Crazy unnatural thoughts . . .

When rational arguments fail, you can always denounce the opposition as sick. (Bloggers suffer from an "addiction" to the Internet, of course.)

Might as well invoke "Natural" Law. Staring into a computer screen for hours on end is almost as unnatural as using your peepee for unauthorized entertainment.

Me, I think getting up when it's still dark and having to scrub frost off the glass windshield of a metal box so you can go and sit in an agitated state in the middle of a crowd of other metal boxes is profoundly unnatural!

But then, no one put non-nocturnal me in charge of the Natural Law.

If they did, then by the gods, I'd declare blogging one of its profoundest violations!

And I'd still do it, because I think it's part of human nature to be unnatural.

(Another reason it's natural to hate all humans!)

posted by Eric at 11:12 PM

Global Warming is cold!

I've been in New Jersey all day, and now I return and see that science has officially confirmed that Bush's Global Warming has ushered in an ICE AGE:

The ocean current that gives western Europe its relatively balmy climate is stuttering, raising fears that it might fail entirely and plunge the continent into a mini ice age.

The dramatic finding comes from a study of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, which found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream.

The slow-down, which has long been predicted as a possible consequence of global warming, will give renewed urgency to intergovernmental talks in Montreal, Canada, this week on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Like I say, that's cold!

Does the evil axis of the Bushitler McHalliburton Rechimplicans leave no spin unturned?

I have to say, it's very clever of them to disguise global warming as an Ice Age. (Intelligent design indeed.)

Fortunately, they can't fool science!

posted by Eric at 06:17 PM | Comments (8)

Eggs, Babs! Eggs!

Via Wired News...

Recently, the Family Research Council, a powerful conservative Christian organization, was invited by Leon Kass, the former chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, to submit suggestions for new IVF rules.

What a thoughtful thing to do. Anything to further the national dialogue, eh?

The Christian group demanded that "the practice of creating more embryos than can be safely implanted and brought to birth, the practice of freezing spare embryos and the practice of 'selective reduction' or selective abortion of 'defective' fetuses or of fetuses in excess of those that can be safely delivered, should all be condemned."

Did they really demand? Or did they ask nicely?

Further: "All biotechnologies which aid in the treatment of infertility should be restricted to use by married couples."

Huh. Maybe they did demand. I hope they didn't use up all their wish juice, wishing for this stuff. Cause frankly, I don't think they've got a snowball's chance.

In effect, the Family Research Council was advocating something like a law that took effect in Italy last year.
There, all embryos created during fertility treatments must be implanted, not stored (even when there's a good chance one of them carries a fatal genetic disease); IVF is limited to heterosexual couples in "stable relationships;" and donor eggs and sperm are outlawed. As a result, success rates have declined, women have had to undergo more procedures because they cannot skip steps and use their own stored embryos, and many patients have gone to other countries.

An attempt to overturn the Italian law failed this year after the Catholic Church mounted a campaign to urge people to avoid the polls and the vote failed to garner enough turnout.

The bioethics council didn't go quite so far. In December of last year, it issued a report calling for an entirely new federal agency to regulate assisted reproduction.

Because we desperately need one. Because if you don't watch those science guys like hawks, they'll try and clone somebody. Because the world...needs...order...

The council's model seems to have been the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority of the United Kingdom, which strictly regulates the industry, tracks embryos and issues research licenses.

American IVF practitioners and researchers are almost unanimous in their opposition to such laws, but they don't seem too worried that discussions about creating them in the United States will amount to much.

You can read the whole thing here.

posted by Justin at 05:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

Multi Culture War?

I haven't been keeping up with San Francisco Bay area news as I should, but my attention was drawn to an interesting multicultural war story in Oakland, in which local Black Muslims vandalized a store owned by immigrants from the Mideast for selling alcohol to American blacks:

About a dozen men wearing dark suits and bow ties did tens of thousands of dollars' worth of damage to San Pablo Market and Liquor on San Pablo Avenue and New York Market on Market Street after demanding the stores stop selling liquor to African Americans. The stores are owned by people of Middle Eastern descent.

The violence was caught on videotape at the San Pablo Market, and investigators are using that tape in an attempt to identify suspects.

At this point, police suspect Muslims associated with Your Black Muslim Bakery were involved, although no arrests have been made.

In a telephone interview Friday with the Oakland Tribune, a man who identified himself as Yusef Bey IV, a bakery official, said the first time he learned about the incident was on television news and in the newspaper. "I was surprised to hear about what happened," he said. "I have no idea who could have done this because there are a whole lot of Muslims around here."

Bey said Your Black Muslim Bakery is conducting its own investigation into the matter.

That was a few days ago. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam quickly disavowed the group, maintaining that they are not part of the Nation of Islam.
Minister Keith Muhammad, a mosque leader and representative of Farrakhan, released a statement Friday about Wednesday's violence.

He said that "after careful review of recent news footage of individuals involved in actions against liquor stores and merchants in the city of Oakland, we have concluded that these individuals are not, nor have they ever been, members of the Nation of Islam, under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan or any affiliated mosques or study groups."

Wow. Not one, but two investigations!

The grocers (apparently Yemenis) have vowed to defend themselves, and I don't blame them:

OAKLAND — The president of the Yemini American Grocery Association said Saturday that grocers have the right to defend themselves if their stores are invaded like two West Oakland markets were hit Wednesday night.

The association, which represents about 300 store owners in Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond, is not telling grocers to buy guns and shoot, said Mohamad Saleh Mohamad. "But if they have a permit for a gun, they can legally defend themselves."

"The storekeepers are very devastated," Mohamad said. "You would be too if 12 men came into your house or business ... did damage like they did."

"This was a criminal act. It had nothing to do with religion, In this country we have the right to do business. We are selling legal products. The whole community is angry," Mohamad said.

Sounds like these poor folks haven't managed to escape the Culture War they thought they'd left behind in the Mideast.

The latest news is that Bey -- leader of the "investigation" for the Black Muslim Bakery -- has himself been arrested as one of the perps!

OAKLAND — Yusef Bey IV, 19, the self-proclaimed heir to the Your Black Muslim Bakery franchise founded by his late father, Yusef Bey, surrendered to Oakland police Tuesday in connection with the vandalism of two West Oakland liquor stores a week ago.

Also arrested was Donald Eugene Cunningham, 73, a longtime associate of the elder Bey. Both were arrested on suspicion of vandalism, conspiracy, robbery and making terrorist threats. They were booked at the North County jail in Oakland, where they are being held in lieu of $200,000 bail.

The younger Bey is Yusef Bey's biological son. He refused to talk to investigators Tuesday. In an interview withthe Oakland Tribune, a sister paper to The Argus, on Friday, he said members of the bakery were not involved in the incidents.

An employee at the bakery Tuesday would not comment on the arrest.

Police are seeking at least four other men — believed to be affiliated with the Bey organization — who they suspect were involved in the vandalism at the two stores. The vandals were caught on a surveillance camera at the San Pablo Market and Liquors. Last Wednesday, about a dozen African-American men wearing suits, white shirts and bow ties entered San Pablo Market at 2363 San Pablo Ave. about 11:30 p.m. and smashed liquor bottles and refrigerator cases. They asked if the owners were Muslim and told them to stop selling alcohol to the black community. It is against Islamic law to drink alcohol.

The group left and went to New York Market at 2446 Market St., where, about 10 minutes later, they did the same thing. They also disarmed a shotgun from the clerk and took the weapon with them.

I don't know how or why this clerk allowed himself to be disarmed in this way, but it's shocking to see attempted enforcement of "Islamic Law" in the United States. The San Fransico Chronicle has more, including a report of arson at another store, and the abduction of the owner later found locked in a car trunk.
"This is crazy. This is America," Hernen [the store manager] said. "They got hate in their heart."

Yes, but will any brave prosecutor dare charge it as a "hate crime"?

I doubt it. That's because multicultural hatred is not hatred.


What's being left out of the media reports is that the founder of the Black Muslim Bakery (and father of the accused), the late Dr. Yusef Bey (no idea what the doctorate was awarded for) was a major powerbroker in Oakland for many years.

This summary of the life of Yusef Bey just drips with Multi Culti possibilities:

As we regain African consciousness, it is inevitable that our lifestyle is going to revert to traditional customs and values, that will of course be at variance with American social values. So what? Gays and lesbians are out of the closet, why should the Afrocentric lifestyle of men like Dr. Bey and the women and children who love him, remain in the closet?

In openly living his life, Dr. Bey went beyond the man he loved and honored, but who secretly lived a similar polygamous life, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Two of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad's sons by Tynetta Muhammad, attended the celebration of Dr. Bey. Indeed, Dr. Bey had given Tynetta and her children refuge when Wallace (Warith) Muhammad refused to recognize his siblings not from the womb of his mother, Clara Muhammad.

So in our natural trend to transcend America, as more and more African Americans adopt Islamic, Yoruba, Kemitic, and Ethiopian religion and mores, we must anticipate the revolutionary effect upon African American culture, especially Christian culture But Dr. Bey revealed that family organization is not a joke, a whim, a game children play, but a task of great responsibility, requiring discipline, intelligence, strength, and spirituality.

One of Dr. Bey's sons noted, "Our father made us soldiers, even our sisters are soldiers, and we are going to continue to soldier!" About ten of the sons performed a Fruit of Islam military drill for the audience to great applause.

A 2003 LA Times piece assessed Bey's life, noting that his empire began to unravel after charges of concubinage involving girls as young as 13:
Many of his supporters say the charges are nonsense, and others say it makes no difference even if they are true. “He was a born leader in the sense of an African chief or a Muslim caliph,” says 62-year-old supporter Maleek Al Maleek “What is prohibited here is not prohibited in East India, where there are child marriages. I can show you chiefs in Africa who have 30 wives . . . . The ways of the high priests are not shared by the commoner.”
Separate but not equal rules are needed, obviously.

UPDATE: In my haste to obtain biographical data on Yusef Bey, I linked to a site that I in no way endorse or agree with, which attributes that last quote to a piece by Lee Rommey called "Dignity, Diligence, Scandal, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 2003." I have been unable to find the original anywhere, so I cannot vouch for the quote's accuracy. I well remember Yusef Bey, though, and the information in that piece appears to be true, and I think it probably did appear in the LA Times.

The problem is that the guy who runs the site appears to be an unreliable promoter of pseudoscientific racist nonsense, so I am not sure that I can rely on him even to quote the LA Times accurately.

(My intention, of course, was not to quote him; only the LA Times.)

posted by Eric at 07:03 AM | Comments (5)

When fingers fly, traffic spikes

Ian Schwartz has been linked on Drudge ("FINGERS FLY ON CNN..." -- with a picture, no less), and his server seems unable to handle what is obviously a huge spike in traffic.

I can't open it, so this post will serve as congratulations to Ian (and a reminder to me to try the link later).

UPDATE: I finally saw the video, which is another example of a small group of people (there were a hundred or so demonstrators) achieving enormous political leverage they do not deserve. They know that few people agree with them, so they concentrate their resources on carefully selected targets -- in this case a media bus -- in the hope that their hapless marks will confuse intimidation with "democracy."

It often works.

posted by Eric at 07:29 PM | Comments (2)

Enjoying the heat

When the Philadelphia Inquirer is good, it is very, very good. And because I find myself criticizing the paper so often, I think I have a responsibility to speak up when I have something good to say about it.

So it is with "Packing heat - and political punch" -- the title of Beth Gillin's review of Tammy Bruce's The New American Revolution:

Tammy Bruce calls herself "a new radical individual," which conjures up a masked anarchist with a baseball bat running through the streets shouting "Death to the state!"

But no.

She actually fits neatly into a long American political tradition, says the prolific author, garrulous talk show host, and noted maverick - although "traditional" seems a stretch when applied to a gun-toting, pro-choice, 43-year-old lesbian who is both a Ronald Reagan admirer and the former head of a California chapter of NOW.

Bruce explains.

"The independent rebel, who is passionate about personal freedom, represents the instinctual core of America," she says, speaking at machine-gun speed, firing epigrams like bullets.

Which brings us to the .38 snub-nosed Smith & Wesson she calls Snuffy.

"When I take Snuffy out of her drawer in my nightstand and we go to the shooting range," Bruce says, "it reminds me that I am responsible for myself. Owning a gun is at the heart of what it means to be an American. The only reason this country is free from government tyranny is that people like me are armed."

Indeed, the thought of this self-described Irish Italian troublemaker packing heat should make criminals bent on evil-doing quake in their boots.

Now that's good! And it's right on the front page of today's "Magazine" section along with a sexy (if I may say so) picture of Ms. Bruce. The Inquirer is simply letting Tammy Bruce speak her mind, and the readers who like what she says can go buy her book, while those who don't can go pound sand. Or go buy her book and then go pound sand!

While I try not to brag much, I'm proud that I've linked Tammy Bruce's site from the very beginning of this blog, because I've always admired her, and I'm delighted to see that she's done as brilliant a job as a blogger as she has as an author and activist. I think it's a testament to her combination of irrefutable logic and irresistible charm that the Inquirer's treatment of her is so wonderfully fair.

Yes there's more, and it's almost all very refreshing stuff.

"I spent years compromising, and at times saying things I didn't totally agree with, in order to belong to the left," Bruce says, and she didn't become a true individual until she learned to reject group-think. "It was part of my growing up."
Much the same thing happened to me. Group think and identity politics are a sickness that destroys the self. For me, blogging is a counterweight which helps the constant struggle for individualism against group-think and identity politics.

Tammy Bruce's answer to the charge that America is locked in a war between competing camps? Despite all the media hoopla, most Americans abhor idiotarianism:

But how can she presume to describe most Americans when everyone knows the country is polarized, split, and shouting insults across a red-blue divide?

"The mainstream media highlights the divide and reports on the extremes," Bruce replies, whereas "most Americans are as opposed to the liberal rantings of Howard Dean and George Soros as they are to the conservative ravings of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell."

While in Manhattan, Bruce helped launch Open Source Media at, a consortium of 70 diverse blogs on topics from politics and true crime to designer shoes and holistic pet care. She's on OSM's advisory board and blogs at

I think that the new American middle consists of this unacknowledged, much-feared libertarianism. It is, of course a direct threat to the phony power games which would force us to choose between, say, Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell.

Despite the radicalism inherent in such talk of a libertarian middle, the Inquirer's conclusion is shockingly favorable to Tammy Bruce:

"The power no longer resides with the elites. The power belongs to whoever wants to take it," says Tammy Bruce with utmost confidence, sounding for all the world like a Sixties lefty at the barricades and signifying that in the fractured and shifting terrain of American political culture, labels have lost all meaning.
How very true. Labels have lost all meaning, because so many of them were bogus to begin with.

At this rate, the Inquirer itself will defy all attempts to label it.

I couldn't be more pleased.

posted by Eric at 05:56 PM | Comments (2)

Being against violence is way cooler than violence!
(Except where violence is way cooler!)

As the last post reminded me, a number of people on the left (presumably including the Green Party) believe that there is no difference between Israelis defending themselves and the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians by Palestinian terrorists. And to some of these people, "peace activism" means opposing Israeli self defense while supporting Palestinian terrorism. While murderous leftists have long intrigued me (and I've known some), I think there's an antisocial aspect to this -- as several posts by Dr. Helen (aka the InstaWife) have reminded me (to the point where I'm feeling a bout of morbid nostalgia coming on).

The contradiction posed by such a species as "violent peace activists" is so self-apparent that most peace activists are forced to sublimate their natural hostility lest they look hypocritical -- or even ridiculous. Support for murderous radicalism therefore must be couched in terms of support for peace, opposition to war, advocacy of the downtrodden, belief in a better world based on "social justice," and above all an abiding belief that the violent people being championed are victims. (Usually, they are considered "victims" of the the activists' own country or close allies.)

Dr. Helen's touches on what I think is a similar mechanism in her post about vegetarianism:

I had a tremendous amount of free-floating hostility within me as well as downright aggression--I thought being a pacifist (which included being a vegetarian) could control my inner feelings of rage. But it only sublimated those feelings for a while. I sat quietly while peers at school made fun of me. But I learned the truth about what worked when one of my siblings brought down a boy who taunted me about my wild kinky hair on the school bus with threats of violence. My pacifism did not work.
While I am not saying that her pacifism was ever the equivalent of leftist support for violent people or causes, contrast it to her realism today:
I now look skeptically at people who preach vegetarianism to others as a type of religion--they are often the same ones who tout peace and brotherhood while trying to mask their feelings of aggression. My husband once said that he did not worry about violence from peace activists but frankly, I would rather hang out with a crowd of hard core gun addicts. I find them more capable of understanding and controlling their own aggression. People who preach peace in the face of appalling violence deny their aggression and target it at others who are not deserving of it or who are trying to protect them. I cannot justify that.
This is someone who gets it, IMHO. I think that many pacifists and "peace activists" have the same violent urges that we all have, but because they deny them and suppress them, they tend to come out in indirect ways, such as the "peaceful" position that there is no moral difference between terrorism and a country's self defense against it. Ditto for the gun control pacifists who seem unable to distinguish between armed criminals and law abiding citizens armed for self defense. The guns and are equally evil. Without them, the world would be a better place.

Frankly, it terrifies me that there exist people whom I have never threatened in any way who would use force to disarm me and leave me unable to defend myself against violent criminals. And make no mistake about it; that's precisely what gun control is all about. I believe that sublimated rage is a major factor, as is pure hatred of people who would defend themselves. Doubtless they would claim that I am hateful for owning a gun and that my being armed to defend myself is also a form of sublimated rage. Even if we grant them this argument, the fact is that I am not bothering anyone. I am not an aggressor in any way; I am only in a state of preparedness to defend myself. I am not making anyone do anything, nor am I asking anyone to do anything except leave me alone. It's plain to me that those who will not leave me alone, who would either invade my house as criminals, or cause the government to invade it to take away my guns, these are the aggressors. If anything, I am the true pacifist. Yet the people who'd use violence to disarm me and leave me without my defenses are the ones claiming to be pacifists. Such a contradiction is what results when deeply antisocial feelings are allowed to masquerade as precisely the opposite of what they are.

Dr. Helen also touches on this mindset in her discussion of leftist celebrities who rally behind violent criminals:

I have very strong feelings about celebrities who rally to get murderers sentences reduced or released. The legal system should deal with this, not a group of actors. It just makes me think of the Norman Mailer fiasco.
While Mailer and many leftists claimed at the time to have been horrified by Jack Abbott's crimes, I think "crocodile tears" more accurately describes their mindset. Similarly, I think the people who want Mumia freed because they claim he's innocent really know he did it. And (I believe) many of them secretly approve! (Ditto the Tookie Williams supporters.) They keep that a dirty little secret, because, like the people they claim to detest as "violent" and "evil," they too are violent and evil. Except they can barely control it. Like the unacknowledged mob they are, they thirst for blood. But they can't admit it, so it's all sublimated under the rubric of "saving" a murderer claimed to be "innocent."

No such nonsense for Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn:

Dorhn incited the assembled radicals to join the war against "Amerikkka" and create chaos and destruction in the "belly of the beast." Her voice rising to a fevered pitch, Dohrn raised three fingers in a "fork salute" to mass murderer Charles Manson, whom she proposed as a symbol to her troops. Referring to the helpless victims of the Manson Family as the "Tate Eight" (the pregnant actress Sharon Tate had been stabbed in her womb with a fork), Dohrn shouted: "Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, they even shoved a fork into a victim's stomach! Wild!"
While they're much more slick, today's activists are more lame. Instead of actually supporting the crimes of someone like Manson, they meekly nominate murderer Tookie Williams for the Nobel Prize.

Why? Because nominating murderers for the Nobel Prize is cool, that's why!

All this leaves me with only one question to ask.

What the hell is wrong with nominating Charles Manson for the Nobel Prize?

Charlie never killed anyone, plus he loves the earth. Read the Truth.

We need to support the earth and get past this violence thing, folks!


Or am I just being nostalgic?

MORE: On the serious side, Ben Johnson offers some very powerful arguments against clemency for Tookie Williams.

UPDATE (12/02/05): Baldilocks calls the celebrities on their B.S. by applying something I love -- basic logic:

If Misters Foxx and Dogg really believe everything that Mr. Williams says about his case, let them be brave enough to ask Arnold to pardon the “innocent man.”

But the entertainers won’t do that because they know just how far they can go with this anti-death penalty advocacy or with any possible racial solidarity that they might claim to have with with Mr. Williams.

Why else are they speaking out for someone as heinous as Mr. Williams? Because that's how most of our "betters" do things: without any regard to the consequences of their actions. Such gestures and posturing look good to the undiscerning.

(Via Pajamas Media.)

If Tookie is innocent, his sentence shouldn't be commuted to life imprisonment; he should be FREED. He may or may not have reformed his life, but even if he has, that's still not innocence.

They can't have it both ways.

UPDATE (12/03/05): Hube, at La Shawn Barber's blog has a real shocker about Oakland, California students being "educated" about Tookie by scolding activists claiming Tookie was innocent because the jury was "all white." (A claim Joanne Jacobs debunks as a lie.)

posted by Eric at 03:16 PM | Comments (2)

I just hope tolerance doesn't beget intolerance . . .

Joining the likes of such groups as, the Green Party is calling for a boycott of Israel:

1. The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) publicly calls for divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized.

To maximize the effect of the Green Party's support for divestment and boycott of Israel:

2. The party calls on all civil society institutions and organizations around the world to implement a comprehensive divestment and boycott program. Further, the party calls on all governments to support this program and to implement state level boycotts.

3. The party urges the Campus Greens network to work in cooperation with other campus organizations to achieve institutional participation in this effort.

4. The GPUS National Committee directs the Green Peace Action Committee (GPAX) to encourage the larger anti-war movement to promote the divestment/boycott effort.

5. The GPUS National Committee directs the International Committee to work with our sister Green parties around the world in implementing an international boycott.

Via Little Green Footballs.

The anti-Israel movement appears to have been spearheaded by the Wisconsin Green Party and by Madison activists affiliated with this University of Wisconsin site, which also champions Rachel Corrie and is organizing against Caterpillar (subject of an earlier post, and an example of bad art here.)

What is it that keeps the activists in Madison stoked with such endless moral fervor, anyway? I lived in Berkeley for years, and while Madison was always one of our chief competitors, I never quite understood the dynamics of the latter.

Why Madison?

Perhaps I should relax. According to Forbes Magazine, Madison's openness and tolerance for all things (including radical ideas) may have sewn the seeds of its own destruction -- by capitalist forces!

This hotbed of radicalism has grown into a seedbed of biocapitalism, propelling the region to the number one slot on our list of Best Places for Business and Careers. Scientists are developing artificial skin (at a company called Stratatech), vitamin D therapies for patients with chronic kidney disease (Bone Care International) and proteins that inhibit cancer-cell development (Quintessence Biosciences). Such biotech ventures cluster around the university and nearby Milwaukee, home of the Medical College of Wisconsin and a unit of GE Healthcare (2003 revenues: $10 billion), which acquired Lunar, a Madison maker of bone densitometers and ultrasound equipment, in 2000. Some 120 technology companies employing 8,000 people have sprung up in Madison during the past decade. Average annual salary: $60,000.
There's a lot more. Perhaps some of the more bitter Madisonians are feeling left out of the fun, and are doing what bitter people have so often done in history. (Blaming the Jews.)

All things considered, I still think this Green Party is funnier.

posted by Eric at 01:00 PM

Same dog, different result?

This news report about the sicko accused of burying a puppy alive is horrifying:

ST. CLOUD, Fla. -- An anonymous tip led animal control officers to a shocking case of animal cruelty. A puppy was found buried alive in a yard near New York Avenue and 192 in St. Cloud. Osceola County Animal Control said they had never seen anything like this.

