Happy Halloween Everyone!
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posted by Eric at 08:29 PM | Comments (2)



Breaking News

It's official. Alito is the nominee.

Might the trial lawyers consider him their enemy in light of his previous rulings?

I haven't researched this, but in light of my last post, I hope so.

MORE: Alito might be a victory for free speech, which would doom McCain-Feingold:

Alito is noted for his fidelity to the First Amendment protections for freedom of speech—which may make the recent 5-4 evisceration of those protections by the Court in McConnell v. FEC at issue

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has a huge roundup.

And Glenn had one before the nomination was official.

posted by Eric at 09:10 AM | Comments (2)



Why I'm a lawyer in name only....

Every once in a while, I'll see something which triggers what Leon Kass would probably call my "repugnance" factor. The occasion for my outburst of repugnance is a jury verdict clearing the way for "$1.8 billion for physical and emotional pain and suffering and loss of business and wages" for victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The legal "reasoning" is that the New York Port Authority is more legally at fault than the terrorists who committed the act:

In what some legal experts characterized as a startling footnote to history, the jury found that the Port Authority was 68 percent at fault for allowing the bombing to occur, while the terrorists who carried out the bombing were 32 percent responsible.

"It's really hard to get your mind around," said Mark Geistfeld, a law professor at New York University. "It's more of a sociological question than it is a legal question. It's their way of expressing their outrage about the way in which the Port Authority conducted itself."

The same verdict, Mr. Geistfeld said, might not have been possible 12 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the 1993 attack, when Americans were less attuned to the reality of terrorism, and the twin towers were still standing.

In practice, any apportionment of fault of 51 percent or more has the same outcome - making the defendant liable for 100 percent of damages that may be awarded in connection with the 1993 bombing.

(HT, Orin Kerr and David Bernstein.)

Part of my outrage is that I used to work as a personal injury lawyer, and I understand the legal theory and the legal thinking behind such an atrocious result.

The law operates in a moral vacuum -- totally devoid of common sense. That's because the lawyers are little more than emotional mouthpieces for their clients, and they have a mindless creature called "the law" behind them. This thing that we call "the law" is constantly "evolving" -- especially the tort law variety -- and the result is that theories of liability are continually expanding, and the size of awards is constantly escalating. This has produced a class of parasitic multimillionaires who can then either use their millions to run for office, fund politicians who will do their bidding, set up and fund so-called "think tanks," and even create new media outlets to malign anyone threatening the basis of their wealth.

I consider them parasitic scum, I think their wealth is ill-gotten gain, and hence my moral repugnance. Whether their legal theories are correct, of course, depends on how many courts of appeals will do their bidding, and how many politicians are too cowed to do anything about them.

My distaste for these people is grounded in guilt heightened by deep feelings of personal hypocrisy, for I once belonged to their class. I used to argue for ever-larger verdicts, and ever-expanded theories of tort liability, even though I knew in my heart that this was wrong. And my heart echoed what was in my head, for as a libertarian I never agreed with the theories I promoted. I rationalized it as a "career," and as a way to "make a living." Had it not been for AIDS coming along and destroying my social network, I might still be doing something I consider morally abhorrent.

There's no rational connection between losing friends to AIDS and rejecting the legal system, but what AIDS did was trigger something best characterized as an "epiphanic depression" -- in which I found that I could not participate in things which seemed to have no ultimate purpose than to make the world a worse place. Certainly not while the people around me were dying. I suppose I could have had the opposite reaction, and looked for defendants to sue on expanded theories of AIDS liability, but I had just had it with blaming people, perhaps because I felt so overdosed on personal guilt.

Anyway, the guilt made me reject my class -- the personal injury lawyer class.

That, however, did nothing to stop the relentless legal theorizing which leads to results like saying New York is twice as guilty as the terrorists. There is no way I or anyone else can stop these people, because they are simply drawn to the money the way cockroaches are drawn to kitchen garbage, and the legal theories are a product of highly motivated, highly intelligent minds. They know how to appeal to human emotions of the juries, and enough of them are judges and politicians that no result is too absurd. Above all, they are champions of the sacrosanct "victim." The "little guy," whose life has been ruined and who needs money. And the large, nameless, faceless entities have it. And the romanticized, heroic jury is there to "do justice" -- usually to take from the nameless "deep pocket" (who has plenty of money anyway) and give to the victim. It's applied populism at work, and the fuel is human emotion.

As to the legal theories, they are there, and unfortunately (much to my horror), they are quite logical. Back to the Port Authority verdict:

Stephen Gillers, another NYU law professor, compared the verdict to a landlord-tenant case in which a tenant was mugged in a dark elevator. "From a moral perspective, you're going to blame the mugger," he said. "From a legal perspective, the law says, Is there anything the landlord could have done to prevent this?"
That's a pretty good statement of the law, and you don't have to be that bright to understand that it does make the Port Authority liable. It's grounded in communitarianism, and I was disgusted by it years ago, even as I was forced to pay verbal homage to the bogus theories that paid me.

It may sound cruel, but I prefer blaming the mugger -- theory be damned.

Thoughts like these, of course, threaten the livelihood of people who see themselves as doing good, of working hard to make the world a better place. But should their view of themselves be controlling over the moral issue of whether they're in fact making the world a worse place? A few years ago, I took my mandatory "Continuing Legal Education" course, and happened to spend some time hanging out with some typical specimens of the creature I once was. They were nice, intelligent, motivated young men, who wanted two things:

  • 1. To make a nice living; and
  • 2. To feel that they were a force for "good."
  • In an unforgettable moment (because it reminded me of a classic movie line), PI lawyer A said to PI lawyer B,

    "The big money is in toxics!"

    And I am sure it is.

    "Toxics" includes such things as discovering that a building has a layer of lead paint buried somewhere, that some child might have eaten some of it, and that some owner somewhere in the title chain has a large enough insurance policy to motivate one of these well-meaning neo-Robin Hoods to charge after the evil company in the name of another victim.

    Anyway, the guys who were talking toxics were nice, and I hung out with them. What would have been the point of spoiling their day by telling them they're making the world a worse place? I wouldn't have felt any better, they wouldn't have felt any better, it wouldn't have caused them to abandon their profession, and besides, from where the hell would I derive any moral authority at all? I don't claim to have any, nor should I.

    And really, just because I don't like the system they're caught up in does not mean I wish them ill or dislike them individually. (As Eisenhower once said about Southern segregationists, "These are not bad people.")

    Herein lies the rub: it may be a terrible thing to say, but I think that people who believe they're doing good when they're not are far more sinister than ordinary rogues and villains.

    So why did I just say they are nice guys?

    Hmmmm..... Surely no one today would say that about Southern segregationists. (And quite possibly few would say it about trial lawyers.)

    Maybe another illustration will make this clearer. While no one will defend a criminal who might steal $100.00 from you either by force or by fraud, suppose we give a man a badge, a gun, radar equipment, and an unmarked car. And suppose we tell him we'll pay him a salary if he pulls over and extorts $100.00 from anyone he can catch driving faster than 55 miles per hour on highways on which the average speed is 75 mph. From a purely moral perspective, most of his victims are people committing no crime more serious than driving to or from work. In another age, at another time, the extortionist would be seen as a criminal. A highwayman, even. But despite the fact that he spends his time making a living this way, we tell him that he's "helping society." Over time, he will come to believe it himself -- even going so far as to tell people that they were "endangering others" by exceeding an absurdly low speed limit put in place for the sole purpose of gathering revenue. Most of these cops are in fact nice guys, and good people -- as are the lawyers I recklessly and insensitively called "parasitic scum."

    (Besides, some of my best friends . . .)

    The harsh realities of such contradictions only make it worse.


    MORE: I don't mean to sound all gloomy and doomy. It just might be possible that we'll get a Supreme Court justice who believes in saying "No!" to the endless expansion of theories of liability.

    posted by Eric at 06:50 AM | Comments (5)




    Sleepy Fall afternoon

    As it's just about that time of the year, this afternoon I spent a couple of hours in Philadelphia's historic Laurel Hill Cemetery.


    A downhill view of the Schuylkill River:


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    Group of graves:


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    A very creative tomb:


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    And a small gravestone I couldn't identify:


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    posted by Eric at 05:37 PM | Comments (2)



    What's good for me is good for thee?

    In the spirit of Sunday, I thought I'd respond to a thoughtful comment -- to this post -- left by Enrique Cardova. Here's the comment:

    "This is another example of what I said earlier -- that "attempts to discourage something can nonetheless glamorize it just as much attempts to encourage it."

    True but the opposite effect often works and works better in the long run. Parents who discourage their children from emulating the promiscous sex, language, clothing and violent behavior advocated in "gangsta" rap or "suicide" rock, no doubt create a "forbidden fruit" effect, but nontheless, such discouragment is quite effective in general (there is no 100% perfection anywhere) in protecting their children from such negatives. In fact, the parent who fails to actively discourage these negatives will soon be a very sad and cash poor parent.

    I have no argument with that, except I was talking about government, not parenting. Parenting strikes me as a little trickier, because children are in need of parental supervision and discipline. How to do that, and how much of it to do, is up to the parents. They're the ones who had the kids, and they're the ones who should draw the lines. Some would draw a hard line (I probably would), but others wouldn't. Unless a parent is criminally careless or abusive, it is not the government's business.

    The major buyers of "gangsta" for example are white youth, but at the end of the day, after the irritating music is turned down, most white parents will have effectively applied the brakes to those youths who unwisely and naively "go native". Fears of "glamorization" should not prevent strong action being taken to discourage negative behavior. In fact that is one of the problems of American culture today- a cowardice that too often wants the easy way out, fears being accused of being "judgemental," and fails to stand up and speak up, unfashionable as it may be.
    I can't speak for "the culture," because I see trashy parents raising trashy kids, and diligent caring parents raising good kids, and I don't think it's fair to reduce them to a common denominator. What I was talking about was blaming, say, musicians, television or members of the media for the sexual conduct of their consumers, who go there voluntarily, just as people fatten themselves at McDonald's voluntarily.
    As for homosexuality, its proponents and apologists conveniently duck the clear word and moral principle of the scriptures to justify themselves. The comment about Leviticus and shellfish by Triticale, is typical evasion. The Mosaic laws primarily have a moral bearing, although there is a practical public health aspect as well. The prohibition against shellfish, as against other things, illustrates the moral principle of confining things to their proper sphere- the principle of separation. The same moral principle applies in a deeper way to homosexuality. Marriage for example, is to be confined to man and woman, for that is its proper sphere. There is no "free for all" approved between those of the same sex or between adults and children, craved as these may be by certain people.
    Moral principles found in religious texts -- whether of a dietary or sexual nature -- are not the business of government to enforce. It does not require religious scripture, however, to determine that children are not adults. They are not legally capable of consent, and thus cannot enter into contracts nor consent to sexual relations. While their parents have a primary duty to protect them, they also require legal protection that adults (who are legally capable protecting themselves) do not. It is no more logical to equate sex between two adults with sex between adult and a child than it is to compare a contract signed by an adult to a "contract" signed by a child. (Or for that matter, to equate consensual sex with rape.)
    The ban on shellfish, as with pork and other foods once deemed unclean was lifted by Christianity (see Acts 10 and 11). Food as such, provided by God was no longer to be despised. However the MORAL PRINCIPLE of separation- the clean from the unclean still remains, convenient as it is to forget it. And in the case of homosexuality, that ban was never lifted by Christianity. In fact homosexuality is again condemned in the New Testament. That condemnation was never lifted. See the verses below showing how again it is condemned. No matter what dodge or "spin" homosexuals or their apologists try, they cannot get around this.

    Both as a specific prohibition, or a moral principle, homosexual behavior is condemned as unclean and inappropriate in both the Old and New Testaments. Naturally this is not the message many want to hear, but it is the correct one in the Judeo-Christian tradition, unpalatable as this may be to those bent on what that tradition calls "strange flesh".


    Applicable NT verses- too often conveniently forgotten:

    see Romans 1: 26: "..gave them up to vile lusts; for both their females changed the natural use into that contrary to nature; and in like manner the males also, leaving the natural use of the female, were inflamed in their lust towards one another; males with males working shame, and receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was fit.."

    or see

    1 Timothy 10: "to the impious and sinful, to the unholy and profane, to smiters of fathers and smiters of mothers; to murderers.. sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers; and if any other thing is opposed to sound teaching,"

    As the same NT says: "By their fruits, ye shall know them."

    The Council of Jerusalem formally released Christians from being bound by the strictures of the Mosaic Law. However, in a compromise, four specific things were prohibited as off limits to Christians:

  • pollution of idols

  • eating or drinking of blood

  • eating of strangled things

  • fornication.
  • Bear in mind that this wasn't Jesus speaking, but an early conference of Christian leaders. I don't know how many Christian leaders consider themselves bound by the Council of Jerusalem, but the selective citation of Leviticus -- and the bizarre idea of establishing a "Christian Mosaic State" -- makes me wonder. Assuming Christians are not to fornicate, why does the homosexual variety receive such disproportionate attention?

    While the commenter seems to have quoted correctly from words attributed to Paul, whether Paul wanted his opinions translated into laws promulgated by governments is far from clear. Indeed, whether Christians are bound by Paul's thoughts is far from clear, as Paul was only a man, and not even an actual disciple. (Accepting the claim that he met Jesus requires an act of Paulinist faith.)

    I have no problem with moral rules, dietary rules, or dress codes, and if I had kids I wouldn't want them carrying on like gangsta rappers either.* My complaint is when the state treats people like children, that's what they'll get. That's the major difference between our free society and those in which the state claims to rule in the name of God. When the mullahs are away, the (adult) children will play. (And the flout the government dress code.)

    People who are in need of a moral shepherd with ultimate authority over their lives have every right to seek out, find, and follow one. What violates my sense of freedom is when they decide I must follow theirs.


    * Quite parenthetically, things like strict dress codes tend to preempt a child's degeneracy into gangsta rap chic, because (as I've argued before) they provide a "buffer." A child whose idea of rebellion involves not straightening his necktie and neglecting to shine his shoes is a long way from gold medallions and wearing underwear outside his pants.

    But if I might think a dress code for kids is a good idea, others might disagree. I have no right to tell other people what to do with their kids, much less tell adults what to wear.


    MORE: I almost forgot the the comment's conclusion (or final sentence):

    As the same NT says: "By their fruits, ye shall know them."

    I agree. This was taken yesterday in New Jersey in the spirit of the season:

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    (But what do I know about the fruits of others?)

    posted by Eric at 08:06 AM | Comments (11)




    Thrills on the road!

    Exciting visit from out of town guest.

    Big trip today. Further blogging will probably be late.

    posted by Eric at 10:42 AM | Comments (3)




    Encouraging persecution?

    Local officials in Lansdowne, PA were kind enough to censor anti-gay activist Michael Marcavage for preaching at them during an open comment portion of their council meeting. This provided him a major opportunity:

    The founder of an evangelical Christian group has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Lansdowne Borough over an incident in which he tried to read from the Bible at a council meeting in July 2004.

    Michael Marcavage, founder of Repent America, says in the suit, filed last week in Philadelphia, that his right to free speech was violated when the council president adjourned a meeting while he was reading a passage from the Bible.

    When he refused to stop reading, he was evicted and charged with disrupting a public meeting. The charges were later dismissed.

    In the suit, he seeks unspecified damages. Marcavage, of Lansdowne, also is seeking a preliminary injunction arguing that he has the right to speak at council meetings without having his speech censored and without being subjected to the threat of arrest, his attorney, Ted Hoppe, said.

    Why did I say they were "kind" to Marcavage? Because their ill-considered action has given Marcavage good legal grounds to file a lawsuit. He'll end up getting far more leverage this way than he would have if they'd just let him read the usual Leviticus language about homo abominations.

    Sigh.

    This is another example of what I said earlier -- that "attempts to discourage something can nonetheless glamorize it just as much attempts to encourage it."

    Marcavage is a pro, and the city council people are amateurs.

    posted by Eric at 04:17 PM | Comments (4)



    Who should be the criminal here?

    As a libertarian, I have an uneasy feeling about this proposed legislation -- which would require private businesses to do what the police aren't allowed to do:

    City councilman Darrell Clarke says it’s happening all too frequently. Panhandlers at gas stations, he says, intimidate drivers into letting them pump the gas for a handout:

    "As soon as you get out of your car, go pay for your gas, you’re accosted by individuals insisting that they pump your gas, sometimes actually opening up your gas tank and putting the pump in while you’re paying for your gas. I think that is ridiculous."

    So Clarke has introduced a bill aimed at stopping this. It would place the responsibility on gas station owners to keep panhandlers away from the pumps or the owners themselves would faces fines up to $100 per incident.

    I absolutely hate being panhandled, so my sympathies are with the people being asked for money. But having been a small business owner myself, I can tell you what a hassle it is to get the police to do anything about street derelicts who "hang out." For the most part, they really can't arrest them unless they break laws. And few cities have laws against panhandling. Those that do usually have "time, place and manner laws" like this one which was proposed in Atlanta.

    But the street derelicts are a favorite cause (fodder, really) of professional activists who yell and scream about the "rights" of the "homeless" to do precisely such things as hassle people for money. This is deemed their First Amendment right. (And I could easily envision an activist construing a pushy attempt to grab a gas pump as "an attempt to find work.")

    Philadelphia has a 10 year plan to end homelessness, and even boasts a "homelessness Czar." According to Philadelphia's Project H.O.M.E. (which I just called on the phone) panhandling is not illegal in Philadelphia, and that organization generally opposes proposed legislation that would "target homeless people."

    But I am not at all sure this is a homelessness issue. Hassling people at gas pumps strikes me as an opportunistic way of shaking people down, but I see no reason why it would necessarily be linked to homelessness. Many people assume that people who ask for money are marginal types, and they equate this with homelessness, but I recall a study years ago in Berkeley found that a surprisingly large number of panhandlers actually lived at fixed, identifiable addresses, that many paid rent, and some made plenty of money panhandling.

    While I do think gas station owners should police their stations, I'm wondering whether the market approach might not be the best solution. If customers learn that a given station is plagued by itinerant "gas pumpers," they'd be well advised to find another station. What strikes me as a bit unfair is the idea of fining person A for the conduct of person B -- without, apparently even the conduct of person B being illegal.

    I mean, if it is to be a crime to allow panhandling at your business, shouldn't the panhandling also be illegal?

    posted by Eric at 01:00 PM | Comments (6)



    It's official!

    Lewis Libby has just been indicted for "making false statements to grand jury."

    (Via CNN and Fox News.)

    MORE: Glenn's ahead of the game. So are Tom Maguire (who asks "How Covert Was Valerie Plame?") and Roger L. Simon.

    Like me, Roger is "still trying to puzzle out the arcane and not so arcane motivations behind the endless Valerie Plame melodrama."

    It's almost a labyrinth.

    So, so, CIA-like....

    UPDATE: The full Indictment (in PDF) can be read here.

    (And the PDF of the press release is here.)

    UPDATE (3:10 p.m.): Watching Fitzgerald attempt to explain to disapppointed reporters why only perjury and obstruction were charged in the indictment (and not outing the more delicious charge of identity of a covert agent), I was struck by an old, Watergate-vintage expression:

    THE COVERUP IS WORSE THAN THE CRIME!

    But Tom Maguire said it first, not me!

    posted by Eric at 12:46 PM



    Prophecies not to be re-misunderestimated . . .

    On the G. Gordon Liddy Show, I just heard WND founder Joseph Farah predict that 4th Circuit Justice Maureen Mahoney will be President Bush's next nominee. From his WND article:

    Mahoney is perhaps most famous for representing the University of Michigan before the Supreme Court defending its indefensible affirmative-action program. She wasn't just a hired gun. She really believed in the case. She really believed that government agencies should discriminate against people based on race. She really believed that was constitutional and moral.

    She told the university news service: "I'm a Republican, and there's a common misconception that all Republicans oppose affirmative action. I care deeply about the issue."

    Mahoney is no stranger to nominations for federal judicial posts. The first President Bush named her to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, but the Senate did not act on her nomination before the end of Bush's term.

    She seems to be the favorite of liberal analysts hoping for another stealth Supreme Court nominee – someone along the lines of David Souter or Anthony Kennedy or Sandra Day O'Connor. She was No. 1 on Slate.com's "shortlist" of possible Republican nominees who believe in "moderation."

    Oh, and by the way, her long list of clients includes the government of Saudi Arabia.

    I'd say she's nearly a shoo-in.

    Remember the name: Maureen Mahoney. Remember where you heard it first.

    I'll remember it. (Not that Farah's predictions are always right, but he did predict that Miers was "going to withdraw her name from consideration before such hearings ever begin.")

    But there's something else worth remembering.

    (Or re-remembering.)

    While it wasn't quite as fervent a prediction as Farah's, Captain Ed also speculated that Maureen Mahoney would be an ideal "stealth" nominee -- and that was on October 2, before Bush announced Miers. Noting that Mahoney's "conservative outlook seems beyond question," he credits MSNBC for having first added the name to the hopper, and said she'd be an ideal Roberts-style nominee:

    If anyone wants to look for a surprise candidate, one that could duplicate many of the same problems for the Democrats that the Roberts nomination created, Maureen Mahoney might just be that nominee.

    ....

    ....I still prefer Janice Rogers Brown for the nomination. I just wanted to highlight what I think might provide an interesting choice for Bush if he wants to follow the John Roberts model for the next nominee. Mahoney hasn't received a lot of press attention to this point.

    With the Miers now withdrawn, Captain Ed's prediction has yet to be proven wrong, and right now it's looking very intriguing.

    Me, I'm not much of a clairvoyant (and while I'm hoping for Reynolds/Volokh/Barnett/Kozinski I'd settle for Janice Rogers Brown).

    Which means that for now I'll stay on the safe side and predict the nominee will either be Maureen Mahoney, or someone else!

    Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, I think two predictions are worth a picture, so here's a picture of Maureen Mahoney:

    Mahoney.jpg

    Whether looks count (and whether they should) really ought to be another topic.....

    MORE: Edith Jones and Alice Batchelder are favorites of Volokh Conspiracy's Todd Zywicki, whose reasoning makes sense to me. Concludes Zywicki,

    If the President decides to appoint a woman, it seems obvious that Jones is head-and-shoulders above the pack, with Batchelder making an excellent choice as well. As far as I can see, there are no other candidates in the same league as these two.

    posted by Eric at 10:48 AM | Comments (2)



    Long life accessorizing

    A piece on the fashionability of "prophetable" attire caught my attention recently.

    Cambridge, England

    If you wish to be a prophet, first you must dress the part. No more silk ties or tasseled loafers. Instead, throw on a wrinkled T-shirt, frayed jeans, and dirty sneakers. You should appear somewhat unkempt, as if combs and showers were only for the unenlightened. When you encounter critics, as all prophets do, dismiss them as idiots. Make sure to pepper your conversation with grandiose predictions and remind others of your genius often, lest they forget. Oh, and if possible, grow a very long beard.

    You know what? If I did those things, I wouldn't be taken for a prophet; I'd be taken for Charles Manson. Believe me, it isn't fun.

    I'm already inclined to sympathize with the misunderstood prophet:

    By these measures, Aubrey de Grey is indeed a prophet. The 42-year-old English biogerontologist has made his name by claiming that some people alive right now could live for 1,000 years or longer. Maybe much longer. Growing old is not, in his view, an inevitable consequence of the human condition; rather, it is the result of accumulated damage at the cellular and molecular levels that medical advances will soon be able to prevent — or even reverse — allowing people to go on living pretty much indefinitely. We'll still have to worry about angry bears and falling pianos, but aging, the biggest killer of all, will cease to be a threat. Death, as we know it, will die.
    Much as I'd hate being seen as a Manson lookalike (and thus try to maintain a professional appearance), the idea of being a prophet of immortality instead of a prophet of doom appeals to my perverse side, so I'm liking this guy -- even if the intent of the piece is to get me to write him off as a nut.

    Ms. de Grey taught her husband genetics over the dinner table. She was amazed at how quickly he could absorb the concepts. "Very shortly we were able to have a conversation rather than a tutorial," she says. While talking about her academic career and her relationship, Ms. de Grey is puffing away steadily on an unfiltered Camel. Mr. de Grey would like her to quit, but she's been a smoker since she was a teenager and believes that nicotine is necessary to kick-start her brain. Unlike her husband, Ms. de Grey has no wish to live forever. She has not agreed to be cryogenically frozen when she dies. (Mr. de Grey has, just in case medicine does not advance speedily enough to save him.)

    "I don't think anyone would want to thaw me out," she says and smiles, revealing a mouth mostly devoid of teeth.

    She's right about nicotine kick-starting the brain. It's much better than coffee, and I used to use the former to force myself to write blog posts late at night. (Unlike coffee, the nic wears off and allows you to sleep. But it's highly addictive, and I think it's best saved for emergencies.)

    I like the idea of the prophet's wife not being a follower of the stuff her husband preaches, either. It's elementary in propheteering that every good prophet must be rejected by those closest to him.

    This guy just keeps looking better and better -- no matter what they say about him!

    And the ad hominem tone just builds and builds:

    He also has a talent for drumming up publicity. His eccentricities (the long beard, the thrift-store clothes, the pub crawling) appeal to journalists looking for a colorful feature subject. There is also his willingness — eagerness, in fact — to explain his plan for fighting aging to any reporter with a notebook and time to kill. More publicity, he hopes, will lead to more donations. The donations can then be used to help finance the kinds of research Mr. de Grey believes are most important.

    Not every article, however, has taken a gee-whiz tone. In February, Technology Review, which is owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published an article about Mr. de Grey along with an editorial written by Jason Pontin, the magazine's editor. The article, by Sherwin Nuland, a clinical professor of surgery at Yale University's School of Medicine and the author of How We Die, concluded that Mr. de Grey was "neither a madman nor a bad man" but that his plan "will almost certainly not succeed." And, even if it did, Mr. de Grey "would surely destroy us in attempting to preserve us" because living for such long periods would undermine what it means to be human.

    Oh please! Why don't they just call themselves the Death Lobby, join forces with insurance actuaries, euthanasia advocates, and moral conservative Kass Klones, and be done with it?

    The editorial took a more ad hominem approach. Mr. Pontin wrote that Mr. de Grey "drinks too much beer" and that even though he's just in his early 40s "the signs of decay are strongly marked on his face." He also called the potential social consequences of extending life indefinitely "terrible" and wrote that Mr. de Grey "thinks he is a technological messiah."

    The response to the article and the editorial was extraordinary and extremely negative. Mr. Pontin says he has received thousands of e-mail messages, many of them from "enraged" readers. "It was as if I was personally depriving them of the possibility of immortality," he says. The online version of the article has been clicked on nearly a million times, making it by far the most-read article in the history of the magazine.

    I'm liking de Grey more and more.


    The question is whether that stuff will prove to be true. Gregory M. Fahy, a biologist and vice president and chief scientific officer of 21st Century Medicine, a biomedical research company, was very skeptical at first. While they still do not agree on everything, Mr. Fahy has been largely won over. And, like Mr. Finkelstein, he respects Mr. de Grey for his courage in the face of ridicule. "If you think you're right, you have to stand up and say what you believe even if people think you're nuts," says Mr. Fahy. "Now, if they prove you're nuts, you have to shut up. But that hasn't happened yet."
    More than anything, I hope de Grey is right. It strikes me that presidential appointees wouldn't be going on the offensive if there was no, um, future in immortality.

    (But this post was only about immortal fashion. Life extension is Justin's department....)

    posted by Eric at 10:03 AM | Comments (2)



    Weak test of strength? Or strong test of weakness?

    Dick Polman thinks that George W. Bush weakened himself by nominating Harriet Miers, and, now that the nomination has been killed by the right wing, that will weaken Bush further:

    it's likely that he will find a new nominee who will please the base - a jurist with a reliably conservative track record who would move the court rightward, as Bush has always promised.

    Bush could have tapped such a person a month ago. Instead, he picked Miers and spent most of October contending that membership in a Christian evangelical church, a nonexistent paper trail on constitutional issues, a stint on the Texas Lottery Commission, and loyalty to the Bush family were sufficient experience for the highest court.

    And for all that effort, he is now politically weaker.

    The religious right, having witnessed the surrender on Miers, now feels more emboldened to make demands; as political analyst Morton Kondracke remarked Wednesday on Fox News: "If [Bush] were to pull her now, this would be an indication that he's caving in to the right-wing groups."

    At the same time, Senate Democrats and liberal groups may be motivated to fight a conservative nominee with greater resolve, having seen for themselves that Bush is more vulnerable than ever.

    As the conservative National Review wrote online yesterday: "Presidential mistakes have consequences that cannot be simply erased. If President Bush now nominates someone whom most conservatives can support, as he should, then Bush and conservatives may, together, win confirmation. But their chances of jointly succeeding were better [a month ago] than they are now. The Democrats will insist that the far Right has forced a nominee beholden to it on a weak president." (Emphasis added.)

    Well, "the Democrats" may insist that the weak Bush is simply being jerked around by "the far Right," but the Miers nomination was opposed by a huge number of people. Via InstaPundit, the WSJ cites a large CNN poll:
    80% of the more than 130,000 voters agree with the withdrawal of Miers's nomination.
    I find it a little tough to believe that 80% of this sampling constitutes "the far Right."

    In the editorial cited by Polman, the NRO, after belittling Bush's apparent weakness ("Gloating would be unseemly" says it all), concludes by going out of its way to hope Bush doesn't to do something which, if done, would be anything but weak:

    We do not for a moment believe that the president will pick someone unacceptable to conservatives out of spite.
    Frankly, that contrary side of me that hates to be told what to do (and admires Eugene Volokh for blogging about things because of attempts to cow him into submission) almost hopes Bush does pick an unacceptable nominee out of spite. It wouldn't be good for either the liberal or conservative "causes" though (or for his party or, for that matter, the country), but I'd still enjoy seeing some of those unelected, self-appointed moralizers -- who think they have a God-given right to run the country -- get a well-deserved come-uppance. (Something I predicted as a possibility in earlier posts.)

    What's interesting about the NRO editorial is that it simply cannot be squared with what Thomas Sowell said when he contemplated the Miers nomination -- in the face of a weak Senate -- weeks ago:

    What is weak is the Republican majority in the Senate.

    When it comes to taking on a tough fight with the Senate Democrats over judicial nominations, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist doesn't really have a majority to lead. Before the President nominated anybody, before he even took the oath of office for his second term, Senator Arlen Specter was already warning him not to nominate anyone who would rile up the Senate. Later, Senator John Warner issued a similar warning. It sounded like a familiar Republican strategy of pre-emptive surrender.

    Before we can judge how the President played his hand, we have to consider what kind of hand he had to play. It was a weak hand -- and the weakness was in the Republican Senators.

    I thought Thomas Sowell had a good point when he concluded that Miers was "the best choice Bush could make under the[se political] circumstances." But NRO -- and Polman -- would have us believe that all along the Senate was just sitting there ready willing and able to confirm, say, a Janice Rogers Brown.

    I don't think it's that easy.

    Right now, I think Bush is facing a Scylla-and-Charybdis style threat. One raging whirlpool consists of the angry right wing "base" which tastes blood, and weakness by Bush, and will demand nothing less than total, lockstep, ideological conformity to every last item (perhaps even the fringe items) in their agenda. The other monster is the accusatory left, amplified by the MSM which will cause echoes to resonate in the moderate camp. Trying to steer a course between these monsters is Bush -- not a man known for meekly caving to demands or being unduly influenced by critics.

    I disagree those who see Bush as a man fighting to save his "endangered presidency." He hasn't even completed the first year of his entire four year term, and the only thing which can force him out is impeachment (nothing but a fringe idea). (As Glenn opined yesterday, "Since Bush isn't running in 2008 it's not all about him any more.")

    Calling him weak does not make him weak, nor does it mean that those making the accusation are strong. But right now, Bush is going to be called weak -- by both sides -- no matter what he does.

    It would be counterintuitive and probably dramatic to call it a test of strength, so I won't do that.

    But isn't it sometimes a sign of weakness to call someone weak?

    Bush can only nominate. Is he the only one whose weakness being tested?

    posted by Eric at 09:12 AM | Comments (1)



    Bloom on the Culture War

    I've heard young would-be scholars dismiss Harold Bloom as an old, conservative dinosaur (they call him Brontosaurus in the title of this interview), but that could hardly be the case. Not the conservative part anyway.

    Resolve this:

    I have many enemies in the English-speaking world, in and out of universities and the media, because I was politically on the extreme left. Culturally, I totally reject this horrible political correctnes, this hideous notion that people should read and study any work of literature, of the imagination on the basis of the ethnic origin, the agenda, the sexual orientation or skin pigmentation of the writer. That strikes me as real fascism. And I fought against it bitterly from about 1967 till the present – it's a battle I've waged for thirty-seven years and of course I have acquired many enemies in the proces.

    With this:

    Of course, the United States is in a terrible condition, we have a kind of fascist regime here – I think it's the real truth about it and you can quote me on that. A few years ago, when I was in Barcelona receiving the national prize of Catalonia, I remarked when somebody asked me a question about president George Bush: "He is semiliterate at best, to call him a Fascist would be to flatter him." He has now sufficiently grown in depth that you are no longer flattering him by calling him a Fascist – it is simply a descriptive remark.

    And this:

    This regime really hates Europe. It doesn't ask for allies. This regime is acting as if the United States is the new Roman Empire. And it's trying to force another Pax Romana upon the world, which is no peace at all, like Nazis, like Fascists, like Stalinists...

    Is it political correctness or neo-conservativism that's 'real fascism?'

    I invite comments on, and I invite you all to read the piece to hunt out other gems, like how the Asian Americans are the new Jews:

    I teach my clases at Yale and what cheers me up are my Asian American students – about half of the students who take my clases are Asian Americans. What in my generation the Jews were – the intelligentsia – these people are becoming. The Jews in this country are now so asimilated that looking at their score cards I could not tell the difference between my Gentile and my Jewish students. The Asian Americans are the new Jews – they are the ones who study hard, they have a real pasion, a real drive to understand. If this country has a future, it will be because of the new immigrants, the Asians, the Africans, the Hispanics. Our regime is fascistic, but our constitution is good.

    Or the truth of Kabbalah. Discuss.

    posted by Dennis at 07:56 AM | Comments (2)




    BIG NEWS

    Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination.

    I am not surprised.

    In fact, I think it's possible that the suspicions I previously and repeatedly expressed have been confirmed.

    (Not that I can prove it. But Bush and his team are far too politically savvy not to have been able to anticipate this.)


    AFTERTHOUGHT: I hope my suspicions are wrong. Because I can't shake this feeling that if I am right, people (including me, because I've wasted a lot of time writing about Miers) have been, well, manipulated.


    NEW NOMINATIONS, ANYONE? (I've already proposed Reynolds, Volokh, Barnett and Kozinski, but I'm not entirely confident they're on Karl Rove's short list....)

    UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg has called the Miers withdrawal "BRILLIANTLY ROVIAN!" (Via Gateway Pundit.)

    Bush had no idea that the Senate might seek "internal White House documents," of course....

    (Link to Gateway via Glenn, who also links to the full text of Miers' letter.)

    MORE: Is it possible that we might get a libertarian on the court? Orin Kerr looked at Janice Rogers Brown last month, and pronounced her a "hard core libertarian."

    Might a Brown nomination be something both libertarians and moral conservatives could support?

    (Go ahead! Call me a dreamer....)

    SOBER AFTERTHOUGHT: If Janice Rogers Brown is the libertarian Kerr suggests she is, I don't think her nomination is likely.

    That's because conventional politics means Culture War uber alles!

    I hate to say this, but power abhors taking the Constitution literally. There's too much to lose.

    posted by Eric at 10:16 AM | Comments (4)



    Talk about bad taste!

    This is news at its most tasteless:

    A cab driver in Dallas, Texas, was allegedly caught on surveillance video sprinkling dried fecal matter on cookies and pastries at a grocery store, according to a Local 6 News.

    Behrouz Nahidmobarekeh, 49, is on trial for allegedly throwing the feces on pastries at a Fiesta grocery store.

    Police said that during an investigation, they found a pile of human feces by his bed. Investigators believe Nahidmobarekeh would dry the feces, either by microwave or just letting it sit out, grate it up with a cheese grater and then sprinkle it at the store.

    "(We are) unable to identify him; just a young boy, maybe 3 years old, on the surveillance tape you can see him eating one of the cookies and that's the worst part about it,I think."

    Time for grief counselors, maybe?

    While the man's motive is apparently unknown, the FBI has determined that this was "not a national security issue."

    There's certainly national interest in the story, though. Drudge listed it yesterday but took it down, but that didn't stop the Washington Post, which added a salient fact:

    ... customers had complained that the fresh-baked items smelled and tasted like manure.
    Add this to the report of "loogie" in the turkey wrap, and I'm beginning to see a pattern. Of national insecurity.

    (And probably, as Rob Smith suggested, bad manners.)

    posted by Eric at 09:30 AM | Comments (3)



    Identical politics

    Orin Kerr alerted me to some fascinating language in a Texas initiative purporting to stop same sex marriage. Here's the applicable text:

    SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:

    Sec. 32.

    (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.

    (b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

    If (a) is to be read in conjunction with (b), I share Orin Kerr's puzzlement. If "legal status identical or similar to marriage" is prohibited, and "marriage" is defined as the union of a man and a woman, then according to a literal interpretation, that would prohibit all legal incidents of marriage between a man and a woman, because that's how "marriage" is defined. (More here on the confusion such interpretations are already creating in Texas.)

    Further, at the risk of pointing out the obvious I would note that same sex unions are by definition not "between one man and one woman," nor are polygamous unions. (Nor would be any "union" between a human and an animal.) So, if (a) is read literally in conjuction with (b), because such "unions" are by definition not identical nor even similar to marriage, they are not prohibited, because they lack the defining feature of "one man and one woman." (See Joshua's comment to the Orin Kerr post.*)

    I'm wondering then, what is being prohibited. What might go on between one man and one woman which could be described as "similar" or "identical" to marriage? Surely, marriage itself is not being prohibited. The only thing I can think of which is similar or identical to marriage under the literal words of the amendment would be common law marriage.

    Unless that is being prohibited, the amendment has no meaning.

    Why go to so much trouble just to stop common law marriages?

    * It should be noted that other commenters argue that literal language should not be elevated above intent. But what is the intent here? Surely, if the intent was to prohibit only same sex marriage and not common law marriages, the language could have said so. Might there be a hidden intent? Once again, I think it's fair to ask whether this was a poor job of drafting, or whether something else is going on....

    UPDATE: The Texas Legislature was warned about the common law marriage problem:

    "It's fiscally irresponsible and constitutionally reckless," said Austin lawyer Robert Andrews, who says it could adversely affect common-law marriages in Texas despite lawmakers' assurances to the contrary.

    Under current law, he said, people file a Declaration of Informal Marriage to register their common-law status at a courthouse — and he thinks those declarations may be prohibited.

    "They've gotten so overbroad with this, they've covered things they don't know they have," Andrews said. "I'm really concerned they blew it (in approving the resolution) . . . that they've covered three times as many people as they think they have."

    (Detailed analysis here.)

    If it can be proven, how is stealth to be factored into the interpretation of intent?

    posted by Eric at 08:17 AM | Comments (3)



    How imminent can threats get?

    I'm sure that by now everyone has heard about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmaninejad's statement that Israel is a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map."

    What bothers me the most about the phrase "wiped off the map" is that it can't be seen in a vacuum or dismissed as an aberration or as rhetorical excess. Ahmadinejad's predecessor, Hashemi Rafsanjani (for many years a major Iranian leader) made it perfectly clear that the longterm Iranian goal is to use nuclear weapons against Israel:

    If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.
    Iran is of course moving full steam ahead towards the production of the very nuclear weapons they brag about wanting to use against Israel. They've thumbed their nose at the people who want them to stop nuclear development, and now their president publicly states they want Israel "wiped off the map."

    Excuse me, but what do they need to do to make themselves more clear?

    This is an intolerable and urgent situation, and in my view it calls for a preemptive response.

    Can I say the threat is looking more and more imminent?

    (Or has the word "imminent" been dumbed down?)

    posted by Eric at 07:37 AM | Comments (3)




    Farewell Momma Bear

    I'm so sorry to learn (via Glenn's links to Laughing Wolf and The Gray Monk) that Momma Bear has passed away. (I'm proud to say her blog was one of my earliest blogroll links.) I feel that I've known her -- but I'm sorry I never met her.

    Laughing Wolf observed, "Shades, know that this day a warrior walks among you."

    It's comforting, because we'll all be there.

    posted by Eric at 10:58 PM | Comments (3)



    Consent negated? Or implied?

    WARNING: Graphic discussion follows.

    I've been struggling with a deceptively simple question:

    Is drunken sex rape?

    I don't mean drunken rape, because I think it is possible to form the requisite malice in that state. What I want to know is whether intoxication does -- or should -- prevent someone from consenting to sex. Because if it does, then any sex with a drunk person might be rape. (Bear in mind that this is compounded by the problem of imputing intent to active versus the passive roles in sex, but I'll save that for later.)

    What prompted this is the rape prosecution of two LaSalle University basketball players. I'm having a little bit of trouble getting all the facts of this case, but it does appear that the accuser went to the men's dorm room, drank 8 shots of 99 proof liquor, and had sex.

    According to the DA, the woman was in no position to consent:

    In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Richard DeSipio acknowledged that the woman was "binge drinking" shots of liquor that night, had flirted with the men, and had engaged in a sexually explicit conversation with one of them before the alleged assault took place.

    With graphic description, DeSipio said that Gary Neal, 21, began to rape the woman after she vomited in the kitchen sink, and that Michael Cleaves, 23, joined them and tried to simultaneously force the woman to perform oral sex on him before the men switched positions.

    "She's so weak from vomiting... she's just hanging there like a limp blow-up doll, at their mercy. And they knew they had her," DeSipio told the jury.

    Neal and Cleaves have both pleaded not guilty to rape, sexual assault, conspiracy and related crimes. Attorneys for the pair told jurors that the sex was consensual and that no crime was committed.

    "This case is not about rape. This case is about regret," Neal's attorney, Assistant Defender Wendy Goldstein, told the jury. "In the morning, when the alcohol wears off and everybody knows she had sex with both these men, regret sets in... . She has every reason to turn herself into a victim, rather than face what everyone thinks of her."

    That the woman didn't fight back or say no is undisputed, as is the fact that she was drunk:
    The woman is expected to take the witness stand today before Common Pleas Court Judge Shelley Robins New. The woman has previously testified that she was too drunk to say no, fight back, or scream for help during the alleged attack.
    (More here.) Our system of justice operates under the principle of reasonable doubt. If this woman was, as she admits, drunk, how is it possible for her to know whether she was raped or whether she consented? The defense maintains, of course, that she was remorseful the next day.

    Obviously, she felt used. And from these facts, it's pretty obvious that she had been used.

    But is being used rape? And how can such things ever be determined after the fact?

    If drunken sex is rape, there's an awful lot of rape (especially between husbands and wives).

    I hate to sound like a sexist ass, but I'm skeptical. I don't think this is the same thing as saying that a woman who "dressed like a slut" was "asking for it." This woman got drunk in a room with two men late at night, and by her own admission did nothing to stop them. Bear in mind that the college students are now looking at twenty years in prison because of this accusation.

    While I do believe consent should be voluntary, I also think there can be such a thing as implied consent.

    (Or, possibly, there are circumstances less than fully consensual but which don't rise to the level of rape. Back in the days before AIDS, men used to lie naked face down on beds in gay bathhouses, next to an open jar of vaseline. Whatever you might think about that, anyone doing such a thing is in no position to cry rape.)

    I've posted about this before, and I'm having the same logical problem now as then:

    ....if these people were all gay men, no one would be complaining of rape. Why is that? Because it's basic common sense among homosexuals that if you go to someone's bedroom late at night and get drunk with him (or meet him in an already drunken state in say, a bar!), there's an understanding that, far from being rape, sex was the whole idea. Each party would, without any hesitation, accept his own responsibility.
    Here, no one accepts responsibility; there's a criminal case.

    As I pointed out previously, if one person is drunk and the other is sober, it is legally possible that the sober person raped the drunk person, if the latter was prevented from resisting because of intoxication, "and this condition was known, or reasonably should have been known by the accused." But this is a criminal case, and they're going to have to show beyond a reasonable doubt that there wasn't consent. Unless the law prevents drunks from consenting, the fact of the girl being in the room late at night, her "sex talk", and her getting drunk there, will all be factors.

    Earlier, the defense stated she spoke to one of the defendants about her expertise at oral sex, and now I see that she's admitted "sex talk":

    The alleged victim was called to testify Wednesday morning, but she could be heard sobbing outside the courtroom and her testimony was delayed for 40 minutes. The woman admitted that she sat on the lap of one of the defendants in June 2004 and engaged in some sex talk. She went on to tell the story of what she called a drunken rape.
    I think this is going to be a tough case for the DA. While I do not defend the sleazy conduct of the defendants, if she went to their room, engaged in sex talk, and got drunk, I don't see much of a distinction between that and going to a gay bathhouse and getting drunk. It comes precariously close to implied consent, and while the defendants are not angels, is their conduct really something that society wants to define as rape and punish with 20 year prison terms?

    And if a man's wife gets drunk and he has sex with her, is that rape? How about if the wife has sex with a husband too drunk to legally consent?

    Or suppose a husband and wife get drunk together and have sex. Returning to my original hypothetical question: if two people, married or unmarried (and bear in mind that women can rape men) get drunk and then engage in sexual intercourse, how is it to be determined which person was raped?

    Is the woman always necessarily the victim? As I asked over a year ago:

    why in logic is not a man just as much a victim of a vagina as a woman the victim of a penis?
    I know it sounds crazy, but crazy factual scenarios invite crazy questions.

    In drunken situations, it would seem that the first to sober up, have regrets, and call the police would get to be the victim.

    I'm still struggling for answers.

    (I guess people should fill out one of the various sexual consent forms.)

    UPDATE (10/27/05): There's more from the trial in today's Inquirer. A few excerpts:

    She acknowledged that she had eight consecutive shots of 99 Apples - a 99-proof alcoholic beverage - had sat on Neal's lap, and had told him she had once performed oral sex on a basketball player they both knew.
    Sat on his lap and told him about oral sex? This brought a question from one of the defense lawyers:
    The woman testified that she was on athletic and academic college scholarships and maintained high grades.

    "You're a smart girl. You're in college. You have to have some common sense, yes?" Cleaves' defense attorney, Michael McDermott, asked during rigorous cross-examination.

    "Yes," she replied.

    "Then tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury why a 19-year-old girl, who had eight shots, would stay alone with a man she doesn't know" after having a sexually explicit conversation about oral sex? McDermott asked.

    The woman said she couldn't answer that question.

    Acknowledging the reporting delay, she says she considered the men "ugly" and stated that sitting on someone's does not indicate an interest in sex:
    She later acknowledged that she did not immediately tell the other camp counselors what had happened. She said she also did not tell former women's basketball coach John Miller in a meeting with him the next morning, although she said she did complain that some belongings were missing from her dorm room.

    When she later spoke to detectives, according to her signed statement, she said she didn't discuss oral sex with Neal.

    She also told investigators she wasn't interested in Cleaves and Neal, calling them "ugly."

    "Sitting on someone's lap does not mean I'm interested - that I want to have sex with them," the woman explained yesterday.

    Without taking sides, even if we assume she's telling the truth, what on earth has happened to common sense?

    Let's see. A girl comes to the room of two healthy young athletes, downs eight shots, sits on one man's lap, and tells him that she performed oral sex "on a basketball player they both knew."

    What does she expect will happen at that point? An intellectual discussion of Thomas Aquinas?

    UPDATE: Here's a thought. Considering the apparent position of M.A.D.D. and others that drinkers should be arrested to prevent them from driving, can arresting them as a rape prevention measure be far behind?

    posted by Eric at 09:54 PM | Comments (15)



    The eyes have it!

    As PhotoShoppers go, I'm hardly a professional. ("Self taught hack" pretty well describes my limited skills...)

    But this apparent photo doctoring of Condoleeza Rice intrigued me:

    doctoredCondi.bmp

    And I found myself even more intrigued by Glenn's question:

    Adobe's "fill flash" can sometimes do surprising things, but I'm not sure it could do this.

    I'm so backward that I don't even have Adobe "fill flash" I thought I'd try it myself with the primitive software I do have.

    I had no idea whether this exercise would work, and I decided to spend no more than five minutes, because I just wanted to satisfy my curiosity.

    I started with this original JPEG file from Yahoo:

    undoctoredCondi.jpg

    I opened the above (along with USA Today's BMP version with the gleaming white eyes) in Paint Shop Pro version 6, used the dropper to select the white color, and once I had done that I used the primitive "fill" feature (by selecting the icon which looks like a little pitcher of paint), to add white.

    I then saved it as a BMP file, and shrunk it to the same dimensions as the USA Today picture.

    Here's they are, side by side (mine's on the left):

    CondiEdoctored.bmp doctoredCondi.bmp

    How'd I do? I think I might need to add a tad more white, and maybe do a little retouching on the eye to the right, but I think mine is a little more on the subtle side.

    Probably not good enough for the MSM.

    When they say they want to see the whites of their eyes, they mean it!

    MORE: Because I know I'll never get a job with USA Today, I also did an Indymedia version:

    CondiEIdoctored.bmp

    FINAL THOUGHT: It's incredibly obvious to me that USA Today's picture was doctored. What surprises me is that they don't seem to mind being blatant about it.

    UPDATE: Caught, um red white-handed, USA Today now admits the photo was altered, and it has been "replaced by a properly adjusted copy":

    Editor's note: The photo of Condoleezza Rice that originally accompanied this story was altered in a manner that did not meet USA TODAY's editorial standards. The photo has been replaced by a properly adjusted copy. Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice's face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards.
    A fine, lawyerly answer!

    (And I'm so into unnatural appearances that I brightened the same portion twice!)

    posted by Eric at 10:14 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (2)



    I'm always right! But you're a bigot!

    Sean Kinsell offers another example of something in short supply these days -- a thoughtful post about same sex marriage, in the context of Maggie Gallagher's guest blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy.

    For those who don't want to read through this very lengthy debate in its entirety, Sean (via Michael Demmons) links to a post by Jason Kuznicki which summarizes what he considers Gallagher's key points.

    Something about the way this issue is debated disturbs me enough (see this post) that I left the following comment:

    There seems to be a real, almost obsessive need to "prove" that opposition to same sex marriage constitutes bigotry. I don't think this is the wisest way to argue anything, and I find myself wondering whether Maggie Gallagher is playing the role of a sort of political tar baby. The harsher the attacks against her, the more insecure her opponents look. (Not that ideologues would care...)
    I think this "if you disagree with me, you're a bigot" meme has gotten really, really tired. The problem is, the more time people spend talking only with each other and not with people they disagree with, the more likely they are to be convinced that not only are they right, but that their opponents are more than wrong; they are evil, bigoted, and analogous to Nazis.

    A commenter at Gay Orbit made the following remarks:

    Did you miss the post where Volokh said that gays “recruit” straight people to become gay.
    Well, I don't know whether he meant this post, but I did blog about it, and I thought Eugene Volokh was trying to raise some honest concerns on his mind. Isn't that what we want?

