often ignored or denied by the "rudderless" who seem to cry out for guidance:

    ...sooner or later, anyone in a position to give spiritual and moral guidance to rudderless gay guys is going to have to address a few facts: exposing yourself to the mucous membranes of multiple partners a week is hell on the immune system.
    And further:
    there is ample evidence that screwing around all the time almost always leads to a sickly, short, destructive, miserable life.
    Yes, there is. And much as I favor supplying honest help for people honest enough to want to help themselves, I don't want to be lectured or have my freedom taken away by those who want to supply the rudderless with someone else's rudder. I'm less afraid of having methamphetamine for sale -- in the corner drugstore, even without prescription -- than I am of its "helpless" victims, or their craven "helpers."

    I don't know who scare me more; those who'd lead fools, or the fools who'd be led. But I worry that they're multiplying.

    MORE: Those who abuse freedom do not limit themselves to guns, sex, or pit bulls. Some people abuse free speech in such a way that seems to invite restrictions on it:

    The asshats coming to protest today at the funeral of Cpl. Carrie French say that God killed her, and will continue killing American soldiers. Since those who killed her also think that God is on their side, it seems to me that the protesters share beliefs and goals with the terrorists in Iraq.

    Now, I won't treat these enemies of America the same way I'd treat our terrorist enemies; these people are too wacko to take seriously... at least for now. I'm off to join whatever counterprotest there is at the funeral site today, and hope to have pictures and a report later. (Rumors on the street are that we might have some visitors from Mountain Home AFB.) I've never been to a demonstration, so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do; normally, I'd mock and belittle them (or as my liberal friends might say, "stifle their dissent") but I don't think that would necessarily be appropriate at a hero's funeral.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    What's up with Phelps? Asshat? Agent provocateur? Maybe both? Clayton Cramer supplies some intriguing background, and concludes he's a "nutcase."

    Nutcase or not, Phelps is doing a fine job of helping people who'd love to take away freedom.

    UPDATE: Lost in the clamor over protecting people from pit bulls is the story of what happened to this dog, "Princess":


    Here's the accompanying story:

    Cory Williamson, 17, is in jail accused of raping his neighbor's dog; and is awaiting trial on charges of molesting a 3-year-old girl and the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl.

    Princess was raped by Cory Williamson, 17, two weeks ago. Now the dog has died and charges against Williamson have been upgraded.

    Princess, who looks very much like a pit bull, apparently failed to fight back.

    Had she done so in the absence of witnesses, it would most likely have been reported as another vicious "pit bull attack."

    UPDATE (06/21/05): The language in the story about Princess has been changed -- and the word "allegedly" has been added:

    Princess was allegedly raped by Cory Williamson, 17, two weeks ago. Now the dog has died and charges against Williamson have been upgraded.
    I thought this would happen, so I saved a screenshot. If the vet didn't take a sample of the DNA material from Princess, would that be malpractice? Or obstruction of justice?

    MORE (06/21/05): Rand Simberg opines that the word "rape" might be inapplicable:

    ....the word "rape" has connotations that don't, or at least shouldn't, apply. To me, the word rape means non-consensual penetration (of either gender), but can there be any other kind of penetration of an (non-human) animal? It seems like a category error to me.

    How does a dog issue consent? I don't have any personal experience, but I'm given to understand that this is not an uncommon activity on farms, and that the animals don't always necessarily fight back or complain (and generally aren't even injured), but that's not the same thing as granting permission.

    Now clearly, this was a brutal crime, but it seems to me that the crime is animal cruelty, not rape. The fact that the instrument of torture and injury was the young man's male member doesn't change that.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Good point. Had the young man killed the dog as well, it wouldn't be murder, but animal cruelty. (I still think DNA evidence is highly relevant.)

    In some states, of course, sex of any kind with animals is a crime separate from animal cruelty.

    At the risk of getting off-topic, it's probably also worth noting that one Neal Horsley (who appears to fancy himself as a sort of self-appointed spokesman for religious conservatives) has stated that sex with farm animals is all part of "domestic life on the farm." (More here.)

    MORE: My thanks to Clayton Cramer not only for linking this post, but for letting me know that I didn't make myself particularly clear:

    Another point that Scheie makes, however, I have to disagree with, after linking to my piece about Rev. Fred Phelps rather bizarre and interesting history as a liberal lawyer:
    Nutcase or not, Phelps is doing a fine job of helping people who'd love to take away freedom.
    He is? I don't think there's a social conservative of any prominence who thinks that Phelps is doing them any good at all. If anything, Phelps is an embarrassment--a man so filled with hatred and with such astonishingly poor instincts for how his act plays, that he certainly helps the ACLU raise money. Even those who would like homosexuality illegal, or at least pushed back into the closet, roll their eyes in amazement and disgust at his frothing hatred.
    That was not what I meant by "people who'd love to take away freedom."

    I think Phelps -- a man I've long suspected of being an agent provocateur -- is helping the left in general, but more especially he's encouraging those who clamor for restrictions on speech (not all of whom are on the left.)

    posted by Eric at 09:27 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBacks (1)

    Punishment poll

    Glenn Reynolds agrees with Andrew Stuttaford's analysis of the latest incident of judicial tyranny in which an American woman and her husband were sentenced to eight years for serving alcohol to minors.

    According to this report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch George and Elisa Robinson threw a party for their 16-year-old son at which alcohol was served. No big deal so far as I’m concerned, but foolish in that such behavior was against the law. The cops came, and the Robinsons were charged.

    The initial sentence they drew was – wait for it - eight years from a judge, one Dwight J.Johnson, who has quite clearly lost all sight of what justice should really mean.

    Judging by this report, The same is true of the increasingly grotesque MADD:

    “Charlottesville Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) president Jill Ingram was surprised by the jail sentence— pleasantly surprised. "I'm not necessarily opposed to a judge trying to send a message that parents shouldn't supply other people's kids with alcohol. I applaud what [Judge Johnson] is trying to do."

    Eight years seems pretty rough to me, especially if this is a first offense.

    Perhaps it's time for the American authorities to look abroad for guidance. There are other countries which take the use of alcohol far more seriously.

    Like Iran.

    Although those convicted of morality offenses are routinely flogged in detention centers, public lashings had been extremely rare until recently. Hard-liners insist that the Koran, Islam's holy book, sanctions 80 lashes for drinking alcohol. Others say the punishment is discretionary, and that the application of such sentences in public is an incorrect interpretation of the Koran.

    According to Amnesty International, 70-80 lashes appears to be the standard punishment for alcohol offenses -- regardless of whether the alcohol was supplied or merely consumed. In another case, a manufacturer of poisoned alcohol which killed people was sentenced to three years in prison, while his subordinates received 154 lashes.

    The law does not appear to distinguish between adults and minors; boys of fourteen also get the 80 lashes.

    Under Islamic law, on the third offense, the death penalty is possible in theory, although the one reported case I could find also states that the sentence could be set aside after the accused repented. (I could find no report of any actual execution.)

    According to most accounts, Iranian prohibition hasn't worked, and alcohol is easily obtainable.

    Perhaps 80 lashes isn't enough of a deterrent. Maybe eight years is a more effective punishment after all.

    I don't mean to mock M.A.D.D., nor am I trying to be flippant. But I think eight years in prison for supplying alcohol is an outrage which makes the typical Islamic punishment look lenient by comparison. I know I'd rather take the 80 lashes than the eight years. (The former would be over after a week or so of healing, plus some scars; the latter would consist of eight years of being subjected to the exquisite refinements of prison life!)

    But I could be way out of line. So, at the risk of being excessively democratic, I think it's time for a reader poll.

    What do you think? Which punishment would you prefer?

    Eight years?

    Or eighty lashes?

    Which criminal penalty would you prefer?
    80 lashes
    Eight years in prison
    Free polls from Pollhost.com

    INFORMATIONAL BACKGROUND: Here is how an Iranian whipping is performed:

    Article 27 – Whipping is executed by a leather strap with strands woven together, and approximate length of 1 meter (3.5 feet), and approximate diameter of 1.5 cm (0.6 inch).

    Article 28 - The arms and legs of the prisoner is cuffed as tight as possible, to restrain movements of the body, that may cause the lashes to hit “prohibited” areas of the body.

    Clause – The “prohibited” areas of the body are the head, face and private parts.

    Article 29 – In the case when lashing is performed indoors, the air temperature should be medium; and if it is done outdoors, temperature should not be too cold or too warm. In cold areas, attempt should be made to execute whipping in warmer hours of the day. In hot areas, it should be done during cooler time of the day.

    Article 30 – Execution of whipping in reference to intensity of hits is as follows: The punishment for fornication and sex-without-intercourse is more intense than that for drinking alcohol. And, punishment of drinking alcohol is more intense than that for being a pimp.

    Hey, don't look at me! I didn't write these laws! Ask the Mullahs Against Drunk Dhimmitude or whatever they're called over there.

    posted by Eric at 05:46 PM | Comments (3)

    Read, Dick, read! Conquer, Jane, conquer!

    Speaking of reading, here's a wonderful picture of Dick and Jane playing with the Romans:


    (Via reader David Meadows, who says it came "from that rogueclassicist guy.")

    Whoever did it, my thanks for a perfect Sunday reading lesson!

    posted by Eric at 10:50 AM | Comments (8)

    Better read than dead

    There's some sort of awful book confession meme going around the blogosphere, and last night I learned to my horror that Matt Sheffield has tagged me! (Which means I have to disclose personal information about my precious books.)

    The last time something like this happened, Nick Packwood asked me embarrassing occupational questions.

    So now it's books.

    I'll answer the questions in the order they were given:

    Total number of books owned?

    That's unreasonable, as I have no idea. I have two residences plus a garage full of books. Has to be at least many hundreds; might be well over a thousand. I've never counted, but space is a serious problem, and many are in boxes. I collect encyclopedias (I have two sets of the great 11th Edition of the Enclyclopedia Brittanica), and multi-volume series like the Harvard Classics and the Great Books of the Western World so it's probably cheating to total them all up and call each one a "book."

    The last book I bought?

    The following two. Photography by Phil Davis, and The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies.

    The last book I read?

    I'll give the one I'm reading right now: Joseph Ellis's His Excellency: George Washington.

    Five (six) books that mean a lot to me?

    OK, this is arbitrary, and there are more but these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered right now first thing Sunday morning. I'm wordy, so I'll give seven or more:

    Uncle Tom's Cabin

    Naked Lunch



    Silent Coup

    Cancer Ward

    History of the English Speaking People


    So now I get to tag someone? How many?

    Much as I'd love to engage in retaliatory tagging, Nick Packwood has already been tagged, and has confessed his favorites.

    Likewise, John of Locusts and Honey has already been tagged.

    But I am unable to resist Steven Malcolm Anderson! Steven, you are hereby tagged! (And I can't wait to see your list....)

    Urthshu, if you haven't been tagged before, I also tag you! (And if Mark keeps supplying these online tests, I might have to steal them and revive my Friday Online Testing!)

    I hate to do this to nice people, but let's see....

    How about Ace at The Pryhills?


    Last but not least, I tag Justin, whom I accuse of owning more books than I (and reading more too -- especially the stuff I'd never allow myself to read!).

    As Dennis is already busy with his summer reading list, I won't bother him.

    I know of no rule requiring anyone to participate in this, nor did I see any warning about the bad luck which would befall those who "break the chain." So anyone who feels unfairly tagged, please be assured that I would fight to the death to support your right to ignore these games.

    MORE: Because people ignore these things, I probably should name an alternate, so I'm also tagging Alan Kellogg.

    My apologies to all.

    posted by Eric at 09:07 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

    Killing the resemblance of definitions

    Does language have meaning anymore?

    No, seriously. It's bad enough when words like "fascist" and "liberal" lose all meaning. But I am increasingly at a loss to understand the ordinary usage of the most basic, most simple words and concepts.

    It's not that I think of myself as particularly ignorant (I hold a B.A. in Rhetoric as well as a J.D.), but here I sit, struggling over the meaning of the word "kill."

    What does it mean?

    Here's one definition:

    a. To put to death.
    b. To deprive of life: The Black Death was a disease that killed millions.
    The reason for my puzzlement today is a statistic in the Philadelphia Inquirer that I'm unable to reconcile with facts already known to me:
    Nasir was the 10th child under the age of 17 to be killed in the city this year.

    Sometime around 8 p.m. Thursday, four men broke into the back of the house in the 5800 block of Malvern Avenue where Nasir lived with his mother, Hollie Butts. The men opened fire with assault weapons, hitting Nasir three times.

    A 19-year-old man, identified by police as Alonzo Washington, was found wounded on the ground outside the home in critical condition. His address was not available.

    Butts and at least one man escaped.

    (Emphasis added.)

    I don't have the police statistics, but in my attempts to analyze the Inquirer's statistics in the past few months, the following fourteen child killings have stared me in the face:
  • Nasir Hinton (see above -- the latest shooting victim)
  • Wander DeJesus (shot to death in March)
  • Mimi and Kenny Dang (both stabbed in March)
  • ten child victims killed by fire so far this year
  • Bear in mind that the above are just the ones which have drawn my attention from reading the paper. I would have to expect that there would be others. But if I get fourteen off the top of my head, then what accounts for such a discrepancy?

    Why has the Inquirer stated repeatedly that there were only ten despite clear evidence to the contrary?

    A possible explanation might be that the Inquirer is using a new definition of the word "kill." Perhaps the five most recent child fire victims are not seen by the Inquirer as having been killed at all.


    No; that's wrong, because in the same (today's) issue of the Inquirer, both the headline and the text describe the most five children as having been "killed":

    About 300 people attended the service for the sisters, among five children killed in a Kensington fire.

    By Vernon Clark

    Inquirer Staff Writer

    A single white casket topped with family photos and surrounded by flowers and balloons sat at the front of a church in Philadelphia's Kensington section yesterday as about 300 people paid tribute to three young sisters killed in a rowhouse fire.

    This leaves me at a loss, although I notice the pieces were not written by the same author. Might each writer have his own different working definition of "kill"?

    It's fair to point out that elsewhere in the Inquirer, victims of auto accidents are described as having been "killed":

    An SUV that struck and critically injured an Ocean County woman was driven by State Sen. Robert W. Singer, authorities said. The accident Wednesday occurred less than a mile from where Singer was involved in a crash that killed another driver four years ago.
    Like many newspapers, the Inquirer has used "killed" to describe accident victims repeatedly:
    A 20-year-old Marlton man received a $200 fine yesterday when he pleaded guilty in Westampton municipal court to careless driving in a crash that killed an East Brunswick man.
    So, without getting into a detailed word count "overkill," I think it's fair to conclude that by the Inquirer's own definitions, accidents kill people, just as deliberate actions kill people.

    That puzzles me even more, because I find it hard to believe that no children have been killed by such things as automobile accidents, poisonings, or drownings. (How would an accidental shooting be counted?)

    Why is the number only ten?

    As noted above, fire alone killed ten this year!

    I'm now wondering about whether cigarettes kill. Does AIDS kill? Do tsunamis kill? Collapsing buildings?

    I'm not trying to split hairs or be argumentative here. In fact, I'd venture that the best way to avoid having pointless arguments is to be able to agree upon basic definitions for basic words. And "kill" is a pretty basic word.

    If something so basic as how many people have been killed depends upon definitions which cannot be discovered (much less agreed upon), then what's the point of communication?

    I guess I should be glad that words don't kill.

    UPDATE (06/23/05): Stephan Salisbury has still not replied to an email I sent him asking about the statistics, and what is meant by the word "kill." However, in an article today, he writes that an auto accidents killed a child under 17:

    Police yesterday obtained a warrant to search a white Lexus coupe that investigators believe may have been involved in a hit-and-run accident that killed a 15-year-old girl in the East Falls section of Philadelphia late Sunday.
    Still no word on why only ten children were described as "killed" this year.

    Was it a mistake?

    An inside secret?

    Some mysteries may never be explained....

    posted by Eric at 02:48 PM | Comments (2)

    Is God an atheist?

    Evolution or God!

    That used to be the "choice" demanded by fundamentalists unable to grasp the idea that if there is a deity, that deity could operate (or "create") things in any way he might desire.

    A classic example of this thinking is the Jack T. Chick pamphlet, "Creator or Liar" which maintains it is impossible to believe in evolution and God at the same time. Adherents to this view maintain that because evolution contradicts the biblical stories of Adam and Eve, and the Flood, that to believe in evolution is the same as saying "God lied."

    This extreme position not only requires believing without any evidence that God wrote every word in the Bible, but that every word is literally true and not subject to any interpretation. Thus, the "seven days" of creation cannot be seen in terms of huge chunks of geologic time, but as ordinary days in the human calendar. This makes the world only thousands of years old, and all thoughts of natural or geological evolution heretical -- even if believed by people who believe that an infinite God might be able to create anything in any number of infinite ways.

    Fundamentalists who think this way are fond of portraying their opponents as inflexible, anti-religious bigots. Like this Jack T. Chick stereotype (taken from "Big Daddy"):


    Fortunately or unfortunately, I was taught Darwinian evolution in a religious school which saw no contradiction between evolution and a belief in God. Putting aside the extreme fundamentalist view (or the extreme atheist view), I've never been able to see the logic behind such a contradiction, because God is neither provable nor disprovable. Thus, God can no more be disproved by evolution than evolution can be disproved by God.

    What worries me now is to see clear evidence that anti-religious activists may be upping the ante in this debate:

    ...how exactly do scientists come to the conclusion that “God had no part in this process”? What’s their proof? That’s the sort of thing that can’t really be proved, it seems to me -- which makes it sound as if scientists, despite their protestations of requiring proof rather than faith, make assertions about God that they can’t prove.

    And on top of that, if the standard scientific theory is that “God had no part in this process,” then the opponents of evolution are right -- the standard theory of evolution may not be taught in the schools. The Court has repeatedly said that the Establishment Clause bars both government endorsement and disapproval of religion. Teaching that God exists and teaching that God doesn’t exist are both unconstitutional in government-run schools. Likewise, if teaching that God created humans is unconstitutional, so is teaching that God had no part in creating humans.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    What I'd like to know is from where did the "God had no part" meme suddenly appear? It is not scientific at all, but a theologic assertion which posits what God did (or in this case, didn't). It is one thing to assert that the stories of the Flood (or of Adam and Eve) are contradicted by science, but science cannot and has not disproved deism, which includes the idea that "Nature" -- and even string theory -- can be forms of God.

    Is it possible that some atheist scientists have found common cause with the extreme fundamentalists in the hope of creating another "showdown"? More and more, the word "Christian" is used as a synonym for "fundamentalist," and I suspect that many atheists would love to equate the slightest belief in God with fundamentalism, for the simple reason that it makes their case easier to prove.

    It also creates a new division based on another artificially constructed "choice."

    Collusion makes strange bedfellows.

    MORE: This "debate" gets more complicated in the face of claims of another asserted "contradiction" -- and that is the introduction of the concept of "intelligence" into the debate:

    The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.
    Intelligence is a human concept. Labeling natural phenomena as "intelligent" not only presupposes that "natural selection" asserts directionlessness (and thus, is against "intelligence"), but requires suspending disbelief and rendering a human value judgment on physical things.

    The bare assertion that evolutionary theory is an anti-religious value judgment against divine "intelligence" does not make it so -- any more than the failure of geology to teach that God made rocks is an assertion that he didn't. Intelligent design thus strikes me as a gratuitous -- and circular -- assertion that evolution denies intelligent design or is at war with it. (One might as well assert that teaching human reproduction negates "gay theory" or that teaching English negates Swahili.) To not assert something is not to deny something not denied, nor does it mean being at war with it.

    It is as unscientific as it is unnecessary, but I suspect the idea is to bootstrap into being the unstated assertion that "God" is "intelligent." The latter idea -- that God has human features such as intelligence -- is another unprovable theological assertion, and for it to be taught as fact would be another form of unconstitutional religious indoctrination (favoring one view of the divine over another).

    Calling a natural phenomenon intelligent is about as helpful as calling it stupid. (Might as well assert that evolution damages self esteem.)

    posted by Eric at 11:19 AM | Comments (8)

    Reviving a rotten old idea

    Much as I support technological improvements, I'm afraid I'm a bit of a failure as a futurist -- at least, until the future creeps up with me.

    But occasionally I'll have an idea which forces me to examine emerging technology, as happened today as I mulled over an especially morbid idea.

    None of us likes death and decay, but unless the futurists put a stop to dying -- and in the next few decades -- we're all headed there. As I was driving out in the country today to pick up Puff's ashes ("cremains" is, I believe, the expression), I revisited a morbid idea I had some time ago, and ran head-on into a technological challenge.

    A truly rotten, stinking idea for those who just can't let go of their dead, it occurred to me that some of the more neurotic and morbid types might enjoy keeping an eye on the remains of their loved ones after they go into the ground.

    An electronic eye, in the form of a webcam in the coffin.

    While most of the technology required to accomplish this task is fairly simple (after all, tiny video transmitters are a dime a dozen these days, and they'll transmit just about anywhere), the biggest problem is: how do you get power inside a hermetically sealed casket? I looked into cordless recharging, but it's not suitable for anything this deep in the ground, and as these systems use nearby magnetic fields, you'd have to blast the hell out of the entire area to shoot a charge down through six feet of ground, past the vault, then penetrate the liner and casket. It just isn't practical.

    There's some theoretical work (via theories of Nikola Tesla) on wireless transmission of electricity, but the details haven't been worked out, and it's intended for large scale power transmission and thus wildly impractical as a way of charging batteries in an underground funeral plot.

    Betavoltaics is better, and it strikes me as the best way to go:

    The technology is geared toward applications where power is needed in inaccessible places or under extreme conditions. Since the battery should be able to run reliably for more than 10 years without recharge or replacement, it would be perfect for medical devices like pacemakers, implanted defibrillators, or other implanted devices that would otherwise require surgery to replace or repair. Likewise, deep-space probes or deep-sea sensors, which are beyond the reach of repair, also would benefit from such technology.

    Betavoltaics, the method that the new battery uses, has been around for half a century, but its usefulness was limited due to its low energy yields. The new battery technology makes its successful gains by dramatically increasing the surface area where the current is produced. Instead of attempting to invent new, more reactive materials, Fauchet’s team focused on turning the regular material’s flat surface into a three-dimensional one.

    Similar to the way solar panels work by catching photons from the sun and turning them into current, the science of betavoltaics uses silicon to capture electrons emitted from a radioactive gas, such as tritium, to form a current. As the electrons strike a special pair of layers called a “p-n junction,” a current results. What’s held these batteries back is the fact that so little current is generated—much less than a conventional solar cell. Part of the problem is that as particles in the tritium gas decay, half of them shoot out in a direction that misses the silicon altogether. It’s analogous to the sun’s rays pouring down onto the ground, but most of the rays are emitted from the sun in every direction other than at the Earth. Fauchet decided that to catch more of the radioactive decay, it would be best not to use a flat collecting surface of silicon, but one with deep pits.

    (Via Slashdot.)

    There's more to the article, and it's quite technical. But it also seems possible.

    Whether there's any market for this sort of thing depends on how many weirdly neurotic, morbidly sick individuals there are.

    Edgar Allan Poe, meet the electronic age!

    No discussion of this sort would be complete without taking the ancients into consideration. (Indeed, isn't that supposed to be a constant, overarching purpose of this blog?) The Romans were fond of various forms of communing with the dead, and one highly analog method was by pipelines or libation pots connected directly to the deceased:

    Similar to inhumation burials, a pipe leading from the container to the surface was often installed to allow libations to be offered to the deceased and the gods.


    Around the 2nd century CE, inhumations began to rise in popularity. Urns and mausolea fragments from the Roman period provide evidence of the increasing prevalence of inhumation (burial in a pot, coffin, or vault) rather than cremation. While the upper class was laid to rest in sarcophagi housed in mausoleums, the Roman middle class was usually buried in graves marked with a large upright pot, or amphorae, partially thrust into the ground. This allowed offerings, in the form of libations, to be poured into the grave of the deceased.

    It's nice to know the ancients did a decent job of partying with the dead, even if they found life extenstion elusive.

    In addition to those who can't stop partying, or let go of their deceased, as well as the morbidly preoccupied, there's the not-entirely-unreasonable fear of being buried alive. Over the years, this has caused morbid inventors to come up with analog equivalents more advanced than the Romans' pipelines to the deceased.

    Here's a more modern, American, example:

    Martin Sheets was a wealthy businessman who lived in Terra Haute, Indiana in the early 1900’s. One of his greatest fears was that of a premature burial. He often dreamt of being awake, but unable to move, at the moment the doctor pronounced him dead and then regaining consciousness while trapped in a coffin below the ground. Sheets decided to fight his fears by investing some of his resources in the prevention of his being buried alive.

    First of all, he had a casket custom-designed with latches fitted on the inside. In this way, should he be placed inside prematurely, he would be able to open the coffin and escape. He also began construction on a mausoleum so that when he died, or was thought to have died, he would not be imprisoned under six feet of dirt. The mausoleum was well built and attractive but Sheets realized that even if he did manage to escape from his casket, he would still be trapped inside of a stone prison.

    He came up with another clever idea. He installed a telephone inside of the tomb with a direct line to the main office of the cemetery. In this way, he could summon help by simply lifting the receiver. The line was fitted with an automatic indicator light so that even if no words were spoken, the light would come on in the office and help would soon be on the way.

    Death came for Martin Sheets in 1910 and he was entombed in the mausoleum. I would imagine that for several days afterward, cemetery staff workers kept a close eye on the telephone indicator light in the office. After more time passed though, it was probably forgotten. Years went by and the telephone system in the area changed. Eventually, the direct line to the cemetery office was removed but thanks to very specific instructions in Sheets’ will, and the money to pay for it, the telephone in the mausoleum remained connected and active.

    A number of years later, Sheets’ widow also passed away. She was discovered one day lying on her bed with the telephone clutched in her hand. In fact, she held the receiver so tightly that it had to be pried from her fingers. It was soon learned that she had experienced a severe stroke and family members assumed that she had been trying to call an ambulance when she finally died. A service was held and after a quiet memorial service, she was taken to the family mausoleum, where she would be interred next to her husband.

    When cemetery workers entered the mausoleum, they received the shock of their lives. Nothing there was disturbed, they saw, except for one, very chilling item. Martin Sheets’ telephone, locked away for all of these years, was hanging from the wall.... its receiver inexplicably off the hook!

    With a buried video camera, the slightest movement or sign of life could of course be noticed and acted upon. (Or, in the case of enemies, not!)

    I have no idea whether there would be any legal impediments to this, but I doubt it, because personal objects are commonly placed in coffins with people, and mini-webcams are so small that they could be stuck in there when no one was looking, so it wouldn't even require cooperation of the morticians.

    The latter, however, are usually quick to get in on any new death idea. And if one of them sees this post and acts on it, hey, I'm sure I'm not the first person to think about stuff like this, and even if I was, there'd be no way to patent the new use of existing technology.

    Alas! It's not a new idea anyway, as I just Googled it and found stuff like this:

    Web portal for people who have been buried alive with an internet connection in their coffin

    If you're going to have an internet connection in your coffin, there should really be somewhere for you to go. This idea stems from the "Be buried with your mobile" and "Internet Connection for Coffins" ideas.

    ....Rather than a full-blown Internet connection, coffins could just be installed with small, cheap webcams. Then digmeup.com would be a site where hundreds of thousands of webcam images could be viewed. Obviously 99.9999% of these would show corpses, but there might be the occasional picture of someone looking rather panicky. It would be "compulsive browsing" too - you wouldn't want to stop looking through the images for fear that the next one might be someone relying on you to notice that they're alive. The whole thing would of course pay for itself with banner ads.

    For all I know, they're already offering it somewhere.

    I know, I know.

    Plenty of people would be dying to give it a try...

    UPDATE: There may be a problem with the Betavoltaics concept -- not because it wouldn't work but apparently because there are -- guess what? -- regulatory issues relating to the tritium:

    ...the process is easily reproducible and cheap, says Fauchet -- a necessity if the DEC Cell is to be commercially viable.

    The fabrication techniques may be affordable, but the tritium itself -- a byproduct of nuclear power production -- is still more expensive than the lithium in your cell-phone battery. The cost is less of an issue, however, for devices designed specifically to collect hard-to-get data.

    Cost is only one reason why Gadeken says he will not pursue the battery-hungry consumer electronics market. Other issues include the regulatory and marketing obstacles posed by powering mass-market devices with radioactive materials and the large battery size that would be required to generate sufficient power. Still, he says, the technology might some day be used as a trickle-recharging device for lithium-ion batteries.