The dog's owner was arrested and before he was taken to jail said he buried the dog alive in a hole because he kept digging.

Animal Control officer Crissy Simmons had tears in her eyes when she found the 5-month-old puppy buried at his owner's home on New York Avenue in St. Cloud.

Something not mentioned in the story became immediately apparent to me when I saw the picture of the poor puppy:


Unfortunately, the puppy appears to be a pit bull.


And, of course, no one would blame it for the conduct of its abusive master. Nor would they blame pit bulls and demand that they be banned.

Not this time!

But if that same tortured puppy had reached maturity and mauled a child as a result of the demented state which often results from such abuse, the outcry would have been very different.

Scum like the guy who buried his dog should be punished to the extent the law allows. Unfortunately, most of them aren't caught. While I can't help wishing that the guy's dog had survived to maturity and mauled his owner to death, the problem with that is that in the media story which would result, the thug would be the victim, and his dog the villain.

And all "pit bulls" -- like my dog Coco -- would be blamed as "the problem."

Which means that our communitarian society might pass laws making me into a criminal.

Because of someone else's crime!

posted by Eric at 11:53 AM | Comments (5)

Why I Am Not A Burkean Conservative

Get comfortable. This is going to be a long one.

All of the variations in typeface were added after the fact by yours truly. Likewise, all of the links.

C.S. Lewis on Moral Education

by Gilbert Meilaender

When we think about C.S. Lewis’ understanding of morality, we have to distinguish three elements: (1) what moral truths we know, (2) how we know them, and (3) how we become able to know them.

What do we know when we know moral truth? Most fundamentally, we know the maxims of what Lewis—in his book on education, The Abolition of Man—calls the Tao. These “primeval moral platitudes” (as Screwtape, in Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, once terms them) constitute the human moral inheritance. We would not be wrong to call them the basic principles of natural law: the requirements of both general and special beneficence; duties both to parents/ancestors and to children/posterity; and requirements of justice, truthfulness, mercy and magnanimity. These are the starting points for all moral reasoning, deliberation and argument; they are to morality what axioms are to mathematics. Begin from them and we may get somewhere in thinking about what we ought to do. Try to stand outside the Tao on some kind of morally neutral or empty ground, and we will find it impossible to generate any moral reasoning at all.

I guess my first problem with the Tao according to Lewis is that it depends on an intentionally simplified view of human morality. When you look for ubiquitous moral constants you automatically weed out all the fascinating statistical outliers that make cultural anthropology so captivating.

By practicing such cavalier reductionism, a map of the human Tao is created that seems to me to be too compact and tidy, even if we opt for the deluxe 3D multi-axial projection. We might display it as a vaguely liver shaped mass (all those lobes, you know), with smoothly extending, yet still decorously restrained pseudopodia. Add back all the excised behaviors and it more closely resembles a sea urchin, the central mass of squishy consensus customs surrounded by unpredictably bizarre extreme behaviors. I just don't think it's fair to wish away the spines.

And yet, Lewis himself would find my objections irrelevant. In his own words...

The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness...But (1) I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it. (2) The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that 'civilizations' have arisen in the world independently of one another...It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history...

Fair enough. Even though he's doing a nose count of different traditions, locating and tagging the moral commonalities, such samplings are ultimately a mere illustrative convenience, and not binding.

Back to Meilaender...

Lewis provides an illustration of the Tao in That Hideous Strength, the third and last volume in his space fantasy series. He himself subtitled the book “A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups,” and in the short preface he wrote for the book, he says: “This is a ‘tall story’ about devilry, though it has behind it a serious ‘point’ which I have tried to make in my Abolition of Man.” We can follow his hint and illustrate the Tao by remembering the scene in That Hideous Strength in which the sinister Frost begins to give young professor Mark Studdock a systematic training in what Frost calls “objectivity.” This is a training designed to kill in Mark all natural human preferences.

Mark is placed into a room that is ill-proportioned; for example, the point of the arch above the door is not in the center. On the wall is a portrait of a young woman with her mouth open, and with her mouth full of hair. There is a picture of the Last Supper, distinguished especially by beetles under the table. There is a representation of a giant mantis playing a fiddle while being eaten by another mantis, and another of a man with corkscrews instead of arms. Mark himself is asked to perform various obscenities, culminating in the command to trample a crucifix.

Gradually, however, Mark finds that the room is having an effect on him, which Frost had scarcely predicted or desired. “There rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight.” This was for Mark all interwoven with images of his wife Jane, fried eggs, soap, sunlight and birds singing. Mark may not have been thinking in moral terms, but at least, as the story puts it, he was “having his first deeply moral experience. He was choosing a side: the Normal .”

He had never known before what an Idea meant: he had always thought till now that they were things inside one’s head. But now, when his head was continually attacked and often completely filled with the clinging corruption of the training, this Idea towered up above him—something which obviously existed quite independently of himself and had hard rock surfaces which would not give, surfaces he could cling to.

He is experiencing the Tao, which is neither his creation nor anyone else’s. He does not construct these moral truths; on the contrary, they claim him. The world around us is not neutral ground; it is from the start shot through with moral value.
We can, of course, criticize one or another of these moral truths, or, at least, particular formulations of them. But we will inevitably call on some other principle of the Tao when we do so. Thus, for example, we may think Aristotle’s magnanimous man insufficiently merciful and too concerned about his own nobility, using thereby one principle of the Tao (mercy) to refine another. In pursuit of our duties to posterity we may be willing to sacrifice the weak and vulnerable on the altar of medical research, but then we will have to ask whether we have transgressed the requirement of justice—every bit as much an element of the Tao as our duty to posterity. But to step—or try to step—outside the Tao entirely is to lose the very ground of moral reason itself.Thus the principles of the Tao do not solve moral problems for us; on the contrary, they create, frame and shape those problems. They teach us to think in full and rich ways about them, as we recognize the various claims the Tao makes upon us.

Hmmm. The moral inheritance of mankind is not susceptible to rational analysis. It merely is. Rather than opening a discussion on morality, Meilaender seems more intent on closing and locking it.

The Need for Moral Education

If this is what we know, how do we know it? If, as I put it a moment ago, the world around us is shot through with moral value, then to recognize a moral duty—as something other than our own choice or decision—is to see a truth. Lewis thinks we just “see” those primeval moral platitudes of the Tao. They cannot be proven, for it is only by them that we can prove or defend any other moral conclusions we reach. It is, as Lewis puts it at the end of The Abolition of Man, “no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. . . . To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” We might say, as Lewis says for instance in Miracles, that these first principles of moral reasoning are “self-evident.” One can argue from but not to the maxims of the Tao.
This is, however, one place where we need to gloss Lewis’ discussion just a bit, for he is not entirely consistent in his writing. If we look at what I take to be Lewis’ most mature expression of his view, in The Abolition of Man, we will immediately see—for reasons to which I will come in just a moment—that “self-evident” cannot mean “obvious.” It cannot mean that any rational person, giving the matter some thought, will see that the maxims of the Tao are the moral deliverances of reason itself. Yet, consider a passage such as the following from Mere Christianity:

This law was called the Law of Nature because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are colour-blind or have no ear for a tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one.

This is a different formulation, and a less satisfactory one, than that of Abolition of Man. The precepts of the Tao constitute a kind of natural law not because everyone knows them without being taught, but because they express fundamental truths—which we may or may not learn—about human nature. Those of us who do learn them will, to be sure, just “see” them. There will be no process of reasoning by which they are proven, but Lewis’ more developed view offers us no reason to assume that we all will or can easily discern these first principles of natural law.

Which no doubt explains creatures like myself. Now, where did my trousers get to?

Why not? Because—although Lewis does not put it this way in Abolition of Man, a decidedly non-theological piece of writing—human reason and desire are disordered by sin. What Iris Murdoch once called the “fat relentless ego” constantly blinds us, so that the mere fact of opening our eyes does not guarantee that we will see truly. Indeed, if Lewis really held that the precepts of the Tao are “obvious,” the central theme of Abolition of Man could make little sense; for it is a book about our need for moral education.

Which brings us to the third element in Lewis’ understanding of morality. If we ask, what moral truths do we know? the answer is: the maxims of the Tao. If we ask, how do we know them? the answer is: we just “see” them as the first principles of all moral reasoning. And, now, if we ask, how do we become able to “just see” these maxims the answer is: only as our character is well formed by moral education. Without such education we will never come to know the human moral inheritance.

Who then were the first educators? How did they discover the truth?

We may be very bright and very rational, but we will be what Lewis calls “trousered apes.” Lacking proper moral education, our freedom to make moral choices will be a freedom to be inhuman in any number of ways. The paradox of moral education is that all genuine human freedom—a freedom that does not turn out to be destructive—requires that we be disciplined and shaped by the principles of the Tao. Our appetites and desires may readily tempt us to set aside what moral reason requires. Hence, from childhood our emotions must be trained and habituated, so that we learn to love the good (not just what seems good for us). And only as our character is thus shaped do we become men and women who are able to “see” the truths of moral reason.

Again, I'm puzzled. From where do the shapers derive their correct truths? How can our teachers discern good from evil on our behalf?

Moral insight, therefore, is not a matter for reason alone; it requires trained emotions. It requires moral habits of behavior inculcated even before we reach an age of reason. “The head rules the belly through the chest,” as Lewis puts it. Reason disciplines appetite only with the aid of trained emotions. Seeing this, we will understand that moral education does more than simply enable us to “see” what virtue requires. It also enables us, at least to some extent, to be virtuous. For the very training of the emotions that makes insight possible has also produced in us traits of character that will incline us to love the good and do it.

To call this a circular argument is to understate with extreme prejudice.

Moral education, then, can never be a private matter, and Lewis follows Aristotle in holding that “only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics.” Hence, the process of moral education, if it is to succeed, requires support from the larger society. Ethics is, in that sense, a branch of politics.

This argument is spherical. In particular, it reminds me of a Magdeburg sphere. Perhaps you've seen one. It consists of two metal hemispheres joined together to form a full sphere. As air is pumped out, the two parts are pushed together by atmospheric pressure. Hermetically sealed, the sphere contains absolutely nothing, yet that nothing ensures that the sphere cannot be opened, not even by two teams of horses pulling in opposite directions. The sphere becomes a sealed vacuous hollow, unbreachable.

Thus, for instance, to take an example that Lewis could not precisely have anticipated, consider the problem of protecting children from internet pornography (which the U.S. Congress attempted in what was known as the “Child Online Protection Act,” but which the Supreme Court ruled, in Ashcroft v. ACLU, was in probable violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees). True as it may be that this protection should be the primary responsibility of parents, they face daunting obstacles and almost inevitable failure without a supportive moral ecology in the surrounding society. Moral education, if it is to be serious, requires commitment to moral principles that go well beyond the language of freedom—principles that are more than choice and consent alone.

Moral education should go well beyond choice and consent. I like it. It's catchy.

We should not think of this moral education as indoctrination, but as initiation.

Why not?

It is initiation into the human moral inheritance: “men transmitting manhood to men.” We initiate rather than indoctrinate precisely because it is not we but the Tao that binds those whom we teach. We have not decided what morality requires; we have discovered it. We transmit not our own views or desires but moral truth—by which we consider ourselves also to be bound.

It's kind of like watching a car crash, isn't it?

Let's recap. First, there is an objective morality in the universe. But it's really hard to figure out. You can't use logic or reason. Induction can't get the job done. The best thing you can do is just "see" it. Even that usually doesn't work. A firm guiding inflence is called for. Training, and lots of it. From an early age. Without it you're not even qualified to discuss these matters. Here, have a banana. Don't get any on your trousers.

So far, so good. But now it gets tricky. Who should train you? Wise elders. Tradition. Wholesome tradition, wholesomely imparted.

Call it initiation, not indoctrination. Because why? Because your teachers went through what you're going through, back in the day. Tradition has its own reasons, that reason knows nothing of. Everything is a big mystery.

Hence, moral education is not an exercise of power over future generations. To see what happens when it becomes an exercise of power by some over others, when we attempt to stand outside the Tao, we can look briefly at two ways in which Lewis’ discussion of morality in The Abolition of Man takes shape in That Hideous Strength, his “‘tall story’ of devilry.”

Man, Nature and Biotechnology

The driving force behind the plot in That Hideous Strength is the plan of the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments—whose acronym is NICE—to take the last step in the control and shaping of nature. (It is rather a nice irony that in today the National Health Service has established a National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—whose acronym is also NICE—to formulate guidelines about the use of quality of life assessments in the clinical care of patients.) Having gradually conquered the world of nature external to human beings, the goal of NICE is now to view human beings also as natural objects—in particular, to take control of birth, breeding and death. The project that Lewis fancifully imagined in his “fairy-tale for grown-ups” has made considerable progress in the decades since he wrote. Let me illustrate.

Consider the following sentences from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea:

He looked down into the water and watched the lines that went straight down into the dark of the water. He kept them straighter than anyone did, so that at each level in the darkness of the stream there would be a bait waiting exactly where he wished it to be for any fish that swam there.... I have no understanding of it and I am not sure that I believe in it. Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish.... He urinated outside the shack and then went up the road to wake the boy. He was shivering with the morning cold.... Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy to eat him?... That was the saddest thing I ever saw with them, the old man thought. The boy was sad too and we begged her pardon and butchered her promptly.... The boy did not go down. He had been there before and one of the fishermen was looking after the skiff for him.

Hemingway’s prose is, of course, generally regarded as clear and straightforward. And every sentence in the passage above is simple and transparent. But taken as a whole, the passage makes almost no sense at all. There’s a reason for that: The sentences in the passage are drawn from pages 29, 104-5, 22, 74, 48, and 123—in that order.

But consider now the image of the human being in the following frequently quoted passage from Thomas Eisner, a biologist from Cornell University:

As a consequence of recent advances in genetic engineering, [a biological species] must be viewed as . . . a depository of genes that are potentially transferable. A species is not merely a hard-bound volume of the library of nature. It is also a loose-leaf book, whose individual pages, the genes, might be available for selective transfer and modification of other species.

I have tried to provide a humble illustration of this by splicing together sentences from different pages of just one book, producing thereby something unintelligible. But I might also have spliced in sentences from Anna Karenina and A Christmas Carol—producing thereby an artifact we could not name.

That's really nice. Artistic even. But if he'd put in just a little more effort, he could have selected lines that formed a coherent narrative of his own. That would conform more closely to the activities he's denigrating.

This train of thought was first suggested to me by one of the findings of the Human Genome Project, a finding that got quite a bit of attention in news articles announcing (in February, 2001) the completion of that project by two groups of researchers. We were told that the number of genes in the human genome had turned out to be surprisingly small—that human beings have, at most, perhaps twice as many genes as the humble roundworm (downsized even more with new findings in 2004, so that human beings and roundworms have about the same number of genes)—and that the degree of sequence divergence between human and chimpanzee genomes is quite small. Considering the complexity of human beings in relation to roundworms and even chimpanzees, it seemed surprising that, relatively speaking, much less complex organisms should not have far fewer genes than human beings.

Why, one might ask, should that seem surprising? It will be surprising if you assume that the complexity of a higher being is somehow built up and explained in terms of “lower” component parts (which serve as “resources”). If we explain the higher in terms of the lower, it makes a certain sense to suppose that a relatively complex being would need lots of component parts—at least by comparison with a less complex being. And, of course, one might argue that the Human Genome Project is the ultimate product of such an extreme reductionist vision of biology.
In The Abolition of Man, Lewis powerfully depicts the movement by which things came to be understood as simply parts of nature, objects that have no inherent purpose or telos—which objects can then become resources available for human use. Hence, the long, slow process of what we call conquering nature could more accurately be said to be reducing things to “mere nature” in that sense. “We do not,” Lewis writes,

look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety.... Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyze her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same.

In that final step of this reductive process, the human being becomes an artifact, to be shaped and reshaped. One way to describe this is to say that we take control of our own destiny. But the other way to describe it is as the villainous Lord Feverstone puts it in That Hideous Strength: “Man has got to take charge of Man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest . . . .” That is what happens, Lewis thinks, when we step outside the Tao and regard even morality as a matter for our own choice and free creation.

I would hope that some of the links I've chosen demonstrate just how badly we can treat each other, with no recourse to science at all.

Indeed, we've been treating each other quite badly for several millenia now, with nary a test tube in sight. This is not to say that science can't be perverted and used for bad ends. But since we've already learned how to torture each other to death, wholesale and retail, it's not really all that enabling is it? A few Pathan women with nail clippers can do amazing things. The Abolition of Manhood?

Simple nomadic horse barbarians were technically capable of raising pyramids of severed heads, over and over again. And while they did it, they were observing the moral niceties of their own sacred traditions, imparted, no doubt, at their daddy's knees.

Where do we go when Taos collide?

From this angle, developments in biotechnology are likely to affect most our attitudes toward birth and breeding. But there remains still the fact of death, and once we take free responsibility for shaping our destiny, we can hardly be content to accept without challenge even that ultimate limit. When Mark Studdock is asked to trample on a crucifix as the final stage in his training in “objectivity,” he is—even though he is not a Christian—reluctant to obey. For it seems to him that the cross is a picture of what the Crooked does to the Straight when they meet and collide. Mark has chosen the side of what he calls simply the Normal . He has, that is, begun to take his stand within the Tao. But then he finds himself wondering, for the first time, about the possibility that the side he has chosen might turn out to be, in a sense, the “losing” side. “Why not,” he asks himself, “go down with the ship?”

For those who stand within the Tao, how we live counts for more than how long.

I bet you could see it coming.

There are things we might do to survive—or to help our species survive or advance or, even, just suffer less—which it would nonetheless be wrong or dishonorable to do.

Duh. Yet another reason to abolish professional bioethicists would be their propensity for stating the obvious while imagining that they're somehow enlightening us. They sweat, and strain, and eventually they pass a stony, gnarled fewmet which we're supposed to oooh and ahhh over. Look, he made some wisdom for us.

Indeed, we do not have to look very far around in our own world—no farther, for instance, than the controversies about embryonic stem cell research—to see how strongly we are tempted to regard as overriding the claims of posterity for a better and longer life. “We want,” Lewis’ Screwtape writes, “a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the Future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”

Here comes my favorite line in the whole address.

Better to remember, as Roonwit the Centaur writes to King Tirian in The Last Battle—the seventh and final volume in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia—that all worlds come to an end, and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.

Nor should we neglect the instructive Doom that Came to Sarnath. Go, go and ask the Numenoreans. Then go tell it on the mountain.

This is at least something of what Lewis still has to teach us about the education we need to make and keep us human. In the modern world it is the task of moral education to set limits to what we will do in search of the rainbow’s end—to set limits, lest that desire should lead to the abolition of man. “For the wise men of old,” Lewis writes, “the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.” But when freedom becomes not initiation into our moral inheritance but the freedom to make and remake ourselves, the power of some men over others, it is imperative that we remind ourselves that moral education is not a matter of technique but, rather, of example, habituation and initiation. And, as Lewis says, quoting Plato, those who have been so educated from their earliest years, when they reach an age of reason, will hold out their hands in welcome of the good, recognizing the affinity they themselves bear to it.

As Butch and Sundance might have asked, who is this guy?

Gilbert Meilaender, the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Professor of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University and a fellow of the Hastings Center , is a member of President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and has also taught at the University of Virginia and at Oberlin College . He has served on the board of directors of the Society of Christian Ethics, as an associate editor of Religious Studies Review, and on the editorial board of the Journal of Religious Ethics, where he currently is an associate editor. Dr. Meilaender has published numerous articles and books, including Friendship: A Study in Theological Ethics; Faith and Faithfulness: Basic Themes in Christian Ethics; and Body, Soul and Bioethics.

The above is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on September 12, 2005, at a Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar on the topic, “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings.” Reprinted by permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College.

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

What Mayor Street's critics "don't read"

In another story that wants to be an editorial, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Marcia Gelbart is having trouble understanding why Mayor Street got booed at a U2 concert last summer, and contrasts Street's "velcro" with Ronald Reagan's "teflon":

During a U2 concert here last month, lead singer Bono gave a shout-out to Mayor Street, thanking him for allowing the city to host Live 8 in July. The crowd booed.

"Am I missing something?" Bono asked.

Perhaps it's the mayor who's missing something: credit for the way the city has changed over the last six years.

Though the federal corruption probe of City Hall has drawn headlines, as has the city's growing homicide rate, Philadelphia has progressed under Street's tenure.

Since his 1999 election, Philadelphia's housing market has soared, while population loss has slowed to a trickle. Public school funding has gone up, as have student test scores. Two new sports stadiums have debuted. Two skyscrapers are on the way.

Last month's National Geographic Traveler magazine crowned Philadelphia "America's Next Great City."

And yet the public seems to make little connection between these strides and the man who occupies Philadelphia's top political office.

If Ronald Reagan was the Teflon president, Street seems to be the reverse, the Velcro mayor. "All the bad stuff sticks," said Phil Goldsmith, Street's former managing director, "and the good stuff doesn't."

In a recent interview, Street dismissed his critics, saying they "don't read."

Well, some of them read the Inquirer. And while the paper's archives are only temporary, there's still plenty of information available on line about the huge scandal known as "pay to play." There are even web sites like this devoted to stopping it. And blogs like this. And this.

On the inside pages, today's article mentions the pay-to-play scandal:

Equally as significant, the pay-to-play probe tied Street to an unappetizing crew of defendants. Street's former city treasurer is in jail. A Muslim cleric who is a longtime supporter of the mayor's is appealing a seven-year sentence. Nine other people have been convicted.

And although the administration has supported stronger ethics rules, Street hasn't used his bully pulpit to speak out forcefully and repeatedly against corruption in City Hall, say political observers.

"He's a mover and shaker for the people we don't want running this city," said West Philadelphia resident Kevin Williams, 43, a data-entry manager for a unit of Merck & Co.

The pay-to-play scandal was much bigger than the Inquirer makes it appear now. How it works is explained here:
As a political insider with the ear of the Mayor and officials throughout the Street administration, including City Auditor Corey Kemp, White is accused by the FBI of directing the distribution of these lucrative bond deals to various banks and lenders, notably Commerce Bank. In exchange for political contributions to his PACs, White provided inside information on other contractor’s competitive bids as well as, according to the FBI, directly ordering various members of the Street administration to deliver non-competitive contracts to those lenders and contractors that “played ball” with White and Kemp. Other financial rewards given to buy White’s influence include extraordinarily generous personal loans to among others Mayor Street, White himself, Kemp and White’s girlfriend, Renee Knight. Lavish meals, junkets to the Super Bowl, and lucrative “consulting” contracts were among the rewards White is accused of receiving in exchange for city contracts. White is also accused of landing exclusive airport food concessions, service contracts and government printing contracts for his wife, members of his family and Knight.

Lengthy detailed phone tap transcripts from the FBI investigation show White calling among others, Mayor Street, Street personal aide George Burrell, Airport Director Charles Isdell, and Sheriff John Green to remind them of recent political fundraisers and instruct them about who should be hired or contracted for various government deals.

According to the FBI, the number of ways which White manipulated and corrupted the way city of Philadelphia granted contracts are truly Byzantine. See the index of media articles to find more details on the various aspects of the ongoing corruption trials, as well as to read excerpts of the FBI phone taps that are both shocking and at times fairly salacious. White died of fast-moving pancreatic cancer before he himself could be put on trial, but Kemp, Knight and various others are currently on trial as result of the ongoing FBI investigation.

Ron White is dead, and people in the FBI probe are on trial currently. Why can't we just leave it the way it is now that the "bad guys" got busted?