    Did you miss the post where Volokh said that we’re all disease-ridden vermin?
    Actually, I did miss that one. I searched carefully for it, too. Might he mean this post?
    Some readers challenged my claim that there is "disproportionate and grave health danger from male homosexual activity" to men, compared to the danger from male heterosexual activity. I think this danger is tragic, and I very much hope that medical advances will lead to the danger's decreasing. All decent people should agree that it's tragic. (The bunk that we hear from some quarters about AIDS being God's punishment for homosexuality would suggest, as some wit put it, that lesbians must be God's chosen people, since their rates are apparently very low.) But it seems to me quite clear that this danger is very much there.
    I doubt it that could be it. The "disease-ridden vermin" part just doesn't stand out. I don't know whether this commenter is trying to put words into Eugene Volokh's mouth (I never like it when people do it to me). But in light of his confession yesterday, I don't think he'll be effectively cowed:
    OK, though, I confess: I am developing an ulterior motive in writing about this stuff. The more people tell me not to write about things that strike me as important and perfectly legitimate to write about, the more I'm tempted to write about them. If people are trying to cow others into not discussing this information, then it's all the more important that we remain uncowed.
    Professor Volokh is absolutely right, folks. If opinions can't be freely discussed in the blogosphere, where can they be discussed?

    Back to the commenter, who is also upset about Clayton Cramer:

    Did you miss former guest-blogger, and noted homophobic bigot Clayton Cramer?
    I have repeatedly, even vehemently disagreed with Clayton Cramer (especially over sodomy laws), but have found him to be a gentleman. Plenty of people support sodomy laws out of a belief (in my view a misguided one) that "sodomy"(a misnomer) is harmful so people should be prevented from harming themselves. I think honest debate over these issues is infinitely preferable to name calling, and I'd offer the drug law debate as a less inflammatory example. The idea of imprisoning people for consensual malum prohibitum conduct offends every principle in which I believe. But calling someone a "bigot" for disagreeing with me would be the ultimate cop out. Not only would I miss an opportunity to advance my argument, I'd actually be harming it. But this point is lost on ideologues, who think opponents deserve a sound scolding, if not something worse.

    While I necessarily don't share his convictions (the right to wave a marriage certificate has never struck me as going to the essence of American freedom), I rather enjoyed Jason Kuznicki's take on bigotry:

    One judges bigotry not by whether a position is popular or unpopular, progressive or conservative, but by whether the person holding that position is willing to engage with their opponents, to consider the issue from all different sides, and to think that maybe, just possibly, those who hold differing views might do so sincerely, and even with good reason.

    In the final analysis, a bigot is anyone who holds a position with insufficient thought, never considering in their heart of hearts that perhaps they might be mistaken.

    That's fair enough for me.

    But what if I am wrong?

    posted by Eric at 08:13 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)




    Numerological sobriety?

    I'm having a problem with numbers. The war in Iraq is said to be on the verge of being more wrong than it has ever been before, once the number of American dead rises from 1997 to 2000. The latter is said to be a very important number:

    As milestone nears, adding up war losses

    U.S. toll in Iraq approaches 2,000.

    By Drew Brown

    Inquirer Washington Bureau

    WASHINGTON - The American military yesterday announced the combat deaths of four more U.S. troops in Iraq, bringing to 1,997 the number of American service members who have died in Iraq since the war began 21/2 years ago.

    A Marine with the Second Marine Division died Sunday in a firefight in Ramadi, Marine officials in Iraq said. Two other Marines and a sailor were killed Friday in two incidents, the Pentagon reported.

    With deaths coming at an average of more than two per day, it is likely that the number of dead will reach 2,000 in the next day or two.

    Am I supposed to be more against the war when the number of killed in action hits 2000 than I was when it was 1997?

    If so, why?

    The Inquirer says that the number 2000 will be "a sobering reminder of the human cost of the U.S. presence in that country."

    Sobering?

    Just as 1997 was just as sobering a reminder, I think 1000 was also a very sobering number. Except I'm not sure what is meant by sobriety.

    I just checked with the New York Times, which reports that the number killed has already reached 2000 -- that magic number said to be so "sobering."

    But I'm no more sober than I was. At least I don't feel any more sober.

    Or is wanting a U.S. victory less than "sober"?

    I could be wrong, but I'm getting the distinct impression that "sobriety" is being used as a synonym for wanting the United States to pull out of Iraq.

    If higher numbers meant any other kind of sobriety, then we'd fight this war all the harder. (For some perspective, The Jawa Report offers some, er, truly sobering numbers.)


    MORE: From Glenn Reynolds:

    ....driving the war issue is the Baby Boomers' Vietnam era conceit that right-thinking people are always "against the war," regardless of circumstances. Or which war.
    Of course, these right-thinking people are more "sober" than anyone else. (Even when drunk.)

    UPDATE (10/26/05): Palmetto Pundit sees another reason for the "milestone":

    It seems to me the press wanted this "milestone" to occur precisely when it did so that it could be used to overshadow the real milestone that occurred today: The ratification of the Iraqi Constitution.
    That sort of news is buried in the interior pages (along with the Brazil's rejection of gun control).

    posted by Eric at 08:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)



    England cracks me up

    Since today seems to be the day for me to defend animals against unjust accusations, let me turn my attention to the charge that British squirrels have become drug addicts, and are deliberately ingesting crack cocaine:

    Drug addicts are known to be hiding small stashes of crack rocks in people's front lawns late at night.

    Squirrels have been spotted in the same front gardens, seemingly hunting out the buried narcotics.

    The discovery has led some residents to speculate that the squirrels are already in the grips of addiction. One resident, who asked for his name to be withheld, told the South London Press.

    "I was chatting with my neighbour who told me that crack users and dealers sometimes use my front garden to hide bits of their stash.

    "An hour earlier I'd seen a squirrel wandering round the garden, digging in the flowerbeds.

    "It looked like it knew what it was looking for.

    "It was ill-looking and its eyes looked bloodshot but it kept on desperately digging.

    "It was almost as if it was trying to find hidden crack rocks."

    Crack squirrels are a recognised phenomena in the US.

    They are known to live in parks frequented by addicts in New York and Washington DC.

    The squirrels have attacked park visitors in their frenzied search for their next fix.

    The stodgy Economist has speculated that crack-loving squirrels are another urban legend.

    But let's think about whether this story is all it's, um, cracked up to be.

    Does anyone remember Rocky the squirrel?

    rockysquirrel.jpg

    What made him fly? And the name "Rocky" -- isn't that a thinly disguised drug reference for "rock" cocaine?

    Moving from media depictions of squirrels to depictions of pigs, I'm wondering whether it's a coincidence that there are now increasing reports of censorship directed against the latter. The campaign started with the ban of pig calendars and statuettes in offices, quickly spread to children's books in classrooms, and even piggy banks.

    I don't know whether there's a direct connection between the two, but a country cracking down on pigs should hardly be surprised to see its squirrels pigging out on crack. I see this apparently dysfunctional behavior by squirrels as a classic cry for help, and I hope that the censorship which started in Britain doesn't spread to this country.

    Well, I say the best defense is a good offense. Just as all animals are equal, all cartoons and all media depictions of animals should be equal, and treated equally. Michelle Malkin reminds us of another venerated cartoon image, and that is Piglet:

    Free_Piglet2.jpg

    There's a campaign to save Piglet, who, it seems, is being held hostage by people with absolutely no sense of humor. People unable to laugh at themselves, and who don't consider even this cartoon (quite tame by American standards) to be funny:

    jyllands1.jpg

    So once again, I'll let Porky have the last word!

    PorkyAllah.jpg
    posted by Eric at 04:46 PM | Comments (7)



    Bad grief?

    Not long ago, I expressed skepticism about giving high school students at two different schools the day off from school because of a fatal automobile accident which claimed the lives of three teenagers. I speculated that some of the kids would just enjoy having the day off, and that some might not have even liked the people whose deaths they were supposed to be grieving.

    But whether we're grieving sufficiently or not, the grief industry is not about to go away. It's a growth industry in which grievance counselors seem to be cranked out at a faster than the grief to be grieved.

    As George F. Will quipped, even lost books are now considered a proper subject of grief:

    after a flood damaged books at the Boston Public Library, counselors arrived to help librarians cope with their grief...
    Even Time magazine, in a piece generally sympathetic to the grief industry, noted the excesses, and conceded the possibility that "there may be benefits to the discredited practice of keeping a stiff upper lip."

    National Review's Rich Lowry thinks enforced grieving does more harm than good:

    there is a risk in forcing therapy on the bereaved, who might be perfectly capable of handling their loss on their own (some people, of course, will not).

    A 2000 study by University of Memphis researchers found that nearly 40 percent of those “receiving grief therapy actually fared worse than a matched group not receiving treatment.” A 2003 report by the Center for the Advancement of Health found that grief counseling and therapy “may not always be effective, and in some cases may be harmful.”

    As I wondered about the value of sending kids home to grieve classmates regardless of whether they were their friends or even knew them, I stumbled onto what appears to be a grieving inconsistency. That because of political considerations, not all grieving is treated the same way. There's even an argument that some things should not be grieved.

    Women who have had an abortion, for example, sometimes experience grief, and those who do have had a difficult time obtaining counseling for that grief, because "pro-choice" ideologues are unsympathetic (they feel that acknowledging post-abortion problems helps the anti-abortion cause and is therefore bad) while "pro-life" partisans believe counseling should focus on repentance and conversion, and that grieving must be atonement based.

    This has led to the formation of a relatively new organization -- called "Exhale":

    Despite the fact that abortion has been legal in the United States for nearly 30 years, post-abortion counseling remains rare--often lost in the roar of the debate over whether abortions are moral and whether they should remain legal. With most of the attention of pro-choice activists absorbed in preserving the option and anti-abortion groups focused in preventing abortions from occurring, little attention has been paid to the emotional aftercare that may be required, Baker says.

    "When I got my abortion, I was really mad at the feminists," Baker says. "'You gave me this choice--great! But then I'm on my own afterwards? What's up with that?'"

    (More here.)

    More intriguingly, another organization claims to have identified something called "Post Abortion Stress Syndrome." I'm not a shrink, but the symptoms listed certainly strike me as at least as sufficient to qualify the condition for grief counseling as would the loss of library books. Yet acknowledging the existence of this condition (called "PASS") is bitterly opposed by conventional feminist theory (which holds there is no such thing):

    Post-abortion stress syndrome" — PASS or PAS — sounds scientific, but don't be fooled — it's a made-up term. Not recognized as an official syndrome or diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, or any other mainstream authority, it is a bogus affliction invented by the religious right. Those who claim its existence define it loosely as a raft of emotional problems that they say women suffer after having an abortion — nightmares, feelings of guilt, even suicidal tendencies — and compare it to post-traumatic stress disorder.
    Does that mean women who feel guilt or who feel the need to grieve after an abortion are victims of the religious right?

    I'm not a woman, but I know I felt a lot of grief before, during, and after the death of my dog Puff last summer, even though he wasn't a person and was never growing inside of me. I still grieve him, and I don't really think it's up to anyone else to tell me whether my grief is legitimate or not. I had him put down by a veterinarian, and whether it's rational or not, I found it troubling. To be brutally frank, what I did was to kill him. A mercy killing of my best friend. (Fortunately -- largely because Puff was a dog -- neither the right nor the left will tell me that I'm the victim of the other.)

    But the WaPo's Marc Fisher considers pets expendable, and claims not to understand the feelings of pet owners in New Orleans:

    I cannot fathom why all these folks who stayed behind to take care of their pets would risk their lives for an animal that they could easily replace at any pet store.
    I'd have risked my life for my dog, and he'd have risked his life for me. My feelings aren't for Marc Fisher to fathom.

    Nor do I like the idea of people telling me what grief is good and what grief is bad, as it's none of their damned business. It's no more legitimate to invade my life with unsolicited grief counselors to tell me when I should grieve than it is to tell me when I should not grieve.

    I'm sure many feminists feel the same way about fetuses that Marc Fisher does about dogs. But that gives them no right to dictate how or whether people should grieve.

    Without getting into the debate over "post abortion stress syndrome," it does strike me that the grievance counseling movement -- and the burgeoning movement to call everything an illness -- would certainly seem to invite the grieving of all losses.

    I mean, isn't grieving lost fetuses as legitimate as grieving lost dogs?

    Or lost books?

    (I'd be tempted to say "good grief!" -- but the words seem to be taking on a political charge....)

    posted by Eric at 01:53 PM | Comments (7)



    Using bad glamor?

    Eugene Volokh wrote a thought-provoking post about STDs which stimulated some very interesting discussion in the comments. What seems to be getting most of the attention is Professor Volokh's remark that glamorization of promiscuous sex has real medical costs:

    I disagree on many things with many of the foes of the Sexual Revolution; I don't have moral objections to casual sex or to promiscuity; and I certainly don't support criminalization of consensual adult sexual behavior. Nonetheless, it seems to me that we need to acknowledge that sexually transmitted disease is a serious matter, and there are real medical costs (as well as real hedonic benefits, plus real hedonic costs) to the glamorization of relatively casual and promiscuous sex that seems present in our culture (though not in all of its subcultures).
    I couldn't agree more that sexually transmitted disease is a very serious matter, and that STDs have real medical costs. (And enormous personal costs to me, as I lost most of my friends in the 1980s.)

    But whether the costs result from the glamorization is not as clear. This depends on the extent to which people engage in conduct because it has been glamorized, and whether that is their fault -- or the fault of the glamorization. Part of this may touch on what we consider a reasonable standard for human gullibility and culpability. It's tough for me to blame a Nigerian spammer (much less the Internet) for the conduct of someone idiotic enough to believe he's really going to get $8.5 million dollars he was promised in an email. I'm not inclined to blame casinos even though they have glamorized gambling, and I'm not sure whether this glamorization is responsible for the costs of gambling to society.

    My stubbornly rational libertarian instincts make me recoil over the idea that I might do anything because it has been glamorized. Yet I cannot but admit that there are people who do things because they have been glamorized. One of the reasons Prohibition of alcohol was ended was because not only was alcohol being glamorized, but so was crime. Bootlegging and bootleggers were hip. Yet once Prohibition ended, the advertisers stepped in, and alcohol continued to be glamorized.

    Cigarettes are a classic example of the glamorization of danger. The idea was that if people could be persuaded that it was cool to smoke, they'd smoke. And they did smoke. They still do smoke. As an individualist, though, I'm more inclined to blame the smokers than the advertisers (or, the glamorizers).

    Yet as a pragmatist and a realist, I recognize the value of glamorization when it suits my own interests. Thus I have argued for the deliberate glamorization of pit bulls as the best way to prevent their prohibition -- and defuse anti-pit bull hysteria. I also freely advocate glamorization of firearms as an excellent way to combat antigun hysteria.

    Yet I do not and would not advocate glamorization of promiscuous sex. I don't think there is anything glamorous about it, even though I think it -- and the glamorization of it -- should be legal. (Parenthetically, under our First Amendment the glamorization of conduct is more protected than the conduct itself, and I am allowed to freely advocate smoking crack or "bareback" sex.)

    Am I being a callused hypocrite here? Inconsistent? Maybe I am. I'm not sure why, and perhaps this merits a closer look.

    What is the difference between pit bulls (or guns) and promiscuous sex? Both should be legal, yet I am willing to glamorize the former but not the latter. Might the difference lie in the fact that promiscuous sex is more inherently dangerous than dogs or guns? Actually, promiscuous sex can be quite safe if the participants remain sober and rational, and some forms of intercourse are inherently safer than others, so I doubt that's it.

    The difference is that I don't think promiscuous sex is a good thing; only that I think it should be legal (i.e., people should not be imprisoned for it). I think it's a good idea to remain monogamous, and loyal to one's partner, so I wouldn't want to glamorize not doing that. (Similarly, I would not glamorize the use of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.) On the other hand, guns and pit bulls are good things, and therefore (to my mind, at least) worthy of glamorization.

    One of the Volokh commenters analogized to motorcycle helmets, and I think it would be equally irresponsible to glamorize riding without a helmet. Or driving without seatbelts.

    Also morally egregious and irresponsible is abortion. While I don't believe women should go to prison for it, glamorizing it would strike me as an awful thing to do.

    Hell, I wouldn't even glamorize eating junk food, because it's bad for you. I have admitted my love of cream-filled donuts, and I while I blush to admit it, I have been known to occasionally patronize fast food restaurants.

    But junk food is not glamorous -- and I'll never glamorize it.

    The larger and more disturbing question, though, is whether or not the glamorization of undesirable practices helps spread them, and thus contributes to society's costs of the consequences of engaging in them.

    It's a good question, and I fear that I may not be the right person to answer it. That's because I resolutely oppose the influencing or manipulation of people, and it just goes against my grain to admit that people are influenced or manipulated.

    If they are, then I worry that it might mean person B becomes responsible for the conduct of person A (even if he did not know person A) -- which I think carries the idea of responsibility too far. It would mean that the Beatles were responsible for the suicide of Diane Linkletter.*

    It would mean that I am responsible for the conduct of people who might have influenced by me.

    Even the people I didn't want to influence!


    * Was Judas Priest was responsible for a fan committing suicide?

    Similarly, does "Gangsta Rap" make "impressionable" men curse at and beat women? It doesn't make me do that, so how can I blame it for the conduct of others?

    MORE: There's something I touched on but didn't much discuss, but which I think is at least as relevant -- that attempts to discourage something can nonetheless glamorize it just as much attempts to encourage it. Many a social ill (and many a social good, for that matter) has been encouraged and spread by persecution, and by attempts to stamp it out. To the extent that there is a promiscuous sex "movement," I think it thrives as a result of the forces which claim devotion to stamping it out and to a "showdown" against it.

    (Similarly, Martin Luther King's movement drew strength from the attacks against it, while Anita Bryant transformed gay rights from a taboo subject to a dinner table topic by denouncing it on the cover of Newsweek.)

    Of course, there's always the principle of cooptation as well.

    But do I have to discuss everything?

    posted by Eric at 10:50 AM | Comments (8)



    Right wing reptile lover in Kopperhead Kulturkampf!

    While I didn't start this blog to defend unpopular animals (whether pit bulls, alligators, or copperheads) I find myself doing it anyway for two reasons. One is because animals cannot defend themselves, and the less popular the animal, the less likely it is to be defended. The other reason is because inaccurate stories about animals have a way of fueling popular hysteria and mob thinking, while selling newspapers at the same time.

    The ridiculous alligator stories in the wake of Hurricane Katrina bothered me, because they were cranked out and repeated without any evidence except for an unconfirmed oral account by a musician whose story has been discredited on other grounds. This has not stopped this blogger from trying to revive the alligator meme on the grounds that I am a right wing supporter of Bush -- and a "naysayer":

    Naysayers, mostly rightwing supporters of Presidunce George Bush, have questioned whether the reports of animals eating the corpses of the NOLA dead were accurate. This article notes coroners discussing what they called a particularly poignant case of a woman's body which had been floating for days and had been knawed on by unknown animals.

    It would seem that the rightwing naysayers are wrong again, as they have been countless times before.

    I can't speak for the legions of rightwing naysayers, but I will repeat my charges: alligators were harmed by Hurricane Katrina, there haven't been any confirmed reports of alligators eating people, and the above WaPo report would actually seem to exonerate the alligator. (Not only do alligators not "gnaw," there are plenty of fish, birds, rodents raccoons, and starving dogs and animals which do.)

    Considering that alligators have been linked to Bush, and defense of alligators is right wing naysaying, the lowly copperhead would hardly seem worth defending. But I just can't get enough of my right wing naysaying, so here I go again!

    Although venomous, the copperhead's bite is almost never fatal. It is a beautiful, inoffensive snake which flees and hides as its primary defense.

    How's this for hiding?

    CopperheadLeaves.jpg

    The copperhead only bites as a last resort, and it's unfortunate that they are so often killed. In an earlier post, I lamented finding one dead at Valley Forge National Park.

    Well, now it seems that a male teenager found a live copperhead in the same park and very foolishly took it to his school, where it bit a fellow student:

    A 17-year-old boy, whom police did not identify, had taken the snake to school after capturing it in Valley Forge National Historical Park on Oct. 15, police said.

    He took the snake from a box, and it bit the girl's right middle finger, police said.

    She was taken to the hospital which administered antivenin.

    An unusual story involving (IMHO) human carelessness in provoking the snake, but otherwise not terribly dramatic. What got my attention, though, was the headline (which had been highlighted by a special front page teaser):

    Girl bitten by snake at school could lose her arm
    This did not compute. One might lose an arm from the untreated bite of a large rattlesnake, but not from a treated bite of a copperhead. As to "confirmation," the Inquirer supplies this:
    A 14-year-old St. Pius X High School student might lose her right arm after she was bitten by a copperhead snake taken to school by another student, Lower Pottsgrove police said yesterday.
    Odd, because "the police" are neither doctors nor snake experts. What does "might" mean? Anything "might" happen -- but from what I know about copperheads, the chances of losing an arm under these circumstances are infinitesimal.

    Annoyed as I was, I didn't write a post about it, as I figured the girl might have suffered some sort of allergic reaction, or that gangrene might have set in.

    But what a difference a day makes!

    Because today -- the very next day -- I was treated to another story, of an apparently miraculous recovery, written by a different writer:

    Girl bitten by snake has left hospital

    The 14-year-old was healing at home after the attack Friday at Pius X. School and police officials began a probe.

    By Martha Woodall

    Inquirer Staff Writer

    The freshman bitten by a poisonous copperhead snake at Pius X High School in Pottstown on Friday was resting comfortably at home yesterday after being discharged from the hospital on Saturday.

    The 14-year-old student, Kaitlin Chrobocinski, responded well to antivenin treatment she had received at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center. She was not in danger of having her right arm amputated, said the Rev. Joseph W. Bongard, the president-principal of Pius X.

    Bongard said Kaitlin was feeling so much better that she had wanted to return to school yesterday but her parents persuaded her that she needed more rest.

    The hard copy article had a picture of the girl at a press conference. (Somehow, I don't think the family appreciated seeing the blaring headline that their daughter "could lose her arm.")

    As news reports go, this is only a minor annoyance. The problem is, there's no copperhead rights lobby. The digital brownshirts are silent. I doubt that a single right wing naysayer will join my struggle.

    But if I don't speak up, who will?

    MORE: In the unlikely event that anyone is interested in a serious evaluation of the risks from copperhead bites, a systematic study was done of reported cases in the Carolinas from 1997-2000. (Of 178 people bitten, 79 were admitted to hospitals, 18 were treated with antivenin, zero died, and in only one case did a digit -- not an arm -- require amputation.)

    I'd be willing to bet that the reason only 18 of the 178 were treated with antivenin is because the risk posed by the antivenin is often greater than the risk from the snakebite:

    Antivenin, while often the only chance for life many bite victims have, is not without its risks. An equine-derived product, the chance of allergic reaction in recipients is alarmingly high. The most common snake antivenin in the United States is Antivenin (Crotalidae) Polyvalent (ACP) - used for rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and copperhead bites. Derived from horse serum, studies have shown that the chance of acute allergic reaction in a recipient (including anaphylaxis) ranges from 23% to 56%. In cases of only slight envenomation, the risk from the antivenin is higher than the risk from the bite itself - and antivenin will not be administered unless necessary.
    While loss of life or limb is extremely unlikely, it would nonetheless be a very unpleasant medical emergency to be bitten by a copperhead.

    (Definitely not a show-and-tell item for kids....)

    posted by Eric at 08:42 AM | Comments (3)




    (But at least sexual freedom is still worse than the economic kind . . .)

    According to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman, the Republicans are so upset at each other that they're even resorting to calling each other "homo-lovers":

    Gary Bauer, another religious-conservative leader, is attacking Grover Norquist, a prominent tax-cut activist, for his decision last week to share his economic conservatism with an audience of gay Republicans.
    If you buy into the conventional Democratic meme that all Republicans hate homos, then Bauer's charge against Norquist would appear to be pretty serious.

    But I'm not surprised. Because Bauer's not just accusing Norquist of cozying up to the gays; according to Ramesh Ponnuru he's rejected economic conservatism in general:

    Gary Bauer, in a more modest and principled way, has left the economic-conservative fold on taxes, Social Security, and trade. Libertarian ideas are in retreat in the conservative intellectual world, too.

    All of these moves are motivated, essentially, by the fact that antistatism doesn't have much of a constituency in American politics. Or to put it another way, libertarians don't pull their electoral weight within the conservative coalition. That's why values statism has been so successful. And that's what Bush and McCain, in particular, are responding to. It's not that there is a huge constituency for a big-government conservatism; it's that Republicans who have given up on limited government have to come up with something else to talk about.

    What that means is that Bauer's objection was actually twofold. He'd have apparently been irritated at Norquist for delivering the same talk to the American Enterprise Institute.

    I never really thought that social and economic conservatism were natural allies, so I can't say I'm surprised by any of this.

    But with economic conservatism getting the official Republican heave-ho, where does that leave economic conservatives?

    (I guess they'll just have to sit around until there's an economic disaster, and then break out into a chorus of "I told you so." Meanwhile, if they support the war and oppose socialism, they'll probably continue swallowing what remnants of pride they have and hold their nose while voting Republican.)


    UPDATE: Meanwhile, disgruntled Republicans and other conservatives should read this week's Carnival of the RINOs.

    MORE: The above link doesn't seem to work, so just go to the Louisiana Libertarian to see the post.

    posted by Eric at 03:18 PM | Comments (2)



    How contemptuous is contempt?

    Anyone who thinks 85 days for contempt of court is a form of martyrdom should read about H. Beatty Chadwick.

    Divorces can be long and ugly. But few can rival the one that has left Main Liner H. Beatty Chadwick in jail for a decade. His crime? Contempt of court.

    Now, the 68-year-old former corporate attorney has a chance of getting out.

    Chadwick was jailed in Delaware County Prison in April 1995 for failing to obey a court order to turn over $2.5 million for distribution in a divorce settlement.

    Chadwick maintained he did not have the money. A succession of judges and courts disagreed. Until now.

    A retired Delaware County judge says a recent "worldwide search" failed to find any funds and he "strongly recommends that Mr. Chadwick be released."

    Chadwick says he lost the money in a business deal and thus was unable to hand it over to his wife. (The wife's side disputes that claim.) But even if he's lying, both the retired judge and Chadwick's attorney note that "if Chadwick had been convicted of stealing the money, he would have completed the maximum seven-year term three years ago."

    I understand that courts need to be able to assure compliance with legal process, but ten years for contempt of court strikes me as a grotesque overreaching -- if not an outright abuse of the process.

    I hope sexism had nothing to do with this case.

    (It's hard not to harbor a little contempt.)

    posted by Eric at 02:47 PM | Comments (10)




    Rome wasn't burnt in a day....

    WARNING: ALTHOUGH IT WAS CONTENT-VERIFIED, THIS STORY IS NOT TRUE!

    John at Locusts and Honey links to a story I missed about so-called "Christian" "looters" destroying adult stores:

    "If looters can rob electronics stores, then we can tear down satanic businesses," said Melvin Smith, a minister from Christ Cornerstone Ministries in Tupelo, Miss. His team of 19 Bible institute students methodically gutted a sex shop in the French Quarter, burning the contents in the street. They left a note posted on the wall: "They will call you the City of the Lord - Isaiah 60:14."
    The looters are of course on the side of the hurricane, which they believe was sent by God to destroy New Orleans' wickedness.

    No word on why God spared the French Quarter...

    Apparently, the looters feel that their conduct was justified by a "moral emergency":

    "People said the looters shouldn't be punished because it was an emergency situation. Well this is an emergency, too. A moral emergency."

    Two blocks away another Christian group emptied a tarot card reader shop, piling occult-related material in the street and dousing it with lighter fluid.

    "Thank you, Lord," said one as the flames reached 12 feet and higher.

    "Amen," said several others, tossing incantation books onto the growing bonfire. The police were nowhere to be seen.

    A minister from Alabama who would not give his name said his group was targeting places of "sexual and spiritual deviance." He had already "taken out" seven such businesses. His remaining targets: a psychic reader shop on Burgundy St., two sex shops and a strip club on Bourbon St., and a bookstore with voodoo-related books.

    "This hurricane could be the best thing God ever did for New Orleans," he said.

    I'm assuming that had the store owners defended their businesses, they'd have been accused of "persecuting Christians."

    Sigh.


    MORE: Despite the rioters' characterizations of their deliberate destruction of property as "looting," I don't think that the latter word is an accurate legal description of what occurred. At the very least, what happened was vandalism and rioting. If the property destruction was intended to intimidate legal conduct or influence public policy, it might very well fit modern legal definitions of terrorism.

    But alas! "Justice" is sometimes little more than a pagan deity....

    MORE: According to John (in the comments below), the story is fake!

    But it's nonetheless accurate -- because it obviously might as well have been true!

    posted by Eric at 12:55 PM | Comments (11)



    Death by sexual disorganization?

    In arguing against same sex marriage, Maggie Gallagher makes a very puzzling statement I am unable to ignore. Here's a long version of the quote, to keep it in context:

    But fundamentally marriage is sustained by culture, not biology. Why then is it universal? Because it is the answer to an urgent problem that is biological and innate: sex makes babies. Nature alone won’t connect fathers to children. Children need a society in which both men and women are committed to their care.

    When anthropologists in the thirties went out into the vanishing world of human diversity, the reason they found marriage everywhere is that societies that do not hang onto the marriage idea do not survive very long.

    But marriage in a particular society is not inevitable; death by sexual disorganization is always an option. Happens quite a bit actually. cf. Roman empire.

    Other bloggers have picked up on this quote and discussed it, but I'd feel remiss if I didn't, because I fear it's another version of a common but untrue smear -- that the fall of Rome was somehow connected with homosexuality. But bogus history does not go away -- no matter how many times I, or other bloggers might point out some basic facts. (This post by Dean Esmay did a great job.)

    What's new here is that homosexuality is not directly stated to be the culprit. Nor is same sex marriage -- which would have been a laughable oxymoron for the Romans, even though there are a few reported instances of it happening.

    HISTORICAL NOTE: Interestingly, the Family Research Council makes much of Nero's so-called "wedding" -- although the writer strains rather hopelessly to bootstrap Tacitus's disapproval of Nero's notorious public debauchery to disapproval of all homosexual conduct. What the Romans found offensive was the public nature of the event, which typified Nero, and was as unseemly as any of his other public outrages. As Tacitus wrote:

    On the margin of the lake were set up brothels crowded with noble ladies, and on the opposite bank were seen naked prostitutes with obscene gestures and movements. As darkness approached, all the adjacent grove and surrounding buildings resounded with song, and shone brilliantly with lights. Nero, who polluted himself by every lawful or lawless indulgence, had not omitted a single abomination which could heighten his depravity, till a few days afterwards he stooped to marry himself to one of that filthy herd, by name Pythagoras, with all the forms of regular wedlock. The bridal veil was put over the emperor; people saw the witnesses of the ceremony, the wedding dower, the couch and the nuptial torches; everything in a word was plainly visible, which, even when a woman weds darkness hides.
    Nero's affront was not homosexual conduct, but his highly public marriage to a low born (possibly a slave), in public, in a manner deliberately calculated to insult the dignity of his office. (Not that the Family Research Council will care, but I don't like seeing history twisted unnecessarily....)

    To return to the topic, the force which caused the death of Rome is (according to Maggie Gallagher) now said to be "sexual disorganization."

    Let me preface my remarks by reminding readers that I'm not one of those anti-Maggie Gallagher bigots who writes stuff like this comparing her to Nazis. Quite the contrary; I've gone out of my way to praise her, and even used one of her comments as a starting point for a series of posts.

    So going to try to be fair here (and I even intend to argue that she might be unintentionally right....)

    Here's the question of the day: what is sexual disorganization?

    Say what you will about the Romans, but they were anything but sexually disorganized. They had numerous rules -- rules which might not be acceptable to modern Americans, but rules nonetheless. Here's a typically simplistic reaction by a modern writer to some of them:

    Sometimes on the wedding night, the husband would not sleep with his new bride but arranged to sleep with another woman. The Roman state wanted fertility among mothers. Widows were not allowed to remarry. Husbands went out of their way to keep their own wives locked up like slaves. They deprived their wives of a life outside the home. It was forbidden for wives to possess money. The legal age for marriage in Ancient Rome for a woman was age 12, whether she had reached puberty or not.

    Virginity upon marriage was valued. Roman men were allowed to engage in adultery, but their wives were not. Female sexuality was entirely defined in their patriarchical value: sex with wives for legitimate children and procreation of a man's children and prostitutes, concubines and slaves for a man's sexual leisure, rape for power over any woman.

    Numerous scholars have identified an elaborate system of what can only be called sexual organization. Marriage in particular, was a very strong social institution, (not as sexist as commonly believed) which was taken quite seriously, and governed by an elaborate set of social and legal rules. This post is not about Roman marriage customs, but it's beyond dispute that they valued it highly, and above all, it was organized.

    There's no evidence whatsoever that the Romans' sexual habits led to the death of Roman civilization, but it never ceases to amaze me how often the argument is made that Roman "sexual decadence" brought on the "Fall of Rome." What is being forgotten is that Roman civilization lasted for many hundreds of years before the eventual collapse, and that the empire had been Christianized for well over a hundred years before the fall (in the East it took longer, of course). During that period, Christian bishops did their damnedest to see to it that their form of Christian morality was imposed on Roman culture. Houses of prostitution were closed, sodomy laws were passed, and while I think it would be arrogant to maintain that these things caused the death of Rome, I think it's just as fair to ask whether in the ensuing chaos, the old Roman sexual organization might have been replaced with a new (and often quite vicious) form of sexual disorganization.

    To be fair, I think it could at least as reasonably be argued that in the struggle, the older forms of Pagan sexual organization were repressed by what might be called the forces of "Christian sexual organization," and that such a clash might well have produced what we might call sexual disorganization.

    But is that what Maggie Gallagher is talking about?

    A late Roman/early Dark Ages culture war? If she is condemning that as deleterious to Rome and deleterious to the advancement of Western civilization, then I agree with her. (Whether she would want me to or not!) If culture wars can be said to produce cultural disorganization, then it's logical to assume that sexual culture wars would tend to produce sexual disorganization.

    I don't know whether that kind of sexual disorganization could cause the death of a society. I realize that my definition of sexual disorganization is probably not the same as Ms. Gallagher's because she seems to be identified with one particular "side" of the so-called "Culture War."

    Much as I'm sympathetic to Ms. Gallagher's stated concern about the place of Western civilization in the future world, I'd rather see the Culture War end, because I think it's constantly ratcheting up the forces that promote sexual disorganization by forcing people to take sides on personal matters, forcing them to define themselves by what they do with their genitalia, and making it impossible to use ordinary words like "family."

    I never wanted to do these things, and it's never been my goal to "mess with marriage."

    (The damned Culture War has already done a fine job of that.)

    posted by Eric at 10:00 AM | Comments (5)



    The Study of Misinformation

    Ever wondered just what Scientology is? Like a poorly written script, this person did:

    When asked what she thought of Scientology, Ashley Ferrell, a junior in criminology and sociology said, "What is that? It almost sounds like some sort of religion."

    Yes, Virginia--I mean, Ashley--, there is a Xenu.

    But you'll have to shell out thousands of dollars and become 'clear' before you learn about him. In the meantime OSU's student paper, the Lantern, has a simpler answer to your question. Let's read it together.

    In this fluffy piece of filler 'journalism' promoting the Church of Scientology, Alan Woods makes the following claim:

    Taken from Greek and Latin roots, the word Scientology literally means "the study of truth." And according to John Baker, executive director of the Church of Scientology in Columbus, Scientology is a religion.

    Scientology is a classic case of a mixed neo-classical compound like homosexual or television (telescope had already been taken). If scientology means anything it means the study of science or knowledge (L. scientia). If you want the study of truth you've got alethiology, which is Greek in both its parts.

    But this strikes me as the grade school essay technique: 'Webster's Dictionary defines happiness as ....' The rest of the piece follows. An expert is quoted to the effect that a religion must answer these questions three: the whence, and why, and whither we be:

    J. Gordon Melton, managing director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif., said there are certain criteria that a belief system must adhere to in order to qualify as a religion.

    Melton said a religion must answer three questions: Where we come from, why are we here and where are we going?

    Scientology has these three questions covered.

    Interestingly enough, by these criteria most corporate 'mission statements' would qualify as religions.

    But if that's not enough to convince you, people actually believe in it! In fairness, though, many people believe that Michael Bay is a good director. That doesn't make it true.

    But they've also got a code of behavior, which Melton also requires of true religions. Among this code are such revolutionary ideas as the following, excerpted in the piece as the only example:

    Melton said all religions must have a behavioral code. Scientology follows several moral codes that Baker outlined, including not supporting the enslavement of any person or injustice against innate human rights. Baker uses Melton's criteria to legitimize Scientology as an official religion.

    Finally! A religion for my generation! One that discourages slavery and injustice!

    The hard-hitting journalist informs us that "Lafayette Ronald Hubbard formed the religious philosophy of Scientology in 1951. However before this, he was an accomplished writer."

    You can't argue with credentials like that. But ignoring the kind of hardly-literary tripe generated by Hubbard (the sort of stuff that yielded John Travolta's magnum opus Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000), I would direct your attention to S.I. Hayakawa's 1951 review of Dianetics. I'll excerpt one bit that I particularly like, but I urge you to read the whole thing, which has an almost Housmanian acerbity (Housman qua scholar, not poet):

    Before going into a discussion of the rest of the chaff in dianetics, let me state my position at once: there is no wheat. Even if dianetic 'processing' produces, as Hubbard predicts, cures or apparent cures of neuroses, ulcers, falling hair, or diabetes, such results do not 'prove' a single item of dianetics doctrine. I do not say this in the spirit of the ecclesiastics who refused to look through Galileo's telescope, although I have no doubt such an accusation will be made. I say this on the basis of a simple distinction, familiar in general semantics literature, between kinds of predictions. If I predict that two cannonballs of different sizes dropped from a tower will hit the ground at the same time, my prediction cannot be overheard by the cannonballs, and hence cannot affect the outcome of the experiment. If, however, I hand you a mysterious bottle and predict that it will cure you of the loss of sexual vigor of which you have been complaining, and you believe me, you will drink the bottle and go to bed that night with changed expectations. Your improved performance of that night will prove nothing about the efficacy of the contents of the bottle; it will merely prove something very sad about your capacity for belief - in other words, about your system of semantic reactions.

    But all this is secondary. The real question is why a 'newspaper' would run a fluffy publicity piece for any organization. We end with a statement of how the church of Scientology 'changes conditions' through community service. Now I truly feel informed.

    I imagine the outcry would be deafening if a student paper at a public university published a similar piece on a Christian denomination. 'Hey gang, ever wondered just what the Methodist Church is? It's got all the answers.'

    That just wouldn't fly as news.

    posted by Dennis at 09:09 AM | Comments (5)




    Repuglican seeks uncircumcised feet

    There's an old saying, De gustibus non est disputandum.

    (On matters of taste, there can be no dispute.)

    But this man does not agree.

    kassplate.jpg

    Leon Kass thinks taste should be a matter of dispute, and he's gone to great lengths to dispute it -- in many ways, big and small.

    A cornerstone of his philosophy is that there's "wisdom" to be found in repugnance:

    ... repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate it.

    Justin's last post reminded me of a post I wrote about Chinese footbinding, once considered a very wise thing. Young girls who didn't want to go through the torture were reminded that unbound feet were, well, repulsive:

    The beauty of bound feet was a value deeply rooted in the Chinese aesthetic and sexual psyche. Bound feet, and the women who had them, were considered beautiful and highly desirable, and natural, so-called big feet were considered ugly, as were the women who possessed them. To change such deeply held values, the patterns and feelings associated with them had to be inverted. What was beautiful had to be rendered ugly, and what was ugly, beautiful.
    (The site compares bound feet to circumcised penises, which, interestingly enough, people in many uncircumcised societies consider as "repugnant" as people in circumcised societies consider the uncircumcised penis.)

    And brace yourself, but many wise and enlightened people over the centuries would have considered the idea of doing this to a child to be "repugnant" -- in the extreme:


    brace yourself.jpg


    As a morbid person, I find myself fascinated by many things ordinarily considered repugnant. I consider repugnance to be a form of emotion, and while I do have emotions, I am not so arrogant as to declare that they are a source of wisdom. Creativity, perhaps. But wisdom to me means being able to see past, and think past, the emotions.

    Calling repugnance a form of "wisdom" offends logic and common sense, and substitutes emotion for reason, with demagoguery as a catalyst.

    Like a lot of things that pass as "intellectual" these days, it's window dressing on superstition.

    UPDATE: (Link and quote added above.)

    posted by Eric at 07:55 PM | Comments (4)



    He Is Everywhere

    Just thought I'd serve up a few excerpts from a New York Times book review. Since we're broadening our interests and all...

    Leon R. Kass is well known as a philosopher with particular expertise in bioethics...But the public, aware of those credentials, may well be surprised now to find him the author of a hefty volume on the book of Genesis, entitled ''The Beginning of Wisdom.''

    By his own account, during the past 20 years Kass, who grew up in a secular environment without knowledge of the Bible, underwent a profound shift. No longer is he confident that unaided human reason or a scientific understanding of human life are sufficient.

    In short, he has had a conversion experience. Now he carries within his soul (a term he uses frequently) the zeal of the convert...

    To set the stage for his detailed analysis of Genesis (often verse by verse), Kass notes the leanness of the Bible as a literary document...He recognizes that readers bring to it their own experiences; yet he sees in this inevitability ''the great danger'' of finding in the text not what the author intended but what the reader puts there...

    Kass's desire for an ''unmediated reading'' of Genesis leads him to give short shrift to biblical scholars.

    But in focusing on the present text rather than on the literary sources behind it, he joins the mainstream of current scholarship, only to turn it around...For Kass this focus means establishing coherence -- discerning how Genesis, with all its ambiguities and conflicts, yields a single, harmonious meaning.

    The particular coherence Kass discovers (actually, puts) in Genesis lies in his answer to a question he poses:

    ''Is it possible to find, institute, and preserve a way of life that accords with man's true standing in the world and that serves to perfect his god-like possibilities?''

    Kass asserts that in the beginning Genesis lifts up a double-sided difficulty to this way of life...

    In arguing correctly that Genesis 1 rejects the worship of the heavens as an option for the good life, Kass goes on to say that the entire Bible, like modern scientific dogma, teaches the moral neutrality of nature.

    To secure the point he is fond of noting that the heavens may, as Psalm 19 claims, declare the glory of God, ''but they say not a peep about righteousness.''

    That is so him.

    If, however, he had read farther, he would have discovered in several psalms that ''the heavens proclaim God's righteousness'' (Psalms 50:6; 85:13; 97:6).

    Besides posing a philosophical problem for Kass, these texts alert the reader early on that not everything Kass declares about the Bible is necessarily true.

    Ouch! That's gotta hurt. Who could be saying such mean things?

    Phyllis Trible is the university professor of biblical studies at Wake Forest University

    Oh. Well, then. Mean true things.

    Maybe we can discount everything she says by noting that she's a feminist bible scholar. Damned uppity women...

    He knows that the noun ''patriarchy'' carries negative meanings, so he hastens to defend it by attaching to it the adjective ''proper.'' He even asserts that ''patriarchy properly understood turns out to be the cure for patriarchy properly condemned.''

    For a definition of patriarchy he turns to its Greek etymology...

    Where all aspiring savants should seek enlightenment.

    Bringing a bias for patriarchy to what is itself a patriarchal book, Kass finds there what he already believes. We can briefly examine how this maneuver works in his analysis of the Dinah story in Genesis 34.

    Dinah, Jacob's only daughter, went out to visit the women of the land. Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, seized her and raped her. After the deed was discovered, he said he wished to marry her, but her brothers would not hear of it. Instead, they sought to avenge the rape.

    Kass holds that in doing this the brothers are concerned ''with the dignity of woman as such'' and not as the possession of husband or father. But he fails to note that the reason given for the brothers' revenge -- by the narrator and then by the brothers themselves -- is not about Dinah's dignity but rather about the defilement of ''their sister.''

    Dinah, unheard, is the possession of the brothers.

    This all sounds kind of familiar...

    Further, they not only murdered all the Hivite men but also took their children and wives captive.

    Better them than her.

    Kass admits, but ''only in hushed tones,'' that seizing the women provided wives for Jacob's sons ''without a huge risk of assimilation to foreign ways.'' In other words, Dinah's brothers raped the Hivite women.

    At least they didn't cut off their heads.

    Although Kass says their attack ''reeks of barbaric cruelty,'' apparently it does not persuade him to retract his contention that the brothers respected ''the dignity of woman as such.''

    To compound a confused interpretation, he moralizes about the help the story of Dinah can give readers (presumably males) in how to protect daughters.

    He believes it teaches the restraint of male promiscuity and calls males to familial responsibility. Moreover, he believes that the story ''hints at a correlative female counterpart: modesty, caution, refusal, self-reverence and chastity, all exercised in the service of eventual marriage -- fruitful, love-filled, sanctified.''

    Where the hint resides in the story remains unclear...To see this story educating the fathers in righteousness and holiness stretches credulity.

    Outlandish moralisms pepper this book, making the patriarchy of Genesis look far more pernicious than it is. A sampling of six, chosen from dozens, illustrates the tendentious readings of Kass:

    The ''institution of stable domestic arrangements for rearing the young depends on some form of man's rule over woman.''

    Instituting ''a prolonged period of barrenness before allowing childbirth'' is God's ''strategy'' for ''taming the dangerous female pride in her generative powers.''

    Circumcision is ''a taming of maleness, putting men into the service of the (more traditionally womanly) work of child rearing.''

    ''Not eros as such . . . but procreation is the biblical way by which the love of man and woman can lead to the love of God.''

    ''Friendship and marriage-and-family are mutually exclusive alternatives. . . . Friendship (especially male-male bonding) belongs to the ways of others.''

    ''Living in peace among one's neighbors may not be an option for people of the covenant.''

    The final verdict?

    The Book of Genesis According to Kass is not for this reviewer the beginning of wisdom. To the contrary, it is the beginning of folly -- inspired by the zeal of a patriarchal convert to biblical study...

    Well I'm sure going to read the whole thing. Count on it.




    posted by Justin at 05:07 PM | Comments (2)



    I Guess He Touched A Nerve

    Breaking into new territory (or is he?), the titanically polymathic brain of Leon Kass has a few modest proposals for the betterment of American matrimony. Reception has been mixed.

    The AEI, faith based, and evangelical communities are nodding their solemn approval like dashboard bobble dolls. Those of a more secular bent are taking a more judgmental stance. It helps restore my faith in popular culture.

    Here are a few excerpts from the piece in question. I've boldfaced or italicized some of the more memorable bits, but I'm not really sure I needed to. They fairly leap off the page of their own accord.

    Until what seems like only yesterday, young people were groomed for marriage...at the beginning of this century, our grandfathers came a-calling and a-wooing at the homes of our grandmothers, under conditions set by the woman, operating from strength on her own turf.

    A generation later, courting couples began to go out on "dates," in public and increasingly on the man's terms...

    To be sure, some people "played the field,"...

    Finding a mate, no less than getting an education that would enable him to support her, was at least a tacit goal of many a male undergraduate...

    Well, that was then and this is now. What about today's young women?

    Sexually active — in truth, hyperactive — they flop about from one relationship to another...they manage to appear all at once casual and carefree and grim and humorless about getting along with the opposite sex. The young men, nervous predators, act as if any woman is equally good...

    Sheesh. Get him drunk enough and he may act like it. But, in all honesty, he would tell you it simply isn't so. Young men have a very discerning eye when it comes to young women, and I'm not just talking about physical appearance.

    But most young women strike me as sad, lonely, and confused...

    As numerous commenters have pointed out, perhaps this is because they are at the University of Chicago ("Where fun comes to die"), taking a course from Leon Kass.

    Cogent point? Cheap shot? You be the judge.

    Those very few who couple off seriously and get married upon graduation as we, their parents, once did are looked upon as freaks.

    This observation does not jibe with my own experience.

    After college, the scene is even more remarkable and bizarre: singles bars, personal "partner wanted" ads (almost never mentioning marriage as a goal), men practicing serial monogamy (or what someone has aptly renamed "rotating polygamy"), women chronically disappointed in the failure of men "to commit."

    For the first time in human history, mature women by the tens of thousands live the entire decade of their twenties - their most fertile years — neither in the homes of their fathers nor in the homes of their husbands; unprotected, lonely, and out of sync with their inborn nature.

    All this time I've been pushing the bioethics angle, to little or no apparent interest, and now this comes along and blows the doors off. I would guess it's because almost everyone has personal experience of love, marriage, infidelity, and all that other fun, humanistic stuff.

    Let's face it. For most people science, test tubes, cloning, it can be kind of boring. But sex hits them where they live. Coming from a position of personal experience, they may feel more involvement in these particular foggy ruminations.

    Some women positively welcome this state of affairs, but most do not; resenting the personal price they pay for their worldly independence, they nevertheless try to put a good face on things and take refuge in work or feminist ideology.

    Those women and men who get lucky enter into what the personal ads call LTRs...usually to discover how short an LTR can be.

    When, after a series of such affairs, marriage happens to them, they enter upon it guardedly and suspiciously, with prenuptial agreements, no common surname, and separate bank accounts....

    See, I've known for years about Dr. Kass's squishy, half-baked sociological notions. I dismissed them as being mildly amusing and of no account. First, because there's nothing he can do about them. Absolutely nothing. Second, even if he could, the problems he engendered would be relatively benign compared to his bioethical mischief.

    I've concentrated on his bioethical side because that is where he can do genuine harm to people. In the worst possible scenario, our Leon might actually manage to delay the implementation of a life saving therapy. If not, it won't be for lack of trying.

    If he were to succeed in his publicly stated aims, it is at least conceivable that thousands of people will die needlessly premature deaths. I find that annoying. Those who have tried to point this out to him have received more-or-less perfunctory dismissals.

    Our hearts go out not only to the children of failed- or non-marriages — to those betrayed by their parents' divorce and to those deliberately brought into the world as bastards — but also to the lonely, disappointed, cynical, misguided, or despondent people who are missing out on one of life's greatest adventures...

    Well, that's just great. But the problem with squishy, half-baked analyses is that they seldom lead to simple, concrete suggestions for improvement. What is it, exactly, that we should be doing to breast this evil tide in the affairs of men?

    A more discerning analysis is called for. And here it is!

    Here is a (partial) list of the recent changes that hamper courtship and marriage:

    the sexual revolution, made possible especially by effective female contraception;

    the ideology of feminism and the changing educational and occupational status of women;

    the destigmatization of bastardy, divorce, infidelity, and abortion;

    the general erosion of shame and awe regarding sexual matters, exemplified most vividly in the ubiquitous and voyeuristic presentation of sexual activity in movies and on television;

    widespread morally neutral sex education in schools;

    the explosive increase in the numbers of young people whose parents have been divorced (and in those born out of wedlock, who have never known their father);

    great increases in geographic mobility, with a resulting loosening of ties to place and extended family of origin;

    and, harder to describe precisely, a popular culture that celebrates youth and independence not as a transient stage en route to adulthood but as "the time of our lives,"...

    It's a good start. Can we narrow the focus a bit?

    The change most immediately devastating for wooing is probably the sexual revolution. For why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed, and regularly, without it?...

    Many, perhaps even most, men in earlier times avidly sought sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage. But they usually distinguished, as did the culture generally, between women one fooled around with and women one married, between a woman of easy virtue and a woman of virtue simply.

    Only respectable women were respected; one no more wanted a loose woman for one's partner than for one's mother.

    The supreme virtue of the virtuous woman was modesty, a form of sexual self-control, manifested not only in chastity but in decorous dress and manner, speech and deed, and in reticence in the display of her well- banked affections.

    A virtue, as it were, made for courtship, it served simultaneously as a source of attraction and a spur to manly ardor, a guard against a woman's own desires, as well as a defense against unworthy suitors.

    A fine woman understood that giving her body (in earlier times, even her kiss) meant giving her heart...

    Once female modesty became a first casualty of the sexual revolution, even women eager for marriage lost their greatest power to hold and to discipline their prospective mates. For it is a woman's refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man's lust into love.

    Unless she can give, like, really good head...

    Women also lost the capacity to discover their own genuine longings and best interests. For only by holding herself in reserve does a woman gain the distance and self-command needed to discern what and whom she truly wants and to insist that the ardent suitor measure up.