    Of course, there's plenty of time for trickle-charging....

    posted by Eric at 04:20 PM | Comments (4)

    All resemblances are not equal!

    Speaking of fascism, and interpretations, Dick Durbin knows fascism when he sees it. Fascism involves "extremely cold air-conditioning" and "loud rap music." (And if you think that's bad, not only is my air conditioning too cold, but I fail to change the filter, which turns the thing into a giant recirculating dust pump. Plus, I have a hyperactive pit bull puppy who likes to lick people when they're trying to sleep, in violation of the Koran's edicts. On top of that, I listen to things like doowop and the Grateful Dead, which are far more fascistic than rap music.)

    I realize I'm being facetious. The above traits are just some of the hallmarks of fascism. Ever the academic, James Lileks demonstrates that by using the principle of resemblance, features of fascism can be discovered almost anywhere:

    Whether the Soup Nazi actually believes in exterminating the Jews and bending the nation towards race-based collectivism and militarism is irrelevant; what matters is that he doesn’t want to give you some of that yummy chowder.

    If one means “religious fascism” as the use of the power of the state to achieve a particular moral objective, you could argue that progressive taxation is “fascism,” inasmuch as it assumes that the rich should pay more for the good of all, and this moral imperative should be enforced by law. I would not make that argument, because it would be vile. Progressive taxation is many things, but it’s not fascism. On the other hand, I’m at a disadvantage here; if gentlemen like Mr. Kaplan feel free to drop the f-bomb in order to claim the moral high ground, why should I stand down here in the moat complaining? So I put it to you that Mr. Kaplan is a fascist himself. Period. There you go! That's easy. If pressed, I will only note that there are some of his ideas which bear a resemblance to policies one occasionally finds in fascist states - inasmuch as he wrote comedy movies, and they had funny films in Hitler's Germany, too. I mean, draw your own conclusions, people.

    (Via InstaPundit.)

    If I am reading Lileks correctly, the search for fascism distills itself down to the following formula:

  • find a resemblance to things found occasionally, then follow the trail of links to the rise of fascism.
  • NOTE: Mutable mobilizing passions can be especially helpful in this regard.

    I suppose it's possible that James Lileks is being sarcastic, but I'd like to ask some hard questions at the risk of playing devil's advocate. In order for academics to really teach young people what fascism is, might it be necessary to encourage them to master the principle of resemblance?

    In his review of this deconstructionist classic (which shows how barbed wire epitomizes modernity and evil), Edward Luttwak argues that the very same principle can be applied to seemingly innocuous, everyday objects. In this case, shoelaces:

    ...take an artefact, anything at all. Avoid the too obviously deplorable machine gun or atom bomb. Take something seemingly innocuous, say shoelaces. Explore the inherent if studiously unacknowledged ulterior purposes of that “grim” artefact within “the structures of power and violence”. Shoelaces after all perfectly express the Euro-American urge to bind, control, constrain and yes, painfully constrict. Compare and contrast the easy comfort of the laceless moccasins of the Indian – so often massacred by booted and tightly laced Euro-Americans, as one can usefully recall at this point. Refer to the elegantly pointy and gracefully upturned silk shoes of the Orient, which have no need of laces of course because they so naturally fit the human foot – avoiding any trace of Orientalism, of course. It is all right to write in a manner unfriendly or even openly contemptuous of entire populations as Professor Netz does with his Texans at every turn (“ready to kill. . . they fought for Texan slavery against Mexico”), but only if the opprobrium is always aimed at you-know-who, and never at the pigmented. Clinch the argument by evoking the joys of walking on the beach in bare and uncommodified feet, and finally overcome any possible doubt by reminding the reader of the central role of high-laced boots in sadistic imagery. That finally unmasks shoelaces for what they really are – not primarily a way of keeping shoes from falling off one’s feet, but instruments of pain, just like the barbed wire that I have been buying all these years not to keep the cattle in, as I imagined, but to torture it, as Professor Netz points out. The rest is easy: the British could hardly have rounded up Boer wives and children without shoelaces to keep their boots on, any more than the very ordinary men in various Nazi uniforms could have done such extraordinary things so industriously, and not even Stalin could have kept the Gulag going with guards in unlaced Indian moccasins, or elegantly pointy, gracefully upturned, oriental shoes.
    You know, that's brilliant. I'm starting to see the connections I've never seen before.

    Fascism has at last been untied!

    But I do see an occasional problem which might arise when the resemblance is either overplayed, or (in the wrong hands) actually misused.

    It might cause unsophisticated or bigoted people to see resemblances where none exist. For example, Sean Penn (now reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle) was recently forced to explain -- to Iranians who chanted "Death to America" -- that their remarks might be misinterpreted:

    NEW YORK Actor Sean Penn, reporting from Iran this week for the San Francisco Chronicle, snared a scoop worthy of a Broder or Brownstein, interviewing Muslim cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who leads the opinion polls in the coming elections.

    Penn also told Iranian film students that those chanting “Death to America” were only hurting their cause.

    What cause might they have been hurting? The "Death to America" cause?

    This puzzled me, but in another report, Penn explained that he thought there was a misinterpretation:

    ....I don't think it's productive because I think the message goes to the American people and it is interpreted very literally.
    I know this will sound complicated, but taking "Death to America" literally is actually is an example of taking resemblances too far. It really does not resemble what it seems to say.

    I think the key here is remembering that some resemblances only seem to resemble....

    MORE: Here's Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (aka Daily Kos):

    The torture that was so bad under Saddam, is equally bad under U.S. command.

    (Via Charles Johnson.)

    That's an example of "reality-based" thinking -- to be used as a last resort when even resemblances fail!

    MORE (and MOORE): Andrew Sullivan has nominated Markos Moulitsas Zuniga for the prestigious Moore Award in recognition of Kos's "morally cretinous hyperbole."

    posted by Eric at 09:37 AM | Comments (5)

    Happy anniversary to overthrown fascism!
    "(expletive deleted) Of course, I am not dumb and I will never forget when I heard about this (adjective deleted) forced entry and bugging. I thought, what in the hell is this? What is the matter with these people? Are they crazy? I thought they were nuts! A prank! But it wasn't! It wasn't very funny."

    -- Richard Nixon

    33 years is a third of a century. A lifespan for many in the Third World. A longer period of time than many of this blog's readers have been on this earth. Yet that's how many years it's been since the date of a burglary of an office located in the "Watergate" -- a name that still dominates media politics (and so much of political conversation that the word "gate" is still routinely attached as a suffix to all scandals, big and small).

    As most of the pontificating geezers know, today is the anniversary of Watergate. At the risk of sounding like a geezer, I'd only like to remind readers that the pontificating (and the posturing, and the moral lecturing and scolding) is so loud that it drowns out those who might like to look at the facts, which are still by no means historically settled.

    Watergate was a burglary for which people went to prison, and it also refers to the coverup of that burglary, which brought down Nixon's presidency (and for which more people went to prison). It wasn't about Nixon's irrelevant mutterings caught on tape, and despite the cries of so many people over the decades, no one has ever shown me how an office burglary (or even a coverup of that burglary) ever threatened the Constitution. True, the administration used lawless tactics. These were lawless times, the country was in a big war, and lawless tactics abounded on both sides. As a young Marxist-Leninist, I was no exception, and I was much caught up in the radicalism of the time. Still, I found myself baffled by the utter wimpiness shown by Nixon -- assumed by everyone to be a great fascist waiting to seize total control -- when the chips were down. I asked about this sarcastically in a recent comment,

    How come when the Final Showdown came, instead of suspending the Constitution and calling out his White House Storm Troopers, the evil prince of darkness, First Leader, and Absolute Ruler of the World simply resigned and muttered something about "the good of the country"? No attempted coup, no running away to plot in exile, nothing.
    It took me years to realize that Nixon really hadn't been a fascist at all. He was a politician whose illegal coverup failed, and he resigned rather than face impeachment for it. On top of that, the evidence is accumulating that the motivation for the burglary was sexual, and personal to John Dean.

    Nixon's initial reaction that the burglary made no political sense was absolutely right. If Nixon hadn't done a damned thing, he would have lasted out his second term, and stepped down when the next president was sworn in.

    That's how fascism always works.

    MORE: Here's a quote from which illustrates the ultimately inevitable nature of fascism:

    "I think if Kerry were to win this in a tight race, I think there would be an effort to mount a coup, quite frankly." -- Bill Moyers
    Just because that didn't happen, it doesn't mean that we don't have fascism. Because they won the election, the fascists didn't have to mount a coup.

    But just as Richard Nixon would have, so Bush would have!

    And that proves how fascist they all are!

    posted by Eric at 07:27 AM | Comments (1)

    Dis-Durbin' Developments

    My good friend E. over at the Dave has some tough words for Dick Durbin following the Senator's claims of Nazism in the American military's treatment of prisoners at Gitmo (centering largely around the use and subsequent non-use of air conditioners and the playing of rap music):

    somebody get me dick durbin on the phone. i don't even HAVE air conditioning, and my apartment has been scorching for the last several days. perhaps he could pol pot-ize my landlord on the senate floor and get the whole nation aware of my own private gulag, and i'll finally see some relief. i'll even let him know that last year the people across the street used to play REALLY LOUD MUSIC WITH IMPUNITY!!!

    But hold on just a second!

    This Dick Durbin is a distinguished man. Why, this is the same senator who, according to his own list of accomplishments 'Publicly exposed and investigated a decision by Smithsonian officials to move an exhibit on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the main level of the National Museum of Natural History to the basement.'

    Sounds like fascism to me! We can't have museum curators rotating their holdings! Not in my America. And by gum not in Dick Durbin's either.

    But it doesn't end there. He's accomplished so much more: he 'Requested a GAO report,' and even 'Secured language in the transportation appropriations bill to allow 24-hour pharmacies to have their name or logo posted on informational signs at interchanges on interstate highways, advising motorists that they can find pharmacy services nearby that are open to the public at all hours.'

    For shame, E. Though it was kind of you to note the support the Senator has received from certain respected quarters of the news media:

    yesterday i mentioned a little something about sen. dick durbin and his long, strange trip into the ethereal regions of hyperbole and, well, lying. i gather he doesn't intend to apologize. for this ridiculous move, he will perhaps come under some fire in the US.

    but al jazeera sure loves it!

    so he's got that going for him.

    In all seriousness though James Lileks read the same article as the good Senator with a very different reaction (closer to E.'s). But noone screeds like Lileks screeds, so away we go ...

    posted by Dennis at 06:13 PM | Comments (5)

    Summer reading

    I've been pretty busy lately editing an old Greek textbook, plodding through some rather unrewarding research, and getting caught up on some reading I've put off too long. Of course, that's all meant that I've neglected Classical Values. I'd first like to apologize to Eric, but second and most importantly to those few rabid commenters whose days I sometimes invigorate with opportunities for dismissive displays of half-cocked wit and tilts at their own straw men.

    I've missed you.

    Moving on, I continually find Arts & Letters Daily a boon, chock full of good links and subtle yet insightful comments.

    Today you can find links to reviews of two intriguing books:

    1) Kevin Anderson and Janet Afary's "Foucault and the Iranian Revolution" (University of Chicago)


    2) "Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics," edited by Jeffrey A. Schaler (Open Court).

    The first offers Michel Foucault's journalistic coverage of the the Iranian revolution in which he described the ayatollah Khomeini as 'the perfectly unified collective will' and praised this rise of radical Islam as 'the first great insurrection against global systems.'

    The second concerns a collection of critiques of and responses by Thomas Szasz, a professor of psychiatry who argues for the abolition of the insanity defense and myth of mental illness ('typically ... identified by observing the patient’s verbal pronouncements') as opposed to actual diseases of the brain (for which there are 'objective, physical-chemical markers').

    Interestingly, the review opens with a 1980 case in which a white woman murdered a black child claiming it to be the duty of every white woman; the defense argued against a motive of racism in favor of insanity.

    A question for the lawyers: How would this have been handled in the era of hate crimes legislation?

    posted by Dennis at 02:33 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    What happens when losers win?

    In his haste to apply labels, there's something the Archbishop of Canterbury might not have given much thought, and that is the role of the new media he condemns in reporting news that would otherwise go unreported.

    Some of this news might even be considered important.

    According to blogger Austin Bay (who has extensively traveled in Iraq) the press elites are missing an extraordinary story -- the story that we're winning the war!

    A new greatest generation is emerging — in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in the other, less-publicized battlegrounds of the War on Terror.

    Focused on the U.S. political cycle, America’s press elites are missing the extraordinary story of the 19-through-35 year olds who are winning this war. The detailed history of this new cohort of American and Free World leaders — the people who will shape the 21st century — is being written by themselves, chiefly on the Internet, via email or web logs.

    If the story of the new greatest generation is only being reported by bloggers, I'm glad the reporting continues to be unpoliced, and I don't trust those who would police it.

    Because if reporting were policed, we might end up being told that we were losing a war we're winning, by people who think "bad wars" must be reported as lost. And no one would have the right to report anything to the contrary.

    I'd hope that even those who disagree with Austin Bay (and maintain the war is lost) would think the latter is a bad idea....

    posted by Eric at 10:16 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Call the nonsense police!

    In remarks which struck terror into my paranoid, self-indulgent, nonsensical, and dangerous heart, the Archbishop of Canterbury has savaged the blogosphere:

    THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has criticised the new web-based media for “paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry”. He described the atmosphere on the world wide web as a free-for-all that was “close to that of unpoliced conversation”.

    In a lecture to media professionals, politicians and church leaders at Lambeth Palace in London last night, Dr Williams wondered whether a balance could be struck between the professionalism of the classical media and the relative disorder of online communication.

    Sorry, but I'm having trouble making sense of this.

    First of all, I haven't read the whole speech, so I don't know whether it's being reported in the proper context. Was Dr. Williams saying that all bloggers are engaged in "paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry"? Or just some? On its face, his comment seems to be a generalization about the blogosphere versus the old maintream media, and I'm quite baffled over what he might mean by the term "unpoliced conversation" -- an ill-defined thing he appears to be very much against.

    Is he advocating the policing of conversations? Or is he simply against conversations? By it's very nature, traditional media tends not to be a conversation (in the sense of dialogue) at all, but a monologue, limited only by editorial control and/or the economic success of the venue. The only policing it experiences is business failure, or (I suppose) letters to the editor. While it can be argued that the blogosphere tends to "police" the old media by offering criticism or corrections, there is absolutely no obligation of the sort we normally associate with the word "police." The beauty of the American system lies in the fact whether there is a new media style conversation or an old media style monologue, legal policing of any sort is constitutionally off limits.

    So yes, Dr. Williams, it is unpoliced conversation. And unpoliced conversation is a good thing. (You want to sell policing, there are plenty of governments which are buying.)

    What seems inexplicably absent from Dr. Williams' analysis is the concept of self policing, or policing at the behest of suggestions by others (often taking the form of correcting) which occurs quite frequently in the blogosphere. In this sense, the new media is more responsive to policing than the old, as even the most cursory review of the blogosphere would make plain. (In the old days, the only recourse was to "write a letter to the editor" -- in stark contrast to today's "start a blog, write your own editorial, and prepare for relentless criticism.") This is hardly a new observation, and surely Dr. Williams has to be aware that there is constant, relentless, yet legally unenforceable policing going on. (Why, I'd be willing to bet that he has a staff of some sort reviewing blogospheric reactions to his very remarks about policing!)

    So, I'm a little concerned about these remarks. While Dr. Williams is hardly an Iranian theocrat, as the Archbishop of Canterbury his words have a certain influence -- arguably beyond even remarks which might be made by Iranian mullahs. And if an Iranian mullah complained about the blogosphere being "unpoliced," well, we'd all know what he meant.

    But surely Dr. Williams is not calling for Internet police.

    Well, is he?

    At this point I'm so beset with paranoid fantasy I honestly don't know.

    (I should probably stick with self-indulgent nonsense.)

    UPDATE (06/19/05): Stephen Green is horrified by unpoliced coversation:

    "Unpoliced conversation." Can you in your wildest dreams imagine such a thing? Talking, actually talking with another human being or two, without some legal or moral authority present to keep things, ah, kosher?
    How far we've fallen as a culture!

    Unpoliced conversations are another sign of the moral decay of our times.

    posted by Eric at 08:44 AM | Comments (3)

    Snitch channels at the Carnival!

    The 143rd Carnival of the Vanities is being hosted by Mister Snitch, who runs a Batman-centered blog based in Hoboken, New Jersey. My thanks to him for including my potty parity parody despite my having first sent it out with a dysfunctional link.

    Here are three taste-tempting treats:

  • Rick Moran argues that the Bush/Hitler comparisons are not exercises in rhetorical hyperbole, but they are sincerely believed. (Is delusional ignorance superior to willful demagoguery?)
  • Eric Berlin declares that words now have no meaning. (A recurrent problem which plagues me.)
  • Watcher of Weasels analyzes a fascinating Australian study linking the quality of sperm produced to the type of pornography and amount of competition involved. (Does that mean jealous porn addicts produce the best kids?)
  • This post about ignorance and borderline illiteracy in the schools is so scary that I hope it's inaccurate. (The problem is, I once ate lunch with two law professors who got into a ferocious argument over what to do about a student who understood the legal issues on an exam, but was "unable to write an English sentence." Allowing someone like that to practice law would endanger his clients.)
  • Mister Snitch has lots more.

    Check 'em out!

    posted by Eric at 06:29 PM | Comments (4)

    Leftysphere moonbat strikes back!

    It isn't often that I find myself accused of being part of the "Leftysphere," but it's now a matter of official record.

    This happened yesterday because the Philadelphia Inquirer's Daniel Rubin (who probably wouldn't consider himself a member of the "Rightysphere") linked and discussed my earlier post about Michael Jackson.

    Doubtless considering me one of the nattering nabobs of the Leftysphere, here's what the very first commenter said:

    Once again, we're left wondering if Dan Rubin has an opinion, an analysis, a conclusion, a point-of-view or an interpretation of this event that is his own.

    Oh, and what does the Right Wing of the Blogosphere have to say about this? I tire of the endless quoting of the Leftysphere.

    William Young

    Considering that Daniel had just been nice enough to quote me for more than three paragraphs, that "Leftysphere" remark hurt, believe me.

    Now that I'm a moonbat in addition to being a wingnut, who's left to defend me?

    posted by Eric at 06:06 PM | Comments (4)

    Serial attack wingnut attacks again!

    While I'm not exactly sure what the correct definition of "wingnut" or wingnuttery is, the phrase is almost always intended as an insult; the clear implication being that the "wingnut" is both an extremist as well as not mentally stable. Nat Hentoff is someone I greatly respect (regardless of whether I might agree with him on every issue), and when I saw him accused of "wingnuttery," I was more than a little bothered.

    Not that I really needed to defend him. Nat Hentoff is a big boy who can certainly take care of himself without my help. But then I saw what the same accuser said about Kim du Toit:

    I remember once having a long conversation with an idiot student over Du Toit's awful "pussification" essay. A quick perusal of his "blog" confirms that he fulfills all of the requirements of the selection committee: His blogging is both "rank" and "incompetent". When I can find more cogently argued, logical, and reasonable arguments six beers into an evening from 6 of 7 patrons at my dad's favorite sports bar in Nebraska, it means that you're not making much of a contribution. At the bar, at least I can get drunk.

    Congratulations, Mr. Du Toit. You've won a lifetime subscription to Lawyers, Guns and Money, as soon as we start charging. To his multitude of readers, I can only ask the following: Who is more pathetic? The sap, or the saps who read him? A decent blogger actually introduces new ideas; he does not simply confirm what you already believed but were too ashamed to verbalize.

    Like Hentoff, du Toit can certainly defend himself, and he had fun doing so. But I dislike ad hominem attacks and the hurling of insults, so at the time I thought I should at least say something in defense of Hentoff and du Toit. (If I'd known who the "idiot student" was I'd have probably defended him too.)

    Now I see the same blogger claiming that in my defense of Hentoff and du Toit, I "attacked" their attacker.

    Did I?

    After quoting from the piece that earned Nat Hentoff the "wingnut" label, I said this :

    There's more, and while I know everyone's tired of reading about the Schiavo case, seeing Nat Hentoff accused of "wingnuttery" -- by the same people who've just honored Kim du Toit with this breathtakingly ingenious exercise in academic wit -- made me feel obliged.
    I suppose the phrase "breathtakingly ingenious exercise in academic wit" was sarcastic, and maybe I shouldn't have been sarcastic. (Under the circumstances at the time, it seemed rather gentle and restrained.)

    But is a sarcastic characterization of a vicious attack really an attack? I meant it as a defense of Kim du Toit, who was called "rank," "incompetent," and "pathetic" by a teacher who simultaneously called his student an "idiot." It's name-calling, and I don't like it.

    I objected to it then, and I object to it now. If objecting to the use of insults is an attack, then I guess this objection to the objection has to also be called an attack.

    If it is, further discussion is about as productive as calling each other names.

    posted by Eric at 03:41 PM | Comments (2)

    puff of smoke

    When I jokingly mentioned "controlled demolition" earlier, I meant attending to Puff's cremation, which happened this morning.

    It was terribly depressing to see Puff one last time. Then I watched him go into the furnace -- an even more final event.

    Taking the day off strikes me as a good idea. I'm not up to sharing any magical, cosmic, or spiritual ruminations, which strike me as having about as much present value to me as the possibility of future life extension technology.

    Just say no to death?

    Small comfort!

    I wish I could offer something more helpful and more cheerful.

    Well, believe it or not, here it is:


    New life!

    Coco's only sleeping, of course.

    posted by Eric at 01:47 PM | Comments (4)

    "blinkered narrowness and lack of breadth"

    One Morgan Reynolds, described as a former Bush administration official has finally spoken up about 9/11!

    The government’s collapse theory is highly vulnerable on its own terms, but its blinkered narrowness and lack of breadth is the paramount defect unshared by its principal scientific rival – controlled demolition. Only professional demolition appears to account for the full range of facts associated with the collapses of WTC 1 (North Tower), WTC 2 (South Tower), and the much-overlooked collapse of the 47-story WTC building 7 at 5:21 pm on that fateful day.

    And the conclusion:

    If the official wisdom on the collapses is wrong, as I believe it is, then policy based on such erroneous engineering analysis is not likely to be correct either.
    Ah, but if the "official wisdom" is wrong, that means it's not wisdom at all -- nor "erroneous engineering analysis" -- but a grand deception of unprecedented magnitude. The fiendishly Orwellian minds which dreamed it up did so for propaganda purposes only, and thus would be far too bright (and too sinister) to use it as a genuine basis for policy. (Or does he think the government is both clever enough to pull off such a deception and dumb enough not to suspect they did it?)

    Who is this former Bush administration official, and from where does he get his newfound expertise in engineering? His Lew Rockwell "report" offers nothing more than a regurgitation of crackpot conspiracy theories which have been debunked by Popular Mechanics. (If you are even slightly skeptical, the latter offers much greater breadth as well as a fuller range of facts than these superficial rehashes of conspiracy factoids.)

    Morgan Reynolds is a former economist for the Labor Department, a former professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M, and was once known for compiling crime statistics.

    So where did he get the demolition expertise? I don't know. He doesn't say.

    What's not being as widely reported is the professor's contention that the planes might not have existed:

    "In fact, the government has failed to produce significant wreckage from any of the four alleged airliners that fateful day. The familiar photo of the Flight 93 crash site in Pennsylvania shows no fuselage, engine or anything recognizable as a plane, just a smoking hole in the ground," said Reynolds. "Photographers reportedly were not allowed near the hole. Neither the FBI nor the National Transportation Safety Board have investigated or produced any report on the alleged airliner crashes."
    Yeah, and no plane hit the Pentagon, either.

    Sorry, but I'm just not in the mood to take this guy seriously.

    I apologize for my own blinkered narrowness and lack of breadth, but I'm late for this morning's controlled demolition.

    posted by Eric at 07:29 AM | Comments (10)

    All facts, all the time!
    "Angels (of Mercy) do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture of a living creature (a human being or an animal)."

    --Hadith - Bukhari 4:448, Narrated Abu Talha

    That will provide background for an fascinating news report I found via Charles Johnson, about a girl who was (allegedly) turned into a dog:

    ‘Allah turned girl into dog’

    Punishment meted out after girl mishandles Quran, according to rumor circulating at Arab-Israeli town

    TAIBEH – Harsh punishment? A Muslim girl from Taibeh was punished by Allah and turned into a dog, according to rumors that have been circulating in the Arab-Israeli town this week, Arab-language newspaper Panorama reported.

    According to the rumors, the harsh punishment was meted out after the girl, upset by her mother’s request to bring her the Quran as she
    was watching television, threw the holy Muslim book at the mother with disdain.

    There's apparently some concern that the story might not be true, and the reporters have launched an investigation (obviously, not only to determine whether the story is true, but whether Allah would inflict such a punishment on a girl who mishandled the Koran).

    I think we should refrain from judging this story until all the facts are in.

    Meanwhile I feel a duty to apprise readers of the following strange facts (which may turn out to be wholly coincidental):

  • The original girl in question and my dog Coco have never been seen in the same room together;
  • Coco is known for mishandling documents, and has been photographed in the act;
  • No angels of Mercy have been known to enter my home, nor have any been seen in my house or anywhere near it.
  • A lot of people would argue that none of this proves anything conclusively one way or another, while others would disagree.

    As Joe Friday would say, "Just the facts."

    posted by Eric at 02:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (3)

    Surely there's a better planet!

    This macro lens is making me realize what a hideously scary environment I live in.


    I should probably be glad I don't read scifi. With stuff like that lurking around on a daily basis, I couldn't take the additional stimulation!

    UPDATE: The above pictures might get me into trouble:

    'Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah till he puts life in it, and he will never be able to put life in it.'

    --Hadith - Bukhari 3:428, Narrated Said bin Abu Al-Hasan

    Yes, but who made the picture? The subject of the photograph? The camera which transformed the rays of light into a photographic image which we call a "picture"? The Internet which allowed it to be displayed? Or the guy whose only act was to press the button on the camera, and exercise an editorial opinion over the image over which he had so little control?

    UPDATE: Can't resist another fantasy morsel:

    posted by Eric at 01:39 PM | Comments (4)

    When performers fail to perform

    The lack of interest that Steven Malcolm Anderson expressed about the Michael Jackson case reminded me of my own complete lack of interest until yesterday.

    What changed?

    Perhaps it was the realization that for once, a well orchestrated media circus backfired. Maybe "fizzled" is the right word.

    Picture yourself as an ordinary American on that jury. I might be wrong, but they sure looked like ordinary Americans to me. For God knows how many weeks they sat there day after day. (I didn't follow the case so I don't even know the amount of time involved.) And what did they see? A relentless media-created circus outside, with chanting protesters for and against Jackson, and a prosecutor who according to most of the accounts I've read, was doing his damnedest to try the case against Michael Jackson in the media.

    Why, I'd be willing to bet that after a while, the jury might have started to pity Jackson. After all, they knew that whatever their verdict, once it was over they'd get to pack up and go home. But Michael Jackson is forever mired in his own permanent media circus, only this one involves his stage-managed prosecution by the latest penis-waving ringmaster in one more media circus ring. On top of this, the jury is reminded that they are a jury, that there still exists the presumption of innocence, and a standard called "resonable doubt." Jackson's lawyer, of course, was apparently smart enough to do this in a low key manner -- which the media charged had been a "lackluster" performance.

    A huge "victory" was therefore awarded to the prosecution in advance of the verdict.

    The jury, however, obviously had what some might dare to call a smidgen of common sense:

    "I feel that Michael Jackson has probably molested boys," Hultman said on CNN. "To be in your bedroom for 365 straight days and not do something more than just watch television and eat popcorn, that doesn't make sense to me.

    But that doesn't make him guilty of the charges that were presented."

    Most jurors believed the accuser's mother took advantage of previous sex abuse allegations against Jackson, and put her son up to lying.

    Juror No. 10, an unemployed mother, said the accuser's mom left her stunned at times.

    "What mother in her right mind would allow that to happen?" she said. "Just freely volunteer your child to sleep with someone. Not so much just Michael Jackson but any person for that matter. That's something that mothers are naturally concerned with."

    The circus backfired all right. A jury that could recognize the distinction between actual guilt and the prosecutorial burden of presumption of innocence might well have been able to perceive that they were supposed to be more than performers in a circus.