Because Ron White and the accompanying "hoopla" is just one fish in a big pond. The events that led up to the current probe did not occur in a vacuum but instead in a pervasive political climate where both the Mayor’s office and city council are under constant pressure to deliver financial rewards to their largest campaign contributors instead of serving their constituents full-time every day. The Ron White FBI probe is symptomatic of a larger problem with pay-to-play. According to, "Last year $2 billion of the City's $3.4 billion budget went to no-competition contracts--about 2 out of every 3 dollars."

(More here.) Despite the contention that Street supports ethics reforms, his anti-reform allies on the City Council -- a group known as "the Status Quo 5" have been able to defeat pay-to-play reform legislation.

Not only is the name of Ron White left out of today's puff piece Inquirer article, but the tone would have people forget that the whole idea of pay to play was to keep Street and his buddies in office. The following comes not from a partisan blog or web site, but from an FBI press release:

The indictment rests in part on conversations monitored by the government pursuant to judicial authorization for approximately nine months during 2003. During that time, according to the indictment, White and Kemp openly discussed their criminal scheme, in which Kemp permitted White to take over Kemp’s official decision-making in exchange for benefits from White and others. For example, on February 12, 2003, while discussing the selection of financial services firms favored by White, White stated, “well, we moving s---, ain't we Corey? . . . there ain’t nobody in it but me and you now.” Kemp replied, “That’s it, everybody else out the picture, huh?”

During 2003, White occasionally promised Kemp that, if Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street, whom White supported and who employed Kemp, were reelected in November 2003, White would continue to benefit Kemp and Kemp would become financially set. For example, on August 25, 2003, White stated to Kemp, “the key for us right now, man, is to concentrate on getting John elected, so it gives us four more years to do our thing. If we get four more years, Corey, we should be able to set up, you know, I mean and for you we maybe only talking about only two, you know what I mean?” Kemp said, “that’s good, that’s good, that’s cool.”

The indictment states further that in permitting White to direct his official actions, Kemp knew his actions not only benefitted White and White’s interests but also the political candidates White supported, including the Mayor. White and Kemp agreed that when White demanded political contributions from financial services firms to the Mayor’s campaign, the firms had to make them or face the loss of the ability to obtain City business. On August 26, 2003, discussing that matter, White said to Kemp, “either you down or you ain’t with it.” Kemp replied, “right, cause if they don’t, if they ain’t with us they ain’t gonna get nothing.” White said, “that’s right.” Kemp said, “you know, you just hate to say it but that’s the way it is, man, I mean, this is . . . election time, this is time to either get down or lay down, man, I mean, come on, to me, personally it’s not even a hard decision.”

It was fortunate for Mayor Street that his close friend Ron White died of fast moving pancreatic cancer before the trial. But the Inquirer and other local papers covered this scandal extensively. I read about it, and wrote about it extensively in this blog.

And I'd be willing to bet that the nameless little people in the booing crowd had read about it too.

Of course, these days it's gotten more and more difficult to read about it much less find the details -- what with all the disappearing links. (Occasionally, however a cached piece like this will still turn up. . . But the days in the life of a Google cache are numbered, and sooner or later the critics Street says "don't read" won't be able to.)

I don't want to bore my readers, but here's just one example of a Street tidbit once available on on line at, but which can now be found only at blogs like this:

A HIGH-RANKING Commerce Bank official told his boss in 2002 that Mayor Street had approached him after a City Hall meeting and asked about refinancing the mayor's home mortgage.

The mayor's personal-loan discussions with the Commerce aide - while the bank was winning millions of dollars in city business - are disclosed in a company memo, one of more than 1,000 bugging transcripts and documents released yesterday in the sweeping federal city corruption probe.

The discussion with Street, who ultimately got two loans from Commerce in 2003, was just one of several examples of public deals and personal loans overlapping.

That's the sort of thing that might cause a local crowd to boo at a U2 event.

(Even critics who "don't read" but still have a memory cache. . .)

MORE: While the "Duke" Cunningham scandal also involves a form of "pay-to-play," it can at least be argued that there seems to be a higher standard at work in Washington. (Occasionally.)

AND MORE: At the risk of being a bore, another example (in another disappeared news story saved here) shows how deep the corruption runs in this city:

In spite of contract language saying that airport-concession opportunities should be spread "to as many different subtenants as possible," the city allowed the same politically juiced bar-owner, Eric J. Blatstein, a $36,000 contributor to Street, to control eight bars in airport terminals. Blatstein's partners in the bars included White's physician-wife, Aruby Odom-White, the wife and daughters of former state Sen. Frank Salvatore, the wife of late South Philadelphia political potentate Henry J. "Buddy" Cianfrani, and a woman identified by federal authorities as Ron White's paramour, Janice Renee Knight. Isdell has refused to answer questions about the situation.
BTW, the "South Philadelphia political potentate Henry J. "Buddy" Cianfrani" went to prison for corruption in the 1970s. Few remember stuff like that.

Even airport security is alleged to have been corrupted by the scandal:

Robinson contends that she was denied promotion, transferred to a meaningless job, and shunned by her fellow workers and supervisors because she raised questions about the grate at Blatstein's property - a restaurant known as Cibo in the new international terminal.

Robinson says the FBI told her that her job status was undermined by Blatstein and White, who were picked up on wiretaps discussing the situation.

Two agents who visited her in January, she said, told her of a phone conversation in which Blatstein allegedly called White and complained about her.

White replied, "Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it," the suit alleges.

Robinson said she believed the conversations were picked up on wiretaps that were part of the FBI's ongoing investigation into the awarding of contracts at the airport.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office have declined to comment about ongoing investigations. White, a top fund-raiser for Mayor Street, was indicted in June with former City Treasurer Corey Kemp in an alleged scheme to steer city financial contracts and bond work to White's clients.

White's name has surfaced repeatedly in connection with a separate investigation into the awarding of concessions for stores, shops and restaurants along the various airport terminals.

Blatstein, according to city records, dominates the food and liquor concessions there. Of 16 liquor outlets, his companies run nine. White's wife, Aruby Odom-White, is a partner in five of those, records show.

Robinson has named White, Blatstein, the City of Philadelphia, and her bosses, airport officials Charles Isdell and James Tyrrell, as defendants in the suit, which she filed herself. (Emphasis added.)

I know how boring this is, but one of my pet peeves is that I hate to see information disappear.

What I really ought to be posting about is the role of bloggers in breaking the corruption scandal which just caused the Canadian government to fall.

If the Canadian government had had its way, few would have known about the scandal, and the no-confidence vote might not have occurred.

(Now, if they'd just been able to get the UN to silence Captain Ed..... )

MORE (12/03/05): There's some (partial) progress, it seems. The Philadelphia City Council just passed 5 out of 6 ethics reform measures:

Mayor Street said he would sign all of the bills that passed yesterday, which included legislation to ban big donors from receiving city financial assistance worth more than $50,000. Only Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell opposed that measure.

An effort to prohibit the awarding of competitively bid government contracts to big political donors failed. A tie vote of 8-8 means that bill will not become law.

"They penalize people who need a chance to participate," Blackwell said of the limits on political contributors, which would also require contract bidders and financial-aid recipients to disclose which consultants they hired. She said the paperwork requirements would be particularly hard for small and minority businesses.

Blackwell, however, voted in favor of the bills that would establish and empower the ethics board - a dramatic change for the Council member who has been the loudest foe of the two-year effort to enact new ethics rules after the City Hall corruption scandal. She was the only member of Council to oppose a charter change prohibiting the awarding of "no-bid" city contracts to big political donors, which voters approved by 87 percent in a referendum last month.

I don't know what accounts for the "dramatic change."

As to the provision that failed, Street and his allies were against it, and Councilman Michael Nutter illuminates:

Street had criticized the one measure that failed yesterday, an effort to restrict competitively bid contracts, arguing that bans on big donors could effectively eliminate low bidders from some projects and needlessly complicate the procurement process. Those doubts were shared in Council by the six members who traditionally vote with Street - Blackwell, Darrell L. Clarke, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Juan F. Ramos, Rick Mariano, and Donna Reed Miller - as well as two others, W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Marian Tasco.

"We haven't had any problems with the competitive-bidding process in this city," Tasco said when asked about her vote.

But Nutter said the federal corruption probe showed that even competitive contracts could be influenced by politics to the detriment of the city.

"It's clear on the tapes from the corruption investigation that Corey Kemp clearly gave a company certain information to assist them in a competitive-bid process," he said, referring to the former city treasurer, who received a 10-year sentence for selling his office. "It is also a company that also happened to, either directly or through others in the form of Ron White, make a lot of campaign contributions."

Having an "independent board" to oversee ethics sounds like a good idea. But then, who decides who gets to sit on the board?

posted by Eric at 07:53 AM

This Title Will Be Released On May 16, 2006

If you're as big a fan of Vernor Vinge as I am, this should interest you. His newest novel is only five and a half months away.

Rainbows End (Zones of Thought)

Thanks! Here's their bland summary...

Four time Hugo Award winner Vernor Vinge has taken readers to the depths of space and into the far future in his bestselling novels A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. Now, he has written a science-fiction thriller set in a place and time as exciting and strange as any far-future world: San Diego, California, 2025.

Robert Gu is a recovering Alzheimer's patient. The world that he remembers was much as we know it today. Now, as he regains his faculties through a cure developed during the years of his near-fatal decline, he discovers that the world has changed and so has his place in it. He was a world-renowned poet. Now he is seventy-five years old, though by a medical miracle he looks much younger, and he’s starting over, for the first time unsure of his poetic gifts . Living with his son’s family, he has no choice but to learn how to cope with a new information age in which the virtual and the real are a seamless continuum, layers of reality built on digital views seen by a single person or millions, depending on your choice. But the consensus reality of the digital world is available only if, like his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Miri, you know how to wear your wireless access—through nodes designed into smart clothes—and to see the digital context—through smart contact lenses.

With knowledge comes risk. When Robert begins to re-train at Fairmont High, learning with other older people what is second nature to Miri and other teens at school, he unwittingly becomes part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to use technology as a tool for world domination.

In a world where every computer chip has Homeland Security built-in, this conspiracy is something that baffles even the most sophisticated security analysts, including Robert’s son and daughter-in law, two top people in the U.S. military. And even Miri, in her attempts to protect her grandfather, may be entangled in the plot.

As Robert becomes more deeply involved in conspiracy, he is shocked to learn of a radical change planned for the UCSD Geisel Library; all the books there, and worldwide, would cease to physically exist. He and his fellow re-trainees feel compelled to join protests against the change. With forces around the world converging on San Diego, both the conspiracy and the protest climax in a spectacular moment as unique and satisfying as it is unexpected. This is science fiction at its very best, by a master storyteller at his peak.

So he's explicitly labeling it as a "Zones of Thought" story. I wouldn't have expected that. Here's the cover art (Just so you'll know what to look for). Is that a bunny rabbit gazing pensively out over the City of the Future? He seems to be wearing clothing of some sort.

For your listening pleasure, here's a keynote presentation Professor Vinge delivered in September at Accelerating Change 2005. And here's a story set in the same milieu as the upcoming novel, available as an eBook. A brief sample follows...

Final exam week was always chaos at Fairmont Junior High. The school's motto was "Trying hard not to become obsolete"--and the kids figured that applied to the faculty more than anyone else. This semester they got through the first morning--Ms. Wilson's math exam--without a hitch, but already in the afternoon the staff was tweaking things around: Principal Alcalde scheduled a physical assembly during what should have been student prep time.

Almost all the eighth grade was piled into the creaky wooden meeting hall. Once this place had been used for horse shows. Juan thought he could still smell something of that. Tiny windows looked out on the hills surrounding the campus. Sunlight spiked down through vents and skylights. In some ways, the room was weird even without enhancement.

Principal Alcalde marched in, looking as dire and driven as ever. He gestured to his audience, requesting visual consensus. In Juan's eyes, the room lighting mellowed and the deepest shadows disappeared.

"Betcha the Alcalde is gonna call off the nakedness exam." Bertie Todd was grinning the way he did when someone else had a problem. "I hear there are parents with Big Objections."

"You got a bet," said Juan. "You know how Mr. Alcalde is about nakedness."

"Heh. True." Bertie's image slouched back in the chair next to Juan.

Principal Alcalde was into a long speech, about the fast-changing world and the need for Fairmont to revolutionize itself from semester to semester. At the same time they must never forget the central role of modern education which was to teach the kids how to learn, how to pose questions, how to be adaptable--all without losing their moral compass.

It was very old stuff. Juan listened with a small part of his attention; mostly, he was looking around the audience. This was a physical assembly, so almost everybody except Bertie Todd was really here. Bertie was remote from Chicago, one of the few commuter students. His parents paid a lot more for virtual enrollment, but Fairmont Schools did have a good reputation. Of the truly present--well, the fresh thirteen-year-old faces were mostly real. Mr. Alcalde's consensus imagery didn't allow cosmetics or faked clothes. And yet ... such rules could not be perfectly enforced. Juan widened his vision, allowed deviations and defacements in the view. There couldn't be too much of that or the Alcalde would have thrown a fit, but there were ghosts and graffiti floating around the room. The scaredy-cat ones flickered on-and-off in a fraction of a second, or were super-subtle perversions. But some of them--the two-headed phantom that danced behind the Principal's podium--lasted gloating seconds. Mr. Alcalde could probably see some of the japery, but his rule seemed to be that as long as the students didn't appear to see the disrespect, then he wouldn't either.

posted by Justin at 07:50 AM | Comments (1)

Ramsey Clark speaks truth!

According to Drudge, Saddam Hussein says he's still president:

A defiant Saddam has refused to recognize the court and has declared himself president of Iraq.
The BBC reports that Saddam is being represented by Ramsey Clark, has taken to carrying a Koran (despite his previous aversion to religion), and harangued the judge about occupiers:
He was similarly argumentative on Monday, complaining about the fact that he had to climb four floors to the courtroom because the lift was broken.

He also objected to being escorted up the stairs by "foreign guards".

In a series of heated exchanges with the judge he also complained about the fact that his guards had taken his pen away, rendering him unable to sign the necessary court papers.

"I will alert them to the problem," Judge Amin said in response.

Saddam Hussein fired back: "I don't want you to alert them! I want you to order them. They are in our country. You are an Iraqi, you are sovereign and they are foreigners, invaders, and occupiers."

What I want to know is why Ramsey Clark seems to be so alone in honestly recognizing what logically flows from the antiwar position.

Quite simply, if the war was wrong, and if the U.S. occupation is wrong, then it's wrong for Saddam Hussein to be on trial. By all logic his overthrow was illegitimate and he should still be president.

Why are his supporters so silent?

UPDATE: The forward thinking Lee Harris was thinking along similar lines way back in 2003:

Bush misled the American people, arguing that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power because he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. But it turns out that this was all a pack of self-serving lies. From which it follows that we should never have fought the Iraq war, and, furthermore, that Saddam Hussein should never have been removed from his position at the head of the Iraqi government.

But if we did wrong in removing Saddam, then our duty is clear. We must undo the wrong we have done, and restore Saddam Hussein to the rightful place of authority at the head of the Iraqi government -- with reparations, of course, paid him for the damages done to his palaces.

UPDATE (11/29/05): In an article about his outbursts in court in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Saddam's telling remarks about "foreigners, invaders, and occupiers" are nowhere to be found. Instead, Nancy A. Youssef (of the Inquirer Foreign Staff) reports only that Saddam "barked orders at the judge."


(This makes Saddam look more like my dog Coco than Michael Moore. And poor Coco finds the word "bark" most offensive in this context!)

posted by Eric at 01:35 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBacks (2)

But what do you call it when you're sick of attrition?
at·tri·tion n.

1. A rubbing away or wearing down by friction.

2. A gradual diminution in number or strength because of constant stress.

Bill Roggio says U.S. soldiers and Marines are frustrated with the media:

These guys are extremely frustrated with the media and make no bones about their distaste for those who are undermining the war effort by calling for withdrawal.
(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

They must love the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • Over Thanksgiving weekend a huge front page story went to a great deal of trouble to put the word "disillusioned" in a fallen soldier's mouth (even though he'd voiced support for the war just days before he was killed).
  • Yesterday's editorial praised Murtha as "The lawmaker who led Bush to a turning point on Iraq."
  • Today's guest editorial chided Murtha's critics for "right wing angst" (which made me feel angst over my angstlessness, for I tried to ignore a man I thought needed ignoring.)
  • And then there's today's front page headline, "Dilemma on Iraq: When and how U.S. will get out."
  • I share the frustration of the soldiers and Marines. It is as if there's a professional, well-financed effort to reach into every American home with constant calls for withdrawal from Iraq. While I can ignore it, it's becoming clear to me that many people can't. They believe what they read in the papers, and much as I hate to say this, public opinion appears to be fickle and too easily influenced. I guess it should renew my faith that there is still support for the war.

    People are certainly free to have the opinion that the war is wrong. But if those holding the antiwar mindset are charged with shaping public opinion, and they deliberately, constantly undermine support for the war effort, then it begs the question of whether the real war of attrition is in Iraq.

    posted by Eric at 07:57 AM

    High fashion model remains undiscovered!

    While she may have missed out on Black Friday's shopping extravaganza, Coco wants to her fans to know that it wasn't because of any lack of interest in glamor, but because her master didn't take her anywhere. Sleek and svelte, Coco is very glamorous -- and rapidly coming into her prime!


    And that was taken this afternoon in front of an abandoned lot abutting a railroad track.

    Imagine how she'd look in more sophisticated surroundings. . .

    MORE: In the background behind Coco and to the right, a tree has grown around some old metal which appears to have once been part of a rail switching apparatus or something:



    The things a girl has to put up with to be fashionable these days.

    posted by Eric at 05:03 PM

    Why disillusion heroes?

    In a (Sunday-after-Thanksgiving) front page headline, the Philadelphia Inquirer is claiming that Army Spec. John Kulick (who was killed last August) was "A war supporter disillusioned in Iraq."

    Expecting to find some evidence that Kulick had in fact been disillusioned, I read through this huge piece, only to discover that while he had expressed various concerns about various things at various times, the appellation "disillusioned" originates not with Kulick but with his mother, and that five days before his death, Kulick wrote that "the war was justified"":

    "I think his greatest disappointment in the Army was the way that the soldiers were treated," Jill Kulick said. "John had the same concerns that we all have here, and that is the fact that it doesn't look like we've really accomplished a lot in the improvement of the Iraqi people's lives and in eliminating terrorist activity."

    His mom described him as "disillusioned" by a sense of helplessness.

    To others, he indicated a continuing support for the mission.

    "I think that the world is a much better place without Saddam," he wrote on Aug. 4 to Michael Tremoglie, a Whitpain resident who corresponded with Kulick. "Someone needs to be the Police in this world and the only superpower is us. The 1800 soldiers did not die in vain, and the war was justified. It's sad but I think the American people forget their feelings they had after 911."

    The word "disillusioned" is his mom's interpretation of things he said, and tragically, now that the guy is dead, their interpretation is all that's left. Reading his August 4 remarks, couldn't it also be asserted that he was disillusioned about the American people for forgetting 9/11?

    Clearly his parents are disillusioned -- and they're also described as attending a Cindy Sheehan event:

    His father, once a war booster and Bush supporter, turned against both.

    His brother maintained for weeks that he would join the military - to avenge Kulick's death. Eventually, he backed down.

    "Life was pretty simple, and I knew where I stood on everything," Jim Kulick Jr., of Doylestown, said. "Now it has been turned upside down. Someone blew my brother up, in a foreign land. It's not normal."

    They felt desperate - for answers, emotional stability, relief. And they were willing to try anything.

    So one month after their 35-year-old son's death, John's parents ended up where they least expected: at a Germantown interfaith service organized by antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan and her Bring Them Home Now Tour.

    Look, these folks are grieving, and they have every right to be against the war and attend Cindy Sheehan events. I don't think that's what their son would have wanted, and I can't shake this feeling that he wouldn't have enjoyed reading about his mom's immediate reaction to his death:
    ....Kulick's mom got the news from an officer at the other end of a telephone line.

    In shock, she threw the phone across the living room and ran toward the beach, ripping a "Support Our Troops" bracelet from her wrist. She buried it in the sand.

    I can't speak for Kulick, but I'd hate to lose my life for a cause I believed in (and said so just days before my death), and then have my family and the Philadelphia Inquirer claim I was "disillusioned." (If that happened, then I'd be disillusioned about my family.)

    I think this is demoralizing, and I think it degrades the cause for which John Kulick died, and in which he said he believed just days before his death.

    No wonder soldiers (like Special Forces Capt. Jeffrey P. Toczylowski) are writing things like this in advance of their deaths:

    Don't ever think that you are defending me by slamming the Global War on Terrorism or the US goals in that war. As far as I am concerned, we can send guys like me to go after them or we can wait for them to come back to us again. I died doing something I believed in and have no regrets except that I couldn't do more.
    If there's one thing I've learned blogging, it's that people who disagree with you will put words in your mouth. But at least if you're alive, you can speak up.

    Who gets to speak up if you're dead?

    I certainly can't speak for John Kulick, but I have to ask a question: wouldn't he have preferred being seen as a hero?

    I'm probably old fashioned, but I just never saw disillusionment as a particularly heroic trait.

    (Maybe times have changed.)

    MORE: If there's a generation gap, this quote from Midge Decter might be instructive:

    “But I remind myself, on the other hand, that there are those kids in Iraq, who are reintroducing into the public consciousness the virtues of bravery and determination and love of country so long forgotten by a people grown stale in its blessings and privileges. May their tribe increase.”
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.) Perhaps I'm new fashioned. Anyway, I don't think the anti-Vietnam left has the right to speak for an entire generation.

    MORE: What worries me is that if the United States withdraws from Iraq, and the democratic government then fails, the anti-Vietnam left will spin the war as another American defeat, and they'll never stop screaming "WE TOLD YOU SO!"

    Is that why they want the U.S. to lose the war?

    So they can falsely claim they were right, that war is wrong, and that the U.S. was rightly "defeated"?

    UPDATE: Thank you, Glenn Reynolds, for linking this post! I'm not much of a serious war blogger, (although I know bias when I see it), so it's flattering and unexpected to get InstaLanched in the discussion of Marc "Armed Liberal" Danziger's Winds of Change post about gratuitous, smug, antiwar bias in the L.A. Times.

    "Reverse-Vietnam" is a good way to describe what's happening. (The term even sounds prescient, if I may be so optimistic.)

    posted by Eric at 08:39 AM | Comments (13)

    Viva fashionismo!

    Yes, that's right!

    I am so tired of some murderers being glorified as "people's heroes" while other murderers are vilified as "evil butchers," (based upon no logical standard ascertainable to me) that I finally decided to apply some old fashioned moral equivalency in protest.

    I humbly offer a fashionist/fashionista statement combining two murderers, one a commie we are told to love (and who's been morphed into a Hollywood legend), and the other a fascist we are told to hate.

    Without further ado, here it is -- the unveiling of the never-seen-before (and probably never-seen-again)....

    PINO-CHE "T"

    I mean no offense to the victims of either of these two men, as it is not my intent to glorify them. Only offer a little perspective.

    (And symmetrical ridicule.)

    MORE: The Manolo, he would seem to agree:

    Nothing is more worthy of the ridicule than the fashion sense of the dictators, politburos, autocrats, and tyrants.
    (Via The Glenn.)

    posted by Eric at 11:01 PM | Comments (4)

    Following my inner shepherd (while ramming around)

    I've been spending a lot of time driving and socializing, which accounts for the light posting.

    Long out-of-state drive today, return tonight.

    (I'm glad to see Dennis has been taking up a little slack.)

    BTW, this beastie was staring at me during yesterday's sunset:


    (I hasten to add that the above is not meant as any sort of cultural or political commentary!)

    posted by Eric at 10:05 AM | Comments (2)

    Heaven knows Mr. Allison . . .