    Whew! And that's just part one of three! Stay tuned for further developments.

    Here's a list of blogs that beat me to the punch. I am mortified.

    World O' Crap

    Lawyers, Guns and Money

    Crooked Timber

    Political Animal

    John Quiggin

    Oxblog

    Roger Ailes

    Philosoraptor

    The Daily Aneurysm

    Eschaton

    Cinematic Rain

    CMoore.com

    Letters of Marque

    Echidne Of The Snakes

    Crushed By Inertia

    Pandagon

    Many of these blogs have generated insightful and humorous commentary. I urge you to check them out. Heh heh. Imagine. Some people say my arguments are ad hominem.

    Time presses, but when I have a chance I'll post a few serious defenses of our favorite ethicist. Seriously. Till then, let's all get out there and start re-stigmatizing bastardy.


    posted by Justin at 09:58 AM | Comments (7)




    Finally a solution we can die with!

    Jeff Goldstein features an interview with the most exciting personality to come along since Ward Churchill -- one Dr. Kamau Kambon, professor of Africana Studies at NC State University and owner of BlackNificent Books and More in Raleigh.

    Dr. Kambon is getting lots of attention after his remark that white people should be exterminated:

    And then finally I want to say that we need one idea, and we're not thinking about a solution to the problem. We're thinking about all these other things, but we're not dealing with a solution to the problem. And we have to start to think about a solution to the problem so that these young brothers and sisters who are here now, who are 15, 16 or 17, are not here 25 years later talking about these same problems.

    Now how do I know that the white people know that we are going to come up with a solution to the problem. I know it because they have retina scans, they have what they call racial profiling, DNA banks, and they’re monitoring our people to try to prevent the one person from coming up with the one idea. And the one idea is, how we are going to exterminate white people because that in my estimation is the only conclusion I have come to. We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet to solve this problem. *tepid applause* Now I don’t care whether you clap or not, but I’m saying to you that we need to solve this problem because they are going to kill us. And I will leave on that. So we just have to just set up our own system and stop playing and get very serious and not be diverted from coming up with a solution to the problem and the problem on the planet is white people.

    Well, it's only fair, considering that we exterminated all the Indians and we're little Himmlers and all.

    Isn't it maybe time we white folks showed some altruism and took our own turn at being exterminated?

    I'll have to think about this. . .

    Meanwhile, I'm pondering an essay he wrote called "LAST BLACK MAN STANDING."

    Excerpt:

    The Black man also spent enormous amounts of his money on alcohol and malt liquors. Apparently, his pain and psychological self-hatred were too much for him to bear. Look at how much marijuana he smoked, marijuana laced with deadly chemicals which destroyed his perception, personality, and his genetic potential (his children were born with many emotional, psychological and intellectual deficiencies).
    Gee.

    Marijuana laced with deadly chemicals?

    That does sound like a tough thing for anyone to go through.

    Oh, I almost forgot! Here's a picture of Dr. Kambon:

    Kambon.jpg

    UPDATE AND CORRECTION: Dr. Kambon is not a professor at North Carolina State (and according to the Provost he may never have ever one.) Michelle Malkin quotes a letter from the North Carolina State's Provost stating that Dr. Kambon is no longer employed there, that he "sporadically taught at North Carolina State University on an as-needed basis," and that his remarks "do not in any way represent the values and standards of the university." (He hasn't been employed there since June 30.) Elsewhere, Michelle reports that Kambon was previously a professor of education at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh.

    And according to Mike S. Adams, as recently as October 21 (just before the extermination proposal hit the Internet), he was "still listed on the university’s Africana Studies faculty page."

    (I can't prove it, but I suspect that if he hadn't made these remarks, he'd still be listed there.)

    posted by Eric at 11:14 PM | Comments (13)



    Why can't everything I dislike be a hoax?

    Via Dean Esmay, I found a nice little debunktion of the myth that a slowly boiled frog will not try to jump out of the container.

    The legend is entirely incorrect! The 'critical thermal maxima' of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.
    Troubling as it is to learn that frogs won't allow themselves to be slowly boiled to death, I still think there's merit in the idea that the fake story might apply to humans.

    Perhaps that's why Aesop stuck to fables? I mean, does it matter whether the lazy grasshopper really asked the industrious ant to let him come in out of the cold when winter arrived? This is not to call Aesop the father of "fake-but-accurate," because his fables were never marketed as true. (Which is why they won't ever be debunked as "Aesop's Hoaxes"!)

    Another urban legend that I keep seeing is the so-called "1895 Eighth Grade Examination," also declared false by Snopes, but which is more thoroughly debunked here. While the references to the test abound on the Internet, it seems that the original document is nowhere to be found.

    What I found especially interesting is that the originating site's supposed copy of the original says nothing about the test being intended for graduates from the eighth grade. Nonetheless, based on this Internet rumor, the United States' entire educational system is indicted because of the good old days when eighth graders passed a test which would be impossible for many of today's college graduates to pass.

    The problem is that the educational system should be indicted. But hoaxes like this only hurt the effort, in much the same way that Joseph McCarthy hurt his own cause. Like so many people who read the "Eighth Grade Exam" hoax, when I first saw it I too was inclined to believe it -- because it confirmed my darkest suspicions. Had I sent a copy to an activist educrat who bought into all the NEA gobblydook, I might very well have been sternly lectured that I had subscribed to a right wing hoax. While this would not cause me to change my opinions about the state of the educational system, it would nonetheless be embarrassing, and I would have to admit I was wrong. Well, I'm a blogger, and I'm so used to making mistakes that admitting I'm wrong doesn't carry the same stigma that it might for a non-blogger. But I'd be willing to bet that a lot of people would be so humiliated that they'd shy away from educational issues in the future.

    I wish people could see these things as the signposts to self improvement that they really are. Hoaxes should encourage healthy skepticism. What they should not do is cause the opinions of the one who was taken in to be condemned simply because he fell for a hoax. Falling into that trap is worse than falling for a hoax.

    Part of the problem is that many of these hoaxes are sent by people who mean them not as illustrations of the facts in the hoax, but as judgments of others with whom they disagree. The exposure of a hoax sent by someone who wants to do that would thus be eagerly seen as a well deserved comeuppance -- a sort of judgment in reverse. It is very demoralizing, of course, to have the basis of one's judgment exposed as a hoax, because hoaxes are fraudulent. This must be particularly infuriating for people who never want to admit when they're wrong.

    Which is why I think exposing hoaxes is good for the soul!

    While the slowly boiled frog "lesson" could advance any political perspective, and the "Eighth Grade Exam" generally advances conservative educational sentiments, I do not mean to single out any group as especially prone to hoaxes. Not long ago, a friend sent me an email I'd consider a leftish hoax: that the upper end Texas department store Neiman Marcus billed a customer $250.00 for a cookie recipe after the waitress told her ("with a cute smile") that the price would only be "Two fifty." The woman called and pleaded (according to the email) but those mean Neiman Marcus capitalists held firm:

    "What the waitress told you is not our problem. You have already seen the recipe - we absolutely will not refund your money at this point."
    (And the only way the gypped woman could get even was to circulate the attached recipe.... etc.)

    Not only is it a hoax, Neiman Marcus posts the recipe free.

    But in logic, anyone circulating such an email who hates big corporations and thinks they should be destroyed really shouldn't feel defeated by the fact that the recipe email is a hoax. Capitalism is either evil or it is not -- and the fact that Neiman Marcus didn't swindle this particular customer no more makes capitalism good than would the same email make it bad if it turned out to be true.

    But isn't that just another way of saying that even if it was false, it might just as well have been true? Or that even if it was true, it might just as well have been false?

    I hate that!

    posted by Eric at 01:50 PM | Comments (3)



    Nothing to fear but face itself?

    Flirting with suicide (at least evoking suicide imagery) captured the imagination of downtown Philadelphia yesterday:

    With a federal corruption probe closing in on him, City Councilman Rick Mariano climbed to the base of the William Penn statue atop City Hall yesterday afternoon, and came down after emergency vehicles responded to a possible suicide attempt.

    But at a news conference last night, authorities said that Mariano had never been in danger because the observation deck at the base - about 500 feet above the ground - is encased in protective Plexiglas.

    Both Mayor Street and Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson said they did not believe that Mariano, who expects to be indicted next week, had been suicidal.

    Street was among those who first climbed the steep, winding steps up to the observation deck upon learning that Mariano was there. Doors to the tower and its elevator had been locked, though it was unclear whether Mariano had locked them, said a City Hall staffer who was there.

    Before last night's news conference, police said they responded in force because they believed Mariano could be suicidal. Three fire engines - including a ladder truck - a Fire Department medic unit and more than a dozen police cars were dispatched to City Hall. Police were unsure whether Mariano, who has had a permit to carry a gun, was armed.

    "He just really wanted an opportunity to reflect on all of it," said Street, who talked to Mariano before he came off the deck shortly after 6 p.m. "He just went to a place where he thought he would be able to be peaceful... . It never occurred to me that he was on the verge of taking his own life."

    Mariano was taken to Pennsylvania Hospital, with his wife, Susan, by his side.

    Johnson acknowledged that Mariano had voluntarily admitted himself for observation.

    Whether he was "on the verge of taking his own life" will of course be debated. And it will probably never be known. Unless a suicide occurs, such things rarely are. What is known, however, is thet Mariano is under indictment by the Feds, who aren't being nice about it. He likens them to a 1,000-pound gorilla:
    Mariano has been the target of a federal grand jury investigation into whether businesses in his district paid his credit-card bills in exchange for favors. Pressure had been mounting on the councilman; his face was on the cover of Wednesday's Philadelphia Daily News with the headline "Going Down."

    "He believed that this could be his last Council session... and he was up there reflecting about it," said union leader John Dougherty, Mariano's friend and political patron, who arrived at the deck as the mayor was speaking to Mariano.

    "I mean, he was looking over the city," said Dougherty, who recently testified before the grand jury investigating Mariano. "He's a human being and feels the pressure like everybody else. No one knows what it's like to be in his body right now, so we just keep him in our prayers."

    ....

    Earlier in the day - after months of terse answers and no-comments - Mariano spoke at length on the investigation.

    "I'm not confident of anything," he said when asked about the federal probe. "This is like fighting a 1,000-pound gorilla, and they run the show."

    I'm sure that's true.

    Whether Mariano intended to commit suicide or not, government officials under indictment have been known to commit suicide in highly public ways. While the televised suicide of Pennsylvania State Senator Budd Dwyer happened too long ago for most people to remember (although it remains of interest to journalists debating ethics), just this past July, indicted Miami commissioner Arthur E. Teele Jr. walked into the Miami Herald building and shot himself in the lobby -- "one day before a rival publication was set to publish a lengthy report detailing allegations of corruption, drug use and liaisons with male prostitutes."

    It's very easy to look at these stories and conclude these men were cowards afraid to face prison time. I don't think it's that simple -- nor do I think they are that irrational. After all, prison does not mean the end of life. It means the loss of freedom, usually for a period of years. While bad things can and do happen in the joint, there are ways of coping with them. Books have been written by people who have survived. And by people like G. Gordon Liddy, who (to use his own words) did more than survive; he prevailed. The things he did to prevail included: wiretapping the warden, burglarizing prison offices, utilizing the bureaucracy to get troublesome prison bureaucrats fired, and filing a lawsuit ultimately resulting in a court order to tear a prison down. (Say what you like about these methods, but they beat suicide!)

    I'm not sure fear of prison is all there is to it, though. Otherwise, there would be a much higher rate of suicide by people indicted or convicted. Rather, I think the higher profile cases involve something called "loss of face." This is a common reason for suicide in other countries, but in this country it seems limited largely to politicians. Media people like Martha Stewart and other imprisoned celebrities are less affected by loss of face, and I think that's because they understand to the depths of their souls that life is all an act, and it is always possible for a professional to reinvent himself by acting.

    While politicians are actors too, they don't like to admit it, and they certainly don't want the public to suspect it. Instead, they try hard to believe in their own sincerity, and to get others to believe in it. A prison term for public corruption charges is, literally, the ultimate disgrace, and the end of this act.

    With the possible exception of career military people (Cf. Admiral Boorda's suicide), politicians are the only group of Americans whose culture is almost entirely shame based and not guilt based. In shame based cultures, suicide is the time honored, traditional way out.

    There is no better way of saving face.

    UPDATE: Councilman Mariano will remain "hospitalized under psychiatric evaluation at least through the weekend."

    UPDATE (10/22/05): Today's Inquirer reports that Mariano "says he lost lawyer, not will to live," and that he climbed to the top of City Hall to collect his thoughts. As might be expected, no one will explain why he lost his lawyer, or even comment:

    Neither Mariano nor Keel would specify why attorney James Becker had told the councilman that he could no longer represent him. Becker did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

    But Mariano, who lashed out at the federal government while talking to reporters hours before ascending the tower, continued to cast himself as the victim of a heavy-handed prosecutorial attack.

    "I'm being persecuted," Mariano said of learning that Becker would withdraw.

    A prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenya Mann, declined to comment.

    Mariano said he fired two top aides, John Lisko and Walt De Treux, yesterday. De Treux said he had resigned. Lisko would not comment.

    posted by Eric at 08:14 AM | Comments (4)




    Word of the day

    And Charles Hill invented it:

    "ideo-illogical"

    As Charles said, "If that wasn't a word, it is now."

    Why can't I think up cool new words like that?

    (I need to find out what Charles is on, and get me some.)

    posted by Eric at 05:31 PM | Comments (7)



    Speak loudly (and carry a concealed hatchet)

    On the day that Carry Nation began her long saloon-smashing career, no one stopped her.

    It was June 6, 1899, that Carry Nation felt that she had a divine call to go to Kiowa, in southern Barber County, and smash the saloons there. She secured a great pile of stones, hitched up her buggy and drove to Kiowa, where she created havoc at the bars. Standing amid the rubble of her damage, she dared the city officials to arrest her, but they declined.
    They declined because they were afraid of her. She was, after all, an old lady. And men in those days were reluctant to arrest old ladies, because gentlemen didn't do things like that. In her entire career of saloon smashing, she was eventually arrested, but never appears to have done any serious time. From Wikipedia:
    Alone or accompanied by hymn-singing women, she would march into a bar and sing and pray, while smashing bar fixtures and stock with a hatchet. Between 1900 and 1910 she was arrested some 30 times, and paid her jail fines from lecture-tour fees and sales of souvenir hatchets. She published newsletters and later in life even appeared in vaudeville.
    She used her victim status as the former wife of an abusive alcoholic in much the same way she used her hatchet, and constantly reminded her audiences of the moral authority her suffering gave her. (Today her deliberate destruction of property to achive political goals would probably fall into the legal definition of terrorism.)

    Sometimes she miscalculated. "I have no sympathy for this friend of the brewers," was her reaction to the shooting -- ultimately fatal -- of President McKinley. While this didn't go over well with the crowd at the time, the fact remains that no man could have gotten away with a fraction of what she did.

    Logic be damned.

    When Cindy Sheehan began her tirade last summer, many who disagreed with her were afraid to say so, and held their tongues. Those who did speak out were called callused and insensitive -- as if the woman's admittedly sympathetic status as a mother somehow solemnized the nonsense she spouted.

    While this is not a new technique, I'm seeing it more and more. Logically, what Cindy Sheehan says is not much different from what Ward Churchill or Michael Moore says. The difference is that she's the mother of a veteran killed in combat, and that status is seen as immunizing her from criticism. Similarly, an Iraq War veteran can get away with saying things which a regular anti-war activist would be called on.

    I've never been persuaded by arguments to authority, because they are not logical. (When I was in the third grade a teacher put it to the class like this: "If President Johnson said the moon was made of blue cheese, would you believe it?") Laundering a bad argument by having it spouted by a victim or other sympathetic is just another variation on the technique of argumentum ad vericundiam. This is not to say that there are not legitimate arguments to authority, such as when a particular authority has special expertise in a given field and that expertise is directly related to the argument made. But claims to "moral authority" based on victim status fail to impress me at all. Not only are such claims illegitimate, but there's often an implied threat accompanying them. That threat is, I believe, ad hominem in nature, and it's along the lines of "if you dare to disagree with this poor embattled soul, we will denounce you as an evil, heartless person." It has nothing to do with the merits of the argument, but it works.

    Thus, victimhood is often a hatchet (if of the "concealed carry" variety).

    posted by Eric at 03:07 PM | Comments (7)



    Selling hot button mob issues

    Speaking of common sense, I see that the Pennsylvania legislature has joined the bandwagon to prohibit a phenomenon known as "Internet Hunting." Some history via the last link:

    Underwood, an estimator for a San Antonio, Texas auto body shop, has invested $10,000 to build a platform for a rifle and camera that can be remotely aimed on his 330-acre (133-hectare) southwest Texas ranch by anyone on the Internet anywhere in the world.

    The idea came last year while viewing another Web site on which cameras posted in the wild are used to snap photos of animals.

    “We were looking at a beautiful white-tail buck and my friend said ’If you just had a gun for that.’ A little light bulb went off in my head,” he said.

    Internet hunting could be popular with disabled hunters unable to get out in the woods or distant hunters who cannot afford a trip to Texas, Underwood said.

    Berger said state law only covers “regulated animals” such as native deer and birds and cannot prevent Underwood from offering Internet hunts of “unregulated” animals such as non-native deer that many ranchers have imported and wild pigs.

    He has proposed a rule that will come up for public discussion in January that anyone hunting animals covered by state law must be physically on site when they shoot.

    Berger expressed reservations about remote control hunting, but noted that humans have always adopted new technologies to hunt.

    “First it was rocks and clubs, then we sharpened it and put it on a stick. Then there was the bow and arrow, black powder, smokeless power and optics,” Berger said. “Maybe this is the next technological step out there.”

    Interestingly, the Pennsylvania bill to outlaw the practice has attracted support from both the NRA and the Humane Society:
    Because of interstate commerce issues, Gergley thinks his bill, likely to become law, cannot stop someone in Pennsylvania from shooting an animal in another state where Internet hunting is legal. However:

    "This will ban the opportunity of someone to use an Internet set-up to hunt animals in Pennsylvania. They can do that still in other states, but they cannot hunt the animals in our state."

    Support for the bill included diverse groups such as the Humane Society and the NRA.

    The idea of remotely shooting an animal strikes me as a bit insane, and the abuse potential certainly looms large (as does the obvious potential for fraud). But if hunting is legal, I don't see why it is any more immoral for someone to rig up a gun and do the same thing remotely that he could do in person.

    But if we want to get theoretically extravagant, what about Internet fishing? Has anyone thought of that?

    Remote animal slaughter?

    With a remote camera, operating almost any remote device is theoretically possible, and common sense is no bar to the human imagination (which often includes sadistic impulses). Why, I could see totalitarian governments like those of China or North Korea selling rights to remotely execute already-condemned criminals as a way to make money. Hell, they already harvest their body parts while some of the prisoners are still alive. It's not much of a step, if you think about it. Massive firing squads could remotely activate guns or injection equipment. They could either sell the rights to be part of a cyber firing squad, or allow online mobs to send the "fire" signal, which could activate the triggers (or send poison into injectors) as soon as software recognized the requisite number of "votes."

    Psychotic governments like Iran's might allow remote casting of stones at the condemned in cases of death by stoning. A cyber remote lashing machine could also be designed to encourage more public involvement in lashings. Cyber choppers could also cut off hands! (Shouldn't mullahs be encouraged to practice their religious activities online without being limited by Western scruples?)

    Online mob action is a lot more imaginative than shooting a few deer.

    posted by Eric at 11:42 AM | Comments (8)



    Criminalizing common sense

    A Nevada prostitution ordinance is being challenged as overbroad:

    Under the ordinance, police can arrest someone who "repeatedly beckons to, stops, attempts to stop or engage persons passing by in conversation, or repeatedly stops or attempts to stop motor vehicle operators by hailing, waiving of arms or other bodily gestures."
    Attorneys for a woman charged with "loitering for the purpose of prostitution" (along with State Supreme Court justices) speculated that the law might make criminals of high school cheerleaders trying to flag down motorists for a car wash.

    Yeah, it probably would. And the language forbidding attempts to "stop motor vehicle operators by hailing, waiving of arms or other bodily gestures" would also seem to criminalize attempts to summon help after an accident or mechanical breakdown.

    It might even criminalize flagging down a cab!

    The people who write such laws seem to be possessed by a need to sacrifice common sense at the altar of public morality. In the old days, police didn't enforce ridiculous laws like this, or if they did, they availed themselves of something once called "police discretion."

    But alas! Discretion is also based on common sense, so it too must be abolished.

    posted by Eric at 11:03 AM | Comments (3)



    Support Miers to "save his Presidency"?

    Robert Novak's column has raised some troubling issues about the Miers nomination -- as well as about the security of Bush's presidency:

    GEORGE W. BUSH'S agents have convinced conservative Republican senators who were heartsick over his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court that they must support her to save his Presidency. But that does not guarantee her confirmation. Ahead are hearings of unspeakable ugliness that can be prevented only if Democratic senators exercise unaccustomed restraint.

    Will the Judiciary Committee Democrats insist on putting under oath two Texas judges who are alleged to have guaranteed during a conference call of Christian conservatives that Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? Will the Democrats dig into Miers' alleged interference nine years ago as Texas Lottery Commission chairman intended to save then Gov. Bush from political embarrassment?

    Officials charged with winning Miers' confirmation told me neither of these issues is troublesome, but in fact they suggest incompetence and neglect by the White House. To permit a conference call with scores of participants hearing close associates of the nominee predict her vote on abortion is incompetent. To nominate somebody implicated in a state lottery dispute in the past without carefully considering the consequences goes beyond incompetence to arrogant neglect.

    (Via G. Gordon Liddy.)

    There's a lot more to this, and of course the left has already been drooling for weeks.

    While Novak may be engaged in hyperbole (I don't really follow the logic between the Miers nomination and the future of the Bush presidency, which can only be terminated by impeachment), it certainly appears that things are not looking good for the president right now.

    posted by Eric at 10:20 AM | Comments (3)



    Happy Birthday to Coco!

    Coco celebrated her first birthday yesterday, and here's her, um, well, what was passed off as a cake, but which was really doggie gourmet food:

    CocoOne.jpg

    The gourmet dog food pictured with the candle happens to be Cesar© brand "Sophisticated Food For Sophisticated Dogs."

    Whether it's appropriate for blogs to get involved in things like product placement is a question beyond the scope of the issue at hand (which is, after all, Coco's birthday). But Coco enjoyed it, and she didn't mind posing with the box:

    CocoCesars.jpg

    After all, Coco believes in rendering unto Cesar those things that are Cesar's (and in this case, she thought it was just fine for Cesar to render unto Coco those things that were Coco's).

    posted by Eric at 09:48 AM | Comments (7)



    Unfair stereotypes must be enforced!

    I wouldn't normally write a post about basketball, but this report about dress codes in the workplace intrigued me:

    The NBA has announced that a dress code will go into effect at the start of the season. Players will be required to wear business-casual attire when involved in team or league business. They can't wear visible chains, pendants or medallions over their clothes.

    Jackson, who is black, said the NBA's new rule about jewelry targets young black males because chains are associated with hip-hop culture, and he said the league is afraid of becoming "too hip-hop." In protest, he wore four chains to the Pacers' exhibition game against San Antonio on Tuesday night.

    Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce agreed that the new rule targeted young, black players.

    "When I saw the part about chains, hip hop and throwback jerseys, I think that's part of our culture," Pierce said. "The NBA is young black males."

    The dress code has accordingly been denounced as "racist."

    I was a bit suprised to find a post at Daily Kos in support of the dress code:

    Like any business, the NBA wants their employees to be model citizens that represent their business well. That's not racist -- that's just good business sense.

    And if they don't like it, they should just quit.

    My only question: why is it when professional sports figures who happen to be African-American are asked to have a certain level of conduct, why do they play the race card?

    Well, only some of them are. But I'm also wondering why dress codes in other workplaces aren't just as objectionable on "racial" grounds.

    Already, objections to workplace dress codes based on religious grounds have been upheld. And there's a groundswell of opposition to dress codes in bars and nightclubs for racial reasons. (Innumerable objections to dress codes have also been based on "transgender discrimination".)

    Legally, the only thing left to determine is what it is that might constitute a racially based dress code objection. (The old "disparate impact" perhaps?)

    What I'd like to know is precisely how is a race supposed to dress? I mean, isn't that an unfair stereotype too? If I said that black people wear "visible chains, pendants, medallions and baggy shirts," it would be completely reasonable for people to say I was unfairly stereotyping people.

    Aren't people unfairly stereotyping themselves?

    Where might this leave me if I wanted to work at a hip hop radio station or recording studio, and they insisted I wear a baggy shirt and a medallion?

    How would I assert my right to dress in the style of my racial and "cultural" heritage (presumably the heritage left to me by dead white males)? Would the ACLU take my case?

    posted by Eric at 07:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)




    Invalidating choice? In the name of "validation"?

    I found an interesting thought today expressed on the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    Growing up a shy gay kid in Marcus Hook in the '60s, I found that my only hope of any validating identity was the boob tube. The gay subculture was invisible in Delaware County then, so my refuge was television. For some reason I was drawn to watch theJune Taylor Dancers on Jackie Gleason. Otherwise, I had to wait for the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz."
    While I'm truly sorry that anyone would need to find a "validating identity" for his sexuality (which shouldn't require any independent validation), I'm also surprised that this should come from anything on television -- whether from the June Taylor dancers or the Wizard of Oz. But the writer goes on to claim that television actually helped him "form his sexual identity." (Psst! Better not let the social conservatives hear about this, OK?)
    For better or worse, TV helped me form my sexual identity and realize that there was a place for me. Time was when I scoured TV Guide for appearances of gay writer Truman Capote on The Tonight Show and The Dick Cavett Show.
    To each his own, I guess. I never thought to look for assistance in role modeling from the television set, and I hardly watch it now. As to Truman Capote, I regarded him as one of those lisping stereotypes who were more the exception than the rule. I had read (and loved) In Cold Blood, and when I read Capote was gay and had a crush on one of the murderers I was utterly intrigued. And yes, I did watch him on the Dick Cavett Show. But role model? It never would have occurred to me in my wildest dreams.

    There weren't too many role models for me, which is probably why I'm such a nut. I was a fan of the Grateful Dead, and in my Marxist days I tended towards misguided idolization of the Black Panther Party leadership. Years later I came to adore a certain crazed junkie writer. But these weren't really role models. I thought of my own sexuality as crazy and uniquely non-conforming, and while I might not have always been comfortable with it, I always thought I had to be my own role model. I've never felt validated, and I never wanted to be validated. The conventional concepts of gay and straight annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Not only is the right to free choice in sexual matters being negated, it's increasingly being seen as an oppressive concept.

    Imagine, freedom being seen as oppression!

    Sexual freedom means the right not only to have consensual sex with whomever you want, but the right to disregard all sexual role models -- regardless of whether they are thrust upon you by drunken peers, busybody activists, or a pliant media.

    Yet tragically, what used to be nobody's business now seems to be everybody's. Today, your sexuality is more someone else's business than it was during my youth.

    This is not to say that sexuality was entirely a private matter when I was growing up. My fellow adolescent male friends annoyed me to no end with the notion that manhood was not merely defined by attraction to women, but somehow by an interest in large breasts, which were said to be everything. Now, once again, let me make it clear that I have no objection to anyone being turned on by large breasts. It's just that my peers' insistance that there was something wrong with those who didn't see it that way seemed strained, even phony. Some of them, I suspected, were lying in order to enhance public perceptions of their manhood. Unfortunately, this happened at exactly the same time my poor mom was undergoing a radical mastectomy. When I overheard my father's drunken friends' attempts to reassure him, I concluded that there was a vast conspiracy of sexual tyranny at work. Enforced by sexual bigots who needed to be called on it and put in their place. Years later, I see that I probably overreacted a bit, and for way too long. (It just wasn't a good time for people to demand from me a public display of enthusiasm for big tits.)

    Looking back, I still don't think I was wrong in identifying peer pressure as the problem, and on a certain level that's probably just what today's editorial writer is complaining about when he speaks of "validation."

    However, I think homosexual peer pressure can be just as bad as heterosexual peer pressure (these days it often seems worse), and I don't think the former is justified by the latter. Attempts to tell people how they should be, or what they should be, are tyrannical. Just as you don't have to be turned on by big tits if you're straight, you don't have to like Truman Capote or the June Taylor Dancers to be gay.

    A larger question is whether the gay/straight either/or identity politics dichotomy makes sense. In terms of freedom, I think there's a big difference between telling someone they have a right to do or to like something, and telling them that they must, or that they have a "duty" to an alleged "community" that shares nothing in common except a particular sexual desire. Telling someone that he was "born" with a particular sexuality -- and that all such people constitute a community -- makes about as much sense as it did to tell me I had to like big tits if I was to belong. People should be free to proclaim that they were "born that way," but I just think it's a bit arrogant to speak for others, especially when they have not asked to be spoken for.

    Lastly, what about those who don't wish to belong?

    Who will validate them?

    posted by Eric at 03:38 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBacks (1)



    Defend your country and lose your rights?

    This story supplies an excellent argument against the United States signing on to the International Criminal Court:

    MADRID, Spain - A judge has issued an international arrest warrant for three U.S. soldiers whose tank fired on a Baghdad hotel during the Iraq war, killing a Spanish journalist and a Ukrainian cameraman, a court official said Wednesday.

    Judge Santiago Pedraz issued the warrant for Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp, all from the U.S. 3rd Infantry, which is based in Fort Stewart, Ga.

    Jose Couso, who worked for the Spanish television network Telecinco, died April 8, 2003, after a U.S. army tank crew fired a shell on Hotel Palestine in Baghdad where many journalists were staying to cover the war.

    Reuters cameraman Taras Portsyuk, a Ukrainian, also was killed.

    Pedraz had sent two requests to the United States — in April 2004 and June 2005 — to have statements taken from the suspects or to obtain permission for a Spanish delegation to quiz them. Both went unanswered.

    He said he issued the arrest order because of a lack of judicial cooperation from the United States regarding the case.

    According to Colin Powell, a review of the incident found that the use of force was justified -- with U.S. authorities considering the soldiers to have been justified in fearing for their lives.

    Of course, if the ICC ever becomes law, any signatory country would seem to have the power to arrest American citizens -- the U.S. Constitution notwithstanding, because treaties are said to become part of U.S. law. But can treaties which are inconsistent with the Constitution amend it? Not according to this site, which also maintains that Congress has the power to override treaties. Eugene Volokh, however, has warned that SIGNING TREATIES MAY ERODE THE BILL OF RIGHTS:

    American decisions to sign on to international treaties may erode the protections of the Bill of Rights, for instance the First Amendment. Yes, the Supreme Court has supposedly said otherwise, in Reid v. Covert (1957): "[N]o agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the [federal government] which is free from the restraints of the Constitution" (speaking of the Bill of Rights). But it turns out that this supremacy of the Bill of Rights really isn't that strong: The President and the Senate can, in the long run, "insinuat[e] international law" that would create "a partial displacement of constitutional hegemony" (for instance, with "an international norm against hate speech . . . supply[ing] a basis for prohibiting [hate speech], the First Amendment notwithstanding"). "In the short term," international norms would and should be "relevan[t] . . . in domestic constitutional interpretation." But "In the long run, it may point to the Constitution's more complete subordination."

    These quotes are not from some anti-internationalist "The U.N. is coming to take away our liberties" conservatives. They are from a recent article by Prof. Peter Spiro, one of the leading American international law scholars; the article, called Treaties, International Law, and Constitutional Rights, was published in 2003 in the Stanford Law Review, which is generally seen as one of the top 3 legal journals in the country.

    That's scary as hell, and another argument against Harriet Miers (who's on record as supporting the ICC).

    I'd hate to think that our government would deliberately seek to ratify unconstitutional treaties. I mean, doesn't that violate their oath of office?

    (I'm also wondering whether Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp have now effectively lost their ability to travel internationally.)

    posted by Eric at 12:36 PM | Comments (5)



    Skepticism=conspiracy! (At the blink of a cursor...)

    Michelle Malkin, Mark Tapscott, The Jawa Report, John Hinderaker and others are continuing to ask questions about the Hinrichs bombing mystery -- and that's in the face of recent attempts to smear and scold the blogosphere as the source of conspiracy theories about which most bloggers (including me) have been very skeptical.

    Most remarkable is the criticism of bloggers for reporting and commenting on the only hard news reports they had, such as reports from local Oklahoma television. Here's Michelle Malkin:

    The notion that Hinrichs might have been influenced by Islamist ideology got off the ground in large part because of information reported by Oklahoma City television stations. The story about Hinrichs' visits to a local mosque was particularly important; it was broken by a local TV station that still stands by its report. The story that Hinrichs tried to enter the stadium also was broken by the same local TV station.

    Blaming bloggers for attempting to get to the bottom of this very elusive story should not distract anyone from the fact that there remain two major problems:

  • 1. The Hinrichs story is still not being reported -- at all -- by most mainstream media (the Knight Ridder clan is a good example); and
  • 2. Even now (as I plan to show) MSM reports continue to be confusing, contradictory, and misleading.
  • The latest is the flurry of reporting about the suicide note Hinrichs allegedly wrote. We are told that the "note" (text on a screen, apparently) was one of the first things that investigators saw, yet until this latest flurry, all reports agreed that there was "no suicide note."

    According to this report about the note, the investigators found it as soon as they arrived at Hinrichs' apartment:

    NORMAN, Okla. -- The University of Oklahoma student from Colorado who died after detonating an explosive device near a packed football stadium left a message on his computer that he was going to quit living, his father said.

    The FBI read the message to the father of Joel Henry Hinrichs III on Friday, after Joel Henry Hinrichs Jr. came to Oklahoma to clear out his son's university-owned apartment.

    They "read" him the message? Does that mean that he never actually saw the message? Why not? And why did it take the FBI until Friday to "read" the message to the father, after weeks of maintaining there was no suicide note?

    The younger Hinrichs, 21, had a reputation as a loner and had struggled at times with his grades.

    Joel Hinrichs Jr. said he understood investigators found the message on the computer screen when they arrived at the apartment.

    "It was a single line of text on his computer," his father told The Oklahoman. "The cursor was still blinking at the end."

    The elder Hinrichs, of Colorado Springs, said he could not recall the exact wording but said his son used profanity in the message and was obviously very angry.

    Huh?

    I guess it's now my responsibility to try to make sense out of this "news," lest I be accused of being a "conspiracy theorist." It's amazing to me (as someone who has been skeptical from day one about every source, whether WorldNetDaily, the MSM, the "Northeast Intelligence Network") that even skepticism can be seen as conspiracy theorizing. In point of fact, I distrust every report I have seen, just as I distrust this latest one about the suicide note. This is some of the most squalid journalism I have ever seen, and whole affair resembles constantly shifting sands. To not be skeptical you'd have to be brain dead.

    But let's continue:

    "He wrote he was dissatisfied with the situation and was going to quit living," the father said.

    Investigators have said they may never know whether the student wanted to get inside the stadium. The student did not have a season ticket.

    FBI officials also have said the investigation has not found any links between the student and terrorist organizations.

    Joel Henry Hinrichs Jr. said he thinks his son was committing suicide and never intended to hurt anyone else.

    OK, so they may never know whether he wanted to get inside the stadium. I can live with that -- even if it contradicts previous local television reports that he tried twice.

    Am I allowed to be skeptical about both versions of this "getting inside" story without being accused of conspiracy theorizing? The fact is, I don't know what the true story is, and I don't think anybody does.

    The Oklahoma Daily has a different version of the story:

    The father of an OU student who died Oct. 1 when a bomb exploded outside of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium said his son left a very disturbing suicide note on his computer.

    Joel Henry Hinrichs Jr. said the FBI showed him evidence that his son Joel acted alone in the explosion and never intended to hurt other people. Hinrichs said he doesn't remember the exact text.

    OK, now we are told that the FBI "showed" him something. What was it? Remember, in the Denver article (which is closer to the residence of the source, the elder Hinrichs), we are told that it was only "read" to him.

    “The line of text on his computer was short, but it was to the point, very vulgar, and it was a sort of farewell,” Hinrichs said.
    A "sort" of farewell? What might that mean? And what happened to the blinking cursor?

    I am sure that almost anyone who has ever owned a computer knows that a cursor will "blink" wherever you put it. If it is blinking at the end of a passage of text, it will remain there, blinking forever until the computer is turned off. Presumably, if, when they first visited the apartment, the FBI saw the cursor "blinking" at the end of the last line of text Hinrichs wrote, they would have noted that immediately, and informed not only the father but also the press that they'd found an electronic suicide note which appeared to be the last thing ever written by the bomber.

    Or did I misspeak there? Are we even allowed to call the guy a "bomber"?

    This whole thing is almost too ridiculous to take seriously, but I'm going to try to stick with it.

    So I have to ask a few questions:

  • When and where was the cursor blinking?
  • Who first saw it?
  • Was the message saved as a file, and if so, by whom, and when?
  • Why did they wait so long to release this information?
  • What does the FBI say about this "note"?
  • Last but not least,

  • What did the message itself say?
  • I'd also like to know whether it constitutes "responsible journalism" to run brand new stories with headlines about a "suicide note" on such flimsy, contradictory reports. If bloggers did the same thing, I can only imagine the outcry. And it's not as if suicide is a minor detail, either. It has simply not been shown that this young man had the clear intent to commit suicide, homicide, whether his motives were mixed, or whether the bomb went off by accident. Furthermore, I have not seen one single report about how the bomb was detonated. Isn't that an important factor in determining whether it was suicide or went off by accident? Did Hinrichs set it off or not?

    And why is the attempted purchase of ammonium nitrate being ignored as if it's now just an irrelevant detail?

    I'll continue with the Oklahoma Daily report.

    Joel “Joe” Henry Hinrichs III, 21, was a mechanical engineering junior who kept to himself and had a long fascination with ammunition and bomb-making materials, his father said.

    “My son was just a disturbed young man, and he felt it was necessary to end his life,” he said. “I was shown pictures of the bench he was sitting on at the time of the explosion, as well as a backpack and photos of his body.”

    Hinrichs was sitting on a bench Oct. 1 outside of George Lynn Cross Hall when the bomb went off.

    The blast could be heard during the second quarter of OU-Kansas State University football game where nearly 84,000 spectators were in attendance. The stadium is fewer than 100 yards from Cross hall.

    The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to make a positive identification of the body. DNA tests were performed to determine a positive ID.

    I don't know what light the pictures of the bench might show, or the pictures of his body or backpack, but isn't it understandable that the father would not want to see his son as anything but a lone suicide who wasn't a threat to anyone?

    It's also understandable that he'd be upset with the media:

    FBI officials are still unclear as to Hinrichs’ motives for the location he chose, but Hinrichs Jr. said he was upset with some of the media and how the story has turned into a conspiracy theory.

    “Joe was sitting on a bench away from the crowded stadium and away from people; it’s as simple as that,” he said. “People seem to forget that. His intentions were to end his life; he was trying to destroy himself and nothing else. I don’t like the way it has been written, especially if people can’t get the facts right.”

    Excuse me, but what facts are there to get right? All I see is a jumble of contradictions, and surmises based on facts which aren't even presented (like the report of hearing the reading of a message alleged to be a suicide note, the text of which is not even reported).

    Hinrichs said the Internet stories have bothered him the most.
    They've bothered me too. Which is why I went out of my way from the start to caution my readers to be skeptical of the NEIN report and the WND report which relied on it.
    “The print media have been very accurate with what they are coming out with, no doubt about it,” he said. “The networks’ coverage has been very suspect at best, probably because they get most of their information from the Internet.”
    So, if bloggers cite televised news reports which turn out to be inaccurate, then the news reports are to be blamed on the blogs which cited them? (I went out of my way to explain my skepticism about television reports stating that "a source" said something, but I never imagined I'd be blamed for the very reports about which I was skeptical!)
    Hinrichs insisted that the stories saying his son was involved with terrorist organizations are simply not true.

    The FBI said last week they found no link between Hinrichs and terrorism and that he did not try to enter the stadium or purchase a ticket for the game.

    What about the Denver report that "investigators have said they may never know whether the student wanted to get inside the stadium"? Saying "he did not try to enter the stadium or purchase a ticket for the game" is not the same thing.

    Again, which report am I to believe? Should I just play dartboard and pick one?

    What I'm halfway expecting now is to see yet another story claiming that the story about Hinrichs' attempted purchase of ammonium nitrate has been "discredited." Much as I hate to engage in what can only be called "conspiracy theory theorizing," haven't we already seen the transformation of news reports into blogger conspiracy theories simply because the bloggers dared to discuss the news reports?

    Stay tuned.

    I'll try to keep my cursor blinking.blinking_cursor2.gif


    MORE: Why is it that this "suicide note" report came not from the FBI, but from Hinrichs' father? Is it possible he's being used as a source in the hope of deflecting hard questions which might normally be expected to be asked? I hope not, because the implications would be troubling.

    UPDATE: My thanks to Michelle Malkin and to Evolution for linking this post.

    UPDATE (08/21/05): Wikipedia now has a long and quite comprehensive entry on the Hinrichs bombing (although it seems to accept the still-unconfirmed "blinking cursor" story uncritically).

    MORE: Misha is also skeptical:

    A single line of text laced with profanity that was impossible to remember, that is, a single line that he left blinking on the screen on his way out of the door and yet undiscovered by the FBI until now. Nope, nothing hokey about that, nothing whatsoever.
    Except I can't find an official statement from the FBI. Just the father saying what he says they said they might have first seen whenever they might have first said they first saw it -- at least they might have been implying they might have said it. Or something.

    Sigh.

    I guess I should be more patient. (After all, it took that same FBI office ten years to search a crawl space in the McVeigh-Nichols case.)

    posted by Eric at 09:12 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBacks (1)




    The evolution of political correctness

    I think it's fair to say that as the term is ordinarily used by leftists, I'm very far from being "politically correct." (Most people who know me -- especially liberals -- considered me to be a rather extreme and irreverent specimen of politically incorrectness.)

    But I am starting to see clear evidence that even these terms are losing their meaning.

    Bear in mind that the term "politically correct" once referred to left wing party line thinking, and more recently as a backlash against it.

    Here's a brief history of the term:

    Use of the term became popular in the early 1990s as part of a conservative challenge to curriculum and teaching methods on college campuses in the United States (D'Souza 1991; Berman 1992; Schultz 1993; Messer Davidow 1993, 1994; Scatamburlo 1998.) The word was taken from Marxist-Leninist vocabulary following the Russian revolution, when it was used to describe the Party Line.

    The term was transformed and used jokingly within the left by the early 1980s, possibly earlier, to describe either an over-commitment to various left-wing political causes, especially within Marxism or the feminist movement; or a tendency by some of those dedicated to these causes to be more concerned with rhetoric and vocabulary than with substance. So on the left the term was primaraily used to mockingly dismiss their own more doctrinaire and zealous allies.

    In the 1990s conservatives picked up and once again transformed the term "Political Correctness" to claim that a left-wing movement based in liberal academic circles was attempting to create a new doctrinaire political orthodoxy by using a form of social engineering that included changing words and phrases some groups claimed were offensive.

    But now I see "political correctness" being used to describe evolution -- with political incorrectness being used to describe opposition to evolution. A new book by evolution opponent Tom Bethell -- The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science -- does just that. Among the book's points highlighted in the ad:
  • Why, quite independently of Intelligent Design, fewer informed people than ever believe in evolution now
  • Evolution from the primordial soup: not a scientific truth but a highly questionable philosophical worldview, whose real premises have been carefully concealed
  • How boosters of the evolutionary theory systematically stifle debate on the premises of Intelligent Design, and shamelessly silence challenges to evolution
  • How evolutionists twist any outcome in nature as a "confirmation" of Darwin's theory
  • The famous (and non-believing) philosopher who admitted that "It's easier to believe in God" than in evolution
  • The materialist superstition: how, having (they think) disposed of God, some scientists are eager to fill the void themselves
  • Charles Darwin: not merely a detached agnostic (his public pose) but a determined antagonist of Christianity
  • I don't doubt that many advocates of evolution use tactics bordering on out and out Stalinism, but that doesn't make evolution a form of political correctness. Nor does the theory of life arising from primordial soup -- regardless of whether it's called a "philosophy" (something I don't think it is, regardless of its truth). As to Darwin's beliefs, Bethell makes much of a letter he wrote expressing horror over the supposedly Christian doctrine that non-believers would be punished eternally. What that has to do with evolutionary theory or how it renders it politically correct escapes me.

    Elsewhere, Bethell has elucidated his views on evolution, but without devoting much time to refuting Darwinian theory itself. Instead, he sets forth arguments against what he deems the harmful social consequences of Darwinian theory:
    If the Neo-Darwinian claim is true and all creatures great and small are here on earth as a result of a long chain of improbable accidents, then we have little reason to believe that God exists or that life has any meaning whatever.
    He sounds frightened not so much by evolution as by what it represents to his own way of thinking:
    Our reasons for believing in God in the first place are derived from our own consciousness and being, from our powers of reason and our appreciation of the beauty, design and purpose that are so evidently built into the world around us. But if all of these things arose by blind chance, as so many scientists in the last hundred years have claimed that they did, what reason was there for believing in God in the first place? Very little, as far as I can see. If the blind interplay of forces (as it was sometimes called) could account for everything, what need was there for any heavenly or spiritual hypothesis?
    These are not arguments against evolution at all, but Bethell's own assertions that evolution is fatal to any belief in God. I disagree with him, although I'd note (quite ironically) that many atheists would agree with him, and many do misuse evolution to their own ends. Many don't, however. And regarding morality, the following remark would preclude atheists from having any at all:
    If God does not exist - and most Darwinians believe that He does not - then anything that is mechanically possible becomes morally permissible.
    By his view, all moral restraint comes from a belief in God -- a logical fallacy too absurd to require extensive comment. (Except to those believing in the circular argument that all non-believers are evil because all non-belief is evil.) And again, an argument having nothing to do with the validity of a scientific theory.

    None of this is to suggest that there aren't things like major gaps in the fossil record, and a number of particular instances where scientists got it wrong. Nor do I suggest that there isn't such a thing as politically correct science. But calling evolution itself politically correct would seem to torture the whole idea of political correctness.

    You want genuine politically correct science? Try Stalinist genetics!

    At the risk of sounding like a flaming liberal, there's something about a claim which places H.L. Mencken into the politically correct camp which doesn't pass my smell test -- any more than it would to label William Jennings Bryan (or Savonarola, for that matter) "politically incorrect" .

    And if Mencken is to be PC, what about Galileo? Is the Inquisition, then, "politically incorrect"?

    Parenthetically, in the Intelligent Design debate, the irony has (according to liberal William Saletan) been compounded by the fact that the ID crowd had already committed the politically correct sin of conceding geologic time (presumably an evolutionary domino which will lead to the anti-evolutionists' undoing):

    Essentially, ID proponents are gambling that they can concede evolutionist earth science without conceding evolutionist life science. But they can't. They already acknowledge microevolution—mutation and natural selection within a species. Once you accept conventional fossil dating and four billion years of life, the sequential kinship of species loses its implausibility. You can't fall back on the Bible; you've already admitted it can't always be taken literally. All you're left with is an assortment of gaps in evolutionary theory—how did DNA emerge, what happened between this and that fossil—and the vague default assumption that an "intelligence" might fill in those gaps. Calvert and Harris call this assumption a big tent. But guess what happens to a tent without poles.

    Perversely, evolutionists refuse to facilitate this collapse. They prefer to dismiss ID proponents as dead-end Neanderthals. They complain, legitimately, that Calvert and Harris are trying to expand the definition of science beyond "natural explanations." But have you read the definition Calvert and Harris propose? It would define science as a continuous process of "observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena." Abstract creationism can't qualify for such scrutiny. Substantive creationism can't survive it. Or if it can, it should.

    It's too bad liberals and scientists don't welcome this test. It's too bad they go around sneering, as censors of science often have, that the new theory is too radical, offensive, or embarrassing to be taken seriously. It's too bad they think good science consists of believing the right things. In the long view—the evolutionary view—good science consists of using evidence and experiment to find out whether what we thought was right is wrong. If they do that in Kansas, by whatever name, that's all that matters.

    I guess we'll see.

    But the point here is not whether evolutionary theory is right, or how right it is in all its particulars. Any arguments which can be made against evolution should be made, because it's the nature of scientific theory to be tested. That is how knowledge itself, um, evolves.

    What I don't like is seeing labels like "politically incorrect" being used to describe moralistic arguments being used where they don't belong. Whatever the flaws of conventional Darwinian theory, calling it "PC" makes about as much sense as saying it's wrong because it undermines "authority." (And that the need for latter justifies belief in God.)

    Pretty soon, "politically correct" will have no meaning.

    And that's a paradox. That's because it's already "politically correct" for words and expressions to have no meaning (which means it has no meaning to have no meaning).

    Political incorrectness is thus politically correct.

    Evolution is Creation!

    God has evolved!

    posted by Eric at 08:08 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (2)



    A uniter not a divider?

    On his talk radio show earlier today, G. Gordon Liddy read a Wall Street Journal editorial about Harriet Miers.

    Except it wasn't just any editorial about Harriet Miers. The author was described as "Glenn Harlan Reynolds, the famed InstaPundit, the number one blogger."

    Via InstaPundit, the link to the WSJ piece can be found here. But if you don't feel like reading it, you can hear G. Gordon Liddy read it on his show (if it's on in your area and hasn't already been broadcast).

    Or, if you happen to be a reader of Classical Values, you're in luck, as I recorded the Glenn Reynolds segment -- and placed it here for streaming anytime. (RealAudio compatible player required.)

    I should point out that I am a daily listener to the G. Gordon Liddy Show, just as I'm a daily InstaPundit reader. Much as I love them both, there are huge differences in their thinking. Glenn is an outspoken libertarian, while Gordon is a very outspoken moral conservative. To see both of them speaking -- literally -- in one voice is unusual.

    Hearing Gordon read Glenn's editorial filled me with a strange sort of unexpected optimism, and not just because I agreed with the editorial.

    Rather, I saw the bright side in an otherwise dreary and depressing national debate. That's because nearly everywhere, the Miers nomination has been seen as a bitter conservative catfight.

    But after hearing this, I have to ask, just where is the much proclaimed "conservative crackup"? Where's the "conservative disunity"? And what about the much touted "conservative civil war" that I was planning to appease?

    War?

    What war?

    I can't remember the last time I saw this kind of unity among libertarians and social conservatives.

    (Despite my previous speculations, I'm just not ready to believe that Bush had this type of unity in mind.)

    posted by Eric at 12:43 PM | Comments (1)



    Arguments are fatal

    I want to thank Justin for writing some wonderful posts during my long weekend. I especially liked the post on solipsism. (Probably because I am Me, so that's all there is to My Reality!)

    Prove I'm not my reality, and then maybe I'll agree with your reality! Otherwise, my reality rules!

    Are debates about realities worth getting killed over? According to Philadelphia's Police Commissioner, arguments cause 98% of the city's murders:

    Johnson said that drug-related slayings, which can be reduced by intensified police activity, have declined, while killings due to "arguments" now make up more than half the city's homicides.

    "I can't put anything into place to stop arguments," Johnson said. He also noted that 98 percent of the city's homicides this year have been "victim specific" rather than random - as from a spray of bullets into a crowd.

    "People meant to kill them," Johnson said of the victims.

    Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross reiterated the city's position that the Pennsylvania legislature needs to pass laws to reduce the number of guns that can be sold to an individual.

    The more arguments, the more murders?

    It stands to reason that if arguments are the cause of 98% of murders, it would make more sense to make arguments illegal than guns.

    Do the math!

    I can't think of a better way to cut the huge murder rate in the blogosphere.

    posted by Eric at 11:01 AM | Comments (3)



    Scientific progress?

    I returned from the culturally backward Midwest just in time to see a dramatic breakthrough for the forces of progress in Philadelphia public schools.