    How dare they?

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Is it possible that Michael Jackson's defense lawyer deliberately underplayed his role in the hope that this would "send a message" to the jury? Or am I being cynical again?

    posted by Eric at 09:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    Future backgrounds

    Dean Esmay has a piece called "The Modern Scarlet Letter," in which he argues against punishing people for life (long after their debt to society has been repaid):

    What on Earth ever happened to the mentality in this country that once you'd worked off your sentence and paid your debt to society, you were a free man (or woman) and no longer persecuted?

    I can fully understand denying the right to vote to people currently in the pen, or out on parole (since you're still technically in jail when you're on parole). But when your time's served you'r time's served, dammit. Why do you have to be considered a bleeding heart liberal to say, "look, enough is enough!?"

    I have a number of friends who are ex-felons. And yes, I said ex- felons, because they finished serving their time years and years ago and are now productive, hard-working members of society.

    What's next? We gonna start branding them on the face so we can identify them on the streets? Or maybe little armbands they all have to wear, yeah, that's a good idea...


    Yeesh is right. But it's only going to get worse, because one of technology's downsides is that once a record has been made of anything anyone says or did, it will not only be there forever, but it will become easier and easier for the entire world to access. Add to this the growing phenomenon obsession with "background checks" and, well, all I can say is I'm glad I don't have a felony on my record.

    In the old days, a felon who'd decided to go straight could freely move to a new place where no one knew him, find a job, settle down, and perhaps have a decent new life. Today, that's next to impossible.

    Dean's piece reminded me of a development in Texas, the developer of which is requiring homebuilders to run background checks on all buyers to keep out sex offenders:

    LUBBOCK, Texas -- A Texas subdivision is promising safety checks will be done on homebuyers to assure no convicted sex offender lives next door.

    The no-offender feature puts the responsibility on homebuilders. Even if they unknowingly sell to a convicted sex offender, financial penalties will apply. Builders are expected to run background checks on adults buying homes and on juveniles expected to live in the houses.

    The federal government said the plan appears to be legal. Sex offenders are not considered a protected class. But officials said the criminals could live near the subdivision, giving residents a false sense of security.

    A criminal defense lawyer questions how effective the ban will be because most sex offenders are relatives or acquaintances.

    The idea is to create a "Sex Offender-Free Neighborhood," and I don't think too many people would object to that. After all, who wants a sex offender living nearby?

    Would you sell your house to a sex offender?

    What people forget is that the word "sex offender" is not a synonym for pedophile. There's a big difference between a predator who stalks children and someone arrested for masturbating in a sleazy movie theater (or, say, indecent exposure). Or, for that matter, soliciting an adult vice squad officer for sex. Yet all of these are sex offenders.

    But let's assume that you wouldn't want to live next door to any sex offender, including people who couldn't stay away from suggestively clad vice squad officers. Wouldn't it be just as reasonable not to want to live next door to a burglar? A con artist? A murderer? Someone convicted of torturing his last neighbor's cats?

    Why not full background checks on all neighbors, everywhere? Why should anyone have to live next door to anyone who has ever done a bad thing?

    This process has started, and I don't think there's any stopping it. But where does it end?

    Dean has raised good questions. Wish I had better answers.

    For my own part, I have friends convicted of felonies, and I judge people on an individual basis. I live my life and I take my chances. I distrust leaving decisions about my friends and associates to "the authorities," as it evokes Big Brotherism and gives me the creeps. But lots of people want Someone Else to officially assure them that life is officially safe, and such illusions as running "background checks" on people make them feel safer than they really are.

    (I may be wrong, but I think they're in more danger than people who take care of their own safety.)

    UPDATE: Thank you, Dean Esmay, for linking this post. For more background, be sure to read Dean's recent posts on sexual offender registries.

    posted by Eric at 08:01 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (1)


    I have paid almost no attention to the Michael Jackson trial circus, but I just turned on CNN to watch for the verdict.

    I predict it will be guilty, not guilty, or a mistrial!

    Betcha I'm right!

    UPDATE: It was not a mistrial. The jury is described as having "a verdict."

    UPDATE (05:18 p.m.): And the verdict is.....

  • NOT GUILTY on count one (that's conspiracy -- the count the analysts are calling "the big one")
  • NOT GUILTY on count two (lewd act on minor)
  • NOT GUILTY on count three (lewd act on minor)
  • NOT GUILTY on count four (lewd act on minor)
  • NOT GUILTY on count five (lewd act on minor)
  • NOT GUILTY on count six (attempt to commit lewd act on minor)
  • NOT GUILTY on count seven (administering intoxicating agent)
  • NOT GUILTY on count seven (lesser offense of above)
  • NOT GUILTY on count eight (administering intoxicating agent)
  • NOT GUILTY on count eight (lesser offense)
  • NOT GUILTY on count nine (administering intoxicating agent)
  • NOT GUILTY on count nine (leser offense of above)
  • NOT GUILTY on count ten (providing alcohol)
  • NOT GUILTY on count ten (lesser included offense of providing alcohol)
  • I guess the prosecution shouldn't have been celebrating.

    MORE: My reaction? I've practiced enough criminal law to understand that reasonable doubt is a high hurdle for prosecutors to overcome. And when (as here) there is:

  • 1. a crummy prosecution witness; and
  • 2. a good defense lawyer
  • the chances are high for an acquittal. This does not mean Jackson was in fact innocent of all wrongdoing, or that he might not have done what he was accused of doing. All it means is that the jury didn't think the prosecution overcame the presumption of reasonable doubt.

    Thus ends a seemingly endless media story.

    AND MORE: Matt Drudge is calling for the arrest of District Attorney Thomas Sneddon.

    I'm puzzled.

    Obviously, Drudge feels strongly that the prosecution of Jackson involved some sort of injustice. But without an explanation for the editorial outburst, I'm at a loss to know what he means.

    MORE: The reason I don't understand is because I don't closely follow the thinking of Matt Drudge. But others do, and a little research convinced me that Drudge's anger towards Sneddon is not based on his failure to convict Jackson, but his obvious bias and prejudice:

    Drudge on the Jackson case: Mr. Sneddon, will you prosecute the family if it is proven they are lying? It's the smear campaign and the finger pointing against Jackson that scares me. It is entirely wrong for the government to have pictures of your "private parts" just because you have been accused, in the way Jackson has.
    As I've said before, anyone can accuse anyone of anything.

    (And these days, anyone probably will.)

    Drudge may well be correct in his suspicions that there was a prosecutorial witchhunt.

    I don't know what Michael Jackson did, but I've learned to distrust hysteria. Anyone (including the guilty) can be framed.

    posted by Eric at 04:57 PM | Comments (5)

    Fire is tragic; firearms are an epidemic

    Philadelphia children are being killed at an alarming rate. And I mean real, little, children; not the vague "under 25" category so often cited by gun control advocates.

    In the past month alone, eight children were killed in Philadelphia, but no mass protests of the carnage are planned. Why, the deaths aren't even being referred to as an "epidemic." That's because their deaths did not result from "gun violence" or even from firearms; instead the eight children were killed by fire:

    Stunned neighbors grieved yesterday as fire marshals sifted through debris in a Kensington rowhouse to determine the cause of a fast-moving blaze that claimed the lives of five small children and injured two adults.

    "It is sad, sad, sad," said Beatrice Johnston, who lives across the street from what is now the gutted shell of the two-story stucco home in the 2800 block of Amber Street.


    "There were always a bunch of kids there," said Stacy Thoroughgood, who lives on East Cambria. Saturday night, as she left for her job at a mental health facility in West Philadelphia, Thoroughgood saw Bowers, Cooke and the children playing in the new, inflated swimming pool they had positioned in front of the house.

    "They were all in the pool," she recalled. "I was joking with Shannon before I left for work.

    "They were just good people. She was nice. He was nice. Never no problems.

    "My concern is this is the second major fire around here where several children under the age of 6 have died."

    On May 14, three children died and their mother and two siblings were critically injured in a fast-moving blaze in the 1800 block of East Clementine Street in Kensington. A 22-year-old woman has been charged with setting that blaze in a dispute over a man.

    If these eight children (this weekend's killer fire is under investigation; the earlier fire that killed three is being called a murder over a man) had been shot to death -- whether deliberately or accidentally -- it would be hard to imagine a greater uproar.

    How many funerals? What will it take? That's already what gun control proponents say, even though the number of children under seven killed by firearms is very low.

    While the statistics aren't broken down as they should be, I well remember the epidemic hysteria in March, when stabbing victims were lumped in with shootings. One child had been killed, and he was nine.

    I don't have the police statistics, but I'd be willing to bet that more children have been killed this year by fire than by firearms.

    Yet it is the firearms deaths which are called an epidemic.

    So what's the difference between a tragedy and an epidemic, anyway?

    (If it's not the numbers then what is it?)

    posted by Eric at 04:03 PM | Comments (6)

    It can't happen there?

    Microsoft censors bloggers?

    Can such things be?

    According to reports like this, Microsoft is doing just that. And it joins Yahoo and Google in cooperating with government censorship:

    BEIJING - Users of Microsoft’s new China-based Internet portal were blocked Monday from using the words ”democracy”, “freedom” and “human rights” in an apparent move by the US software giant to appease Beijing.

    Other words that could not be used on Microsoft’s free online blog service MSN Spaces include “Taiwan independence” and ”demonstration”.

    Bloggers who enter such words or other politically charged or pornographic content are prompted with a message that reads: “This item should not contain forbidden speech such as profanity. Please enter a different word for this item”.

    Officials at Microsoft’s Beijing offices refused to comment.

    Internet sites in China are strongly urged to abide by a code of conduct and self-censor any information that could be viewed by the government as politically sensitive, pornographic or illegal.

    For many Chinese websites, such content also includes news stories that the government considers unfavorable or does not want published.

    New regulations issued in March now require that all China-based websites be formally registered with the government by the end of June or be shut down by Internet police.

    Microsoft formed a joint venture with China’s state-funded Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd (SAIL) last month to launch the MSN China web portal.

    Microsoft is not the only international tech company to comply with China’s stringent Internet rules.

    Yahoo! and Google—the two most popular Internet search engines—have already been criticized for cooperating with the Chinese government to censor the Internet.

    The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) earlier said it ”deplores the irresponsible policies of United States Internet firms Yahoo! and Google in bowing directly and indirectly to Chinese government demands for censorship”.

    An RSF spokesman said Monday the group was checking to see if Microsoft had followed suit.

    “We are checking into this. If it is correct, it proves once again that US companies are actively collaborating with the Chinese government’s censorship efforts,” the spokesman told AFP.

    “We strongly condemn that.”

    (More here.) Not only should it be condemned, but it should be recognized that when bloggers (or any other web sites) are censored in China, they're censored worldwide.

    I'd posted about Google and Yahoo before for collectively kowtowing to collectivism, but what the hell is going on with Bill Gates, anyway? I thought he was supposed to be against censorship.

    This love affair with censorship is getting to be more than a little disgusting.

    UPDATE (06/14/05): Wired's headline on this story reads "Microsoft Censors Chinese Blogs." Obviously, what's good for China is good for Iran.

    And meanwhile, the BBC's technology commentator Bill Thompson warns "vocal North American defenders of freedom of speech and the US Constitution's First Amendment" that their approach might annoy "the authorities":

    Some of them want to make anti-censorship software and send it to people in China, Iran and elsewhere, giving them the tools to get around government restrictions.

    They don't seem to realise that encouraging people to break the law and risk imprisonment by doing something that will simply annoy the authorities may not be the best way to improve the situation.

    I'm sure Iranian dissident Sina Motallebi feels appropriately chastised.

    What part of "free speech" does the BBC not understand?

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, here's Rebecca McKinnon:

    The issue is whether Microsoft should be collaborating with the Chinese regime as it builds an increasingly sophisticated system of Internet censorship and control. (See this ONI report for lots of details on that system.) Declining to collaborate with this system is not "forcing the Chinese into a position they don't believe in." Declining to collaborate would be the only way to show that your stated belief in free speech is more than 空话: empty words. If you believe that Chinese people deserve the same respect as Americans, then please put your money where your mouth is.
    But as Ms. McKinnon points out, Microsoft is not the only culprit:
    But let's not single out Microsoft for trashing on this point. As this Open Net Initiative report and this 2004 Amnesty International report will make abundantly clear, China's filtering, censorship, and surveillance systems wouldn't be what they are today without lots of help from a number of North American technology companies. Businessman and author Ethan Gutmann wrote about Cisco's particular contribution in this 2002 article which later became a book chapter.
    I've previously complained about blogs being content filtered, and I'm sure the same technology can be sold by the same companies to governments which will use them to impose censorship. (Similarly, American gun manufacturers have no ultimate control over whether the firearms they sell to foreign governments will be used to shoot demonstrators.) Still, there's a difference between selling technology which is misused and actively helping a government misuse it.

    posted by Eric at 11:14 AM | Comments (5)

    Another unprovable feeling

    This analysis of allegations that Bill Clinton raped his wife Hillary is quite interesting:

    ....a new book about Hillary contains bombshell allegations that Chelsea was conceived when Bill raped her. This is a scurrilous allegation that our side should steer clear from for a variety of reasons. First, because something like that shouldn't be said without direct proof, which this guy doesn't have. Second, as much as I can't stand these 2, I can't imagine it's true (yes, I know the Juanita Broaddrick story is out there and she seems somewhat credible) and if I'm right it's not fair to them or Chelsea that this stuff is being bandied about. Hillary is reportedly PO'ed, and quite frankly, I don't blame her one bit.

    Worst of all, it gives real ammo to the so-far bogus lament of hers that she's a "victim" of a right wing conspiracy.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Captain Ed thinks it's typical of former Newsweek editors and that Hillary should sue, while Polipundit thinks the whole thing will assist Hillary's ongoing quest for victim status.

    My off and over the top reaction? I think Ed Klein (a former Vanity Fair and Newsweek guy) may be working for Hillary Clinton.

    I can't prove that any more than Klein can prove that Hillary was raped. (Whether she was raped, of course, depends on her feelings at the time.)

    Such feelings are the sort of things that win elections.

    Or lose them.

    UPDATE (06/17/05): Dick Morris thinks Ed Klein's book is only helping Hillary Clinton:

    ....these personal attacks just empower the woman and give her examples of over-the-top criticism that she can use to demean the arguments of all who doubt her, for good reasons or for bad.
    So what's up with Ed Klein, anyway?

    MORE (06/21/05): K. J. Lopez at the Corner asks,

    (No, I don't think it's crazy to ask. And I'm glad to see I'm not alone.)

    posted by Eric at 09:57 AM | Comments (12)

    My wasteful feelings

    One of the things which plagues me the older that I get is to see clear evidence that many of the issues over which people feel the most strongly (and over which they spend large amounts of time debating), are really beyond debate.

    I touched on this last week with the subject of pro-growth versus anti-growth. But the phenomenon can be seen everywhere. Pro-legalized-abortion versus anti-legalized-abortion (aka pro-choice versus pro-life). Pro-gun versus anti-gun. There are some issues which cannot logically or rationally be debated.

    One of them is the subject of reparations for slavery. The idea of paying reparations for slavery is often said to be based on a legal contractual theory of unjust enrichment. Yet, there are obvious problems with that. One of my friends (a man I've known since childhood) has been battling an attempted smear against his ancestor Robert Morris, considered by historians to be the chief financier of the American revolution. It has recently been alleged by Wachovia Bank that Morris's crime was in the financing of slavery. Yet as my friend has pointed out many times, not only were his ancestor's connections with slavery very tenuous, but he lost money in the transactions, which he discontinued. Yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer was fair enough to present his side:

    Philadelphia memories go back a long way.

    So when Wachovia Corp. declared in a report this month that bank founder and Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris and his partner "amassed at least part of their personal fortunes from the slave trade," a descendant, Rob Morris of Westtown, cried foul at the "unfair attack."

    Morris did own slaves eight generations ago, as did Benjamin Franklin and other prominent Philadelphians. Robert Morris and Thomas Willing also "engaged in the slave trade" as a side business to their shipping and property investments, said Morris, a software consultant.

    But "they lost money" on slavery, Rob Morris said. The ship they sent to buy West Africans was seized by French raiders. The plantation they bought in Louisiana was expropriated by the Spanish. "So there is no way that Robert Morris could have taken money from slavery and put it in that bank."

    Why is this all coming out now? In response to new slavery-disclosure laws in Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, the North Carolina-based bank reported both slave ownership by its Southern predecessors and investments in slave-worked industries by banks it acquired up North. Wachovia traces its earliest roots to the bank Morris founded in 1782.

    "Given that banks like Wachovia have moved into Northern urban areas, I don't think they have much to lose, and they may gain, by admitting they owned slaves" and profited from slavery, said Walter Licht, labor historian at the University of Pennsylvania.

    I haven't researched the history involved, but my friend has. And if he is correct about his ancestor having lost money in the slave trade, then under the contractual theory of unjust enrichment, it would be unfair to require him to "give back" profits his ancestors never made.

    The impossibility of sorting out such claims is heightened by the passage of time, and such intervening events as the Civil War, which wiped out many pre-war fortunes and reduced many ex-slaveowners to pauperhood. Following any money trail is next to impossible.

    That's why the argument for reparations is often made in the alternative, as an argument based on morality. Not only should accused descendants of slaveowners (like my friend) be made to pay because of the moral crimes their ancestors committed, but because the United States government was responsible and still exists, all Americans (including, ironically, the descendants of slaves) should be made to pay.

    Naturally this idea gives rise to howls and protests from citizens who insist that none of their ancestors had anything to do with slavery. Either they were abolitionists in the North, or else they descend from immigrants who came to this country after the Civil War, and who could not have owned slaves. Likewise, not all black Americans are descended from slaves, or (as with blacks of Caribbean or Latin American heritage) from slaves actually owned in the United States.

    But this exposes a problem with the central argument. The divide between the pro-reparations and anti-reparations groups is based not on legal analysis, or financial tracing, but is an emotional one based on individualism versus collectivism:

    The value placed on individualism is so entrenched in the dominant perspective that it cannot yield to foreign concepts like group entitlement or group wrongs. Opponents of reparations to African Americans analyze the merits of the remedy from this dominant perspective with its focus on individualism, thereby contributing to the opponents' conclusion that the idea of reparations to African Americans is absurd, frivolous, or unworthy of serious consideration.
    The above is from a longer essay by law professor Vernellia R. Randall, who supports reparations. While I don't agree with her ideas about reparations, I do agree that the argument comes down to individualism versus collectivism -- and that is another one of those hopeless arguments. I will never agree with collectivism. Collectivists (whether they be Marxists, socialists, religious or secular communitarians) will never agree with individualism. Much of the time spent debating is a silly waste of time, because the philosophies are wholly incompatible.

    Might it boil down to feelings? In all honesty, I must admit to a gut feeling that collectivism is simply wrong. I can cite numbing statistics about the millions killed by Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, etc. but my mind is made up based on my feelings, and logic and statistics supply only ammunition for arguments that are usually quite pointless, because they're based on feelings. My feeling is that collectivism is unfair to the individual; collectivists' feelings are that individualism is unfair to the collective.

    Another reason I consider these arguments pointless is because I suspect that people who agree with me already agreed before they read my "arguments," while those who disagree will continue to do so notwithstanding anything I say. The arguments resolve nothing, and much of the time they don't even resemble dialogue, because if two people know their disagreements are hopeless, each knows he'll never persuade the other so the argument becomes one made largely for purposes of showing off knowledge, ridiculing the other side, hurling insults, or worse. I often resort to ridicule simply because I know how hopeless these arguments are, and so I'll enjoy zeroing in on an especially funny example of flawed logic or emotional charged rhetoric. If someone calls me Hitler, for example, I know that there's nothing to be gained by rational argument, so why not just admit that the whole thing is buffoonery, and treat it as the comedy that it is?

    In my view, there's no duty to take seriously that which I consider absurd. Some people will agree with my view of what's absurd, and others won't.

    But arguing the virtues of individualism versus the virtues of collectivism is, I submit, as much of a waste of time as arguing the virtues of "life" versus "choice," guns versus gun control, the virtues of sodomy laws, or the virtues of preventing technology and growth. In general, people's minds are made up about these things. And nowhere are minds more strongly made up about such things than in the blogosphere.

    Hell, that's why most bloggers blog.

    The problem with everything that I just said is that it would appear to support the argument that blogging is a time-wasting venture. If people already hold strong and irreconcilable opinions about these issues, and if these opinions are not subject to change, then are not bloggers simply choruses of opinion, contributing little original thought? I like to think that they are more than that, and the reason is that general philosophies of thinking do not address specific issues that arise, or new ways of looking at things previously discussed. Everyone is assisted when this happens, because even if they disagree, if they're fair, they'll be thinking along the lines of "Damn! I hadn't thought of that!"

    So my philosophy of blogging is to try to avoid the recital or regurgitation of others' ideas (or of news already known) with nothing new to add. If I do have something to add, I like to think that if I hadn't thought of it before, there are probably other people who hadn't either, regardless of whether they share my philosophy.

    Beyond that, it may very well be a form of entertainment. How can entertainment be called a waste of time?

    My feelings tell me that if something entertains, it's not a waste of time. But what about those who aren't entertained?

    Obviously, they feel differently!

    posted by Eric at 07:13 AM | Comments (11)

    Sean Penn spreads contagion?

    Speaking of those who like to blame America, I see that Sean Penn is in Iran.

    Is Penn there to help spread democracy?

    According to an email from Iranian activist author Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, one of the sponsors of his trip is an outspokenly pro-Castro activist named Medea Benjamin:

    Once again, the Cultural Imperialists from ANSWER Coalition/Global exchange are the ones who seem to have arranged the trip for Sean Penn to Iran. When I called their NY headquarters, back in 2003, their people told me, without hesitation that my father deserves to be in prison in Iran because he's mouthed off at the duely elected government of Mullahs!!! These are the same people whose number one supporters are none other than Ramsey Clark and George Soros and other manipulators of this ilk. I called the people at the S.F. Chronicle and they told me that they had discussed the idea with Penn but that in fact they were entirely unaware that Penn had actually traveled to Iran because as far as they knew, Penn was still waiting for a visa!

    Also the founder of these organizations Medea Benjamin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medea_Benjamin - this is a very unbiased link) who in her own brand of "activism" in the U.S. feels she can and should involved herself in the process of countries to which she is not a native. Now if this isn't inappropriate and racist, I surely don't know what is.

    NOW, I urge you to tell EVERYONE you know to write these two people who are behind organizing Mr. Penn's trip to Iran and let them know that their actions are unwelcome and that we do not require their forms of intrusion into our process...PLEASE, be civil and gentle. We do not want to stoop to any levels of inappropriateness with these people who are WAITING for a wild reaction from us.
    I don't know what kind of wild reaction they're awaiting, but I don't trust Sean Penn or Medea Benjamin. Whether that's a wild reaction I don't know.

    Reactions by some of the anti-mullahcracy activists seem far from wild. Iranian blogger Afshin Molavi is almost happy that Sean Penn is in Iran:

    I‘m glad Sean Penn is in Iran. I hope he reports things as he sees them, in all their multi-colored and even multi-hued complexity, rather than taking shots at Bush by defending the Islamic Republic of Iran. His presence ensures that many more Americans will learn about Iran. That‘s a good thing. He has a heavy responsibility on his shoulders. Indeed, simply reporting truthfully on Iran as it is today, with a young, largely pro-American, post-Islamist population, hungry for democratic change, is actually a better tool against neoconservative visions of war than manning the barricades with some of the unsavory figures of the IRI.

    I know far too many Iranian leftists who have gone neo-con as a result of their feeling of abandonment by the American and European left. I wish they had not gone that route. I‘m not in the business of divining personal motivations, but I‘m guessing that many of the neoconservatives who shed crocodile tears for Iran don‘t really care too much about the future well-being of the Iranian people.

    Sean Penn has an extraordinary opportunity here: to simply tell it as he sees it. That would be enough. But, then again, maybe I shouldn‘t be glad Sean Penn is in Iran. The last time he visited a Middle East country in an act of solidarity was in 2003. That country? Iraq. Shortly after he left, the bombing began.

    If Sean Penn's trip is an act of solidarity with the Iranian mullahs, I suppose it could backfire with the Iranians in the same way that showing Russian citizens films of American anti-war demonstrations backfired in the 1960s:
    If we're consistent in our defense of freedom, people will notice, and even our enemies will play into our hands. This happened in Iraq, where the hostile satellite networks Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya never missed a chance to show an anti-American protest. But what their audiences in Iran and the Arab world saw was something more -- not just anti-American protest, but anti-American protest that was allowed by the Americans. (The boomerang effect was something like what happened to the Soviet Union when it broadcast reports of Americans protesting the Vietnam War, only to have Soviet audiences notice that the Americans were not only free to protest, but also had new shoes!) Freedom is contagious, if we let it be, and open media are the most potent vector by which it spreads. That should drive our strategy, and our tactics, most of the time.
    People in Iran aren't as dumb as those who would lead them might believe.

    I don't think they're as dumb as Sean Penn, either.

    UPDATE: While this story is lacking in the detail I might have liked to see, it appears that Sean Penn's video camera was seized by Iranian authorities:

    NEW YORK Iran was rocked by bombings on Sunday, killing at least nine and wounding more than 30, as dozens of journalists from around the world gathered in advance of the presidential election this Friday. One of those journalists, actor Sean Penn--covering the events for the San Francisco Chronicle--was involved in a separate incident, and had his video camera confiscated for a time.

    Several hundred women at a sit-in outside the entrance to Tehran University demanded rights revoked after the 1979 Islamic revolution. As chants and taunts arose, police and plainclothesmen surrounded the demonstrators, pushing away those trying to join the group. Officials also cut off cell phone service in the area, and challenged reporters nearby.

    In the process, they briefly seized the video camera of Penn, 44, acccording to The Washington Post. He had arrived in Iran as a reporter for his friend Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    If actors can be bloggers, I see no reason why they can't be journalists.

    But can journalists and bloggers be actors?

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

    Operation Get Rich Quick!

    A few days ago, I was quite amused to see Sidney Blumenthal's comparison of Bush to Nixon.

    The problem, though, with recycling the same canned comparison with the same characters is that it's as unoriginal as it is boring. And the fact is, Bush has a lock these days on being the evil Nixon. Which makes a mere comparison of Bush to Nixon too humdrum for the likings of writers like The New York Times' Frank Rich, who likes spicy writing.

    Therefore, Rich has had to ratchet up the comparison a notch further. After an obligatory nod to Bush-as-Nixon (he takes it a step further by saying Bush's "hubris" "outstrips Nixon's by the day"), he breaks in an entirely new meme by comparing bloggers to Watergate figure Chuck Colson:

    This is the kind of lapdog news media the Nixon White House cherished. To foster it, Nixon's special counsel, Charles W. Colson, embarked on a ruthless program of intimidation that included threatening antitrust action against the networks if they didn't run pro-Nixon stories. Watergate tapes and memos make Mr. Colson, who boasted of "destroying the old establishment," sound like the founding father of today's blogging lynch mobs. He exulted in bullying CBS to cut back its Watergate reports before the '72 election. He enlisted NBC in pro-administration propaganda by browbeating it to repackage 10-day-old coverage of Tricia Nixon's wedding as a prime-time special. It was the Colson office as well that compiled a White House enemies list that included journalists who had the audacity to question administration policies.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Much as I hate to admit it, Rich is right. What I want to know is, precisely how did he find out about the "ruthless program of intimidation"? Who leaked? Where the hell did that sneak find out that bloggers have been using the full weight of the federal government to threaten antitrust actions against the major networks? That, of course, is exactly what we do! Like Bush's hubris, blogger misuse of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division outstrips Nixon's by the day.

    While it's been tough work destroying the old establishment, by writing such exposes of the blogosphere in such a blatant and challenging way, Frank Rich highlights an embarrassing point: obviously the blogosphere has not been tough enough or thorough enough!

    And I swear by the soul of Tricky Dick Nixon himself that I'm going to see to it that Frank Rich will be placed at the very top of the Official Blogger Enemies List!

    Hell, as a matter of fact, I won't even wait for the list to be compiled! First thing Monday, I'm going to direct my boys at the IRS to do an official audit of Mr. Rich!

    "Don't Follow the Money," taunts the high and mighty Rich.

    We'll just see about that!