    The "Sober" virus writers must be desperate to attract my attention. For the last few weeks I've been deleting countless distracting versions of the latest zip attachment, just as I'll delete this one, but it's too cute not to share.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    we have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal Websites.

    Please answer our questions!
    The list of questions are attached.

    Yours faithfully,
    Steven Allison

    *** Federal Bureau of Investigation -FBI-
    *** 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3220
    *** Washington, DC 20535
    *** phone: (202) 324-3000

    Download Attachment:
    I'm not going to share the "list" however, as it is a zip file containing the virus.

    Hope readers will understand this act of censorship.

    MORE: The obviously beleaguered FBI has written this web page denying any role in sending out this notice. And they're investigating:

    These e-mails did not come from the FBI. Recipients of this or similar solicitations should know that the FBI does not engage in the practice of sending unsolicited e-mails to the public in this manner.

    Opening e-mail attachments from an unknown sender is a risky and dangerous endeavor as such attachments frequently contain viruses that can infect the recipient's computer. The FBI strongly encourages computer users not to open such attachments. For detailed information on the effects of running this virus please log onto

    The FBI takes this matter seriously and is investigating. Users are instructed to delete the e-mail without opening it.

    When I was a kid, impersonating the FBI was a serious offense.

    posted by Eric at 09:13 AM | Comments (4)

    The Great Enlightened North

    The progressive promised land to which deserters still flee and to which sore losers threaten to move is once again far ahead of the curve. What do you do when convicted criminals engage in unsafe behavior contrary to the rules of incarceration? Enable them to do it more safely, and on the cheap too!

    Canadian inmates can now get tattoos in prison parlors under a pilot program aimed at cutting down use of unclean needles and the spread of disease.

    Tats for the low, low price of $4.25 USD!

    By the same logic the Canadian authorities ought to supply lubricant to ease the pains of ... er ... forced entry. Not all prison behavior is voluntary.

    They're going to smuggle in drugs, too, so oughtn't we to provide reasonably priced smack confirmed to have been manufactured safely?

    Oh, if only there were some higher intelligence to whom we might turn, who might sort out these dilemmas for us!

    But there may just be, and again the Canadians are boldly at the fore:

    A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs.”

    By “ETs,” Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.

    Now if you're already snickering, open the floodgates:

    Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."

    Hellyer’s speech ended with a standing ovation.

    Canadian beer must be much stronger, eh.

    PS: I should add that this isn't meant as a slight against Canada (I think a commenter took it that way). And it's fair to note that Hellyer was addressing nuts. But the point is that lefty Americans paint an absurdly fantastic portrait of the Canadian holy land, and it's awful good fun to soil it. The portrait, that is. That said, I have no love for the loony Canadian government.

    posted by Dennis at 07:18 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

    Making every symbol count

    In a previous post, I quoted from a blog post and a Washington Times news report which claimed that Oreo cookies were "pelted" at Michael Steele. I now see that the story I linked is being contested (a "complete fabrication," says Kos).

    Because I dislike inaccurate news reports (especially those I've linked), I think this is worthy of closer examination.

    Roger Ailes claims that "no one but a right-wing lunatic would think Ehrlich's story is plausible," and he cites the Baltimore City Paper, which states:

    no published news report [] has independently confirmed that Oreo cookies were even present at the debate.

    What constitutes independent confirmation? Amy Ridenour has quoted an eyewitness who says he saw cookies passed out, and at least one thrown:

    The term Oreo and the symbolism of the cookie is meant to imply that a black person is really wants to be Caucasian and otherwise ashamed of his or her race. The mere mention of them is insult enough. It is outrageous that Michael Steele's political opponents are trying to deflect their improper behavior by implying the event never happened. It did. Michael Steele may not have been pelted with a large number of cookies that night, but the epithets were there - both baked and yelled.
    Is an eyewitness independent confirmation, or must we have an actual cookie taken in evidence from the 2002 event and preserved in an official chain of custody?

    As to the number of cookies involved, this may be a classic example of a story having been exaggerated over time, although I am not sure how much the cookie count has to do with the substance of the story. Either the man was the target of an Oreo cookie prankster attack or he was not. If he was, then how many cookies were actually thrown is a secondary, not a primary, consideration. If the number of cookies was exaggerated, that does not tranform what they're referring to as "the story" false.

    Is the number of cookies the point? Would the number of rocks thrown by demonstrators be as relevant as the fact of rocks being thrown? A single rock makes the same point, and can be just as fatal if it strikes a single human being on the head.

    Unlike a rock, there's nothing fatal about an Oreo cookie. It's a symbol -- an idea meant to insult and degrade -- and the point can be made without throwing the cookie, but by merely displaying one, or just screaming the word "Oreo!" Throwing is simply a more graphic, physically demonstrative way of making an ad hominem attack. Obviously, the larger the number of cookies thrown, the more open and unbridled the hostility of the crowd.

    Some symbols are more powerful than others. I don't make these rules, but common sense suggests that a single swastika would "count" more than would a single Oreo. Ditto for the display of a single hangman's noose (or even the picture of a noose.)

    Unless there are more eyewitnesses than the man Amy Ridenour quotes, I don't think the news report should have used the word "pelted," as the plain meaning of that word denotes the throwing of a large number of Oreos. I wouldn't use the word to describe a single cookie toss, any more than I'd say that Ann Coulter was "pelted" by pies when only one was tossed.

    There are too many contradictory reports of this story, and there is no video. Considering the eyewitness report, I don't think the story is a complete fabrication, although I do think it has been exaggerated -- and I don't think that reflects well on the Washington Times.

    Regardless of what happened, the Oreo as a symbol isn't going anywhere.

    But because I like to play Devil's Advocate, I'd like for a moment to assume that Kos is right about this being a Republican fabrication, that all witnesses to the contrary are lying, and that no Oreo cookies were present or were thrown. Do Kos and the other people denying the story agree that it would have been a despicable thing to do to Steele? Do they condemn the throwing of Oreo cookies as a despicable tactic? Or just Republican lying?

    I'd like to hope they'd condemn both. . .

    posted by Eric at 08:35 AM | Comments (6)

    Is "America" becoming another weasel word?
    "Few New Yorkers are aware that their city essentially was a capital of U.S. slavery for 200 years."

    So says a bold print image placed directly in the middle of today's Thanksgiving day scolding in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    The bold language appears nowhere online, so I photographed it:


    It is certainly to be hoped that few New Yorkers are "aware" of such a thing, as it simply isn't true. The U.S. wasn't founded until 1776, and slavery was abolished in New York in 1827 -- a grand total of 51 years.

    How the hell do they get 200?

    I want to be fair to the writer but I'm having a bit of a problem, because I'm not sure who wrote the bold faced heading. The words do not appear in the article -- itself a reprint from a piece (by the Pulitzer Prize winning Robert Lee Hotz) which appeared in the LA Times.

    Perhaps the misstatement of history isn't Mr. Hotz's fault. Whoever is at fault, a correction is certainly in order, so I'll be sure to look in tomorrow's edition.


    Here's what the Hotz text says (from the Inquirer):

    Few New Yorkers are even aware that their city essentially was a capital of American slavery for 200 years, as the exhibition documents.
    Question: Is this a contradiction, or is "America" meant to be synonymous with "U.S."? Or is the goal to blur any distinction between America and the United States in the hope of shaming as many Americans as possible?

    I don't think it's a minor point, and the confusion is heightened if we continue to read the article:

    "Most people don't know it existed here," said the exhibition's chief historian, James O. Horton, professor of American studies and history at George Washington University. "I have people tell me they are shocked that slavery ever existed in New York."
    There! That word again! "American" -- as in American Studies. (The latter is a North American, United States oriented discipline. If you're interested in matters south of the border, the discipline is called "Latin American Studies.")

    As I read on, the more I saw the word "America," and "American," the more confused I became:

    The society's effort arises from a broad reassessment of how thoroughly slavery permeated American life when - in what historians consider the largest forced migration in history - 12 million Africans were kidnapped and transported across the Atlantic. In the decades before 1800, more Africans came to America than Europeans.

    "This is a very challenging part of our history," Rabinowitz said. "History is not about the past; it is about how the present makes sense of the past."

    Wait a minute! While it is commonly asserted by historians that 12 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic, when this statistic is interspersed between the statement that "slavery permeated American life" and the discussion of slave transportation as a "challenging part of our history," you'd almost get the impression that "Americans" (those mean people living in United States) are historically accountable for transporting 12 million Africans. From Africa to America.

    So it's no small issue whether America is a synonym for the United States. And whether this is "our" history.

    Or, for that matter, even that of North America before the founding of the United States. What is being left out of the Thanksgiving lecture is any discussion of how many of those 12 million were actually transported to North America. As it turns out, the number is a small fraction of 12 million -- a little more than three percent, to be exact. Most were taken to Brazil or the Caribbean:

    The vast majority of African slaves were taken to Portuguese Brazil or the Caribbean. Only about 399,000 were brought to British colonies in North America.
    I don't like moralistic scoldings, but even less do I like scoldings based on misleading numbers, outright misstatements of history, and the sloppy misuse of a perfectly good word: America.

    I don't want to see "America" added to the list of undefinable words. Not on Thanksgiving.

    While I'll still try to keep in mind Feynman's maxim that we should "never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity," I'm still getting stuck.

    Can't stupidity ever be malicious?

    posted by Eric at 06:35 PM | Comments (7)

    Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

    When I was a kid, kids knew where turkeys came from, and tasteless beheading videos used to be shown on television (typically they were in children's cartoons made in the 1940s and recycled over the years for Thanksgiving -- although I don't know the origin of the animated gif below):


    The country was more rural in the 40s, and rural people tend not to have as much of a problem knowing where their food comes from.

    Even today, some people at the USDA think you should know your turkey, because they made this educational turkey head gif:


    I didn't know my turkey anatomy either. (A "snood"?)

    I'm having ham today. Not that it's more "humane" (because the pig is a far more intelligent creature), but I'm on a strange experimental diet which doesn't allow me to have stuffing.


    Don't axe, don't tell!


    Just enjoy!

    UPDATE (12/01/05): Anyone still crazy enough to be rereading my Thanksgiving post should by all means watch this crazy turkey video, which was emailed to me by a friend.

    posted by Eric at 08:46 AM | Comments (10)

    Bigotry deserves respect!

    Britain's George Galloway (Islamofascism's leading apologist there) is accused of pandering to Islamic anti-gay bigotry by killing a gay rights plank in his party's platform:

    The reasons that Galloway and the Respect leaders killed any reference to gay rights in the party's platform -- or its electoral "manifesto," as party platforms are called in the U.K. -- are quite simple. The district in which Galloway deliberately chose to run had a huge Muslim population, and it was thanks to the votes from that population that he was able to be elected. The party "manifesto" is to be the basis for Respect's campaign in municipal elections this coming May, and the party leaders' strategy is to try to elect local city council members from ares that have high Muslim populations. Moreover, “Respect is in alliance with the right-wing, anti-gay Islamist group, the Peter_tatchell Muslim Association of Britain [MAB],” as Peter Tatchell (left) -- the veteran gay and human rights campaigner who heads the militant British gay rights group OutRage -- pointed out, adding that the party does not ally with liberal and left-wing Muslims. And, U.K. Gay News reported, "Respect’s right-wing Islamist backers demanded the axing of gay rights as a condition of their electoral support for the party."
    The piece goes on to note Galloway's love affair with Islamofascism:
    Galloway has long made common cause with despicable, homophobic dictators, from Saddam Hussein to Syria's Bashir Al-Assad, without ever denouncing the reign of terror and repression their despotic regimes have visited upon gay Arabs and Muslims in their own countries. Now, Galloway and the leadership of the party whose principal spokesman he is have demonstrated beyond argument that, from them, gays and lesbians can expect no....respect.
    Coming as this does on the heels of Iran's execution of two gay men, I think this is another example of the moral bankruptcy of leftist multiculturalists who claim to support gay rights.

    I think we can expect a similar silencing of feminist concerns about wife beating (and genital mutilation) in the future. Like dissenting gays, dissenting feminists will be told that "real feminists" should simply shut up.

    MORE: I wonder how the multiculturalists would handle this sickening case:

    A village council in Pakistan has decreed that five young women should be abducted, raped or killed for refusing to honour childhood "marriages".

    The women, who are cousins, were married in absentia by a mullah in their Punjabi village to illiterate sons of their family's enemies in 1996, when they were aged from six to 13.

    The marriages were part of a compensation agreement ordered by the village council and reached at gunpoint after the father of one of the girls shot dead a family rival.

    The rival families have now called in their "debt", demanding the marriages to the village men are fulfilled.

    (Via Western Resistance, from Don Surber's excellent Carnival of the Vanities.)

    It's not for us to impose "Western standards" on people.

    Nor should feminism ever be allowed to serve as a proxy for U.S. Imperialism!

    posted by Eric at 08:59 AM | Comments (6)

    But is Main Stream really mainstream?

    Would the United States lose in a war against China? Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara thinks so -- apparently because he's under the impression that the U.S. military can only withstand a maximum of 2,000 casualties:

    Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has gone public, warning that the United States would lose any war with China.

    "In any case, if tension between the United States and China heightens, if each side pulls the trigger, though it may not be stretched to nuclear weapons, and the wider hostilities expand, I believe America cannot win as it has a civic society that must adhere to the value of respecting lives," Mr. Ishihara said in an address to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    Mr. Ishihara said U.S. ground forces, with the exception of the Marines, are "extremely incompetent" and would be unable to stem a Chinese conventional attack. Indeed, he asserted that China would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against Asian and American cities—even at the risk of a massive U.S. retaliation.

    The governor said the U.S. military could not counter a wave of millions of Chinese soldiers prepared to die in any onslaught against U.S. forces. After 2,000 casualties, he said, the U.S. military would be forced to withdraw.

    Where might Governor Ishihara be getting that 2,000 figure?

    Might it be the Iraq War "milestone" so loudly trumpeted by the MSM last month?

    I don't mind the MSM trumpeting whatever milestone they want, but I wish world leaders wouldn't view media hype as representative of American public opinion.

    I mean, it's not as if the MSM is running the U.S. military, is it?

    Doesn't Ishihara read any warblogs?

    MORE: Speaking of warblogs and milblogs, today's Philadelphia Inquirer has a positive editorial piece focusing on Bill Roggio (who also posts at Threats Watch) with mentions of Michael Yon, The Word Unheard, and Andi's World.

    MORE: Ishihara is well known for his dislike of Americans.

    But the good-hearted round-eyes put him on the cover of Time:


    He doesn't appear to be terribly fond of Koreans either, but the latter (judging from this Korea Times editorial), take a harder line than Time magazine.

    AND MORE: According to this site, Ishihara is a racist who uses the Japanese equivalent of the "n" word to describe foreigners, and elsewhere he's quoted as calling the Rape of Nanking a lie.

    (I do hope his thoughts aren't a true reflection of Japanese opinion.)

    posted by Eric at 07:48 AM | Comments (3)

    Iran executes gay men -- AGAIN!

    Human Rights Watch reports that two more gay men were executed in Iran last week.

    (New York, November 22, 2005) – Iran’s execution of two men last week for homosexual conduct highlights a pattern of persecution of gay men that stands in stark violation of the rights to life and privacy, Human Rights Watch said today.

    On Sunday, November 13, the semi-official Tehran daily Kayhan reported that the Iranian government publicly hung two men, Mokhtar N. (24 years old) and Ali A. (25 years old), in the Shahid Bahonar Square of the northern town of Gorgan.

    The government reportedly executed the two men for the crime of "lavat." Iran’s shari`a-based penal code defines lavat as penetrative and non-penetrative sexual acts between men. Iranian law punishes all penetrative sexual acts between adult men with the death penalty. Non-penetrative sexual acts between men are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are punished with death. Sexual acts between women, which are defined differently, are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are also punished with death.

    “The execution of two men for consensual sexual activity is an outrage,” said Jessica Stern, researcher with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “The Iranian government’s persecution of gay men flouts international human rights standards.”

    And this is a country which is developing nukes and has threatened to wipe Israel off the map.

    I guess we'll have to sit around and be patient.

    (There's no solid evidence that they actually have WMDs....)

    posted by Eric at 07:02 PM | Comments (2)

    But wait... I thought

    Here's an environmental irony:

    THE drive for "green energy" in the developed world is having the perverse effect of encouraging the destruction of tropical rainforests. From the orang-utan reserves of Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. And surging prices are likely to accelerate the destruction

    The rush to make energy from vegetable oils is being driven in part by European Union laws requiring conventional fuels to be blended with biofuels, and by subsidies equivalent to 20 pence a litre. Last week, the British government announced a target for biofuels to make up 5 per cent of transport fuels by 2010. The aim is to help meet Kyoto protocol targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

    Rising demand for green energy has led to a surge in the international price of palm oil, with potentially damaging consequences. "The expansion of palm oil production is one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction in south-east Asia. It is one of the most environmentally damaging commodities on the planet," says Simon Counsell, director of the UK-based Rainforest Foundation. "Once again it appears we are trying to solve our environmental problems by dumping them in developing countries, where they have devastating effects on local people."


    One of the most environmentally damaging commodities on the planet???

    As bad as oil? But biodiesel is supposed to be renewable! Green!

    And green is good! Right?

    Remember the bumperstickers which said "SPLIT WOOD, NOT ATOMS"?

    (Woodburning is now illegal in many cities, because it hurts the environment.)

    Remember the environmentally-friendly windmills?

    (They're bad! Among other things, they chop up endangered birds.)


    If everybody switched to electric cars, what if someone discovered that 70% of that electricity came from fossil fuel? And that 14% came from nuclear reactors (which use nonrenewable fuel) -- which means that 84% of our electricity is made from nonrenewable ("bad") fuel.

    What if they said that electric cars were bad for the environment?

    What then?

    I think this calls for a little nostalgia:


    posted by Eric at 01:48 PM | Comments (3)

    Less crime causes more crime?

    Do law abiding citizens make nearby criminals commit crime?

    My blogfather Jeff Soyer's Weekly Check on the Bias (debunking the usual "criminals aren't responsible for their behavior" nonsense) reminded me of the fascinating uproar in New Jersey over Camden's designation as the most dangerous city in the United States.

    For a little background before I get to the uproar, let me remind readers of a few facts:

  • Camden is right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, and is just a five minute drive across a bridge (or even a short walk).
  • Camden, like all of New Jersey, has some of the most draconian gun control laws in the United States.
  • In Philadelphia (which is part of Pennsylvania), law abaiding citizens are allowed to buy guns, and if they pass an additional background check, they may carry them. In Philadelphia alone, there are 28,000 concealed carry permits.
  • Camden's homicide rate (at 60.8 per 100,000) is nearly three times greater than Philadelphia's homicide rate (22.2 per 100,000).
  • Anyway, I'm having a lot of trouble following the logic of this, but according to certain "ministers, community activists, school children and police commanders" in Camden, Philadelphia is responsible for Camden's crime problem:

    With Camden facing the prospect of being named one of America’s most dangerous cities for the second year in a row, residents rallied yesterday with gun-control activists to complain that Pennsylvania’s gun laws undermine crime-fighting in the city.

    “Normalcy in Camden will continue to be threatened as long as illegal guns continue to flow into the city” from Philadelphia, said Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire N.J.

    “The two cities are linked,” said Miller, joined in the Fairview section by ministers, community activists, and more than 100 fifth and sixth graders from a nearby school.

    Fifth and sixth graders? I wonder how they got time off school to "support" such a feat of illogic. There's more here:
    At a news conference in the Fairview section, Brian Miller, executive director of Cease-Fire New Jersey, called on New Jersey elected officials to pressure their counterparts in Pennsylania to tighten their gun laws.

    Gun laws in New Jersey are far more restrictive than in Pennsylvania, where permits are not required to buy handguns. Officials have said more and more weapons used in crimes in Camden were originally purchased in Pennsylvania.

    Has it ever occurred to anyone to ask how a city with a lower crime rate can be responsible for the crime in an adjoining city with a higher crime rate? Might it be at least as reasonable to ask whether the presence of 28,000 concealed carry permits might account for Philadelphia being less dangerous than Camden?

    Of course, to the extent that guns are bought in Philadelphia and used in Camden, the criminals are already violating umpteen state and federal gun laws, but never mind that. Even though the conduct complained of is already illegal, we need more laws. In Pennsylvania!

    Because there's more crime next door!

    I suppose if New Jersey can persuade Pennsylvania to disarm more of its citizens and make the crime rate go up here, then the two states can unite and (as seems to be the style around here) blame the South.

    posted by Eric at 11:06 AM | Comments (7)

    Uppity bitch just won't shut up!

    Ann Althouse is not convinced that the Democrats (including Atrios) care about feminism.

    I think they care about it as sincerely as they care about gay rights. (i.e. if you don't agree with our philosophy, you are guilty of "self hatred" and we're free to abuse you.) Gay conservatives or libertarians are not gay, nor are feminist conservatives or libertarians "real" feminists. I can remember when feminism did not have anything to do with socialism. Nor did gay rights. The idea was freedom and independence from all oppressive and domineering forces. Unfortunately, too many feminist and gay activists have surrendered their independence to oppressive and domineering forces. This is not to say that supporting a socialist agenda is necessarily incompatible with feminism, or gay rights, only that once the former dominates and subordinates the latter, the latter ceases to have an independent existence, and ends up substituting a new master for the old.

    I submit that if feminism means women are not free to make up their own minds, then it is not feminism.

    Unless the word "feminist" has been redefined as meaning support for socialism, I'd say Atrios is not a feminist.

    (Of course, I didn't think Bill Clinton was much of a feminist either, despite his lip service. But to borrow a phrase, "I'm not going to tell people what should or shouldn't offend them.")

    UPDATE: Roy Edroso accuses me of "predictable willful misapprehension." And in the same post, Steven Malcolm Anderson stands accused of being a "peach," plus commenters accuse him of "hardcore craziness" -- and he's in big trouble for typing an "a" instead of an "s."

    Naughty, naughty, Steven!


    Well, isn't willful misapprehension more rational than accidental misapprehension? I'd rather engender the former than the latter.

    How might this look up at the top?

    Predictable willful misapprehension engendered here!

    Nah. I don't think I can live up to such a lofty goal.

    MORE: Clive Davis (via Glenn) thinks Ann Althouse is right about sexism in the blogosphere. Sounds like another willful misapprehension to me.

    posted by Eric at 10:28 AM | Comments (7)

    Too incompetent for malice right now . . .

    This X business fascinates me, and while I'm inclined to go with Evan Coyne Maloney -- "CNN should get the benefit of the doubt. There's an old saying: Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence" -- I find myself wondering if there would have been a similar reaction on the left had Fox News committed a similar blunder by flashing a big black X over Hillary Clinton's forehead.

    Watching the video (which Ian Schwartz has available for streaming), it's certainly understandable why conservatives would react, especially because the hated Dick Cheney is always a favorite, well, target for lack of a better word.

    I'd also give CNN the benefit of the "never ascribe malice" maxim, but this brings to mind another maxim called "trust but verify."

    There's also such a thing as malicious incompetence, but if I get started I'll be more late for a dentist than I already am, and we can't have my dentist thinking I'm incompetent or malicious, can we?

    (That might not be, um, safe!)

    MORE: According to Drudge,

    A well-placed CNN insider claims a control room staffer "laughed" when the image appeared shortly after 11 am.
    Are control room staffers supposed to laugh at their work product?

    MORE: I kind of like enjoy the CNN explanation in there from the control guy who said it was like your computer will glitch:

    And it's the sort of thing that just like your computer will glitch and will suddenly lock up and do something weird, our equipment does the same thing on occasions.
    I'm going on occasion soon myself.

    posted by Eric at 07:19 AM | Comments (5)

    A big carnival for a big debate

    Glenn Reynolds' Pre War Intelligence Carnival has been posted at It's huge, with lots of posts on both sides. How Glenn managed to tackle a project of this size I don't know, but he did a great job, and I thank him for including the post I wrote over the weekend.