    Today's Philadelphia Inquirer, reports the renaming of a school from the name of a famed colonial era botanist to the name of a Stalinist actor:

    Bartram High School for Human Services yesterday was renamed and officially dedicated as the Paul Robeson High School for Human Services.

    The Philadelphia School District announced the change, which honors the renowned performer and civil-rights activist, during a ceremony on the school at 4125 Ludlow St. The campus, formerly a part of John Bartram High School in West Philadelphia, has a capacity of 350 students.

    "I am glad that we are able to name a school in Philadelphia after the great Paul Robeson," Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "The community response was tremendous when presented the opportunity to link the school with Paul Robeson.

    John Bartram, considered "the father of American botany," was also a co-founder (with Benjamin Franklin) of the American Philosophical Society. "Carl Linnaeus called him "the greatest natural botanist in the world."

    Paul Robeson was an accomplished actor and singer, but he was a committed Stalinist who refused to criticize the Soviet system despite clear evidence of Stalin's crimes. Which man contributed more to the cause of human knowledge is probably not the issue here.

    Aside from his scientific accomplishments, Bartram was ahead of his time in his social thinking. He freed his slaves, advocated against slavery, and treated his former slaves as equals long before such things were in vogue. Had his advice been heeded, the United States might have avoided much misery.

    I'm glad Robeson's advice wasn't heeded. From the right wing Wikipedia:

    If the United States and the United Nations truly want peace and security let them fulfill the hopes of the common people everywhere -- let them work together to accomplish on a worldwide scale, precisely the kind of democratic association of free people which characterizes the Soviet Union today.- Daily Worker; November 15, 1945
    It's bad enough to name a school after an unrepentant Stalinist. But when a name is changed as it was here, I think it's fair to ask why.

    Is it the message that an acting and singing career -- coupled with an unshakable belief in Stalinism -- is superior to groundbreaking accomplishments in botany and philosophy?

    (The Philadelphia School District might want to take a second look at Stalinist genetics. Perhaps the goal is to forget about Darwin, and revive Lysenkoism.)

    posted by Eric at 08:41 AM | Comments (4)




    Stuck in the Vietnam quagmire?

    Via Andrew Sullivan, my attention was directed to a sober, considered assessment of the whole "Iraq = Vietnam" meme by former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird. Unlike many of today's critics, he was right there in the middle of it, and he doesn't think the Vietnam was "lost" -- at least, not in the way the war critics claim:

    Today, we deserve a view of history that is based on facts rather than emotional distortions and the party line of tired politicians who play on emotions. Mine is not a rosy view of the Vietnam War. I didn't miss the fact that it was an ugly, mismanaged, tragic episode in U.S. history, with devastating loss of life for all sides. But there are those in our nation who would prefer to pick at that scab rather than let it heal. They wait for opportunities to trot out the Vietnam demons whenever another armed intervention is threatened. For them, Vietnam is an insurance policy that pretends to guarantee peace at home as long as we never again venture abroad. Certain misconceptions about that conflict, therefore, need to be exposed and abandoned in order to restore confidence in the United States' nation-building ability.
    One of the problems posed in analyzing the Vietnam War is that there are so many people with enormous emotional investment in the antiwar position that it makes reasonable discussion almost impossible. They've always struck me as being driven by a desire to be vindicated, and it's personally important for them that "history" reflect what they view as an unassailable truth: that THE VIETNAM WAR WAS WRONG! (And, as a corollary, that War Is Always Wrong.) From this it must be argued -- constantly and loudly -- that the United States never could have won the war, and that in fact we lost it.

    I can remember quite clearly that the war wasn't lost until years after the U.S. had left Vietnam. To call this a military defeat is to torture history, because while the war was quite contentious in this country, the U.S. did wage the war competently enough to force a very determined enemy into a peace treaty which lasted for a couple of years.

    Laird believes it would have lasted as long as the U.S. made it clear we'd back the South:

    The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians conveniently forget is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. In fact, we grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory two years later when Congress cut off the funding for South Vietnam that had allowed it to continue to fight on its own. Over the four years of Nixon's first term, I had cautiously engineered the withdrawal of the majority of our forces while building up South Vietnam's ability to defend itself. My colleague and friend Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, had negotiated a viable agreement between North and South Vietnam, which was signed in January 1973. It allowed for the United States to withdraw completely its few remaining troops and for the United States and the Soviet Union to continue funding their respective allies in the war at a specified level. Each superpower was permitted to pay for replacement arms and equipment. Documents released from North Vietnamese historical files in recent years have proved that the Soviets violated the treaty from the moment the ink was dry, continuing to send more than $1 billion a year to Hanoi. The United States barely stuck to the allowed amount of military aid for two years, and that was a mere fraction of the Soviet contribution.

    Yet during those two years, South Vietnam held its own courageously and respectably against a better-bankrolled enemy. Peace talks continued between the North and the South until the day in 1975 when Congress cut off U.S. funding. The Communists walked out of the talks and never returned. Without U.S. funding, South Vietnam was quickly overrun. We saved a mere $297 million a year and in the process doomed South Vietnam, which had been ably fighting the war without our troops since 1973.

    I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now.

    I'm not sure how far to go with the analogy between Iraq and Vietnam (as I've pointed out, they're vastly different for a lot of reasons) but Laird sees a striking similarity in the media vilification of both governments -- especially the failure to report their successes:
    From the Tet offensive in 1968 up to the fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam never lost a major battle. The Tet offensive itself was a victory for South Vietnam and devastated the North Vietnamese army, which lost 289,000 men in 1968 alone. Yet the overriding media portrayal of the Tet offensive and the war thereafter was that of defeat for the United States and the Saigon government. Just so, the overriding media portrayal of the Iraq war is one of failure and futility.

    Vietnam gave the United States the reputation for not supporting its allies.

    Laird argues that Vietnamization was a successful strategy, and calls for a similar strategy in Iraq:
    We need to put our resources and unwavering public support behind a program of "Iraqization" so that we can get out of Iraq and leave the Iraqis in a position to protect themselves
    While I disagree with Laird's assessment of Iraq, he argues that the pretexts for starting both wars were incorrect:
    In this business of trust, President Bush got off to a bad start. Nixon had the same problem. Both the Vietnam War and the Iraq war were launched based on intelligence failures and possibly outright deception. The issue was much more egregious in the case of Vietnam, where the intelligence lapses were born of our failure to understand what motivated Ho Chi Minh in the 1950s. Had we understood the depth of his nationalism, we might have been able to derail his communism early on.
    I've never been much concerned about the WMDs, nor intelligence lapses, and I think there was a lot more urgency after 9/11 than there ever was before or during Vietnam War. We were attacked, which changes everything. Frankly, I think the U.S. was fully justified in going after any and every belligerent or hostile nation in the Mideast, and Iraq was one of the worst. (Saddam Hussein's human rights violations were so hideous that intervention would have been justified even without 9/11.) So whether WMDs were there was never central to my way of thinking, although I understand Laird's point.

    As to the "puppet government" argument, Laird thinks the war critics don't know what the word "puppet" means:

    Those who call the new Iraqi government Washington's "puppet" don't know what a real puppet government is. The Iraqis are as eager to be on their own as we are to have them succeed. In Vietnam, an American, Ambassador Philip Habib, wrote the constitution in 1967. Elections were choreographed by the United States to empower corrupt, selfish men who were no more than dictators in the garb of statesmen.
    Despite that, says Laird, the government of South Vietnam succeeded until the United States pulled its support.

    Just as Communism actually was slowed by the Vietnam War (despite the U.S. failure to honor its commitments), Laird already sees the beginnings of success in the Middle East:

    In hindsight, we can look at the Vietnam War as a success story -- albeit a costly one -- in nation building, even though the democracy we sought halfheartedly to build failed. Three decades ago, Asia really was threatened by the spread of communism. The Korean War was a fresh memory. In Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and even India, communist movements were gaining a foothold. They failed in large part because the United States drew a line at Vietnam that distracted and sucked resources away from its Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union. Similarly, the effect of our stand in Iraq is already being felt around the Middle East. Opposition parties are demanding to be heard. Veiled women are insisting on a voice. Syrian troops have left Lebanon. Egypt has held an election. Iran is being pressured by the United States and Europe alike on its development of nuclear weapons. The voices for change are building in Saudi Arabia. The movement even has a name: Kifaya -- "Enough!" The parasites who have made themselves fat by promoting ignorance, fear, and repression in the region are squirming. These are baby steps, but that is where running begins.
    The respective enemies' hope for "victory by quagmire" is also compared:
    As it did in Vietnam, in Iraq the enemy has sought to weaken the United States' will by dragging out the hostilities. In Vietnam, that strategy was reflected in a bottomless well of men, sophisticated arms, and energy the enemy threw into the fight. Similarly in Iraq, the insurgents have pinpointed the weakness of the American public's will and hope to exploit it on a much smaller scale, with the weapon of choice being the improvised explosive device, strapped to one person, loaded into a car or hidden at a curb, and with the resulting carnage then played over and over again on the satellite feed. But one lesson learned from Vietnam that is not widely recognized is that fear of casualties is not the prime motivator of the American people during a war. American soldiers will step up to the plate, and the American public will tolerate loss of life, if the conflict has worthy, achievable goals that are clearly espoused by the administration and if their leadership deals honestly with them.
    Again, I'd argue that despite the enemy's hopes, the Iraq situation is not even close to a quagmire. The psychology of quagmire, though, is the same -- and the media will continue to hammer away at it, because it sells papers and advances the antiwar agenda. Whether the general American public is buying into it will have to await the next election. Laird stresses the American intolerance -- then and now -- of deception, and I think he's right.

    His conclusion warns of "cut and run" thinking:

    In Vietnam, the voices of the "cut-and-run" crowd ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists. Those who look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United States' betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country, 65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to "reeducation camps." Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of militant Islam, we can expect no better there.
    I think that's generally right, although I don't see the Zarqawi forces as even remotely comparable to Ho Chi Minh's. Certainly not in strength, nor in popular support. And although both know how to manipulate the media, I think Ho Chi Minh was much better at that. (For starters, how many Americans are chanting Zarqawi's name in the streets?)

    Laird's view would seem to find confirmation in Ayman al Zawahiri's letter to abu Musad al Zarqawi.

    The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.

    The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.

    There is no doubt that this amirate will enter into a fierce struggle with the foreign infidel forces, and those supporting them among the local forces, to put it in a state of constant preoccupation with defending itself, to make it impossible for it to establish a stable state which could proclaim a caliphate, and to keep the Jihadist groups in a constant state of war, until these forces find a chance to annihilate them.

    I think the enemy is weaker than the media make them appear, and I don't quite share Laird's cautious approach, but I think his analysis is well worth reading -- especially for those raised to believe that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War.

    As to the establishment of a One World Caliphate, if that isn't a reason to destroy al Qaida in Iraq, I don't know what is.


    NOTE: The Zawahiri letter's authenticity is of course in dispute. The fact that Juan Cole does such a poor job of "proving" that it's a fake makes me suspect it's the real thing. (More discussion here.)

    posted by Eric at 08:19 PM | Comments (3)



    My polite break is over (and so, apparently, is politeness . . .)

    Are Americans ruder than they used to be? A large majority think so, at least according to this article I saw just before I left for the Midwest:

    the harried single parent has replaced the traditional nuclear family and there's little time to teach the basics of polite living, let alone how to hold a knife and fork, according to Post.

    A slippage in manners is obvious to many Americans. Nearly 70 percent questioned in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll said people are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The trend is noticed in large and small places alike, although more urban people report bad manners, 74 percent, then do people in rural areas, 67 percent.

    Peggy Newfield, founder and president of Personal Best, said the generation that came of age in the times-a-changin' 1960s and 1970s are now parents who don't stress the importance of manners, such as opening a door for a female.

    So it was no surprise to Newfield that those children wouldn't understand how impolite it was to wear flip-flops to a White House meeting with the president -- as some members of the Northwestern women's lacrosse team did in the summer.

    A whopping 93 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll faulted parents for failing to teach their children well.

    "Parents are very much to blame," said Newfield, whose Atlanta-based company started teaching etiquette to young people and now focuses on corporate employees. "And the media."

    Sulking athletes and boorish celebrities grab the headlines while television and Hollywood often glorify crude behavior.

    "It's not like the old shows 'Father Knows Best,"' said Norm Demers, 47, of Sutton, Mass. "People just copy it. How do you change it?" Demers would like to see more family friendly television but isn't holding his breath.

    I'm sure a lot of people would like to see a lot of things, but assuming television has made people rude, doesn't that say more about people than it does about television?

    Why are people complaining about a medium they don't have to watch? Analogizing to books or magazines. I'm sure you could make a good case that books are more vulgar, tabloids more trashy, but is anyone required to read them? Read the classics! Make your kids read the Bobbsey Twins!

    I mean, what's next? A proposal for government politeness laws?

    As a libertarian, I'd say if you want a "Leave It To Beaver" life (and there's nothing wrong with that), then live that way. Just don't expect the government to lead you that way.

    posted by Eric at 07:31 PM | Comments (2)




    Upward Mobility

    (Via The Speculist)

    A long interview with Dr. Bradley Edwards, the man who is perhaps most responsible for the recent interest in space elevators. Many thanks to Keith Curtis for going out and getting the story.

    This interview is depressing. We haven’t broken ground and it isn’t clear if NASA could be helpful.

    From the inside, we’ve got a lot of things going on, even though we haven’t started construction. That book of mine came out a couple of years ago; before that, space elevators were the stuff of science fiction. We’ve gone from science fiction to this idea showing up in a lot of places - various magazines and in real serious discussions in mainstream forums. It’s showing up in high-level discussions at NASA and European Space Agencies and other places like that. We also have a lot of efforts which aren’t solidified yet, but if if any one of of them comes through, we’ll be on a real good track to make this idea happen.

    Living in the 21st century, fifteen years just seems too long. It’s like saying that it’s going to take fifteen years to rebuild the Gulf coast after Katrina.

    There are limits on how fast you can do things. But if we got more money, it can go faster. I’m a scientist so it’s my nature to be realistic. The project has a couple of years of development and the assumed hurdles with regulatory committees, as well as going out for bids on contracts.

    None of that’s engineering though. If you killed all the lawyers and bureaucrats, how long would it really take?

    When we’re finished with the development, we would still have some work on the materials yet to complete. If we really pushed everything, we could get it up and running in five or six years. That’s pretty tight. Our estimates are seven or eight years, but if we really pushed it it could happen sooner. It would take a couple of years to build things, and then a couple more to increase the strength of the elevator. But one could use more launches or bigger launches to get a bigger first ribbon to cut back on things a bit. There are things you can do to tighten up the schedule, but I’m trying to be a realist. If you promise something in five years, then five years later you’d better have something. Large infrastructure and power plants take time to get built.

    The money will eventually come. With a space elevator, the day you build it and the first elevator you send up, the value of the company will easily become ten times what was put into it, with just the market that’s available; and that’s assuming you don’t do anything intelligent like build the next one at a much lower cost, or develop new commercial applications, etc.

    You’re basically saying that if we could launch ten times more stuff into space than we do today, we would still max out that capacity…

    Once you’ve got the elevator, you’re able to transport lots of stuff up there. The company that operates the space elevator could then put up the telecommunications satellites, and become the telecommunications owner for the whole planet. Then they could put up solar-power satellites and own the power producing capability for the planet. That’s a ridiculous amount of money and power involved. And if they really wanted to go hog-wild they could say “You know what? We are just going to take Mars! We are the only ones who can get there.” At some point the implications get crazy. So yes, there will be a pretty big return on it once it gets built.

    posted by Justin at 05:08 PM | Comments (5)



    What's James Been Saying?
    September 19, 2005

    Take a good look at America around you now, because when we emerge from the winter of 2005 - 6, we're going to be another country. The reality-oblivious nation of mall hounds, bargain shoppers, happy motorists, Nascar fans, Red State war hawks, and born-again Krispy Kremers is headed into a werewolf-like transformation that will reveal to all the tragic monster we have become...

    All kinds of assumptions about the okay-ness of our recent collective behavior are headed out the window. This naturally beats a straight path to politics, since that is the theater in which our collective choices are dramatized...George W. Bush, and the party he represents, are headed into full Hooverization mode. After Katrina, nobody will take claims of governmental competence seriously...

    There are two things that the newspapers and TV Cable News outfits are not covering very well. One is that the Port of New Orleans is not functioning, with poor prospects for a quick recovery, and with it will go much of the Midwestern grain harvest.

    Another thing that has fallen off the radar screen is the damage done to the oil and gas infrastructure around the Gulf Coast, especially the onshore facilities for storing and transporting stuff, and for marshaling the crews and equipment to fix stuff. The US is going to run short of its customary supplies for a long time...

    By October, the hurricane season will be ending and the stock market crash season will be underway. It is hard to imagine that companies like WalMart really believe they will keep their profits up when their customers are paying twice as much as they did a year ago to heat their houses and fill their gas tanks.

    Meanwhile, does anybody remember a place called Iraq? A bomb that killed thirty people was reported on page 12 of the Sunday New York Times. That's how important Iraq has become. But, I guess, a nation can hardly pay attention to a bullet in the foot when it has a sucking chest wound.


    posted by Justin at 04:17 PM | Comments (2)



    The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name

    That would be Tony Blair's love for fission power. But he's comfortable enough to hint...

    Blair has privately disclosed that he is in favour of more nuclear reactors and that he expects the findings of the inquiry to make a case that can be supported by an all-party consensus. His position on nuclear energy has been made clear to The Business by people who have spoken to him directly and believe he wants to send out positive signals to the nuclear industry so that they can start planning now.

    Randall Parker at Futurepundit points out something positive about nuclear power plants...

    Nuclear power has one sort of insurance policy advantage: If a huge volcanic eruption or a massive meteor ever blotted out the sun for a few years solar power would become worthless. Nuclear power would keep on ticking. If you want to survive natural disaster scenarios involving reduction of sunlight then nuclear is the best power source.

    I don't think any reasonable person could look at the aftermath of Katrina and expect that an array of solar panels or wind turbines, no matter how advanced, would successfully have weathered the storm. I might be mistaken about that, but it would be a shame to have your electrical generating capacity blown across three counties just when you needed it most. Of course, if we build our solar arrays on the moon we won't have to worry about the vagaries of terrestrial weather. But what about coronal mass ejections?

    All things considered, a nice sturdy containment structure looks much more attractive during hurricane season.

    Randall also points us toward a new technique which might improve reactor safety.

    Purdue researchers, led by [Alvin] Solomon, have developed a process to mix the uranium oxide with a material called beryllium oxide. Pellets of uranium oxide are processed to be interlaced with beryllium oxide, or BeO, which conducts heat far more readily than the uranium dioxide.

    This "skeleton" of beryllium oxide enables the nuclear fuel to conduct heat at least 50 percent better than conventional fuels.

    "The beryllium oxide is like a heat pipe that sucks the heat out and helps to more efficiently cool the fuel pellet," Solomon said...

    Because uranium oxide does not conduct heat well, during a reactor's operation there is a large temperature difference between the center of the pellets and their surface, causing the center of the fuel pellets to become very hot. The heat must be constantly removed by a reactor cooling system because overheating could cause the fuel rods to melt, which could lead to a catastrophic nuclear accident and release of radiation...

    "If you add this high-conductivity phase beryllium oxide, the thermal conductivity is increased by about 50 percent, so the difference in temperature from the center to the surface of these pellets turns out to be remarkably lower,"...

    As an added bonus, it saves scads of money by "burning" the fuel more efficiently. Unfortunately, it won't be hitting the market tomorrow.

    There may be hard times ahead, but they won't last forever. The important thing is to keep on plugging...

    posted by Justin at 02:33 PM | Comments (7)



    Arriving too late in the debate

    I've had no time to spend online, which means almost no time for posting, but that does not mean I've been missing out on the important issues of the day. In Freeport, yesterday, I visited the site of one of the famous Lincoln Douglas debates -- a public square in which they've erected a bronze statue of the immortal rhetorical combatants.

    In the front of the square, a historical marker is affixed to a large rock:


    debateplaque.JPG


    I was told by locals that it's perfectly OK to climb on the stage and pose with the statues -- in fact it's almost expected of visitors. I hate to let people down, so I climbed onto the stage and imagined myself listening.....

    While I might appear to be weary of the debate, I actually became lost in time, as I tried to travel back in thought. The words didn't flow as they might have. Too much modern noise clutters my brain. So, far from being tired of the Lincoln Douglas debate, I was frustrated by my inability to hear it.


    DebateFreeport.JPG


    If only I could have half of Lincoln's patience!

    Here's the Chicago Journal's fascinating contemporaneous account of the debate. Lincoln had the advantage of being on friendly turf, his supporters outnumbering Douglas's by a ratio of 4-1. (Racist sentiments abounded anyway, according to the account.)

    The Journal's final paragraph:

    Mr. Lincoln's half hour expiring, the debate was declared closed, and the people dispersed. At about 5 o'clock, a great crowd gathered in front of the Brewster House, with loud calls for Lovejoy. Hon. Owen Lovejoy responded, and made one of the most powerful speeches that has been made in this campaign. Mr. Denio and others also spoke to a Republican meeting at the Court House in the evening. The Douglasites had vanished--left town--ashamed and afraid to show their heads. Lincoln freely mingled with the masses about the city during the evening, while Douglas was closeted the whole time with a number of aristocratic Democrats, at his hotel. He didn't care enough about "the people" to mingle with them at all. This is just the difference in the dispositions and politics of the two men.
    No time to be "fair and balanced" and search for a pro-Douglas account.

    posted by Eric at 12:59 PM | Comments (1)




    Trick Or Treat!

    SpaceX has announced that the maiden flight of their Falcon I launcher is scheduled for October 31st. Here's wishing them a Happy Halloween.

    Less momentously, November 8th should see the release of George R.R. Martin's latest novel, A Feast for Crows.

    Finally. But if you lived in London, you could buy it next week. Grrr.

    A sample chapter is available here.

    If you haven't read the books in a while you might want to take the time to brush up on them. There are plenty of on-line resources that will help you get up to speed. Here's an example of just one of them. If it's not to your taste, try some of the others.

    It may feel like cheating, but these synopses are invaluable. I don't have the time to re-read all that has gone before, and my memory has lost too many key details. As I recall, Catelyn Stark was last seen looking kinda blue, but the exact circumstances have grown vague to me...

    Lastly, John Birmingham has a sequel due out on October 25th. That would be Designated Targets, which allegedly picks up where Weapons of Choice left off.

    Here's an early review. And here's Mr. Birmingham's blog and wiki. Who knew he was so accomplished?

    Glenn Reynolds liked Book One. So did I.

    posted by Justin at 11:56 PM | Comments (2)



    Typically shameless . . .
    This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if WE feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.

    -- Leon Kass

    IScream.JPG

    (Photo taken at the Union Dairy Fountain, Freeport, IL.)

    posted by Eric at 11:45 PM | Comments (7)



    Facing Reality

    Solipsism is one of those fetid intellectual dark alleys that some people just can't resist walking down. I never saw the appeal myself, I enjoy having friends too much. Eventually most people turn around and head back toward the light. Nevertheless, there are still too many who think it's pretty deep stuff. If you find them as annoying as I do, you might be in the market for a fast, comprehensive smackdown. Here it is. Or, you could just pinch them till they cry.

    If the following is of little interest to you, just skip ahead to the next part for something completely different.

    Solipsism is usually defended only as a means of attacking scientific reasoning, or as a stepping-stone to one of its many variants. By the same token, a good way of defending science against a variety of criticisms, and of understanding the true relationship between reason and reality, is to consider the argument against solipsism.

    There is a standard philosophical joke about a professor who gives a lecture in defense of solipsism. So persuasive is the lecture that as soon as it ends, several enthusiastic students hurry forward to shake the professor’s hand.’Wonderful. I agreed with every word,’ says one student earnestly. ‘So did I,’ says another. ‘I am very gratified to hear it,’ says the professor. ‘One so seldom has the opportunity to meet fellow solipsists.’

    Implicit in this joke there is a genuine argument against solipsism…[snip]…this argument is trying to show that solipsism is literally indefensible, because by accepting such a defence one is implicitly contradicting it.

    But our solipsistic professor could try to evade that argument by saying something like this: ‘I can and do consistently defend solipsism. Not against other people, for there are no other people, but against opposing arguments. These arguments come to my attention through dream-people, who behave as if they were thinking beings whose ideas often oppose mine. My lecture and the arguments it contains were not intended to persuade these dream-people, but to persuade myself – to help me to clarify my ideas.’

    However, if there are sources of ideas that behave as if they were independent of oneself, then they necessarily are independent of oneself. For if I define ‘myself ’as the conscious entity that has the thoughts and feelings I am aware of having, then the ‘dream-people’ I seem to interact with are by definition something other than that narrowly defined self, and so I must concede that something other than myself exists.

    My only other option, if I were a committed solipsist, would be to regard the dream-people as creations of my unconscious mind, and therefore as part of ‘myself’ in a looser sense. But then I should be forced to concede that ‘myself’ had a very rich structure, most of which is independent of my conscious self. Within that structure are entities – dream-people – who, despite being mere constituents of the mind of a supposed solipsist, behave exactly as if they were committed anti-solipsists. So I could not call myself wholly a solipsist, for only my narrowly defined self would take that view. Many, apparently most, of the opinions held within my mind as a whole would oppose solipsism.

    I could study the ‘outer’ region of myself and find that it seems to obey certain laws, the same laws as the dream-textbooks say apply to what they call the physical universe. I would find that there is far more of the outer region than the inner region. Aside from containing more ideas, it is also more complex, more varied, and has more measurable variables, than the inner region.

    Moreover, this outer region is amenable to scientific study, using the methods of Galileo. Because I have now been forced to define that region as part of myself, solipsism no longer has any argument against the validity of such study, which is now defined as no more than a form of introspection. Solipsism allows, indeed assumes, that knowledge of oneself can be obtained through introspection. It cannot declare the entities and processes being studied to be unreal, since the reality of the self is its basic postulate.

    Thus we see that if we take solipsism seriously – if we assume that it is true and that all valid explanations must scrupulously conform to it – it self-destructs.

    How exactly does solipsism, taken seriously, differ from its common-sense rival, realism? The difference is based on no more than a renaming scheme. Solipsism insists on referring to objectively different things (such as external reality and my unconscious mind, or introspection and scientific observation) by the same names. But then it has to reintroduce the distinctions through explanations in terms of something like the ‘outer part of myself’. But no such extra explanations would be necessary without its insistence on an inexplicable renaming scheme.

    Solipsism must also postulate the existence of an additional class of processes – invisible, inexplicable processes which give the mind the illusion of living in an external reality. The solipsist, who believes that nothing exists other than the contents of one mind, must also believe that that mind is a phenomenon of greater multiplicity than is normally supposed. It contains other-people-like thoughts, planet-like thoughts and laws-of-physics-like thoughts. Those thoughts are real. They develop in a complex way (or pretend to) and they have enough autonomy to surprise, disappoint, enlighten or thwart that other class of thoughts which call themselves ‘I’.

    Thus the solipsist’s explanation of the world is in terms of interacting thoughts rather than interacting objects. But those thoughts are real, and interact according to the same rules that the realist says govern the interaction of objects. Thus solipsism, far from being a world-view stripped to its essentials, is actually just realism disguised and weighed down by additional unnecessary assumptions – worthless baggage, introduced only to be explained away.

    Hah! If that doesn't shut them up, nothing will.

    You've been reading an excerpt from The Fabric of Reality, a splendidly thought-provoking little book by David Deutsch, which I highly recommend.

    All of the above is a mere warm-up, heading towards a proof that the universe is in fact knowable. From there, it proceeds to advocacy of the many worlds interpretation and the existence of a much larger multiverse. Dr. Deutsch is a pretty interesting guy. Or perhaps he just has interesting interests.

    Not long after September 11th, John Brockman's Edge Foundation asked the question "What Now?". Here is (in part) David Deutsch's response. I took the liberty of boldfacing a few little bits...

    What happens now is that we (by which I mean the West) eradicate state-sponsored terrorism. And we can achieve that only by replacing all political systems that perpetrate or collaborate with terrorism, by systems that respect human rights both domestically and internationally.

    This will require, first of all, war. Then, it will require spectacular success at the notoriously difficult task of improving other nations' political systems. But we have done such things before: we did it for Germany and Japan in 1945. We have also failed many times at it. We must succeed this time.

    But more: it will require changes in us. In our conception of the political landscape. It will take violations of old taboos and the creation of new understanding and new traditions. Genuinely this time, it will require the creation of a new and better world order...

    ...mainstream Western culture has also exhibited a major moral failure: a refusal to distinguish between right and wrong. The unique glories of our civilisation — self-criticism, tolerance, openness to change and to ideas from other cultures — have in many people's minds decayed, under this moral failure, into self-hatred, appeasement, and moral relativism...

    Moral relativism always sees itself as evenhanded, and indeed it begins with a retreat from judgement or taking sides. But in practice it always entails siding with wrong against right. I said that we need to change. Here is something that desperately needs to change.

    A colleague wrote recently: "Despite the morality of responding in self-defence to a terrorist attack, I am thinking about how to find solutions that do not include tit for tat." Yet nothing that the West has done so far, or has threatened to do, or has proposed to do, has involved any hint of tit for tat...In reality, the impulse for revenge plays no significant role in the political culture of the West. If it did, then the vast, peaceful, humane and diverse civilisation of the West itself would not be possible.

    It is not true that the recent attacks on the US were motivated by a state of mind similar to that which is currently motivating the Western response. The Western stance — and even Western mistakes, including appeasement and moral relativism — are driven fundamentally by respect for human beings, human choices and human life...

    In contrast, the West's anger, and the West's restrained, careful and humane response in self-defence, are justified. The problem is not to find alternatives to defending ourselves against murderers. The exact opposite is true: this violence will end if and only if we defend ourselves, effectively...

    You can perceive our stance and theirs as symmetrical only by expunging morality from your analysis: seeing all political objectives as being legitimate, all rival value systems as matters of taste, treating murderers and their victims with evenhanded sympathy...

    You have to pretend that the richness and diversity and creativity of our civilisation are playing the same role in our lives as empty repetition, oppression, and pitiless enforcement of a monoculture play in theirs.

    People wring their hands and say that there must be "better ways of finding solutions" than warfare. Of course there are. We have already found them. The nations and people of the West use them all the time. They are openness, tolerance, reason, respect for human rights — the fundamental institutions of our civilisation. But no way of finding solutions is so effective that it can work when it isn't being used.
    And when a violent group defines itself by its comprehensive rejection of all the values on which problem-solving and the peaceful resolution of disputes depend, and embarks instead on a campaign of unlimited murder and destruction, it is morally wrong as well as factually inaccurate to represent this as a case of our needing "better ways of finding solutions"...



    posted by Justin at 09:30 PM | Comments (4)




    Till Later!

    I'm sitting here at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, with a couple of minutes to spare, and I don't know whether blogging will be light, heavy, dark, or thin for the next few days. (Return home Monday.)

    With any luck, Justin will appear on the scene (maybe even Dennis, who knows?)

    They just called the bus I'm waiting for, so that's it!

    UPDATE: Gee. Now I'm on the bus! But it isn't moving.

    (No end to the excitement in this blog, is there?)

    posted by Eric at 05:11 PM | Comments (3)



    Is unfriendly fire necessarily enemy fire?

    Buried in this story is a detail which serves as a reminder that news stories should be read carefully. The article is headlined "Bombs, explosives caused most Pennsylvania deaths in Iraq," and it goes on to recite a list of Pennsylvania victims -- including Army Captain Christopher Seifert:

    The war, which began March 20, 2003, has claimed more than 1,900 U.S. military lives. Pennsylvania has the third-highest casualty count, behind California and Texas. Ninety-nine of the Pennsylvania deaths occurred after President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, 2003.

    Seventy-one of the state's dead were in their 20s.

    The majority died in combat, including one woman. Two died of natural causes - one a stroke, the other cardiac arrest - while stationed in Iraq. One Pennsylvanian, Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, was killed in a grenade attack by another American soldier.

    Nineteen have been members of the Pennsylvania National Guard, including five who died Wednesday, one of the costliest days of the war for Pennsylvania. The soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the Iraqi city of Ramadi.

    Army Sgt. Andrew J. Baddick, 26, of Jim Thorpe, drowned on Sept. 29, 2003, while trying to save a fellow soldier whose vehicle plunged into a canal; Army Capt. Brian Faunce, 28, of Philadelphia, died Sept. 18, 2003, of injuries sustained from a shock while clearing low-hanging power lines.

    Seifert, the first Pennsylvanian killed, died two days after the U.S. invaded Iraq.

    Seifert, 27, of Easton, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, was killed in Kuwait in a grenade attack by a fellow soldier. Sgt. Hasan Akbar has been sentenced to death for killing Seifert and an Air Force major and wounding 14 others.

    The youngest Pennsylvanians killed were 19; the oldest were 51.

    If you were to skim the article (as I'm afraid I did originally), you might miss the mention of Hasan Akbar's death sentence, which was reported in late April.

    "My life will not be complete unless America is destroyed," Akbar had written.

    Sigh.

    Not everyone completes his life the way he might have wanted. I hope Akbar doesn't.

    The legal issue which interests me here is whether or not a cold-blooded murder (which this was) should be counted as a casualty. This was not the same thing as "friendly fire," because there was no battle at the time.

    If a soldier goes out on the town, gets drunk, hires a prostitute and ends up getting shot by her pimp in a dispute over payment, is the soldier a war casualty?

    I realize that a moral argument can be made that Akbar was part of the enemy* (which would support the argument that those he killed were casualties of war) but that's not really my question here.

    Surely, if I were to go out and shoot a soldier, his death would not be counted as a war casualty. Why should it be any different if I joined the military and shot him while we were both in the service?

    There must be a legal definition somewhere; I'm just not finding it. According to CBS News (hardly a reliable military source), the military only considers deaths and wounds received in combat to be casualties:

    Today, Schneider walks with a limp, on his artificial leg. But even though he was injured while on a mission in a war zone – and even though he’ll receive the same benefits as a soldier who’d been shot - he is not included in the Pentagon’s casualty count. Their official tally shows only deaths and wounded in action. It doesn't include "non-combat" injured, those whose injuries were not the result of enemy fire.
    If that is true, it would obviously include casualties from "friendly fire" incurred during actual combat.

    But should Akbar's murder victims be counted as casualties?


    * Bear in mind too that Akbar really can't be classified as an official enemy, because enemies are not tried and executed for murder.

    posted by Eric at 08:50 AM | Comments (3)



    Household insecurity

    I don't keep up with these things as I should, but until today I never knew that a supposedly ordinary thermos could be dangerous:

    Last year Greenberg was pouring coffee from his Stanley thermos when the handle broke.

    "It looked like a smoke bomb going off,” described Greenberg, adding, “It filled up the whole kitchen and the whole living room with a black cloud of smoke."

    The Greenberg’s heating system sucked in that black cloud and for two-months a fine black dust fell over everything in their home.

    "That's what every wall every surface you took your finger by it, that's what it was like," said Maureen Greenberg.

    It cost a staggering $77-thousand to clean up, a bill that Stanley eventually paid.

    Yet the Greenbergs were not the only ones whose thermos held a surprise.

    Dan Veesenmeyer described his thermos experience saying, "Just pouring it into the cup on the dash and ‘buqwuuuuush’ just come flying right out of there.”

    Veesenmeyer's Stanley thermos broke while he was driving his truck.

    "It just blew my mind I couldn't believe it the whole truck instantly just black soot you couldn't see nothing," commented Veesenmeyer.

    According to Stanley, 654 families across the country have experienced similar problems with their thermoses.

    It's no longer just about the mess for the Greenbergs.

    "It's almost a year now and we're still dealing with it," said Ron Greenberg.

    The Greenberg’s oldest son, Michael is suffering from an unexplained cough.

    23 others have reported difficulty breathing or seeing and in some cases began vomiting and coughing after their thermoses broke.

    The company says the black powder inside its thermoses is charcoal. The problem is, there is no data to show how toxic charcoal can be when inhaled.

    Explosions followed by toxic black clouds causing injuries lasting almost a year?

    Better not break one of these things on an airplane.

    Or anywhere near an athletic arena.

    The company is recalling 45,000 of what I would never call destructive devices. Despite the title -- "3 On Your Side: Exploding Thermos" -- "destructive device" is an explosive legal term which imaginative lawyers could theoretically construe as trade libel. Besides, it is my policy to maintain skepticism -- while remaining open to speculation. (There's a fine line in there somewhere.)

    posted by Eric at 08:18 AM | Comments (1)




    Call me crazy, and call me paranoid . . .

    But I'm just not comfortable when I use a restroom, and it smells, well, like the smell of human excrement that's gone stale after being the air for too long.

    And then I turn around and see a sign like this on the inside of the door:


    UsedTP.jpg


    No, I did not write that as a joke, and no I am absolutely not making this up. The only reason the picture is blurry is because all I had was my cell phone and I wanted to document this horror.

    As people always seem to in horror movies, I had one of those irresistible impulses -- coupled with an inner voice telling me Not To Do It -- to look inside the trash can.

    Yes, it contained what I thought it would. (And yes, I'm afraid it was in New Jersey. Sorry; I know the whole state isn't like that.)

    I tried not to touch the doors, and I ran out of the bathroom without daring to wash my hands.

    posted by Eric at 11:08 PM | Comments (10)



    Investigation ends -- a month later

    Last month I wrote a post about an incident in which a 17 year old driver cut off a guy in his fifties, and the older guy lost his temper, followed the young driver all the way home and ran into him with his car while the kid was trying to get inside his house. The kid bounced off the hood, then punched the man twice, following which the guy died. I argued that it was self defense.

    Now finally, a month later, it seems the legal concept of self defense has managed to survive in New Jersey. Proescutors dropped the charges -- apparently after some debate, and after considering these facts:

    Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said in a statement that he had "made this decision following detailed, deliberate and protracted consultation with senior staff members at my office."

    "Succinctly stated, I believe the juvenile acted in self-defense."

    Allen, on his way home from football practice Sept. 12, inadvertently cut in front of James D. Munter, a 53-year-old computer programmer, on the White Horse Pike in Laurel Springs, authorities said.

    Munter, who lived blocks from Allen in Lindenwold, began following the teenager, prosecutors said. Allen called his father on his cell phone, and his father told him to come home.

    The teen parked his Dodge Durango on the curb opposite his home and crossed the street as his father watched from the house, authorities said. Munter, in a Mercury Sable, drove his car into the young man.

    Allen, 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, bounced off the hood of the car, landed on his feet, and punched Munter twice in the head through an open window. Munter, 6-3 and 134 pounds, was knocked unconscious and died the next day at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.

    Sarubbi said a neighbor verified that Munter slowed "almost to a stop" before speeding up and crashing into the teen. Photos taken the next day showed bruising on Allen's body from his thigh to under his arm, and there was a large dent in the hood of the car, said Allen's attorney, Jeffrey Zucker.

    "He feels horrible about this," Zucker said. "As justified as he was under the law, he still has to live with the fact that someone is no longer with us as a result of his actions."

    He said Allen and his family did not want to comment on the case. "He doesn't want to make a news spectacle," Zucker said. "He wants to get on with his life."

    I have no idea what took so long, as this kid should never have been charged in the first place. If someone followed me for miles, then hit me with his car right in front of my house, I'd be justified in shooting him if I had a gun. A car is a deadly weapon. By its nature, defending against an an attack by a moving car merely with fists counters superior force with inferior force. That the two blows happened to kill the man is irrelevant (and also quite abnormal). Obviously, this kid was strong, and he was under great stress after being struck and injured by a car. The adrenaline produced during such a trauma could easily result in hysterical strength. If it did, that would be no one's fault except the attacker.

    An accident is one thing, but this was a deliberate attack, and went way beyond road rage.

    I'm glad it's over.

    posted by Eric at 08:45 PM | Comments (9)



    Welcome Tomorrow today!

    I'm delighted to see that Justin's Flying Car post has been linked by the Carnival of Tomorrow, and I wanted to welcome all new readers coming here from Phil Bowermaster great blog, The Speculist. (And while I'm at it, all new vistors who might be coming here indrectly from InstaPunditstan).

    Justin regrets that the comments feature can't be turned back on, but it's an anti-spam feature that's built in, and the only way I can think of to turn it off would be to republish the post. (A post dated post seems redundant.)

    Anyway, welcome all!


    UPDATE: While reading the Carnival of Tomorrow, I was unable to avoid having my mind read by a color test.

    Here's the result:

    Your Brain's Pattern
    Your mind is a firestorm - full of intensity and drama.
    Your thoughts may seem scattered to you most of the time...
    But they often seem strong and passionate to those around you.
    You are a natural influencer. The thoughts you share are very powerful and persuading.

    (Via Beth at Wide-Eyed and Laughing.)

    posted by Eric at 03:12 PM | Comments (5)



    W! W! You can't hide! We charge you with genocide!
    I don't find it too far-fetched that they tried to displace all the black people out of New Orleans.
    So says Spike Lee, who's planning a "documentary" film for HBO.

    I can't wait to see the documentation.

    But for now, I'll just have to stick with the director's words.

    Starting with the word "they." Who are these they, and precisely what did they do? Was the Mayor of New Orleans among the they? The Governor? The President? Or maybe arch-villain Charlton Heston? Lee doesn't say, but I'm sure it'll all be, er, documented.

    To help me discern more, I had to look abroad, and found a longer quote in the Guardian:

    During an appearance on CNN this week, to promote his memoir That's My Story and I'm Sticking To It, Lee was asked about the conspiracy theories that the largely black Ninth ward of the city had been deliberately flooded by authorities.

    He said: "I don't put anything past the United States government. I don't find it too far-fetched that they tried to displace all the black people out of New Orleans."

    The film will be Lee's second documentary for the cable TV and film producer HBO. It follows 1997's 4 Little Girls, which revisited the 1963 bombing of a black Alabama church that killed four children.

    Was Hurricane Katrina in any way comparable to a church bombing?

    Wasn't it in reality a whole lot worse because of the number of people killed?

    Yes, it was. As it turns out, Hurricane Katrina was Genocide. I exaggerate not; you can buy the T-shirts here. As the T-shirt site proclaims:

    The New Orleans and Louisiana governments got the rich people out in time, but left the poor with no resources and transportation to die. Where were the special trains, the busses, the trucks to move them. Why did the media let them get away with killing the inner city of a national treasure? Who is covering it up now! Ten of Thousands Have Died, don't let the bastards get away with genocide, here in America!
    To return to Lee (who I hope would condemn those T-shirts), I try to be fair, but I think it's safe to assume that because he singles out "the United States government," Lee would consider Bush to be the primary engineer of displacement (under the not too far-fetched theory).

    If we assume for the sake of this exercise that George W. Bush sought to "displace all the black people out of New Orleans," I'm wondering when the idea occurred to him. Was it a longterm plan of deliberate neglect, during which Bush was waiting and hoping that a hurricane would come and the neglected levees would break? Or was it an act of political opportunism, brought on by the convenience of the hurricane? Did Bush cause the hurricane? The flood? Or did he merely blow up the levees, as many have have suggested?

    Considering the longstanding charge that Bush engineered the destruction of the Twin Towers, blowing up levees ought to have been child's play.

    After all, he's a "menace to mankind."

    Correction! In the interest of fairness, I should point out that Lee apologized for that remark, right after he made it:

    He's just a menace to mankind in general. I'm sorry, a menace to humankind in general.
    Being a menace to humankind in general is less sexist, but it's still definitely not nice.

    Ultimately, though, it's a more egalitarian plan than simple genocide.

    Here's the T-shirt.


    genocide T.jpg


    Sheesh.

    And all this time, I thought the culprit was sodomy.... And alligators! Hope they make the cut!

    posted by Eric at 12:45 PM | Comments (13)



    My continued Culture War appeasement policy

    Via Glenn Reynolds, John Fund, in a piece about the administration's failure to properly examine Harriet Miers' background, sees two primary problems with her nomination:

  • "her lack of experience in constitutional law"; and
  • "the firestorm of criticism from conservatives"

  • I would agree that these are problems, and I am not at all pleased with the selection of someone who is apparently a conservative on social issues and a liberal on economic issues. Why? Because, as I pointed out more than once, as a libertarianish person, my politics tend toward the inverse of that.

    But who asked me, anyway? FWIW, I'm also concerned about her lack of constitutional experience, although not as much as I would be were I a constitutional scholar. I'm quite accustomed to being ignored, whether I speak up or keep my mouth shut. While being ignored does have its downside (it makes me feel like a two year old sometimes), in general it's good for the soul, and a reminder that we all must die.

    What's tougher to ignore than my childish libertarian tantrums, though, is a civil war.

    According to the Inquirer's Dick Polman, there's a civil war between conservatives:

    We are now witnessing, in activist Ed Morrissey's words, "a conservative civil war" over the Miers nomination, with many leaders on the right declaring that they no longer can take President Bush at his word. They're demanding that Miers answer the kinds of questions that they considered out of bounds just a few weeks ago. They're even circulating these questions among themselves.
    Before I go further into the Polman piece, let's get an initial question out of the way. I Googled this "activist Ed Morrissey" and came up with nothing, but I'm a regular reader of the Captain's Quarters, which is written by Ed Morrissey, aka "Captain Ed." And he did opine that there's a conservative civil war. So, I'm sort of assuming that by calling Morrissey an "activist," Polman seeks to build him up as a "war leader" -- which might mean it's a war Polman is not exactly unhappy to be seeing.

    In the interest of full accuracy (and because I don't relish the idea of being an anti-war activist), here's the Declaration of War -- straight from Activist Ed:

    But even more, the Democrats may want to rescue Harriet Miers from the clutches of the Republican base. They're delighting in the civil war that has erupted in the conservative ranks since her nomination, but the majority of them should realize that Miers will be the best nominee they can expect from George Bush. She may be a cipher, but she has some history of flexibility on affirmative action during her political and legal career. Her lack of credentials also means that their normally apoplectic support base will not go crazy over her confirmation. Faced with replacements such as Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, and Edith Hollan Jones, they'll take Miers.
    I wish Polman could have supplied a link, as right now I'm wondering whether he might have been referring to something else. What Ed seemed to be anticipating in the above post was not so much a war in the true sense, but liberal delight in seeing it. And in a more recent post, Captain Ed sounded downright peaceful on the Miers issue:
    Despite the idiotic response from the White House prior to this telecon, I'm inclined to support Miers. I don't believe she'll be a disaster, and I think she'll at least improve on O'Connor. I also don't believe she'll get pushed around, but I have to be honest and say I get that impression more from what Hugh Hewitt and Beldar have argued and presented than anything the White House has bothered to do on their own behalf. I've come to the conclusion that spanking Miers over the clumsiness and incompentence of the White House doesn't make a lot of sense.
    Can I come out of my fallout shelter now?

    I don't think so, because even if Captain Ed's being drafted into combat against his will, others are already there. As Glenn opined yesterday, it's resembling a "circular firing squad." I agree, but I just don't know which way to shoot.

    Is this one of those situations where we ought to just have the war and get it over with? See who wins?

    As far as the actual shooting war is concerned, there really isn't much dispute about Ms. Miers' lack of constitutional scholarship or background. Despite the fact that social conservatives yell loudly about this, the actual focus -- and what seems to be driving the much-touted "war" -- relates more to real issues. Here, according to Polman, are some of the real life, "war" issues:

    They want to know (among other things) whether Miers, as an evangelical Christian, had moral qualms about running the Texas Lottery Commission. They want to know why she sympathized with people with AIDS while serving on the Dallas City Council. They want to know why she helped create a lecture series that brought famous liberal feminists to Southern Methodist University in 1998.

    Jan LaRue, chief counsel at Concerned Women for America, a conservative grassroots group, said yesterday: "My goodness, we keep being told to just believe the President. I was on a conference call - everybody was - with [GOP national chairman] Ken Mehlman, and the whole message was 'Trust us, trust us, trust us.' But we've never had to just rely on trust before. There was always credible information to look at before. But, with this nominee, I can't determine what she really believes in, and I can't find anything in her record even remotely related to constitutional law."

    Moral qualms with the Lottery Commission? That's a pretty serious charge, and while I couldn't find it at the Concerned Women for America's web site, I did see that they demand answers to questions on the issue of feminist speakers. I'm not sure whether they believe it to be a constitutional issue, but they do ask these questions:
    Has Miss Miers expressed any opinion about the dominance of feminist theory in the women's studies program? Does Miss Miers share the feminist theory that lecturers have presented? Has she disassociated herself from the lecture series or attempted to bring lecturers to the program that represent a traditionalist perspective on women? Why has she not participated as a lecturer?
    Couldn't find any direct evidence that she "sympathized with people with AIDS" while she was on the Dallas City Council either.

    But is sympathizing with people with AIDS a constitutional issue? The problem I have with such lines of attack is that they make me more, not less, sympathetic to Miers, despite my disagreements with her.

    I think I'll continue to sit the war, and hope the firing squad won't come for me.

    "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping that it will eat him last."

    -- Churchill

    Life itself can be a croc.

    UPDATE: In the comments below, Steven Malcolm Anderson provided this link to a 1989 survey allegedly completed by Harriet Miers. If the information is authentic, it might be of value in evaluating Ms. Miers.

    Of course, attitudes have changed in the last 15 years....

    (I have no idea whether she still thinks that way.)

    posted by Eric at 09:25 AM | Comments (7)




    Five years -- and still a gaping hole

    I have not forgotten the U.S.S. Cole. I just can't believe it's been five years. I remember talking about it at the time when I ate dinner with a World War II Navy veteran. He said that the attack on a Navy ship was a clear act of war, and he exploded with rage. I won't repeat what he said about the president (or what he said we should do to Yemen in retaliation, but it didn't matter to him whether the "links to terrorism" could be proven). Above all, he pointed out that Americans seemed to have forgotten the sacrifices that were made by his generation during that war. (The guy is still alive, but 90 years old, and very frail.)

    Anyway, there was something about that unforgettably gaping hole that resonated with me.


    Cole.jpg


    It still does, enough that I thought it was worth a post.

    In remembering the Cole, Michelle Malkin wrote this link-filled post plus a column which I quoted earlier, but which also had this to say about the Cole:

    Oct. 12 marks the fifth anniversary of the bombing of the USS Cole. Seventeen American sailors were murdered in the attack. They were casualties of a war with radical Islamic terror that America hadn't yet declared and which the mainstream media still refuses to acknowledge today.
    That's the problem. There's still a gaping hole. A complete inability to see reality when it stares them in the face.

    What would it take? (9/11 apparently didn't convince them either.)

    For more detail on the Cole, read Sisyphus's post. Or Smash. Or Blackfive. Or Baldilocks. I'm sure there are others, but I'm not the linker I should be. (Even this meager linking is out of the ordinary for me -- but so was that attack, and I just think it should be remembered, even late at night when I'd rather zone out.)

    I have to remember, and that's because I know that there are people who think we can still be made to lose this war -- if only we can be made to forget.


    UPDATE: The enemy is relentless -- and does not forget America's past performance. Even if we do.

    More below.

    Continue reading "Five years -- and still a gaping hole"

    posted by Eric at 11:49 PM | Comments (1)



    Socialism sprawls out

    Every once in awhile, I'll get something in the mail that annoys me enough to comment on it in this blog. The last time, I think, it was from a guy running for office in North Carolina who assumed I'd agree with him about the sodomites....

    This time, it's a slick, professionally done brochure from my state assemblyman, one Daylin Leach. The trouble is I can't tell whether it's campaign literature or one of those informational deals that politicians send to their constituents. It's titled "Going Greener II" (or "GGII") and most of it consists of Leach bragging about what he has done for "the environment." All fine and good, I guess. No time right now to read through the bureaucratic rules and regulations in store. I just got back from another all day drive to New Jersey, and I am sick of everything.