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Frank Rich has been thoroughly (and democratically fisked "lynched" by Tom Maguire, who points out that Rich's comparison-to-Colson meme extends far beyond bloggers:

    ...the "neo Colsons" include CNN, which cited the Pentagon assertion before rebutting it; the Washington Post, which implicated Newsweek in their lead paragraph; and the NY Times. Have the neo-Colson's swept the board?
    Hey, I believe in democracy, and fairness. And if everyone gets to be Hitler, isn't it democratic -- and fair -- that everyone should also get to be Colson?

    I guess I shouldn't have been so defensive about the "blogging lynch mobs" remark. Instead, I should be grateful that Frank Rich is being inclusive.

    My mistake.

    MORE: In light of my mistake, I'm now reconsidering the IRS audit.

    posted by Eric at 11:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (2)


    Francis Bacon is held in low esteem these days, at least in certain quarters. To hear some folks tell it, the "relief of man's estate" that he advocated was a colossal blunder on society's part. We may yet survive the attempt, but things are still looking pretty dicey. Feh.

    Bacon was a brilliant man, as I hope to demonstrate. If "The New Atlantis" shows a certain hopeful political naivete, I think we can well afford to forgive him. Were he alive today, I believe that he could swot up on public choice theory in no time. Throw in some Hayek and Darwin while we're at it. I'm confident he could handle it. For that matter, so could Franklin or Jefferson.

    More than once I have heard the base canard that our current level of technical achievement would be incomprehensible to our ancestors, poor ignorant saps that they were. Nonsense. While many of our ancestors might find our modern world problematic, others wouldn't have much difficulty adapting at all. Framed correctly, explanations could be crafted to suit the needs of even the meanest, most ignorant peasant. So let's just forget about those folks, okay?

    At least a few scholars, Bacon among them, could clearly see where the wind was blowing us.

    "The New Atlantis" was published in 1627. In it, Bacon dreamed big dreams about the possibilities that natural philosophy was opening up. Submarines, flying machines, devices of communication and illusion, all are crammed in there, along with so very much more. I'm presenting you with some of his more "modern" fancies. Considering it's been 378 years, he comes off pretty well.

    "...I will give thee the greatest jewel I have. For I will impart unto thee, for the love of God and men, a relation of the true state of Salomon's House..."The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible...

    "We have...fair and large baths...for the cure of diseases, and the restoring of man's body from arefaction; and others for the confirming of it in strength of sinews, vital parts, and the very juice and substance of the body.

    "We have also large and various orchards and gardens, wherein we do not so much respect beauty as variety of ground and soil, proper for divers trees and herbs...

    In these we practise likewise all conclusions of grafting, and inoculating...And we make by art, in the same orchards and gardens, trees and flowers, to come earlier or later than their seasons, and to come up and bear more speedily...

    We make them also by art greater much than their nature; and their fruit greater and sweeter, and of differing taste, smell, color...

    "We have also parks, and enclosures of all sorts, of beasts and birds; which we use not only for view or rareness, but likewise for dissections and trials, that thereby may take light what may be wrought upon the body of man...

    We find means to make commixtures and copulations of divers kinds, which have produced many new kinds, and them not barren, as the general opinion is...Neither do we this by chance, but we know beforehand of what matter and commixture, what kind of those creatures will arise.

    "We have also perspective houses, where we make demonstrations of all lights and radiations and of all colors; and out of things uncolored and transparent we can represent unto you all several colors, not in rainbows, as it is in gems and prisms, but of themselves single.

    We find also divers means, yet unknown to you, of producing of light...

    We have also helps for the sight far above spectacles and glasses in use; we have also glasses and means to see small and minute bodies, perfectly and distinctly...

    "We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds and their generation. We have harmony which you have not...Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have...

    We have certain helps which, set to the ear, do further the hearing greatly; we have also divers strange and artificial echoes...and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller and some deeper...

    We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.

    "We have also perfume-houses, wherewith we join also practices of taste. We multiply smells which may seem strange...

    "We have also engine-houses, where are prepared engines and instruments for all sorts of motions.

    There we imitate and practise to make swifter motions than any you have, either out of your muskets or any engine that you have; and to make them and multiply them more easily and with small force...and to make them stronger and more violent than yours are...

    We imitate also flights of birds; we have some degrees of flying in the air.

    We have ships and boats for going under water and brooking of seas...We have divers curious clocks and other like motions of return, and some perpetual motions...

    "We have also houses of deceits of the senses, where we represent all manner of feats of juggling, false apparitions, impostures and illusions, and their fallacies.

    And surely you will easily believe that we, that have so many things truly natural which induce admiration, could in a world of particulars deceive the senses if we would disguise those things, and labor to make them more miraculous. But we do hate all impostures and lies...

    "These are, my son, the riches of Salomon's House.

    Utterly fanciful notions, aren't they? Medicine that works. Powerful engines of creation and destruction. Realistic visual and auditory media. The manipulation of living things and their heredity, an early (to say the least) vision of biotechnology.

    Some of these dreams have a long and distinguished ancestry. I imagine that humans have been envying the birds for over a hundred thousand years. Gilgamesh sought a magical plant to cure his own mortality. Hephaestus designed and built bronze automata for himself and others. Humans have always wished for powerful magic, usually to no avail. What makes Bacon so interesting is that he could see such things were at last becoming possible.

    Perceptive men of the seventeenth century could discern the signs of change all around them. Circumstances were altering in unprecedented ways, and the old wisdom seemed to have less and less relevance. Plainly, the rate of change was increasing. What might not be achievable, given enough time? How it must have frustrated them.

    As Ben Franklin famously observed in a letter to Joseph Priestly...

    The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my Regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried in a 1000 Years the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity & give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labour & double its Produce. All Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard...

    Such a sensible man. True, he was writing in 1780, not the 1620's, but that earlier century had its own bumper crop of prophetic developments. Joel Mokyr had this to say...

    If inventions were dated according to the first time they occurred to anyone, rather than the first time they were actually constructed, this period [1500-1750] may indeed be regarded as just as creative as the Industrial Revolution.

    But the paddle-wheel boats, calculating machines, parachutes, fountain pens, steam-operated wheels, power looms, and ball bearings envisaged in this age—interesting as they are to the historian of ideas—had no economic impact because they could not be made practical.

    The paradigmatic inventor of this period was the Dutch-born engineer Cornelis Drebbel...whose main claim to fame rests on a demonstration of the idea of the submarine in 1624, two-and-a-half centuries before submarines became practicable.

    Again, how very frustrating that must have been. To see the possibilities so clearly, yet not be able to do anything about it. I feel for them, I truly do. Here's more Ben Franklin...

    London, April 1773.

    To Jacques Dubourg.

    Your observations on the causes of death, and the experiments which you propose for recalling to life those who appear to be killed by lightning, demonstrate equally your sagacity and your humanity. It appears that the doctrine of life and death in general is yet but little understood...

    I wish it were possible... to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence, I should prefer to an ordinary death, being immersed with a few friends in a cask of Madeira, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country! But... in all probability, we live in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection...

    I am, etc.


    I know the feeling. Still, we can only do what we can do. Mr. Bacon gets the last word, and I think it should be carved in stone somewhere as a mission statement...

    "The knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible..."

    posted by Justin at 11:42 PM | Comments (2)

    Liars and Believers

    Years and years ago I read the following lines. Lately, not a week goes by that I'm not reminded of them.

    "Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy

    And the dogs that talk revolution,

    Drunk with talk, liars and believers."

    Robinson Jeffers, of course. "The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean."

    Once upon a time, I would have assumed that many people knew it, but a singular experience has persuaded me otherwise. I met an intelligent, charming, extremely well educated young person who had never heard of H. L. Mencken. It seems to me that if Mencken can be somehow lost, then poor Jeffers doesn't stand a chance. For what it's worth, here's the entire poem...

    Unhappy about some far off things

    That are not my affair, wandering

    Along the coast and up the lean ridges,

    I saw in the evening

    The stars go over the lonely ocean,

    And a black-maned wild boar

    Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.

    The old monster snuffled, "Here are sweet roots,

    Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.

    The best nation in Europe has fallen,

    And that is Finland,

    But the stars go over the lonely ocean,"

    The old black-bristled boar,

    Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.

    "The world's in a bad way, my man,

    And bound to be worse before it mends;

    Better lie up in the mountain here

    Four or five centuries,

    While the stars go over the lonely ocean,"

    Said the old father of wild pigs,

    Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.

    "Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy

    And the dogs that talk revolution,

    Drunk with talk, liars and believers.

    I believe in my tusks.

    Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,"

    Said the gamey black-maned boar

    Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.

    posted by Justin at 07:19 PM | Comments (1)

    All hate is equal?

    This Why They Hate Us Pavilion news is depressing stuff, but it's an inescapable fact that many Americans think of their country as a very guilty if not evil place:

    On my grave, please do not build a memorial to the mistakes of my neighbors and ancestors. Don't stand on the grass above me and flagellate. Just let me lie there in peace, please.

    Oh, and by the way, when you build this center, will you include the atrocities of the Saudis and Saddam Hussein and the PLO and all the tyrants of the Middle East? Will have you have an exhibit about the women there who do not have the freedom to vote or even drive?

    Will you build a special wing for the special sickness that is suicide terrorism -- in Israel and in Iraq and at the World Trade Center? Or will you be afraid of offending Muslims?

    Well, I'm offended.

    The World Trade Center is a place for remembrance of the innocents and victims of that day and for a return to life.

    : Burlingame has problems with many of the people behind the center but here is the gem:

    Eric Foner, radical-left history professor at Columbia University who, even as the bodies were being pulled out of a smoldering Ground Zero, wrote, "I'm not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House." This is the same man who participated in a "teach-in" at Columbia to protest the Iraq war, during which a colleague exhorted students with, "The only true heroes are those who find ways to defeat the U.S. military," and called for "a million Mogadishus."

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Instead of hating the people who attacked them (a normal response to being attacked) the people of the "Why Do They Hate Us?" mindset reverse the question and preoccupy themselves with explaining the hatred. I'd almost swear that many of them consider the hatred to be an excuse for the attacks of September 11.

    If you follow this logic for a moment, it's tantamount to an inverse of the "hate crime" shtick logic. Normally (according to advocates of hate crime laws) when hatred is a reason for a crime, that makes the crime far more heinous, and in such cases the penalties should be greatly increased.

    If I didn't know any better, I'd swear the "why do they hate us?" crowd sees the motivating hatred as a mitigating factor.

    And if the hatred for America isn't enough, many of them are all to glad to supply additional justifications for the hatred: hatred of the physical Towers themselves.

    James Howard Kunstler (a favorite of Justin, BTW), while being a little too slick to actually blame America per se (or say that the country deserved to be attacked), nonetheless makes it abundantly clear that the Towers never should have been there in the first place:

    The United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. With the recent tragedies comes a sobering reassessment of America's (and the World's) infatuation with skyscrapers. We feel very strongly that the disaster should not only be blamed on the terrorist action, but that this horrible event exposes an underlying malaise with the built environment.

    We are convinced that the age of skyscrapers is at an end. It must now be considered an experimental building typology that has failed. Who will ever again feel safe and comfortable working 110 storeys above the ground? Or sixty storeys? Or even twenty-seven?

    Kunstler may make those who disagree with him gnash their teeth, but there are a lot of people who think like him, and they're in about as much mood to change their minds as the people who disagree. I can think of two no more wholly incompatible philosophies than Anti-Growth versus Pro-Growth.

    A typical example is this forwarded email sent a friend who's been circulating this petition to rebuild the Twin Towers:

    RE: The People For The Rebuilding of The Twin Towers

    Interesting my pet.. rebuild the same towers.

    I have to think about that. Being as angry at our country as I am, pride is not something that comes to mind....

    [personal details omitted]

    Think about the judges going into place that will affect us for the rest of our lives. Think about the FBI's increase of power with the Patriot act. Think about the liberties that are quickly and without massive rebellion being taken away, like medical marijuana this week, while our complacent, entertainment struck nation sits by and lets it happen. Think about how EVERYONE on this globe sees US THE US PEOPLE as the enemies of their freedom and their success on earth.

    I'm not sure that rebuilding a symbol that only stands to reinforce that strength is something I care about. I think more house need to be torn down. We need a revolution - and I think the seeds have been planted.

    but otherwise, :) how are you?

    Obviously, that emailer didn't sign the petition.

    Because, as he says, he sees the building not as a building, but as a symbol. I see it as a building but I agree that it is also a symbol. Beyond that, the disagreement is a hopeless one. For starters, I don't plug in President Bush, the Patriot Act, or medical marijuana (or other favorite topics) to issues not related directly to them.

    Lots of people do though.

    The only thing the email author and I could agree on is that at least in part, the Twin Towers were attacked as a symbol. The letter writer thinks they're a symbol of Bush (and other issues) and that people "hate us." Therefore the Towers shouldn't be rebuilt.

    Instead, he and others feel that a pavilion should be built indicting American injustice.

    Without getting into the question of America's guilt (for America, like most countries, does not have a squeaky clean history), I do think it is fair to ask whether the place where thousands of innocent Americans lost their lives to an enemy is the right time, place and manner for a monument delivering a political scolding.

    I think it is not, and I favor rebuilding the Towers. The claim that the Towers were ugly is as much a justification for 9/11 as the claim that someone's house was ugly would be a defense for an arsonist who burned it down.

    I can't believe that the idea of "America the guilty" is even being seriously considered as an idea for a 9/11 pavilion. It makes almost as much sense as Ward Churchill's claim that the victims were "little Eichmanns."

    As to the question, why do they hate us?

    The only reason I'd care would involve considerations of strategy.

    (During war, that's a stupid question to ask for any other reason.)

    posted by Eric at 04:13 PM | Comments (4)

    New views

    I finally splurged and got a new camera (a Nikon Coolpix 7900) with which I'm familiarizing myself:

    The macro feature is very interesting; here's the center of a rose:


    And here's a zoom taken from a normal non-macro shot -- showing Coco's eye (the blue one):


    The eye is a bit blurry, but it was taken indoors without my having read the manual.

    Both of the above are greatly reduced from the 7 megapixel capacity this thing has. It seems beyond my capacities, but between shopping around (with the help of Froogle and resellerratings.com) the price turned out to be about the same as what I'd planned to buy a month ago.

    posted by Eric at 10:44 AM | Comments (1)

    R.I.P. Puff!

    January 23, 1990 - June 10, 2005

    Right now, Puff is sleeping comfortably.

    He doesn't know it, but he's waiting for the end, which will come shortly.

    An hour later....

    The vet (who was nice enough to make a house call) arrived, and I took Puff outside for the last time. I put his bed on the front porch, and he lied down comfortably. The vet gave him a tranquilizer by intramuscular injection, and very quickly he went to sleep with a relieved look on his face. (He had a seizure last night and he hasn't been sleeping well at night, so I can understand his relief.)

    Once he was completely out, the torniquet went around his front leg, the needle went in the vein, and almost as soon as the pink solution started flowing in, Puff breathed his last. Very, very peaceful.

    I requested the sedative because when I put Puff's grandmother to sleep she hadn't been pre-sedated and got the "big one" right away without warning. This gave her time to give me a look of shock and disbelief (I'm probably anthropomorphizing, but that's how it looked) before she died. That didn't happen with Puff, and I am so relieved. To anyone who has to go through this, I highly recommend pre-sedation before the final, fatal shot.

    Rest in peace, Puff!

    Here's the last picture I took of him:


    But I think this one (taken in Berkeley in January) is a better reminder of Puff's last few months:


    He was a great dog, and I really miss him.

    (I'm afraid I'm only beginning to miss him, too.)

    posted by Eric at 01:50 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBacks (1)

    Careful with the public trough

    Over a year ago, I wrote a post in which I confessed to using a men's room which had been taken over by women, and I ridiculed the so-called "potty parity" laws.

    I should have kept my mouth shut, because I may have given the Philadelphia City Council ideas. Councilman Frank Rizzo (who doesn't seem to have inherited his father's perhaps over simplistic common sense) has introduced legislation to require a toilet ratio of two-to-one favoring women:

    ....according to some studies, it takes the ladies twice as long as gentlemen to use the bathroom once they get there.

    And whereas, women have been known to storm the men's room in times of great need, creating much commotion and confusion.

    Now, therefore, the Council of the City of Philadelphia, at the behest of Councilman Frank Rizzo, wants you to know that the days of grave bathroom inequality could soon change.

    Rizzo introduced a bill yesterday that would require two toilets for women for every one that men have in most places of public assembly (not including schools, hospitals or other buildings used for educational and health purposes).

    Call it girl power in the form of potty parity.

    Though Rizzo is a man, he feels your pain, ladies.

    "I've been in situations where women have actually had to take over the men's room because of the length of the lines for their facilities," Rizzo said.

    "It's very embarrassing to have an incident where you can't get to a bathroom," he added. "I think women understand this more so than men, how serious an issue this is."

    Rizzo's parity bill is similar to one signed into law earlier this week by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg - it would apply to most new construction, as well as places that are undergoing renovations in a 12-month period that cost more than 50 percent of a building's value.

    Places of public assembly are defined in the bill as any arena, bar, concert hall, convention hall, movie theater, public dance hall, stadium, or theater open to the public.

    Any bar? Lots of bar owners are ordinary working type people. I'm sure they'll be delighted to know that their businesses are subjected to rules so nonsensical that they don't apply to government buildings.

    I guess the easiest way to comply would be to just remove toilets from the men's rooms, and men can pee in the sink. Nah! Better take the sinks out too; men should not be allowed such "advantages."

    It would be interesting to see how an equal protection lawsuit might sort this one out. (I'm sure the activists would complain that men have unequal advantages in nature, and therefore restrictive toilet quotas must be imposed to "equalize" the sexes.)

    While the differences in plumbing between men and women are beyond dispute (and too well known to require extensive discussion), I'm wondering whether the mere absence of penises accounts for the long delays complained of in official studies:

    "it takes the ladies twice as long as gentlemen to use the bathroom once they get there."
    For a variety of reasons (shyness being one of them), a number of men also have to pull their pants down and sit on a toilet in order to urinate. While there's no question that this should take longer, why should it take twice as long?

    I wonder....

    So does at least one female blogger, who asks:

    In all my years of being a girl, I've never been able to understand just what the hell others of my gender are doing in the ladies room for so long. I'm not talking about the primping and the preening and all that other girly girl garbage, but about what goes on in the actual stalls.

    What's going ON in there? Why does it take so long to use the facilities? What the hell are are you DOING in that little enclosure that is almost as claustrophobia-inspiring as a coffin (except without the pretty velvet)? Just pull down your pants, squat/hover/plunk your ass down, do what you have to do, get the hell up, zip/button/lace up your pants, and get out. Leave the stall. Don't dawdle. Just get OUT.

    The entire operation should not take longer than one minute. Tops. (This, of course, does not include those special, tender moments that come around once a month and stick around for a few days; for those special occasions, an extra 30 seconds or so is acceptable.)

    I don't know how many times I've had to stand in some godfuckingawful line for more minutes than I have fingers and toes, all because someone is undertaking something so complicated that it requires more than a minute to accomplish it.

    There's no way that I can know whether this complaint is true, or, if so, speculate about what might be going on inside the stalls. (Perhaps female readers can assist.) But if the delays are caused by women, it strikes me as a tad disingenuous to maintain that women are victims of men, and to penalize men by imposing bureaucratically rigid toilet quotas.

    I humbly offer a solution based on common sense and what I have seen in other countries -- and in this country before the bureaucratization of common sense.

    Simple troughs at floor level can be built where floors meet the walls around all or part of restrooms. The "toilets" could still be there, in whatever quantities the bureaucrats demanded, but the troughs would be there too. Men could simply do what they've traditionally done, and pee in the troughs. Every once in a while, there could be a flush from above somewhere, or else (as they do in Mexico), a guy could come in with a hose....

    I realize that objections might be made that a trough (a long floor drain, really) was a "toilet" but that could be countered by the presence of legally conforming toilets, as well as the argument that the trough simplified cleaning, and it made it easier for little boys and dwarfs (who often have problems with things that are higher up.)

    If it is contended that a floor-level trough is in fact a toilet, two questions then arise. Is it to be counted as ONE toilet? Or would it be counted based upon the number of men who could use it at one time? It strikes me that a trough is either a toilet, or it is not. If it is not, then there shouldn't be any restrictions under potty parity rules. And if it is, then I suppose the women's rooms could have troughs that were, well, twice as long.

    No; I think activists would still complain. Because no matter what their length, it's easier for men to use troughs than women. That should be illegal.

    Actually, it turns out that it is illegal -- at least according to codes like this:

    807.1 Prohibited Urinals
    Floor-type trough urinals and stall urinals are prohibited.
    Just don't call it a urinal, then.

    Sheesh. Toilets are basically just various ways of providing human access to sewer pipes so that we can rid ourselves of waste. In many places they are simply holes in the floor. Like this:


    Why is that so terrible? Why is a trough so threatening? Because it reflects the fact that some if not most men can do some things that some if not most women can't?

    What is it about nature that people find so unfair? What gives women the exclusive right to breastfeed their babies, anyway? (Men can't!)

    Legislators and bureaucrats should be careful with toilets. As it is, there's already plenty of disrespect like this out there. If they make things too difficult, men (who are slobs anyway) will start doing "unfair" things they're not supposed to do, like peeing in sinks, or even (gasp) running outside to pee in the woods. In the alleys and parking lots. Against telephone poles.

    Should women have twice as many trees and bushes too? And twice as many alleys, lots and poles?

    ENVIRONMENTAL UPDATE: Modern urinal troughs can now be made environmentally friendly -- as they do not require flushing and thus do not need water.

    Wouldn't want to "go" against nature, now, would we?

    NOTE ON TOILET UPSIZING: Would huge communal toilets be discriminatory? How about ten foot diameter porcelain or metal basins, with multiple, parabolic-shaped protrusions upon which people would park their butts? Women and men could thus enjoy urinal communalism (communal urinism?) but in separate-but-equal bathrooms! (Why, they could even be made twice as equal! One basin for men; two basins for women!)

    Now, how could anyone object to that?

    UPDATE: Via Bill at INDC Journal, I read something about "patriarchy" at Daily Kos.

    (Presumably, potty parody is preferable to potty patriarchy.)

    posted by Eric at 06:55 AM | Comments (4)

    A word of thanks!

    As of a few hours ago, the inner workings of this blog (the stuff you can't see) have been upgraded to MovableType Version 3.17. It's easier to use -- a better interface, better SPAM blocking, better post and comment management -- and it does so many more things that I feel like a kid with a new toy.

    Things had gotten so bad that I could no longer block spam. I suffered with the older version (probably Medieval Type 0.0) for so long that I didn't realize how much better life could be, but thanks to Stacy and the folks at Sekimori it's as if my whole office was remodeled. And it only took about an hour.

    Very talented, prompt, and courteous people.

    I'm a grateful customer, and I highly recommend Sekimori.

    Thank you Stacy!

    posted by Eric at 06:29 PM | Comments (1)

    What's wrong with OUR unruined ruins?

    I've been reading about all these Americans who suffer from an unmedicated condition called "Omnipotent Tourist Syndrome (aka "OTS"), who are fond of going to other countries and marveling over stuff like crumbling buildings. (Via InstaPundit.)

    I'm a morbid person. Really, I am. And at the risk of sounding sympathetic with the PC tourist crowd, I'll admit to a certain reluctance to condemn anyone for enjoying crumbing buildings or things that are rotting away. Beauty can be found in these things. What I don't like is making moralistic judgments about the cultural "superiority" of decay. It's neither superior esthetically or culturally, nor is it ecologically pure. It's just sometimes beautiful. (I might add, so are micro photographs of diseases.)

    Plus, you don't have to go to places like "unspoiled Havana" in order to find it. Right here in the good old USA we have perfectly good rotten buildings!

    Like This Old House -- photographed just the other day at a local Pennsylvania state park:


    Eat your heart out, Fidel! (May Bob Vila forgive me for what I called the place, but I love it and I could move right in tomorrow!)

    If you want a more patriotic theme, there's this ruin, captured at Valley Forge National Park over the weekend:


    George Washington must have done something there. Or near there. And anybody who doesn't like it is definitely a commie!

    What I find incomprehensible is the idea that somehow Americans need to travel long distances to exotic places to find crumbling buildings. (Or decrepit human beings, for that matter.) They're all over the place right in our own backyards. The fact is, America is crumbling too. But who shall defend our domestic quaintness? Are German, French, and Japanese tourists going to flock to local American parks and report back to their countrymen that they'd better hurry up and see America's ruins before some government bureaucrat declares them unsafe (or wheelchair inaccessible) and orders them torn down or rebuilt?

    There's a double standard, and there's nothing fair about it.

    So what makes Cuban ruins more worthy of "preservation" than American ruins, anyway? I'm still baffled.

    Sheesh. Next they'll be admiring unsanitary hospitals and horrific health care....

    posted by Eric at 04:07 PM | Comments (8)

    If Hillary is Nixon, Howard is Agnew!

    Is Howard Dean Hillary Nixon Clinton's Spiro Agnew?

    Right now he's getting all the flak (as Dick Polman points out today), and yet, while that's noisily happening, Hillary is quietly manuevering herself into a position where the presidential nomination is a certainty.

    Dean's doing an excellent job as a flaky irritant and a distraction, but ultimately, he's quite expendable.

    In the long term, he'll also make Hillary look every bit the centrist, maybe even the Democratic Party's savior.

    If I were working for Hillary Clinton, I'd be as delighted with Dean as Nixon was with Agnew.

    posted by Eric at 12:08 PM | Comments (1)

    To hell with music!

    After thinking over that last post, the manifest unfairness of singling out books for the carnage they've wrought began to get to me. After all, even if we grant for the sake of argument that books are dangerous, as I explained, the danger is limited by the number of people who can a) read, and b) understand what they read.

    Yet most of us can hear. So it would follow logically that things which can be heard are infinitely more dangerous than things which have to be printed and then read.

    Anyway, the more I thought it over, the more I realized how unfair it was to single out books as the greatest threat.

    So I hereby propose the "Classical Values Ten Most Harmful Musical Compositions of the 19th and 20th Centuries."

    I did some research (as you can see in the links), but I solicit reader input, because this is a very serious matter.

    As the saying goes, if we can save just one life.....

    My tentative votes, so far:

    1. Rites of Spring (Stravinksy)

    [Be sure to check out that last link folks; they've done their homework and all dots have been, um, connected!]

    2. Internationale (Anthem of Communism)

    3. Horst Wessel Marching Song (Anthem of Nazi Germany)

    4. Imagine (Anthem of Idiotopians)

    5. The East Is Red (Maoist China)

    6. Satisfaction (Rolling Stones)

    7. Mister Ed Theme Song (more on similar evils here)

    8. Sympathy for the Devil (Rolling Stones)

    9. Jesus Christ Superstar

    10. AntiChrist Superstar (Marilyn Manson)

    The list could go on and on, and while I have tried to be non-partisan, my cultural bias may be showing. (Surely a lot of people would want to include The Star Spangled Banner?) A few runners up:

  • As Nasty As They Wanna be (2 Live Crew)
  • Big Man with a Gun (Nine Inch Nails)
  • Appetite for Destruction (Guns-N-Roses)
  • Stained Class (Judas Priest)
  • What might I have I left out?

    Well, for starters, millions of people hold that ALL music is harmful, because it is haram. Here's a typical explanation of the problem:

    The case with music and unlawful singing is the same. It has been decisively prohibited in Shariah, as the evidences mentioned further along will show. Yet there are individuals that are not ready to believe that it is Haram.

    In the modern era, music has spread to such an extent that nobody is free from it. Individuals are confronted with situations where they are forced to listen to music. It is played nearly in all department stores and supermarkets. If you sit in a taxi, make a phone call or even walk down the street, you will not be saved from this evil. Young Muslims drive around in their cars with the music fully blasted. The increasing popularity of music, which is prevalent in our society, poses a great threat to the Muslims.

    Music is a direct ploy of the Non-Muslims. One of the main causes for the decline of the Muslims is their involvement in useless entertainment. Today we see that Muslims are involved, and at the forefront perhaps, of many immoralities and evils. The spiritual power which once was the trait of a Muslim is nowhere to be seen. One of the main reasons for this is music and useless entertainment.

    I'm in over my head! I surely can't be expected to compile a list of the most haram-ful music, can I?

    A task like that would be too large. I should try to think in terms of reasonable goals.

    posted by Eric at 08:40 AM | Comments (7)

    Books don't harm people! Readers harm people!
    "So this is the little lady who started this big war."