    And here are the posts which stood out for me:

  • Tiger Hawk thinks there's nothing wrong with manipulating intelligence to advance a war in furtherance of the national interest -- unless of course the war itself is nefarious. Which means that those who claim to support the war shouldn't be complaining about manipulated intel.
  • Bad Hair Blog says wars aren't won by talking withdrawal.

  • If you really want an all-encompassing scoop on the Bush Lied meme, this one's it. As Glenn says, it's a "carnival inside of a carnival." Excerpt:
    ....we have found nerve agents in roadside bombs, a large chemical weapons factory in Mosul, 1.7 metric tons of enriched uranium, parts for gas centrifuges, yellowcake uranium from Iraq in Rotterdam, and the parts of long range missiles (pdf) he wasn't supposed to have. Also I would remind the reader that Iraq had a history of using chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds and had an advanced nuclear project in the 80's before Israel bombed it.
  • Vik Rubenfeld asks why the reports that WMD facilities were busted up and shipped out of Iraq during the war have been ignored. Excellent question! (And if I could hazard a guess, maybe the reason the reports are ignored is because they undermine the meme of an innocent Saddam with no WMDs....)
  • Donald Sensing (who has a son serving in Iraq) is incensed at the Democrats' Monday morning quarterbacking, and reminds them that "the only reason we have certainty now about Saddam’s WMD programs is because we invaded Iraq."
  • JP at Americans for Freedom reminds us of Richard Clarke's forgotten "boogie to Baghdad" remark, and that 50 million Muslims are now free.
  • Sissy Willis takes a feline approach to Lanny Davis, and ends up liking Lanny, but I wondered whether she was just playing with her food! (A fun post -- except Glenn just had to go and interject how he preferred puppies! If you ask me, it's a pretty gruesome way to promote blender sales....)
  • Did Bush lie? "Just Google it!" says SoCalPundit. (One of the things I like most about Google is that it allows any blogger to produce professionally researched polls with a minimum of time, and zero overhead!)
  • USS Neverdock says that the "Bush lied" campaign has collapsed. Really? So how come they don't know? Maybe no one has told them!
  • This Carnival covers every question you could possibly ask about pre-war intelligence, and many that you'd have never thought to ask. Much as I dislike debates, this one has been forced upon everyone, and the blogosphere is more than living up to its part.

    UPDATE: I almost missed Laurence Simon's "Let's ask the cats about pre-war intelligence failures" post, but Glenn linked it at InstaPundit.

    They say that curiosity killed the cat, and while I don't normally stick my nose where it doesn't belong, I cannot say the same thing for my dog Coco. Right now, she's making a lot of noise in the background, and that's because because she takes issue with the cat Laurence calls "Haley" who states:

    My two secret agents here gave me faulty info. I told them to sniff out the weapons of mass destruction. I should have realized that when they said they found the mother load, they meant shredded cheese, not shredded documents.
    Coco wants the whole world to know that she has no fear of shredded documents, nor any fear of shredders for that matter. She leaves no stone unturned in her dogged determination to rid the world of bad documents, while valiantly attempting to save the good ones from the shredder!


    So brave is Coco that I don't think she'd fear a huge plastic shredder.

    Me, Ow!

    posted by Eric at 01:20 PM | Comments (5)

    illegal pedestrians can ruin your whole day!

    As one of my worst driving fears has always been hitting a pedestrian, this report in the Philadelphia Inquirer struck a nerve:

    Police said the men were driving south on the highway at about 2:30 a.m. when their car became disabled in the lefthand shoulder near the Girard Avenue exit.

    The men got out of the car and tried to cross to the other side of the highway. Cars on the interstate frequently travel in excess of 80 m.p.h.

    The fourth man was the last one out of the car, said Officer Sheila Smith, a police spokeswoman. He was hit by a car that did not stop.

    The other men kept going.

    "What kind of friends are those?" Smith said.

    She said investigators were not sure yesterday whether the man died instantly or suffered on the side of the road. He carried no identification.

    Smith was unable to provide further details, including whether the three men who fled would face charges.

    Police described the dead man as a 5-foot-5, 170-pound Latino in his 20s with tattoos on both arms. He was wearing blue jeans, a heavy black sweater, and black basketball shoes with a red design on the side.

    The problem with driving on a freeway or a turnpike is that there is no way to stop. Pedestrians have no right to be there, and there's a legal doctrine that one has the right to assume that other people will obey the law.

    So what the hell are you supposed to do when you're going 70 and some complete maniac runs out in front of you? It's like hitting a deer, except that hitting a deer only ruins your car and your evening. The psychological stress of hitting a person can ruin your life.

    The article also states that the "police are using clues from their disabled 1991 Plymouth to find the three who ran away and to identify the dead man."


    Didn't the car have license plates and registration?

    What kind of people carry no identification, abandon a car on an Interstate highway, and then run away from a companion who gets run over? I don't know, but I'd be willing to bet that if you were unlucky enough to have them run in front of you, whoever you hit would manage to find a lawyer.

    And don't think that the lawyer wouldn't be able to establish a theory of liability. All it takes is an allegation that the defendant was going faster than the ridiculous 55 mph limit which no one obeys.


    Next I suppose they'll use illegal pedestrians as an excuse to lower the speed limits.

    At the rate things are going, the East Coast will have to start putting up signs like this (which I thought had been limited to border areas in California, Arizona and Texas):


    AFTERTHOUGHT: Might it be "offensive" to call illegal pedestrians "illegal pedestrians"?

    UPDATE (11/23/05): The dead man has been identified, and police are looking for the driver:

    One of the men told police they ran because they were scared and did not know Molina had been hit, Golden said. Police say they know who was driving the Plymouth but have not been able to locate him.

    Golden said that the men were returning from Camden and that alcohol may have been a factor. It is unclear whether the driver was properly licensed and whether the car was properly registered and insured, Golden said.

    Authorities do not know why the driver whose vehicle hit Molina did not stop, Golden said. Based on Molina's injuries, the vehicle most likely was a van or car, Golden said.

    I doubt that it is "unclear" whether the car was properly registered, as the police have the VIN numbers and such things are a matter of public record. All the men were running from the scene of the first accident, and their claim that they didn't know their companion was hit strikes me as implausible.

    On many stretches of I-95, it would not be safe to pull over after hitting such a "pedestrian." Unless the driver had a cell phone, I think the only thing he could do safely would be to drive to the next exit, call the police from a pay phone, and wait.

    Pennsylvania law requires a mandatory one year minimum prison sentence for failure to stop at the scene of a fatal accident (judges are specifically not allowed to give probation or suspended sentences.)

    I doubt the driver will be turning himself in anytime soon.

    posted by Eric at 12:36 PM | Comments (4)

    All the Rage with RINOs

    This week's RINO Sightings Carnival has been posted at Searchlight Crusade. Host Dan Melson does a great job. BTW, Dan also has this riveting essay on dangers posed by the illusion of privacy.

    I'm not about to summarize every post, but the following stood out:

  • Environmental Republican offers some advice for Democrats:
    The minority party is in tatters and it's because of people who call anyone they disagree with a "gook bitch". If you want to be taken seriously, be serious. Stop throwing pies at conservative speakers, stop the Bush=Hitler rhetoric and stop the "Bush lied" meme, these are baseless and frankly make you look like exactly what you are--a group of people who should never be trusted with political power again.
  • This post about Maureen Dowd's feet I found tough to ignore -- especially the comment that "RuPaul wears a smaller shoe size." In San Francisco, where it's possible to get confused about the sex of a person, foot size is a dead giveaway. Next thing to look at is the size of the hands -- especially the thumbs. (Why am I liking what I see? Who should be embarrassed by this?)
  • Tinkerty Tonk has an informative post about revoking the Pulitzer Prize from the dreadful Stalin apologist Walter Duranty. The NYT wants him to keep it. (Natch!)
  • Dean Esmay has had it with lying liars whose lies about lies are lies, and I agree with him.
  • Nice job, Dan!

    Now, go read 'em all.

    posted by Eric at 11:34 AM | Comments (2)

    Unrepentantly unrepenetrated?

    If there's one thing that wakes me up in the morning, it's a sudden collision with another undefinable word. This morning it was a word I thought I'd understood for most of my life: virginity. As it turns out, it's suffered the fate of many a word these days:

    It's all laid out in the new book Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences by sociology professor Laura Carpenter. She's now at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but Carpenter was working at the University of Pennsylvania when she did most of her research in the last few years. She interviewed 61 Philadelphia-area residents about how and why they lost it.

    Only two of them were still virgins, and none of the other 59 waited until marriage, she said, though one got close. There was, she found, some disagreement about what constituted virginity loss. Many argued that oral sex did not count as loss of virginity for straight people, but it did for gays and lesbians, which has a certain logic.

    Then there are those borderline situations in which two people set out to have sexual intercourse but it doesn't quite work, she said. The parties involved may not even agree in such situations.

    A double standard for gays and straights? Why would that be? Why am I not perceiving the "certain logic" said to be involved? (Yes, I do realize that "certain" means the opposite of "absolute" here. The more isolated "certain" becomes, the less broad certainty there is.) It strikes me that either oral sex represents the loss of virginity or it does not. While participation in homosexual oral sex certainly indicates the presence of homosexual or bisexual urges, I don't see why there would be a more rigid standard for what constitutes virginity among gays and lesbians. Besides, I thought gays were supposed to be more sexually immoral. At least less prudish. If the standard for loss of virginity -- a cornerstone of traditional sexual morality -- is to be defined in a more puritanical manner for them, doesn't that undercut the view of them as less sexually moral than heterosexuals? Frankly, I see the opposite of logic at work. Who's setting up these definitions, anyway? And should there be a different standard for lesbians* than for gay men? Has the ancient concept of penetration been lost in the modern cultural shuffle?

    Needless to say, there's a double standard surrounding virginity for everyone, which, stubbornly, remains more of a stigma for women than for men:

    Historically, virginity was always more of an issue for women, who were seen as property, and one who lost her virginity was considered "ruined" for potential marriage. In many cultures, it's believed that virginity can be "proven" if a girl retains her hymen, a small piece of skin that covers the vagina. Sometimes, but not always, the hymen will tear and bleed when a woman has sex for the first time. A small number of plastic surgeons around the country now perform "hymen reconstruction," apparently mostly for women from Muslim countries.

    In America, we straddle a cultural chasm over premarital virginity loss, with some believing it's absolutely morally wrong and others seeing it more like pork chops - anathema to some people's religion, dangerous without proper preparation, but otherwise a fine thing.

    Plastic surgeons performing "reconstructive" surgery? If virginity is a valuable commodity (the loss of which is considered akin to damaged goods), isn't there an element of fraud there? Or is that not the doctor's problem?

    There's little question about the historical importance placed on virginity, which is both a modern and an ancient virtue:

    Virginity has been often considered to be a virtue denoting purity and physical self-restraint and is an important characteristic of some religious figures such as the Virgin Mary (often called simply the Virgin), the Ten Virgins and the Greek goddesses Athena, Artemis, and Hestia. The Maiden or Virgin is one of the three persons of the Triple Goddess in many Neopagan traditions. The constellation Virgo represents a wide selection of sacred virgins.
    Then there's cultural honor:
    Female virginity is closely interwoven with personal or even family honor in many cultures. Traditionally in some cultures (especially those dominated by Christianity, Islam and Judaism) there has been a widespread belief that the loss of virginity before marriage is a matter of deep shame. In some countries, this loss has been linked to honor killings.
    In the West, there's a cultural split (which I guess could be lumped in with the "Culture War" -- if disagreements are that) but no one's getting killed over it:
    Some elements within western culture no longer regard premarital virginity as a virtue and may allude to it disparagingly. The increasingly-common belief of some western youth that virginity is no longer to be regarded as a virtue has become a matter of considerable debate, especially related to controversies involving sexuality among young people. Continuing virginity after a certain age is even regarded by some to be a negative thing, implying that the person is unattractive, prudish or sexually immature.

    Some historians and anthropologists note that many societies that place a high value on virginity before marriage, such as the United States before the sexual revolution, actually have a large amount of premarital sexual activity that does not involve vaginal penetration, e.g., oral sex, anal sex and mutual masturbation. This has been termed technical virginity or hot virginity.

    It strikes me that virginity and honesty are inextricably intertwined. Certainly, there is no way to know whether a man is a virgin. His partner has only is word for it, and if he lies, he lies. But even with a woman, if we consider modern cosmetic surgery's ability reverse the loss of technical virginity by restoring the hymen, again, it's the woman's word. People who prize virginity and demand it of their spouses need to be more careful than they did in the old days.

    There's no longer any sure way to "trust but verify."

    Still, it has always struck me that there's inevitably going to be an element of sexism involved. I attended an all male school, and most of my peers regarded the concept of "virginity" as a joke. Most of them lied, too -- and not about having kept their virginity. This "loss" -- something that's supposed to be a source of shame among girls -- was a source of pride among boys. When I was a kid, a boy was expected to lose his virginity, and he was expected to brag about having done so -- regardless of whether it was true.

    Let's face it, folks, virginity has never been associated with virility. Why, I'd be willing to bet that more kids lie about having lost their virginity than about having kept it.

    But let me return to penetration. In our attempt to be egalitarian and non-sexist about these things, I think that's what's being ignored.

    At the risk of being sexist, I must ask: Is there or should there be any cultural distinction between penetrating and being penetrated? There's a stubborn but persistent belief -- among men and women -- that it's better to penetrate than be penetrated, and I don't see that going away.

    Likewise, I see no practical way to avoid the ancient (if undeniably sexist in modern terms) feminine origin of the word virgin:

    "Virgin" originated from the Greek and Latin word "Virgo," or maiden. It was used often in Greek mythology to classify several goddesses such as Artemis (also known as Diana) and Hestia. Virgin was a label of strength and independence -- it described the goddesses who were immune to the temptations of Dionysus, Greek god of seduction and wine. Artemis is the Greek virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt; she protects women in labor, small children and wild animals. Hestia is the Greek virgin goddess of the hearth. She never takes part in the struggle of men and gods. Virginity was once a term of power.
    Power? But that's not fair to the men!

    As we all know, the word virgin has "evolved" to the point where men and women have just as much right to be virgins. But is that really fair to either sex? What about common sense?

    When a man loses his virginity, who's to know? There's no physical evidence, no bloodstained sheets, no pain. It's an event almost as ill-defined as "becoming a man." You're never quite sure it really happened, or when or sometimes even how. The whole business is so murky that, historically, virginity has been a term applied mainly to women. Because for a woman, losing it is generally a more clear-cut, tangible affair. The first time a penis penetrates her vagina is often memorialized with blood, pain or both. That's from the rupturing of her hymen, a fibrous membrane that may partly or completely cover the opening of her vagina.
    Nothing fair about it.

    Nor is it fair that women can have have their virginity surgically restored and men can't.

    What's a man to do if he wants his virginity back? See the film about the 40 year old virgin and fantasize?

    There's nothing fair about any of this.

    * Might there be a lurking, inherently different standard for lesbians, whether anyone wants to acknowledge it or not? Consider this etymological attempt:

    ...[T]he word [Virgin] may come from her uncorrupted state, as virago, because she does not know womanly passion.

    A virago is so called because she acts like a man, vir agere, that is, she does manly things and has the strength of a man. For this is the name the ancients gave to strong women. But it is not correct to call a virgin a virago if she does not perform the office of a man; nevertheless, a woman who does masculine things, like an Amazon, is rightly called a virago.

    posted by Eric at 07:06 AM | Comments (5)

    Debating beats persuading?

    The last post reminded me of a topic which has long plagued me: what is the use of debating anything? This is not to say that there's anything intrinsically wrong with debating, because there isn't. Many people love to debate things, and one of the reasons is that they want to win. Litigators are usually excellent debaters.

    Possibly because of my discomfort with litigation at an unfortunate time in my life, I prefer the exchange of ideas to debating. My problem with debating is related to a reason I disliked litigation: in both litigation and debating, there is no particular correlation between winning and being right. One can "win" only because of the fact that one's opponent didn't get enough sleep. Or isn't as attractive, articulate, or intelligent. Or because the judge (or the audience) is biased or stupid.

    Nor are litigation or debating likely to ever persuade anyone of anything. I can't think of the last time I was persuaded by a debate, and this is all the more true when I have strongly held convictions about something. For example, nothing that a gun control advocate might say or do could ever persuade me of the correctness of gun control, or the wrongness of the Second Amendment. If the greatest debaters in history (say, Cicero or Clarence Darrow) were to rise from the dead and engage me in debate, they'd probably "win" the debate, but they'd never change my mind. And no matter what they said or how well they said it, it would never make them right.

    That's why I'll always prefer an open exchange of ideas to a debating contest. When the process is not contaminated by the messiness of wanting to win or lose, the exchange of ideas can lead people to a greater understanding of the other side's position, even though they disagree with it.

    The idea that war can be abolished strikes me as wildly silly and impossible. But I'd much rather hear someone's ideas of how this might in theory be made to happen than I would try to defeat that person's argument in order to score points. Defeating arguments (the best possible outcome in a debate) never defeats or changes minds. Whether God exists is an even sillier thing to debate, yet I cannot tell you how many times I've heard it debated. The idea that an atheist can be transformed into a believer or a believer into an atheist by this process strikes me as absurd. ("I've won the debate! Therefore, God does not exist!")

    By merely exchanging ideas without expecting to win, though, I think it is sometimes possible for each side to understand why an opponent thinks what he thinks. (Something not of much value in debating or in litigation, because the goal is winning, not explaining thought processes.)

    Of course, to reach such a point it is first necessary to do something which is very difficult and often clouded by the need to win debates. That is the honest acknowledgement that what one says is actually what one thinks, and not someone else's idea, opinion, platform, or position which is being regurgitated out of a belief that it is a "winning" argument. To give an example of this, I once represented a tenant in a rent control dispute. Even though I abhor rent control, I had to present my client as the wrongful victim of a landlord's illegal rent overcharge scheme. This was something I did not believe morally and did not agree with philosophically, but the law not only allowed it, it required me to take that position or else not take the case. In debating, people often take positions in order to win. If the goal is simply to win, that's fine.

    But winning isn't a form of persuading.

    I don't even think winning is persuasive.

    If it were, then all the Kerry voters would be for Bush.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: (For those who enjoy the dark side.) If the goal is really and truly to persuade people who by definition will never be persuaded, then is there any point of debating at all (much less openly exchanging and considering of views)? The best way to win is simply to kill them. An example is holy war, in which there is neither an exchange of ideas, nor any debate. The "losers" must simply agree -- while those who disagree are simply killed.

    Highly uncivilized. (Which is a good argument in favor of debate.)

    posted by Eric at 04:37 PM | Comments (2)

    Unknown Intelligence?

    When I saw the topic for Glenn Reynolds' Carnival of the Pre-War Intelligence -- "what was known going into the war in Iraq, who knew it, and more importantly, what should we have known that we didn't?" -- I sighed. That's because I'm not a war blogger, never served in the military, don't have any sort of security clearance or access to "military intelligence." So what I could I say or offer which might be of any conceivable value? I'd just be adding clutter to the blogjam.

    At the risk of boring readers by repeating what has been widely discussed, evidence from publicly available sources has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt what no one needs a security clearance to know: that longstanding pre-war intelligence not only indicated the presence of al Qaida operative Mohammad Atta in the United States, it also revealed substantial connections between Al Qaida and Iraq as well as evidence of WMDs in Iraq.

  • In 1999 I read Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden, the Man Who Declared War On America. Among other things, Bodansky documented the Iraq/ bin Laden connection. Not surprisingly, no one at the time was surprised. This was before Bush, and before the invention of the "Bush Lied" meme. (Anyone who is interested can read full quotes from the Bodansky book, which I transcribed in May, 2004, only because I was so sick of the "Bush Lied" debate.)
  • The Able Danger investigation (which I and many others have discussed before). Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon calls Able Danger the biggest political scandal since Watergate -- a coverup he terms "criminal":
    This is the sixth person to corroborate Shaffer's claim that Atta was identified prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

    The congressman charged that a former 9/11 Commission staff member, Dieter Snell, deliberately passed up information on "Able Danger." The operation was not included in the commission's final report published in July 2004.

    Snell purposely held back information given to him by Phillpott, the former "Able Danger" team leader, 10 days before the 9/11 Commission report was published to deflect criticism from his colleague, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, Weldon said.

    He said the truth would eventually come out.

    "I know there's going to be egg on the face of the 9/11 Commission," Weldon said.

    Gorelick, who worked in the U.S. Justice Department during the Clinton Administration, is blamed for creating a legal "wall" that previously prevented law enforcement and intelligence agencies from sharing information on suspected terrorists.

    "There's a cover up here," Weldon said. "It's clear and unequivocal."

    There's a growing chorus in Congress for a full-blown investigation, too.

    That American officials had constructive notice is also confirmed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh's WSJ opinion piece (via Glenn Reynolds), in which Freeh makes clear that Atta was identified by the Able Danger team more than a year before the 9/11 attacks.

  • We've all read and reread the litany of quotes from leading Democrats about the threat from Iraq, the WMDs, and the connections to terrorism. My favorite:
    "In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapon stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
    - Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002
  • Former CIA Director George Tenet famously called the evidence of WMDs in Iraq a "slam dunk."
  • There's of course another detail which requires neither military intelligence nor a security clearance to know: this country was infamously attacked on September 11, 2001, and thousands of American civilians were killed.


    None of the above is new or classified, and none of it should come as a revelation.

    As I thought over the problems I face as a civilian with no special knowledge trying to contribute anything to an intelligent discussion of pre-war intelligence, common sense came to my rescue, quite accidentally. I had dinner last night with a friend from New York who was not only in New York on September 11, but he had seen something like it coming.

    Why? How?

    For the same reason that I -- and a lot of other people -- saw it or something like it coming. A little thing called "street smarts." Over dinner last night, we talked about the litany of pre-9/11 stuff you didn't need a security clearance to know about. Things like the first WTC bombing, the Somalia debacle, the Khobar Towers bombing, the African Embassy bombings, and last but not least, the U.S.S. Cole. My friend remarked the obvious: that the enemy had been acting just like a street bully who begins with verbal slights, moves up to stronger words, then maybe a small push, and who finally decides you're a "pussy" and he can just go ahead and deliver what he understandably considers a risk-free beating.

    Let me back up a bit. To childhood. I was the smallest kid in my class, and because of that I had to think about stuff like being picked on by bullies. I developed many strategies, and while it's not my purpose to psychoanalyze myself here, suffice it to say that the notion of a "fair fight" was something I soon discarded as unworkable in the extreme. There's no such thing as a fair fight when dealing with bullies. I don't care whether you use dishonest diplomacy, psychological warfare, or actual combat; whatever tactics work against a bully are the tactics you must use. Anyone who's been bullied or who's been in a street fight knows (or ought to know) this intuitively. We call it "having street smarts."

    If you're attacked by a group of street kids, your best bet is to single out one of them and go all out. You might lose the fight, but at least you've fought, and it will slow down the others a bit. Actually singling out one of the least menacing of the group is one way of increasing your chances of beating them in their game of terror, for they're all cowards.

    This is incredibly obvious stuff for anyone who understands how it works dealing with bullies. Yet for some reason, a lot of people just don't get it, and it seems they never will.

    After September 11, Iraq was no longer a single bully we'd bested in an earlier fight but was still itching for more. Iraq was a member of a whole group of bullies -- any one of which would have been acceptable as a target for retaliation. But Iraq stood out for a lot of reasons -- strategically, militarily, and most important of all psychologically. Terrorism, like schoolyard bullying, is all about psychological war. We had as a nation been shaken down and had our lunch money stolen more than one time too many, and Iraq just stood there. Daring and defiant.