    But there's one little irritating detail that just stuck in my craw.

    Under a section titled "Preserving Open Space" the following claim is made:

    Nationally, Pennsylvania ranks second in land consumption per person and fifth in land area converted to development, despite being 49th in population growth. Each year, the state loses nearly 120,000 acres of open space to development.
    First of all, what is "land consumption"? It's a new phrase for me, and it positively reeks of manipulation, implying that there's some process going on which is destroying and digesting and spitting out "the land" as if it's being eaten by a giant monster. Once the land is "consumed," does that mean it's gone? I mean, isn't all land owned by some person or some entity? In that sense, is it not all "consumed"?

    What is "consumption"?

    According to most dictionaries, consumption in the economic sense means "the using up of goods and services by consumer purchasing or in the production of other goods." I'm assuming that the idea here is to characterize land as something which is used up by being purchased, but that's not true, as the land is always there. It might go up in value or it might go down, but unless it's in the flood plain or in New Orleans, it isn't going away.

    Yeah, I know, there's Atlantis. I guess you could say Atlantis was "consumed" -- but I suspect that's not what they're talking about.

    So what are they talking about? "Land consumption" seems to be an environmentalist term of recent origin -- sort of code language invented by the people whose cause is fighting "sprawl." (Regular readers know that I'm starting to growl, because I hate code language.)

    Here's a definition -- from an anti-sprawl site -- called "Understanding Per Capita Land Consumption":

    Per capita urban land consumption is not limited to the size of a person's house lot or to a person's proportion of the land covered by an apartment complex. It also includes a portion of all the other land that has been converted from rural to urban use to provide for jobs, recreation and entertainment, shopping, parking, transportation, storage, government services, religious and cultural opportunities, waste handling, and education.

    So the level of per capita land consumption is based both on direct individual decisions and behavior, and on collective decisions made through the government and the marketplace.

    The effect of all urban planning, development and transportation decisions shows up in the per capita land consumption figure.

    Among the factors that influence per capita land consumption are urban planning, zoning, transportation and other infrastructure investments, consumer and builder preferences, the vitality of central cities and affluence.

    Can anyone understand what they're talking about? The above definition sounds like circular, socialistic communitarian gibberish.

    I'll have to look elsewhere, as there must be a real definition.

    Well, here's the European Environment Agency's definition:

    'Consumption' of land cover means: (a) The expansion of built-up area which can be directly measured; (b) the absolute extent of land that is subject to exploitation by agriculture, forestry or other economic activities; and (c) the over-intensive exploitation of land that is used for agriculture and forestry.
    In other words, in Europe they're talking about all land which is used for any purpose including residential, agricultural, or commercial, and I guess all land which is bought, or sold for investment purposes (the latter being economic activities).

    That doesn't sound like something that any government would want to stop. Not if it wanted to protect its tax base.

    Anyway, there's more than one definition of land comsumption. Get a load of this:

    The virtual void of population-stabilization plans within the anti-sprawl programs around the country is related to a belief that population growth can be accommodated without causing sprawl.

    Theoretically, that is possible – for awhile: All new residents would have to move into the existing urban area, and none of the previous residents could move to the edge of the city. Such an occurrence over any period of time could happen only through the continual demolition of existing housing to make room for higher-density cluster houses, condominiums or apartment buildings; the demolition of apartment buildings to build higher apartment buildings; higher occupancy rates in existing structures, including some structures not intended for residential use such as garages, and building on any remaining vacant land.

    Even if Americans were to accept the escalating governmental regulations that would be required to handle each year's population growth within existing boundaries, such a success would not ease the massive "ecological footprint" on the rural areas of the country.

    It is important to recognize that the per-capita-land-consumption figure upon which nearly all conventional anti-sprawl efforts focus includes only the land consumed by an average resident inside his/her own Urbanized Area. It does not include all the rural land in other parts of the country that is required to obtain the food, fiber, minerals and energy for that resident, and to dispose of that resident's wastes – termed the ecological footprint of the Area.

    A study of sprawl nationwide released in March of 2001 failed to find any American community that has shown an inclination to adopt the regulations and make the personal behavior changes that would counteract the effects of population growth for even a few years, let alone in perpetuity – which essentially is what would be required if current national population policies stay in place.

    Los Angeles is a prime example of the limits to how far Americans will go in packing additional people into their neighborhoods. No city in America may be a better model of the goal of attempting to restrain sprawl by channeling population growth into ever-denser settlements, both in the urban core and throughout the suburbs. Between 1970 and 1990, per capita land consumption fell until the L.A. Urbanized Area was the most densely populated in the country. Many people find this hard to believe because of Manhattan's skyline. But New York's suburbs are only 60% as dense as those of Los Angeles. No other Urbanized Area provided so little land per resident as Los Angeles (0.11 acre). Most American communities have refused to come anywhere near the L.A. densities.

    Yet despite accepting the densest living conditions in the country, the Los Angeles Area sprawled across another 394 square miles of orchards, farmland, natural habitat and other rural land. The reason? The addition of another 3.1 million residents.

    Am I sensing a need to control people here? For the life of me, I will never understand how people can go through their lives imagining that it is their precious business to tell other people what to do and how to live, and to use the government as their conquering sword.

    But that's what this "land consumption" label is all about. They don't want land to be used in ways they disapprove. Some people's land, that is. Once a farmer, always a farmer. But don't try "developing" your land. Don't try using it for anything else.

    Am I crazy, or does this resemble serfdom? If they want a farmer's land to stop "sprawl," let them pay for it like anyone else, and pay what it's worth.

    I don't like sprawl either. I hate traffic, and I dislike seeing beautiful farmland turned into tacky developments just as much as anyone. But I also hate seeing old buildings torn down to make way for new ones. Why should that give me the right to stop it?

    Thomas Sowell touched on this in his column recently:

    An editorial in a recent issue of the National Geographic's "Traveler" magazine complained that kayakers in Maine found "residential development" near national parks and urged its readers to use their "influence" to prevent such things.

    "You are the stakeholders in our national parks," it said.

    Really? What stake do kayakers and others of like mind have that is not also a stake held by people who build the vacation homes whose presence offends the kayak set? Homeowners are just as much citizens and taxpayers as kayakers are, and they are even entitled to equal treatment under the 14th Amendment.

    The essence of bigotry is denying others the same rights you claim for yourself. Green bigots are a classic example.

    Damn right. Read the whole thing.

    (Aren't the anti-sprawlers all living on once-undeveloped land onto which people sprawled? Who preordained their rights?)

    But I'm digressing from the Going Greener II brochure. (Maybe I'm not.) Apparently missing the implications of what he says, my assemblyman claims that

    the state loses nearly 120,000 acres of open space to development.
    Excuse me? The state? How does the state lose anything? However we might define the "open space" which is said to be "lost," unless it is state-owned land, it is not the state's to lose. He must mean that it's somehow owned (or should be owned) by all residents of the state of Pennsylvania. But wouldn't that only be the case under socialism? All land to the people?

    And what about the word "lost"? Again, it's enviro-code language for the use of farmland or previously undeveloped land for other purposes like housing or industry. An assumption is being made that when land is used for a new purpose, that it is somehow irredeemably "lost." But history shows that farmland comes and goes, as does urban and suburban land. Land can fall into disuse or become abandoned, yet it's still there forever. It is human economic use of the land that changes, or ceases.

    For one man, open land might be seen as "nothing there" or "the middle of nowhere" or even "a vast wasteland." For another, a desolate swamp might cry out for government protection. And for another, the same swamp might be seen as the perfect location for a fish farm. I've driven across the country more times than I can remember, and except for the cities, there are huge, huge areas of undeveloped land. I guess it's nice, and I guess if enough people liked it they could buy it and keep it that way, but I think there's an element of sentimentalization in all of this.

    Development is only seen as an evil thing in certain areas -- notably in recently rural areas within driving distance from large, sophisticated urban areas. I didn't hear anyone complaining about sprawl in small town and rural Indiana the last time I stayed there. (All people talked about was how to get people or businesses to move there and bring jobs.)

    Sprawl only seems to matters to people who live in or near the sprawl they complain of.

    I sometimes wonder whether the goal is to keep people imprisoned in cities.

    posted by Eric at 08:56 PM | Comments (3)



    How far will denial of denial go?

    Considering the lack of any new information (and the near total media blackout), I expected to find nothing new about Joel Hinrichs or the Oklahoma University bombing today.

    But surprise, surprise! This morning, first I found an editorial opinion by Michelle Malkin, who has pursued this story more tirelessly than anyone in the media. (I apologize for the longish quote, but I know people don't click links and I think the concerns expressed by a journalist to Ms. Malkin are important.) :

    ....many of my readers wonder why the MSM won't touch the strange and troubling story of the University of Oklahoma bomber, Joel Henry Hinrichs III. On Oct. 1, Hinrichs died on a park bench outside the school's packed football stadium when a homemade bomb in his possession exploded. The Justice Department has sealed a search warrant in the case. The university's president, David Boren, is pooh-poohing local media and Internet blog reports of possible jihadist influences on Hinrichs. The dead bomber was, we are being told, simply a depressed and troubled young man with "no known ties" to terrorism.

    Never mind that, according to local news reporters, the bomb-making material found in Hinrichs' apartment was triacetone triperoxide – the explosive chemical of choice of shoe bomber Richard Reid and the London 7-7 subway bombers.

    Never mind the local police department's confirmation that Hinrichs had attempted to buy ammonium nitrate a few days before his death.

    Never mind the concerns of Oklahoma University student journalist Rachael Kahne, who told me this week in a call for the media's help:

    "I've been working on this story since the night it happened and have been stonewalled at every turn. ... Minutes after the explosion, police busted into a student's apartment and arrested four Muslim students who were there for a small gathering (the president of the Muslim Student Association assures me this was in no way a 'party').

    "Among those arrested [and later released] was Fazal Cheema, Joel Henry Hinrichs' Pakistani roommate. I was baffled when I heard this. I didn't know how police would be able to identify who Hinrichs was, where he lived, who his roommate was, and then find where his roommate was in a matter of minutes. Something isn't adding up, and I've been wracking my brain for the past week trying to figure out what happened here. OU isn't saying anything more than the typical PR spin, and the FBI won't talk."

    Nothing to see here. Move along. Islam is a peaceful religion. Stop asking so many damned questions.

    Such is the attitude of the national media, which seems to believe that 'tis better to live in ignorance and indulge in hindsight later than to offend the gods of political correctness.

    BTW, lest anyone is imagining she's from the fringes of the far right, Rachel Kahne was selected as an MTV correspondent. She appears to be simply trying to do what ought to be the job of any journalist -- find out what happened and tell us.

    For that, she's being stymied just like the rest of us. Being force-fed a preordained "depression-and-suicide" story that defies common sense.

    Imagine. A conscientious journalist is being treated like some uppity blogger!

    My kudos to Rachel Kahne (and of course to Michelle Malkin). Whether they succeed or not, I like it when journalists attempt to do their job. And this one is an uphill battle. Not to expose any grand conspiracy, but just to tell us what happened.

    Another dissenting journalist is Mark Davis, radio host and Dallas Morning News columnist. In his column (titled "Media might be missing a story and ignoring a terrorist"), Davis wonders whether the story would have been treated any differently had the same man's bomb gone off in front of an abortion clinic:

    (WARNING: you can only click and read the whole story once without registering.)

    ....Mr. Hinrichs is now the subject of understandably intense scrutiny, virtually none of it from the mainstream media. You might think the story fizzled because there was, in fact, no death beyond the bomber. True enough, but I'd suggest that if a raid revealed some radical plan to bomb an abortion clinic anywhere in America, the suspects would be household names by nightfall without a single fuse lit.

    Something about the nature of this event has swallowed almost whole the normal curiosity one would expect from the usual sources.

    Is it political, because acknowledging a terror threat on our soil might bolster President Bush's war logic? Is it economic, out of fear of scaring people away from football games? Is it geographic snobbery because it didn't happen on either coast? Or is it a PC fear of seeming to lunge toward a jihadist angle?

    To that I'd add that had the same explosion occurred in front of a gay bar (say, in nearby Oklahoma City), I think the word "terrorism" might have managed to find it's way into print (minus, of course, the prefatory "no connection to" which seems mandatory in any MSM report on the OU bombing).

    I said "might have." Because even in the case of the abortion clinic hypothetical, I see a longterm problem posed by terrorist denial syndrome. As I pointed out yesterday, under the emerging standard, Timothy McVeigh himself might not now be considered a terrorist. After all, it was a single bomb, he was said to have acted alone, and there were "no connections to terrorist groups."

    I hate to think what will happen if a fanatic Islamist bomber ever managed to take out his psychotic religious wrath on an abortion clinic or a gay bar.

    Would conflict managers and grief counselors be enough?

    posted by Eric at 09:38 AM | Comments (6)



    If you can't stand the heat, be as mediocre as possible!

    James Dobson (a man I don't agraee with on a number of issues) is considered a political insider regarding the Miers nomination, and it's obvious that he's not telling all he knows, especially about certain reassurances he's said to have been given. Nevertheless, he makes an interesting observation in today's Washington Times:

    James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said he spoke with Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove on Oct. 1 -- two days before the Miers nomination -- and was told that "Harriet Miers was at the top of the short list."

    Also on that list were several candidates that many conservatives say they would have preferred, Mr. Dobson said on his radio program that was recorded yesterday and will be broadcast today.

    "Well, what Karl told me is that some of those individuals took themselves off that list," he said, according to a transcript obtained last night. "They would not allow their names to be considered because the process has become so vicious and so vitriolic and so bitter that they didn't want to subject themselves or the members of their families to it."

    White House officials could not be reached for comment last night.

    Mr. Dobson also said that no one gave him any assurances that Miss Miers would rule any certain way in specific court cases but only that her judicial philosophy "was consistent with the promises that President Bush had made when he was campaigning."

    Mr. Specter had suggested he might call Mr. Dobson and Mr. Rove to testify before his committee about any inside knowledge they might have about Miss Miers -- a threat that has only heightened the angst many conservatives feel about the nomination.

    There's been some discussion of subpoenaing Dobson, but I doubt that will happen.

    What intrigues me more is the reason Dobson gave as the reason why other, better known (and presumably better qualified) candidates on Rove's "short list" demanded to be withdrawn from consideration:

    They would not allow their names to be considered because the process has become so vicious and so vitriolic and so bitter that they didn't want to subject themselves or the members of their families to it.

    It's all too easy to forget that just because someone is a prominent legal thinker (whether in the judiciary, academia, or government) that does not guarantee that he or she is a seasoned veteran of high-profile political hardball, especially as it's currently played. Much less does it guarantee that their family members have a clue about how to play political hardball, or that they can handle vicious, personal, ad hominem attacks. For the most part, even prominent judges in the various appellate courts are not celebrities at all. Yeah, they may be well known enough in legal circles that their asses will get kissed by lawyers at cocktail parties, but their wives can go shopping with impunity, their kids can attend school without incident, and there'd no reason to expect otherwise. I'd be willing to bet that few prominent legal thinkers have devoted much time to indoctrinating their familes on the finer arts of how to practice and survive character assassination and political blackmail. (Most likely, they've been so busy working themselves to the bone that they see their private lives as, well, private. Some of them might even imagine their private lives provide sanctuary from the "outside world!")

    It's one thing to pluck someone like that from the safety and security of a normal life, place him on Karl Rove's "short list," and then expect him or her to go through a massive personal investigation followed by a grueling ordeal before Congress and national television. An ambitious, politically motivated person with solid convictions and who wants to serve can probably handle it.

    But what about their families? Unlike the situation of high profile politicians, most judges' and government employees' spouses and children were not raised and do not live in conspiracy-driven, Machiavellian households. How are they expected to handle ugly, personal nastiness which will suddenly erupt in their lives? They are ordinary people with ordinary problems. They might have sex, they might drink, they might struggle with depression, or sexual insecurities, or they might even have (gasp) taken an occasional recreational drug.

    Everyone remembers what happened to Judge Bork. The process went from being political to personal. In the intervening years, it's gone from personal to really personal, and the focus can now fairly be directed at every member of the nominee's family, regardless of age.

    It would be normal and expected for any potential nominee to tremble over the prospect of Senate hearings, and personal criticism in the media (and now on thousands of blogs, not all of which attempt to be fair). But I'm thinking of Justice Roberts' four year old boy, who, for his father's crime of finding himself nominated, was immediately accused of being gay. Fortunately for him, he was young enough that it probably wasn't too traumatic.

    Roberts' son provides an important lesson, though, that children -- no matter what their age -- are now fair game. So is everything else. Before they even consider that nomination, candidates must think of what the most vicious columnists and bloggers might do and say -- to even the most vulnerable members of their previously private families.

    If you don't like it, get the hell off Karl Rove's short list!

    (How to avoid getting on that list in the first place is another, longer, topic.)

    posted by Eric at 08:31 AM | Comments (2)




    Unstable ingredient of failure?

    While more than a few stubborn details have troubled me about the recent explosions and odd near-misses, a comment made by police in the San Diego "home lab" suicide prodded me into doing a little hard research into explosives.

    Police were sent to the 8700 block of Costa Verde Boulevard after someone reported a strong odor coming from a condo about 1 p.m. Friday, SDPD Sgt. Jim Schorr said.

    A man in the condo told officers everything was fine and shut the door, Schorr said. Within a couple of minutes, a gunshot was heard, prompting police to clear the building, Schorr said.

    The guy went right back inside and killed himself, and a home chemical lab was later found. While I haven't yet read details about whatever was inside, I've been stuck on the smell.

    Might the smell have been related to the TATP/Mother of Satan/London bomber stuff that everyone's talking about? Sure enough, I found that according to news reports about the London bombing, there was a "funny smell":

    Three passengers on the top deck escaped injury. According to some reports, they were covered in white powder, prompting speculation that it was a chemical ingredient, acetone peroxide, from the main device and the same explosive used in the bomb attacks two weeks ago.

    The bus - which contained around 10 passengers - was evacuated and cordoned off amid fears that the main device might still explode.

    Mr Maybanks, 38, said: "When I heard a bang my initial thought was that it sounded like a bomb. I went upstairs and there was a funny smell - I had never smelt anything like it before. There was smoke in the air.

    "At the back of the bus on the floor was a black rucksack. I called the police and got everyone off the bus."

    As it turns out, funny smells characterize TATP (conventional name is simply "acetone peroxide") -- characterized by Wikipedia as having a "distinctive acrid smell." Indeed, the smell is so distinctive that one of the London bombers is believed to have tried to hide the smell with perfume.

    While that doesn't prove that Mr. Yasufi was cooking up TATP in San Diego, a funny smell followed by an immediate suicide might offer what the police call a "clue."

    My curiosity was much aroused by this, and I've read plenty of reports of how "easy" it is to manufacture TATP, and how it's "the same explosive" as that used in the London bombings. So, I thought, let's see whether I, someone who barely passed high school chemistry, could track down the recipes on the Internet.

    At the outset, I was drawn to an ethical discussion by the famous cryptographer Bruce Schneier, who discussed the ingredients in the London bombings. (The beginning quote is from a non-functional CNN link.):

    The NYPD officials said investigators believe the bombers used a peroxide-based explosive called HMDT, or hexamethylene triperoxide diamine. HMDT can be made using ordinary ingredients like hydrogen peroxide (hair bleach), citric acid (a common food preservative) and heat tablets (sometimes used by the military for cooking).

    HMDT degrades at room temperature, so the bombers preserved it in a way that offered an early warning sign, said Michael Sheehan, deputy commissioner of counterterrorism at the nation's largest police department.

    "In the flophouse where this was built in Leeds, they had commercial grade refrigerators to keep the materials cool," Sheehan said, describing the setup as "an indicator of a problem."

    Among the other details cited by Sheehan:

    The bombers transported the explosives in beverage coolers tucked in the backs of two cars to the outskirts of London.

    Investigators believe the three bombs that exploded in the subway were detonated by cell phones that had alarms set to 8:50 a.m.

    For those of you upset that the police divulged the recipe -- citric acid, hair bleach, and food heater tablets -- the details are already out there.
    It's an odd detail, but if you Google TATP and London you get more hits than if you Google HMDT and London, even though New York police have described HMDT as the London ingredient. (But they're similar, and both can be readily made.)

    Schneier is absolutely right about the manufacturing details -- for HMTD and TATP -- being readily available. They're all over the place, and frankly, at this point in time I don't think it makes any difference where they are. Our enemies not only have them, they've probably improved on them, and would probably consider a lot of the Internet recipes to be kid's stuff. (For "every little boy" who likes to play with bombs, of course...)

    At one such recipe site, I noticed that both HMDT and TATP (yes, recipes for both are there, and one duplicates the Schneier-linked recipe) are best used as primary explosives.

    What's a primary explosive?

    There are two types of explosive devices, High Explosives which when initiated expand into their gaseous phase at a very fast rate. A low explosive however expands at a slow rate. A well known high explosive is C4 and Gunpowder a low explosive. Detonating explosives are very sensitive to heat, friction and impact, there are two types of detonating explosives; Primary and Secondary, the Primary is extremely sensitive and dangerous to handle, usually used in small quantities in detonators. The Secondary explosive is very safe to handle and is usually initiated by the primary explosive.
    A typical secondary explosive, I read, is ammonium nitrate.

    Because I tend to oversimplify things that are complicated, I found myself drawn to this recipe site because it reduces the TATP manufacturing process to two utterly simple paragraphs. (I won't reproduce it here, because it's childish and unnecessary, but just take my word for it.)

    While there are plenty of TATP recipes, it was at the last site that something else grabbed my attention:

    A very good secondary explosive can be made by mixing the AP with Ammonium Nitrate which is found in fertilizers. The fertilizer you use must contain at least 80 percent Ammonium Nitrate. Mix the pulverized Ammonium Nitrate with AP properly. You may use the following proportions depending on the purity of the Ammonium Nitrate.

    1. Technically pure,dry Ammonium Nitrate:
    90 % Ammonium Nitrate
    10 % Acetone Peroxide

    2. Quite pure (90%) Swedish N-24,26,28 DRY!!!!
    85 % Ammonium Nitrate
    15 % Acetone Peroxide

    3. Poor quality DRY!!!!
    75 % Ammonium Nitrate
    25 % Acetone Peroxide

    4. Poor quality ,damp but not wet.
    50 % Ammonium Nitrate
    50 % Acetone Peroxide

    Please use this information carefully!!!!
    The use of these explosives on humans are only justified in the case of war!!

    Acetone Peroxide (aka TATP) plus ammonium nitrate?

    Unless the reports are mistaken, Joel Hinrichs:

    1) already had TATP (an extremely unstable, primary, explosive); and

    2) tried unsuccessfully to purchase ammonium nitrate (a very stable, secondary explosive).

    We also know that the police intended to follow through with their investigation into Hinrichs' attempted buy.

    We are told that Hinrichs had a history of depression, but I've hesitated to call this a suicide because it seems so abnormal for any depressed person to use such a method.

    But what about failure? If you can for a moment, just try to put yourself into the mind of someone like him, and ask how might the failure to obtain that crucial ammonium nitrate have made you feel? Devastated, I'd say. And not just because he didn't score the secondary explosive, either. The cops were onto him, and (in his mind at least) he was now a known, marked man. Seen this way, his suicide might very well be analogous to that of a TATP cook whose aromas drew the heat.

    Might he have known the jig was up?

    Obviously, this is speculation, but this is consistent both with the theory of suicide and with what is known about the facts. It's also consistent with doing something so incredibly reckless and stupid as sitting down on a bench and zoning out with a notoriously unstable device and contemplating your utter failure. (And also contemplating, possibly, the disapproval and disgust of the people you might have hoped to impress as a wannabe hero....)

    While it still isn't known what was in the Hinrichs apartment because the warrant was sealed, it's very likely that there were bomb-making ingredients (and probably instructions), because after all, this was a death by homemade bomb.

    One thing is clear about TATP. It's as unstable as the people who are attracted to it.

    MORE: Via Dr. Rusty Shackleford, here's a report that the FBI refuse to confirm or deny whether the bomb was in fact TATP as previously reported, or what it was, because the warrant was sealed. Obviously, the bomb had to be made of something, and TATP being so simple to make, it's as likely a culprit as any.

    While I can understand the need to keep the lid on an ongoing investigation (and thus not disclose certain details) the apparent urgency to deny that Hinrichs was a terrorist makes little sense in light of the attempted ammonium nitrate purchase.

    Not that his failed purchase proves any connection to organized terrorist groups, of course.

    But think about this. Ammonium nitrate is used for huge explosions, and it is the stuff demolition contractors use to cut through mountains. Timothy McVeigh used ammonium nitrate, and the official story has always been that he had no connection to terrorist groups. But has anyone ever suggested that Timothy McVeigh was not a terrorist simply because no organizational ties were found?

    I'm wondering whether today they would. Seriously.

    From the CNS story:

    The head of the FBI investigation of a suicide bombing at an Oklahoma University football game said the investigation has yielded no information tying the bomber to terrorist activities, in spite of Internet reports to the contrary.
    Is the FBI's contention that things like detonating a bomb 100 yards from 84,000 people and attempting to buy ammonium nitrate are not "terrorist activities"? If so, then I'd suggest a little common sense might be in order.

    Except that I'm worried that this might not be a failure of common sense, so much as another indication of deception -- by a lot of people, both in media and government. If that's the case, it might help answer the question Glenn asked last night:

    WHY SO LITTLE COVERAGE of the Oklahoma suicide bombing?
    (Am I allowed to say, "Why indeed"?)

    posted by Eric at 04:44 PM | Comments (2)



    Because we're there

    The United States is accused of not doing enough about in terms of earthquake relief:

    "Every move of the United States is judged here on political grounds. It was a rare opportunity for the United States to show that it's a true friend of Pakistan," said Mr Rais.

    It is not likely to have escaped Washington's notice that its response to this latest disaster could be key in improving perceptions of the United States in Pakistan, an Islamic nation where many harbour deep resentment over the United States' invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war. In the wake of the tsunami, the US military was given a warm reception in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

    Following the article, aid donors are listed, and it doesn't appear that the United States is really all that much of a piker:
    Britain: £1m

    United States: £50m plus helicopters

    European Union: €3.6m plus aid workers on the ground

    United Nations: $100,000

    Kuwait: $100m

    South Korea: $3m

    Malaysia: $1m

    Australia: $4.2m

    Sri Lanka: $100,000

    How much is not enough and how much is too much?

    According to this report, the U.S. gave $350 million for tsunami relief -- following the disaster that killed 120,000. So based on the number of deaths, the amount of aid would seem at least close to being proportionately correct.

    There doesn't seem to be much of a relationship between the amount of money given to charity and the amount of love we get in return, though.

    (I suppose it puts the U.S. in a better moral position to ask questions like "Why do they hate us?")

    posted by Eric at 12:09 PM | Comments (4)



    Good is twice as bad!

    Something is very wrong with this blog, and I'm worried that the primary problem is that I'm too nice.

    Via Dean Esmay (who, fortunately, cushioned the blow when he said nice things about me last week), I was directed to a very elaborate test which rates blogs by percentage of good and evil. In the rating process, the test analyzes such things as "Points of Interest" and Important Phrases" -- and it promises near-infallibility:

    The Gematriculator is a service that uses the infallible methods of Gematria developed by Mr. Ivan Panin to determine how good or evil a web site or a text passage is.

    Basically, Gematria is searching for different patterns through the text, such as the amount of words beginning with a vowel. If the amount of these matches is divisible by a certain number, such as 7 (which is said to be God's number), there is an incontestable argument that the Spirit of God is ever present in the text. Another important aspect in gematria are the numerical values of letters: A=1, B=2 ... I=9, J=10, K=20 and so on. The Gematriculator uses Finnish alphabet, in which Y is a vowel.

    Experts consider the mathematical patterns in the text of the Holy Bible as God's watermark of authenticity. Thus, the Gematriculator provides only results that are absolutely correct.

    Scary, isn't it? And it means the test has to be right, because it's based on science.

    Upset as I am with the results, I feel a duty to share them with my readers, because it would be a cowardly form of denial for me to run away from things that are scientifically incontrovertible.

    I'm (gulp) only 33% evil:

    This site is certified 33% EVIL by the Gematriculator

    And if we do the math, that also means I'm 67% good:

    This site is certified 67% GOOD by the Gematriculator

    Dean beats me by a substantial margin, as he's 51% evil. Dean's characterization of Urthshu as a "goody two-shoes" made me wince, because Urthshu is tied with me at 33%.

    I don't know what to do about this, and I guess I should start by admitting my shortcomings and promising to try harder.

    The worst part of this is that I had my blog rated by this same outfit over two years ago, and I was more evil than I am now.

    How do I lose the goody two shoes? (Hell, just yesterday I ridiculed diversity for Columbus Day and did an irreligious, downright heretical PhotoShopping of Porky Pig! It's all so discouraging....)

    Any advice greatly appreciated.

    Good sucks bad.

    posted by Eric at 10:54 AM | Comments (7)



    More laws, more parenting?

    Pennsylvania legislators are considering restrictions on the number and age of passengers allowed to ride with youthful drivers:

    In recent weeks, young drivers have been involved in three fatal accidents in the area (see related story). And in each instance, the drivers were carrying passengers.

    Now, the idea of a more restrictive, "graduated" driver's license program is again being looked at in Harrisburg.

    Pennsylvania's program does not limit the number of passengers even a very inexperienced driver can carry. And studies show that passengers can easily distract the driver.

    Now, the House Transportation Committee will revisit the issue, and plans hearings to consider what else lawmakers might do to protect young drivers and their passengers.

    As the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, New Jersey law restricts the ages of passengers allowed to ride with younger drivers. The legal reasoning is apparently based on accident statistics. From a recent Inquirer editorial (titled "More riders, more risks"):
    Neighboring states, including New Jersey and New York, limit the number of passengers a new driver can carry. Why? Because accident data show that the risk of a fatal crash increases with the distraction from each additional rider, especially among 16-year-olds.

    However many young motorists comply, these states' rider rules stand as important reminders to all drivers - and their parents - that limiting passengers is a key safety strategy.

    Pennsylvania's licensing rules, updated in 1999, have helped to cut teen road fatalities. Extended waiting times and greater practice-driving requirements prior to licensing are followed by late-night driving limits on new drivers.

    All good steps. But Pennsylvania imposes no other restriction on young motorists, other than that they wear seatbelts. It should do so, and soon.

    Even with road fatalities on the decline, more than 100 teen drivers died last year in Pennsylvania.

    Legislative hearings could explore the right mix of rules: Jersey limits unrelated passengers. Massachusetts bars riders under 18 unless a licensed adult rides along with a young driver. New York requires added training before under-18s can ferry friends.

    Drawbacks? Sure. Rider limits could mean more teens take to the road solo. Burns gas, boosts traffic, even crowds school lots, and puts more drivers at risk for accidents.

    It's still a question of convenience versus saving lives, though. So none of those drawbacks trumps a driver-safety measure that could reduce fatal highway crashes.

    Limiting passengers is a key safety strategy? If limiting the number of passengers decreases fatalities in accidents involving young drivers, why stop there? Doesn't it stand to reason that the same would be true in all accidents?

    The fewer people in a car, the fewer "distractions," and the fewer people killed, right?

    Of course, none of this should bother the wealthier families who can afford to buy more cars.

    Nor should it concern anyone who doesn't have children.

    Families need more protection from the state, of course. Whether it's inconvenient or not.

    And whether the laws work or not. I found it interesting to note that in one of the incidents causing the recent uproar, three of the passengers were not wearing seat belts:

    "I was the first police officer on the scene," he says. "One was ejected from the car, one partially ejected." About as ugly as car accidents get. Only one of the three wore a seatbelt.

    'Kids are dumb'

    I ask how it happened.

    "You want to know how it happened?" he says. "Kids are dumb."

    The officer can be forgiven his bluntness. He is correct. When it comes to driving, kids are dumb. Put another way, they are inexperienced and immature and clueless to the unforgiving forces of physics that dictate how 3,000 pounds of steel hurtle through space. The lucky ones learn over time; the unlucky ones get wilted bouquets next to a telephone pole.

    Sandt notes that Township Line Road, with its dips and rises and washboard pavement "is a hard road to speed on." He points out the narrow ditch just inches off the pavement. Earlier, I retraced the boys' path, accelerating briefly to 60 m.p.h. before feeling the car jump and yaw on the uneven asphalt. Eighty miles per hour on this stretch I cannot fathom.

    "When I stop kids speeding," the officer says, "they're never alone." Always, they have friends in the car. It's an irresistible and deadly narcotic mix: a powerful automobile and a group of captive peers to impress. He thinks Pennsylvania should follow New Jersey's lead and restrict young drivers from transporting other teens.

    The kids already obey the seat belt laws, don't they? I notice that 16 year old Brandariz had only been licensed to drive for one day. He was driving 80 miles per hour on a dangerous stretch of road where the speed limit was 45.

    Let's see, for starters that's 35 miles per hour over the speed limit (a reckless driving charge in PA) plus failure to wear seat belts. Would another law have saved these kids? I'm skeptical.

    I think it's an excellent idea to closely supervise the behavior of a 16-year-old, newly licensed driver. Obviously, he was still in school, as students at two local schools were "excused for the day to deal with their grief."

    In all honesty, at that age, I think that unless the guy was my friend I might have been more relieved at having the day off than grief-stricken, but times may have changed since the days of my heartless, misspent youth.

    Enough of "when I was a kid." I recall how tedious it was to listen to adult prattle about the past.

    Anyway, the accident took place on a Thursday night. A school night. Were I in the parenting business, I wouldn't allow a brand new driver to even have a car ("his" was a 1996 BMW 318 TI) much less take it out with his friends on a school night almost immediately after getting his license.

    But I'm not sure about laws telling parents how to raise their kids.

    (I'm already worried enough about state parenting of adult children...)

    posted by Eric at 09:26 AM | Comments (5)



    Official rules of disengagement?

    Unlike the bomb which exploded in front of the football stadium at Oklahoma University, bombs at Georgia Tech are considered a "terrorist act":


    Three explosive devices found in a courtyard between two Georgia Tech dormitories on the East Campus Monday morning were part of a "terrorist act," an Atlanta police official said.

    One of the devices exploded, injuring the custodian who found them inside a plastic bag. Two others were detonated by a bomb squad.

    The custodian suffered ringing to the ears and was treated at a local hospital. The events led to a temporary evacuation Monday morning.

    "It is a terrorist act at this point and depending on the outcome of the investigation it potentially could become a federal violation as well," said Major C.W. Moss of the Atlanta Police Department.

    Under Georgia law, a terrorist act is committed if a bomb is left behind with the intent of causing the evacuation of a building:
    Under Georgia state law, a terroristic act is described as the release of a "hazardous substance," specifically for "the purpose of causing the evacuation of a building" with "reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror."

    The custodian found the three devices about 9 a.m. in a plastic-type garbage bag, Moss said. When he picked up the bag, one exploded, as it was designed to do when handled. The explosives were made up of chemicals placed inside plastic bottles and could have seriously injured someone, officials said. Numerous agencies were on the Georgia Tech campus to search for suspects.

    I'm a little confused here.

    Why is this story more newsworthy than the bomb in Oklahoma? Should allegations of a suicidal intent coupled with a bomb actually lessen public interest, or make it any less a case of terrorism?

    Can this mean that had Joel Hinrichs simply gotten up and walked away from his bomb without exploding it, that he'd have been a terrorist?

    I'd call it a distinction without a difference, but obviously, the distinction makes all the difference.

    So what are the rules, anyway?

    Unless I am mistaken, the Official Rules To Determine When Bombings Are Terrorism And When They Are Not seem to be along the following lines:

    1. "Normal" bombs are considered terrorism if unaccompanied by the bomber, and the incidents may be reported by mainstream media.

    2. But if the bomber kills himself with the bomb, that is not to be considered terrorism, even if the bomb goes off 100 yards from 84,000 people -- and the incidents may not be reported by mainstream media.

    Hey, I don't make the rules; I'm only trying to make sense of them.

    I should try harder?

    MORE: Glenn Reynolds links (via LGF) to a report of a bomb discovered at UCLA.

    A calm and quiet Westwood was briefly disrupted Friday afternoon when the Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad inspected and detonated an explosive device found within the Midvale Plaza apartment complex on the 500 block of Midvale Avenue.

    After responding to a call made at 11:13 a.m., the bomb squad arrived at 527 Midvale Ave. to find "an improvised explosive device" in the building's open-air courtyard, said Grace Brady, a spokeswoman for the LAPD.

    No injuries were reported, but authorities have been slow to release details about the incident and the device.

    The "T" word is not being used.

    Three bombs, three campuses, three sets of "rules"?

    I hope this isn't becoming a pattern. . .


    MORE: Michelle Malkin links to another Atlanta report which seems to downplay the destructiveness of the devices, highlighting that they were in water bottles.

    Was it (as her readers have suggested) a run-of-the-mill prank?

    Why does it seem so difficult for the media to just tell us what they know?

    MORE: Via Powerline's John Hinderaker:

    Unless you live in Oklahoma and follow the local news, or else read conservative blogs, you probably wouldn't know anything about Joel Hinrichs, the University of Oklahoma student who almost surely tried to carry off a mass suicide-murder at an OU football game.
    (Or unless you're a journalist from the school of non-reporting.)

    UPDATE: My thanks to Michelle Malkin for linking this post -- especially in an important discussion of yet another mysterious death, this time in San Diego:

    SAN DIEGO - A man who fatally shot himself in his University City condominium during a standoff with San Diego police was identified Saturday as a 29-year-old student.

    An autopsy is scheduled tomorrow on the body of Khaled Yasufi, medical examiner Investigator Sal Rodriguez said.

    Police were sent to the 8700 block of Costa Verde Boulevard after someone reported a strong odor coming from a condo about 1 p.m. Friday, SDPD Sgt. Jim Schorr said.

    A man in the condo told officers everything was fine and shut the door, Schorr said. Within a couple of minutes, a gunshot was heard, prompting police to clear the building, Schorr said.

    Police eventually sent in a camera-equipped robot, which transmitted images of a body in the unit. When officers made entry after a standoff of about six hours, a chemical lab was found in the bathroom of the condo, police said. (Emphasis added.)

    I'm with Smash (who's also mystified by a mysterious plane theft.)

    What on earth is going on, anyway? The thing good that can be said about all these strange incidents is that innocent bystanders don't seem to be getting killed. (Yet.)

    UPDATE: There are pictures here of the San Diego incident.

    MORE: This is probably nothing:

    ENCINITAS, CA - (10-10-05) Authorities are investigating the discovery of an explosive device found under a car in an Encinitas parking lot Monday. Deputies were called to the apartments on the 1700 block of South El Camino Real around 9m. Bomb technicians disabled the device and no injuries or damage was reported. Investigators believe the placement of the device was random. Anyone who may have information about this incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 888-580-TIPS.
    I'm glad it was random. Otherwise I might be concerned.

    And Glenn Reynolds links to more about the mystery plane, while offering words of wisdom:

    Briscoe Field may sound familiar to you. It should. Two of the hijackers who crashed airliners into the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, trained at Briscoe Field. Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi did flight training at the Lawrenceville airport about eight months before the attacks.
    Hmm. This is odd, and when you put it together with the bomb incidents at Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, and UCLA plus the New York subway scares and this odd story from San Diego, it sounds like something odd is going on. But is it -- or are we just noticing more odd events in the wake of the New York subway scare? It's hard to say. If this is the much-ballyhooed "Ramadan offensive" by Al Qaeda, then by all appearances it's awfully lame. Of course, it could be a series of distractions, but that seems unlikely, too. I'm going with "chain of coincidences" for the moment, pending some reason to think there's a connection, as a lot of readers seem to.
    I agree, but I just wish there wasn't so much pending.

    Another report titles the San Diego story "Home Chemical Lab."

    Really now! Running a home chemical lab is nothing to kill yourself over....

    UPDATE: Speaking of suicde, after that last comment, I spent several hours researching the ingredients and recipes needed to make TATP bombs, and I stumbled onto a very interesting detail which I think might provide a possible explanation for Hinrichs' still unexplained death. New post here.

    posted by Eric at 08:33 AM | Comments (10)




    RINOs' rage still uncontrolled

    This week's Carnival of the RINOs has been posted by the Environmental Republican. Host Scott Welsh worked hard in spite of starting the week off "with the Eagles suffering an ass-kicking by the hated Cowgirls," so he described himself as "full of piss and venom." (I probably shouldn't be saying this, Scott, but when that Dallas team played the San Francisco 49ers, an insolent columnist warned that "in San Francisco we know how to pinch butt!" No doubt that's behind the gender change.)

    Depite the ass kicking the Eagles received, Scott handled the RINOs' sharp disagreements over Miers very diplomatically, and did a great job with the posts.

    Here are a few that stood out:

  • Don Surber makes a good case for the proposition that Harriet Miers is a proxy whipping boy for Bush.
  • Pigilito has bad news about bicycle seats and erectile dysfunction. (Well, it's good news for the oil and automotive industries!)
  • Amongst a vast pile of pork Lousiana Libertarian, highlights federal Katrina largesse in the form of "$8,000,000 for direct financial assistance to alligator farmers." (Hmmm.... Maybe that explains the puzzle that vexed me in an earlier post.)
  • Dean Esmay offers a pointed reminder that despite the holding in Kelo, government takings still require that "just compensation" be paid.
  • Read 'em all!

    posted by Eric at 09:20 PM



    Broad yes, wild no.

    Jack Shafer (Via Glenn Reynolds) quotes a New York Times reporter for the proposition that the prosecutor in the Plame case (Patrick J. Fitzgerald) might be readying charges under an old espionage statute:

    Under the espionage statute, continues Johnston, "a government official or a private citizen who passed classified information to anyone else in or outside the government could potentially be charged with a felony, if they transferred the information to someone without a security clearance to receive it."

    That's not my reading of the statute supplied, which says the following:

    Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicates, delivers, or transmits, or attempts to communicate, deliver, or transmit, to any foreign government, or to any faction or party or military or naval force within a foreign country, whether recognized or unrecognized by the United States, or to any representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or indirectly, any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, note, instrument, appliance, or information relating to the national defense, shall be punished .... (Emphasis supplied.)
    Excuse me, but how does White House leaking of the identity of Plame's identity (assuming this happened) evince "intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation"? If the motive was in fact to discredit a White House critic, that would seem to be a very common one -- along the lines of "politics as usual." Somehow, I think this the authors of this Cold War vintage (or older) statute had other things in mind when they required an intent that the information "be used to the injury of the United States" -- to say nothing of "the advantage of a foreign nation." How does intending to discredit a White House critic show an intention to injure the United States or help a foreign nation?

    Remember, intent is an element of the crime which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Hell even the act's title is "Gathering or delivering defense information to aid foreign government."

    Does anyone really think that's what happened here?

    I think any such case brought under Section 794 statute should be laughed out of court.

    But the New York Times quotes the same statute as follows:

    One new approach appears to involve the possible use of Chapter 37 of the federal espionage and censorship law, which makes it a crime for anyone who "willfully communicates, delivers, transfers or causes to be communicated" to someone "not entitled to receive it" classified information relating the national defense matters.

    Under this broad statute, a government official or a private citizen who passed classified information to anyone else in or outside the government could potentially be charged with a felony, if they transferred the information to someone without a security clearance to receive it.

    Broad statute, yes. But unless the threshold language requiring an "intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation" is dropped, it's nowhere near as "broad" as the Times' interpretation, which is, well, wild.

    I double checked the language of the statute here, and see no indication that the threshold intent -- to injure the United States or aid a foreign power -- has been dropped as an element of the crime.

    So unless I am missing something else, I guess I'll just have to disagree with the Times.


    AFTERTHOUGHT: I suppose the argument could be made that the very act of talking to reporters about secrets evinces an intent to injure the United States or help a foreign government. (Cf. Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.)

    But is that really what the New York Times is saying?

    MORE: Via Mickey Kaus, I see that Mark Kleiman interprets the intent element (of another section of a version of the statute other than the one I quoted earlier) quite broadly:

    But Rove's conduct certainly meets the far less demanding elements of the Espionage Act: (1) possession of (2) information (3) relating to the national defense (4) which the person possessing it has reason to believe could be used to damage the United States or aid a foreign nation and (5) wilful communication of that information to (6) a person not entitled to receive it.

    Under the Espionage Act, the person doing the communicating need not actually believe that revelation could be damaging; he needs only "reason to believe." Classification is generally reason to believe, and a security-clearance holder is responsible for knowing what information is classified.

    The statute says:
    (d) Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it;
    The statute does not state that the existence of classified status equals "reason to believe," and I have not read the case law interpreting "reason to believe" but Kaus notes that a lot of people already knew about Ms. Plame's CIA status. I still don't think the existence of already-known CIA status constitutes "reason to believe" that telling a reporter could cause injury to the United States.

    But if Mark Kleiman is right, and if the above section criminalized the disclosure of Valerie Plame's CIA status as information which the possessor had "reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States," then the following section -- (e) -- would seem to criminalize the reporter's repeating of the same, unauthorized, information:

    (e) Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted, or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it;
    If we are to take a broad view of (d), why not take a broad view of (e)? Didn't the reporter know it was classified? Didn't the reporter repeat it? To people not entitled to receive it?

    I mean, if you get broad enough about the interpretation, am I not committing a crime right now by disclosing what I knew was classified? To you, the readers, who are not entitled to receive it?

    Mickey Kaus also makes a good case for preemption by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

    I think he's right, or else there are a lot of unindicted co-conspirators floating around.

    (Might include some bloggers too.)

    MORE: Dale Franks at QandO has been all over this issue last summer:

    we have to look at the elements of the crime that has to be proven. As regards Mr. Rove:

    1. Mr. Rove must have had access to classified information indicating Ms. Plame was a covert operative.

    2. Ms. Plame's covert status with the CIA must have been classified information, and Mr. Rove must have known it to be classified.

    3. Mr. Rove must have believed that it could harm the defense of the United States or advantaged another nation to release the information.

    4. Mr. Rove must have intentionally released the information to a person not authorized to receive it.

    Again, questions follow. Was Ms. Plame's status with the agency classified at the time the information was released? If so, did Mr. Rove know it to be classified?

    posted by Eric at 08:26 PM | Comments (5)



    BIG NEWS AT CBS?

    CBS is "looking into" the Joel Hinrichs/Oklahoma University bombing:

    Many, Malkin included, have wondered where the MSM is on this story. As the Oklahoma Daily editorial notes, local television has covered it and a quick Google search turns up (sometimes conflicting) reports in local and regional newspapers but no major media outlets appear to have picked up the story yet. We asked CBS News national editor Bill Felling, who told us the network is looking into the story. Let’s hope so, it’s one worth airing, whatever the facts are.
    Better late than never, as the saying goes.

    I won't hold my breath.

    MORE: Via The Jawa Report's Dr. Rusty Shackleford, I see that the Oklahoma Daily is losing patience with the sluggish federal coverup investigation:

    One week and two days after the FBI began investigating the Joel Hinrichs case, the feds seemingly have stopped releasing information about what they have learned.

    It’s time the FBI opened its files and provided The Daily, other media and the greater public with some of the answers it undoubtedly has, for more than one reason.

    First, the public wants to know. Second, and almost more importantly, the longer this silence continues, the more students, faculty and the nation become “certain” in their “knowledge” of what has happened.

    Around here (in the Philadelphia area), the "public" doesn't even know it wants to know -- for the simple reason that they haven't been given the bare rudiments of ths story.

    Sigh.

    It also appears that the Oklahoma Daily doesn't distinguish between "lies" and speculation. As always, the Jawa Report does a fine job of illustrating the problem. (I was pretty disgusted yesterday by a blatant media attempt to change the story, and I expect we'll see more such shenanigans -- without retractions.)

    posted by Eric at 05:53 PM



    Bush knew II?
    (Or, the scent of fake dissent . . .)

    More thinking the unthinkable.

    Considering William Kristol's (and his father's) status as the architect of compassionate conservatism, might this apparent disagreement have been orchestrated? What if Kristol wasn't really "Disappointed, Depressed
    and Demoralized
    ," but wanted Bush to nominate Miers to stir up the Republicans, fire up the "base"?

    I'm probably being overly negative, but I smell fake dissent.

    Yeah, I know. Fake but real.

    (But not in the traditional sense....)

    posted by Eric at 11:57 AM | Comments (2)



    "Help! I'm a refugee from a climate of gay pig dog terrorism!"

    It's Columbus Day, and so I feel it's my duty to be insensitive. . .

    (Plus, I'm worried that God sent a quake to bin Laden's home turf.)

    Anyway, as the struggle against the Darwinian theory of evolution continues to occupy the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer (today it's preempted Columbus), I'm constantly fascinated by the fact that the people on each side of the debate do not seem to be speaking the same language.

    According to the Inquirer, even the people supporting "intelligent design" aren't speaking the same language:

    The advocates of "intelligent design," spotlighted in the current courtroom battle over the teaching of evolution in Dover, Pa., have much larger goals than biology textbooks.

    They hope to discredit Darwin's theory as part of a bigger push to restore faith to a more central role in American life. "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions," says a strategy document written in 1999 by the Seattle think tank at the forefront of the movement.

    The authors said they seek "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."

    Overthrow of an "ism"? As someone who doesn't like "isms," overthrowing one would seem to be the sort of thing I'd be inclined to support.

    But cultural legacies?

    What might that mean? While I don't know how much stock to put in the Inquirer's assertions, I certainly hope these people aren't pushing for more of the damned "Culture War." I started this blog because I hate the Culture War, and many times I've been told the Culture War was over and I assumed I could stop blogging, but each time the rumors of peace turned out to be false, and the damned Culture War would flare up again. I feel like Al Pacino, yelling in vain that "Every time I try to get out, they drag me back in!"

    Seriously (if I must get serious), there are holes in the fossil record, and I don't think all evolution proceeds according to any Darwinian "plan." But that does not in any way prove that a thing called "intelligence" is involved. While it's one thing to question the gaps in the record, it's rank anthropomorphism to insist on such a thing as "intelligence" without solid evidence, and I do believe it's more of a religious than a scientific assertion. I have no problem with the religious view that there is a god or gods with human style intelligence, but I don't believe in insinuating them where they just don't belong. I mean, something like gravity is fine, but I don't see the value of "scientific" arguments about why God would allow or dictate it -- at least, not in science classes.

    Might as well interpret the weather that way. (I know that people do that, but I don't think it should be required in Meteorology 101.)

    But what irritates me is that according to the Inquirer, the "intelligent design" theory is not intended so much as a scientific debate, but as a "wedge" issue intended to -- get this -- change the "social consequences" of Darwinian theory. Again, the Inquirer:

    Intelligent-design advocates have focused publicly on "teaching the controversy," urging that students be taught about weaknesses in evolutionary theory. The 1999 strategy document, though, goes well beyond that.

    That "wedge document," outlining a five-year plan for promoting intelligent design and attacking evolution, has figured prominently in the trial now under way in federal court in Harrisburg. Eleven parents sued the Dover school board over a requirement to introduce intelligent design to high school biology students as an alternative to evolutionary theory.

    "The social consequences of materialism have been devastating... . We are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source," wrote the authors of the strategy plan for the Center for Science and Culture, an arm of the Discovery Institute and the leader of the effort to promote intelligent design. "That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a wedge that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points." (Emphasis added.)

    I have no idea how accurate these assertions are, but they seem to find confirmation in the Discovery Institute's denial of any "secret plan":
    And they say the wedge document was written as a fund-raising tool, articulating a plan for reasoned persuasion, not political control. Critics, they say, have an agenda of their own - to promote a worldview in which God is nonexistent or irrelevant.

    "The Center for Science and Culture does not have a secret plan to influence science and culture. It has a highly and intentionally public program for 'challenging scientific materialism and its destructive cultural legacies,' " the center says on its Web site. (Emphasis added.)