    -- Abraham Lincoln, on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

    In similar vein, Human Events has listed what it considers the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries."

    1. The Communist Manifesto (Marx & Engels)

    2. Mein Kampf (Hitler)

    3. Quotations from Chairman Mao (Mao)

    4. The Kinsey Report (Kinsey)

    5. Democracy and Education (Dewey)

    6. Das Kapital (Marx)

    7. The Feminine Mystique (Friedan)

    8. The Course of Positive Philosophy (Comte)

    9. Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche)

    10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (Keynes)

    This link comes via Gays for Life, which complains that Mein Kampf doesn't deserve such a high ranking. (I agree.)

    Right away, I'm failing to see how any of these texts have harmed me. Hell I even have some of 'em -- staring at me from the shelves.

    I'm sure many people of an anti-religious bent would immediately complain that the Koran and the Bible are conspicuously missing, of course. (I own both of those, and they've never done a damned thing to me either.)

    But the anti-religious folks would also be missing the point.

    Which is that books don't harm people, any more than guns harm people. A book is simply a collection of written assertions, which may be true or false, helpful or not helpful, to this person or that person.

    How many people were killed by the Koran? Or the Communist Manifesto? How many red-blooded Americans were transformed into limp-wristed homosexuals by the Kinsey Report? According to the logic of some people, these books are more alive than guns, fostering bad ideas in the heads of impressionable people who shouldn't be reading them. Well, maybe some people shouldn't read the Communist Manifesto (or Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring) because they're not smart enough to understand them. But is it for me to decide who?

    No; apparently that's the job of Human Events!

    While they haven't issued a call for censorship (and I doubt they will), it's the logic with which I have a problem. The old saying, "no woman was ever ruined by a book," I think applies here.

    Protecting the stupid from stupid ideas is a stupid idea.

    What makes Human Events think the stupid will listen?

    The problem isn't the books; the problem is the people who read them, for there will always be bad ideas finding their way into print. We're stick with the First Amendment, but show me where it says people have any right to know how to read!

    Obviously, the solution lies in a crackdown on reading!

    MORE: Why didn't Freud and Darwin make the top ten, anyway? (They're only runners up.) Think of the incalculable harm they've done!

    MORE: This discussion also raises the issue of reading critically, as opposed to uncritically being led -- or for that matter, reading at all. When I attended a lecture by Charles Murray (author of The Bell Curve), it became readily apparent that the people who showed up to demonstrate against him had not read the book. Yet there they were, battling it in the most fanatic manner imaginable.

    How many Nazis had read what they were burning?

    This works both ways; I've known numerous "Marxists" who never read Das Kapital, and I suspect that not all Nazis have read (or could read) Mein Kampf. If people are "misled" by ideas they have not read, isn't it a stretch to maintain that the books did the harm?

    posted by Eric at 12:47 AM | Comments (12)

    Welcoming an unlikely defector!
    The Bush presidency is the highest stage of Nixonism.
    So says Sidney Blumenthal.

    Got that, folks? On occasions too numerous to count, President Bush has been likened to Hitler. Just recently, his foreign policy was compared to the Holocaust by leading Democrat Charles Rangel.

    But Nixon?

    My God, as hyperbole goes, that really takes the cake. As everyone knows, Nixon was Satan incarnate, and made Hitler look like a choir boy.

    Glenn Reynolds is right when he says Bush's "ability to drive his opponents stark, raving bonkers is almost supernatural."

    What's even more supernatural is the way former Clinton official Sidney Blumenthal has parted with his fellow travelers and jumped aboard the otherwise conservative Deep Throat composite bandwagon:

    Felt was not working as "a disgruntled maverick ... but rather as the leader of a clandestine group" of three other high-level agents to control the story by collecting intelligence and leaking it. For more than 30 years the secrecy around Deep Throat diverted attention to who Deep Throat was rather than what Deep Throat was - a covertFBI operation in which Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was almost certainly an unwitting asset.

    When FBI director J Edgar Hoover died on May 2 1972, Felt, who believed he should be his replacement, was passed over. The Watergate break-in took place a month later. As President Nixon sought to coerce the CIA and FBI to participate in his increasingly frantic efforts to obstruct justice, Felt, who had access to raw intelligence files, organised a band of his most trusted lieutenants and began strategic leaking. The Felt op, in fact, was part of a widespread revolt of professionals throughout the federal government against Nixon's threats to their bureaucratic integrity.

    What this means, of course, is that hatred of Bush is so deep, so profound, and so irrational, that it can cause even a dyed-in-the-wool liberal like Blumenthal to snub the otherwise de rigeur festival of Deep Throat triumphalism.

    I'm very forgiving in all matters of political as well as personal deviationism, so I'm delighted to welcome Sidney Blumenthal to the hallowed halls of alternate Watergate historical revisionism.

    It's a grand old struggle, Comrade!

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

    New Carnival for your enlightenment

    While I have no background in teaching (save a brief stint as a TA as an undergrad), I'm thrilled that one of my posts has been included in the 18th Carnival of Education. It's hosted by Education Wonk -- a libertarian-oriented education blog (I didn't even know there was such a thing!), and the Carnival is described as consisting of

    a variety of interesting and informative posts from around the EduSphere that have been submitted by various authors and readers.
    Mine was about the educational value of blood drinking, but they're all highly interesting. Like Interested Particpant's post about a high school graduate who's suing because of his inability to get a job. (They let him graduate without being able to read. Hmm... Maybe they ought to allow such lawsuits..... Why do home-schooled children seem to be better spellers, anyway? So are immigrants from India, btw.)

    Or how about teaching people how to "act their race"?

    All this and lots more. I'm glad I found out about this carnival, and my thanks to Mike Pechar at Interested-Participant (a wonderful blog) for letting me know about it.

    posted by Eric at 05:59 PM | Comments (3)

    I don't want to feel your pain (and you can have mine!)

    Not only is feeling not the same thing as thinking, feeling is more powerful than thinking because it is able to defeat thought itself.

    A perfect example is the struggle I have been having over having to kill my dog, poor suffering old Puff.

    That's right; kill. A decidedly more malevolent sounding word than the nice expressions we have like "putting down," "putting to sleep," "euthanasia," "death with dignity," "a good death," whatever.

    I can't shake this feeling -- and it is a feeling -- that I am doing something awful by taking away the one thing that means so much to Puff, and which he doesn't even know I will be taking away. Nor can I shake the feeling that I didn't do something more to save him. Sure, everyone will tell me what my vet just told me -- that I did way more than I or anyone could have or should have, that most people wouldn't have spent months nursing a dog unable to walk on his hind legs since February (and whose front legs are now almost useless too).

    I can tell myself these things, and I know rationally -- for a fact and "to a 'T'" -- that they are the truth. But that's just rational thought.

    And no rational thought can change the damned feeling. I guess I can rationalize away the feeling itself with the platitude that "feelings are what make us human," that you could program a computer to diagnose vital signs and know when it's time for the fatal shot, but that the horrible, uncontrollable feelings are part of the misery that's good for us.

    Ah, yes, suffering is good, say the moralists. So it is right that I should suffer. Just as it would be wrong to prolong or extend the dog's life or a human life.

    Moralists of all stripes are fond of injecting their own emotions into someone else's human suffering in the hope that they can lead the sufferer to greater heights of whatever nightmarish "ism" they're ultimately promoting in the name of whatever they consider to be the Ultimate Good. I don't need them now -- and for the simple, selfish reason that they cannot restore my dog's health.

    The memories I have of every death I've ever been with (I lost count of the exact number but it's a lot) are activated by this, of course. The psychiatric choruses would doubtless call my current state a form of "post traumatic stress" and offer me meds. What they offer me was worthless then and worthless now, because just as they couldn't save my friends in the 1980s, they can't save my dog now.

    If it sounds hopeless, that might be because it is. I have to go through this with Puff. Fortunately, I have found a vet who will make a house call, so I'll be spared the agony of the "last drive in the car" type of bullshit.

    In the old days, I could turn my feelings off with substances. That was better, even though the substances did nothing to stop the events which triggered the feelings. Now I just suffer. More moral that way. Builds lots of character.

    Being human sure sucks.

    posted by Eric at 04:07 PM | Comments (8)

    Machohomo v. Metrohetero?

    According to this report, the "macho look" is making way for... for....

    Well, for something else:

    PARIS (AFP) - Macho man is an endangered species, with today's male more likely to opt for a pink flowered shirt and swingers' clubs than the traditional role as family super-hero, fashion industry insiders say.

    A study along these lines led by French marketing and style consultants Nelly Rodi was unveiled to Fashion Group International during a seminar Tuesday on future strategy for the fashion industry in Europe.

    "The masculine ideal is being completely modified. All the traditional male values of authority, infallibility, virility and strength are being completely overturned," said Pierre Francois Le Louet, the agency's managing director.

    "Authority, infallibility, virility and strength" (all classical values, BTW) are, we are told, being replaced by looks like this:


    I don't know whether the above constitutes the "metro" look, but I flunked the metro test, and I don't know too many men who either look like that or want to. Like some of the bizarre women's fashions to which we're often treated, this is a look to which most men simply do not -- and will not -- aspire.

    Lest anyone think of blaming "the gay agenda" or launching another boycott as a way of fighting this sinister sissy plot, I think it's only fair to point out that for the most part, your average homosexual man is attracted to precisely the "macho man" look we are now told is doomed.

    Gee, what if that's part of the problem? Might it be, in a sort of perverse paradoxical kind of way?

    Might the "Metro man" be a "homophobic" reaction against the homoerotic "macho man"?

    I doubt it. I think most people would just like to be themselves.

    And I think it's all a little dull. But it's obviously not dull for everyone. Might be the sort of thing people like to get worked up about.

    There's money in this for someone somewhere (or at least a desire for attention) or they wouldn't be doing it.

    I think that even the blasted culture war should have better things to do.

    UPDATE (06/10/05): James Lileks has more:

    this is mostly nonsense. At least here in the US. Perhaps it’ll work in Europe, which has a large class of silly people inclinded to be is post- everything - post-national, post-religious, post-modern, post-gender. (It won’t work with the Muslim segment of their population, though.) It might work in America for a wee thin slice of the male population that lives in coastal cities, has the requisite vanity to carry it off, and is looking for a new role to replace the boring old Red State values he fled, seeking an enlightened place where people never say "Ozzie and Harriet" without rolling their eyes.
    Oddly enough, I find myself wishing it would work (with the Muslim side of the population, of course....)

    posted by Eric at 02:41 PM | Comments (9)

    Catch the 142nd Carnival!
    ....newspapers are destined to become like the horse and buggy. They will still be around, but everyone will be driving something faster.
    So says Kentucky blogger Brian Goettl at the The Conservative Edge.

    Brian is this week's host for the 142nd Carnival of the Vanities, and I want to thank Brian for linking my post about Watergate cults, as well as his words of encouragement.

    These Carnivals are great for discovering new blogs and new opinions. Brian does a better job as editor than most of us could as readers, thus easing the burden on those wishing to "keep up" with the un-keepup-able blogosphere.

    So go catch the Carnival and get caught up with your upkeep!

    posted by Eric at 12:36 PM

    Politicizing disposable memory

    Here's something that strikes me as a contradiction: disposable digital cameras:

    CVS Corporation has begun selling a disposable digital camcorder at its chain of pharmacies.

    Priced at $29.99, the number 2 drugstore chain operator in the US hopes to boost profits in its photo labs with the new product. Pure Digital Technologies of San Francisco developed the product according to a Reuters report.

    Pure Digital notes that one-time camera use has grown to 218 million units annually, and believes the digital camcorder will drive more growth in the digital video market.

    Pure Digital hopes to have the gadget in more stores under those retailers' brand names later this year. The camera records twenty minutes of video, and displays it on a 1.4 inch screen. Processing by CVS puts the video on a DVD for a fee of $12.99.

    Weighing in at a mere 5 ounces, the camcorder still offers the ability to review and delete video captured on the camcorder.

    The camera has three buttons and does not offer a zoom function. But for travelers who labored under the weight of a camera bag, not to mention the fear of losing an expensive camcorder, the tradeoff in cost may be worth trying out the disposable offering.

    I don't know why anyone would buy this thing (especially when you can buy a real one for $59.95 $49.95 $29.95), but I guess that anything can be sold to impulse buyers. There was a rationale for disposable film cameras: they were cheap, and camera film, once used, cannot be used again because of the chemistry involved.

    But digital memory? It can be erased, downloaded, copied, again and again. Making it "disposable" requires that buyers indulge themselves in a fiction. But it may be that the target market consists of non-geeks who don't have time to read instructions, install user-unfriendly software and navigate their way through it, burn their own DVDs, or any of that stuff.

    This may tie in with the too-many-choices factor. When the market supplies too many choices, then there's a market for idiot-proofing -- to simplify choice.

    I'll never forget some damnably long California ballot initiative in an election years ago. I received a copy of it from the voter registrar's office, in three-quarter inch thick pulp document form. I'm a lawyer (a fact I don't often admit), and but even my legal training was of little assistance in helping me wade through that incomprehensible drivel calling itself an "initiative." I didn't know how to vote. A "yes" might have meant a lot of things, and so might a "no" -- for a lot of different reasons, depending on the construction of certain language, which was replete with references to other laws, overstrikes of old language, and my reaction was incredible anger that garbage like this had to be printed up and mailed out to people who could barely read.

    What killed the ballot initiative was a very simple commercial (against the initiative) showing two average people asking each other about the meaning of the initiative's confusing text. Naturally, they couldn't figure out what it meant. Following this, the announcement intoned,

    "Vote 'NO' on Proposition X -- IT JUST DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE."

    Democracy is probably just as disposable as memory.

    posted by Eric at 09:07 AM | Comments (3)

    Cognitive losing?

    Possibly in response to the "care package" proposed by Mick Wright, Senator John Kerry has apparently signed his form 180. But not without a snarky comment:

    ''The call for me to sign a 180 form came from the same partisan operatives who were lying about my record on a daily basis on the Web and in the right-wing media. Even though the media was discrediting them, they continued to lie. I felt strongly that we shouldn't kowtow to them and their attempts to drag their lies out."

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    All of my daily-basis lies about Kerry not signing the 180 are hereby retracted. (Ahem.)

    But I do think it's fair to point out that one of my favorite liberal commenters (a Daily Kos writer named "bink") agreed with me that Kerry should have released his records. If in fact they show nothing dishonorable, then why didn't he sign the 180 before the election? I can't think of a more stupid mistake -- which might alone have cost him the election.

    Roger L. Simon thinks the problem might be that Kerry's a little bit lacking in what Bush is often accused of lacking:

    Kerry was clearly not the brightest bulb, but we knew that. One of the more interesting obfuscations (deliberate and otherwise) that went on... and continues to go on to some extent... about the last presidential campaign is that Bush was the dumb one. In actuality, I always thought one of the reasons for Kerry's famous flip-flopping, possibly the key reason, was that the Senator didn't really understand the issues. I know this sounds rash and almost vicious, but he seemed to have some kind of cognitive disorder. There may be a lot of that in politics. After all, rational discourse is not often rewarded. Talking endlessly around a subject is.
    Roger is referring to Kerry's academic records, which were also released.

    Hey, C students are the ones who often go on to become very successful. Many millionaires rise from among their ranks.

    But if they didn't show anything damaging, then releasing these records should have been a no-brainer, even for a C student.

    It doesn't make sense -- any more than it made sense for Kerry to throw away a perfectly good opportunity for a Sister Souljah moment with Michael Moore. I thought he could have won had he done that, and it wasn't "lying about his record on a daily basis" to point it out.

    Cognitive disorders are not the same thing as stupidity.

    MORE: Arnold Kling (via InstaPundit) sheds additional light on what Kerry might have been thinking feeling.

    UPDATE (06/08/05): According to the New York Sun, it still isn't entirely clear exactly what was released, or what was on the form Kerry signed:

    More than a year after promising on national television to release his full military record, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts authorized the Navy last month to provide his service file to selected news organizations.

    However, Mr. Kerry has not given the military permission to disclose the records to the general public, fueling continued speculation by the senator's critics that he is attempting to hush up some aspect of his service.

    The news organizations that have seen the latest collection of documents reported that there was little new information aside from a copy of Mr. Kerry's Yale University transcript showing that the future politician received some mediocre marks.

    The new release was prompted by a privacy waiver form, known as an SF-180, that Mr. Kerry signed on May 20, according a spokesman for the senator, David Wade.

    A Navy spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Daniel Hernandez, said the waiver applied only to the Boston Globe and did not authorize release of Mr. Kerry's records to the public.

    "Kerry controls the release of his records," Commander Hernandez said yesterday. "You have to talk to his office."

    (Via Powerline.)

    I haven't seen a copy of the Form 180 he's supposed to have signed. But if it's only a partial release of records to a friendly media source, that not much of a change from what he's already provided, and I doubt it will put an end to the speculation.

    posted by Eric at 06:09 PM | Comments (5)

    Loving the killers, Part II

    Speaking of animal rights (and food for bears!), via InstaPundit I see that in Canada, bears are now killing hikers:

    A grizzly killed a runner near Canmore, Alberta Sunday. Isabelle Dubé was out running a popular woodland trail with two friends when the group chanced upon the bear. Dubé climbed a tree while her two friends fled toward the nearby Silvertip golf course to get help. By the time they returned with police and wildlife officers Dubé was dead.

    The resort town of Canmore is in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, near Banff National Park and several provincial parks and recreation areas. The golf course is on the northeast edge of Canmore, and the rugged wilderness begins immediately.

    The healthy-looking, four-year-old, 200-lb bear (seen here drinking from a golf course pond) had been spotted near Canmore during the previous two weeks and frequented parts of the Silvertip course.

    Last Wednesday it had a nose-to-nose encounter with someone out photographing wildflowers, but displayed only the curiosity normal to younger bears and no aggressive behavior even though the photographer was accompanied by a dog. (Bears find dogs annoying, but this one didn’t bark.) When the bear next returned to the golf course it was trapped, fitted with a radio tracking collar and relocated to the far edge of its territory.

    The radio collar seems to have been as effective as putting the bear on probation.

    I'm reminded of this non fatal cougar incident in California, in which a cougar prowling near a schoolyard was shot and killed by police. Like increasing numbers of other wild animals, cougars (er, "fluffy mountain lions") have lost their fear of man.

    And while man has not lost his ability to defend himself, many people think that he should. Thus, instead of being treated like heroes, the police who shot the cougar near the school children were likened to the Americans at Abu Ghraib.

    As I remarked in a previous post called "On Loving the Killers",

    Much as I'd hate to think that there's any connection between the kneejerk defenders of mountain lions and the kneejerk defenders of suicidal Islamofascists, I worry that there is. Psychologically, at least. I suspect that for some people, a deep-seated self hatred takes the form of sympathy for killers of humans, whether motivated by religion (or what we're supposed to give a pass as religion), by ordinary criminality, or simply by predatory animal instincts.
    If something is wrong with self preservation, I'd like to know what. If people want to prevent me from living, well, then I must prevent them from preventing me from living, be they Leon Kass who thinks the lives of fluffy embryos are just as worthy as mine, animal rights activists who think the same thing about fluffy cougars, or "human rights" activists who support the rights of Michael Moore's fluffy freedom fighters (whose idea of freedom fighting is to behead me).

    Not that all things fluffy are bad, mind you. I just don't like it when fluff turns to snuff.

    UPDATE (06/08/05): According to the National Geographic, coyotes are becoming more aggressive:

    Wildlife specialist Robert Timm, of the University of California's Hopland Research and Extension Center, has documented some 160 coyote attacks and dangerous incidents over the past 30 years in California alone.

    "There is an increasing problem with coyotes losing their fear of humans and becoming aggressive," Timm said.

    "We've seen any number of instances where they came into a fenced yard and killed a small dog or cat," he added. "And we've documented pets taken from a child's arms or off a leash when being walked."

    Working with Rex Baker of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff, Timm has developed a coyote-attack computer database.

    The researchers are using the tool to search for patterns of precursor behavior—actions that might signal when coyotes are starting to become aggressive toward humans.

    The scientists are also searching for possible solutions to what they see as a growing dilemma. In many U.S. states booming human populations and development have led to more people moving into and living in traditional coyote country.

    The use of the word "dilemma" in this way reminds me of certain embryonic arguments by Leon Kass.

    For Glenn Reynolds, though, coyotes pose a different sort of dilemma. (Do rugs like that belong in the den, or the bedroom?)

    posted by Eric at 05:22 PM | Comments (1)

    Keeping intolerance under wraps

    Here's a photo from an animal rights protest meant to "compare eating meat with cannibalism."


    Much as I admire such ingenuity, I disagree with the assertion that meat eating is the same as cannibalism.

    Because I disagree with the premise that eating animals is the same as eating humans, no amount of what purports to be demonstrative evidence can convince me otherwise, no matter how cleverly it is put together. I have plenty of meat eating friends as well as vegetarian friends, but I don't know a single meat eater who would be persuaded by this. As a matter of fact, most of the vegetarians I know are that way for health reasons, and wouldn't agree with the argument made here.

    For years I ate an almost exclusively vegetarian diet for health reasons, and I used to get in more arguments with vegans than with meat eaters, because the former are often lifestyle-intolerant, while the latter almost never care what other people eat. I don't think it is anyone's business what other people eat, and I dislike those who make it their business. I'm as tolerant as meat eaters as I am of vegans, though. But in my experience, a lot of vegans are about as interested in being tolerated as were the Puritans who left very tolerant Leyden, Holland in 1620. When I would tell vegan activists that I was a vegetarian for "health reasons" but had no more moral problem with meat-eating than I did with veganism I might just as well have told them I was a salivating carnivore who wanted a steak.

    If there's one thing that pisses off an intolerant person, it's tolerance for others, and the only thing worse than that is if they get the inkling that they are being merely tolerated. Intolerant people hate being tolerated.

    They love finding religious and historical justifications, like the apparently false slogan, "Jesus was a vegetarian!

    (That's about as relevant as asking, "What would Hitler eat?")

    Any readers who think my tolerance is out of control should prepare themselves.

    Unlike Hitler, I tolerate smokers as well as non smokers!

    I assure everyone that this will never become a NO SMOKING blog, and I would fight tooth and nail -- to my last GASP -- to prevent such restrictions from ever being imposed on the blogosphere.

    And yes there are neo-Ghandian ways to promote tolerance -- even of those things you don't do. If you are a vegan who believes in tolerance for carnivores, I suggest every time you are in a restaurant with other vegans that you ask about meat (veal always seems to get a rise), and pretend you are about to order it. If you don't smoke, but want to promote tolerance for those who do, then by all means carry around a pack of cigarettes. (These are still available for sale in many stores, and while prices are always going up, a single pack can be managed.) The next time you see a menacing sign, or zero-tolerance-for-smoking folks idling about, slowly and deliberately remove the cigarette pack from your pocket! Then tap it repeatedly into the palm of your other hand to build suspense. If that doesn't work, remove a single cigarette. Then tap that, and so on. Tap tap tap! Eventually, someone will react.

    "But I wasn't going to smoke it!"

    "Honest! I was only playing!"

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds may not have intended it, but his recent post made me think of repackaging (or relabeling) the human flesh pictured above as food for bears. Well, if flesh eating is cannibalism, then serving packaged humans to bears as food is no different than what goes on every day at McDonalds or Wendy's!

    UPDATE: If any readers decide to buy a pack of cigarettes, please don't get hurt.

    posted by Eric at 02:13 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)

    Geezerhood sisterhood?

    There's no question that right now Watergate appears to be a gigantic orgy for the geezers of Watergate, of little if any relevance to the affairs of today.

    Much as I hesitate to weigh in for or against age as a criterion for determining what is or what is not of historical importance, because of my background of having been steeped in political correctness, I'm now wondering about "ageism."

    And I'm wondering about why there doesn't seem to be a feminine term for "geezer." (The word seems only appplicable to old men.)

    But if there are feminine geezers, might there be such a thing as a "Watergate geezeress"? If so, who might qualify for such a title?

    Might they be found among the ranks of the people described by Megan McArdle?

    Baby boomers, many of whom seem to have trouble accepting the fact that time has passed, often seem incredulous that the major formulating events of their lives simply aren't that interesting to everyone else. Vietnam and Watergate have become the language of public debate, even though both ended over thirty years ago.
    She's absolutely right. Why should geezer language continue to dominate public debate?

    Shouldn't non-geezers be heard from?

    While I disagree with Ben Shapiro on many, many things (the links here will give some idea of what), at least he is young enough not to be a geezer. And he seems smart enough to know a geezeress when he sees one:

    Hillary Clinton cut her teeth on the Watergate scandal. As a counsel for the House Judiciary Committee impeachment inquiry staff, she made it her mission to topple President Nixon. Hillary helped drafted a document that would provide the legal basis for three articles of impeachment. The House Judiciary Committee's former chief counsel, Jerome Zeifman, later revealed that the Hillary-penned document changed the existing impeachment protocols in order to burn Nixon. According to Clinton biographer David Maraniss, Hillary believed Nixon was "evil."
    Is Senator Clinton destined to become the geezeress in chief?

    I say yes.

    Will at WILLisms.com says no. He also doesn't think Deep Throat should be considered more important than the Darfur massacres. (Will, I can remember when Deep Throat was more important than slaughters in Vietnam and Cambodia, so I guess the character has kept a certain lurid hold on the geezer generation's collective imagination.)

    But Darfur and Deep Throat aside, the important news yesterday included the Watergate geezeress's claim that she can't sleep:

    "I stay awake at night thinking about all the mistakes and the wrong direction and all the bad decisions being made in Washington," Clinton said at the fund-raiser. "It's very hard to stop people who have no shame about what they're doing. It's very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth.
    I stay awake at night too, not because of mistakes in Washington (after all, such mistakes never cease -- something I think Senator Clinton knows full well). Rather, my ailing dog keeps me awake, and I have to tend to him at all hours.

    Call me a cynical geezer, but I just suspect that Hillary isn't losing as much sleep as she claims.

    I agree, however, with Senator Clinton's contention that "it is very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth." But I don't think that shaming one's opponents as liars is the best way to persuade anyone. Furthermore, I would have thought anyone who was famously called a "congenital liar" in the past would be a little more circumspect.

    Especially if she's trying to win over middle America.

    Yeah, I know. It was William Safire who called her a congenital liar. And he's such an old geezer he isn't even writing his column anymore.

    But non-geezer Ben Shapiro is, and unless he's changed his mind since 2003, he doesn't seem to think that Hillary Clinton is, um "acquainted with the truth." Instead, he thinks she's vintage Watergate:

    But finally, Hillary has hit her Watergate. Her new book, Living History, is a cover-up in purely Nixonian fashion. She says that the purpose of Whitewater was merely "to discredit the president and the administration and slow down its momentum … (Whitewater was) investigation as a weapon for political destruction."

    Most egregiously, Hillary claims that she was completely ignorant of her husband's sexual adventurism. "I could hardly breathe. Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him, 'What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?’" Yeah, right.

    Hillary has become what she most hates: a scandal-ridden politician enmeshed in a series of cover-ups. Like Nixon, she will fall. Unlike Nixon, she does not have the personal strength to rise alone.

    Geez. Geezer. Geezeress!

    It may be time to get over Watergate.

    MORE: In today's news, the aforesaid geezeress raised concerns about global warming:

    "We are living in a time when the other side doesn't want us to see the facts. Facts are inconvenient _ facts about global warming, facts about mercury in the air, facts about people staying unemployed longer,"
    I think some of my commenters are writing her speeches.

    posted by Eric at 11:15 AM | Comments (4)

    Discrimination is the enemy of choice

    Remember the Robin Williams character keeling over in front of the coffee section in "Moscow on the Hudson"? A brand-new Soviet defector to the United States who'd been raised having to stand in long lines to buy a single, shoddy product, he was asked by his hosts to "go buy coffee." Dutifully, he walked right up to the store manager and asked, "Where is line for coffee?" The guy looked at him as if he was crazy, and pointed to the coffee aisle, and by the time Williams was halfway through reading each brand name aloud, he simply fainted.

    The number of choices had pushed him over the edge.

    I agree with Virginia Postrel that there's nothing wrong with too much choice.

    At the same time, as a practical matter there simply is too much choice.

    So what?