    But patience please. Afghanistan had to be dealt with first. The other bullies would have to stand in line.

    However, once the mission was largely accomplished in Afghanistan, to have not gone after Iraq would additionally have been cowardly and disgraceful. Iraq was a country which refused to cooperate with a previous deal, which provided refuge to the bully which attacked us, offered to allow the bully leaders to settle there, attempted to assassinate our president, had a decades-long policy of development of WMDs, and treated its own people as mercifully as the Romans treated condemned criminals in the arena.

    I knew immediately, intuitively, and from the heart what I didn't need a security clearance or military intel to know.

    Of course, some kids are lucky enough never to have been picked on in school. They may grow to adulthood thinking the world is a nice, civilized place. There are others who probably were bullied and accepted their fate, never fighting back. Or who complied with the bullies' demands. Some kids join the bullies in the hope they'll be left alone. And then there are the bullies themselves. (They're always quick to become victims in the event of resistance, but that's another rant....)

    I guess that will have to do as my way of addressing "what was known going into the war in Iraq," and "who knew it."

    As to "what should we have known that we didn't," I think we failed to take into account that not all Americans have common sense, or street smarts. It may not have been fully taken into account that this might have been both a cause of the 9/11 attacks, as well as a factor in Iraq being so unrecognizable as a threat.

    I wish I could say that all Americans want the bullying to stop. But they don't. Those who think we deserve terrorist attacks are, I'm afraid, lost causes. But there is a majority who want the bullying to stop.

    The problem is, in my view, what to do about the Americans who for whatever reason never got their street smarts. Especially the people who are too "smart" to have street smarts. There are people who simply think that because violence is wrong, self defense against violence is wrong. People with street smarts are often unable to have meaningful dialogue with people who simply think that violence -- which is a form of reality -- can be abolished. People with street smarts tend to see the rejection of self defense as a form of self hatred -- sometimes leading to the misperception that those who reject personal and national self defense are motivated by hatred of their country.

    What has any of this to do with military intelligence, you ask?

    My point is that it shouldn't have required street smarts to have seen this coming. Able Danger (ignored, in my view, by people lacking in street smarts) only confirmed that yes, the bullies were here, yes, they were bad and yes, they were after us.

    The intel was there. But without street smarts, the best military intelligence in the world means nothing.

    Ideally, one should be a component of the other, but we don't live in an ideal world. Public opinion includes a lot of people who don't have street smarts, and not only does their opinion have to be taken into account, so does their absence of street smarts.

    Such people can be presented with the most compellingly overwhelming evidence possible, and they will still ignore it. They'll ignore it before a threat of an attack. They'll ignore it during the attack. And they'll continue to ignore it long after the attack.

    Some people run from things they don't want to know.

    I guess we should have known that.

    While I recognize the need for dialogue on these things, it's probably worth pointing out that the counter-argument -- that "Bush and his gang overstated (to be polite about it) the overstated intelligence" -- is of little relevance to those of us (like my friend and I) who saw Iraq as but one member of a group of bullies. That's because even if it's true that the intel was overstated, that complaint presupposes a duty to engage in a scrupulously "fair fight" with a bully.

    (In other words, if the bully deserved to get his ass kicked, it really shouldn't matter whether that really was a knife you thought he had in his hand.....)

    UPDATE (11/21/05): My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for including this post in the Pre War Intelligence Carnival. More here.

    posted by Eric at 01:00 PM | Comments (5)

    Twin evils of power

    Is this a hybrid bike?


    (Via Glenn Reynolds' recent discussion of hybrids.)

    The yellow "juice guzzler" above (rapidly being banned in China) appears to be powered by electricity alone -- unless the ability to pedal the thing is considered an additional form of power. If so, then this (a bike with an attached small gasoline engine) would have to be at least as much a hybrid. (Unless the word "hybrid" countenances only the inclusion of electricity -- which would be illogical.)

    I suppose there could be a three way hybrid if someone developed a bike which could run on electricity and gasoline, and could alternatively be pedaled.

    I'm curious. Is there any standard industry definition of the word "hybrid"? Does it have to be gasoline and electric? How about a horse and buggy assisted by a small gas engine? A lightweight car with a gasoline-plus-electric engine which could also be pedal-powered?

    Today is Sunday, so I don't want to omit morality from this hybrid dilemma. As we all know, oil is a profoundly evil thing.

    But aren't we also forgetting that batteries are evil too?

    And under certain circumstances, we also know that bicycle riding can be very evil, even in the absence of oil or batteries.

    Seen this way, might not hybridization simply involve the mixing of evils?

    Since when does mixing evil with evil dilute evil? While one evil may be greater than another, aren't we kidding oursleves if we imagine that any good will come from hybridizing a Great Satan with a Little Satan?

    MORE: Googling the term "hybrid bike" was far from illuminating, as I kept finding sites like this, which seem to think a "hybrid" is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike! (Yet both rely on pedal power.)

    I'm afraid "hybrid" might be another one of those words without any clear meaning.

    posted by Eric at 10:19 AM | Comments (4)

    Optimistic about symbiosis

    I'm glad to see that Daniel Rubin (best known as the Philadelphia Inquirer's blogger extraordinaire "Blinq") is not only being evenhanded in his treatment of Open Source Media, but he had this to say about OSM's premature critics:'s not fair to rip something so soon, even if the players are veterans at the game. Dozens of cyberscribes, from Glenn Reynolds of the right-of-center Instapundit to David Corn and Marc Cooper, of the left-of-center Nation, will write at one place. And bloggers will get paid based on the traffic they generate. Its cofounders are Roger L. Simon, a screenwriter and novelist, and Charles Johnson, of Little Green Footballs.
    Well said, and it's much to the credit to the Inquirer. Despite my editorial disagreements, it's my hometown paper, I and my family have been loyal subscribers for decades, and I probably need to speak up more often (and MORE LOUDLY) whenever I see my paper doing the right thing -- and in this case the smart thing.

    Being blog-friendly, IMHO, bodes well for the future of the Inquirer -- something I say in full awareness of depressing reports like this.

    Keep up the great work, Daniel!

    posted by Eric at 12:00 PM | Comments (4)

    A pound of nihilism eases ism digestion . . .

    In a comment below, I used the term "NeoNihilism" to describe an emerging (if unacknowledged) coalition between left wing deconstructionists and certain fringe thinkers on the right.

    Shortly before 9/11, my dark side envisioned a revival of that marvelous Nihilist thinker, poet Ezra Pound. I even composed a musical montage for the avatar of our future, and the next thing I knew, the Twin Towers were struck, and I had to forget my lovely idea. Things -- old fashioned things like patriotism -- interfered.

    But the future of nihilism's starting to look bright again.

    All hail the Helmsman!


    MORE: In unrelated news, Zarqawi is sowwy. That's right; Michael Moore's patriot apologized:

    "People of Jordan, we did not undertake to blow up any wedding parties," he said. "For those Muslims who were killed, we ask God to show them mercy, for they were not targets. We did not and will not think for one moment to target them even if they were people of immorality and debauchery."
    He's also threatened to behead King Abdullah, but he's full of love anyway:
    "Your star is fading," Zarqawi said, referring to the king. "You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors. We will be able to reach your head and chop it off."

    Zarqawi, who has a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, told Jordanians to stay away from bases used by U.S. forces, hotels and tourist sites in Amman, the Dead Sea, the southern resort of Aqaba, and the embassies of governments participating in the war in Iraq, saying they would be targeted.

    "People of Islam in Jordan, we want to assure you that we are extremely careful over your lives," he said. "... You are more beloved to us than ourselves."

    Oh well.

    Must have an artistic temperament.

    Ezra would approve.

    Let's bring him more up to date:


    AND MORE: Hey, I see that that Beretta guy owes $30 million for killing his wife. If he just could go and capture Zarqawi, he'd only be short $5 million. (A mere pound of flesh.)

    AND MORE: At Least Ezra Pound was Nuts, says James Lileks. Since when has a little thing like that been a bar to hero status?

    posted by Eric at 09:38 AM | Comments (1)

    Going somewhere!

    A professor at Brigham Young University named Steven E. Jones is attempting to revitalize the idea that controlled demolitions (not hijacked planes) brought down the Twin Towers.

    In a paper posted online Tuesday and accepted for peer-reviewed publication next year, Jones adds his voice to those of previous skeptics, including the authors of the Web site, whose research Jones quotes. Jones' article can be found at

    "It is quite plausible that explosives were pre-planted in all three (WTC) buildings," BYU physics professor Steven E. Jones says.

    Jones, who conducts research in fusion and solar energy at BYU, is calling for an independent, international scientific investigation "guided not by politicized notions and constraints but rather by observations and calculations.

    "It is quite plausible that explosives were pre-planted in all three buildings and set off after the two plane crashes — which were actually a diversion tactic," he writes. "Muslims are (probably) not to blame for bringing down the WTC buildings after all," Jones writes.

    As for speculation about who might have planted the explosives, Jones said, "I don't usually go there. There's no point in doing that until we do the scientific investigation."

    Well, I'll go there!

    This has all the telltale signs of a NeoCon Skull-and-Bones Trilateral Commission conspiracy of Sodomitic Bilderbergers.

    But at least Jones is being taken seriously by commenters at Crooks and Liars.

    Isn't it obvious that Libbygate is just another distraction?

    (No wonder Karl Rove has been so quiet lately.....)

    MORE: For readers who dislike my flippancy and are interested in a serious debunking of this and other 9/11 conspiracy claims, I suggest this Popular Mechanics article.

    At the heart of Professor Jones argument is that the controlled demolitions theory is more scientific than flying planes into buildings because the former has been repeatedly tested in actual demolitions, while the latter is said to have happened once, and (I am serious) has not been independently confirmed!

    Apparently, to satisfy Jones we'll simply have to build an exact copy of the Trade Center Towers to the original architectural specs, then fly large jetliners with full fuel tanks into them.

    Any volunteers for this reenactment?

    posted by Eric at 02:07 PM | Comments (8)

    Elitist nihilism? For Straussians only?

    At least, that's how the philosophy is summarized by Strauss expert Shadia Drury, whose views are discussed in an excellent post by Jon Rowe. While Rowe disagrees with Drury's assessment of Straussians, he acknowledges a Straussian tendency which I've always found disturbing:

    The Truth is not a Pearl, but rather is, or at least often is, harsh and something that most ordinary persons cannot handle unadulterated, because it can be so unpleasant. The wise philosopher receives intense pleasure from discovering the Truth even if what he discovers is horrifying.

    The underlying point of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind was that nihilism had trickled down to the masses, but it wasn't real nihilism, it was nihilism without the abyss or nihilism American style. It had all the fun of relativity of the Truth and freedom from objective traditional morality, but none of the horrific implications.

    Bloom simply wanted people to understand the implications of nihilism, i.e., the abyss. And if they were "capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling" as Drury puts it, then they could be true philosophers. But Bloom's point was that the overwhelming majority of people -- even the overwhemling majority of his brilliant Ivy League students -- couldn't do this. So Bloom's exercise was to force his students and others to confront certain reductios of nihilism. And he discovered almost none of them were honest enough or willing to accept the logical conclusions of nihilism.

    Therefore, certain knowledge should be kept off limits ("nihilism for the elite"?):

    the Straussians genuinely believed that keeping nihilism confined to the wise few was better for society, in a sort of utilitarian sense (though they weren't utilitarians). It was, I sincerely believe, out of genuine concern for society. This is important: While they believe that Nietzsche and Heidegger were correct as to the ultimate nihilistic nature of reality, such a "Truth" could not be used to found political orders. And indeed, such a Truth gaining wider public acceptance made Weimar Germany more receptive to Nazism.
    It's a mischaracterization of the Straussians to call them moral nihilists, for their morality is horrified by nihilism, even though they tend towards a sort of brutal honesty about nihilism which demagogues might characterize as championing nihilism:
    ...the Straussians genuinely believed that keeping nihilism confined to the wise few was better for society, in a sort of utilitarian sense (though they weren't utilitarians). It was, I sincerely believe, out of genuine concern for society.
    Such genuine concern is not true nihilism.

    But neither is it enlightened thinking. I am reminded of a previous post in which I discussed possible collusion between certain conservatives and deconstructionists in championing an anti-Enlightenment philosophy.

    Jon Rowe's post reminded me that this collusion might revolve around a common core.

    Disturbing as it might be to acknowledge the dark side (I find it tough to ignore), I think that attempting to restrict it to a certain tiny elite is far worse.

    The idea that truth is too dangerous for the masses has a poor historical track record.

    My own thoughts about nihilism are beyond this post, but I certainly have years of practical experience. I think that nihilism is one of the dark sides of truth, but I also think truth includes a lot more. (At the risk of oversimplifying, it's not an either/or choice. Light is not possible without dark.)

    posted by Eric at 10:37 AM | Comments (7)


    My reaction at the time the Libby indictment was announced:

    It's almost a labyrinth.

    So, so, CIA-like....

    Now that Bob Woodward has entered the picture with another one of his now-you-see-it-now-you-don'ts, "labyrinth" is almost too weak a word.

    This stuff has been going on for so long, it's a wonder someone hasn't outed Woodward.

    Worshiped as a god though he may be, Woodward does not pass my smell test.

    MORE: Carl Bernstein says that it's "outrageous to question Bob’s integrity."

    Does that mean I have to apologize?

    MORE: From Captain Ed: does make the indictment look even more foolish if the CIA itself outed Plame to Woodward, one of the most famous journalists in America.
    "Journalist" might be understatement. Or hyperbole. Or both.

    (Via The Tar Pit.)

    AND MORE: Michelle Malkin asks whether "a journalist at the Post" will be indicted.

    Careful, Michelle. Carl Bernstein might think you're questioning Bob Woodward's "integrity."

    AND MORE: Arianna Huffington and others continue to buy into the decades old myth of Woodward as a hero of investigative reporting and great exposer of the Watergate coverup (if not out-and-out savior of the Republic).

    In large part because of this deification campaign, many lingering questions about Watergate remain unanswered.

    If only there'd been a blogospere in the old days....

    AND WAAAAY MORE: Speaking of the old days, Michael Barone's piece (via Glenn) made me think about whether an unelected group of spooks occupies a role similar to that of the Praetorian Guard during much of the later Roman Empire.

    After a while, this overthrowing business gets to be a habit....

    UPDATE (11/18/05): As if Woodward's latest shenanigans weren't enough, John Dean is now sanctimoniously scolding Special Prosecutor Patrick Fiztgerald for not being "vigorous" enough in the perjury prosecution.

    Well, I guess experience counts.

    (They don't call Dean a "serial perjurer" for nothing!)

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has been calling this case "complicated" from day one, and he's right. Heh. And Heh! (And why not an Indeed?)

    While I don't think this was ever intended to be figured out, I do think Zell Miller's piece (about a "spy thriller" and an opportunity to undercut the national leadersip) is worth rereading.

    posted by Eric at 05:45 PM | Comments (1)

    More prawns in a culture war?

    Today Glenn reminds us that there are people who still believe that God hates shrimp.

    The last time the issue was raised, my, um, thoughts were convoluted, but I offered this picture in the hope that perhaps a few soles souls could be saved before the war on shrimp goes down to, um, defeat:



    So what's the lesson for today?

    "Love the scamp, but hate the scampi"?

    MORE: Yes, I'm afraid that's what the sign says....


    (Sign made with Church Sign Generator, via God Hates Shrimp.)

    posted by Eric at 12:41 PM | Comments (8)

    Ex post facto live memory blogging

    I arrived late to yesterday's Open Source Media launch, so I missed Jeff Goldstein's keynote address (although Roger L. Simon filled me in).

    But I had a wonderful time yesterday. I have no idea what to expect from Open Source Media (I'm not an insider, of course), but it's amazing and inspiring to see so much major talent involved, enthused, and in one place.

    I arrived in time for Judith Miller's address. One thing is clear: the MSM is sitting up and paying attention to the blogosphere. Judith Miller proposed rules. I'm too lazy to reconstruct them from a few notes I scribbled down while eating, but here they are, (summarized by a skeptical Jeff Jarvis):

    1. Be honest about how you are and what your agenda is and who?s funding you. She says we ?don?t have to look far? to find examples of bloggers who are now. Who, Judy? I hope someone presses that. If you?re going to throw out that accusation, back it up with facts. Good reporting, you know.
    2. Try to reach the subjects of stories for comment before publishing. ?This is journalism 101.? But here?s web 102, Judy: those sources as often as not can and do respond on their own sites.
    3. If a subject denies what you say and has evidence, ?say so; it might actually be true.?
    4. If you make a mistake admit it. Ohhhh, boy, isn?t that the juicy one. How come it took you so long to admit your mistakes? And have you yet fully? She said the Times does this through editors? notes and she doesn?t entirely approve of them.
    5. If you are wrong, keep going until you get it right.
    I was a bit skeptical too, but the fact that the MSM and the blogosphere are discussing things like "rules" (and accusing each other of not living up to them) evidences that the "battle line" has morphed into a highly permeable membrane. What will happen is anyone's guess. (Senator Cornyn appeared on a live video hookup and appeared to be quite pro-blogger and anti-regulation. He agreed that MSM should not have any special privileges not shared by bloggers, and quoted William Safire likening bloggers to Tom Paine!)

    I see that OSM is receiving the inevitable criticism, which I think is quite unfair, as it just started. Things like this have to start somewhere, and I'm glad that Roger and Charles and the many people who are involved with this have shown some initiative. (I think critics who don't like it ought to put their money where their mouth is and show some initiative themselves.)

    Anyway, this is only the second blog event I've attended (the first one was Blog Nashville), and I was just thrilled to meet so many bloggers I've known for years without ever meeting them. Here's as best a list that my foggy, groggy, not-enough coffee memory, can recall -- pretty much in the order that I met (or re-met) these fine bloggers:

  • Martin Solomon of Solomonia, who has a post here, with pictures here.
  • Judith Weiss of Keshertalk (one of my earliest links)
  • Kevin Aylward of Wizbang, whose live post is here.
  • One of my oldest blogfriends (and earliest links), La Shawn Barber, with whom I had dinner in Nashville last May. After the luncheon, La Shawn told me she was going to the Met, which struck me as a good idea so I went there later too. Had La Shawn not mentioned the Met, I'd have missed the fantastic Van Gogh exhibit!)

  • The great writer and blogger Cathy Seipp, who needs no introduction.
  • Vik Rubenfeld, whose liveblog of the event is here.
  • Evan Coyne Maloney, blogger and video maker extraordinaire.
  • Paul Berger (of "Englishman in New York.")
  • Steven Weiss of Canonist.
  • David Corn (whose thoughts on OSM are here.)
  • Founders Roger L. Simon and Charles Johnson. Roger's posting with his usual good humor despite exhaustion, and Charles is today offering clues to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • The one and only Glenn Reynolds, whose live post is here, and who's heightening the speculation about keynote speaker Jeff Goldstein, whom I missed. Glenn told me that he took his wife's test, and that he too has rickets. I'd have never suspected such a thing.)
  • Stephen Green -- one of the few bloggers I was able to recognize immediately, as he looks just like his picture. Great guy. He also had some vital questions he wanted to ask Judith Miller, but alas....)

  • William Young, a new blogger who writes quite well.
  • Milblogger Odysseus. Very informative blog.
  • Robert Mayer of Publius Pundit. Liveblog here.
  • A journalist and political analyst I've long admired, Cliff May.
  • Another excellent new blogger whose blog is called Americans For Freedom. His coverage of the event is here.
  • Fausta Wertz of The Bad Hair Blog, whose review of "Capote" I enjoyed.
  • Candace Corrigan, an expert on Nashville music.
  • Boi From Troy, whom I met just before I had to leave to catch my train. Wish I'd had more time to chat.
  • My memory is probably lagging behind my fingers, but I wanted to get this post up when what remains of my memory is still "fresh" if that's not too much of a contradiction. It amazes me to meet people in person that I already "know" from their writing, as it's the inverse of what we normally do, which is to meet people before we know them.

    Anyway, Bravo, OSM! This was a wonderful event, and I'd like to offer my thanks to the organizers, and my sincerest hope for future success.

    (I may upload some pictures that I took yesterday, but I haven't looked at them yet.)

    UPDATE: The pictures didn't come out too well because of the lighting. I have a very small camera and the flash just doesn't perform well at indoor, nighttime functions, which this was. But I hope these will give a flavor of the fun that was had. Only one was posed; usually I try for spontaneity through stealth.




    This last one was posed:


    (Vik Rubenfeld, La Shawn Barber, Evan Coyne Maloney.)

    UPDATE (11/20/05): Neo-neocon summed up the spirit of the festivities better than I could:

    When I say bloggers can talk, I mean talk. We're talking serious talk here. Stamina, breadth, depth, decibel level. Get a group together, and it's not for the faint of heart--if you don't jump in quickly and vigorously, you may never get the floor, because the competition is hot and the topics change at the speed of light as one thought follows another, like group chain-smoking.
    Via Stephen Green, with whom I was able to converse before I got hoarse from talking. (I guess hoarseness is what results if you're the quiet type like I am, and you start talking....)

    posted by Eric at 09:09 AM

    Stuck on intelligent?

    Justin had a fun post (about ID) yesterday, although I didn't get back till midnight so I didn't see it until this morning.

    In my view, the problem stems from a lack of agreement on what God is (and of course whether God is). Not surprising. If God is an infinite spiritual force which existed before man, then man is by nature incapable of defining God, or deciding upon the attributes of God or gods, or knowing what God does or might have done. (Certainly, there is no way to do this which can be agreed upon; hence the plethora of religions.)

    "Intelligence," however, is a creation of man, defined, measured, and tested by man.

    Attributing "intelligence" to God presupposes than man can understand God. But which men? Which God?

    Some people think man can understand God, that God can be reduced to a textual format, and that God is "intelligent." Others think God is a spiritual force which cannot be measured. And others think there is no God and no spirituality.

    IMHO, government should not get involved in this debate. "Intelligent design" (as I've argued before) rests on two assumptions: one, that God designed life and man, and the other that this was "intelligent." Based on the physical evidence, one could just as easily make the argument that God was "stupid." Why not "stupid design"? The whole thing is crazy, and is based on religious assumptions and speculation. This is not to knock anyone's religious views or lack thereof; only to say that I see a First Amendment issue with the government taking a stand for the religious proposition that God is "intelligent."

    It should not be forgotten, for example, that some people say Allah is intelligent. Others think he's stupid and bigoted. Or fraudulent.

    But regardless of anyone's religious views or lack thereof, I just don't see how it is possible for human beings to assess the intelligence of deities -- especially in a scientific manner.

    However, I may be wrong. So in the classical tradition of this blog, I'm going to submit this question to our panel of experts.

    "You think we're stupid?"

    UPDATE: The Vatican's chief astronomer has weighed in against ID:

    The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

    "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

    posted by Eric at 08:14 AM | Comments (9)

    (Last minute stampede)

    AJ Strata is hosting this week's RINO Sightings Carnival, so check it out. I especially enjoyed Michael Demmons' piece on gas price gouging. (My state, Pennsylvania, is the second worst!)

    SayUncle treats Pat Robertson to fairness and logic. (Which is more than Pat Robertson usually does unto others.)

    Bostonian Exile on "talking points" -- and dumbing down:

    Give me the ideas of someone who is truly grappling with issues, not just feigning difficulty because it is politically expedient. Give me those of someone not afraid to be critical of those in his own fold.
    I couldn't have said it better.

    And I'm off for another long New Jersey drive.

    Maybe more later tonight; maybe not.