    Whether there's a secret plan or not isn't the issue. I see a serious problem in attacking any scientific theory because of "destructive cultural legacies." That strikes me as similar to the medieval thinking which maintained that it would be bad for people to learn that the earth revolves around the sun, and if science can be revised for being allegedly "destructive," where does it end? Einsteinian Relativity, it could just as well be asserted, has caused untold cultural damage, because when people think everything is relative, they'll be less likely to listen to people who want to tell them what to do, how to live, how and what to worship. etc.

    Notice the underlying assumption being made that Darwinian theory has in fact caused people to "misbehave." How can that be proved? It's like saying that the Beatles caused a "decline" in "culture," or that mother's milk led to cigarettes, which led to marijuana, which led to heroin, which led to murder.

    During the recent debate over the divine intent behind Hurricane Katrina, once I accepted for the sake of argument the premise that "God did it," I was struck by the difficulty in determining his precise motivations, to say nothing of which targets he might have had in mind. There's just no way to know -- other than allowing a designated caste of priests to have final say-so in these matters. (And I see no way to do that in a free society.)

    Conventional science teaches that natural events like weather, asteroids, and earthquakes are forms of random chaos (i.e. stuff just moves around), but it's certainly reasonable to suppose that people who desire order might find the idea of scientific chaos to be infinitely threatening. They might call it unscientific, and they are free to offer another theory, which I suppose scientists could test out.

    Intelligent weather?

    Intelligent catastrophe design?

    (No, I do not mean the theory that Bush and Rove blew up the levees in New Orleans. Rather, some form of divine intelligence did so.)

    I am sure that there are various alternative spiritual explanations could be offered -- including but not limited to the angry bearded Old Testament God, or the Bigot God of 9/11, which sent "Private Katrina" on an errand. For the Global Warming crowd, the idea that "Mother Nature" (Gaia will do, if, like me, you have pagan sympathies) was extremely pissed off at man for whatever reason will also do. I suppose all these groups could form political lobbies and demand that their weather theories be taught as scientific alternatives.

    But my bottom line is that I find the "social and cultural consequences" meme a bit annoying, because whether something is true does not depend on whether people don't like it.

    Sometimes the truth hurts as much as nature. One could argue that children shouldn't see dogs screwing in the streets, or animals screwing on a farm or in the zoo, because there might be "consequences." Yes, there might be. But why drag science into it?

    I don't mean anything I've said as an argument against religion generally, or against any particular religion.

    But speaking of particular religions, there is something that's been bothering me, and at the excuse of ranting a little, I'd like to address it.

    I'll start with a fundamental premise said to flow directly as a cultural consequence of Darwinian theory: the Peter Singer-based premise that "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy."

    OK, just for the record, let me say that I don't think this flows from Darwin at all, and I think using it against "Darwinists" reveals a shocking lack of scientific integrity. (If anything, declaring that all species are equal is profoundly anti-Darwinian, and I believe Darwin himself would be shocked by the idea.)

    But in the interest of science, I'll select (by hands-on application of random chaos theory) one of our equals, the domestic pig, Sus scrofus. Why would God create the pig? Why would the pig evolve? Why would man genetically coax the pig into its current status of evolutionary development?

    In the interest of full scientific accuracy, I thought I should supply a picture of typical domestic pigs, doing typical pig things:

    piggies1.jpg

    The problem is, I might have just offended the religious sensibilities. Why? Because, apparently, God hates pigs.

    How do we know this? Because, the argument goes, it is asserted in certain religious books that God asserted that pigs are unclean and that man should not eat them. From there, it gets more complicated -- to the point where not only have pictures of dirty pigs like the one above been banned, but so have cutesy pig pictures -- like Piglet:

    NOVELTY pig calendars and toys have been banned from a council office -- in case they offend Muslim staff.
    Workers in the benefits department at Dudley Council, West Midlands, were told to remove or cover up all pig-related items, including toys, porcelain figures, calendars and even a tissue box featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Mark Steyn has an excellent analysis of this idiocy, and wonders aloud whether uncovered women (and by implication open homosexuals) aren't far more offensive than pig images. (I think they are, but it's politically more feasible -- for now -- to go after cutesy pig calendars and the like, which are, after all, mostly displayed by older female office workers.

    Looking into why a cutesy pig calendar would offend Muslim sensibilities, I learned that there is no religious reason why they should, because the Koran only forbids eating them, not making likenesses of them. (At least, no more than it would forbid likenesses of any other creature.)

    But the point, as Steyn notes, isn't really whether cutesy pigs offend "Muslim sensibilities"; it's done in order to advance an activist agenda:

    Likewise, Piglet is deeply offensive and so's your chocolate ice-cream, but if a West End play opens with a gay Jesus, Christians just need to stop being so doctrinaire and uptight. The Church of England bishops would probably agree with that if, in their own misguided attempt at Islamic outreach, they weren't so busy apologising for toppling Saddam.

    When every act that a culture makes communicates weakness and loss of self-belief, eventually you'll be taken at your word. In the long term, these trivial concessions are more significant victories than blowing up infidels on the Tube or in Bali beach restaurants. An act of murder demands at least the pretence of moral seriousness, even from the dopiest appeasers. But small acts of cultural vandalism corrode the fabric of freedom all but unseen.

    Perhaps such small acts of cultural vandalism invite more by way of retribution. Even the celebration of Western Civilization might be seen as a form of retribution. If Muslim pig sensibilities, why not Christian snake sensibilities, and Muslim and Christian homo sensibilities?

    In a strange way, I'm beginning to see a common thread between cultural vandalism, religious sensibilities, and the advancing of activists' agendas in disguised form. Seen this way, a monkey is a snake is a pig is a dog is a homo is a refugee is a terrorist.

    You think I'm kidding?

    Check the facts:

  • The monkey is a three way threat -- offensive to Darwinists, Muslims, and assorted crackpot activists alike. Bear in mind that Muslims don't like evolution either....
  • The snake is offensive to numerous theists, although it was a positive symbol to pagans, to the point where it still exists on the caduceus.
  • Well, why doesn't this blatantly pagan symbol (combining attributes of Aesculapius and Hermes) offend Christian sensibilities?

    caduceus[2].jpg
    Beats me (but I'm inclined to agree with Steyn that Christians aren't as hypersensitive as Muslims about these things, and for that I'm glad.)

  • That the dog is of course an unclean animal (especially if they're, um, black -- a factoid for which I should be sorry for mentioning!) for Muslims is too well known to require extended discussion. But homosexuals seem to have earned a more prominent place in the Hall of Religious Offensiveness (again, extended comment is unnecessary), and at least one major religious leader has called homosexuals "dung eating dogs."
  • I can remember a time when a "refugee" was someone who fled a disaster area in order to be safe. But that was over thirty days ago. Now, because of the objections of a prominent religious activist (who declared that a word having nothing to do with race now did), the forces charged with word usage have decided the word "refugee" is offensive, and it has been replaced with "evacuee." (I'm inclined to think that these people are refugees from common sense who should not be allowed to evacuate our brains, but who asked me?)
  • Similarly, "terrorist" was once a normal word, used to describe, well, terrorists. It really didn't matter where terrorists struck, they were almost always called terrorists. Until, that is, terrorist committed the worst act of terrorism in their history on September 11, 2001. Since then, despite the fact that this ordinary word would seem more appropriate than ever before, the word "terrorist" has been declared offensive -- another word that must Never Be Used. (Especially in conjunction with "hunting.")
  • Don't ask me about creating a "climate." Please.
  • In short, everything has become offensive (or declared offensive).

    That means that everything can be an offensive (or a declared offensive).

    That's all for Columbus Day.

    PorkyAllah.jpg

    Well, um, ub, ub, doh, er, forgive for for s-s-st-stuttering, but almost all. Right now I'm also worried that the president might have deliberately nominated Harriet Miers in order to offend Republican sensibilities and foment cultural offensives.

    Is that all?

    If you don't like it, don't trust me, folks!

    While I'm sure it's just a coincidence that "pork" rhymes with "bork," I'm getting a little sensitive about people who want to lord pork over me. (And naturally, sensitivity begets insensitivity.)

    UPDATE: Who invented "Lord Pork Pork," anyway? Offensive, no doubt... Was it the blessed Steven Malcolm Anderson? While I hope so, I thank whoever it was for the "climate."


    AFTERTHOUGHT: I think today's a good day to celebrate diversity, so after careful consideration of the various sensitivies, I was dictated by my feelings to recycle an old picture:

    CrossDiv.jpg


    (My apologies if this seems like a shotgun approach to Columbus Day.)


    UPDATE: Regarding chaos theory, Glenn Reynolds has buried a fascinating analysis of the subject within a dry constitutional tome. Sample:

    Under classical physics, predicting the interval between drips was seen as straightforward and determinate -- know the velocity of water, its surface tension, and so on, and you can always predict when each drop will fall. In the real world, the result is strikingly different. As scientist Robert Shaw has discovered, the complexity of the system confounds efforts at prediction. [FN7] Yet, although the dripping seems random, it follows certain patterns such that -- although each drop is unpredictable --*112 the overall pattern of dripping turns out to be structured and coherent. That is, though no one can predict when the next drop will fall, a phase-space graph showing the distribution of drops over time will reveal the sort of intricate, yet predictable structure we see in multidimensional fractal graphics generated by chaos researchers. And though no one can predict where on the graph the next data point will fall, it is possible to predict what the graph will look like when many such points have been plotted. The structure of the graph is predictable, even though no single drip is. [FN8]

    This structure is the characteristic that distinguishes "chaos" from mere randomness. Chaos, as used by scientists, means order masquerading as randomness -- unpredictable, yes, but by no means unstructured.

    Well! (Better not let the intelligent designists hear about this....)

    Anyway, I'm not fooled by the above, and I'm beginning to suspect that Glenn is a scientist posing as a law professor. (That's OK, as long as he doesn't crack my chaotic code....)

    (I keep my chaos intentionally sloppy, as if by design.)

    UPDATE: Is there something about Columbus Day that invites this sort of thing?

    posted by Eric at 11:13 AM | Comments (5)




    Do I like it?

    Philadelphia has a new skyscraper -- the 28 storey Cira Center. Everyone's asking "Do you like it?" and various important people are reacting. Some like it. Some don't.

    It was a bit startling at first, because the angles don't seem "right" from any direction. But I have to say that it could have been worse. I'm used to boring skyscrapers, and this one's anything but. I can't honestly say I'm in love with it, but I can say it's growing on me. The fact that the building always looks different and never quite makes sense gives it a subtly commanding presence. As architect William Becker said, it's "impossible to ignore."

    Here's a picture I took Friday in the rain (from my car) showing it looming behind an older, industrial-style building:


    NewBldg.jpg


    While I'm a fan of Neo Classicism, and I especially love the Richardsonian style which typifies the Midwest, I have no illusions that the Neo style will be revived. "Neo-Neo," I think, will remain a no-no for the near future. And I'm afraid if they did revive the style, they'd manage to make it look tacky, which this isn't.

    Some background on the architect, Cesar Pelli:

    It is quite notable for Philadelphia to have a Pelli building. Cesar Pelli was born in Tucumán, Argentina. In 1977 he became Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University and established Cesar Pelli & Associates in New Haven, Connecticut.

    Pelli's work has been widely published and exhibited, with eight books dedicated to his designs and theories. In 1995, the American Institute of Architects awarded Cesar Pelli its Gold Medal In 1991, the AIA selected Pelli as one of the 10 most influential living American architects.

    His famous designs include, Canary Wharf, London; World Financial Center, Manhattan; Crile Clinic Building, Cleveland ; Rice University's Herring Hall, Houston; Carnegie Hall Tower, New York City; Owens-Corning World Headquarters, Toledo, Ohio.

    I'm surprised the article didn't mention the very cool Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    While some local blog commenters don't like its nighttime appearance, considering some of the architectural atrocities that have been committed in Philadelphia, I'm amazed that something as graceful and as witty as the Cira Center ever came into being here.

    I like it more in person than I did when I saw the drawings, and I like it more each time I see it.

    (That's probably a compliment, considering how I hate change.)

    posted by Eric at 10:13 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)



    Just another normal psycho?

    Anyone remember Patrick Purdy? Time Magazine still does:

    Slaughter in A School Yard

    Jan. 30, 1989

    The gunman drove his Chevrolet station wagon to the rear of Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, Calif. He stepped out, carrying a Chinese-made semiautomatic AK-47 rifle loaded with 75 bullets. Carved into the AK-47's stock were disconnected words: " freedom," " victory," " Hezbollah." He wore a flak jacket under a camouflage shirt jacket that bore other words, one misspelled: " PLO," " Libya," " death to the Great Satin." He had placed plugs in his ears to dull the sounds of what he was about to do. Patrick Purdy, 26, a drifter with guerrilla-warfare fantasies, had returned to the school....

    Despite the trappings, Purdy wasn't an extremist Muslim.

    Just a "normal" pyscho.

    For her part, Dianne Feinstein blamed the gun with the psychotic "Hezbollah" carvings:

    Let me speak for a moment about perhaps the most notorious assault weapon, the AK-47. This gun, developed in the former Soviet Union, is one of the most widely used military weapons in the world. It is not used to hunt, at least not to hunt animals. It is not well designed for home defense. Its ammunition can easily pierce walls and kill innocent bystanders. I will tell you what it is good for: the rapid killing of other people. How well I remember when an unstable drifter by the name of Patrick Purdy, with an assault weapon modeled after the AK-47, walked into a Stockton schoolyard in northern California. He lay on his belly, and he fired indiscriminately into the schoolyard. He fired 106 rounds of ammunition. By the time he was done, 5 children were dead and 29 were injured--five children dead because a of drifter who could gain one of the most powerful military weapons and use it against children.
    As Dave Kopel pointed out, the type of gun Purdy used had nothing to do with the crime, nor did the 15 day waiting period stop him from buying anything; he was a deranged criminal who shouldn't have been allowed to run around loose.

    Fortunately for us all, gun control has nothing to do with Joel Hinrichs.

    Or has it? Might he have had a mental history which prohibited him from buying firearms? Has anyone checked with his psychiatrist? Do we even know whether he had a psychiatrist?

    Officials like OU President David Boren were very quick to blame Hinrichs' mental, um, problems, but I noticed that the references were worded in such a way as to defy precise analysis.

    From an NBC News report:

    "We know that he has had what I would call emotional difficulties in the past," Boren said. "There is certainly no evidence at this point which points to any other kind of motivation other than his personal problems."
    Might Hinrichs' psychiatric or medical records shed some light on this? Are there any? The father describes his son as seeming ordinary but also says he had to leave school to "cope" with "depression":
    Hinrichs' father, Joel Henry Hinrichs Jr., said he is clinging to the idea that his son's death was unintentional. He said he communicated with his son and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He said his son was a very intelligent and private individual who somehow lost the confidence that his life would be a good one.

    He told The Denver Post that his son had trouble making friends with peers. He said his son took a year off college to try to cope with depression.

    What does that mean? Was he on meds? Who was this kid's psychiatrist and what might he have told him?

    Or is this "confidential" and known only to university officials? If so, why? Bear in mind his father's remarks about his son's apparently lifelong interest in explosives:

    His son also had an interest in explosives, Hinrichs said.

    "Every little boy does that," he said. "He went a little further than most."

    Yeah, a little.

    But he was, like, you know.

    Coping.

    With depression.

    I've seen a lot of things, known a lot of depressed people, and a lot of coping mechanisms. But I've never known any depressed person who thought of "coping" by means of explosives.

    But let's just assume that the spin being promulgated is true, and that Joel Hinrichs was a depressed lone nut who saw an explosive way out of life. Allowing for the possibility that the act of self detonation with "Mother of Satan" TATP explosives -- 100 yards from 84,000 people -- was in no way connected with terrorism (or "extremist groups" as they put it), I have a couple of questions.

    Isn't it dangerous for mentally ill people to blow themselves up in front of football stadiums?

    Isn't it at least as dangerous as mentally ill people opening fire with guns?

    My stubborn (but sometimes elusive) common sense tells me that if Hinrichs had owned an AK-47 like Patrick Purdy's, had he sat down on that same bench with it and put a round through his head in front of a stadium filled with people, someone, somewhere, might have asked questions along the following lines:

  • How was this mentally ill man with a history of depression allowed to buy the gun?
  • Should laws be toughened?
  • Shouldn't psychotherapists have a duty to report depressed people with a history of buying guns?
  • Is there a double standard? Why should nuts with guns be considered more dangerous than nuts with explosives?

    Certainly, the possibility of psychotic individuals (or lone nuts) committing highly dangerous acts like suicide bombings is not a new one. Indeed, I've discussed it before when I discussed terrorism by homeless suicide bombers. (An idea raised not by me, but by a regional director for Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH coalition...)

    I'm tempted to ask why irrational suicide should be considered less dangerous than "rational" suicide, but it might be a distinction without a difference.

    (At any rate, it doesn't seem to make any difference.)

    UPDATE: Interesting editorial from the Enid (Oklahoma) News and Eagle:

    It's clear the FBI, which is in charge of the investigation, is trying to be tight-lipped because they don't have all the answers. They can state they have no direct evidence "at this time" to support any reports Hinrichs was involved with terrorist organizations or he intended to do harm to the fans in the stadium.

    They probably are doing the right thing by limiting their comments until they have confirmed answers to all their questions. But, the information that is being ferreted out by the media is starting to paint a disturbing picture. Why would Hinrichs try to buy large quantities of a known explosive material? What was his motive for committing the suicide in such a public and dramatic way? What kinds of associations has he been involved with recently and what were his political views?

    We applaud Boren for the attention he has given the matter and his daily briefings regarding the status of the investigation. Yet, we also believe there are more layers to this story than are being publicly disclosed at this time.

    We can be patient for a little awhile as the FBI does its job of investigating the situation. However, it's imperative the truth be presented in full as quickly as possible. And, the questions need to be answered sooner rather than later in order to best serve the OU students, faculty and the fans of its spectator sports.

    posted by Eric at 12:52 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)




    Eating the evidence?

    It's time for interpretative contemplation. I'll start with some lyrics from a favorite song.

    Sailing down the river in an old canoe
    A bunch of bugs and an old tennis shoe
    Out of the river all ugly and green
    Came the biggest old alligator that I've ever seen
    Teeth big and pointed and his eyes were bugging out
    Contacted the union, put the beggars to rout
    Screaming and yelling, he was picking his chops
    He never runs, he just stumbles and hops
    Just out of prison on six dollar's bail
    Mumbling at bitches and a-wagging his tail

    Alligator running round my door
    Alligator running round my door
    Alligator running round my door
    Alligator running round my door

    Alligator creeping round the corner of my cabin door
    He's coming round to bother me some more

    -- "Alligator" (Grateful Dead)

    Whatever happened to the "alligations" about man eating alligators in New Orleans?

    They seem to have largely disappeared, along with the alligators themselves.

    Over at the blog of a key proponent of the man eating alligator theory, I found a picture which might shed some light:

    pythongator.jpg


    Without any comment, underneath that revealing photograph was a link to this yahoo story, which claimed that the alligator-stuffed python was found in Florida and not Louisiana:

    MIAMI (AFP) - The tail of an alligator protruding from the ruptured gut of a python, which had swallowed its foe alive, bore witness to a fierce and unusual battle between two of the deadliest predators in Florida's swamps.

    Park rangers, who photographed the remains of the two huge reptiles in the Everglades National Park, say the clash demonstrates the threat to the fragile swamplands posed by a growing population of non-native Burmese pythons.

    Pythons, thought to have abandoned by pet owners, have been multiplying in the large swath of swampland, and environmentalists fear the exotic intruders threaten to overrun the national park, preying on native species.

    The latest find suggest the huge pythons might even challenge alligators' leading position in the food chain.

    The food chain? Please!

    Obviously, they're hoping that the public will either bust a gut laughing, or else be so distracted by the threat to the environment that they'll never stop to, well, connect the dots.

    That's where I come in.

    Consider the following facts:

  • Alligators were reported -- by various sources, including a well-known musician -- to have been eating people in New Orleans.
  • Government officials admitted that one of the reasons that bodies might never be found was because they'd be eaten by alligators.
  • No alligator has been found in New Orleans with human remains inside
  • The United States military has worked with reptiles.
  • The military has made people disappear (and even if they haven't, they might as well have).
  • According to the article, the python was "found on September 27" -- plenty of time for it to have been flown, shipped or driven from New Orleans by military transport.
  • Bush sent in military forces to occupy New Orleans, and they are still there despite Cindy Sheehan's demands that they be removed.
  • It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that something must have happened to the alligators -- with the human remains still inside them!

    Is it a coincidence that pythons are eating alligators in Florida?

    Where Bush's own brother is governor?

    As that great American patriot Ted Rall asked tellingly,

    How far up the White House food chain does the rot of treason go?
    I don't know but this was one tough-to-swallow coverup that took plenty of guts.

    posted by Eric at 11:34 PM | Comments (4)



    The power of blog?

    Perhaps I shouldn't be too hasty about dismissing God's role in so-called "natural" events as I almost might have seemed to earlier today.

    After I wrote about last night's power outage, I went out to inspect for damage. I feel it my duty to report that the power line which feeds me (and, of course, this blog) looked -- and smelled -- pretty gruesome. Considering that there was a downed tree cut apart nearby, it was obvious that it struck the power line, which in turn hit the ground alongside a fifty foot stretch of road, incinerating the earth itself in an eighteen inch wide area on each side of the line. It took a work crew ten hours to fix, and the whole area still reeks of that burnt electrical smell, despite near-constant rain.

    Here's the charred area, showing the remnants of the burned line:


    BurnedLine2.jpg


    And a closeup of a section of melted power line:


    BurnedLine4.jpg


    Again, while I am most hesitant to buy into such, um, lines of thinking, if I did, I might have to conclude that God hated something. But what? Was it the power line? Might it have been classical values? Or could there have been another target?

    I should probably be glad I don't think that way, because it would play hell with my self esteem if I thought God had shut me down.

    (Hey, at least no readers were electrified . . .)

    posted by Eric at 03:06 PM | Comments (9)



    (Giving the coverup a sporting chance. . .)

    Regarding the ongoing reporting (particularly non-reporting) of the Norman, Oklahoma bombing matter, Dr. Rusty Shackleford has an interesting take on official statements made by Oklahoma University officials including David Boren:

    University spokeswoman Catherine Bishop said OU officials have reviewed their ticket records and determined that Hinrichs did not buy a football ticket from any university outlet.

    She said university officials have heard nothing to indicate Hinrichs attempted to buy a ticket from one of the fans selling tickets outside the stadium.

    What is interesting about this is that OU is denying allegations that have not been made. I have been following this case rather closely and have seen no one claim that Hinrich bought a ticket to the game that day.

    Be sure to read the rest, as there's interesting speculation that others may have bought a ticket for Hinrichs. Something like that might indicate a possibility that the bomb was remotely detonated (with or without a timer).

    And when are we going to hear the details of the device's construction, anyway?

    Likewise, I haven't seen anyone claim that Hinrichs bought a ticket to the game that day. What I did see were reports that Hinrichs tried -- twice -- to enter the stadium, and didn't succeed. Perhaps the reports are wrong, but if they're right, it's possible that he didn't have a ticket, and it's also possible that he did have one but couldn't get past the security measures.

    What I find more than a little disturbing about this is that even though there are almost no proven facts, there's a constant attempt to spin this guy as a loner, a suicide, and now, as someone with no intention of entering the stadium.

    Why?

    Were I paranoid, I'd almost suspect that the officialdom in charge is trying to deny the possibility of a terrorist attack. I'm sure that number of people (for a number of different reasons, including anti-war feelings, multiculturalist fetishism, and in some cases sympathy with Islamists) feel strongly that it's in the best interest of the "little people" to not be told anything which might make them think about the possibility that there's a war being waged in their own home turf.

    The bottom line of "let's not start a panic" would seem to be the default position.

    But the pragmatist in me always asks who has the most to lose in the short run, and I just don't see the anti-war or multiculturalist left, or even the Islamists as being strong enough to perpetrate an official coverup on such a large scale.

    The people I'd suspect as having the most to lose would be the people and companies with money invested in public athletic events.

    (I haven't checked the numbers, but I suspect there's an awful lot of money tied up in such ventures....)

    UPDATE: Dr. Rusty Shackleford links to an new report that a "review of University of Oklahoma stadium surveillance tapes by the FBI did not spot Joel Henry Hinrichs III trying to get inside."

    Three factors come to mind:

  • How competent and thorough was the review?
  • Where were the cameras placed? (We are told they had no view of Hinrichs' bench; what else did they not show?)
  • Were the cameras capable of recording on video every face of the 84,000 or so individuals who entered or might have attempted to enter the stadium?
  • There is no assertion that the videos didn't spot Hinrichs; only that the review of the videos didn't spot Hinrichs. I don't see this as conclusive one way or another -- and we are not told whether the entrances where Hinrichs reportedly tried to use were under camera surveillance. If they were not, then (as Dr. Shackleford points out) it would be unreasonable to expect a review to turn up what was never recorded.

    Regarding sports and money, Jeff Blanco offers a tantalizing glimpse at the only people behind the only coverage we have:

    Why is OKC 9 covering this when no one else will?

    Channel 9, The Oklahoman, and OU Daily are in a partnership. The Oklahoman is run by the daughter of Edward Gaylord who was a major donor to The University. The Gaylord College of Journalism is named for him and the stadium is named for the Gaylord Family after the millions and millions of dollars they have donated. His daughter, Christi Gaylord Everett is a member of the OK Board of Regents.

    Edward Gaylord wanted a Journalism College that leaned right and turned out honest and ethical journalist -- OU Daily has done a great job on this story and in asking tough questions along with The Oklahoman and Channel 9. Edward Gaylord would be very proud of the legacy he left in more ways than one.

    At least they're making a stab at reporting the story.

    But once again, some things are beyond political considerations -- whether left or right, and I think multiculturalism, anti-war activism, and Islamism may be trumped by moneyism.

    Sitcoms come and go. News stories come and go.

    But in the MSM, sports rules.

    (Uber alles! And uber allah too, baby!)

    UPDATE: Mark Tapscott continues to ask excellent questions:

    ....the U.S. Department of Justice asked a federal court in Oklahoma City to seal the search warrant officials there used to get into the apartment Hinrichs’ shared with three or four students described by neighbors as “Arab-looking men.”

    If Hinrichs acted alone and had no links to terrorists’ organizations or activities, why seal the search warrant? What did investigators find in Hinrichs’apartment that they don’t want the public to know?

    That’s an especially important question considering what was already known when Justice sealed the warrant. For example, media reports confirmed by Oklahoma law enforcement sources said investigators found bomb-making materials in the 21-year-old University of Oklahoma engineering student’s apartment.

    I think that there has to be enormous pressure from both sides of the political spectrum, and when this is combined with (and fueled by) the enormous pressure inherent in a $213 billion dollar a year industry, sealing the warrant is quite understandable. So is sealing the entire story, buttoning up the investigation ASAP, and getting back to, um, business as usual.

    And don't miss Mark Tapscott's letter to OU President David Boren:

    I believe the single most striking fact about this tragic event is the short amount of time that elapsed between the detonation of the bomb that killed Hinrichs and your statement that he acted alone, was a troubled young man and intended only to kill himself.

    In making that statement, you ask Oklahomans and indeed all Americans to assume that you relied upon concrete and persuasive evidence in reaching your announced conclusion. It seems remarkable that such evidence could be so quickly available to you.

    I suspect they'll try to close the entire matter as quickly as they can. Besides, terrorism in Oklahoma died with Timothy McVeigh, and dead men tell no tales.

    UPDATE: I am getting a bit tired of misleading reports like this, but I'll highlight a few problems anyway.

    Hinrichs' father, Joel Hinrichs Jr., said this week his son was skeptical of ideology and was not Muslim.
    That's a brand new statement, and does not reflect what he said in this widely linked video interview, in which the father denied his son was a "fanatic." Here are his exact words:
    He's very skeptical. He would become a, an ideological fanatic when pigs fly, or shortly thereafter.
    That's a far cry from saying he's not Muslim.

    Back to Channel Oklahoma:

    Meanwhile, OU officials addressed allegations that Hinrichs had tried to enter the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, which sits about 100 yards from the spot where the explosion happened.

    University spokeswoman Catherine Bishop said OU officials reviewed their ticket records and determined that Hinrichs, of Colorado Springs, Colo., didn't purchase a football ticket from any university outlet.

    Bishop also said university officials hadn't heard anything to indicate Hinrichs tried to buy a ticket from one of the fans selling them outside the stadium.

    Had OU officials checked at "THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE OKLAHOMA UNIVERSITY SOONERS," they'd have seen that not only would it would have been possible for Hinrichs to purchase a ticket at the ticket office -- using cash -- but it's the only way to purchase single game tickets at the event:
    Payment Options

    Payment for season tickets can be made in cash, by check payable to The University of Oklahoma, or charged to VISA, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. No refunds or exchanges are made unless an order cannot be filled. Processing fees are not refunded. Single game tickets purchased at the event location must be paid for with cash.

    Am I allowed to ask why bloggers should have to wipe reporters' asses for them, or would that be rude?

    MORE: I guess I should spell this out. Unless cash purchasers are required to show ID to buy tickets (which I doubt), the only way that OU officials could know that Hinrichs "didn't purchase a football ticket from any university outlet" would be if the event had been sold out, the ticket office closed, or if no tickets had been sold for cash (which I also doubt).

    AND MORE: The Sooners don't "sell out." They over sell.

    posted by Eric at 12:02 PM | Comments (4)



    Local power outage (and various comings and goings)

    My power was out all night, and when that happens I can't blog!

    But this morning, via the Inquirer's Blinq, I see that Harriet Miers can. The following is from Daniel Rubin at Blinq:

    Not since Mrs. Spiggy's Diary in the National Lampoon of old has there been something like Harriet Miers's Blog.

    Against hot and pale pinks we can now learn how the nominee to the Supremes feels about such things as reading about herself on ABC's The Note:

    Okay so I sucked it up and actually read The Note today, except I skipped the second half and all the boring stuff about who's meeting with who blah blah. (But I did see that the Supreme Court is already in session! Whoa guys wait for ME!)

    And abortion:

    No I never talked to the president about it... he's MARRIED, people!! There's no way there ever would've been a need, EVER... the rumors are a load of BS (Baloney Sandwich)!

    And preparing for the greatest honor of her life:

    Does anyone have any good recommendations of general books on Constitutional Law, history of the Supreme Court, etc? THANX!!!

    This is one to bookmark.

    I don't know whether I'll bookmark it. (A bit too pink for my tastes, I'm afraid. But you never know. Who knows what it may become over time? Sigh. If only "Leon Kass" had started a blog.... Can't have everything, I guess.)

    In other news from the Inquirer, I see that my favorite homo hater (who seems not to favor Miers, as he links to this) is holding an event tomorrow to counter Philadelphia's local Outfest:

    Outfest, the Center City gay-pride block party, has its 15th annual incarnation tomorrow.

    What is unclear is if it will also become the second annual confrontation between gays and a local anti-homosexual evangelical Christian group. A face-off last year ended with 11 arrests and a free-speech court challenge.

    Franny Price, executive director of Philly Pride Presents and an Outfest founder, urged people attending the event tomorrow from noon to 7 p.m. to ignore antigay activists led by Michael Marcavage and his Repent America group.

    Outfest is a city-sanctioned block party planned to provide a welcoming atmosphere for gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities, especially those considering "coming out of the closet."

    More than 70 groups will set up in an area of Center City that Philly Pride calls the "gayborhood" - roughly Juniper Street east to 11th Street and Walnut Street south to Pine Street - which is traditionally seen as the heart of the city's gay community.

    "This is the largest coming-out party on the East Coast," Price said, "and I don't know why he [Marcavage] would want to come out and try to spoil a party."

    I have news for the out-coming coming outers of whatever persuasion. There's a HUGE rainstorm which is already causing local flooding, and only a total crackpot would be attending a coming-out or anti-coming out party. (Would that be going out? Coming and going?) Marcavage might end up being drenched, and his bullhorn shortcircuited.

    Well, according to his website, he plans to be there -- and seems to believe that "Christian" equals agreement with him:

    While on the public sidewalk and street inside the event, RA began to open-air preach with the use of Scripture banners, and to distribute Gospel literature, as members of the "Pink Angels" blew loud whistles and carried large signs alongside the Christians to block their message and their access to the event attendees, while others screamed obscenities. The police refused to take action as the Christians were continuously followed, obstructed, and harassed.

    Repent America obeyed all laws, and even the unlawful requests, to move by the Philadelphia Civil Affairs police officers in an effort of cooperation. Regardless of Repent America’s compliance, Chief James Tiano, head of the Civil Affairs Unit, without warning, ordered the arrests of the Christians and hauled them off to jail, where they spent 21 hours, before being released the following day. The Christians were then individually charged with three felonies, and five misdemeanors and faced up to 47 years in prison and $90,000 in fines each. The charges were later dismissed by Common Pleas Court judge Pamela Dembe.

    This year a group identifying themselves as "Anti-Racist Action" posted a press release on their website, stating that they would "stop Repent America from disrupting the National Coming Out Day Block Party by any means necessary!"

    "We do not believe that this is an empty threat of potential violence because members of Anti-Racist Action have previously attacked those in our ministry and destroyed our property," Repent America director Michael Marcavage stated. "Anti-Racist Action's unlawful behavior has been escalating, and if the Philadelphia police ignore their planned interference and harassment during our evangelistic outreach, violence could erupt against members of our group," Marcavage continued.

    "We are certainly thankful that we once again have an opportunity to share the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ with those in attendance," Marcavage stated. "This year we will have an ex-homosexual with us to testify how he was set free from the bondage of sin through the power of the blood of Jesus Christ," Marcavage concluded.

    Legally, Marcavage has as much right to be there as the Klan has to be at a Civil Rights rally, or uniformed Nazis at an ADL rally. It's good for free speech, and people need to get more of a sense of humor about these things (which neither side seems to have.)

    However, I am concerned about how Marcavage might take it if his event is cancelled by the huge storm. He thought Katrina was God's punishment against New Orleans for the Southern Decadence Festival (despite the fact that the French Quarter was spared!), so he obviously reads God into weather.

    The fact is, even if we are to apply a divine weather theory, it's too early to tell what God will do. The storm might easily pass by tomorrow. On the other hand, rain might continue to pour from the heavens.

    My question is, if it's a nice day tomorrow, would that mean God approves of the Marcavage demo? Or, if it's rained out, would that mean God disapproves?

    How can we be sure? I explored the various alternatives a few weeks ago when I tried to make sense of the Marcavage New Orleans weather interpretations, but there were so many possible culprits that my results were inconclusive.

    Marcavage, however, is much more sure of himself. I suspect he'd see whatever weather comes as a sign that God was on his side -- weather or not!

    UPDATE: Anti-Racist Action has a website which advertises the "action" they have planned for tomorrow. Excerpt from "FUNDAMENTALISM IS FASCISM":

    In an interview with the City Paper, Michael Marcavage, the director of Repent America, remarked:

    "…Homosexuals are to be put to death. The wages of sin is death. But I want to make it clear that I'm not advocating the independent killing of homosexuals ... I'm saying that the Government's duty is to uphold God's law." (Cover Story, "Jesus Geek Superstar," Doron Taussig, Feb. 3, 2005)

    Marcavage just defined Repent America as fascist for everyone to see. Our political system is supposed to be about freedom and democracy, yet Repent America seeks to take away that freedom by demanding our government enforce Christian biblical law. In other words, Marcavage is advocating that the State centralize power and take away people's freedom of religion just so their version of the law – a strictly
    literal interpretation of the bible – can reign supreme. Just as with any fascist group, Repent America is advocating a policy of hatred towards a specific group of people in our society, and seeks to suppress this group and all of their other dissenters through terroristic threats.

    In our current political climate, and as religion begins to play a larger role in American politics thanks to Bush & co., groups like Repent America are free to organize publicly. Conservative groups already have a strong voice in the government of this country; it is only a matter of time before that voice becomes more extreme, until we have the likes of Michael Marcavage dictating political policy.

    This is not a time that we can we can sit back and ignore the organizing fascists are currently engaging in, not when fascists are
    openly organizing both on the streets and on Capitol Hill. We must stand up and fight back against the marriage of religious fundamentalism, Christian fascism and the State.

    On October 9th, Repent America will not be allowed to harass and intimidate us. They will not be allowed to disrupt our permitted celebration. The time has come for the far-right to see just how powerful we are - we will stop Repent America from disrupting the National Coming Out Day Block Party by any means necessary!

    Keep Outfest free of fascist disruption! Join us on October 9th as we defend our culture and community against the likes of Repent America and other Christian fundamentalists.

    The year's National Coming Out Day Block Party will be held in the Gayborhood on October 9th from 12PM-7PM. We will be meeting at 11AM outside Millenium Coffee, 212 South 12th Street (between Walnut and Locust Street) and will proceed to the festival as a group. Look for the "Queers Bash Back" and "No Human Liberation Without Queer Liberation" banners.

    In solidarity,

    Philadelphia Anti-Racist Action

    I take it that this organization's position is that groups like Repent America should not be "free to organize publicly," because they are blaming a "climate" created by "Bush and co."

    Interesting, because Marcavage has repeatedly condemned Bush for "promoting evil and openly supporting wickedness" and his organization accuses Bush of supporting sodomites! How did Bush create the Marcavage "climate" that Anti-Racist Action complains of? By supporting sodomy and provoking Marcavage?

    (Sounds like Bush is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.)

    This is not to defend Marcavage or his views, but much as I despise his idiocy (and suspect he's another Phelps-style agent provocateur), I'm nonetheless glad he's as "free to organize publicly" as is Anti-Racist Action.

    I'd be more worried about fascism if they weren't.

    (Time, place and manner is another, more complicated issue.)


    UPDATE: A huge earthquake centered in Pakistan has killed 18,000 people. (I haven't yet seen word from Marcavage as to God's motive.)

    UPDATE (10/10/05): Outfest happened (and so did Marcavage):

    Yesterday, some of those protesters joined members of the Street Preachers' Fellowship, which is based in Johnstown, Pa., for a total of about 30 antigay activists who spread their word at the festival in small groups.

    "At this point, you're not going to get converts. This is their big day. But I'm here to rain on their parade," said street preacher Ruben Israel, 43, who had flown in from Los Angeles. He carried a sign that said the letters in gay stand for "God Abhors You."

    Although Israel and others did picket and preach, their signs were often obscured by rivals' banners and their words blocked out by chants of "Dance off!" and "Fascists out!"

    Carol Cavanaugh, 58, and her partner of 20 years, Fran Beam, 65, enthusiastically blew the free whistles provided by festival organizer Philly Pride Presents to drown out the megaphone-amplified voice of Repent America director Michael Marcavage. Between blasts could be heard such fragments as we're just here to warn you and judgment day and atonement and sin.

    Fine.

    Why not whistle while you warn?

    (Didn't Monty Python try something like that? Me, I always look for the dark side, because that's the only way to the bright side...)

    posted by Eric at 08:42 AM | Comments (4)




    Faith in the bottom line?

    Orin Kerr makes a good point about the "bottom line" in the Miers debate:

    Dobson and Santorum have been focused on the bottom line of whether they support the confirmation of Miers (and in Santorum's case, whether he will vote up or down). In contrast, Will, Frum, and Kristol have harshly criticized the President for having nominated Miers in the first place; to my knowledge, none of them have taken the position that that Miers should be defeated in the Senate. George Will comes the closest when he says that "it might be very important" that Miers is not confirmed, but I don't think that's quite enough.

    In sum, the two groups aren't disagreeing, but rather answering different questions. The commentators are ruminating on process, while the politicans and political leaders are focusing on the bottom line vote.

    That's quite correct, and the Machiavellian in me sees confirmability as more ultimately relevant than any nominee's qualifications or record of legal scholarship. (Bork was well qualified for the Supreme Court whether you agree with him or not, but his name is now a verb.) Confirmability is also more relevant that whether Harriet Miers meets my unmeetable litmus test for libertarianism (which she does not), and certainly more relevant that the ultimately unknowable nature of nothing.

    What this means is my bottom line concerns -- whether based on politics or worries about legal scholarship -- are about as relevant to the confirmation as my thoughts about John Roberts' plaid pants.

    Conservative scholar Thomas Sowell sees two bottom lines -- one now and one later.

    The immediate bottom line is the role of the Senate, which Sowell doesn't think would have been able to confirm a nominee more pleasing to conservatives:

    What is weak is the Republican majority in the Senate.

    When it comes to taking on a tough fight with the Senate Democrats over judicial nominations, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist doesn't really have a majority to lead. Before the President nominated anybody, before he even took the oath of office for his second term, Senator Arlen Specter was already warning him not to nominate anyone who would rile up the Senate. Later, Senator John Warner issued a similar warning. It sounded like a familiar Republican strategy of pre-emptive surrender.

    Before we can judge how the President played his hand, we have to consider what kind of hand he had to play. It was a weak hand -- and the weakness was in the Republican Senators.

    (Via G. Gordon Liddy.)

    Sowell of course is speaking to conservatives, and he reminds them that there is another bottom line beyond the Senate vote, which is how Justice Miers would ultimately vote:
    The bottom line with any Supreme Court justice is how they vote on the issues before the High Court. It would be nice to have someone with ringing rhetoric and dazzling intellectual firepower. But the bottom line is how they vote. If the President is right about Harriet Miers, she may be the best choice he could make under the circumstances.
    Sowell may well be right. If he is, my faith is hardly restored in anything.

    posted by Eric at 11:15 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)



    But which sources are more equal?

    Latest "news" -- from "sources":

    Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster.

    His worried wife yelled at him: "Stop, George."

    Following the shocking incident, disclosed here for the first time, Laura privately warned her husband against "falling off the wagon" and vowed to travel with him more often so that she can keep an eye on Dubya, the sources add.

    "When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot," said one insider. "He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back. The First Lady was shocked and shouted: "Stop George!"

    Far be it from me to subject my readers to the National Enquirer. I didn't mean to do it, and I'll probably never do it again, but I did it to make a point -- and ask a simple-sounding question:

    What is a "source"?

    This is an issue that simply will not go away, and the more I look into it, the more problematic it becomes. Wikipedia recites a definition so superficial as to seem almost circular in nature:

    In journalism, a source is a person, publication or other record or document that gives information.
    In theory, journalists are supposed to be guided by something known as a Code of Ethics -- such as the one promulgated by the US Society of Professional Journalists. Described as "voluntarily embraced by thousands of writers, editors and other news professionals" the code sets forth four major standards, each of which is broken down into details called "journalist shoulds"). The standards:
    Seek Truth and Report It

    Minimize Harm

    Act Independently

    Be Accountable

    All fine and good, but as we saw in New Orleans (more here, here, and here), despite the existence of guidelines or standards, MSM "sources" turned out to be themselves unsubstantiated or else the stories they told turned out to be absolute rumors without any basis in fact. This, of course, is one of the reasons I must maintain skepticism about certain aspects of the Hinrichs story -- particularly his alleged attendance at the local mosque. It is not enough for me to watch a video make this bare assertion based on the recital that "sources told" Channel 9 that they saw him go there. What sources? The place was right around the corner from where he lived, which could mean he walked past the mosque every day. They'll have to do better reciting "sources said" to make a credible case. (As Jeff at Caerdroia reminds via Glenn's update, there are named sources who contradict the unnamed sources....)

    While such "sources said" allegations would never withstand scrutiny in court (for starters, they're hearsay), the concern here is not a legal one, but a moral one. What I want to know is how to discern what is true.

    I write this blog, and I know that I have readers -- some of whom might trust me, and some of whom might not. If I assert that "a source" told me something, and I refuse to divulge the identity of the person, you can choose to believe me or not, but it's my reputation as a blogger (my ethos, if you will), that will ultimately make you decide the following:

  • Am I the sort of person who'd lie to my readers?
  • Even if I mean to be honest with my readers, might I be exaggerating or engaging in wishful thinking?
  • Assuming you believe me about my source, is the source reliable?
  • And last but not least:

  • Is the information the source provided true?
  • Clearly, there are a lot of assumptions underlying that bare assertion that "a source said" something.

    Are there any standards? Mainstream media would have us believe that there are. Yet in the case of New Orleans, we saw the standards reduced to a level which might not have survived the editorial scrutiny of the National Enquirer or WorldNetDaily. And even now, such bastions of "reliable" journalistic "standards" as the American Journalism Review are actively promoting some of the most flagrantly self congratulatory pieces I have ever seen.

    Like this dramatic exercise in hero worship from the WaPo's Marc Fisher:

    The levees broke and the city joined the sea, and the cameras bore witness and the ink-stained scribblers rose up from a vale of troubles to chronicle the days of the fearful and the forgotten.

    In this era of blogs, pundits and shouted arguments, the coming of Katrina reunited the people and the reporters. In a time of travail, parts of the media landscape that had seemed faded, yea, even discarded, now felt true.

    The hurricane that laid waste to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast hit the land and its people with Biblical force, sending us in search of ancient verities: We needed to see for ourselves. We had to hear the stories of the people. We wanted to know what had happened.

    So as the summer of 2005 came to a violent end, journalism journeyed back, setting aside for a few days the allure of the Internet and the promise of a nation of citizen reporters. Once again, we understood the power of mass media, the shared experience of a nation gathering in its living rooms to see momentous events on television, to feel the satisfaction of reading a newspaper's first shot at making sense of difficult and complex times. Web, schmeb: Without electricity, those who lived in the path of Hurricane Katrina depended on old battery-powered radios and whatever newspaper they could borrow for a few minutes from the guy in the next cot.

    Katrina, however briefly, took us back to a simpler time. Audiences for the cable news channels tripled and more, but their combined numbers couldn't come close to those of any one of the old broadcast networks. The Internet would come to play an essential and innovative role in bringing people together, but only in the second phase of the coverage.

    By the "second phase" of coverage, might Mr. Fisher mean the debunking of Katrina mythology?

    Or the attempt to retain it?

    In another sefl-congratulatory editorial, AJR's Editor and Senior Vice President, Rem Rieder offers this platitude written in a tone one might normally associate with Thomas Jefferson:

    Journalism matters.

    We hold that truth to be self-evident. But in recent years the proposition has taken quite a battering.

    The litany of woe for the proud but beleaguered profession is painfully familiar. The shrinking audiences. The endless string of plagiarism and fabrication cases. The Wall Street-fueled cutbacks. The post-9/11 timidity. The WMD blunder. It was almost enough to make the most starry-eyed optimist embrace the blogosphere's ubiquitous obits for the so-15-minutes-ago mainstream media.

    Then Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast and the Bush administration dithered and stumbled. And the MSM rose to the occasion.

    They did? What about the scandal of bad reporting including unsourced rumors, exaggerations and outright lies? None of this is mentioned. Instead, under guise of false modesty, Mr. Rieder only turns up the volume of his already-loud applause:
    That the media performed well is hardly a surprise. Journalists live to cover the big story. Acts of nature – what one writer I know calls "big weather" – have always brought out the best in reporters and news organizations.
    Here here! (We're so damn good! Why, the crowds will never dare stop applauding!)

    Anyway, according to Mr. Rieder, the "best" included Brian Thevenot's reporting (which, as I discussed previously and repeatedly, included false rumors of murdered girls and 40 bodies dead in freezers), and comparisons to the war in Iraq and the movie "Hotel Rwanda"):

    Let's hope Katrina buries forever the notion of false equivalency, the idea that fair and balanced reporting means giving equal weight to opposing positions, regardless of their merit.

    The hurricane coverage also reminded us of the remarkable commitment journalists bring to their jobs. Exhibit A is the band of Times-Picayune staffers who remained in New Orleans to cover the flooding when their more sensible colleagues evacuated. One who stayed was Brian Thevenot, who recounts their extraordinary experiences in "Apocalypse in New Orleans" beginning on page 24.

    Sigh.

    (I've linked "Apocalypse" repeatedly, and discussed it in the above posts.)

    However, I do agree with Mr. Rieder about "false equivalency," and I have discussed the fallacy he calls the "idea that fair and balanced reporting means giving equal weight to opposing positions, regardless of their merit."

    The problem is, I don't think "equal weight" should be given to unsubstantiated rumors. But in New Orleans, rumors weren't merely given equal weight, they were presented as "truth to power."

    If the pieces in the American Journalism Review are considered the journalistic equivalent of "peer review," why not simply go with the National Enquirer?

    Or "alligations"! About alligators!

    Let's talk rumors to power!

    posted by Eric at 09:55 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)



    Finally?

    The first shock waves of the Hinrichs story seem to be hitting the media.

    The Washington Times has an editorial called "Terror in the heartland?"

    Norman itself is no stranger to Islamist activity. In 2000, Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, took flying lessons at the city's flight school and attended a neighborhood mosque, which, according to NewsOK.com, is the same mosque that Mr. Hinrichs had been attending. There is some doubt about whether Mr. Hinrichs himself was a Muslim, though.

    The FBI says that it has still no reason to believe Mr. Hinrichs was involved in a larger terrorist plot. Similarly, it has no information that suggests there is any additional threat to the OU-area. But in light of these frightening facts, the FBI mustn't rule anything out.

    Not to be left out, the WaPo reports a story which has made the rounds in the blogosphere for two days -- that Hinrichs attempted to purchase ammonium nitrate.

    Does this mean there's a real story? In the MSM?

    Stay tuned.

    UPDATE: The New York Times has a small blurb too -- buried here (in the "National Briefing" section, under the headline "Northwest, Rockies, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England and Washington.")

    (Wouldn't want anyone to miss the Midwest, would we?)

    MORE: Dr. Rusty Shackleford (whom I thank for linking this post) has an excellent post on the issuance of what appears to be a sealed indictment. Excerpt:

    An indictment is far different than a search warrant. An indictment would mean that arrests are forthcoming and that the FBI has discovered a criminal conspiracy since dead people can't be indicted.

    Of course, it is entirely possible that Troester simply misworded his answer and that he meant to say warrant. But this also could be a strong indication that Hinrichs was in fact part of a larger Islamic terror cell and that his death was due to the premature explosion of his bomb.

    Read it.

    Warrant or indictment, both legal reasoning and simple logic dictate that you can't arrest or indict a corpse.

    posted by Eric at 09:16 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (3)




    The First Amendment lives! (At least in Delaware.)

    This strikes me as not only the right legal result, but a good result for bloggers:

    In a decision hailed by free-speech advocates, the Delaware Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court decision requiring an Internet service provider to disclose the identity of an anonymous blogger who targeted a local elected official.

    In a 34-page opinion, the justices said a Superior Court judge should have required Smyrna town councilman Patrick Cahill to make a stronger case that he and his wife, Julia, had been defamed before ordering Comcast Cable Communications to disclose the identities of four anonymous posters to a blog site operated by Independent Newspapers Inc., publisher of the Delaware State News.

    In a series of obscenity-laced tirades, the bloggers, among other things, pointed to Cahill's "obvious mental deterioration," and made several sexual references about him and his wife, including using the name "Gahill" to suggest that Cahill, who has publicly feuded with Smyrna Mayor Mark Schaeffer, is homosexual.

    First of all, I'm not at all sure that suggesting someone is a homosexual is any more defamatory than suggesting he's a member of a certain race. What I said two years ago still applies:
    As to the tortious nature of the conduct, I am not at all sure of the current status of defamation law, and there are public policy considerations underlying what is legally actionable and what is not. If, for example, rumors are spread that a white man is black, he cannot prevail under a defamation theory, because legally, it ought not be defamation to say that someone is black. Or Muslim. Whether the imputation of homosexuality is defamatory these days is open to question, at least in some places.

    Should it be?

    If the imputation of homosexuality is defamation, then is that not itself an outright admission by the tort system that there is something so dreadful about homosexuality that we will allow you to sue others if they accuse you of it?

    In any case, I guess imputing homosexuality is defamatory in Delaware. Because under this theory, the plaintiff demanded the identities of the anonymous bloggers and persuaded the trial court to order the bloggers' host(s) to "unmask" them.