    It means that in order to live (at least, without becoming paralyzed or going crazy), we must learn to do something we are taught is wrong:


    Sticking with what you know (or simply selecting something based on unfair criteria) is a good way to decide which coffee, which toothpaste, which cellphone, which digital thingamabob, to buy. There's no time for reflection, fairness, pondering alternatives, getting all "the facts." (Most of which are slanted by advertisers and partisan reviewers anyway....)

    The process we must use to survive is called discrimination, and when there are too many choices, there is no way to be fair about it. Perhaps those most preoccupied with being "fair" are ones are the ones most upset by the plethora of choices.

    It’s all too much, declares the latest line of social criticism. Americans are facing a crisis of choice. We’re increasingly unhappy, riddled with anxiety and regret, because we have so much freedom to decide what to do with our money and our lives. Some choice may be good, but we’ve gone over the limit. The result is The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, the title of Yale political scientist Robert Lane’s 2000 book on the subject.

    To these critics, providing too many choices is the latest way liberal societies in general, and markets in particular, make people miserable. “Choices proliferate beyond our pleasure in choosing and our capacity to handle the choices,” writes Lane. Like cheap food and sedentary labor, the argument goes, abundant choice is not something human beings are biologically evolved to cope with. We’d be better off with fewer decisions to make.

    “As the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear,” writes Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, published in January 2004. “As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.”

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I don't know. I don't have time to look into the matter in detail. So I'm not feeling especially, um, "tyrannized."

    Discrimination, obviously.

    Of course, such discrimination is a dirty business which makes me miss a lot of probably worthwhile things.

    But how much would I miss if I spent my time trying to make sure I didn't miss any of the probably worthwhile things?

    posted by Eric at 08:50 AM | Comments (2)

    Being serious is no fun

    I hate to get serious after that last post (criticized for an excess of "timidity"), but some serious things did happen yesterday.

    First, my serious thanks to John Hawkins at Right Wing News on making Classical Values Website of the Day. I'm really touched!

    It didn't escape my attention that yesterday was a day of remembrance for D-Day veterans. They fought and died trying to preserve American freedom. And it's a little depressing trying to remember while the people who run the government try to dismember -- that is, dismember the freedom we take for granted.

    Whether it's the McCain-Feingold restrictions on free speech (passed by the same Congress that's to "make no law" abridging free speech) or yesterday's negation of enumerated powers, more and more, this country is less and less free.

    Not a fun subject for blogging, and if I carried on like this regularly I wouldn't blame readers for going away and never coming back.

    Well, there was one cheerful note sounded yesterday. In the notorious Raich case, the much-hated Clarence Thomas dared to point out the truth of what his colleagues are doing:

    If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything--and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

    (From Radley Balko, link via InstaPundit.)

    What the World War II veterans (dying at the rate of 1100 a day) died for is increasingly irrelevant.

    So is Watergate. Modern media is built on Watergate fraud, and because I know that Watergate is just another geezer religion I'd like to forget all about it. (Or perhaps satisfy myself by gently ridiculing its various cults -- although I hasten to add that religion, if ridiculed at all, must be ridiculed gently. Is it OK to laugh at cults, but not "seriously"?)

    Not much else to do, other than to take things seriously. And what a drag that would be.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: It seems that the cult of Watergate is surrounded by an excess of what might be called "geezer triumphalism." Yet no one would speak that way of World War II remembrances, and with good reason. Some victories are worth celebrating, even into "geezerhood."

    But when false "victories" like Watergate (and its McCain-Feingold progeny) are seen as "crown jewels" by crowing charlatans, that makes the geezer label seem more appropriate. And of course, Watergate has plenty of geezers on both sides. And now they're arguing about a 91-year-old geezer who can barely talk but who's prodded by his daughter into saying he once did. Times are tough when such geezerhood has to be taken seriously.

    posted by Eric at 11:05 PM | Comments (2)

    Watergateneesh puram!

    I'm feeling guilty, folks.

    A few posts ago I commented on the religious cult to which the Daughter of Deep Throat is said to belong, and I supplied this picture of the Adi Da Samraj, to whom she has joyously devoted herself:


    Now I realize that by discussing the religion of Watergate right after the earlier post about the religion of the Deep Throat Daughter, I may have committed a faux pas, because the Watergate theology is infinitely more powerful -- a point that the devotees of Adidam themselves have acknowledged with the deepest respect.

    Therefore, I realized that it would be wholly and partially disrespectful to display pictures only of the Master of the Deep Throat Daughter without also acknowledging that there are grander masters, oh yes indeed.

    Is it not written in the sky?

    So here they are and here they will be.

    Their Joyously Divine and Enlightened Graces Themselves!

    Yes and first is first! First in power, first in Peace© and first in the Gates of his communities, Guru Sri Raj Major Bob Ram:


    And second only to the first, his almost equally exhilaratedly exalted excellency, the Most Correct, Most Pure and Most Reverent Servant of Scintillation of all that is Divine in the Divinity itself, His Oh So Infinitely Divine Grace Baba Sri Carl:


    I realize that the sheer intensity of their dazzling perfections may overwhelm my imperfect readers, but I assure you that it is only with the greatest of respect and joy that I share these Divine Images with you, in the hope that together we can all rejoice in the cosmos and work together to recognize the Vastness and Oneness of All Things Media. For All Media That Matters is All That Matters. The Union of all that is Divinely Inspired to Man, and All That Ever Will Be Inspired To Man is at once to be found in these Godheads of Deep Throated Divinity!

    As gracious tokens of their complete estimation, their Divine Graces have today offered magnanimity and complete forgiveness to all who have committed the Heresies of all Heresies (better known by the dirty, of-this-earth word "Bloggers").

    For now, the Blogwans are blinded by their ignorance and despair, but it need not be this way.

    Enlightenment and Joy awaits!

    posted by Eric at 06:04 PM | Comments (5)

    If pit bulls are lesbian lap dogs, Gavin Newsom has a problem!
    "If we can't change people's behavior and make them think what's in their best interest, then that's when government comes along and becomes a bit paternalistic."

    So says San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who's considering legislation which would ban pit bulls.

    I want to address Newsom's apparent contention that people who own pit bulls don't "think what's in their best interests." I've had these dogs since the mid 1970s, and while I've perhaps not written enough posts about this issue, it's because it makes me so sick that the government would try to take my dogs away because someone doesn't approve of them that I fear I'd be overly redundant and emotional.

    Joe Gandelman has a thoughtful post on the subject, but I'm really disappointed to see the ignorance displayed by some of the comments.

    The thinking seems to be that because a pit bull killed a child, all pit bulls should be banned. It would be one thing if these attacks were common -- or typified the breed.

    According to the statistics, neither contention is remotely true:

    Approximating 20 deaths per year in a dog population of 53 million yields an infinitesimal percent of the dog population (.0000004%) involved in a human fatality.

    Many communities and cities believe that the solution to prevent severe and fatal dog attacks is to label, restrict or ban certain breeds of dogs as potentially dangerous. If the breed of dog was the primary or sole determining factor in a fatal dog attack, it would necessarily stand to reason that since there are literally millions of Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and German Shepherd Dogs in the United States, there would have to be countless more than an approximate 20 human fatalities per year.

    Since only an infinitesimal number of any breed is implicated in a human fatality, it is not only unreasonable to characterize this as a specific breed behavior by which judge an entire population of dogs, it also does little to prevent fatal or severe dog attacks as the real causes and events that contribute to a fatal attack are masked by the issue of breed and not seriously addressed.

    Dogs kill 20 people per year? In a nation of 300 million people, I would have expected a higher number.

    Frankly, it horrifies me to see the types of thugs who often buy pit bulls, and I'm amazed that there aren't more attacks on innocent people, because the dogs are powerful as hell, and loyal as hell to their owners. Which means that if the owner is bad.... It's a little like a bad guy with a gun or a knife. Yet I can't tell you the number of times I've stopped to pet a pit bull being walked by young toughs, only to be told "GET BACK, MAN! HE'LL BITE YOU!!" And they actually seemed angry at their pit bulls for wagging their tails at me. Personally, I don't think that type of person should be allowed to own a pit bull. Or any dog. Because if they couldn't get pit bulls and were forced to have a dog which turned out to be a "wimp," they'd abuse that dog.

    I knew an animal control worker in Berkeley who told me a sickening story about a family which adopted a pit bull the shelter had considered gentle. The problem was that their child was not gentle, and he proceeded to beat the dog with a baseball bat. Eventually, the pit bull defended himself and severely injured the boy. Guess what? The family sued the city, and Berkeley was forced to stop adopting out pit bulls. Every time I read one of these stories, I wonder what's not being reported.

    There are always going to be powerful dogs, and bad people. A few years ago, CNN reported that the Rottweiler had "passed pit bulls as America's deadliest dog breed":

    The large dogs were involved in 33 fatal attacks on humans between 1991 and 1998, the American Veterinary Medical Association said.

    Pit bulls, which had been responsible for more deaths than any other breed, were involved in 21 fatal attacks over the same period.

    Now, despite the fact that Americans are almost five times more likely to be fatally struck by lightning than killed by Rottweliers or pit bulls, I think it's worth asking what accounted for the statistical shift. Might the crackdown on pit bulls have had anything to do with it? Or were the thugs discovering that the pit bulls were too friendly to be of much use? I don't know, but I am tired of the hysteria.

    There's no end to it. And as I've said before, the best way to stop this legislation is to glamorize the breed, and make it hip to own them.

    There's nothing I like more than visiting San Francisco and seeing a hip young lesbian walking a pit bull. It makes me feel that Puff and Coco are safer, and I am absolutely serious.

    (After all, not everyone gets to see pictures like these, showing graphically what pit bulls can do to children.)

    Or to cats:


    UPDATE: DO NOT MISS SayUncle's post on this issue. Not only is he less worried about being emotional than I am, he's posted a much better picture of the savage maulings these dogs inflict on children!

    Pointing out the folly of breed specific legislation, he also links to this game of "Find The Pit Bull."

    And I'm very pleased to see bloggers on the left as well as the right in agreement on this issue.

    Wonderful! (And thanks for the link!)

    UPDATE (06/08/05): My thanks to my old blogfriend Craig Ceely at Anger of Compassion for linking this post, and supplying a marvelous World War I era poster, which I'd love to reproduce here, but I'd rather have you go see it at Anger of Compassion. So go take a look!

    posted by Eric at 11:08 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

    Speaking of cults . . .

    I still haven't seen the latest "Star Wars," but I'm glad to see that the brilliant Mark Steyn has made it relevant to the pressing political and religious issues of the day:

    ....''Revenge of the Sith'' is a marvel of motivational integrity compared to ''Revenge of the Felt,'' the concluding chapter in that other '70s saga, Watergate. Before the final denouement last week, there were a gazillion guesses at the identity of ''Deep Throat,'' but all subscribed to the basic contours of the Woodward and Bernstein myth: that he was someone deep in the bowels of the administration who could no longer in good conscience stand by as a corrupt president did deep damage to the nation. So Darth Throat, a fully paid-up Dark Lord of the Milhous, saved the Republic from the imperial paranoia of Chancellor Nixotine by transforming himself into Anakin Slytalker and telling what he knew to the Bradli knights of the Washington Post.

    Now we learn that Deep Throat was not, in fact, Alexander Haig, David Gergen, Pat Buchanan or Len Garment, but a disaffected sidekick of J. Edgar Hoover, an old-school G-man embittered at being passed over for the director's job when the big guy keeled over after half-a-century in harness.

    Hmm. Like the ''Star Wars'' wrap-up, ''How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat'' feels small and mean after three decades of the awesome dramatic burden placed upon it. The nobility of the Watergate myth -- in which media boomers and generations of journalism school ethics bores have sunk so much -- seems cheapened and tarnished by this last plot twist.

    The above I found linked in Jay Rosen's brilliant analysis of the quasi religious aspects of Watergate. Like many cults, the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate cult denies its existence:
    It was after Nixon was exiled, after my brief journalism career was aborted, and after the movie of All the President's Men--a commercial hit--came out that I returned to look more closely at Watergate, but now at the meaning it held for journalists. During graduate school (mid-80s) I reviewed the social science research on the American press, trying to understand what made it the way it was, what kept it from changing into something else. As I followed different leads in my research I would invariably run into the Watergate Mythos, a force field affecting all ships.

    Trying to understand this took me right into the religion of journalism-- a belief system and meaning-making kit that is shared across editorial cultures in mainstream newsrooms. Young people are introduced to the religion in J-school, where it also lives, but even if they skip the academies they learn it within a few years on the job.

    In the daily religion of the news tribe, ordinary believers do not call themselves believers. (In fact, "true believer" is a casting out term in journlism, an insult.) The Skeptics. That's who journalists say they are. Of course, they know they believe things in common with their fellow skeptics on the press bus. It's important to keep this complication in mind: Not that journalists are so skeptical as a rule, but that they will try to stand in relation to you as The Skeptic does.

    As everyone knows, there is a priesthood in journalism. Whether it has authority is another matter. The team of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and Woodward himself as author and investigator, are comparable to cardinals in the church. (Although Bernstein is seen as an under-achiever after Watergate, Woodward heads the college.) A chain of belief connects them and their deeds to the rookie reporter, to the J-schooler sweating a Masters degree, even to the kid taking liberal arts who joins the college newspaper. (Me, class of '79.)

    A young journalist, Greg Lindsay, in his very interesting open letter to the class of 2005 (May 11 at Media Bistro) gets a lot of it right. He noticed in his training an undercurrent of religious instruction. But not very good instruction. "They're desperate to make believers out of you," he writes.

    (Don't miss Mr. Rosen's essay on journalism as a religion, by the way.)

    That there is a religion of journalism -- and religious orthodoxy -- explains the obstinate, even irrational opposition to any questioning (much less reexamination) of what happened in Watergate. Actually, reexamination is the wrong word, because a lingering question about Watergate is, simply, what were the burglars doing at the Watergate, and why? For years I heard tales about "bugging Larry O'Brien's office," yet it turned out that no bug was ever installed there (it couldn't have been heard from the listening post if it had been), and the desk and phone targeted by the burglars belonged to one Ida Maxwell ("Maxie") Wells.

    To merely inquire about these matters (which were overlooked despite the information being in FBI files) is to risk being called a nut, or to be likened to a Holocaust denier.

    Why is that?

    Because it would help rehabilitate the evil Nixon? Not by a long shot. Nixon's crime was in covering up the burglary. He was incredibly stupid to do it (and the sexual nature of the burglary, if true, only shows him to be more stupid, not less). Covering up is obstruction of justice, and that's why he had to resign, and why he was lucky that President Ford pardoned him. None of this will save Nixon, and I don't know anyone who claims it would.

    Instead, the painstaking research by others which raised questions about John Dean's possible personal sexual motivation of the burglary renders the orginal reporting of Watergate less than thorough (and, of course, John Dean less than heroic). If, as Mr. Rosen argues, modern journalism is a religious cult which arose from Watergate (with Woodward and Bernstein as "Cardinals"), then any questioning of their thoroughness is akin to heresy.

    Raising questions about sloppy reporting is heresy?

    Well, I'm a heretic and I make no bones about it. When I read Secret Agenda and Silent Coup I was stunned, because I had always assumed that the Watergate burglary involved simple political dirt digging, and to see evidence that it was more complicated than that -- that a media hero had sent the burglars in on his own personal mission -- just shocked me to the core.

    Then I saw the fanatical opposition to any consideration of this new evidence. Lawsuits were filed against the authors of Silent Coup, against people who discussed the book's evidence, the book was labeled a "right wing wacko tract," (notwithstanding the liberal backgrounds of the authors), and when the lawsuits were abandoned, dismissed, or rejected by a federal judge and jury, why, the silence of the press was deafening.

    It's the kind of reaction I'd expect from a religious cult.

    MORE: Here's Daily Pundit's Lastango:

    What’s being punctured, one pinprick at a time, is the image of lone heroes acting heroically.
    That should have been the job of journalists decades ago.

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

    That's Why He's The Captain

    This is by way of being a companion piece to “Like A Thousand Iron Curtains.”
    It’s comprised of relevant excerpts from Poul Anderson’s Hugo winning story, “The Longest Voyage.”

    If you ever intended to read it for yourself, you should be aware that I’m about to give away the ending. Fair warning…


    If the stars are indeed suns like our own, each attended by planets like our own, this demolishes the crystal-sphere theory…Scripture has never said in so many words that Paradise lies directly above the birthplace of God’s Daughter; this was merely assumed, during those centuries when the earth was believed to be flat. Why should Paradise not be those planets of other suns, where men dwell in magnificence, men who possess all the ancient arts and flit from star to star as casually as we might go from Lavre to West Alayn?

    Val Nira believed our ancestors had been cast away on this world, several thousand years ago. They must have been fleeing the consequences of some crime or heresy, to come so far from any human domain. Somehow their ship was wrecked, the survivors back to savagery, only by degrees have their descendants regained a little knowledge. I cannot see where this explanation contradicts the dogma of the Fall. Rather, it amplifies it. The Fall was not the portion of all mankind, but only of a few—our own tainted blood—while the others continued to dwell prosperous and content in the heavens.

    Even today, our world lies far off the trade lanes of the Paradise folk. Very few of them nowadays have any interest in seeking new worlds. Val Nira, though, was such a one. He traveled at hazard for months until he chanced upon our earth. Then the curse seized him, too. He descended upon Ulas-Erkila, and the Ship would fly no more.


    “I know what the damage is,” he said ardently. “I’ve not forgotten…a certain subtle engine in the ship requires quicksilver… I need no more than the volume of a man’s head. Only that, and a few repairs easily made with tools in the ship. When this cult grew up around me, I must needs release certain things I possessed, that each provincial temple might have a relic. But I took care never to give away anything important. Whatever I need is still there.”

    “…the dwellers in the Milky Way are dangerous to none, helpful to all. They have so much wealth they’re hard put to find a use for most of it. Gladly would they spend large amounts to help all the people on this world become civilized again.”…”Fully civilized, I mean. We’ll teach you our arts. We’ll give you engines, automata, homunculi, that do all the toilsome work; and boats that fly through the air; and regular passenger service on those ships that ply between the stars—“

    “When my people come here, there’ll be no more war, no more oppression, they’ll cure you of all such diseases. They’ll show friendship to all and favor to none…”

    …Rovic and Froad questioned him eagerly about his home. Of course, all their talk was in fragments. Nor did I hear everything… But what I did hear kept me long awake.

    Ah, greater marvels than the poets have imagined for Elf Land! Entire cities built in a single tower half a mile high. The sky made to glow so that there is no true darkness after sunset. Food not grown in the earth, but manufactured in alchemical laboratories. The lowest peasant owning a score of machines which serve him more subtly and humbly than might a thousand slaves—owning an aerial carriage which can fly him around his world in less than a day—owning a crystal window on which theatrical images appear, to beguile his abundant leisure. Argosies between suns, stuffed with the wealth of a thousand planets; yet every ship unarmed and unescorted, for there are no pirates and this realm has long ago come to such good terms with the other starfaring nations that war has also ceased. (These other countries, it seems are more akin to the supernatural than Val Nira’s, in that the races composing them are not human, though able to speak and reason.) In this happy land there is little crime. When it does occur, the criminal is soon captured by the arts of the provost corps; yet he is not hanged, nor even transported overseas. Instead his mind is cured of the wish to violate any law. He returns home to live as an especially honored citizen, since all know he is now completely trustworthy. As for the government—but here I lost the thread of discourse. I believe it is in the form of a republic, but in practice a devoted fellowship of men, chosen by examination, who see to the welfare of everyone else.

    Surely, I thought, this was Paradise!

    Our sailors listened with mouths agape. Rovic’s mien was reserved, but he gnawed his mustaches incessantly. Guzan, to whom this was an old tale, grew rough of manner. Plain to see, he disliked our intimacy with Val Nira, and the ease wherewith we grasped ideas that were spoken.

    But then, we came of a nation which has long encouraged natural philosophy and improvement of all mechanic arts. I myself, in my short lifetime, had witnessed the replacement of the waterwheel in regions where there are few streams, by the modern form of windmill. The pendulum clock was invented the year before I was born. I had read many romances about flying machines which no few men have tried to devise. Living at such a dizzy pace of progress, we Montalirians were well prepared to entertain still vaster concepts.


    In length—height, rather, since it stood on its tail—it was about equal to our own caravel, in form not unlike a lance head, in color a shining white untarnished after forty years. That was all. But words are paltry, my lord. What can they show of clean soaring curves, of iridescence on burnished metal, of a thing which was proud and lovely and in its very shape aquiver to be off? How can I conjure back the glamor which hazed that Ship whose keel had cloven starlight?

    We stood there for a long time…

    The interior was lit by luminous panels, cool to the touch. Val Nira explained that the great engine which drove it—as if the troll of folklore were put on a treadmill—was intact, and would furnish power at the flick of a lever. As nearly as I could understand what he said, this was done by changing the metallic part of ordinary salt into light…so I do not understand after all. The quicksilver was required for a part of the controls, which channeled power from the engine into another mechanism that hurtled the Ship skyward.


    Even that adamantine hull could not withstand a wagonload of carefully placed gunpowder, set off at one time. There came a crash that knocked me to my knees, and the hull cracked open. White-hot chunks of metal screamed across the slopes…I saw the Ship fall. It rolled down the slope, strewing its own mangled guts behind…More than this I have no heart to remember.


    “I was not afraid Guzan or anyone else would seize the Ship and try to turn conqueror. We men of Montalir should well be able to deal with any such rogues. Nor was I afraid of the Paradise dwellers. That poor little man could only have been telling truth. They would never have harmed us…willingly. They would have brought precious gifts, and taught us their own esoteric arts, and let us visit all their stars.”

    “Then why?”

    “Someday Froad’s successors will solve the riddles of the universe. Someday our descendants will build their own Ship, and go forth to whatever destiny they wish. Meanwhile, we’ll sail the seas of this earth, and walk its mountains, and chart and come to understand it. Do you see, Zhean? That is what the Ship would have taken from us.”

    What would you have done?

    posted by Justin at 01:25 AM | Comments (3)

    Big Windy Speaks

    From the pages of The Progressive...

    Nina Siegal: You have stated that the debate on stem cell research and human cloning comes down to “whose life matters most: the lives of sick children and adults facing risks of decay and premature death, or the lives of human embryos who must be directly destroyed in the processes of harvesting their stem cells for research.” Do you believe that frozen embryos from artificial insemination that may never be implanted in a womb constitute a life that cannot be destroyed?

    Leon Kass: “Yes” or “No” questions don’t do justice to the subject or my own views. As a biologist, I am in awe of an embryo’s developmental potential, a potential that does not disappear just because its creators no longer want it for baby-making purposes. I don’t regard the early embryo morally as equivalent to a newborn child, but I cannot prove my moral intuition nor disprove the opposing view. The early human embryo, especially in a dish or freezer, is mysterious in its being and how to regard it remains a puzzle. I therefore shy away from exploiting it for our purposes.

    Right, then.

    That would be a yes.

    Also, he's not a biologist. He's a former biologist, by about, oh, thirty years or so.

    posted by Justin at 01:01 AM | Comments (2)

    Channeling the shakti bliss of Watergate!

    Adidam is a complete Way of life, the gift of Avatar Adi Da Samraj. As His devotees, we practice this Way in relationship to Him because we recognize, at heart, that Adi Da Samraj is Real God appearing in human form.

    Adi Da was born Conscious as Perfect Love, Bliss, and Happiness - a state He calls "the 'Bright'". And He is here to make it possible for everyone to Realize that Perfect State.

    (From What is Adidam?)

    It's beginning to look as if the latest Watergate character isn't so much Mark Felt as his daughter Joan Felt:

    As both praise and criticism of Joan Felt and her family swirled last week in the national media, she disclosed the family's motivations for coming forward now, why money was a family consideration and how her father remains a "sensible and wise" participant.

    Felt, who has lived with her father in a two-story home in northwest Santa Rosa for the past 13 years, said her 91-year-old father deserved to be released from the secret he had held so long.

    "I think it's so important for a person getting into elder years, when death is somewhere around the corner, to be unburdened," Felt said. "At that time of your life, you (shouldn't) be holding up appearances or have something troubling your heart and have to keep it a secret."

    Her comments came two days after a media frenzy that included reporters and camera crews camped on her front lawn. Joan Felt, 61, took a quiet moment in her car on the way home from Rohnert Park for an exclusive cell phone interview with The Press Democrat.

    While she wouldn't talk about her father's decision to go public, and while the family has refused to make him available for interviews, she was frank about her own motives.

    "There were many reasons why we decided to do it. I won't deny that to make money is one of them,"

    [Emphasis added.]

    Ms. Felt goes on to mention that she's a single mom, has a son in law school, and that kind of stuff, and while she's obviously into the spiritual ramifications of death, via blogger Rogers Cadenhead I stumbled onto something which might not be as irrelevant as it initially seemed -- Joan Felt is a devout follower of what appears to be a pricey cult run by a man calling himself Adi Da Samraj. Among other things, a lawsuit by former Adidam members alleged that cult followers:
    ...impoverished themselves while the group's founder lived opulently with nine wives and 30 followers on a Fiji island...

    The Adidam place (or someone) seems to be pulling the links but this Google cache (if its still there) illustrates that Joan Felt of Santa Rosa is more than just a devotee of Adi Da Samraj; she's listed as an official contact for the Adidam Study Group:

    Santa Rosa Adidam Study Group
    Joan Felt

    [NOTE: I edited out the phone number myself.]

    Who is this Adi Da Samraj? I don't know, and after looking at his picture from the web site I don't know what to say:


    But here's what Adi Da says about having a fulfilling death:

    Death makes your entire life bullshit. Don’t you see? That’s the problem. The body is going to die, every relation of the body is going to die. You can’t even depend on it continuing for another moment while you’re . . . associating with it. That’s the situation you’re in, but you use fabrications of mind and so forth, individually and collectively, that distract you from the fact of it, so that you won’t feel it profoundly. And so you build up this whole lifetime of endeavors, of attachments, of things you own, things you do, things you’re known for, things you know, things you know about — on and on and on. And it all passes. But in the meantime. . . you bullshit one another, effectively.

    The Great Matter doesn’t confront you merely in death. It’s just that in death you are disarmed and you have no choice. While you are alive, you delude yourself! You fabricate a reality that’s not altogether true, in order to give yourself a sense of permanence, continuation, certainty — as if life is about being enthusiastic, about fulfillment of the next desire. In fact, you could easily drop dead in any moment. All kinds of people drop dead every day. And a lot of them haven’t lived a very long life beforehand. All kinds of terrible things are being done by human beings to one another and otherwise by the situation itself.

    So you can participate in the round of desires and consolations as much as you are able for a lifetime, however long that lasts, and then be necessarily confronted by profundity at the point of death. Or you can go beyond even right now and exist in that profundity right now. . .

    True religious life is a great profundity. But the religious life that people propose for themselves and propose to one another, generally speaking, is the life of consolation, of distraction, of arbitrary beliefs that suggest some kind of continuation (or even permanence) of the present pattern.

    It’s not merely the state of the world at the present time — which, of course, is dreadful — but it’s not merely that which confronts you and suggests that perhaps you should become serious. Even if it were not as chaotic as this, the great profundity still confronts you and you could embrace it — or you could continue to ignore it. . . . The same profundity that exists in death is right now. The vortex of fire exists right now. And the fundamental Light exists right now.

    Avatar Adi Da Samraj, Easy Death

    Blogger Chris Taylor has more background on whatever his name is:
    Perhaps the only interesting twist to the saga of the family was Joan Felt's involvement in the unusual spiritual movement known as Adidam (and even that kind of thing is par for the course in Santa Rosa). Adidam, founded in 1970, is hard to explain -- it has undergone as many changes of doctrine as name (it has at various times been known as Dawn Horse Communion, Free Communion Church, Free Primitive Church of Divine Communion, Crazy Wisdom Fellowship, Johannine Daist Communion, Advaitayana Buddhist Communion, and Free Daist Communion). Its leader, currently known as Adi Da (but originally known as Franklin Jones), the son of a window salesman from Long Island, proclaims himself a "God-man" who has arrived on Earth to "perfectly fulfill the ancient longings of the human heart."

    Adidam has somewhere between one and three thousand adherents worldwide. Not only is Joan Felt one, she was listed as the Adidam coordinator for Santa Rosa until Wednesday, some time between 6 and 9pm, when her name and number were hurriedly removed. She is still listed as one of the sponsors of a book on Adidam known as The Mummery Book.