    It's been a beautiful Fall around here so far. Here's how its looking lately:

    From a distance:


    And up close:


    posted by Eric at 10:12 AM | Comments (2)

    "What Immortal Hand Or Eye"

    Lately, I've been trying to ignore this business about Intelligent Design. Not because it's not fascinating, but because I don't see any way to definitively settle it. Perhaps I just lack imagination. Anyway, I've been fairly successful so far, but a post I saw at Dean's World got me to thinking.

    What if I.D. could be proven? I'll freely admit that I have no idea how one would do such a thing, but if we simply allow that single postulate to stand unchallenged, we are rewarded with an embarrassing richness of further questions. It's great fun, and I thought I would share a few of them with you.

    But first, here's something that puzzles me. If my cursory skimming of the popular media is correct, most proponents of I.D. are Christians of one flavor or another, in a nominal opposition to "Darwinists" pushing "evolution".

    My first question would be "Why is that?".

    I mean, it's a pretty big leap from the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting process to the God of the New Testament. Isn't it? Perhaps some Christians are drawn to I.D. not because it strengthens God, but rather because it weakens Darwin. That seems like a bad strategy to me, prone to blowing up in their faces. Here's why.

    It is simply not predictable when science will solve yet another of those long standing mysteries, and as the labcoat boys push back the barriers of ignorance, well, folks who bet on the "god of the gaps" end up having to yield ground in a pretty humiliating manner. Or so it seems to me. Based on past experience.

    The thing that struck me immediately about Intelligent Design is that the simple fact of our creation, our design by some intelligent agency or other, in no way tells us what that agency might be like.

    Do we know its origin?

    Do we know its nature?

    Do we know its intentions?

    No, no, and no.

    In the interests of dispassionate intellectual inquiry, I'd like to pose a few more simple questions, just off the top of my head, based on the assumption that we are the products of intelligent design. I'm pretty sure that they can't be answered easily or soon...

    Was there one designer, or many?

    Do they still exist?

    Are they matter? Energy? Spirit?

    Are we the product of a committee?

    Are we the product of a lone genius?

    Are we the product of a school project?

    Do they care about us, either as a species or as individuals?

    Were we a mistake?

    Did they leave, and forget we were here?

    Are they ignoring us deliberately?

    Are they watching us every minute?

    Do they love the other animals too?

    Are we a one-shot or an ongoing effort?

    Are there other creations like ourselves elsewhere?

    Are the designers space aliens much like ourselves?

    Are they magma monsters?

    Are they silicon life forms from the deep hot biosphere?

    Are they tenuous comet creatures, fascinated by our fast, hot little lives?

    Are they time travelers from the end of the universe, come to safeguard their own future existence?

    Are they inorganic computer intelligences, and we their helpless research tools?

    Did they make the entire universe too, or just us?

    Maybe they just made this galaxy?

    Do they get into fights with each other, or are they all good friends?

    Did they happen to leave any of their tools lying around?

    If so, will they get in trouble for it?

    Do they move among us even yet, unknown and unremarked, dating our women?

    Well, the possibilities for novel inquiry are quite literally endless, high as the freaking sky and ten times as deep. But where are the definitive answers we all seek? Huh? Tell me that. What has Intelligent Design brought us? Just more mysteries.

    Perhaps I shouldn't have had that second cup of coffee.

    posted by Justin at 10:10 AM | Comments (16)

    Pointless Whining, Well Earned Smackdown

    Via Fight Aging and Stephen Malcolm Anderson, an interesting interchange at Dean's World regarding life and its true worth. Read the whole thing. Samples follow, to tempt you over...

    I make no secret that I side with the anti-aging forces. Senescence is a horrible killer, a disease that should be fought with every available weapon.

    Every time I hear an argument about why humans should not artificially extend the number of years wherein we live robust, healthy, active lives, I get creeped out...

    But even worse in my view are creepy, death-embracing arguments like, "the world has too many people" or "all that is good in humanity comes from our mortality," which are morally bankrupt so far as I can see.

    Thank you. Thank you. The choir likes what it's hearing. On the other hand, it seems there's a contrarian in every crowd. Jesse Hill had this to say...

    While I agree that the "God is against it" argument is exceedingly irrational, I would caution against throwing away our mortality on a whim. Isn't "Death is bad" just as simplistic?...a never-ending mortal life would be akin to being locked in Purgatory forever, never ascending to whatever life lies beyond death.

    And what about our mortality? Do you really think nothing of value comes from it?...If we did not die would our Great Thinkers really be moved to paint, write, sculpt, or compose their works? I'm skeptical...

    I'm not saying, of course, that we should just die. I'm just saying that there ARE some real negative aspects that I don't think should be overlooked.

    Mr. Esmay responds to these timorous thoughts with a wee, well earned fisking of marvelous clarity and vigor, which I'll get to in a bit. But first, a few thoughts of my own.

    I've noticed that some people simply cannot accept any new enterprise, regardless of its value, without first carping about it. I don't know why this is so. Perhaps they think it makes them sound wiser, or more forethoughtful, or even more moral than the rest of us. An example comes to mind immediately...

    Or perhaps they're just honestly afraid. Change, any change, is perceived as a threat. It's kind of sad, really.

    So what is it, exactly, that Mr. Hill is trying to accomplish here? What's his freaking point?

    I'm just saying that there ARE some real negative aspects that I don't think should be overlooked.

    Great. That seems innocuous enough, though also somewhat pointless. What simple, concrete actions does he advocate? What should we actually do?

    I would simply like to see you speak a little of the sorts of problems that would be associated with an immortal human race. I can assure you there are many, and pointing them out doesn't make any of us have a "sick view of humanity" I don't think. We're just being pragmatic.

    So the problem lies in not thinking things through. We have to nail down all the possible show stoppers before we can decently indulge in the luxury of optimism.

    We're talking about fundamentally altering the human condition to a degree which has never been attempted before.

    Does that mean we absolutely should not do it? Of course not. But it does mean we should put a great deal of thought into what the ramifications -- both positive AND negative -- would be.

    Why? I mean, honestly, why? If we're going to do it anyway, what do we gain by sitting around and pondering the reasons not to do it? Yeah sure, problems will arise. Nobody is saying that they won't. So what? That life requires effort is more truism than revelation. What's that old saying? "Dying is easy. It's the living that's hard."

    Too right. And living longer will be harder, but still worth the trouble.

    While you might disagree with my specific 'negatives' I would ask that you concede that they do exist. Further, I'd like to you to explore them. Right now you sound entirely too enthusiastic...

    Okay, they exist. Happy now? There will be negatives. But I don't think Mr. Esmay sounds especially "enthusiastic" here. Exasperated would seem to capture it more accurately.

    And it seems entirely too presumptuous on the part of Mr. Hill to say that Mr. Esmay's post is not addressing the correct issues. I mean, really, is the man's writing talent on retainer to Jesse Hill? Must his writing conform in all particulars to Mr. Hill's expectations? I'm sorely tempted to quote Al Swearengen.

    I'm not asking to stall our efforts. I think we're a long ways off from 'immortality' anyway. Will we achieve it in my lifetime? I sure hope so!

    My objection is to jumping in with both feet without realizing the sort of consequences it will bring about. This event -- if achieved -- will reshape human thinking. Will the end result be a better world? We can certainly hope so, but it certainly isn't guaranteed.

    And, ultimately, that's my point: not that we shouldn't do it, but that in doing it we have to accept that some bad things might come as a result. We have to be weight the costs with the benefits.

    So we should look before we leap. What does that translate into in terms of specifiable action on our part? We should think about it? Really, really hard? Well, okay then! Cue the Jeopardy music!

    There...I've thought about it. Really, really hard. And what useful thing has been accomplished? Pretty near to nothing.

    Here's Mr. Esmays trenchant rejoinder to the semantic nullity of Mr. Hill's thoughts...

    Jesse, excuse me for the rudeness of a "fisking" style response, but you need to be fisked here:

    Isn't "Death is bad" just as simplistic?


    Thus, a never-ending mortal life would be akin to being locked in Purgatory forever, never ascending to whatever life lies beyond death.

    Go ahead and commit suicide whenever you're ready then.

    And what about our mortality? Do you really think nothing of value comes from it?

    Yes, I really think nothing of value comes from it whatsoever.

    Being among the only animals that have a sense of death, I would say that it has spurred some of our greatest artistic works.

    Except for great works of tragedy--and tragedy will be with us always--I can't think of a single one.

    If we did not die would our Great Thinkers really be moved to paint, write, sculpt, or compose their works? I'm skeptical.

    Your admiration for death is your business. I'm more than skeptical of the "creativity comes from our fear of death" notion, however. I find it sick and perverted.

    I can quite assure you that I'd be quite happy to continue writing for the next 500 years if given the chance. I have little doubt that Picasso or Rembrandt or Van Gogh or Shakespeare or Frank Lloyd Wright or Mozart or Beethoven or Bach or Einstein would have continued creating for centuries if they could have. And if they decided after a while to put their art away and do something else, would that be anybody's business but theirs?

    What kind of sick view of humanity do you have to have to believe that death is what motivates people to creativity?

    If we become essentially immortal than the 'first generation' of immortals would become the ad hoc rulers of society.

    And you base this bizarre view on what? The fact that there are no members of Congress under 60 and no Presidents elected under the age of 70? That all corporate CEOs are at least 80 years old?

    Has it occurred to you that most people choose to retire not because they're old and frail, but because they get tired of what they're doing and decide they'd rather do something else? Or that the easy solution to your fantasy of "gerontocacy," if it comes to that, is called democracy?

    Our birth rate would slow down considerably...

    News flash: it already has. Indeed, if we don't do something to extend human lifespan soon, the world population will begin imploding by 2050 or so.

    I mean, if I was going to live for 500+ years I would start investing my money wisely and by the time I was, say, 200 I would almost certainly be a millionaire. What of the poor sap who is born then?

    Tell him to start investing.

    Once more with feeling. Thank you.

    posted by Justin at 06:55 PM | Comments (7)

    Internalizing my hydrophobia

    It's been quite a while since I've linked to any online tests. (I used to feature them every week.) There don't seem to be as many as there once were, but this one -- "Which Horrible Affliction are you?" -- is pretty good.

    Mine is rabies, which fits my, um, style:

    I am Rabies. Grrrrrrrr!
    Which Horrible Affliction are you?
    A Rum and Monkey disease.

    Via Dr. Helen, who's rickets.

    I don't know what the other diseases are, but I think most people would agree that rabies is a more horrible affliction than rickets. Less curable too.

    If the goal is horrible, then my bad is good, and I should find something good (at least educational) to say about rabies.

    One of my favorite movies is David Cronenberg's "Rabid", starring the very sexy Marilyn Chambers:


    Then there's this movie, which I haven't seen.

    rabid grannies pochette.jpg

    Those into reality-based thirsting probably already know that rabies causes an intense fear of water called "hydrophobia." Much as I hate to cross the line separating good from bad taste, in the interest of science, here's a purported photograph of an actual hydrophobe:


    I do hope that picture is bogus, but with the Internet you never know.


    posted by Eric at 12:53 PM | Comments (4)

    "At the risk of repeating myself . . ."

    One of the ways the "Big Lie" is made to work is through a process of endless repetition. Through repeating something over and over again, it is hoped that people -- the weaker people, anyway --will eventually be convinced that it is true.

    But there is another category of person who, while he will never be persuaded of the truth of the lie, will nonetheless succumb to fatigue. It's similar to an elementary principle of politics: that success goes not to those who are right, nor even those with the best arguments, but to those who are willing to sit there and listen to tedious drivel until two in the morning when finally their opponents grow tired and go home.

    This is why I do not want to write about the lying meme that Bush "manufactured" the evidence of WMDs in Iraq. The proponents of this completely disregard innumerable statements like these by Democrats, they disregard CIA Director Tenet's characterization of the evidence (of WMDs) as a "slam dunk", and they repeat, over and over, that Bush and the NeoCons made it all up for the first time, and that WMDs were the only reason we went to war.

    To me, it's all too tedious for words, and it wasn't why I started blogging. I wanted to discuss ideas, not endlessly repeat what I believe to be the truth about a particular issue simply because the people on the other side have repeated themselves. It almost reminds me of why I hated litigation: it's never over, and each side just keeps slinging more and more paper, all of which requires a response, which response requires another response, and so on.

    Yet things have reached the point that if I continue not saying something simply because I am tired of the repetitive nature of the argument, that might be seen as a confirmation of the effectiveness of the repetition -- something I have no intention of doing. Seen this way, the endless recitation of the repetition harangue has itself reached a sort of tipping point -- where it has become a new idea (and thus fair game for this blog).

    I am, it is true, sick to death of the repetition, but not so sick of it that I can't pause to ask whether this country can be defeated by what amount to weapons of mass repetition, and I'm glad President Bush finally spoke up about it.

    But I don't blame him for having ignored this for so long, because it doesn't say much about the way the human mind works that repetition should have to be countered by repetition.

    (I guess there are certain occasions when we'd better harangue together lest we be harangued separately.)

    MORE: As California Conservative points out, when Bush finally objected to the steady litany of repetition, he was accused of "attacking" and "escalating":

    Playing a semantical game by stating that Bush is “escalating” the “bitter debate,” the AP makes it sound as though Bush is the aggressor. In other words, if he remained silent (as he has heretofore), that would be better. And Democrats most assuredly wish it would be so.

    “Bush went on the attack after Democrats accused the president of manipulating and withholding some pre-war intelligence and misleading Americans about the rationale for war.”

    Once again, the AP is mischaracterizing. Intentionally? Readers can decide. But the truth is: In responding to the Democrats’ repeated and increasingly shrill accusations of “lies about the war” (their attack), President Bush is defending his position — not “attacking.”

    Unfortunately, when silence is maintained for too long in the face of a steady barrage, the slightest sound is an escalation, and any defense becomes an attack.

    Who does Bush think he is, anyway? An Israeli?

    posted by Eric at 10:47 AM | Comments (4)

    Reconstructing the Dark Ages?

    As I struggled yesterday with what seemed like an impending conflation of guilt and innocence, I remembered that certain darker voices of deconstructionism would see this as an example of how the process of reason itself is invalid. That because language is so subjective (and subject to manipulation), there can be no such thing as an honest argument. Logic itself is seen as a tool of oppression.

    Contempt for reason often springs from a frustration with the limitations of language. Derrida, a man considered one of the framers of deconstructionism (if such things can be), saw it this way --according to Gregg Easterbrook (writing on the occasion of Derrida's death):

    Since Derrida died nine days ago, it's fair to ask whether he should be assigned some blame for the post-truth state of public debate--intellectuals, after all, must accept responsibility if their ideas do harm rather than good. Derrida was a strangely polarizing figure: His followers considered him an oracle while his detractors viewed him with absurdly exaggerated alarm. Some of what Derrida maintained was inarguably true: for example, that writers can never really escape the confines of language structure nor free themselves of the conventional assumptions of society, which impose psychological limits on creativity. That's a powerful critique. Of course, if the critique is inarguably true, then how does it jibe with Derrida's additional contention that nothing can be inarguably true? Off you go into the postmodernism hall of mirrors, and pretty soon you are all the way back to fretting about whether the chair is actually there.

    I think Derrida and others in his general camp do share some of the blame for declining public respect for the notion that some things are true and other things are not true. (Emphasis added.)

    Much as I sympathize with Derrida's frustration over language, the reason I struggle with definitions is because I do respect truth, and I dislike it when words get in the way. When this happens, I have to choice but to attempt to reason my way through it.

    What's particularly disturbing is to see that the idea of reason -- especially that which Western Civilization has valued since the Enlightenment -- is under attack by elements of the left and the right. Richard Wolin has written a book on the subject titled The Seduction of Unreason. Excerpt:

    Surely, one of the more curious aspects of the contemporary period is that the heritage of Enlightenment finds itself under attack not only from the usual suspects on the political right but also from proponents of the academic left. As one astute commentator has recently noted, today "Enlightenment bashing has developed into something of an intellectual blood-sport, uniting elements of both the left and the right in a common cause."5 Thus, one of the peculiarities of our times is that Counter-Enlightenment arguments once the exclusive prerogative of the political right have attained a new lease on life among representatives of the cultural left. Surprisingly, if one scans the relevant literature, one finds champions of post-modernism who proudly invoke the Counter-Enlightenment heritage as their own. As the argument goes, since democracy has been and continues to be responsible for so many political ills, and since the critique of modern democracy began with the anti-philosophes, why not mobilize their powerful arguments in the name of the postmodern political critique? As a prominent advocate of postmodern political theory contends, one need only outfit the Counter-Enlightenment standpoint with a new "articulation" (a claim couched in deliberate vagueness) to make it serviceable for the ends of the postmodern left.6 Yet those who advocate this alliance of convenience between extreme right and extreme left provide few guarantees or assurances that the end product of the exercise in political grafting will result in greater freedom rather than a grandiose political miscarriage.
    Understandably, many find the author of the above annoying:
    Richard Wolin is an intellectual historian with a remarkable gift for upsetting people. His work has annoyed postmodernists, outraged Heideggerians, infuriated scholars of Hannah Arendt, and provoked Jacques Derrida himself into faxing lengthy denunciations and threats of legal action.
    I'm sure he's at least as annoying to conservatives who believe in rule by a
    tiny elite, especially those who would like to elevate their views into a realm untouchable by logic and reason. People on both "sides" of this anti-Enlightenment mindset tend to use code language which prevents people from understanding each other. Even the code language often consists of perfectly ordinary words like "family," "choice," "life," and "hate" -- to the point where people can no longer carry on reasonable conversations.

    Whether discourse, as Foucault maintained, is all about "power," (another loaded word) should not end the inquiry, but just the opposite, because elevating power above reason favors those who seek power at the expense of reason.

    I suspect that those who hate the Enlightenment and condemn reason are in love with power whether they admit it or not. Little wonder that they'd work in collusion from suposedly opposite sides of the spectrum.

    UPDATE: To avoid ending on a dark note, I found it refreshing that Stop the ACLU, which started a delinking campaign directed against Glenn Reynolds, has now published this interview with Glenn and has relinked him. Regardless of the nature of the disagreement, such discourse is admirable. Things like delinking negate the possibility of dialogue, which means that everyone loses. (Although bloggers like me can always resort to ridicule.)

    UPDATE (11/20/05): More on this topic here. (It's disturbing to find apparent confirmation of my suspicions.)

    posted by Eric at 08:20 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Innocence is guilt!
    Innocence is a term that describes the lack of guilt of an individual, with respect for a crime. It can also refer to a state of unknowing, where one's experience is less than that of one's peers, in either a relative view to social peers, or by an absolute comparison to a more common normative scale. In contrast to ignorance, it is generally viewed as a positive term, connoting a blissfully positive view of the world.

    Over the weekend I watched the early (1967) black and white version of "In Cold Blood" again. In so many ways, it's like revisiting childhood -- not only because I read the book when it first came out (and saw the movie not long after it came out), but because the childish nature of the two psychopaths (Dick Hickcock and Perry Smith) reminds me of a hopeless paradox I've never been able to figure out.

    I'm not alone in finding this case fascinating. Interest in the Clutter murder case comes and goes in cycles. First there was the book, then the 1967 movie, then a 1996 remake, and now the film "Capote" (which features Perry Smith as a central character).

    Until today I hadn't known about Perry Smith's central role in "Capote" -- a film which just moved up dramatically on my cinematic priority list.

    Anyway, this is not a film review, but a childishly unprofessional (hopefully not too psychopathic) review of human nature.

    Let's start with the premise that Perry Smith was a childish man:

    The murderer Perry Smith grew up as a physically and psychologically abused child. His parents traveled the rodeo circuit, and his mother became an alcoholic prostitute who died by strangling on her own vomit. His father-the self-styled Lone Wolf-was a fabricator of grandiose dreams and a man of incredible violence. In a quarrel over a biscuit, for example, the father pointed a .22 rifle at his son and said, "Look at me, Perry. I'm the last thing living you're ever gonna see." By mere chance the gun was not loaded. Violent like his father, Perry also inherited from Smith, Sr., the tendency to wish for impossibilities. He dreamed of riches acquired by finding buried treasure in sunken ships, though he could not swim and would not even wear swimming trunks, since his legs and been terribily scarred in a motorcycle accident. Smith also longed to be a nightclub singer, though he had no musical talent or training. Much of his youth had been spent in orphanages and reform schools where he had had to fight his way from childhood to adolescence to manhood. His only reliable companion was a bizarre imaginary friend: a gigantic yellow parrot, in Perry's own words, "taller than Jesus, yellow like a sunflower" that swooped down as a "warrior-angel" and attacked his offenders-as he said, "slaughtered them as they pleaded for mercy" and then gently lifted Perry to Paradise.
    Here's a picture of the pair right after they were arrested (Smith is on the right):


    Perry Smith doesn't seem to have wished the murdered Clutter family any harm, but saw them as people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time:

    About the Clutters, Perry said, "I didn't have anything against them, and they never did anything wrong to me---the way other people have all my life. Maybe they're just the ones who have to pay for it."

    As he went to his execution, Perry kissed Capote on the cheek and said, "Adios, Amigo."

    This type of criminal team, composed of from two to five people, is often guided by a central figure with a particular fantasy. Something about his energy inspires the other participants to serve that fantasy. Without him, they may never have committed a murder. To some degree, they all have psychopathic traits, and while a few have claimed after arrest to have been unwilling accomplices, the evidence indicates otherwise, as we shall see.

    It's been repeatedly claimed that neither one of these killers would have committed these murders alone, and I'm reminded that the same claim was made about the killers whom Dr. Helen (aka "the instawife") has discussed extensively. (Obviously, not all psychopaths kill, although just as obviously, we worry a lot more about the ones who do.)

    Smith's childish nature is, I think, also confirmed by his reassuring words to Herb Clutter (head of the Clutter family) in a famous passage from Capote's book:

    Just before I taped him, Mr. Clutter asked me-and these were his last words-wanted to know how his wife was, if she was all right, and I said she was fine, she was ready to go to sleep, and I told him it wasn't long till morning, and how in the morning somebody would find them, and then all of it, me and Dick and all, would seem like something they had dreamed. I wasn't kidding him. I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat."
    He knew the whole time he was going to kill them all, without wishing them any harm. His reassurances remind me of the Nazis telling Jews to be sure to remember where they put their belongings so they could reclaim them after their "showers," and may have been motivated not so out of kindness, but to minimize trouble and help the murders go smoothly. I'm not even sure that when Smith prevented his buddy Hickcock from raping the Clutter girl he was motivated by kindness as much as making things move along according to plan. The disgust he expressed (over "people who can't control themselves") displays impatience with his accomplice rather than empathy for the poor girl, and is more evidence (I think) of an overlapping emotional disconnect shared between psychopaths and children.

    Probably because of the repugnance factor, many readers will resist thinking of this fiendish killer as a child. But consider the touching spectacle of hardened mass murderer Perry Smith being spoon-fed by the lisping, effeminate Truman Capote:

    Discovering that Smith is on a hunger strike, Capote buys him baby food and spoon-feeds him back to health. Their relationship is the heart of this movie. Each wants something from the other, and each is willing to reveal a bit of themselves to get it. "You know, we're not so different as you might think," Capote tells Smith as he shares stories from his childhood.

    As I've said before, I was attacked by children at age two, and I've never since been fully able to understand the claim made that children are innocent, because I know deep down that they are not. At least, the ones who attacked me were not. They attacked without feeling, and without remorse, the way an animal might. (If children are innocent, then why not psychopaths and animals?) I was tied up (so were Perry Smith's victims), and I responded by having an out of body experience. Finally, I was saved by the adults, only to hear them prattle on about which adult had been "responsible." (Something that I'm ashamed to admit made me feel strangely empowered....) But no one considered holding the child perps responsible. No one ever does, and that is because they are "innocent." I knew that the kids were guilty -- far more guilty than any adult (for after all, adults had helped me while they had done just the opposite), but so what? I grew up faster because of it. (At least, so I liked to think....)