    The Supreme Court, however, reversed, holding that a higher standard was required, and that the plaintiff would have to prove defamation:

    "Because the trial judge applied a standard insufficiently protective of Doe's First Amendment right to speak anonymously, we reverse that judgment," Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote.

    Steele described the Internet as a "unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before," and said anonymous speech in blogs and chat rooms in some instances can become the modern equivalent of political pamphleteering. Accordingly, a plaintiff claiming defamation should be required to provide sufficient evidence to overcome a defendant's motion for summary judgment before a court orders the disclosure of a blogger's identity.

    "We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously," Steele wrote. "The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all."

    I like that language. The First Amendment is alive and well in Delaware. Hell, Delaware's less than an hour away from me; perhaps I should move. (Nah. Despite the ferocity of my anarchic libertarian political views, I'm too personally conservative to do things like slander people willy-nilly.)

    Anyway, in order to obtain the identities of anonymous bloggers (at least in Delaware), the Court announced a new standard:

    a plaintiff must first try to notify the anonymous poster that he is the subject of subpoena or request for a court to disclose his identity, allowing the poster time to oppose the request. The plaintiff would then have to provide prima facie evidence of defamation strong enough to overcome a summary judgment motion.

    "The decision of the Supreme Court helps provide protection for anonymous bloggers and anonymous speakers in general from lawsuits which have little or no merit and are filed solely to intimidate the speaker or suppress the speech," said David Finger, a Wilmington attorney representing John Doe No. 1.

    Juan non-Volokh has more, and links to the court's opinion.

    I am not much of a fan of libel actions, which I worry will increasingly be used as a cynical tool to silence or intimidate bloggers. (Passions have already been mobilized in certain quarters....)

    I hope more states follow Delaware's lead.

    posted by Eric at 08:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)



    Road to surfserfdom on the refeudalized Internet?

    Having read through Al Gore's incredibly long tirade (yes, 4,649 words is long), I'm struck by his indictment of television and radio for ruining America's tradition of freedom of speech, and his glorification of the printed word. I'm not about to fisk his entire speech, as I wouldn't want to inflict that on readers, and I doubt I could stay awake through such an ordeal. But I can't resist just a few excerpts:

    Consider the rules by which our present "public forum" now operates, and how different they are from the forum our Founders knew. Instead of the easy and free access individuals had to participate in the national conversation by means of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation today.
    Huh? I barely watch television. Once a week I'll watch something like Rome, and occasionally if there's a big event (like Katrina or Rita), I'll flip between CNN and Fox News to see what they're saying, but I prefer reading. And writing. To watching.

    Inexpensive metal printing presses were almost everywhere in America. They were easily accessible and operated by printers eager to typeset essays, pamphlets, books or flyers.
    Now there's a mouthful. A printing press was a big deal, and while they were a major improvement over earlier, hand-written communications, it wasn't the same thing as owning a personal computer, which gives anyone the power to generate "essays, pamphlets, books or flyers" of any sort.
    Television stations and networks, by contrast, are almost completely inaccessible to individual citizens and almost always uninterested in ideas contributed by individual citizens.

    Ironically, television programming is actually more accessible to more people than any source of information has ever been in all of history. But here is the crucial distinction: it is accessible in only one direction; there is no true interactivity, and certainly no conversation.

    True. That's why I prefer the blogosphere. (I also like talk radio, and I think the interactivity of that medium helped paved the way for the blogosphere.)

    The number of cables connecting to homes is limited in each community and usually forms a natural monopoly. The broadcast and satellite spectrum is likewise a scarce and limited resource controlled by a few. The production of programming has been centralized and has usually required a massive capital investment. So for these and other reasons, an ever-smaller number of large corporations control virtually all of the television programming in America.
    If you don't like it, turn it off. Or better yet, start your own digital competition, and stream your video over the Internet.
    Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.
    I knew there had to be a reason for all those boring, tiny demonstrations. It's television! It's one of the reasons television bores me almost as much as Al Gore.
    So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in television's domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change that - at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and information network in all of American television.
    Hmmmm....

    What is this? An opinion or a plug?

    (Just thought I'd ask.)

    And wasn't Hyatt that big fatcat trial lawyer who used to run national ads on TV? (Yes. And "you have my word on it.")

    It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas" on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

    The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, describes what has happened as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." That may sound like gobbledygook, but it's a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their ignorance.

    Refeudalization? I could have sworn that the blogosphere was going in precisely the opposite direction, but I'll continue.... with more Gore....

    It did not come as a surprise that the concentration of control over this powerful one-way medium carries with it the potential for damaging the operations of our democracy. As early as the 1920s, when the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on democracy. One early American student of the medium wrote that if control of radio were concentrated in the hands of a few, "no nation can be free."

    As a result of these fears, safeguards were enacted in the U.S. -- including the Public Interest Standard, the Equal Time Provision, and the Fairness Doctrine - though a half century later, in 1987, they were effectively repealed. And then immediately afterwards, Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.

    Does that mean that Rush Limbaugh should have been kept off the air?

    By government regulations?

    And radio is not the only place where big changes have taken place. Television news has undergone a series of dramatic changes. The movie "Network," which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, was presented as a farce but was actually a prophecy. The journalism profession morphed into the news business, which became the media industry and is now completely owned by conglomerates.

    The news divisions - which used to be seen as serving a public interest and were subsidized by the rest of the network - are now seen as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, more importantly, to advance the larger agenda of the corporation of which they are a small part. They have fewer reporters, fewer stories, smaller budgets, less travel, fewer bureaus, less independent judgment, more vulnerability to influence by management, and more dependence on government sources and canned public relations hand-outs. This tragedy is compounded by the ironic fact that this generation of journalists is the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of their profession. But they are usually not allowed to do the job they have been trained to do.

    The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.

    Wait! Wait! Who are "they"?

    Who are the squadrons?

    How were they "unleashed"?

    Gore does not say.

    Gee. The way he recalls the good old days of government regulations which kept Rush Limbaugh off the air, only to follow that with complaints that "they" have unleashed "digital brownshirts," I just have to ask something.

    Might the man be secretly wishing for some kind of new leash laws?

    What I found most disturbing about this 4,600 word diatribe is that either Al Gore has never heard of blogs, or else he has, and deliberately refuses to mention them. (Neither bodes well, in my opinion.)

    Fortunately, he does conclude with what sounds like a plea for Internet freedom, although that is sandwiched inside his complaint about the limitations posed by video streaming:

    First, as exciting as the Internet is, it still lacks the single most powerful characteristic of the television medium; because of its packet-switching architecture, and its continued reliance on a wide variety of bandwidth connections (including the so-called "last mile" to the home), it does not support the real-time mass distribution of full-motion video.

    Make no mistake, full-motion video is what makes television such a powerful medium. Our brains - like the brains of all vertebrates - are hard-wired to immediately notice sudden movement in our field of vision. We not only notice, we are compelled to look. When our evolutionary predecessors gathered on the African savanna a million years ago and the leaves next to them moved, the ones who didn't look are not our ancestors. The ones who did look passed on to us the genetic trait that neuroscientists call "the establishing reflex." And that is the brain syndrome activated by television continuously - sometimes as frequently as once per second. That is the reason why the industry phrase, "glue eyeballs to the screen," is actually more than a glib and idle boast. It is also a major part of the reason why Americans watch the TV screen an average of four and a half hours a day.

    (It's a major reason I don't. My eyeballs are too damned tired.)

    It is true that video streaming is becoming more common over the Internet, and true as well that cheap storage of streamed video is making it possible for many young television viewers to engage in what the industry calls "time shifting" and personalize their television watching habits. Moreover, as higher bandwidth connections continue to replace smaller information pipelines, the Internet's capacity for carrying television will continue to dramatically improve. But in spite of these developments, it is television delivered over cable and satellite that will continue for the remainder of this decade and probably the next to be the dominant medium of communication in America's democracy. And so long as that is the case, I truly believe that America's democracy is at grave risk.
    Try as I might (and despite my disdain for television) I'm just not seeing the connection between satellite and cable TV and grave risk for democracy. Why doesn't he explain the tie-in?

    And, again, what about blogs?

    There's only the vaguest hint:

    The final point I want to make is this: We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Worldwide Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it because some of the same forces of corporate consolidation and control that have distorted the television marketplace have an interest in controlling the Internet marketplace as well. Far too much is at stake to ever allow that to happen.
    Controlling the Internet marketplace? I'm not clear about what that means. The Internet -- whether accessed by cable, phone line, or WiFi, has shown itself rather tough to control, and although I am very worried about Google's and Microsoft's capitulation to government controls in totalitarian countries, I have seen no evidence that corporations (which by their nature only want to sell bandwidth), have any more interest in controlling the uncontrollable content which runs through it than any of the telephone service providers have over the content of what customers might discuss over the phone.

    We must ensure by all means possible that this medium of democracy's future develops in the mold of the open and free marketplace of ideas that our Founders knew was essential to the health and survival of freedom.
    I agree, but not if "all means possible" includes government regulations.

    Or leashes.

    When (in a speech about today's media) someone of Gore's stature:

  • complains that "American democracy is at grave risk";
  • recalls fondly the old days of government regulation of media;
  • uses the term "unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts" without saying what he means; and
  • not once mentions bloggers or uses the word "blog"
  • ,

    then I think it's worth asking what he's talking about.

    It's a hell of a way to promote a new business venture.

    Sigh.

    Is he just trying to force me to watch his new show?


    MORE: I don't know whether he's looking for commercial sponsors, but Gore's latest remarks ought to breathe new life into the sales of these T-shirts. (Via Jessica's Well.)

    AND MORE: Glenn Reynolds links to Brendan Nyhan, who, despite the fact that he otherwise agreed with Gore, found the"digital brownshirts" remark disturbing:

    this sort of partisan attack will obscure, rather than clarify, the fundamental democratic issues that are at stake.
    I especially enjoyed the title of the post: "What is Al Gore talking about?"

    (If you find out, let me know!)

    posted by Eric at 12:20 PM | Comments (5)



    Chesty Puller turns in his grave

    Hard as it is to accept, a U.S. Marine was spying for Philippine politicians while working in the White House.

    Federal investigators say Aragoncillo, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines, used his top secret clearance to steal classified intelligence documents from White House computers.

    In 2000, Aragoncillo worked on the staff of then-Vice President Al Gore. When interviewed by Philippine television, he remarked how valued Philippine employees were at the White House.

    "I think what they like most is our integrity and loyalty," Aragoncillo said.

    I expect a virtual slap on the wrist, but a Marine who disgraces the Corps and his country in such a fashion deserves the most severe penalty.

    NOTE: It appears that the spying was actually done under Cheney.

    UPDATE: Commenter dnmore links to and cites a NYT piece which corrects errors in what ABCnews was touting as an 'exclusive.' It's a good thing they excluded the NYT from carrying the same misinformation.

    The ABCnews article implied that Aragoncillo spied from Dick Cheney's office while in the Marine Corps. It appears that the espionage occurred after Aragoncillo left the Corps and joined the FBI, and that now his time in the White House is being investigated as well.

    Thanks go out to dnmore.

    But Chesty wouldn't be any less disgusted.

    posted by Dennis at 10:07 AM | Comments (1)



    What should we not focus on?

    In the latest now-you-see-it-now-you-don't, the president of Oklahoma University's Muslim Student Association has declared that Joel Hinrichs is not a Muslim:

    NORMAN, Okla. -- The president of an OU student organization said he believes Joel Henry Hinrichs III was neither a Muslim nor a visitor to local mosques.

    Ashraf Hussein, the president of OU's Muslim Student Association, also confirmed that up to seven people were either questioned or detained regarding the bombing death of Hinrichs, a 21-year-old engineering student.

    Hinrichs died Saturday night after a bomb he was supposedly carrying exploded while he sat on a bench next to George Lynn Cross Hall, about 100 yards from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, where 84,000 people were watching a college football game.

    While the incident and its investigation have spurred plenty of rumor and speculation, authorities have consistently maintained that there is no evidence Hinrichs belonged to an extremist organization.

    That last statement -- "there is no evidence Hinrichs belonged to an extremist organization" -- is of little relevance in determining whether Hinrichs was a Muslim (unless the local mosque he's reported to have attended was an "extremist organization" -- something that might depend on whether Zacarias Moussaoui attended it.)

    What I'm wondering is whether the president of a Christian student association is vested with the power to declare whether a given student is a Christian.

    Not that we can ask Hinrichs or anything. But his father was interviewed, and the video seems edited (at least I perceive gaps when I watch it), and at no point is he asked directly whether his son was a Muslim. (If that last link doesn't work, the original video can be found at KFOR's web site. Why this is still being treated as local news escapes me.)

    His rather odd statement -- that his son would not become a Muslim "fanatic" "until pigs fly" -- if that's not an tacit admission that his son might be a Muslim, it would seem at the very least to beg for a follow up question about his religious beliefs. Frankly I'd be surprised if such questions were not asked.

    And maybe answered.

    As to the question of who determines whether or not someone is a Muslim, a Christian, or anything else, I've attempted to grapple with this before, because Philadelphia's Police Commmissioner (one of the few Muslims of such stature in this country) has been accused of not being a Muslim.

    I think it would have been up to Hinrichs to determine whether he was a Muslim. But the fact of whether or not he attended a mosque is really not a matter or his opinion or anyone else's. He either did or he didn't.

    And I'd like to know. It's highly relevant, as even the Muslim Student Association president acknowledges by discussing it.

    Elsewhere Mr. Hussein is quoted as disturbed by the media's, um, "focus":

    Ashraf Hussein, president of Muslim Student Association and petroleum and electrical engineering junior, said he is disturbed by the media’s focus.

    “(Hinrichs) had a Muslim roommate; he had a Muslim roommate — that’s all they’re mentioning,” Hussein said.

    Is that really "all" they're mentioning? I think that whoever "they" are, they're a lot more concerned with the proximity of the bomb to 84,000 people, and with whether Hinrichs attempted to purchase ammonium nitrate. A "Muslim roommate" certainly wasn't "all" I was mentioning; in fact I never mentioned the roommate's religion; what I mentioned were the (now confirmed) reports was that he was Pakistani.

    I've been struggling to scrape together what paltry news items I can find on Google, and it hasn't been easy. The last thing I'd call it would be "media focus."

    Regarding said "focus," one of the reason I remain skeptical about everything is because there isn't anything solid to focus on yet.

    Today's Oklahoma Daily warns in an editorial:

    ....certain sites (that have obvious socio-political agendas) have been referenced as fact by individuals who have written us, posted on our Web site and spread this “information” throughout the World Wide Web.

    And that is an example of how, sometimes, the Internet can act as a carcinogen of truth; especially if readers don’t consume this media critically.

    If a “news story” does not name its sources, raise an eyebrow. If that story sites “very credible sources” as sources, raise the other one.

    “Experienced law enforcement officials say,” should be considered just as unreliable online as “A believable OU student said, ‘I think there’s probably some sort of conspiracy,’” should be if it were the lead source for a controversial story in The Daily.

    When FBI investigations come to a close, we will all know a lot more about what happened last weekend. Once again, however, The Daily feels it is not only struggling each day to find truth in this situation, but also beginning to battle the proliferation of information from media that have surrendered the search for truth in an effort to be inflammatory or to draw better ratings.

    In short, consider the medium, and if it raises an eyebrow, turn somewhere else for your information.

    While that's generally good advice, I'm a bit troubled by the last phrase.

    "Turn somewhere else?"

    Any idea where might that be?


    MORE: At the risk of getting a bit out of focus (and perhaps even turning elsewhere), regarding the question "Who is a Muslim?" I'd like to mention another Pakistani, Faisal Alam, founder of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, an "organization devoted to advancing the cause of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims." (More here.)

    Because Alam's status as a Muslim also came under attack by the same group now saying Hinrichs wasn't a Muslim, I think the details are worth a peek.

    In a letter to the Oklahoma Daily, a proclaimed spokesman for both the Islamic Society of Norman (that's the mosque Hinrichs is said to have attended) and the Muslim Students Association declared that both organizations were "appalled and deeply offended" by Alam, that homosexuality is not compatible with Islam, and that Faisal Alam would have to choose between homosexuality and Islam:

    ....the term “homosexual Muslim” is an oxymoron and therefore he must choose one or the other.
    Elsewhere the letter writer has been described as the president of Oklahoma University's Muslim Students Association, and as a religious sheikh.

    While he and his organization are free to declare whatever they want about Faisal Alam or Joel Hinrichs, I'd like to ask where they derive the authority to issue binding pronouncements about who is or is not a Muslim -- and who has authority to issue religious fatwas against Al-Fatiha:

    "The very existence of Al-Fatiha is illegitimate and the members of this organization are apostates," the decree said. "Never will such an organization be tolerated in Islam and never will the disease which it calls for be affiliated with a true Islamic society or individual. The Islamic ruling for such acts is death."
    Would current or past presidents (or sheikhs) agree with the fatwa?

    I'd be tempted to ask questions about precisely who is vested with either moral or religious authority to issue religious pronouncements (or, for that matter, complaints about discrimination) but I'm trying to stay with the, um, "focus."

    UPDATE: Be sure to read Gateway Pundit's most recent post. Very interesting discussion of suicide. (While suicide-plus-homicide might have been Hinrichs's intention, he may well have failed at suicide in the legal sense, for reasons discussed below.)

    There are no definitive answers to many lingering questions. Unbelievable as it sounds, there is still no answer to the simple question of whether Hinrichs was a Muslim (much less whether or not he attended the neighborhood mosque).

    MORE: The Commissar shares my curiosity over why this story isn't being reported, and offers two alternative explanations:

    ...unfortunately, one of two things is going on here: either it’s media dropping the ball on a massive scale, or it’s a media whitewash — out of a desire for “political correctness” or a desire to protect certain politicians whose agendas these organizations favor but who are not serious about fighting terrorism. (Actually, I’ll bet on the first one.)
    (Dr. Rusty Shackleford has more.) If a similar bomb had gone off in New Orleans, I suspect they wouldn't have dropped the ball.

    MORE: Regarding "when pigs fly," if we wanna get literal about these things, I'm sorry to be the one to report that the evidence is overwhelming that they already do.

    And no; this is not a matter of blogger hyperbole or hysteria; it's actually the subject of government regulation.

    whenpigsfly.jpg

    (I am sorry that the above picture is not a more accurate depiction of real-world flying conditions. I do try to take serious matters seriously -- at least, when it isn't too painful.)

    UPDATE: Via Michelle Malkin, I see that Hinrichs was already known to Norman, Oklahoma police who were investigating the attempted fertilizer purchase:

    The officer, according to Younger, took a mental note of the conversation and its context, and then followed Hinrichs outside. The officer took down the student's license tag number, contacted Norman's police department dispatch operation, had Hinrichs checked for outstanding warrants -- but, alas, found nothing.

    The officer continued his investigation Thursday night, but could only conclude that Hinrichs was an OU student and lived in university-subsidized housing. The officer did contact a Norman bomb squad technician; however, the plan at that time was for the off-duty officer to complete a written report for submission the following Monday.

    Hinrichs died when a bomb he allegedly created exploded as he sat on a bench next to the George Lynn Cross Hall, about 100 yards from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, where about 84,000 people were watching the Sooners play Kansas State in a college football game.

    When asked whether or not the officer could have done something to prevent the explosion, Younger said the off-duty officer actually went "above and beyond" the call of duty to act as he did.

    UPDATE: A lot of assumptions are being made that Hinrichs committed suicide, this Oklahoma Daily student editorial being typical. There is no more proof that he committed suicide than there is proof that he's a Muslim.

    (Once again, the fact that his bomb went off is not proof of suicide.)

    MORE: Pigs can't fly in Britain! (Via InstaPundit.)

    posted by Eric at 08:12 AM | Comments (6)




    Failure of suicide is failure. (Of suicide.)

    Jeff Goldstein has not only honored me by linking two of my posts in one day, but he's made me think again about the "shift" in language by Oklahoma University Dean Boren (who's now specifically refusing to call Hinrichs' death a suicide).

    I think Dean Boren's shift merits another look at the facts. If we assume that the Hinrichs death was not a suicide, then it must mean legally that it was either a deliberate homicide, or some sort of accident. If it was a deliberate homicide, the fact that Hinrichs was blown up would have to mean that someone unknown activated a remote detonator.

    If it was an accident, the inquiry is even more complicated, but I'll try to follow it out anyway. According to the man's father, he had a lifelong interest in explosives that went too far. I suppose it's possible that he was a thrill seeker with no suicidal intentions who just strapped on a bomb and decided to stroll around near the football stadium, but is that credible?

    Reason and common sense suggest it's more likely that he wanted to kill other people; probably a lot of other people. If Dean Boren has information pointing away from suicide, perhaps he has reason to believe that either:

  • a) Hinrichs had no intention of killing himself, but wanted to plant the bomb where it would go off later; or
  • b) Hinrichs had decided to blow himself up, but wanted to take as many people with him as possible.
  • Option b is confusing, but here's my legal hypothesis as to how such a murder-suicide goal might have resulted in accidental death. Suppose I decided that I wanted to blow up myself along with all the patrons of a large business enterprise when it was full of customers. Suppose I managed to hide myself somewhere inside the place after it closed with a goal of staying there overnight, then detonating myself at 10:00 a.m. Suppose further that because of the instability of my ingredients, the bomb went off inside the building at night, and it killed only me. Would that legally be called a suicide? I'm not so sure; in fact, I think it wouldn't be, because I had no intention of dying at that time. My suicide would have been conditioned on events that never happened. Similarly, if I bought, loaded, and concealed a gun, intending to open fire in a crowded shopping center and then shooting myself, but the gun went off in my waistband and shot me through the heart, that would no more be a suicide than it would have been suicide had Eric Harris's gun gone off accidentally and killed him before he and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High. (Hope that's nowhere near Wasson High, as I hate bad influences....) Link via The Trenchcoat Chronicles.

    Obviously, any failure of suicide doesn't even have to be coupled with the intention of killing other people. If I loaded up a syringe with a fatal overdose of drugs, fully intending to inject myself at midnight tonight, but in my excitement to hide my "suicide stash" I lost my balance, fell onto the needle, and killed myself, that would not be suicide. I had not yet performed the final act, and I might have changed my mind at any time.

    (I guess I've beaten this issue to death.)

    Oh well. Another day, another legal hypothetical.

    posted by Eric at 02:55 PM | Comments (6)



    Wearing down which side?

    George F. Will's recent remarks -- (which echo what Glenn has been saying about qualifications) set my mind to thinking along conspiratorial lines. (A mindset I'm afraid Jonah Goldberg's Carswell specter does little to dispel.)

    At the risk of thinking impure thoughts, is it possible that Senate rejection of Harriet Miers might have been Bush's idea all along?

    From a Machiavellian perspective, of course, whoever the ultimate nominee might be would depend on who's considered ultimately responsible for a rejection of Miers.

    (And that might depend on whether anyone in the Bush administration thinks in a Machiavellian manner. . .)


    AFTERTHOUGHT: It might be worth considering whether signing a bill you've already declared unconstitutional is as Machiavellian a thing to do as, say, deliberately nominating someone you expect to be rejected.

    But hey, as an admitted libertarian in the Machiavellian tradition, I'm in no position to judge.


    MORE: WAIT! STOP! I'm in no way arguing that deliberately nominating someone certain to be rejected is the moral equivalent of signing a bill you already stated was unconstitutional. While both might be Machiavellian, the latter is far, far worse.

    I mean, my standards are low, but they're not that low.

    Sheesh.

    UPDATE: Via InstaPundit, a pit bull defense (and an attack on the bow tie-wearing George F. Will) from InstaPunk!

    (BTW, I still like the idea of a pit bull on the court. And I am neither stating nor implying that Bush did anything wrong in nominating Harriet Miers, even if he thought she'd be rejected. As I said, I actually like Machiavellianism -- within constitutional bounds, of course....)

    MORE (10/09/05): I now see that I am not the only one to imagine that Bush might send up a nominee knowing she'd be rejected.

    (But at least my post is old non-news!)

    posted by Eric at 12:39 PM | Comments (7)



    Horror story from China

    If you like dogs as I do, and you thought it was bad to see dogs being shot in New Orleans, what Chinese authorities are doing makes that look humane by comparison:

    The start of the Chinese Year of the Dog is just four months away, but in the southern city of Guangzhou thousands of frightened dog owners and their pets are lying doggo after local authorities intensified a crackdown on unregistered animals.

    Unlicensed dogs are being rounded up by the police and, in the past week, hundreds have been culled, some in front of their owners, by special dog-killing teams.

    E-mails sent by anguished Guangzhou residents to the Hong Kong-based animal welfare group Animals Asia spoke of owners collapsing after their animals were put to death in front of them and of streets running with the blood of dead dogs. "The dog-killing team killed all the dogs they saw," reported one witness. "Their blood made the street turn red and their owners fainted. The dog-killing team showed no mercy and said it was an order from the government."

    Regarded as symbols of bourgeois decadence during the Mao era and only fit for the dinner table, dogs have become increasingly fashionable as pets in China in recent years. With the one-child policy in operation in the cities, many parents buy dogs as companions for their only child, and they are a status symbol among the country's burgeoning middle classes.

    (From Peking Duck -- who notes the dogs are being clubbed to death -- and The English Guy, via Lynn of A Sweet, Familiar Dissonance, formerly Reflections in D minor.)

    No wonder the Chinese authorities have censored bloggers, and corrupted Google.

    Bloody bastards.

    MORE: People believing in things like government "registration" might keep in mind that in China, registration of dogs is synonymous with prohibition:

    .... dog registration fees are so high in Guangzhou that only 800 of the estimated 60,000 dogs in the city are licensed. It costs the equivalent of £700 to register a dog, almost half the average salary of most Chinese, followed by a further annual fee of about £400.
    Half a year's salary?

    Maybe I shouldn't be giving the Brady Bunch any more crackpot ideas....

    posted by Eric at 11:41 AM | Comments (4)



    A tale of two schools (and two cities?)

    The story of the Oklahoma University student who blew himself up illustrates a contrast of two extremes in what I'll refer to collectively as "reporting" for lack of a better term.

    At one extreme, there's the Knight Ridder school of not reporting the story at all. Not even the basic, known, facts. At the other extreme, there's the rumor-mongering and conspiracy theorizing by WorldNetDaily, NEIN, and assorted freelance conspiracists.

    Usually, mainstream journalism avoids the latter approach. This is supposed to be a matter of principle as well as practice. The rumor-mongering which characterized the New Orleans reporting, however, is a sharp departure, and although it has been severely criticized (even by the journalists who did it), there's nonetheless a disturbing trend towards self congratulation. For rumor-mongering!

    There seem to be no rules. At least, if there are, I cannot discern them. Why did New Orleans qualify for what I called "rumor laundering" (something more appropriate for WorldNetDaily), and yet the case of Joel Hinrichs does not? Is it because there were more victims and it was therefore a bigger story? Was it because MSM journalists reporting Katrina tried to imitate the blogosphere by engaging in a failed attempt wolf pack behavior? I can't say, but the inconsistency bothers me.

    As a blogger, I have absolutely no problem in examining any and all sources obtainable, including MSM reports, conspiracy theories, or outright rumors -- and freely discussing, debating, and debunking whatever it might be from whatever the source. I guess that's the standard blogosphere approach. Apparently, it will not do for those who deem it their job to lead people -- whether out of a belief that they possess superior knowledge, or out of a belief in the justice and rightness of their cause.

    Right now, the bottom line with the Oklahoma University student who blew himself up is that he blew himself up. In front of a stadium. As to why, nothing is yet known, but the simple fact that it happened is not being reported -- not in my town.

    Why do I suspect that if someone had blown himself up in New Orleans, Louisiana instead of Norman, Oklahoma, the story would have been treated differently?

    MORE: According to this report at Oklahoma's NewsOK.com (from Texas Rainmaker via Glenn Reynolds), Hinrichs attended a mosque. Regardless of whether that mosque is the same mosque as the one attended by Zacarias Moussaoui (as alleged in the video), the simple fact of his mosque attendance alone indicates that Hinrichs is probably a convert to Isam, and it would be highly relevant in evaluating his state of mind. Not only that, the report states that his roommate was a Pakistani.

    I hate to sound accusatory, but I'm beginning to suspect that there are ulterior motives behind Knight-Ridder non-reporting. And they're not pleasant to contemplate.

    MORE: Also via Glenn's link, Michelle Malkin reports that the national media is "still AWOL."

    (As I said earlier, if your goal is suicide, ammonium nitrate is overkill.)

    MORE: Speaking of "national media," is Drudge also AWOL?

    UPDATE: This Tulsaworld.com story would seem to provide independent confirmation that Hinrichs' roommate was Pakistani:

    NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- The Pakistani roommate of a man authorities say died when he detonated an explosive device outside a crowded football stadium was led in handcuffs from a party shortly after Saturday's explosion, the head of an Islamic student group said.

    Fazal M. Cheema, a finance major, shared a university-owned apartment with Joel Hinrichs III, 21, who died Saturday when a device attached to his body exploded as he sat on a bench outside George Lynn Cross Hall.

    Cheema and three other Muslim students were led in handcuffs from a party by police after the blast, Ashraf Hussein, president of the Muslim Student Association, said Tuesday. They later were released.

    Cheema is "a really, really nice guy," Hussein said.

    OU President David Boren said authorities continue to believe that Hinrichs did not try to get into the stadium and that he acted alone. He said Hinrichs' roommate, along with his acquaintances, were questioned by federal authorities.

    "All the people who lived in that building, all the people that lived in the building surrounding it, all the people who knew him well or were living in proximity to him ... have been questioned; none of those people have been held by law enforcement," Boren said.

    Then there's another odd statement from Hinrichs' father:
    The FBI said in a statement Tuesday that there is no current threat posed by additional explosive materials, that there is no known threat from anyone else related to the incident and that there is no known link between Hinrichs and any terrorist or extremist organization or activities.

    Hinrichs' father, Joel Hinrichs Jr., said the FBI re-interviewed him Tuesday at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo. The father told investigators his son was skeptical of ideology.

    "Joe would have become a Muslim fanatic when pigs fly," the father side. (Emphasis added.)

    Is that really any way to reassure people?

    UPDATE: Bill Hobbs asks why the MSM is ignoring the story, and Gateway Pundit is continually following the story and updating links. So is Mark Tapscott, who continues to ask the questions that used to be asked in the days of real journalism.

    UPDATE: According to Explicitly Ambiguous, Hinrichs tried to enter the stadium -- TWICE:

    KWTV (Channel 9) News just reported that Hinrichs did have a ticket to the game and attempted to get into the stadium at two different entrances. He was refused at each entrance because he refused to let them search his backpack. Hopefully they’ll have something up on their website later.

    Here’s a quote by the student interviewed in the report at 6. This was on their website earlier today:

    One OU senior, Adam Smith, of Oklahoma City, however, said a stadium guard Saturday night told him “a guy had sprinted off” outside Gate 6 after refusing to let his backpack be searched.
    Link

    The report also said that 5 others were “involved”. They didn’t know if they were involved with the bombing or involved with removing things from the apartment.

    I don't see how much longer the MSM can continue to suppress this story, and I'd love to know why they're doing it.

    (For God's sake, with a system like this, if the country came under enemy attack, the only people who'd know it would be bloggers!)

    MORE: The video interview of Hinrichs' father -- with the "when pigs fly" remark -- can be streamed here. If that doesn't work, it's also listed at KFOR's web site.

    UPDATE: More recent information here.

    posted by Eric at 08:46 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (2)



    Lost in a failure of translation

    For a long time, I've been tired of calling myself a social liberal, but I'm not about to call myself a social conservative.

    I think the term "social conservative" is at least as much a misnomer as "social liberal," because in practice, both groups consist of social activists who by definition want social change (usually accomplished by heavy-handed statism).

    Traditionally, the word "conservative" would indicate a tendency towards intolerance (or resistance) to change, while "liberal" would mean tolerance of change (if not advocacy of it). Neither approach describes today's social liberalism or social conservatism.

    I don't even want to touch economics right now. (I guess that's called a "laissez faire" approach -- something so incompatible with politics or government as to be off-topic.)

    MORE: The legislation proposed here will serve as an example of social activism being passed off as "conservatism":

    Republican lawmakers are drafting new legislation that will make
    marriage a requirement for motherhood in the state of Indiana,
    including specific criminal penalties for unmarried women who do
    become pregnant "by means other than sexual intercourse."

    According to a draft of the recommended change in state law, every
    woman in Indiana seeking to become a mother throu gh assisted
    reproduction therapy such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation,
    and egg donation, must first file for a "petition for parentage" in
    their local county probate court.

    Only women who are married will be considered for the "gestational
    certificate" that must be presented to any doctor who facilitates the
    pregnancy. Further, the "gestational certificate" will only be given
    to married couples that successfully complete the same screening
    process currently required by law of adoptive parents.

    As it the draft of the new law reads now, an intended parent "who
    knowingly or willingly participates in an artificial reproduction
    procedure" without court approval, "commits unauthorized
    reproduction, a Class B misdemeanor." The criminal charges will be
    the same for physicians who commit "unauthorized practice of
    artificial reproduction."

    Via Jeff Goldstein, who opposes such laws, and who also points out that so does Bill Bennett -- in the form of his recent argument that "utilitarian arguments for restricting reproduction are nevertheless immoral and reprehensible when they impinge upon individual liberties."

    posted by Eric at 07:51 AM | Comments (6)




    NEWS FLASH: Bad laws can do more harm than good!

    On NRA News today, host (and blogger) Cam Edwards interviewed my blogfather Jeff Soyer, and one of the subjects was the DC red light camera fiasco.

    According to the WaPo story linked by Glenn Reynolds, the data make it overwhelmingly clear that not only don't the cameras deter red light running, they actually increase accidents:

    The Post obtained a D.C. database generated from accident reports filed by police. The data covered the entire city, including the 37 intersections where cameras were installed in 1999 and 2000.

    The analysis shows that the number of crashes at locations with cameras more than doubled, from 365 collisions in 1998 to 755 last year. Injury and fatal crashes climbed 81 percent, from 144 such wrecks to 262. Broadside crashes, also known as right-angle or T-bone collisions, rose 30 percent, from 81 to 106 during that time frame. Traffic specialists say broadside collisions are especially dangerous because the sides are the most vulnerable areas of cars.

    The number of crashes and injury collisions at intersections with cameras rose steadily through 2001, then dipped through 2003 before spiking again last year.

    The results were similar or worse than figures at intersections that have traffic signals but no cameras. The number of overall crashes at those 1,520 locations increased 64 percent; injury and fatal crashes rose 54 percent; and broadside collisions rose 17 percent.

    This really should not come as news to anyone who's studied the problem before. Glenn's had other posts about the problem, and I've even had one, slacker though I am.

    What particularly intrigued me about Jeff's radio discussion was the obvious logical anomaly in the Post's (and the DC government's) thinking: WHAT ABOUT THE DC GUN BAN? If it's clear that red light cameras increase accidents, then by the same logic, why isn't it also clear that the DC gun ban has increased crime in a place long known for being the nation's murder capital?

    If public safety concerns are a reason to reexamine a failed bureaucratic scheme that causes accidents, then why not one that causes deaths?

    posted by Eric at 09:59 PM | Comments (3)



    Giving voice to lifeless feelings

    Leave it to Steven Malcolm Anderson to bring to the surface some latent feelings still lingering within my cold and too-lifeless soul.

    In a comment to my last post about Harriet Miers, Steven concluded that he was "at a loss" to parse the philosophies of the current Supreme Court justices:

    ...now I'm at a loss as to who is more on the side of the individual and who is more on the side of government. What we seem to have now are, on the one side, "broad constructionists" or "living Constitutionalists" who read both individual rights (at least in the sexual realm) and government powers (especially in the realm of economics) as broadly as possible, vs., on the other side, the "strict constructionists" or "originalists", who read both individual rights (especially in the sexual realm) and government powers (especially in the realm of economics) as narrowly as possible.

    Hmmm....

    "Hmmm...." is a sentiment with which I can always agree. I knew a prominent psychiatrist who'd bill his patients hundreds of dollars an hour, and that was often the only observation he ever made....

    "Hmmm...."

    Well, occasionally he'd follow that with a knowing (if gently condescending) look, and he'd add, "Tell me more."

    As I told Steven, he touched on something which really bothers me, but which I have learned not to waste my time complaining about.

    And because I know that a lot of people don't bother with comments when they visit blogs (I don't blame them!), I'll complain about it again, in this post and not in a comment.

    As a libertarian, I have strong opinions about a lot of issues like a minimal role for government, hands off economic and social issues, etc. I have become quite accustomed to feeling frustrated that no libertarian -- say, Kozinksi, Reynolds, Volokh, or Barnett -- can or will ever be appointed to the Supreme Court. I've learned to settle -- for pragmatism, for less than perfection. I don't yell and scream because my wishes are not being fulfilled, and this is why I find it so hard to listen to the moral outrage of people who scream like mortally wounded animals because their idea of litmus test perfection hasn't been met.

    I grit my teeth and listen to these people, and I always wonder what makes their opinions so infinitely more worthy of consideration than mine.

    Is it because I don't yell loudly enough? If so, it's hardly consoling.

    Because, if I yelled and still didn't get my way, I'd only feel worse!

    posted by Eric at 09:30 PM | Comments (1)



    Shameful story?

    Or shameless?

    WorldNetDaily (who else?) reports that Joel Henry Hinrichs III (the Oklahoma University student who blew himself up), was -- get this:

    a "suicide bomber" in possession of "Islamic jihad" materials. . .

    ....Doug Hagmann, a seasoned investigator, told WND he was informed by multiple reliable law-enforcement sources familiar with the investigation into the incident that authorities recovered a "significant amount" of "jihad" materials, as well as Hinrichs’ computer.

    Hagmann also said those same sources indicated police and federal agents "had pulled additional explosives from [Hinrichs’] house," including triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, "homemade explosive [that is] very potent but relatively easily manufactured."

    TATP was also used in the July mass transit bombings in London, CNN reported, and was used by attempted bomber Richard Reid, who packed his shoes with the compound in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy a U.S.-bound American Airlines flight in December 2001.

    Here's Doug Hagmann's website, for those who are interested.

    I see that Rusty Shackleford has linked to this story while expressing skepticism (which I share) -- both about WorldNetDaily and about Hagmann:

    Larry Hagmann is the director of the Northeast Intelligence Network, so both stories are based on the same uncorraborated reports. NEIN has been called 'the world's most alarmist website' by a number of people in the past, so we'll let that stand as a disclaimer. It will be very interesting to follow this story and see what really motivated Hinrichs to kill himslelf in this fashion.

    However, if the WND/NEIN reports are true about jihadi material, but Hinrichs was not motivated by jihad, then think about what this is saying. If you want to blow yourself up, then who better to consult than the local chapter of the Islamic Society of North America? That's a pretty sad statement.

    Here's what I think. WorldNetDaily has a history of running stories which don't stop at mere hysteria (for example, speculation about dates for al Qaida's forthcoming nuclear strikes). Some of them -- like the idea that Hurricane Katrina was God's revenge on America for Israel's actions -- border (IMHO) on the truly insane.

    If this "story" pans out, well, shame on the Philadelphia Inquirer (and especially Knight Ridder). I'd be willing to concede some respect (if grudging in light of their social views) for this news outfit. But if not, I'm afraid I'll be in the category of people who think being fooled twice means shame on me.

    I've been tired of shame for a long time, and I'm just not into more.

    MORE: I'm still puzzled by what seems like an awful hurry to declare that this was not terrorism. How could they know so fast? American Thinker's Steve Warshawsky hopes it's part of the plan:

    According to University of Oklahoma president David Boren, although Hinrich had "emotional difficulties in the past," there is "certainly no evidence at this point which points to any other kind of motivation other than his personal problems." I hope this is simply a ruse, however transparent, to help the FBI conduct its investigation into this apparently botched act of domestic terrorism without alerting Hinrich's possible accomplices. For surely, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, anyone who blows himself up in public near large crowds of people should be presumed to be a terrorist, not a bizarrely suicidal college student.
    Boren has been accused of coverups before.... (He's a conspiracy theorist's dream.)

    And this remark by Hinrichs' father's has to be the understatement of the day:

    His son also had an interest in explosives, he said. "Every little boy does that," he said. "He went a little further than most."
    Just a little.

    MORE: Kevin Aylward has another odd quote from the father.

    And Bill Quick said "Uh Oh."

    AND MORE: Mark Tapscott isn't buying into the official story, and he asks some sensible questions (you know, the type which used to be asked by sensible reporters):

    ....why was Boren sufficiently familiar with Hinrichs to so quickly issue an opinion about his motive in the bombing? When he resigned in November 1994 as an Oklahoma senator, Boren was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He left the Senate just after the Democrats lost their majority in the GOP sweep of 1994.

    Add to his Senate years the presence of an active and long-established Muslim student presence on the OU campus stemming in great part from the school's excellent Petroleum Engineering program, and it stands to reason that Boren has been privy to intelligence briefings as head of the school. He almost certainly has maintained excellent contacts within the U.S. intelligence community made during his tenure as chairman of the Senate committee. Is that how he knew so quickly of Hinrichs?

    Fourth, in one of the photos appearing in the media, Hinrichs appears to have a fresh beard, which is characteristic of new Muslim male converts. His father told The Oklahoman his son was a quiet, intellectual type, but he had no idea what might have incited him to take his own life. We can only assume the father also didn't know of the bomb-making material in his son's apartment. Perhaps we are dealing with a recent or a secret convert?

    Finally, if Hinrichs was just a disturbed guy who decided to kill himself with a bomb 100 yards from a crowd of 84,000 people instead of simply putting a bullet through his temple, slashing his wrists or some other traditional way of doing away with himself, why is the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force now the lead agency in the investigation?

    I'm sure they'll be officially ignored in the order they weren't received.

    Thank God for the blogosphere! In backwater provinces like the city I live in, not only don't reporters ask such questions, the stories aren't even reported.

    (Little wonder conspiracy theories like these take hold and thrive.)

    MORE: Take with grain of salt, says Goldstein.

    Absolutely. But grain of salt or not the story itself should have been reported.

    UPDATE (10/05/05): In a report which details Joel Hinrichs' failed attempt to buy ammonium nitrate, Oklahoma University President David Boren (in what is described as a "shift") has specifically refused to describe the explosion as a suicide:

    The FBI has not announced details about the bomb, but Channel 5 News reported Tuesday night that Hinrichs' bomb contained acetone peroxide, or TATP. The highly unstable chemical can be made from household items, but it is very sensitive to heat and shock.

    Law enforcement found more bomb-making materials Sunday at Hinrichs' residence at the Parkview Apartments, and they were detonated that evening. Earlier last week, Hinrichs tried to buy ammonium nitrate fertilizer from Ellison Feed and Seed in east Norman.

    Dustin Ellison said the student visited his store on Wednesday and asked to buy the fertilizing ingredient often used in bombs. Ellison said Hinrichs didn't know how much he needed, and the store operator asked why the fertilizer was needed. After further discussion, Ellison said "something didn't feel right" and decided not to sell any materials to him.

    Hinrichs, 21, was a National Merit scholar from Colorado Springs, Colo. Boren said Hinrichs did not participate in a pregame recognition of freshmen National Merit scholars because he was not a freshman.

    "Was he in the stadium, did he attempt to enter the stadium?" Boren asked rhetorically. "To our knowledge, at this point, the answer to that question is no."

    While saying it appears no one else is connected to the bombing, Boren made a shift in describing Hinrich's death by saying, "I do not say suicide, I say it's an individual death that we're dealing with. That's all we really know."

    Still nothing in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Now that I think about it, if you're going to commit suicide, ammonium nitrate would be overkill. . .

    UPDATE (10/05/05): My thoughts on the nature of this reporting, plus updated links here.

    UPDATE (10/06/05): More recent post here.

    posted by Eric at 06:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)



    Gavin Newsom should buy me a gun! And a dog!

    San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom thinks wireless access is a fundamental civil right:

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who became internationally known for his campaign a year ago to legalize gay marriage, said on Monday he considered wireless Internet access a fundamental right of all citizens.

    ....

    "This is a civil rights issue as much as anything else," Newsom said.

    Does that mean wireless access is more of a civil right than the right to self defense?

    More of a civil right than the right to own a dog of your choice -- which Newsom (a would-be pit bull exterminator) opposes?

    To further illustrate how hopeless this argument is, there's no longer basic agreement on the definition of a "right." Newsom (and the people who share his philosophy) tend to see rights not as rights, but as obligations. Thus, in their minds, the "right" to wireless Internet services would not mean that I have a right to wireless if I go out and find a Internet service provider and pay for it. According to the Newsom rights doctrine, other people should be obligated to pay for my wireless Internet service.

    If this is a right, why stop there? Shouldn't I have the right to telephone service too? How about mail services (as Justin suggested earlier)?

    Or a house, maybe?

    If I thought of rights the same way that Newsom does, my "right" to own a gun or a pit bull would not mean I'd have the right to go out and buy them, but that the government (the taxpayers) should give them to me!

    (None of this is to suggest that "free" WiFi is necessarily a bad idea, mind you. I just don't think it's a civil right.)

    posted by Eric at 11:06 AM | Comments (5)



    Bali is a long way away . . .

    Walid Phares (Professor of Middle East Studies and Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies) offers a detailed analysis and explanation of the recent bombing in Bali. Excerpt:

    JI [Jemaah Islamiyah] specifically targets the stability of the largest Muslim nation on earth with the goal of establishing a Taliban-like power, possessing full control of Indonesia’s vast oil production and reserves. To do so, the jihadists' aim at what I call "triggering valves." Bali is one of them. Samuel Huntington called such areas in his book The Clash of Civilizations (1996) "fault lines." The jihadists have discovered the importance of these "fault lines" where different religious civilizations meet (and sometimes collide) and turned them into "valves." In simple words, the reason why Jemaah Islamiyah hit Bali for the second time is not only because it was a soft target, but because also it is a culturally and symbolically a "triggering spot." Bali is mostly Hindu (with Buddhist and other influences), and therefore is considered "infidel." Bali is also the center of materialistic pleasures, definitely projected as "infidel." Last but not least, Bali is an international center of tourism, with the high likelihood of attracting Western, Asian, and other foreigners, all "Kuffars," even if Muslim moderates live or work there. Combine these three dimensions, and you’d have an emple "trigger." Until it shuts down or empties, the jihadists will most likely target it again and again. Obviously, they won’t use the same tactics or weapons, but the strategic objective is the same.
    Well worth the read. The author concludes with a warning:
    Saturday's attack was a surprising step forward in the jihadists' agenda: they have terrorized a moderate Muslim nation in an area with a high concentration of so-called infidels. If the West does not stay on the offensive against terrorists militarily, America may suffer a similar fate.
    Except the United States is busy right now.

    (Maybe the terrorists didn't know that.)

    What annoys me about this is that, awful as events in New Orleans were (many called Katrina worse than war), I wouldn't fear traveling there in the future. But Bali, much as I've always wanted to go there, isn't looking quite as attractive, as friendly, as exotic, or as safe.

    I'd still go, but I'm a bit of a nut.

    For most tourists, travel is supposed to be fun.

    posted by Eric at 08:48 AM | Comments (1)



    Nothing to chew on?

    It isn't often that I sound off about absolutely nothing, so I do hope regular readers will forgive me. But I have to say that I cannot remember the last time that more words were uttered and more ink was spilled over a judicial nobody about whom no one -- not even the best legal minds in the country -- seems to know anything. This is no one's fault, of course, because other than a couple statements and a lecture, there's really nothing to know.

    (By the way, I'm talking about Harriet Miers -- a woman whose headlines I went out of my way to praise yesterday because I liked their appearance.)

    Even the charge of cronyism, true as it may be, will amount to very little in the long run. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman, normally the Inquirer's inside line to Washington dirt, shows his frustration in knowing so little, and resorts to citing the blogosphere -- and history:

    Conservatives are well aware that the cronyism issue is potent - they're raising it as well. Stephen Bainbridge, a conservative law professor who writes a blog, said yesterday: Miers "is a Bush crony, an unfortunate choice for an administration that has been fairly charged with excessive cronyism... . At this point, I see no reason - none, nada, zilch - for conservatives who care about the courts to lift a finger to support this candidate."

    In fairness to Bush, he is hardly the first president to choose a friend without judicial experience for the high court. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a regular card game with William O. Douglas, his Wall Street watchdog, before putting him on the court.

    Hey, do the math! (As the saying goes, "nothing from nothing leaves nothing.")

    Polman, of course, is quite right about Douglas. The guy was a total crony, and he ended up being an unpredictable legendary wild man and a target of regular impeachment campaigns. The fact is, once Miers is on the court, she's there for life. Her cronyist "patron" will be out in three years (absent the much-predicted dictatorship he's supposed to establish -- in which case who'll need the Court?).

    I rather enjoyed Polman's conclusion:

    Meanwhile, virtually no one on the Democratic side is calling Miers an extremist. Quite the contrary. Here's Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid: "I like Harriet Miers. As White House counsel, she has worked with me in a courteous and professional manner. I am also impressed with the fact that she was a trailblazer for women," as a top Texas lawyer.

    What better way for a Democrat to drive a wedge between Bush and conservatives than to praise his nominee? No wonder the right is nervous.

    I think the left should be nervous too. They wanted a major fight. A showdown. The Supreme Court was a major campaign issue last year, and it galvanized ideologues on the left and the right. And now the much-predicted war has turned out to be a dud. Left wing and right wing ideologues are hardly in a position to battle it out with each other. Why, for once they can agree. They can fiercely and loudly object -- to nothing.

    Ideologues or not, it's very tough to fight about nothing. Yeah, Ann Coulter (who manages to squeeze in an amusing comparison of gay marriage to Hitler's birthday) and Pat Buchanan are furious, but their words mean nothing to the masses in the middle.

    Gay marriage and Hitler's birthday? I like that.

    But seriously, let's return to nothing, OK?

    Unless I am wrong, Miers is vaguely centrist (if even that is provable), with no judicial experience, who has said very little, but who has worked to earn Bush's trust. If history shows anything, it's that once she's on the court, she won't be a crony, and anything could happen.

    In short, I know nothing, and I can predict nothing.

    I still think yesterday's "pit bull" headline is, well, better than nothing.

    But does anyone remember the plaid pants? Perhaps the political dirt diggers can break into Ms. Miers' closet, and analyze her clothing, and then we can all sink our teeth into something solid! Something like this, maybe?

    ...Suits hand-made by a tailor in Chicago in 1928. The tailor went out of business in 1933, then took his own life. ... shoes were hand-made in 1936. The cobbler has long since been dead. Underwear, all of the finest cloth, factory destroyed by fire in 1948.
    In politics, digging comes before chewing.

    UPDATE: Via Hugh Hewitt, I see that the ever-reliable MoveOn.org is summoning freelance dirt diggers:

    Right now we urgently need more information, and we need your help to get it. In the next few hours the Internet will fill with facts, anecdotes and rumors about Harriet Miers. We need your help to sort through it all, select the relevant and important details, and let us know what you find—decentralized, grassroots research.

    ....

    There are many important questions that need to be addressed, including:

    What policies did she advocate for on the Dallas City Council?
    What was her record at the head of the scandal-ridden Texas Lottery Commission?

    (That'll shake up middle America.)

    Zzzzz.....

    MORE: Another Roosevelt crony was former Klansman Hugo Black:

    The difficulty in predicting a nominee's performance is also well illustrated in more modern times by FDR's appointment of Alabama senator Hugo Black. Black was generally viewed as a Roosevelt crony. Black had enthusiastically supported Roosevelt's ill-fated efforts to pack the Court. Black had even once been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Although he had resigned a dozen years before his Supreme Court appointment, he still received an unsolicited membership card, and many people charged that his resignation was opportunistic; a leopard never changes his spots. But Black surprised his critics.