    Denizens of the Adidam website went wild over the fact that one of their own, whom many apparently recognized by name or face, had become so suddenly famous -- and over the potential financial reward their religion might reap. "They [Adidam's administrators] are fearing attention of the press, I assume," wrote one newsgroup correspondent identified only as "E". "At the same time, they are cooking on the thought of some of this 'white hot' Watergate bread being channeled their way." Some wondered out loud if Joan Felt was planted in their midst by the FBI. Others commented with surprising frankness on how much of a space cadet Joan Felt seemed at the press conference. "she had on this idiotic grin during the TV footage," said "C." "At first I attributed that to pride at the news of the uncovering of this secret. But now that there's an Adidam connection, I attribute the grin to the shakti-bliss of the divine master!"

    (Wikipedia has a writeup on Adi Da, and there are detailed, sordid allegations against him here involving sex and drug activities so often associated with these wacky religions. I know, I know, it almost begs for a "follow the money," "Deep Throat II" sort of sequel.) I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

    I don't know whether I'm in a state of shakti-bliss or not, but I can't shake this feeling that Felt's decision to out himself after years of denial might not have been his own. There's a doctrine called undue influence which might apply.

    Which only raises questions about who else might have been unduly influenced.

    Stay tuned to the White Hot Watergate Bread Channel!

    posted by Eric at 11:40 PM | Comments (3)

    Bogged down with real issues

    I'm often accused of avoiding the real issues, and I fear that every time I don't write a post about a real issue (a crime I commit for a major portion of the sixteen hours a day that I don't write posts) I am probably guilty has charged.

    And here it is Sunday morning. And the talk shows are trying to distract me from the real issues by talking about events that took place when I was a teenager.

    But much as I'd like to talk about Watergate (and Nixon's overwhelmingly shortsighted coverup of John Dean's sex scandal), to do so would be an ongoing violation of the Rule Against Avoiding Real Issues.

    If I wrote another post wallowing in Watergate, I'd be avoiding the real issue which is emblazoned across the front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer -- a story about killer bog turtles:

    If anybody is afraid this nippy morning in early May, it is Caesar Gorski, a developer watching from the wetland's edge and praying that Teti won't find what she's hunting for: a killer bog turtle.

    Killer of construction projects, that is. Just four inches long, the "boggie" is one of North America's tiniest turtles. But with the muscle of the federal Endangered Species Act under its shell, it stops bulldozers. If it rears its bitty orange-spotted head here, the turtle will sink Gorski's plan for a $20 million office park and render part of his 30-acre tract unbuildable.

    To developers, the boggie may be a baneful little beast. But for Teti and an elite band of turtle stalkers, it is a cash cow - worth $10,000 to $75,000 out of a builder's pocket for each site searched, whether a tortoise is found or not.

    Since 1997, when the bog turtle ascended to the federal list of threatened species and its protection was mandated, a cottage industry has emerged for herpetologists willing to get muddy and bloody for the title, and the paycheck, of a "certified bog turtle surveyor."

    The bog turtle (Clemmys muhlenbergii) is without a doubt one of the coolest turtles to be found anywhere. And certainly the rarest. While they're illegal to own, collectors pay $1000.00 apiece for them.

    Here's a picture of one of the little $1000.00 "boggies":


    The above picture is credited to Certified Bog Turtle Surveyor Andrea Teti, who's possessed of virtual life-and-death power to stop development if she's able to find a bog turtle which might find it's way into the bulldozer's path:

    Now, on her third search of the six-acre wetland that stretches along the perimeter, Teti does a quick slog-through in hopes of spotting a boggie basking in the skunk cabbage. Seeing none in about half an hour, she shifts to intense search mode, stooping low to probe the mud with her hands.

    "You have to learn the nuance of wetlands," she says - the turtles' tunnels, their almost imperceptibly matted trails.

    For the size of this job, she has six assistants, including college students and retirees from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Most are wearing hip-waders. At 5-foot-3, Teti sinks in up to her thighs, one of which soon is bloodied by a thorn.

    The search will last five hours, and be repeated twice in the following two weeks. As chaotic as it looks, she says, the process is "90 percent foolproof."

    After two hours, Gorski nervously posts himself in the swamp grass. He tells Teti he has read that anti-sprawlers plant turtles to stop projects.

    "There are crazy environmental activists out there. That's not us," she replies, and presses on.

    She stops not for lunch or a bathroom break but to take photos of a wood turtle sunning itself in a thicket of multiflora roses.

    Gorski moves in for a peek. But his wonderment turns to panic when a shout of "Turtle!" rings out from the marsh.

    It turns out to be a common box turtle. By 3 p.m., Teti has found two of those, but no boggies.

    While specialists like Teti spend their time wallowing in the fever swamps, the Knoxville Zoo has bred over a hundred bog turtles, and released more than 90 of them into the wild. (Why do I keep misspelling a simple word like "bog"?)

    (And (around 10:43 a.m.) I just heard Ben Bradlee twice identify John Dean as Deep Throat, saying that the information provided by Dean was never wrong. He's an old man, probably misspoke, and I'll bet the flub will never appear on the transcript.)

    But back to the real issue facing us today. Clearly huge development projects can be stopped stopped dead in their tracks if one of these bog turtles is discovered. It's also clear that if the Knoxville Zoo can breed over a hundred of them, others could too.

    I'm wondering.... Just wondering. Is the goal really one of saving the bog turtle? I'm all for that, and I'd even be willing to help. Seriously, as a former amateur herpetologist I'd be willing to fund a breeding project, and I'd be willing to apply for a breeder's license and do it all properly.

    Except I don't think the goal is saving the bog turtle. If it were saved through a properly run breeding program, why, then it wouldn't be called the "killer bog turtle" anymore.

    Isn't it more likely that the lowly bog turtle is being used as an environmentalists' weapon? As things stand, it's unquestionably one of the most potent weapons in the arsenal against development. And if bog turtle populations became stable thanks to breeding programs, the turtle would cease to be the killer of development it now is. So outside of an occasional zoo naive enough to think it's helping the environmentalists' cause, I don't expect much effort to save it.

    That's why I'd rather wallow in trivial non-issues.

    UPDATE (1:24 p.m.): The CBS "Face the Nation" transcript is here and it confirms what I thought I heard:

    .... I think that proves that Bob Woodward was a reporter before he even knew it himself. I mean, it was his instincts to develop friendships and contacts with people, and he was very good at that. I would like to quibble with John Dean's thing. John has identified a whole lot of people in his career as Deep Throat, and the idea that when he says that Deep Throat was wrong many times, I don't believe that, and I certainly don't believe that he was wrong in any significant case. Any information that we got from Dean turned out to be right, period. (Emphasis supplied.)
    Case closed. While I'm surprised to see this in a transcript, I feel vindicated!

    Imagine. The great Ben Bradlee finally agrees with something I suspected for years.

    MORE: I did not mean to imply that I am the only person to speculate about John Dean as part of the Deep Throat composite. Here's former GOP Chairman Ody Fish, in March:

    OCONOMOWOC - A former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party said he believes John Dean is "Deep Throat," an anonymous newspaper source made famous during Watergate.

    Ody Fish of Pewaukee, who spent nearly 15 years as a member of the Republican National Committee, said he believes Dean was the one who passed along information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

    "Deep Throat brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon," Fish said. "Woodward said he wouldn’t tell who it was until after Deep Throat died. Dean is still alive."

    Dean was White House counsel to Nixon from July 1970 to April 1973. He became deeply involved in the Watergate coverup and was referred to as "master manipulator of the coverup" by the FBI. He would go on to become the star witness of the Watergate prosecution.

    Dean was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in Watergate but served less than four months after cooperating with authorities.

    In the summer of 1974, Fish was joined by then-Mich. Gov. Bill Milliken and then-Rep. John Rhodes, R-Ariz., to meet with Nixon and tell him his support was dwindling.

    posted by Eric at 10:30 AM | Comments (2)

    Koranhole my butthole!

    Koran mishandling”?

    Please spare me.

    What's next? Urinegate? (No; that still means something else....)

    Seriously, is this why we fought the war on terrorism?

    I mean, I didn't have any more respect for the Koran than the Bible or any other damn book before the war. Since when am I supposed to grovel in shame just because some terrorist POW complains his stupid book has been somehow dissed?

    I was tired of of religious scolds before this war started, and I'm more tired of them now. Perhaps my parents shouldn't have sent me to a religious school where the chaplain threw the Bible on the floor and stomped on it. (His way of demonstrating that the thoughts and ideas are more important than the physical book itself.) I don't know; perhaps they should have.

    But this has gotten ridiculous.

    UPDATE: None of this is new. My investigatation has learned about similar acts of book mishandling in previous wars:

    Eight of the 13 alleged incidents of Mein Kampf mishandling that Hood has looked into were not substantiated. Six involved guards who either accidentally touched a Mein Kampf or "touched it within the scope of his duties" or did not touch it at all. "We consider each of these incidents resolved," Hood said. The other two cases in which the allegation was not substantiated involved interrogators who either touched or "stood over" a Mein Kampf during an interrogation, Hood said. In one case not deemed to be mishandling, an interrogator placed two Mein Kampfs on a television. In the other case, which Hood did not describe fully, a Mein Kampf was not touched and Hood said the interrogator's unspecified "action" was accidental.

    "We've also identified 15 incidents where detainees mishandled or inappropriately treated the Mein Kampf, one of which was, of course, the specific example of a detainee who ripped pages out of their own Mein Kampf," he said.

    As of yet, I haven't found documented incidents of mishandling of the Communist Manifesto, although I did find one author who said it would be wrong.

    (As I explained, I've already been a witness to Bible mishandling, and I've been properly ashamed of myself ever since! Obviously, I need lessons in sensitivity training.)

    posted by Eric at 01:32 PM | Comments (8)


    Two views of the same scene -- from the nearsighted perspective of my camera's macro lens:

    A closeup of rosebuds in the rain:


    And a closeup of the same rosebuds, but with my helper in the background:


    Puff's fading fast, and out of focus, but he's still in the picture. Still alert enough to watch what I'm doing and supply a little perspective!

    UPDATE (06/05/05): Same rose, next day:

    posted by Eric at 09:52 AM | Comments (3)

    I hope Felt wasn't Deep Throat

    At the risk of being a total bore (I try to make this blog fun, and if there's one thing I hate it's being forced to take things seriously), I have to raise a serious question about Mark Felt. Please bear with me, even though I know it isn't funny.

    I'll start with a quote from the Vanity Fair story in which it was announced that Felt was Deep Throat:

    The heat was also kept on because of a continuing F.B.I. investigation, headed by the bureau's acting associate director, Mark Felt, whose teams interviewed 86 administration and CRP staffers. These sessions, however, were quickly undermined. The White House and CRP had ordered that their lawyers be present at every meeting. Felt believed that the C.I.A. deliberately gave the F.B.I. false leads. And most of the bureau's "write-ups" of the interviews were being secretly passed on to Nixon counsel John Dean—by none other than Felt's new boss, L. Patrick Gray. (Gray, the acting F.B.I. director, had taken over after J. Edgar Hoover's death, six weeks before the break-in.) Throughout this period, the Nixon camp denied any White House or CRP involvement in the Watergate affair. And after a three-month "investigation" there was no evidence to implicate any White House staffers.

    The Watergate probe appeared to be at an impasse, the break-in having been explained away as a private extortion scheme that didn't extend beyond the suspects in custody. McGovern couldn't gain campaign traction with the issue, and the president was re-elected in November 1972 by an overwhelming majority.

    But during that fateful summer and fall, at least one government official was determined not to let Watergate fade away. That man was Woodward's well-placed source. In an effort to keep the Watergate affair in the news, Deep Throat had been consistently confirming or denying confidential information for the reporter, which he and Bernstein would weave into their frequent stories, often on the Post's front page.

    Considering the man's status as the head of the FBI team that interviewed 86 witnesses, I think it is fair to ask how much Felt -- Vanity Fair's hero -- knew about the break-in. Remember, he was no ordinary citizen, but the number two man in the FBI.

    Vital information about the break-in took decades to come to light (despite the fact that it was known to the FBI at the time). I have some very serious problems with the FBI's performance, and if Felt played a part in it, I'd consider him anything but a hero even if he wasn't Deep Throat. But if the guy's goal was the removal of Nixon, and he engaged in selective leaking as a way to help accomplish that, then hiding the facts of the break-in becomes even more egregious. (It would be a violation of the Brady rule, and then some.)

    The following (from Joan Hoff's Brewster Lecture in history) outlines some of my concerns.

    Still, the CIA may have been interested in obtaining information from it that would be useful in the future. The prostitution ring either had been set up by Democrats to service prominent party members when they visited the nation's capital or simply represented Bailley's personal "pimping" from Oliver' office in the Watergate complex. In any case, the prostitution operation had already been shut down before the first Watergate break-in because of Bailley's arrest and indictment.

    Typical of their general ineptness, the Plumbers on May 28 succeeded in planting only one bug that functioned properly, and it was m R. Spencer Oliver's office. It, nonetheless, began to reveal embarrassing sexual information because men continued to call the DNH asking for the now defunct sexual service. Upon hearing some of these taped conversations. Dean apparently became concerned that there might be information at DNH linking his future wife to some of the call-girls involved. Dean had already taken unprecedented action for a White House counsel by privately meeting with local prosecutors. In violation of normal legal procedures, he requested to see the address book being used as evidence in the Bailley criminal case to determine if the name of his future wife or her roommate was in it. Both apparently were-under their aliases. Clout and Cathy.8

    The subsequent disposition of the Bailley case without a trial effectively suppressed evidence seized at his home and office including his little black book. Thus, according to Colodny and Gettlin, the prostitution operation can only be related to the Watergate break-ins and cover-up if John Dean (and Jeb Magruder acting for him) conveyed orders to Hunt and McCord. This theory, while based on highly circumstantial evidence, obtains greater credence when one remembers that the target of the second break-in on June I/also turned out to be not O'Brien's office, but the office area used by Oliver and his secretary, Ida Maxwell ("Maxie") Welles.

    Between the two break-ins, the one functioning transmitter had been removed by sending a sidekick of McCord, who happened to be a Bailley look-alike, over to Democratic National Headquarters Apparently this individual simply walked through the offices and removed the illegal transmitting device and any other malfunctioning bugs that may have been planted during the first break-in. This is why no operational bugs were found in any of the DNC offices immediately before (on June 15 when the telephone company checked the phones) or after the second break-in. The burglars were not there to bug phones again or even to obtain damaging information about O'Brien or the Democrats in general, but to obtain any information that might be in Oliver's desk or that of his secretary relating to the prostitution ring This is why they went equipped primarily with camera equipment and a key to Maxie Welles's desk.9

    Much to the bewilderment of the FBI and the Nixon White House, telephone repair men found bugs on two phones in the DNC headquarters later in September 1972.10 These September bugs could only have been planted either by the Democrats themselves to revive interest in Watergate before the November presidential election or else by other CIA operators who wanted to allow the prosecution of the Watergate burglars to go forward as a political espionage case unrelated to the agency's interest in gathering information from the prostitution operation. Colodny and Gettlin tend to agree with the latter explanation, but I have read the FBI reports of its September 1972 investigation and they do appear to lead to the conclusion that the transmitters were not the normal ClA-brand of bug typically used by the Plumbers.11

    Because McCord and Hunt usually relied upon their former CIA contacts to buy eavesdropping equipment, the absence of CIA equipment in the bugs found at the DNC in September suggests that this was neither a belated White House nor a CIA operation. This means it had to be either a Democratic party attempt to revitalize a flagging presidential campaign by highlighting the Watergate issue of political espionage, or an as yet undocumented unilateral attempt by Hunt to obtain information about Oliver for private business reasons involving Hunt's competition with Oliver's father for control of the Robert R. Mullen company, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C.

    McCord's unusually inept performance as a burglar also remains another major unanswered question about the second Watergate break-in. (For example, he had taped open doors in the basement of the Watergate complex in a way that invited discovery not once, but twice, after the first tape was removed by the night watchman.)12 There is strong circumstantial evidence indicating that both McCord and Hunt continued to work for the CIA and that McCord deliberately botched the break-in to embarrass the Nixon administration so that the president would not follow through on his threat to exert more control over the agency after he was re-elected. Another theory is that it was to protect the CIA sex ring operation, but Colodny and Gettlin have clearly shown that the CIA had not set up this particular sex service; still another is that it was to prevent the White House from undertaking any more sabotage action against the DNC because the CIA wanted an exclusive monopoly on information obtained about those using the call-girl services, regardless of whose operation it was.13

    If the first scenario is true (and it is the most likely), then McCord succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.14 On the other hand, if he was simply a former CIA electronics expert who found himself over his head in the field on a black-bag job, taking orders from Magruder, Dean, Hunt, and Liddy for their own various purposes, then his role is much less important except as a disgruntled second-rate, second-story man who, during his trial, blew the whistle on the White House for petty personal reasons rather than for professional conspiratorial ones.

    To say the least, if Nixon (or Mitchell) had known or even suspected that sex and not politics was involved in the Watergate break-ins, they would have thrown Dean, Magruder, and the Plumbers to the wolves. Ironically, because the administration had engaged in so many previous black-bag and bugging jobs, the president naturally assumed that political intelligence had been the object of the Watergate break-ins and that members of his White House staff were involved as they had been in other dirty tricks and illegal acts. So he engaged in an unconstitutional cover-up for which he should have been impeached.

    The details about the sex ring took years to come to light, and all the possible reasons for the burglary are still not settled matters of history. (Personally, I've tended to see it as a collision of operations, in which burglars doing the bidding of John Dean ran smack into a sexpionage ring run by the CIA, but then I'm cynical.)

    What I'd like to know is what Felt knew, and whether he played any part in covering up the facts. Considering the haste everyone was in to nail Nixon for the coverup, very few people cared about the actual purpose of the burglary.

    I'm not sure what Felt was doing, or why. But if he helped politicize and steer the focus of a criminal investigation away from the truth (say, to bolster John Dean's credibility against Nixon), he's no hero to me.

    Hell, he might even be guilty of having obstructed justice. That's what people went to jail for in those days.

    Hope my suspicions are wrong.

    posted by Eric at 05:54 PM | Comments (3)

    Does history remain anonymous?

    In the course of debating the identity of Deep Throat, there's an important point which should not be forgotten: the character was Woodward and Bernstein's creation. An anonymous identity made up by them to protect who they claim was a vital source. Thus, in logic, only Woodward and Bernstein would seem to have the intellectual right to disclose who Deep Throat is. Obviously, this presents problems for anyone claiming that Deep Throat was someone else, or that the character never existed.

    Suppose a blogger were to write a post based on information gleaned from someone whose identity the blogger wanted to protect, and named the character, say, "Rove Wade." Unless someone else independently confirmed the identity of the source and disclosed it, only that blogger would seem to have the right to tell the world who the mysterious "Rove Wade" actually was.

    If the blogger did, however, does that mean that he would necessarily be telling the truth? After all, anyone can say anything.

    And suppose the blogger had assigned to the character certain specific traits that might fit any number of people, but which also ruled out certain people who did not fit the profile. Suppose further that he'd repeatedly insisted (as Woodward did) that this profile was true. If he later identified someone who didn't fit the profile (and who had repeatedly denied being the person) as that person anyway, how much credibility would that blogger have? Couldn't he expect that others might seek to verify his claims?

    Then there's the difference between "anonymous" and "fictional." I don't mean to use these terms interchangeably, but if a blogger assigned a name and a description to a fictional source, that would no more create an "anonymous" source than Janet Cooke's "Jimmy" character created a real person.

    Of course, it wouldn't much matter much if a lowly blogger did stuff like that with his own anonymous -- or fictionalized -- character. He might lose credibility, but few people would care.

    With Deep Throat, though, an anonymous and/or fictional character became an accepted part (albeit an unproved, legendary part) of American history. In one fell swoop, we are being told to believe that the loss of anonymity eliminates any possibility of fiction -- previous indicators of fiction notwithstanding.

    The identification of Deep Throat thus proposes a change in history. Mark Felt being a real person, he either was the source described as Deep Throat or he was not. This means that all of Deep Throat's (and Mark Felt's) details become fair game -- for historians, bloggers, or anyone else.

    Whether or not Mark Felt is indeed the legendary "Deep Throat," the end of his anonymity (assuming that's what this is) doesn't end historical inquiry.

    Or skepticism.

    posted by Eric at 12:34 PM | Comments (3)

    Deep Throat -- a heavy non smoker

    Rick Moran at RightWing Nuthouse has an excellent summary of the little-known Moorer-Radford affair. (Before Watergate, the military had been spying on Nixon, who called the ring "a federal offense of the highest order" when he found out about it, but eventually reliquished the matter to historical obscurity.)

    Excerpt from Rick:

    It just didn’t seem surprising that the JCS would have to spy on the executive in order to find out information they thought they were entitled to.

    Some writers have taken this incident and run wild with speculation that the military somehow orchestrated Nixon’s downfall. What Moorer-Radford makes clear is that in the end, these guys weren’t clever enough to carry something like that off. Radford’s activities were amateurish and not very effective. Whether someone else was supplying the JCS with information is unknown to this day. Nixon’s idle speculation about Haig could very well have been a product of his penchant for paranoia with Haldeman and Erlichman as his chief enablers in this regard, always agreeing with him, always egging him on to more fantastic flights of fancy as to who was against him.

    But one fact is undeniable and confirmed by Admiral Welander. Bob Woodward briefed Alexander Haig many times in the basement of the White House in the years 1969-1970. And when Woodward went to work for the Washington Post shortly after his leaving the military in 1971, he already knew where to go for information about the Nixon White House.

    There are many more details here (including transcripts and audio) for people who are interested.

    Bob Woodward's involvement with the same people who spied on Nixon should have raised many flags, but the guy's pedestal is built of composite material deriving strength from the many sources in the amalgam.


    The problem with the Deep Throat saga is that it has served as a diversion. Instead of looking at the facts of Watergate (a burglary targeting the desk and phone of a particular secretary), people have obsessed for decades over the identity of a "single" (actually superfluous) source.

    I think that's the whole idea.

    UPDATE: In an odd coincidence, this report claims that Mark Felt conducted wiretaps on Radford without proper authorization. It's a small, spooky world out there....

    MORE: Here's Edward Jay Epstein:

    Woodward never mentioned Deep Throat in any of the newspaper stories he wrote in the Washington Post between 1972 and 1974. In these stories he consistently attributes his information to multiple sources. Consider, for example, his (and Bernstein's) 1972 revelation that at least "50 people" who worked for the White House and the Nixon campaign were involved in spying and sabotage. In the Washington Post (October 10, 1972, p A1), he attributes the information to multiple "FBI reports." In 1974, in All The President's Men (p.135), he puts the exact same information in the mouth of Deep Throat, saying "You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and the CRP to play games and spy and sabotage and gather information."

    According to Woodward's own book agent, David Obst: "In the original draft of their book, Deep Throat was not mentioned. In the second draft he suddenly appeared and it was a better book for the addition, a much more exciting one." What Woodward perhaps did not antipate is that his character would take on a life of his own-- and 30 years later be adopted by the handlers of of Mr. Felt.

    (Via Mickey Kaus.)

    But who's handling the handlers? The clock is ticking.

    AND MORE: Also via Mickey Kaus, I found an interesting metaphor by David Greenberg -- who likens those who think Deep Throat was a composite to Holocaust deniers! (The wackos in denial include Henry Kissinger.... And if this story is correct, Mark Felt himself!)

    Holocaust denial? Gee. All these years I thought Watergate involved a burglary which had never been fully explained.

    MORE: Speaking of conspiracy theories, did Hunter Thompson beat Mark Felt to the punch?

    PSSST! And speaking of cool conspiracy theories, how about that John Paisley? CIA liaison to the Watergate plumbers, he was suspected of being a KGB mole. His 1978 death was ruled a suicide. (Strapping on weights and jumping in the water while shooting yourself in the head strikes me as an odd way to commit suicide, but I try not to be judgmental. Or conspiracy obsessed.)

    UPDATE (06/06/05): Via Daily Pundit, here's more on Radford from Jack Kelly:

    Woodward said he met Felt when, as a naval intelligence officer on the staff of Admiral Thomas Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he "sometimes acted as a courier, taking documents to the White House."

    Therein lies a tale which we in journalism have been reluctant to explore.

    At the time Woodward worked for him, Moorer was spying on the White House. Navy Yeoman Charles Radford, who was assigned to the staff of the National Security Council, admitted to investigators he "took so darn much stuff I can't remember what it was."

    It is doubtful that Radford, a junior enlisted man, would have been Moorer's chief spy, or that Woodward, Moorer's messenger, would have been unaware of what his boss was doing.

    Meanwhile. Mark Felt was bugging Radford -- presumably while Woodward was working was working for Radford's boss.

    I'd love to know more about how Woodward and Felt became such fast friends!

    UPDATE (06/08/05): More evidence that Felt alone could not have been Deep Throat (which tends to confirm the composite theory):

    The FBI group, according to Daly, each brought snippets of information to the table. Felt, who was the bureau's second-in-command, would glean information from the others, and that was part of the reason FBI and White House efforts to find Deep Throat were thwarted. No one person could have known everything that Woodward and Bernstein were reporting, Daly and others have said.

    In Felt's 1979 book, "The FBI Pyramid From the Inside," he acknowledged receiving daily reports from Kunkel. He also wrote that White House officials, including Dean, who was convicted of a felony for role in the Watergate scandal, regularly demanded access to the case information.

    Gaines, who has reviewed more than 15,000 pages of FBI documents related to Watergate, said Daly's account has helped add intrigue to Felt's admission.

    "The whole thing is kind of shredded in my mind now," he said. "Felt would not have known (everything that was being leaked), and someone else would've had to tell him. It seems to me it really impeaches what Woodward and Bernstein have written and said about Deep Throat being a one-person source."

    Not that Felt can answer questions about anything....

    posted by Eric at 08:27 AM | Comments (5)

    Coincidence? Hardly!

    Forty nine years ago, in the very heart of the former Confederacy, a squalling but healthy infant entered this world. (As we will see, it was an important day in history, too!) His proud mother looked much like this at the time, and his father, a Navy man, was proud to have another boy. What neither of them knew at the time was that this seemingly helpless infant was destined for great things. Things I am not permitted to discuss. Ever.

    Which means that I will have to discuss with what I hate most: real issues.

    In this case, the real issues of June 2, 1956.

    It was a good day for television. No seriously. Look at what was on:

  • "The Master Plan of Dr. Fu Manchu" aired on television!
  • The musical version of A Bell for Adano (John Hersey's popular novel about American troops occupying an Italian village during World War II) aired on CBS.
  • In the Honeymooner's episode "Alice and the Blonde," after going nuts over Bert Weedemeyer's blonde bombshell wife, Ralph comes home to find a bombshell of his own.
  • And that's just television. In those days, more things actually happened in real life than on television.

    The following are actual headlines (from June 2, 1956) culled from New York Times archives. Obviously, a lot more happened in the world that day, but I'm trying to focus only important things. Here they are -- the real issues of the world on the day Justin was born! (I'll add a few comments as I see fit.)

  • Air Cargo Service Starts (Well, guess what? We still have it!)
  • Algerian Rebel Toll Rises (That could easily pass muster as a headline today.)
  • ARABS STILL BALK AT U.N. PEACE PLAN (If that isn't news that never goes out of style, I don't know what is....)
  • Argentina Bans U.N. Organ (Immortal Gods! Will U.N. sex scandals never cease?)
  • Attack on Nixon (Have I got news for the attackers! Nixon has been dead for over a decade now. But the attacks are still fast and furious. Why, the Constitution is said to barely hang by a thread because of what he did!)
  • Bomb Scare Empties School (Fortunately, in today's civilized world a headline like that would be completely unimaginable.)
  • DEMOCRATS CHART BOLD PROGRAM (I have to say, some of the stuff politicians used to do in those days is pretty amazing by today's standards. Do you think such things could ever happen again?)
  • HAITI DENIES TORTURE (Guess what! They're still denying it!)
  • Herbert Hoover Jr. Expects Oil Imports To Be Big in Future (Oil imports? No way!)
  • Housewives Are Driving Sports Cars Too (Obviously, that was just a passing fad. Now they're driving huge vans, while the househusbands drive the sports cars.)
  • NIXON DECLARES APATHY OF VOTERS IS PERIL TO G.O.P. (Gee. To think that today's Republicans love low voter turnout....)
  • Norway Favors Women Pastors (I just knew it! Those damned degenerate Scandinavians! They're been against God for a long time!)
  • Opposition Loses Key Vote in Japanese Diet After Series of Fights (I'm not sure what to make of that. Were the Japanese legislators fighting over food?)
  • Presbyterian Report Cites Bible To Decry Restrictions on Women (I knew it! Moral relativism! Must have been the sinister Scandanavians spreading culture rot!)
  • SENATORS VICTORS OVER INDIANS 5-3 (I have to say, that one puzzles me, because a vote that small indicates an absence of a quorum. And why would the Senate have been fighting Indians as late as 1956?)
  • SOVIET RELIEVES MOLOTOV -- FOREIGN MINISTER 13 YEARS (And instead of shooting him, all they did was name a drink after him. I'll bet old Vyacheslav never knew it'd still be a hot item 49 years later.)
  • SUKARNO WARNS WORLD (Well, you can't say we weren't warned!)
  • VIETMINH BREAKS TRUCE (There was a lot more where that came from.)
  • WHOOPING CRANES HATCH SECOND CHICK (Whoa there! I thought this was supposed to be Justin's birthday. Yet bird birthdays are honored, and blogger birthdays ignored? Rarely have I seen a more classic example of selective, one-sided reporting. I knew the New York Times has had it in for bloggers for years, but I had no idea that their institutional bias went back that far. Change may be well nigh impossible.)
  • Considering it was Justin's birthday, couldn't the Times have at least featured a stork? I'll offer this one as a belated correction:

    Happy Birthday Justin!

    Considering all the things that happened on the day you were born, I question the timing.

    posted by Eric at 04:58 PM | Comments (5)

    Will the real composite please stand up?

    "It's OK to leave things out to protect the identity of a source, but to add something affirmative that isn't true is to publish something you know to be an inaccuracy. I don't believe that's ethical for a reporter."

    Thus spake Bob Woodward in 2002.

    But that was then.

    The reason for Woodward's 2002 "ethics" lesson was to make it perfectly clear to all "skeptics"* that what he'd said about Deep Throat was true:

    As for skeptics who insist Deep Throat must be a composite, or that Woodward scattered deceptive clues along the trail to cover his tracks, the reporter himself insists Throat is a real person who will remain unidentified until he dies or signals permission. As for clues, Woodward indicates that people can believe the details in his description of Throat: a man in the executive branch who was a heavy smoker, a Scotch drinker and a gossip with a flair for cloak-and-dagger drama -- as well as a man who acted out of conscience.

    (From Autumn via Wizbang.)

    And now we learn (presumably from this same Bob Woodward) that Deep Throat wasn't really "a White House source," that he wasn't a smoker, and that this man of conscience (who, claims Woodward now, "thought the Nixon team were Nazis") had been "convicted of authorizing warrantless searches of private homes" and pardoned by President Reagan.

    What are we to make of all this?

    I'm beginning to think it's Woodward who's the composite.


    Has anyone ever seen him and himself in the same room together?

    *In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I'm still a skeptic.

    UPDATE: Henry Kissinger (who knows more about Watergate than most living human beings) has also expressed skepticism:

    "I have always believed and continue to believe that there was not one 'Deep Throat,'" former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said on Wednesday.

    "And I suppose Mark Felt was one of several sources that were put into a composite portrait" in Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book, "All the President's Men."

    And as Jim Miller reminds us, it wasn't Deep Throat, or journalists, who really uncovered Watergate:
    one of the great myths of Watergate [is] that it was uncovered by the press, in particular by Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein.
    Jim Miller links to Edward Jay Epstein, who showed that the most damaging leaks had nothing to do with Deep Throat, but came from the accused Watergate burglars themselves. The latter were pressured by tactics so extreme that historian Paul Johnson has described them as "judicial terrorism."
    ....it caught the attention of a publicity-hungry federal judge, John Sirica, known as 'Maximum John' for the severity of his sentences -- and not, in any other circumstances, a justice likely to enjoy the approval of the liberal press. When the burglars came before him, he gave them provisional life sentences to force them to provide evidence against members of the Administration. That he was serious was indicated by the fact that he sentenced the only man not to comply, Gordon Liddy, to twenty years in prison, plus a fine of $40,000, for a first offense of breaking and entering, in which nothing was stolen and no resistance offered to police. This act of judicial terrorism, which would have been impossible in any other country under the rule of law, was to be sadly typical of the juridical witch-hunt by means of which members of the Nixon Administration were hounded, convicted (in some cases pleading guilty to save the financial ruin of an expensive defence) and sentenced.
    Now as then, judicial terrorism is of less public interest than the sexed-up saga of Deep Throat.

    posted by Eric at 08:30 AM | Comments (6)

    Boycott the hard core athletic agenda!

    Startling new developments in etymology from Charles G. Hill:

    "Boycotts," some girl once said, "are etymologically sexist."
    Anyhow, Charles is sick of boycotts, in particular those organized by the AFA:
    they will boycott anyone at any level for anything they don't like. Certainly they have a right to do so, but I'm getting to the point where I'd actually support things they can't stand, just because they can't stand them.
    I've always thought that if clever leftists could perform well-timed surgical strikes by direct-mailing the ranks of the Recently Irritated by Hysterical Mailings, they could make a small fortune from people who'd been pissed off. (Arrange to have Fred Phelps' mailers sent out to wobbling libertarians and centrist Republicans or something, then hit 'em with something from the other side!)

    What's often forgotten by groups like the AFA is that just because your ordinary American isn't gay, that does not mean he automatically hates homos! For Charles, the AFA's targeting of Kraft Foods for the offense of "providing some sponsorship money for the seventh Gay Games, to be held in Chicago in 2006" fell flat.

    "Pass the Cheez Whiz." concludes Charles.

    It took a little bit of researching for me to learn precisely what the problem was with the Gay Games (which I never thought of as bastion of radical gay activism). But I learned that it has something to do with public displays of (gasp!) corporate logos:

    By allowing their corporate logos to be used to promote the "Gay Games," Kraft, Harris Bank and other sponsoring companies are celebrating wrong and destructive behaviors, and showing their disdain for the majority of Americans who favor traditional morality and marriage.
    I checked out the website pretty carefully, and unless I am very mistaken it appears that the "behaviors" the Gay Games are celebrating consist of -- believe it or not -- various sporting events. I couldn't find same sex marriage advocacy, and I was at a loss to find any condemnation of traditional morality.

    Where, then, is the evidence that the corporations are "celebrating wrong and destructive behaviors"? Obviously, the AFA thinks homosexuals are wrong and self destructive. While I know there are plenty of people who agree with them, I don't think that hysterical condemnation of homosexuals who engage in healthy athletic activities is the best way to raise funds.

    Aren't there still events devoted to things like S&M and piercing?

    posted by Eric at 11:02 PM | Comments (4)

    Parallels and Angles

    Over at Chiasm, John Atkinson reveals his true feelings for that annoying peak oil guy...

    James "Clusterfuck" Howard Kunstler, "one of peak oil's bigger showmen," has been busy getting as much press as possible before "The Long Emergency" gets moved over to the 'classic science fiction' bookshelf in a few years. His cartoonish apocalyptica would be just ignorable if it weren't for all the genuinely misanthropic, hateful venom and oblivious self-righteousness with which he delivers his sermons, which make him just about as insufferable as any other fundamentalist nutjob...

    Mr. Atkinson has been gifted with an admirable clarity of expression. He was very pleased to discover some similar thoughts over at Crumb Trail.

    It's been amusing to watch pseudo-environmentalists tip-toeing around the crushingly stupid work of Howard Kunstler. Those with broken socio-political readers and a profound lack of techno-social knowledge have endorsed Kunstler (see Grist interview). Others with better sense cautiously distance themselves, trying to find a place upwind of the stench while remaining nominally a member of the herd (not a pack). Some fellows have the knowledge and self-confidence to call a spade a freaking shovel.

    Crumb Trail is a product of Gary Jones, who also blogs at Muck and Mystery. Both blogs are very fine, especially if you're looking for informed and sardonic environmental commentary. I particularly liked his post on terra preta soil. Plus, any man who describes Paul Ehrlich as a "politicized pseudo-environmental wanker" is well on his way to free beers in my book.

    Mr. Jones in turn points us toward a post at The Ergosphere which takes exception to the Kunstlerian vision.

    The problem with Kunstler's thesis is that you don't even have to look to fiction to find the counterexamples. For one thing, we're not going to quit using oil if we really need it; we can make it. Nazi Germany had industrial coal-to-liquids plants over sixty years ago, and apartheid South Africa kept the technology alive while dealing with oil embargoes...

    I'm indebted to The Ergosphere for introducing me to a delightful concept in transport which was totally new to me.

    It's the Blade Runner, a railroad and truck combo. Apparently, the idea has been kicking around for decades in one unworkable version or another, but various groups of innovators think they may now have reasonable solutions.

    This has been done before but has been heavy, complicated and expensive because of attempts to drive the rail wheels. The Silvertip dual mode does not do this. The driving and braking power comes from the road-mode tyres still contacting the rails.

    Weight sharing between rail and road wheels is automatically varied according to the power transmission needs. Only light rubber-tyre contact is needed for normal motion because the rolling resistance on rail is a fifth of that on road much less power needed, so there is also less consumption of fuel.

    For acceleration or braking more weight is transferred to the tyres. That speeds scheduling, as less time is spent accelerating from stops. Moreover, regular stopping distance is more than halved because of the enhanced grip. Emergency stopping distance could be cut by about 75 per cent, representing a veritable leap in ability to avoid rail collision.

    How anyone can look around at this modern world and not feel just the tiniest bit encouraged is beyond me. But then, lots of people lack historical perspective. Kunstler's idea of the good life would probably involve sitting on the front porch of an evening, knocking back corn liquor and strumming on the old banjo.

    Hey, that's fine as far as it goes, but looking at the big picture, is it really enough? The ecotopian vision has long struck me as lacking ambition.

    I wrote a couple of posts not too long ago that emphasized the diversity of interests to be found in our society, and the role that enthusiasts play in fostering innovation. I believe the term plenitude was mentioned. I think we're heading for a world with more options, not fewer.

    Play your damn banjos. Other people have their own notions of fun.

    Rand Simberg links to a project that seems tailor made to illustrate my point.

    Considering the short operational life of the aircraft in an already lost cause, the popularity of the Me 262 has endured with surprising fervor.

    Still, despite the obvious interest, none of these planes have taken to the skies in well over 50 years...The few originals (less than 10 worldwide) that still exist are now cloistered in museums, never to fly again. They are so rare and so valuable that to risk them in their natural element is considered by many to be nothing short of foolhardy...

    The Me 262 Project was launched in 1993 with a single objective: to reproduce flying examples of the legendary Me 262...

    Great pains are being taken to produce aircraft which are not simply replicas...Virtually rivet for rivet, the new aircraft are duplicates of the original Me 262. With the ability to examine and copy components from a vintage source, the standard of authenticity has been exactingly maintained.

    Of course, the original design suffered from some well-known weaknesses, most notably dealing with the engines and landing gear systems. These areas were studied carefully, and certain subtle modifications have been directed for operator safety and reliability. A cursory visual inspection would never reveal them, however...

    In essence, the new Me 262s are simply representative of a natural evolution of the airframe. They are being manufactured using many of the same techniques as the originals...The only noteworthy concession will be in the area of engine selection.

    Clearly, an engine change was necessary to make this project viable, as the original Jumo 004B powerplants were decidedly temperamental and prone to frequent failure...the General Electric J-85 / CJ-610 was selected as the replacement for the vintage Jumo powerplants.

    Thanks to an innovative engine mounting concept, the J-85s are to be buried deep inside carefully-engineered castings of the original engine, so that correct visual appearance will be retained. The Jumo housings are also necessary to maintain the correct nacelle weight since the J-85 is a much lighter engine than its German predecessor.

    Here's their FAQ page and image gallery.

    Western civilization has been a fountain of innovation (relative to others) for over a millenium.

    Often it's been forward looking innovation, the sometimes maligned notion of "progress", but it works backward just as well. In the fields of conservation, preservation, the collation and protection of rare artifacts and knowledge, the West has traditionally excelled.

    Viking longships, Greek triremes, Drake's Golden Hind, the Swedish warship Vasa, all have been the subject of reconstruction or restoration projects in their time.

    Wonderful, isn't it? Reassuring too. A civilization that can afford such pleasant frivolities is not even close to the edge of sustainability...

    posted by Justin at 10:43 PM | Comments (4)

    Something I Never Thought I Would See

    Robert Heinlein's house in Colorado springs. The one he built himself.

    From the pages of Popular Mechanics, no less. How about that?

    Here are a couple of postcards from his boyhood home, Kansas City, made within a few years of his birth.

    If you click here, you'll have access to a number of brief audio files. I had never heard his voice before.

    Lastly, a list of his published fiction that allows you to call up the various cover illustrations. Here's an old favorite of mine. And another. Ah, those good old Scribner's editions... If you were a kid in the sixties, these books were what you found at the library when you went looking for science fiction. Looking at these old classics, I can almost feel the buckram.

    Okay, just one more. Red Planet. My very first Heinlein.

    Meanwhile, up here in the 21st century Elon Musk is a happy man. The Falcon I pad test I mentioned a week ago has finally gone off successfully. More on that here.

    For an informative (to say the least) interview with Mr. Musk you can download an audio file here.

    From the intro...

    ...he sees additional and significant cost reductions coming from the comprehensive launch and business systems, not specifically from the chemical rocket components...

    He made it clear that the high cost of space access is the main barrier to our being a space-faring people and that we could not look to the usual players to bring us into a space-faring world.

    Total investment in Falcon I and V so far is around eighty million according to RLV News. Depending on who you ask, a single shuttle launch will set you back half a billion, or roughly ten thousand dollars per pound to low earth orbit. Musk thinks he can do much better.

    He's building cheap access to space. With his own money.

    Gosh, it's like something from a book.

    posted by Justin at 10:16 PM | Comments (5)

    Wallowing in What-if-gate?

    Earlier today, Glenn Reynolds linked to Ben Stein's rather grim "what-if" reflections on Watergate and the Deep Throat fallout:

    When his enemies brought him down, and they had been laying for him since he proved that Alger Hiss was a traitor, since Alger Hiss was their fair-haired boy, this is what they bought for themselves in the Kharma Supermarket that is life:

    1.) The defeat of the South Vietnamese government with decades of death and hardship for the people of Vietnam.

    2.) The assumption of power in Cambodia by the bloodiest government of all time, the Khmer Rouge, who killed a third of their own people, often by making children beat their own parents to death. No one doubts RN would never have let this happen.

    So, this is the great boast of the enemies of Richard Nixon, including Mark Felt: they made the conditions necessary for the Cambodian genocide. If there is such a thing as kharma, if there is such a thing as justice in this life of the next, Mark Felt has bought himself the worst future of any man on this earth. And Bob Woodward is right behind him, with Ben Bradlee bringing up the rear. Out of their smug arrogance and contempt, they hatched the worst nightmare imaginable: genocide. I hope they are happy now -- because their future looks pretty bleak to me.

    Expressing his disagreement with some of the above, Glenn characterized Stein as "a bit hysterical" as well as ahistorical:
    ....I don't see any reason to think that events in Cambodia would have gone differently had Nixon finished his term.
    I think it's very hard to second guess history. (And for starters, I'm not sure that Felt is even the right Deep Throat....) I think the Khmer Rouge were hell-bent on genocide, and couldn't have cared less about Watergate. Had Nixon finished his term, it's tough to say now what might have happened.

    However, Henry Kissinger and others have complained about a post-Watergate malaise as a reason for American paralysis -- not just in Cambodia, but in other places around the world. That includes the Iranian hostage mess (which sowed the seeds for today's predicament).

    See my earlier related posts.

    I don't need Kissinger's or anyone else's opinion as confirmation, though, because remember the post-Watergate malaise quite well. I reached adulthood right in the middle of it. And while I think it's problematic to attribute specific historical events to Watergate, there is little question in my mind that but for Watergate, there'd have been no post-Watergate malaise. Hell, I think that but for Watergate (which led to directly to that peculiar arrogance which sprang quite understandably from post-Watergate media triumphalism), there might not have been talk radio. And but for talk radio, there might not have even been a blogosphere. (Which means that some good did come from the post-Watergate malaise.)

    One thing is for certain: but for Watergate, I would not be writing this post.

    (Just don't ask me to write an alternative history, OK?)

    MORE: Commenter Clint raises the distinction between the post-Watergate and post-Vietnam malaise. A good argument can be made that Watergate was seen by the Communists as their carte blanche:

    We are all familiar with the number of US casualties in the Vietnam war, a figure around 57,000. Lost in the annals of revisionist history is the fact more people of South Vietnam were killed by the communist North Vietnamese in the six months following the US withdrawal then in the entire ten year conflict. And this was after the North had already "won" the war. When the Watergate 'scandal' hit, all media attention was focused on Nixon, and he quickly lost the ability to run the nation, and resigned. US troops were rapidly pulled out of Vietnam and all supply to Cambodia and South Vietnam was cut off. The North Vietnamese general leading the aggression, upon hearing of the resignation of Nixon, stated on record that he knew they would now win the war. Soon south Vietnam fell to the communist north invaders, 600,000 south Vietnamese residents took flight in make shift rafts into the south China sea fearing the communist invaders. Most of them drowned. An additional 1,000,000 (1 million) South Vietnamese residents were executed. I would like to see these 1.6 million names added to the Vietnam memorial. Neighboring Cambodia fared much worse
    The Khmer rouge under the loose rule of Pol Pot took power with support from the North Vietnamese armies and supplies from the Soviet Union, easily defeating the pro western Lon Nol, who now had no support from the US thanks to the US congress decision to end aide and 'not intervene' The Cambodians "need peace, not guns" was the pacifist rallying cry. Unfortunately what they actually needed was guns. The Khmer Rouge proceeded to forciblye evacuate all cities in Cambodia, as they were symbols of capitalism. Patients were thrown from hospitals while undergoing surgery, the Doctors and medical staff were executed, anyone with money was executed, anyone who could speak English or French was executed. The forcible evacuation marched millions of people into the peasants lands, under Pol Pot's collectivization plan everyone was to be a peasant farmer. Witnesses (the ones who survived) reported that the marching lines stretched as far as the eye could see, the sick and the infirm crawled and dragged themselves. The population was forced to farm. If you showed affection for a loved one, expressed any affectionate sentiments, or even expressed sorrow at the loss of a child, you were executed, as this was a reflection of your criticism of the state. All told, the Khmer rouge executed 2.5 to 3 million of the Cambodian people, an event that was directly possible because of the US's abandonment of the south east Asian region.

    posted by Eric at 06:46 PM | Comments (7)

    In a new first, a sitting duck helps the Carnival!

    The 141st Carnival of the Vanities is being hosted this week by Wayne Hurlbert at Blog Business World.

    There are so many posts I don't know how he managed to do it. Well, it turns out that Wayne had help:

    I have a giant stuffed duck sitting beside me here as I type, as a constant reminder of throwing balls at targets at a fair.
    Anyone who can get a sitting duck to help with anything (much less a big thing like this) gets my vote! Considering the huge number of posts (all neatly and seamlessly organized into groups), I'd say the duck was an excellent helper. I'd get one to help me if only Coco would allow it.

    Be sure to check it out; there are many excellent posts.

    posted by Eric at 12:39 PM | Comments (1)

    A lie about a lie about a lie?

    If Deep Throat was Mark Felt, then Woodward was lying. About Deep Throat, of course.

    And if Woodward was lying, considering that Deep Throat was Woodward's (and Bernstein's) construct, then why the fuss about Deep Throat?

    I'm just not buying. (It's their game.)


    But what has Bernstein to say? Here's the Post:

    "Felt's role in all this can be overstated," said Bernstein, who went on after Watergate to a career of books, magazine articles and television investigations. "When we wrote the book, we didn't think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources."
    That echoes what Bernstein's [sorry, Woodward's] agent said for years:
    The idea that Deep Throat is a fake -- or, at least, a composite constructed from several different sources -- is probably the single most widely held theory. Even Woodward's former literary agent, David Obst, has said the shadowy supersource was invented for the sake of showbiz: ''Without Deep Throat in All The President's Men, there's no book or movie,'' he wrote in his memoirs, adding that Deep Throat showed up in the manuscript only after the publisher rejected the first draft as too dull.
    Fortunately for Woodward (but unfortunately for the country) this all this took place before blogging.

    As for Felt himself, he's too feeble to say much.

    How convenient.

    MORE: A few months ago, Jonah Goldberg issued a put-up-or-shut-up challenge:

    Anyway, there are more questions and more answers to all of this. But I think history deserves a full accounting. Watergate prompted a generation of preening journalists to lecture America from a pedestal. The least Deep Throat can do - or, the least the leading Deep Throat suspects can do - is to let us know whether the journalists belonged on that pedestal in the first place.
    June 17 will mark Watergate's anniversary, and in the nick of time they've propped up as a usual suspect a guy who can barely speak at all:
    Felt, who lives in Santa Rosa, is said to be in poor mental and physical health because of a stroke. His family did not immediately make him available for comment, asking the news media to respect his privacy "in view of his age and health."
    Where's that pedestal?

    MORE: While the search for literary devices may be a debatable venture, Leonard Garment (former Counsel to the President) devoted a book to Deep Throat a few years ago, titled (appropriately) In Search of Deep Throat. Here's why he rejects Mark Felt:

    Even before Bernstein's emphatic dismissal, I was not convinced about Felt. Woodward and Bernstein did have sources at the FBI; All the President's Men as much as said so. Further, at the FBI -- and therefore, let us assume, Mark Felt -- knew many things about the Watergate investigation that it was conducting. But the investigation was not the only one or even the most important subject of Deep Throat's conversations with Woodward. Instead, Deep Throat's unique contribution was to talk with Woodward about the Nixon White House. Deep Throat knew about the clockwork craziness in that place. He knew the sound of Nixon angry; he knew things about the character of various people involved in the cover-up.

    This type of information was not accessible to a member of the Bureau, even on in a high position there. More, Deep Throat's insights into people at the White House had the authority of personal experience; that was precisely why Woodward relied so heavily on him.

    Id, at 171-172.

    The fact that no one -- including Felt -- provides a match for the "character" described is all the more reason to believe that Deep Throat was a composite character. (For the record, I have long suspected that John Dean was a primary Woodward and Bernstein source, and that Deep Throat was -- at least to a certain extent -- a diversionary contrivance.)

    I do like "Deep Throat" as a name, though! It's appropriately evocative of the underlying sex scandal.

    UPDATE: Len Colodny asks a lingering, unanswered question:

    How did Deep Throat know of the tape gap and its deliberate erasure prior to its discovery by White House staff?
    More here. If Deep Throat was White House outsider Mark Felt, he couldn't have known. Which means Felt simply doesn't match Woodward and Bernstein's "Throat" character.

    I doubt anyone ever will.

    AND MORE: Sean Hackbarth, Dean Esmay, and Joe Gandelman have all weighed in with thoughtful observations. (Dean speaks of a "long, nasty, and irresponsible trend toward greater and greater use of annonymous sources," Sean calls for "significant introspection by investigators, both old school and new," and Joe mentions the ironic timing of Deep Throat's unmasking just as anonymous sources are "coming into disfavor....")

    I hate to sound so cynical, but the "Deep Throat" character failed to make sense to me for years, and still fails to make sense.

    What are we to make of the Felt non-matching match? Was the Deep Throat character himself a harbinger of a new fake-but-accurate standard?

    Too many unanswered questions for comfort....

    AND MORE: Ace of Spades calls the Felt disclosure "Probably the biggest news of the day that I could give a rat's ass less about." Unfortunately, life's circumstances have forced me into a position of having to give a rat's ass....

    (The elasticity of "Deep Throat" will doubtless demand more.)

    AND MORE: Aside from the issue of whether there's a match between Felt and the "Deep Throat" book character, there are a couple of troubling issues:

  • Why wouldn't the number two man at the FBI simply have gone to a grand jury with evidence of wrongdoing instead of a young reporter?
  • Considering the FBI's knowledge of the prostitution ring, why would Felt have failed to disclose the FBI's knowledge of this to Woodward, or to the accused Watergate defendants?
  • Could Felt have been working with John Dean? (The latter, of course, has opposed the theory of Felt as Deep Throat for years.)

    If Felt was indeed Deep Throat, "whistleblower" is hardly the appellation I would use.

    AND EVEN MORE: Here's Rick Moran, concluding his excellent analysis at RightWing Nuthouse:

    ....until proven otherwise, I will continue to believe in multiple Deep Throats.

    It ain’t over yet.

    Meanwhile, another blogger (who joins Ace in not caring) is Steven Taylor at PoliBlog.

    Whether Deep Throat is "over," and who cares are likely to remain unanswered questions.

    (Deep Throat has a phony enough smell to it that I really can't disagree with either approach.)

    MORE: Here's former Washington Post Editor Barry Sussman (writing a classic piece for Watergate's 25th Anniversary):

    The most frequently-asked Watergate question is, "Who is Deep Throat?" I was the Washington Post's editor in charge of the Watergate coverage and I still get asked that a lot, even though it is a quarter-century since the break-in at Democratic headquarters.

    That's the power of myth: Over the years an anonymous bit player, a minor contributor, has become a giant.

    For me, half the answer to the Deep Throat question is that I don't know who Deep Throat is. The other half is that it really doesn't matter. Interesting, yes, in that it would solve a mystery. Important to the Post's Watergate reporting, no.

    Deep Throat barely figured in the Post's Watergate coverage. He was nice to have around, but that's about it.

    The logic behind the Deep Throat myth is confounding. On the one hand, Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein deserve credit for helping uncover the Watergate scandal. No one disputes that. On the other hand, the basic legend is that one of them, Woodward, did little more than show up with a bread basket that Deep Throat filled with goodies.

    Anybody see the conflict here? It can't work both ways. The greater the importance of Deep Throat, the less the achievement of the two reporters.

    Among Sussman's conclusions:
    In the Post's big stories before and after that moment the link of the burglars to the White House, the flow of money from the Nixon re-election committee to the burglars, the existence of Donald Segretti as a dirty trickster Deep Throat had no role whatsoever.

    ....Deep Throat was basically unimportant to our coverage.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Read the whole thing. (Sorry it's a cache; hope it works.)

    MORE! (yes, there's still MORE!): Via Glenn Reynolds (who's been on top of this since yesterday, BTW), I found this gem from G-SCOBE, whom I'd count as another among the justifiably unimpressed:

    The Washington Post's wall-to-wall treatment smacks of self love and journalistic hero-worship - a huge media circle jerk, in keeping with the theme.
    Sounds like a Deep Throat Orgy to me.

    Gee. Can I say that?

    And then there's Bill Quick (also via InstaPundit), who's less than impressed by Mark Felt's integrity:

    ...he would probably have set up Watergate itself, if J. Edgar had ordered him to do it.
    (Might have anyway... depending on how you define Watergate.)

    AAAND MORE: InstaPunk's description of Felt rules:
    he was a very powerful executive who could have made a huge impact by going public as soon as he objected to the goings on in his organization. Did he? No. He chose a route so sleazy that even the men whose careers he helped make gave him a nickname borrowed from a dirty movie. Did he come forward after the presidential downfall he worked to effect had been accomplished? No. He remained at the FBI because his career there was more important to him than helping to salve the national wounds that have continued to fester ever since. The character he most resembles is the phantom sniper who, according to 40 years of conspiracy theories, got away with the assassination of John F. Kennedy: he hides in the shadows to bring down a U.S. president, then disappears without ever having to account for his deeds. He's a creature of the dark, a dishonorable self-aggrandizing weasel, a well-connected coward, a snitch.

    Too mean to say about a ninety-year-old? No. Think of the scorn and abuse that has been heaped on Linda Tripp. What's different? She had the guts to come into the sunlight. This guy comes blinking out into the spotlight decades after the fact, and he actually has the nerve to bask there like a contented reptile. Doesn't anybody have a sharp stick they want to use?

    (Via InstaPundit.)

    Now there's an ouch if ever there was one. (Not that Felt is in a position to feel any pain.)

    And Professor Bainbridge thinks the discrepancies may reveal a deeper truth:
    Maybe Deep Throat was really a composite character all along. We don't know because we tolerate a culture of anonymous sourcing and journalistic dissembling.
    As I said last night, I'm just not buying.

    UPDATE: Thanks to all who linked this post. And that means you, Dean Esmay! And you at Evolution Selections! And you, Doug Petch!

    posted by Eric at 01:12 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBacks (2)

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