    If the Senators had tried to predict how Black would rule on racial and free speech issues, they most certainly would have guessed wrong, and we would have been deprived of one of the greatest Justices in our nation's history.

    Gee. You'd think it would be easier to predict the behavior of a crony who'd been a Klansman, than the behavior of a crony who'd been a, um, Lottery Commissioner.

    Hey, wait a second! I don't want anyone to think I'm making a "moral equivalency" argument between the Lottery and the Klan. I'm not. They're at least as different as gay marriage and Hitler's birthday, OK?

    (Hope my impatience doesn't show.....)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: While it's nothing to get impatient over, how come Margaret Thatcher was called "Reagan's poodle," while Harriet Miers is being called Bush's "pit bull"?

    Doggone it, I think that's speciesist and sexist! And maybe anti-Darwinist!

    (What if this is Bush's way of saying "Fuck you!" to activists and intellectuals, while playing to the middle?)

    MORE: WorldNetDaily explores Miers' suspicious past (including her past as a Democrat and even -- gasp! -- her "approving" Bush's "don't ask, don't tell" policy).

    I'm not sure the "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Democratic Party?" approach is all that helpful in predicting her future performance.

    I mean, if being a former Klansman isn't an accurate predictor, why would being a former Democrat?

    MORE: Via InstaPundit, I found a couple of additional links which Coco won't let me ignore.

    Jonah Goldberg invokes the Carswell specter, and Roman Hruska's inane remarks (shouldn't that be Hroman?) in defense of mediocrity. I don't know whether Harriet Miers is in fact mediocre, but I know that mediocrity is not a pit bull trait. (Besides, aren't pit bulls more historically disadvantaged than mediocre humans?)

    Jeff Goldstein, while neither calling Miers a mediocrity nor an anti-intellectual "outsider," cautions against outsider triumphalism:

    pushing her as a “judicial outsider” is shortsighted; after all, we just got done hearing about all of John Roberts’ qualities, which proceeded from the very kind of background this current PR campaign seems to be offhandedly criticizing.
    Yes, but Hillary Clinton opposed Roberts, and I see no way for her to now engage in the grandstanding she so badly wanted. (She appears annoyed, but hasn't said why....)

    Regarding the ICC, Jeff said he'd "feel a lot better if I knew she didn’t support the ICC." I would too. Support for the ICC is the worst thing I've heard about Miers so far. (It's anything but pit bull-like.)

    posted by Eric at 07:25 AM | Comments (3)




    Charted again!

    Every once in a while, I like to keep track of my political backsliding from God-knows-where to God-knows-where, so I take tests like this politics test I found via Jay at A Voyage to Arcturus.

    My result always seems to remain consistently libertarian, which makes sense, as I still think pretty much the way I did when I first decided I was philosophically libertarian in about 1976. Since then, I've drifted from party to party, not finding much happiness in either. (The Libertarian Party, however, leaves me cold these days -- as it has since their view of self defense seemed to diverge from mine after 9/11.)

    You are a

    Social Liberal
    (78% permissive)

    and an...

    Economic Conservative
    (76% permissive)

    You are best described as a:

    Libertarian




    Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
    Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

    (I don't always agree with myself, however.)

    posted by Eric at 10:55 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)



    Trying to understand why offensive words hurt

    According to Evan Coyne Maloney, the phrase "hunting terrorists" is considered so offensive by Bucknell University officials that they decided to cancel a student event (whose promotional language included "Where were you during the months following September 11?" and "Major John Krenson was hunting terrorists"):

    ....when the students met with Kathy Owens, after she greeted the students and dispensed with the formalities of asking them how they were doing, all three students say she held up the e-mail and said, "We have a problem here." Ms. Owens then indicated the language "hunting terrorists" was the problem. The fact that this was the very first order of business discussed in the meeting backs up the students' account, and it is entirely consistent with President Mitchell's e-mail.

    The only reason these students were called into the meeting was because the university objected to the phrase "hunting terrorists." The university objected so strongly that the President's Office yanked support for the event.

    (Via InstaPundit.)

    Considering the university's reluctance to explain, I think it's fair to ask whether the objection was in fact to the words themselves, or to the topic (i.e., the activity the words describe).

    If the objection is to the words, which word? Both? Was it just the word "terrorists"? Or just the word "hunting"?

    There are a lot of questions in this seemingly simple search to discern the true nature of offensiveness.

    Would "looking for" or possibly "searching for and destroying" have been OK? What about the old "terminating with extreme prejudice"? If the problem was that the school didn't like the idea of pursuing terrorists at all, then it would not matter what words were used to describe the activity. Even if politically palatable jargon could have been found and agreed upon -- say, "attempting to locate and engage insurgent freedom fighters," do we know that Dean Owens would have allowed the event?

    I'm not so sure. I think she might have needed further reassurance. Perhaps it would have been best to explain that the reason the hunters were hunting for the terrorists was to find them and ask them why they hate us.

    posted by Eric at 09:52 PM | Comments (2)



    I hope headlines don't lie

    While Glenn is "underwhelmed," and I consider myself too ignorant to comment intelligently about the Miers nomination, at the risk of being simplistic I would like to offer a simple, off-the-cuff observation.

    I like seeing headlines like this:

    Bush Nominates a "Pit Bull" to the Supreme Court
    (Similar headline here.)

    Pit bulls have been under attack for far too long, and have suffered so many acts of discrimination -- including numerous legal attempts to wipe out their entire breed (laws which would be called genocidal if they involved humans) that unless the headlines are lying, I'm relieved to see this much maligned breed finally having a little representation on the court.

    Coco seconds my emotion, and she's faxing in her approval.

    CocoShreds3.jpg

    MORE: Via my blogfather Alphecca, I see evidence that Ms. Miers has a low regard for the Second Amendment.

    Doesn't sound very pit bull-like.

    AND MORE: Glenn Reynolds links to Dave Kopel's post about Harriet Miers -- who, it turns out, appears better on the Second Amendment than the last link might initially make her appear. Here are her words (in 1992):

    The same liberties that ensure a free society make the innocent vulnerable to those who prevent rights and privileges and commit senseless and cruel acts. Those precious liberties include free speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of liberties, access to public places, the right to bear arms and freedom from constant surveillance. We are not willing to sacrifice these rights because of the acts of maniacs.
    I'm glad to see that she felt that way then, and I hope she still does.

    posted by Eric at 10:35 AM | Comments (6)



    RINO agents report in from backwater planet

    Whether you consider yourself a RINO or not (and whether you like RINOs or not) if you like Science Fiction, you'll LOVE this week's Raging RINOs Carnival. Excerpt from host AJ Strata:

    Originally the plan was to have Commissar’s team hide in plain site as lower creatures, called ‘animals’ on Earth. That way they could watch the dominant life forms, homo sapiens - also known as ‘humans‘, close up and undetected. While they were able to monitor the humans without any hint of trouble intitially, it did not last for long. One of the team members, a Zendilian named Zokilly, decided to take the form of a human and partake in one of the more popular human rituals called ’spring break’.

    This turned out to be an utter disaster. Zokilly had not been aware of the intoxicating effects of ‘booze’ on his species. It took no time before he began blurting out all sorts of details on Commissar’s team and what they were doing. Thankfully the humans Zokilly had been traveling with were also pretty intoxicated for the 72 hours Zokilly was ‘off-mission’. The only thing that came of this breach in security was that one of the humans began to write a science fiction story about aliens coming to earth and taking the form of animals. Later it actually became somewhat popular, though at the time it nearly ended Commissar’s mission.

    It's really too good to spoil. The RINOs have all become agents, and they "roam among a group of unwitting, but like minded independent humans who also have an interest in politics."

    Go read the whole thing.

    posted by Eric at 10:04 AM | Comments (3)



    For those who think a dog is no different from a fish . . .

    Might sadistic humans have found succor in an anti-fishing campaign?

    This absolutely sickening practice (warning -- it's an awful picture and story) of putting large hooks through dogs' snouts, then using them as shark bait, reminds me of something I saw at this anti-fishing web site, where another picture of a dog with a hook through its mouth is featured -- along with this "moral equivalency" argument:

    Fishing is just as cruel as tossing Rover a biscuit on a hook and then reeling in the old boy. The only difference is that Rover is cute and cuddly. But don't let the scales and gills fool you: Those fish have feelings, too.

    I only hope that's not where the bastards got the idea....

    FWIW, I think the idea that hooking live dogs is the moral equivalent of fishing is almost as morally heinous as saying it would be the same thing to put a hook through a living child.

    UPDATE: I found the above story at the Drudge Report, which notes:

    **WARNING GRAPHIC**: DOGS USED AS SHARK BAIT IN FRANCE...
    It's so horrible (and seems so utterly inhumane) that I feel skeptical about it. (Why no blood in the picture?) But I'm feeling skeptical about everything these days. And the story appears to have found confirmation with this report of an arrest.

    Is there such a thing as Skepticism Burnout Syndrome?

    UDPATE: There's speculation here that this might be a hoax. (I sure hope it is.)

    posted by Eric at 09:35 AM | Comments (3)



    Email oddity

    In what I consider a strange development, I received an email purporting to be from Brian Thevenot (whose bad reporting and failure to admit mistakes I heavily criticized in at least three posts). In the email, he admits his "own mistake," and argues that I didn't "expose" him because he already "exposed" himself. While I'm not sure what to make of this, I updated this post accordingly.

    Mr. Thevenot's admission of his "own mistake" came as news to me, because I had not seen any clear previous admission by him, nor had I seen anything confirming that he exposed himself, as he says. I know people tend not to scroll down to read updates, so here's the text of the email:

    From: "Sports laptop" (xxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxx.net)
    To: escheie@yahoo.com
    Subject: Classical Values
    Date: Sat, 1 Oct 2005 02:47:22 -0500
    From Brian Thevenot:
    Did you somehow miss the portion of the follow-up story in which I debunked my own myth about the 40 bodies in the freezer? Did you not bother to read the whole story? I admitted my own mistake, under my own byline, and in again in interviews with news stations and newspapers that interviewed me about myths at the Dome and Convention Center. And now you purport to expose me after I exposed myself?
    xxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.com
    And my reply:
    I'll note your response in an update to my post, but I reread the last report carefully and it's not clear to me where you admitted your own mistake or exposed yourself.

    It wasn't my goal to expose you, as if course you wrote the story. Rather, my complaint was that you were not admitting your own role or own mistake, nor had you issued a retraction or correction. Now that you have (at least in this email), I'll certainly note it.

    If I am missing something or there is something more recent, please let me know.

    Eric Scheie

    If there is any admission that I have missed, I will certainly note it, along with my apologies to Mr. Thevenot. In any event, I was glad to see that he's at least admitting his mistake now.

    He is, isn't he?

    It's strange, but the more I thought it over, the more I wondered whether the email was in fact sent to me by Brian Thevenot. I have to assume in good faith that it was, but out of curiosity I decided to run the email's originating IP number -- 12.16.159.38 -- through arin.net. To my surprise, it appeared to be the same as the IP of a hotel in San Diego, California:

    OrgName: STARWOOD HOTELS
    OrgID: STARW-29
    Address: 701 A ST
    City: SAN DIEGO
    StateProv: CA
    PostalCode: 92101
    Country: US

    NetRange: 12.16.158.0 - 12.16.159.255
    CIDR: 12.16.158.0/23
    NetName: STARWOOD43-158
    NetHandle: NET-12-16-158-0-1
    Parent: NET-12-0-0-0-1
    NetType: Reassigned
    Comment:
    RegDate: 2005-03-17
    Updated: 2005-03-17

    OrgTechHandle: BH1033-ARIN
    OrgTechName: Hassett, Buddy
    OrgTechPhone: +1-914-640-8477
    OrgTechEmail: xxxxx.xxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxxx.com

    This raised my suspicions, because Brian Thevenot is a major reporter for the Times Picayune, who has claimed what's almost a proprietary interest in the story:
    ...we've cranked out better journalism in the last two weeks than we have the last two years, and we're getting stronger every day. And Katrina remains our story to own, and we mean to own it.
    Thus, I'm scratching my head over email appearing to originate from a San Diego hotel. While there's still lots of reporting to be done in New Orleans, it's certainly possible that Mr. Thevenot was in San Diego on October 1, and I suppose it's possible that his email was routed through a San Diego hotel IP. (After all, I am not much of a geek.)

    As of this morning, I haven't heard back from Mr. Thevenot.

    I hate to sound so skeptical, but something just looks odd about this.

    Sheesh.

    I can't assume anything anymore.

    UPDATE: In the interest of being thorough, I also forwarded a copy of my reply to Mr. Thevenot at xxxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.com (one of the email addresses listed in the above email -- and the same one provided by the AJR.)

    MORE: As a courtesy to Mr. Thevenot, the email identifiers have been deleted.

    UPDATE: Brian Thevenot appears to have been in New Orleans this past weekend and not in San Diego. (No doubt there is some other explanation for the San Diego IPs on the email.)

    To reiterate a bit, what most bothers me in this matter are the following:

  • I linked to Mr. Thevenot's original report under the assumption it was correct, and I have seen no public retraction or correction -- by him -- in any version of that report that I can find.
  • Worst of all is that the "Apocalypse in New Orleans" piece -- still prominently on display at AJR's web site -- fails utterly to dispel the rumors and unfounded reports, and contains no correction or retraction at all -- neither by Mr. Thevenot nor the Times-Picayune.
  • I think this touches on a key difference between the blogosphere and the print media. If I said something in a blog post that turned out not to be true or quoted people whose stories turned out to be wrong, I'd correct myself by pointing out the specific error in the place where I made it.

    Maybe I'm missing something, but this does not strike me as a retraction:

    One widely circulated tale, told to The Times-Picayune by a slew of evacuees and two Arkansas National Guardsmen, held that "30 or 40 bodies" were stored in a Convention Center freezer. But a formal Arkansas Guard review of the matter later found that no soldier had actually seen the corpses, and that the information came from rumors in the food line for military, police and rescue workers in front of Harrah's New Orleans Casino, said Edwards, who conducted the review.
    There's nothing there to indicate that any specific story -- or any particular writer -- was incorrect.

    Much less where.

    posted by Eric at 08:54 AM | Comments (2)



    My insular life in a backwater town

    In a groggy state this morning, I read through today's Philadelphia Inquirer to see what might be in the news. The Bali blast -- the latest attack by our number one enemy Al Qaida, which killed American citizens -- was edged off the front page by the following stories:

  • The Philadelphia Phillies baseball team's ho-hum end of the season;
  • a report that Philadelphia suburbanites are getting older (something I don't consider news at all);
  • death of playwright August Wilson
  • tourboat capsized in upstate New York, killing 20.
  • While all of the above stories are newsworthy, the latest report about the al Qaida attack which killed at least 26 (including 6 Americans and 17 Australians) was on page three. "Oh well," I thought. It's now old news.

    But what about yesterday afternoon's Oklahoma suicide bombing?

    It was all over the Internet yesterday, and to me it's now old news, but isn't it as worthy as a report on aging? And even if they didn't see fit to put it on the front page, why not a paragraph somewhere? I read through the entire newspaper, and it just wasn't there at all. Is Philadelphia too far from Oklahoma for it to be of interest? If so, then why does today's London's Guardian have a full story in the "Breaking International News" category?

    Perhaps I shouldn't single out the Inquirer, because it appears that its parent company Knight Ridder didn't pick up the story either.

    However, ABC News, the Washington Post, CNN, the New York Times, USA Today, MSNBC, CBS, and many other news outlets did.

    While I am relieved no one else was killed, for some reason, I find myself asking questions like, "Why was he so close to the stadium?" and "Was he planning to go inside?"

    I'd like to give the Inquirer (and even Knight Ridder) the benefit of the doubt here. But somehow, I find it hard to swallow the idea that they didn't know about this story.

    Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds opined on CNN that "journalists ought to tell us what they know."

    I agree.

    But the problem is, I'm stuck in Philadelphia.

    (And with all respect to Glenn, he lives in a sophisticated city where stories like this get reported.)

    UPDATE: In updating another post, I inadvertently updated this one by accident. (The erroneous update has been moved/deleted.)

    posted by Eric at 07:50 AM | Comments (1)




    Coco has the last word

    Some early Fall pictures, taken yesterday and today.


    Closeup of. . . nature:


    Fall1.jpg


    Crumbling building in Trenton, New Jersey:


    MightyFortress.jpg


    View in Ridley Creek State Park:


    RidleyCreek.jpg


    Last but not least, I finally got Coco to smile for a photo:


    CocoRidley.jpg


    Coco treats me better than her Marge Simpson frisbee:


    OhMyCoco.jpg


    I guess "Oh, my goodness!" is the bottom line.

    posted by Eric at 11:08 PM | Comments (2)



    Thinking suspicious thoughts

    I'm wondering whether any of my readers might know whether the MOSSAD has the equivalent of a terrorist "rat line" to report susicious behavior which might be connected to terrorism. While most law-abiding Americans would be unlikely to think this way, I know that if I were a foreign born resident with such information who wanted to help this country, I'd be highly unlikely to share it with American authorities, because those who take calls can pretty well be assumed to be either penetrated by the enemy or at least incompetent (which is the next thing). And if you wanna get really paranoid about these things, suppose that "regime change" came to the United States in the form of an antiwar, pro-Islamist type of administration. They might very well place "anti-terrorist informants" into a very undesirable category. Were I a moderate Muslim from the Mideast, this might very well give me pause.

    Of course, reporting suspicious behavior to the MOSSAD might be seen as a crime, so perhaps I should just un-say what I just said. . .

    But ahem.

    Let's pretend we're in law school, and try out a hypothetical. Suppose a United States resident saw a large mail truck leaving a place he knew to be a Wahhabi madrassa, suppose that the truck had no license plate, and suppose that it was Sunday. There might be a perfectly innocent explanation for this (after all, mail trucks sometimes go on Sunday shooting sprees), but then again, there might not. The point is, something like that would be investigated, and either way, the informant's name would be on record somewhere. If the driver was an employee of the USPS and questions were asked in the usual stupid bureaucratic manner, a terrorist ring might be alerted. And if this was a case where a postal employee was using an official vehicle for personal business, he might get in trouble even absent any terrorist connection (even if no one wondered about the personal business of a postal employee using a mail truck at a madrassa).

    It would be a mess, and it's confusing. But while I'm glad I don't have to worry about such things, am I wrong in thinking that the MOSSAD would be less likely to be penetrated?

    posted by Eric at 01:31 PM | Comments (9)



    Speaking authority to truth?

    One of the things I'm getting a little tired of is seeing utilitarian arguments passed off as moral arguments. Not that I have any particular or inherent objection to a good utilitarian argument, mind you. It's just that usually, the people who make arguments based on moral absolutism are fond of condemning utilitarianism. Maybe they're just doing what lawyers call "arguing in the alternative," but the inconsistency still rattles me.

    Anyway, via the Philadelphia Inquirer, here's today's example:

    DOVER, Pa. - Outside the Dover fire hall last week, taking a break from a video lecture on "Why Evolution Is Stupid," Judy Grim blamed Darwin's theory for America's moral woes.

    "If I'm taught there is a God I'm responsible to, I know I have to treat people right," said Grim, 63. "But if there's no creator to answer to, it changes your whole lifestyle. Then it's just survival of the fittest. That's where our society is headed. That's why we have so many of the problems we do."

    Notice that unlike the typical argument that God exists, the above argument does not depend on the existence of God -- only the need for God as an authority figure. (If he didn't exist, we'd need to invent him because there must be order!) And this is based on, well, lifestyles.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I think belief in God depends on more than whether lifestyles need authority. A good argument can be made that "people need authority" (and many have, with varying degrees of success -- particularly in the last century), but to posit that as a reason why Darwin should simply be declared wrong -- or should not be taught -- this not only substitutes a utilitarian argument against Darwin for a religious one, but it can even be seen as flying in the face of the ultimate moral argument -- whether or not something is true.

    Furthermore, the idea that Darwin undercuts authority (and that is bad for lifestyles) could be made about countless things, just as it was once made about the notion that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa. The challenge of religion ought to be how to encourage human spirituality and the belief in God notwithstanding man's continuing quest for knowledge.

    Perhaps the idea of applying brakes on science or knowledge because they undermine authority or change lifestyles is too transparent, and thus is not palatable. But to substitute God for authority in such a grossly utilitarian manner is to torture spirituality and undermine the concept of human free will in a manner much more unpalatable (at least to my palate). If I thought God were simply an authority figure -- justified by the utilitarian principle that some ultimate authority is needed lest people misbehave -- I'd declare myself an atheist immediately on the basis of my moral principles, and I suspect a lot of people would. It's like subsituting a mindlessly circular "BECAUSE I SAY SO!" cop in the sky for spirituality. Many would consider it ugly, petty, and primitive, and far from persuasive.

    But utilitarianism as moral absolutism is nothing new. I'm wondering whether Leon Kass and his progeny are doing something similar by spinning arguments against the social costs of life extension as moral principles based on natural law. (Justin has more.)

    I know that there are people who, if faced with the choice between truth and God, will always go with God, but my tendency is to at least try go with truth, and hope that God will understand.

    (That's probably why I'm plagued by doubts -- and why I seem to have been plagued with a lifetime of lifestyle issues....)

    I suspect the real goal of some of these people is to eliminate doubt.

    What an ugly world that would be.

    UPDATE: I hope I am not out of line in quoting a minister on Sunday, but Donald Sensing's criticism of the confusion of faith with obedience resonated with me:

    If we confuse Christian obedience with Christian faith, then we are liable to make a logical but erroneous connection: that the more obedient we are the more faith-filled we must be.
    I also share his concerns about placing too high a value on people simply doing their duty. But (while it's off topic for this post) why does the phenomenon of people merely doing their jobs seem so extraordinary? Worse, if this is happening (if mediocrity has become excellence to be rewarded), then how are we to recognize excellence? By punishing it?

    posted by Eric at 09:23 AM | Comments (7)




    Straightening out gender confusion

    There are altogether too many thoughts here for my backward and reactionary mind to process.

    While Steven Malcolm Anderson may have beaten me to this (or at least, deposited the idea in my mind), what I'm wondering right now is why I can't be a pre-post-operative female-to-male transsexual trapped in the body of a man, but who, because of pure luck, has no need to go through with the surgery, because I already have male anatomical features (i.e., a woman who wants to become a man but who is by accident of birth already trapped in the body of a man). It would be a terrible hardship (a cruel travesty, even) to make me surgically become a man trapped in the body of a woman who wants to become a man because the man is trapped in her body, if I can shortcircuit the entire process and merely accept the fact that I am already where I would be after surgery back and forth.

    I mean, if there can be such a thing as a "male lesbian," why stop there? If a woman can go from female to male (and can be called a man before the surgery) then why require the male lesbian (once s/he really reaches a deeper understanding of him/herself) to go through one surgery to become female and another to become male? Can't the process be an internal one?

    Well, who's to say it can't be?

    In my view, to say otherwise would constitute sex role tyranny.

    posted by Eric at 10:27 AM | Comments (7)



    Plumbing the depths of my bigoted self hatred

    Not everyone thinks the media exaggerated events in New Orleans following the Katrina disaster. I stumbled onto an exceptionally vicious web site (which I doubt will ever receive a fraction of the condemnation recently heaped upon William Bennett).

    Their Katrina, um, coverage begins with this picture:

    katrinagarbagewoman.jpg
    Caption:
    The New Orleans Superdome, intended as a refuge from Hurricane Katrina, became a terrifying scene of black murder, rape and robbery

    Here's the text which immediately follows:

    The unbelievable cruelty, savagery and sadism that characterizes black criminal culture was on full display in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    Between 75,000 and 100,000 city residents ignored warnings to leave before the hurricane, and were still in New Orleans last week.

    Tens of thousands out of these remaining residents roamed the streets of the city for days breaking into and robbing virtually every store in town.

    Fully 90% of the stores in the French Quarter, for example, were looted in what one shopowner called a "black mark on America."

    A substantial majority of the city's blacks were involved in the thievery and destruction.

    This anarchy should surprise no one. Most black males in the United States have criminal records. Roughly a third of all black males between the ages of 18 and 29 are currently either in prison, on probation or parole, in a half-way house, under house arrest, awaiting trial or sentencing, or are in some other way involved in the criminal justice system.

    Gee. Haven't they read that it was mostly a made-up product of media hysteria?

    The above and much more are to be found at JTF.org -- which strikes me as one of the most racist web sites I've encountered.

    Oddly enough, it's also (at least ostensibly) Jewish. And yet it manages to invoke some of the most popular anti-Semitic stereotypes -- under the cover of condemning "self hating Jews." Example from a photo caption:

    Self-hating Jew Mortimer Zuckerman, the nasal-voiced owner of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report, was among the self-hating Jewish millionaires and billionaires who contributed to the Gaza District greenhouse buyout - Zuckerman is shown in the left-hand photograph with the taller Harvey Weinstein, his good friend and fellow media mogul; Weinstein, a classic Hollywood Jew....
    I guess if you throw in "self hating," then all the usual stereotypes are fair game?

    Here's the caption under a photo of Paul Wolfowitz:

    self-hating Jew Paul Wolfowitz is the current president of the World Bank, a monstrous "poverty relief" scam which lines the pockets of Muslim Nazi and other Third World dictators...

    One newspaper the site doesn't like is said to be diseased:

    ....notorious Leonard Stern, the real estate mogul and former owner of the Hartz Mountain pet food empire and the Nazi Village Voice, an AIDS-infected homosexual rag.
    Another caption:
    Self-hating Jewish billionaires like Hartz Mountain Industries real estate and investment mogul Leonard Stern (c.) give new meaning to the term "kike" - The former owner of the Hartz Mountain pet supplies corporation and the Village Voice (a.k.a. the Village Vice, an extreme left-wing, AIDS-infected Greenwich Village homosexual rag), Stern is shown flanked by his sons Emanuel and Edward. (Himself accused of much financial chicanery, including bribery and perjury - his office was once vulgarly adorned with a sign reading, "Once you've got them by the [testicles], their hearts and minds will follow" - Stern continues to repose "complete confidence" in Edward even though the younger man's under-the-table fiscal activity set off the 2003 mutual funds scandal, which forced him to pay $40 million and to rat on his co-conspirators as his only means of escaping criminal prosecution.)

    But we're just getting warmed up. Did you know that Malcolm X was "was not only a homosexual, but was actually also a homosexual rapist and prostitute?" I didn't either, but JTF has the goods on this notorious pervert. (Well, it stands to reason, especially considering the well documented historical fact that Hitler was gay.....)

    Even conservatives like Sean Hannity are not spared the web site's wrath. Back to the account of Hurricane Katrina:

    The "conservative" liar Sean Hannity said on his radio program that only a small group of people were involved in the terrible violence that gripped New Orleans. Hannity and the other "politically correct" pseudo-conservatives know full well that a majority of the blacks that were in New Orleans last week participated in the mass looting of every store in the city.

    Jeremy Olshan, a chatterbox young reporter from the New York Post, was suddenly tongue-tied when asked what he thought was the cause of the New Orleans violence which he had just witnessed

    Naturally, the self-hating whites in the Bolshevik news media found excuses for this bestial conduct. People in the city were hungry, we were told.

    Is that why they stole televisions, stereos and electronic equipment before a single supermarket was broken into? Is that why blacks murdered their fellow blacks in cold blood? Is that why they raped women and girls? Is that why they shot at police and fire personnel who were risking their lives to save desperate trapped people? Is that why they fired at hospitals and rescue helicopters that sought to evacuate very sick patients? Is that why they defecated and urinated all over the convention center when at least a dozen different public rest rooms were available?

    And the conclusion:

    What we have all witnessed in New Orleans is the behavior of unspeakably evil Amalekite beasts who have no humanity, compassion, kindness, morality or decency. No government program will change them. No sermon will get them to sincerely repent. They are hopelessly evil.

    When America loses her white majority in the foreseeable future, the entire United States will be like New Orleans. America, wake up before it is too late! G-d, in His mercy, keeps giving us warnings. When will we finally heed the warnings?

    There is no way to save America from moral and spiritual destruction - which will lead to physical destruction - unless right-wing righteous Gentiles are prepared to lead a massive civil disobedience revolt against the traitors destroying this once great nation.

    If we are willing to mobilize now, it is not too late to save America. For the sake of America, Israel and the West, we hope and pray that we can motivate G-d-fearing American patriots to act.

    In your heart, you know we're right. And in your guts, you know they're nuts.

    Every generous check or money order (which can be anonymous) made out to "JTF" (which is political and not tax-deductible) or to "VJA" (which is fully tax-deductible and non-political) makes a huge difference. You can also send cash donations if you wish.

    Next to a picture showing black people standing on the street, there's this caption:
    Moronic blacks - there is no other way to describe them - waited at a flooded bus stop, thinking that the regular buses of New Orleans were still in service
    For his part, JTF's founder Ben Pasach denies that he or the JTF organization are racist. For starters, he supported Alan Keyes. And while I'm not sure how Keyes would feel about this, JTF's goal is to restore "Anglo" rule to America:
    America is on its way to becoming a third-world majority country. Everybody knows that; all the statisticians agree. The only dispute is about when. We see that as very alarming. Everybody else seems to welcome it as something wonderful. We think it's horrible and alarming, and we think it's the end of this country if that happens. We desperately want to put together a right-wing movement in this country that will respond to that and save America. America was built by white Anglos who made this a great country. And I know it creates terrible hysterical condemnation when somebody speaks like this, but it is my belief that if the white Anglo majority becomes a minority that will be the end of America, and that will be a terrible tragedy for everyone.

    At least some white Anglos in the United States have a long history of anti-semitism.

    That might be true, but the Kahanist movement believes that America is what God intended for the righteous gentiles. We're a religious movement, and we believe God intended Israel to be a Jewish nation, and for Jews to return there, restore the land of the Bible, rebuild the holy temple, and do all the things that the Bible says have to be done. And all the lands outside of Israel are supposed to be run by the righteous gentiles. The righteous gentiles are supposed to be running things in America. Unfortunately the gentiles running things in this country are anything but righteous. But we believe America is the symbol of what God intends for the righteous gentiles. We don't want power in this country; as Jews, our dream is for Israel. But our goal is to help righteous gentiles. Patriotic Americans, Bible-believing Americans, Americans who understand what is necessary to preserve this country — they should be the ones to take power. And we believe a movement should be built geared toward doing that. Even if that movement can't win in this election, we have to start setting the foundation.

    Don't miss JTF's fix on the 2008 election! (HINT: They're not terribly fond of Giuliani -- who "shook the hand of pedophile pervert Michael Jackson - the same hand which Jackson used to molest underage boys....")

    What's fascinating to me is I suspect I'd be called an anti-Semitic, Israel-hating, self hating, Hitlerian sodomite for criticizing JTF.

    (I guess self hatred makes the diagnosis of bigotry more complicated than it might appear.)

    Perhaps I should loosen up. After all, JTF might be a humor site.


    AFTERTHOUGHT: The problem with using terms like "racist" or "bigoted" is that they're so routinely overused that they no longer have any practical meaning. As is so often the case, I'm at a loss for words possessed of any meaning. And of course, my intentions are irrelevant. Maybe that's the idea.

    MORE: While it might be off-topic, what about the documented fact that gay criticism of Hillary Clinton arises from self hatred? (More here.)

    posted by Eric at 07:49 AM | Comments (2)



    What I Should Have Said

    One of the more pleasurable aspects of blogging is that of control. As the captain of his or her own tiny print shop, a blogger can exercise a despotic editorial control that "real" newsmen can only dream of. Of course, that doesn't guarantee a readership, perhaps quite the opposite. But it can come in handy.

    In this instance, it involves resurrecting some thought provoking remarks from a post several days old, just because I feel like it. Perhaps you remember Rita, the feisty undergrad from the University of Chicago? She put up a spirited defense of Dr. Kass in the comments section. Turns out she worked with him (Bioethics Stuff, no less) for several weeks over the summer, while she was interning in Washington. So it's one handshake of Kevin Bacon day, and this is the closest we've gotten yet. Perhaps I should interview Dr. Blackburn?

    Anyway, have you ever had one of those conversations that was slightly unsatisfactory? That left you feeling that you hadn't hammered your point home forcefully enough? One of those archetypal, "I should've said" aftermaths? If so, then you'll understand the irresistable lure of the conversational do-over.

    Unfortunately, Rita shows no interest in a rematch (entirely understandable under the circumstances, classes are starting), so this is going to be a unilateral effort. I have a sneaking suspicion that she could have made the time, but quit when she realized she couldn't win. Smart move.

    A more extensive and unaltered version of her comments is available here. Think of it as my concession to fair play.

    In this version, you'll find that I've smushed together her reponses to comments by Sean, Eric, Brian, and myself into a composite that mimics a one-to-one conversation. Many thanks to all of them for their contributions. Any reader who wants a clearer notion of who said what is encouraged to use the aforesaid link. Rita will open the conversation with a question...

    Well, aren’t we feeling a little smoldering resentment today?
    Not a bit of it. I was blessed with a naturally chipper disposition. Why, I'm practically whistling show tunes as I type. Now, if you'd caught me twenty years ago, yeah, back then I was spluttering with indignation, but I’m feeling so very much better now. I think the blogging helps.
    What, did poor Justin get personally snubbed by Kass?

    Not even once. I reckon it would be beneath his dignity.

    And we can't touch Kass personally because he couldn't care less about us and has a real job...

    I doubt he even knows I exist, it’s true.

    ...so we snipe at random bloggers who give him one sentence of credit instead?

    Never random. And show me where I sniped at you.

    Well, I'm honored that my two sentences have received such thorough scrutiny and close reading.

    I dare say.

    It's not quite clear to me why I should consult with my friends and family to ascertain Kass's sanity.

    They might provide a beneficial grounding in reality. Maybe you’ll find them more convincing than me. Maybe you'll respect their opinions.

    Do you often ask your parents if your convictions look OK?

    Not in so many words. But I actually do solicit their opinions on the issues of the day. Sometimes they’re surprisingly insightful. Aren't yours?

    If consensus is the standard however, you may be out of luck. It seems that many people agree with Kass.

    They do indeed. Luckily, many does not equal most. Or even a simple majority. The latest surveys show 2 to 1, my favor, improved considerably from just a few years ago. Presentation counts for a lot. The Kass bioethics agenda is a sure loser, but "your guy" seems determined to go down swinging.

    If we summarize your nicely contextualized snippets here...

    Thank you. I like to think I have a good nose for snippets.

    we will find that Kass thinks that: giving birth is a part of life...

    I agree.

    dying is a part of life...

    I agree.

    abortion might be bad...
    As stated, I must yet again agree. “Might” can cover a lot of ground.
    it is unusual not to have to experience the death of anyone you know in your lifetime...

    Hey, wait a minute. That’s not what he really said. Here now, let’s review the text...

    "Paradoxically, even the young and vigorous may be suffering because of medicines success in removing death from their personal experience. Those born since the discovery of penicillin represent the first generation ever to grow up without experience or fear of probable death at an early age. They look around and see that virtually all their friends are alive."

    This is not a lifetime-average phenomenon. He specifically says that even the young and vigorous may be suffering. That’s a good deal more emphatic than your bland summarization indicates. And why are they suffering? Because they grow up without experience or fear of probable death at an early age. Sneaky.

    cloning is bad, etc.

    Hard to miss that one. It may or may not turn out to be true.

    Moreover, what kind of deranged lunatic claims individuals don't have rights to their own bodies?

    Why, he does. Cites are available, at your request. And you know I’ve got them, don’t you?

    Over the 20th Century, the average life expectancy (though not life span) has been extended in developed nations, but that extension has been a by-product of medical technology and sanitation practice aimed at controlling specific diseases, largely those caused by external organisms.

    A wonderful thing, no? Quite unprecedented. Rectangularizes the survival curve.

    Diseases of old age (opportunistic infection not included) tend to be illnesses caused by internal breakdown of the body, a sign that the life expectancy has caught up with the maximum life span.

    That seems initially plausible. Further research might be needed to up my confidence level.

    What medical science has done throughout history has been to assist this process of catching up...

    Not strictly accurate.

    and now you suggest that we use medical science to override the barrier itself.

    Yes, I do. Though I’m not entirely alone in doing so.

    But for what purpose?

    To promote better, longer lasting health. To postpone debility and death. Because most people would like to see it happen. But you probably want a Purpose. I can’t help you there.

    And what is the end of medical science if this is the case?

    Must it have an end? And if it absolutely must, do we have to sit down today and figure it out before proceeding? We’ve never done that before. How about we just do what we can, as we can, and see how things shape up?

    Acceptance of death is a central aspect of humanity...

    Yes, and it’s had to be. So far we’ve had zero choice in the matter. But I could say with equal accuracy that denial of death is a central aspect of humanity. As is "merely" putting food on the table. Or believing in a life to come. Or healing people, as and when we can. Humanity has a whole bundle of central aspects.

    in both your quotes from Montaigne's Essays and Homer's Iliad above, you ignore the overarching argument being made for the sake of one or two lines taken out of context.

    Not at all. Both quotes make the point that death is unavoidable. True, as far as it goes. Both also make the point that if it could be avoided, well, that would be a really good thing. I believe my exact words regarding Sarpedon and Glaucus included “Given the circumstances it's a reasonable position.” As for Montaigne, he wrote what he wrote. Surely he had reasons for doing so?

    The Iliad is a story that revolves around man's mortality; Achilles' triumph is his acceptance of death

    Maybe. It could also revolve around mercy, or prideful stupidity, or the faithlessness of women. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there might not be lockstep academic unanimity on the question. I’d bet that if I made inquiries around the classics departments of various prestigious universities, I could find differing opinions on the matter. Anyone think I’m wrong?

    Achilles' triumph is his acceptance of death...

    I guess so. But wait, in the Odyssey, The shade of Achilles makes the following statement...

    "Say not a word,' he answered, 'in death's favour; I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man's house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead.”

    Talk about poor sportsmanship. But being dead and all, you’d think he would know whereof he speaks. You’d do better to focus on Odysseus, and how his love for Penelope led him to embrace his mortal life and abandon the prospect of immortality with Calypso. Just a hint. For your future arguments.

    It is what separates men from gods, whose immortality is put on display in Book I as an endless life of carnal pleasure in which nothing has any meaning. Hera and Zeus quarrel violently and then sleep together the same night. If you live forever, what is an argument worth? But the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon in the same book is epic precisely because they are men, they are mortal, and they therefore suffer deeply from all the afflictions of passion and pride. Insults matter to men. And the specter of mortality is the driving force behind the desire for glory and honor and fame. Otherwise, why bother?

    Personally, I find this argument both unconvincing and limited. I know very few people (none, in fact) whose everyday lives are motivated by the "specter of mortality". For those devout Christians I know, fear of judgment may enter into it, but I don’t think so. They’d be good people anyway. Some alternative motivations that strike me as more realistic would be lust, pride, greed, anger, curiosity, and love.

    So if we're going to turn down our basic humanity for the sake of endless years living on near-starvation diets, there better be an extremely compelling reason.

    If by “turn down our basic humanity”, you refer to living a longer, healthier life, I don’t believe your characterization is accurate. We won’t be turning down our basic humanity. Nor do I think a compelling reason will prove necessary. I may be way off base here, but I think many (if not most) people will be more than willing to sign up voluntarily, assuming of course that the option is available to them. I don’t think they should be forced to. I don’t think they should be forced not to.

    Do you have one?

    I don’t need one. Do you have a compelling reason why people shouldn’t? I'll bet not.

    Is 150 years a magic number...

    I took the number 150 from one of Kass’s more (hopefully) infamous soundbites. There’s nothing magical about it.

    or if we reach that, will we demand 250, and then 350 and so on?

    Is it critical that we know that right now? Should not knowing deter us? Do you think we should have the answers to every possible objection, no matter how implausible, before we can take action? My own answers would be no, no, and no. My best guess is that we'll stop when we push up against the limits defined by technology and biology.

    It is not their personal decision unless they are coming up with the medical technology to extend their lives in their own basements.

    An untrue assertion. In the final analysis, the consumer will decide what to purchase and where to purchase it. Absent coercive government action, of course. Unless the government bans such activity, I don’t see it as being any different in kind from health care purchased today. The customer chooses from a menu of options. But this is to argue eels and apples. Again, nice try.

    You're creating a false model of the distribution and use of technology in this country by ignoring the commercial sphere in which such technology is exchanged.

    Believe me, it was the farthest thing from my mind. And since there is currently no such thing as life extension technology in this country, how can you point to my (nonexistent) model of its distribution and use, and say it’s false?

    Looking at other sectors of the economy for inspiration and insight, we find that new goods and services are created with a fair degree of regularity, and that consumers successfully begin to utilize them, abstruse theoretical objections notwithstanding.

    This sphere is problematic because at one end stand experts and at the other stand laymen. This is the basic dilemma of industrial revolution-era progressivism.

    It is? Problematic? I guess that’s why the iPod never caught on.

    Why does the FDA exist at all? Shouldn't the process of deciding [what] can be consumed be between buyer and seller alone?

    Now that you mention it, yeah, given a few reasonable caveats.

    Unfortunately, not being as eager a student of Kass as you seem to be, I can't claim wide-ranging knowledge of all his past pronouncements. My direct knowledge of him is limited to a summer internship, where I disagreed with him on some issues...

    Which you cannot legally speak of. Too bad, really.

    He was quite the opposite of the dogmatic sleazeball you make him out to be, but what can I say? You've spent years cataloguing his every word from afar.

    A man needs a hobby. But, surely you wouldn’t be violating your vow of silence to provide a few anecdotes attesting to his good character? Others have had nothing but good to say of him. Join the chorus, add your two bits worth.

    I've only encountered him in person. I wouldn't want to let my personal experience get in the way of your obviously greater erudition.

    Of course you wouldn’t. It would be unfair. But you could read all the books that I’ve read, just for starters. I have faith in you. And I hate to say this, but to the casual reader my erudition probably does look greater. Primary source material is immensely helpful that way.

    It's not entirely clear what I should be convincing you of. If I recall correctly, my original post made two points: 1) I found Kass to be admirable and 2) Fight Aging is deluded.

    You should be convincing me that Dr. Kass is, as you claim, admirable. Apart from his hobby-horses and bug-bears, I’m inclined to freely grant the point. Beyond that, who knows? You could be the one to turn this place around. Regarding point two, I don’t think Fight Aging is either insane or deluded (they’re quite different you know), but I don’t think I could change your mind. So, I’m not even going to try.

    Now admittedly, perhaps I’ve been handicapped by not knowing Dr. Kass personally. I’ve had to form my opinions based on what I’ve read, unsatisfactory though that may be. If I’ve come to some unkind conclusions about him, well, at least they’re based on things he actually wrote, or said, or did. Let me just reemphasize that. My opinions were formed by words that he intentionally set down on paper, or spoke into a microphone, or by actions that he took, that have since become a part of the public record. He wrote or said or did those things deliberately.

    Do you think I should discount them based on your special, personal knowledge?

    Most people in this country are in the same boat I am. They haven’t met him and they never will. We are all depending on the written word to form our opinions. To change those opinions will require other written words. If you’re not up for it, that’s fine. But don’t pull the “I know him personally and you don’t” card, and then refuse to back it up with at least an anecdote or two.

    Now, it seems that an argument over Kass's character would be both a rather daunting prospect for us evidence-wise, and probably irrelevant and pointless.

    Maybe, maybe not.

    You might go in for the ad hominem arguments, which wouldn't surprise me, but they're nonetheless not likely to find much response.

    If we’re arguing character, the arguments would of necessity have to be ad hominem. How not? Your criticism would be valid if we were discussing policy only. But you claim that's not your area of expertise.

    As for your thought experiment, it's not clear to me how this relates to a debate over stem-cell research or abortion or whatever the embryos are supposed to represent.

    They just represent themselves.

    It assumes that whatever the choice is, it's a zero-sum proposition.

    Not at all.

    Now, the pro-life position is obviously not a zero-sum proposition. Preventing abortion does not automatically result in the death of developed humans.

    True, but that wasn’t what I was asking.

    In the stem-cell research case, the implication is that merely allowing embryo destruction will lead automatically to the saving of lives. After all, we're not doing research on the person we save from a burning building to see if different rescue techniques might save him. We're just saving him. In addition, it assumes there are no other possible means to rescue this person EXCEPT to destroy embryos. Is that reflective of the real situation of medical research?

    Not precisely, but it's debatable. It would certainly be an interesting argument, but it’s not the argument I’m looking for. And as the rescuer, you are not destroying the embryos. The fire does that, all by itself. All you have to do is evaluate the situation and then take proper action.

    Moreover, is there a principle to be found behind the result that most people (I assume) would choose the child?

    Actually, yes. But not the principle you think. You’re trying to generalize prematurely.

    It strikes me that the principle is that majority instinct under duress is universal moral truth in all circumstances.

    Not a bad guess, but still wrong.

    How far are you willing to defend that proposition?

    Not far at all. It’s not my proposition. But if it were true, it wouldn’t need my defense, now would it?

    (“Do you think it should be their decision, or the governments?") This is a misrepresentation of how the distribution of technology actually happens. It's not as though either you decide all on your own which chemicals to ingest, or the government forces them down your throat. The appropriate role of government regulation in technology is not obvious or simple, but that doesn't mean that either strict laissez-faire or a totally planned economy are better for their simplicity value.

    Thanks for the tutorial. I think we can assume that the hypothetical average reader would nonetheless understand the gist of the question, and could provide us with a meaningful yes or no answer.

    Might it be fair to say that in your own case you think your decision should entail a complex process of collaboration between yourself and the appropriate government agencies? That you are willing to forego some but not all your own choices in favor of those generated by some bureaucracy, and that you find the process necessary and unobjectionable? I rather doubt that, but I could be wrong.

    Life is like good and stuff. Is it like good and stuff all the time?

    Clearly not.

    So, Terri Schiavo's life was like good and stuff, and she should've been kept alive on that basis?

    Terri Schiavo is barely relevant to the discussion at hand. Shall we stop doing heart surgery because of Terri Schiavo? Stop child vaccination? More broadly, shall we stop helping any patients at all because we can’t save every one of them? You’re taking evasive action...

    Or, a patient with advanced dementia should have every medical effort, no matter how invasive, made to save him in his decline--bypass surgery, kidney transplant, etc--because his life is like good and stuff?

    And dumping chaff like nobody’s business.

    Furthermore, how much life is good? Just 150 years?

    If that’s all we can manage, I guess we’ll just have to accept it.

    What if when we get there, we decide 350 sounds like a more satisfactory number?

    Then we would be really, really lucky.

    Why not 600?

    Well, if the laws of nature allow it…and we’re smart enough to figure it out...I guess it might be okay.

    Eternity, maybe?

    Whoah. Let’s not get overly ambitious.

    On what basis are we deciding how much life is good enough?

    That question works both ways. On what basis are we deciding how much life is too much? Do these questions even make sense?

    And I suppose we're to ask Terri Schiavo how she feels about it?

    Another diversionary straw-herring. Still, why not answer seriously?

    Given that she’d lost two thirds of her brain, I don’t think the most heroic of heroic measures would have done her much good. Nor do I think amazing twenty-second century super-science could have brought her back. Had I been in her position, I’d have wanted it ended rather than prolonged. Others may differ, to which I can only say it’s their life.

    Whatever their preference, people should make sure that their wishes are well known and their legal instruments accurate and up to date. Terri Schiavo is a grisly reminder of what can go wrong if you don’t. That being said, in my idealized vision of a better tomorrow, I see her initial injury as having been quickly detected and put right, thus obviating the entire tragic sequel. I guess I’m just a hopeless, simple-minded idealist.

    Or a dementia patient?

    Well, that would depend on the nature of the dementia, wouldn’t it? Is it reversible or irreversible? Is anybody working on the problem at all? What kind of progress are they making? What does the living will say? And the next-of-kin? Are there any legal guardians to ask, at all? Are there adequate financial resources? Those are the sorts of questions I would want answered, before making a decision.

    Moreover, can you simply live as long as you will yourself to live...

    Clearly not.

    ...or would extension require you to use technology created by someone else?

    Yes. Yes it would. I like these simple questions much better.

    Because unless you're working out all those biological dilemmas in your own basement, it seems that at some point, this will necessarily involve commerce.

    Even as I type these words, bright young people are working on those biological dilemmas, in basements all around the world. Yes, they hope to have products to sell. Yes, people will want to purchase them. Shall I stabilize the world monetary system before we allow them to do so? As long as I'm already up, perhaps I should institute world peace.

    How this affects your access to a technology and the degree of government regulation of it is open...

    I’m sure the government will find some way to get involved, quite likely to our detriment.

    ...but don't pretend that it's an entirely individual proposition.

    No, we shouldn’t pretend that. That would be bad. But the question, as phrased, assumes that all such troubling developmental roadblocks have been successfully negotiated. It could happen. Maybe you think it’s a long shot, but it could happen. So if it did, and you had access to such therapies, would you choose to use them? It’s pretty simple, really.

    Moreover, please do not mistake me for Kass.

    Not a chance. He's suave. He wouldn’t lose his temper. And he would be much more subtle and lyrical as he evaded the questions, assuming he deigned to answer them at all.

    We are not one and the same. I don't make or propose to make policy.

    But I bet you’d like to. Wouldn’t you? C’mon, fess up, it’s not a crime. Your admirable mentor figure would like to make policy. Why shouldn't you?

    You tread dangerous ground when you suggest that any argument about the morality of a proposition is akin to a legislative argument.

    Strange, I don’t recall anyone suggesting that. But if I had, how would it be dangerous?

    It is an essentially relativist position that withholds all judgment based on the premise that each person knows what is good for him.

    It is?

    What is immoral is not the same as what is or should be illegal. But it is still immoral, no?

    So, if it’s immoral but not illegal, why exactly should the government get involved? To publish non-mandatory shunning guidelines, perhaps? Where then does the ten million dollar fine enter the picture?

    Again, that evades the question of incompetent patients.

    Which, again, is not much of a question.

    Who decides for them and on what basis? Moreover, please let me know how you plan to decide. Since we're not talking policy, but the fundamental rightness of life extension (unless of course you believe that what is "right" is relative for each person, or is based purely on unreflective knee-jerk decision-making...

    Apparently we’re also talking about care of the demented. As to not talking policy, I'm not the one lobbying congress to jail SCNT researchers.

    and you're certain that life extension is good...

    Reasonably certain, yes.

    I assume you have the standard for the good life figured out, and you have concluded that it requires eternal life to achieve.

    Well. That’s setting the bar pretty high. All I have to do is figure out the standard for the good life. Did Jonas Salk have to do that before he cured polio? Nice feint.

    And as for eternal life? I’d count it a gain just to achieve lots and lots more. And not even for myself, necessarily. I see this as a long-term project, one which I’m unlikely to benefit from personally. No, I’m in this for posterity’s sake. As it happens, I don’t think eternal life and perfect health are achievable. Should we therefore stop trying to vigorously push back the limits? To advocate such a course strikes me (unreflectively, in a knee-jerk sort of way) as morally deficient.

    Such answers have only been evading philosophers since the 5th Century, and I'm sure they'd love to hear your conclusion. Please, do share.

    So let me get this straight. If I want the approval of the prudent and philosophically inclined when I say something as unexceptionable as “healthy life is a good thing and more of it is better,” I must first grapple with twenty-five hundred years worth of ethical inquiry (just how well is that coming along, anyway?) and come up with definitive answers? To the heretofore unanswerable? And any progress in the real world of medical advancement should do the same?

    Has anyone, anywhere, who ever did anything, had to satisfy such a requirement? That you should set such an impossible condition speaks poorly for your argument. At a guess, you're angry (at least in part) because you know you don't have a real case.

    Take heart. Things will get better. In my experience, most college students shed their collegiate beliefs with rapidity, grace, and no little embarassment once they have left academe. Perhaps you will, too. I'd put the odds at better than four to one.

    posted by Justin at 07:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)




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