    Anyway, I think this "innocence" is defined by the same feature children share with psychopaths: a total or near total lack of remorse. Of empathy. Of feeling. The absence of a conscience, if you will.

    If this characteristic is "innocence" in children, why is it considered precisely the opposite -- guilt -- in adults? Actually, I think it may considered a worse thing than guilt. Given a criminal conviction, a defendant's lack of remorse is normally considered an aggravating factor; hence the "cold blooded murderer" is subject to the death penalty, while the hothead who "loses his cool" faces conviction on a lesser charge. In practice, I suppose that means a psychopath who finds his wife in bed with another man, has no strong feelings one way or another, but just shoots him because he feels like killing the guy, why, he's much guiltier than the man who explodes with rage.

    Temper, temper!

    Interestingly, the child who loses his temper and misbehaves tends to be dealt with more severely than a child who does the same thing without feeling.

    It's not my purpose to makes excuses one way or another, whether for children or psychopaths; just to pose a few questions. Is the child's lack of remorse truly a form of innocence, or is it caused by that thing we call innocence? I am not suggesting that a psychopath's lack of remorse should be called innocence; only that it shares similar features, and oddly enough, it may have been formed in childhood.

    Or it may have not been formed at all.

    What I mean by that is that the lack of remorse -- something studied by psychologists -- may not be something that psychopaths acquired. Rather, it may be that for whatever reason they never learned to replace innocence with guilt. Instead, they've kept what we'd call "innocence" in a child all the way into their so-called "adulthood."

    If this is true, if psychopaths are adult children, this in no way diminishes their danger to society (and I'd still pull the lever on 'em), but it does beg a few definitional questions.

    I hate paradoxes like this, and I'm no closer to the answer now than I was when I was two and thought I'd left my innocence behind.

    Bad thing, innocence.

    posted by Eric at 04:30 PM | Comments (4)

    Revitalizing Kelo?

    The Philadelphia Inquirer's Diane Mastrull (who's previously portrayed opposition to Kelo-style condemnations as "anti-development"), has written a front page story in today's Inquirer which I think drips with sympathy for condemnation-happy governments. Beginning with a headline calling the anti-Kelo movement a "Backlash," the story wastes no time casting aspersions on the thought processes -- if not mental health -- of the anti-Kelo movement:

    The words eminent domain have been throwing a fright into property owners for more than half a century, but never more so than in the last six months.

    Setting off the nationwide panic attack was a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that expanded the concept well beyond its usual bounds.

    Wait a second.

    As a libertarian, I'm vehemently opposed to Kelo-style condemnations, and I support the legislation to redress the problem. So have a lot of bloggers and concerned citizens. But I don't think I've had a "panic attack" over it. No doubt some people have, but that's because the threat of losing one's home is the sort of thing that makes people panic. But there are a lot of people opposed to Kelo who are not in a panic state, and I don't think such hyperbole is fair to them. Certainly not in what I think is supposed to be a news story.

    I suspect this is another one of those news stories that wants to be an editorial....

    But let's continue:

    The justices ruled that a Connecticut city could force the sale of homes and businesses in a neighborhood not deemed blighted, to make way for private economic development.

    Predictions of wanton land grabs by local governments rumbled across the country.

    The eminent-domain juggernaut, though, has not materialized. What has occurred is a stampede of lawmakers in Congress and more than 30 states to prohibit the kind of property seizures the high court allowed in Connecticut. Within a week of the ruling, a bill reining in the use of eminent domain passed in Delaware. Five are pending in New Jersey and four in Pennsylvania, where one could come up for a Senate vote as early as tomorrow.

    Ah, an imaginary "juggernaut" has caused a very real legislative "stampede." And that "stampede" (obviously such things should be stopped) "could come up for a Senate vote as early as tomorrow."

    A Senate vote?

    As early as tomorrow?

    If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that the timing of this "story" had something to do with a lobbying effort against the "stampede."

    Eminent domain "is a very, very important revitalization tool," said Herbert Wetzel, executive director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. Without it, he said, more than 7,300 affordable housing units built in the city since 1992 would not exist.
    My morbid side wishes I had time to take some photos of some of that "affordable housing," because I think a good case can be made that "revitalization" is not what has occurred.

    But for now I'll just have to sit here and content my morbid side with the pro-Kelo (read "revitalization") lobby:

    On Wednesday, Wetzel spent four hours in Harrisburg lobbying for compromise language in the bill about to come before the Senate. Under the proposal written by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin), property could not be seized unless it met a considerably narrowed definition of "blight." With few exceptions, eminent domain also could not be invoked to clear the way for private commercial enterprises - hotels, office complexes, shopping malls - even if they generated jobs and tax revenue.

    The Kelo ruling "made people sit up and take notice and start to realize that in the face of activist courts and local government, private property rights might very well be threatened," said Piccola, whose district includes Harrisburg.

    He and like-minded lawmakers have heard pleas for caution from a variety of land-use and redevelopment-advocacy groups such as 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, which is urging more study of eminent domain in the state before any bill is put to a vote.

    Late last week, Gov. Rendell's office weighed in with a five-page letter of suggested adjustments to Piccola's proposal, to "strike the right balance between the rights of homeowners ... and the critical needs of Pennsylvania's communities to revitalize."

    From the text of S. 881 (the Piccola bill), here's the key operative language:
    Except as set forth in subsection (b), the exercise by any condemnor of the power of eminent domain to take private property in order to use it for private commercial enterprise is prohibited.
    Previous lobbying efforts which would have exempted "all cities" failed, and while I haven't been able to locate the text of the Rendell letter, I'm assuming that the cities are seeking some kind of exemption for "revitalization" efforts.

    But wasn't that the whole idea behind Kelo?

    Once again, I disagree with Kelo style takings of private property, whether they're called "revitalization" or not.

    Those who disagree with me, please go ahead and call my position a "panic attack" if you wish. Feel free to accuse me of fomenting a "stampede." By all means, go ahead and lobby for the pro-Kelo side, if you feel strongly enough.

    But if you're going to do all that and call it "reporting," I must protest.

    (It's a hell of a way to revitalize news.)

    posted by Eric at 07:34 AM | Comments (6)

    Poaching Comments

    When I posted part I of Leon Kass's courtship essay, I promised to locate and post an actual defense of Dr. Kass. Maybe even two of them. Well, here they are, gleaned from the comment sections of other blogs who got there ahead of me. Is it morally questionable to do this? Perhaps. I'm hoping that full attribution and links will wash me clean of sin.

    Since I'm constitutionally incapable of giving Dr. Kass a completely free ride, I've included a few negatives as well. Originally, the pro-Leon pieces were to appear in boldface, in their entirety. The anti-Leons would be similarly italicized. Everybody else, standard type.

    On further reflection, I've decided that classification scheme is insufficiently discriminating. I don't want a broad brush here. Pointillism seems the way to go. Many contributors had a mixed message. Also, I'm reversing the typefaces. Italics for defense. Boldface for criticism. Just because I can.

    First up, Crooked Timber...

    Kass had something of a cult following when I was an undergrad at the U of C. It’s not hard to see why—in his insistence on a positive notion of human wellbeing and the good life, there are points of contact with someone like Marcuse or Fromm.

    Even the ice cream thing isn’t necessarily so silly. Eating is a fundamental act, something you should take seriously and devote your full attention to, something that needs to be cultivated to appreciate and do well. Isn’t there some truth to that?

    Not to say he isn’t nuts, of course.

    Posted by lemuel pitkin October 21st, 2005 at 1:44 am

    It’s not even the opinions that get me – it’s the bloated, farting, tumescent pomposity. Point, and jeer.

    Posted by Alex October 21st, 2005 at 4:16 am

    Gosh, I liked the prose. It’s refreshing to see someone deploy archaic words correctly and effectively.

    I also admire Kass’s intellectual consistency. The ice cream quote is evidence, I think, of an acute and rigorous mind following some of the assumptions and principles behind the earlier passages to their right and proper end.

    Trampling Mr Kass is a bit like trampling Henry James. He shouldn’t, clearly, be in a position to make decisions on bioethics or influence policy in our time. But he is quaint, and I kinda like him.

    Posted by ed October 21st, 2005 at 4:31 am

    I will probably be skewered for saying this, but instead of discounting Mr. Kaas because he offends our post sexual revolution sensibilities, we should listen.
    I believe he is making a valid point. He believes that something important to the relationship between men and women and to our own happiness has been lost.
    I disagree in the way he is trying to make his point. Mr Kaas’ return to modesty and virtue, as they were acted out in his day, is no more pleasant to my mind than today’s drivel about “negotiating relationships”.
    Mr. Kaas’ talk about modesty and virtue is really about finding protecting and fostering love. To my mind, his world is closer to the mark of what we should be talking about, than our talk of today about “having a heathly realtionship”.

    Its about love dammit! We don’t discuss love in America. We talk about being healthy. Of being in a healthy relationship. Of negotiating with our partners. I want what I want and you want what you want, so we will negotiate a compromise.

    Love is secondary in our world, it was of primary importance in Mr. Kaas’ world. In my mind, Mr Kaas is at least pointing in the right direction.

    Posted by Dave October 21st, 2005 at 9:04

    Having been in several of his classes at the University of Chicago, I’ll put forward that Leon Kass is a truly gifted teacher, a graceful and talented writer, and a moral philosopher whose premises are all based on ideas that were really last “current” a thousand years ago. To Professor Kass, St. Thomas Aquinas is a modern philosopher.
    I love and completely agree with ed’s comments from above:

    “Trampling Mr Kass is a bit like trampling Henry James. He shouldn’t, clearly, be in a position to make decisions on bioethics or influence policy in our time. But he is quaint, and I kinda like him.”

    Kass is a great man to have an argument with, and a nice counterpoint to us relativist humanists, but the thought of him being Surgeon General is terrifying.

    Posted by scory October 21st, 2005 at 9:22 am

    Please remember that one of Mr. Kass’ goals is to ‘offend’ and turn off the ‘unserious.’ He is a Straussian-extrordinaire, therefore he is writing esoterically. His over-the-top crabby old man statements are meant to get people all riled up on the surface, but he expects the serious reader to look past all that.
    Let’s pretend he deserves a serious reading and what he’s trying to get at: I think it is that he believes true friendship can only exist between men, and that having women running around pretending to be equal just makes society too hard to control. Since he believes (like Strauss) that there really is no ‘natural’ order to things besides the strong doing what’s to their advantage, he thinks men should get back in control (by persuading the women that it’s in their best interest).

    I also think he really believes that men cannot control their sexual desires without the help of ‘virtuous women,’ or at least that they have no reason to. In this, he is not so different from the orthodox Muslims who believe every piece of skin must be hidden.

    In any case, try not to be distracted by what he means to distract you with: the liberals’ reaction to the ice cream comment is exactly the sort of thing Straussians laugh about behind closed doors.

    Posted by e October 21st, 2005 at 9:25 am

    I should start by saying that I know Leon Kass and his family. I have been a guest at his house and he at mine. His wife, Amy, also a professor at the U of C, is the finest teacher I have ever known. So, discount what I have to say as you see fit. I am certain that Leon fully expected to catch flak for his comments. Whenever you enter into public discourse, you have to expect some pie-in-the-face (or should I say, ice cream?) reaction. He doesn’t need me to defend him.
    But I’d like to defend him nonetheless, at least against the personal, ad hominem attacks that he’s caught, here and on other sites.
    What you might want to understand is that his stated concerns for young people generally, and young women particularly, are sincere and carefully considered, not code for a desire to demean and subordinate women. His relationship with his wife and daughters is respectful, loving and equal and I suspect that, if you knew them, you would like and approve of their family. Naturally, my assertion that Leon is a good man with a good family doesn’t provide a shred of support for his argument, but I don’t want the attacks on his character to go unrebutted.
    See, what happened with Amy and Leon was they saw all their favorite students spending tremendous effort and thought on how to advance their careers or get into grad school or improve their minds but hardly any on who to marry. They believe (as I do) that the decision as to whether and who to marry is the most important choice a person can make and that the smart, talented young people they saw on a daily basis were messing it up. Being from the U of C, they naturally concluded that what everyone needed was a 636 page tome of assigned reading in the classics. So they assembled a book, “Wing To Wing, Oar To Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying.” It is about what you’d expect from two lifelong U of C scholars tackling the subject of marriage. Lots of different authors with different, interesting takes on the topic. In their own words, the book was offered “in wisdom-seeking rather than wisdom-delivering-spirit, as writings that make us think, that challenge our unexamined opinions, expand our sympathies, elevate our gaze, and introduce us to possibilities open to human beings in everyday life that may be undreamt of in our philosophizing.” pg.19. If you are honestly interested in the subject or what they think, I recommend the book to you.
    So disagree with his fundamental points all you like. Tell him you think that, for all the problems that he elegantly identifies in today’s young people, his diagnosis is flawed and his prescription is wrong. I have, to his face. But, before you impugn his motives or attack his character, consider that you really do not know what you are talking about.

    Posted by K. Hannigan October 21st, 2005 at 9:51 am

    The first step to self-knowledge is knowing that you are ignorant.

    You folks, with all your snarky comments, have any of you read a book on love? Studied the nature of love? If you had, then you would understand where Mr Kaas was coming from. Notice, I did not say that you would have to agree.

    But, at least you’d be able to make an argument that wasn’t just an attack on Mr. Kaas.

    Pathetic. You wear your ignorance like a shield and sustain it with you outrage that someone dares to question the nature of things.

    Posted by Dave October 21st, 2005 at 10:04 am

    Hey, I went to the U of C. “Impughing his motives” and “attacking his character” are the first things they teach you if you study with a Straussian. Of course, they wrap it up in the pretty paper of “challenging our unexamined positions.” But the Kass virgin/whore idea is pretty clear from his own argument. Basically, if the profs in Social Thought could just get the world back to the the way the Greeks ran things—when men didn’t really need women for sexual pleasure, just procreation—they would be much happier. They should should all just come out of the closet.

    Posted by Jeff October 21st, 2005 at 10:25 am

    Hmm. So what if I thought long and hard about who I wanted to marry, and kept coming to the conclusion that I wanted to marry another man. How would the good Professor council me?

    Posted by djw October 21st, 2005 at 11:10 am

    As a recently matriculated PhD. student at the U of Chicago, I am officially embarassed for my school.

    Posted by T.W. McKinney October 21st, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    I dunno, K. Hannigan. Nobody could possibly object to:

    “writings that make us think, that challenge our unexamined opinions, expand our sympathies, elevate our gaze, and introduce us to possibilities open to human beings in everyday life that may be undreamt of in our philosophizing”

    And in between hoots of laughter, folks have pointed out that Kass holds fast to unexamined opinions, has narrow sympathies, is unable to elevate his gaze, and cannot see “possibilities open to human beings in everyday life … undreamt of in [his] philosophizing.” Part of the trouble with his writing on this topic is its utter banality. It may be the banality of another age, but its fustiness doesn’t make it smarter.
    And for someone who believes that love springs from sublimated lust to accuse other people of having a limited view of love is a little too much.

    In addition to their banality these ideas do have consequences in the blighting of lives, so yes people will respond vigorously, and if you choose to make uninformed, broad-brush arguments about sexuality and bring back the virgin|whore dichotomy etc. etc., one of the responses you can expect is merciless ridicule. Some of it’s over the top, yes. Most of it’s pretty entertaining.

    Posted by Colin Danby October 21st, 2005 at 1:42 pm

    And to those who defend this dinosaur, his personal charms are irrelevant to the views he expressed. Perhaps he is a benevolent dictator to his wife and daughters—that doesn’t make his dictatorship ethical.

    And speaking of love, how can anyone say he knows anything about it whatsoever? Subsumed lust is not love. It’s nowhere close to it.

    And his last fallacy (a common one) is in assuming that his acquaintance with college students gives him any real insight into how functioning adults work in our society. College students are in transition, still making their personalities, easily swayed by their heroes, and for the most part, utterly ignorant of the real world and real relationships, because they haven’t been on their own yet. It is an irritatingly common failing of many academics, to think that what they observe in students rarified lives can be extrapolated to the majority of the population.

    Posted by emjaybee October 21st, 2005

    Fuck you all. Its obviously much more fun and “liberating” to make fun of this guy than to address any of the points that he is making, or to wonder why these topics might be important.

    A society is only as good as the families that hold it up. With the sexual revolution of our society came a whole bunch of weird shit that has affected our nation in a lot of different ways.

    Are they good, bad, hard to say? I dont know. But I find it hilarious that no one wants to admit that Kass might have a point about how unrestrained sexual activity will negatively impact a society as a whole.

    Posted by Chuck October 21st, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    Chuck: "I find it hilarious that no one wants to admit that Kass might have a point about how unrestrained sexual activity will negatively impact a society as a whole."

    Also, the “Time Cube” guy might have a point, how there may be certain flaws in quantum electrodynamics, but because he’s nuts and his own ideas are rubbish, that point is lost.

    "Fuck you all."

    Kiss my ass, Chuck.

    Posted by W. Kiernan October 22nd, 2005 at 7:28 am

    Leon Kass would, I’m sure, be overjoyed to learn that everyone is judging the U of Chicago by his example (and by the example of the Committee on Social Thought in general). I’m sure he’s a great teacher, and I’m sure I would have left his classes with my skin crawling the way I left half my classes as an undergraduate at Chicago, but he’s spent most of his career not only writing this sort of mind-bending ghastliness but trying to put the name of the university behind him in everything he does. I left that university shuddering and swearing I would never go back; it was only later that I realized I had let this sort of bad apple ruin what should have been, and at times was, an amazing experience. I don’t know what it is about the place that allows the worst to be so full of passionate intensity; certainly it isn’t the lack of alternatives—the professoriate as a whole, I think, isn’t that much more reactionary or irrational than the average...

    Posted by commenter

    October 24th, 2005 at 11:52 pm


    Kevin Drum...

    Kevin and his ilk display again the reason why republicans will never embrace the liberal agenda. Kevin can dismiss Kass with a chuckle and a wave of his wrist without ever addressing divorce, infidelity, loss of shame, lack of commitment, the glorification of self over service--none of this merits any serious consideration. Sexual freedom has no negative consequence in Kevin's world does it? ...How do you expect to ever convince a moderate Republican who cares about this stuff that you care too, when you ridicule this way.

    I pity this country. Kass is so funny, such an idiot, so easily dismissed!

    Posted by: alice on October 21, 2005 at 8:58 AM

    Who REALLY likes the notion of having to choose everything for yourself and does it really make you happy?

    I grew up with a paradoxical father - an atheist libertarian who also adopted the 50's "Father Knows Best" style of parenting - the quintessential friendly autocrat. Being dragged around attractions as a kid with absolutely no choice as to where to go, it was one of my fondest dreams to grow up and go to places of my own choosing. Being told I had to think for myself, then being told what to think, I greatly desired to get away and be my own person.

    I am mid-30's and single. I'm totally in control of my own life. Sure I don't always have a friend or male companion to go places with. However absolute submission to a male authority figure is far more loathsome to me than loneliness. My thoughts and beliefs and time are all my own.

    Just to repeat myself, there are things worse than loneliness.

    p.s. - I attended the U. of C. undergrad. The sadness in the eyes of young women there stems from the general unattractiveness and ineptness of the male population. The straight men are 95% dorks who never dated a woman before and treat women like crap through sheer incompetence and ignorance.

    Posted by: Librul on October 21, 2005 at 11:32 AM

    What exactly is Leon Kass planning on DOING about the sluts in our midst? It just sounds like a bunch of whining. Everyone complains about sluts, but no one ever does anything about them...

    Posted by:kokblok on October 21, 2005 at 11:52 AM

    Personally, I find Maggie Gallagher far more loathesome than Leon Kass. I get the sense that underneath it all, Kass is basically a decent human being. Not so with the wretched Gallagher. It's been most gratifying to see her getting torn to shreds over the last few days by the commenters at, where she is guest-blogging about the evils of gay marriage.

    Posted by: Don P on October 21, 2005 at 12:59 PM

    I don't like promiscuity any more than Mr. Kass does, but I think men ought to be as chaste as women have traditionally had to be. I don't want my sons thinking "hookups" are anything but pitiful. I want them to save sex for the person they intend to marry. (They're 3 and 7, so I have no idea whether they'll be straight or gay, and I really don't want them to think about that yet, either. If they are gay, I hope strongly that by the time they're adults, gays can marry.) I also want them to understand that THEY control their sexual urges; it's not the girl's responsibility to keep things cool while they put on pressure...

    Posted by: Karen Cox on October 21, 2005 at 11:38


    Not one Kass defender surfaced at Pandagon...

    Dianne said on October 22, 2005 10:38 AM:

    "he's at the University of Chicago, known affectionately to its students as "Where Fun Comes to Die.""

    Hey! I resemble that remark! U of C can be a lot of fun if you have the right sort of sick, perverted mind. The type of mind that goes to class for (dramatic pause) fun. The type of mind that competes to take classes with the extra-hard, extra-obnoxious professor. Ok, U of C is number 500 out of 500 as a party school (beating out West Point), but so what? Most U of C students would rather be at a library than a party any day. For one thing, that's where the hot geeks hang out. And the stacks are nice, quiet, and generally fairly private if one needs to...disprove Kass's theory about women not liking sex. Most of the school thinks the Committee for Social Thought is full of idiots...


    There you have it. Something nice about Leon Kass, right here at Classical Values. Mark your calendars.

    posted by Justin at 07:30 AM | Comments (4)

    Now That's What I Call Debating

    Via Fight Aging, an interchange between Aubrey de Grey and one of his critics. Much substantive criticism began the cycle of sarcasm...

    Dear Aubrey:

    I saw you on TV the other day, and was hoping that now that the aging problem has been solved, you might have time to help me in my publicity campaign to solve a similar engineering challenge, one that has been too long ignored by the ultra-conservative, fraidy-cat mainstream scientific community, the problem of producing flying pigs.

    A theoretical analysis of the problem, using the fastest available modern
    computers, shows that there are a mere seven reasons why pigs cannot, at present, fly.

    1. They do not have wings.

    2. They are too heavy to get off the ground.

    3. The so-called 'law' of gravity.

    4. They cannot climb trees.

    5. Hair, instead of feathers.

    6. They do not wish to fly.

    7. They do not go tweet.

    Although I have been too busy in my day job to find time to work in a laboratory, I have been able to show clearly that these problems can be solved, using an approach I call Plan for Engineered Porcine Aviation, or PEPA.

    1. No wings: genetic engineering will be used to alter Hox-box promoters and micro-RNA gene enhancers to re-activate the pre-wing somite program. A dab of stem cell therapy might help here, too; at any rate, it cannot hurt, can it?

    2. Too heavy: although the average pig cell is a chunky 20 microns in diameter, microbiologists have recently documented (R. M. Morris et al., Nature 420:806, 2002) free-living organisms as small as 0.8 microns in diameter. By the well known inverse cube law, a reduction in mean cell diameter of 25 will lead to a reduction in volume of 25^3 = 15,625, with a corresponding reduction in pig weight.

    3. Gravity problem: This one?s easy ­ either move the pig to Phobos, one of the low gravity satellites of Mars, where people are going anyway and they can just drop the pig off on the way, or else use transient hypergravity attractivity to hollow out the Earth by removing the heavy and unnecessary core. As a side effect, if this is done properly, it just might speed up the Earth's rotation sufficiently to provide the pig with a bit of a push to get it started, too.

    4. Can't climb trees: Who says pigs cannot climb trees? Because so far most of their food has been placed in troughs or in the undergrowth of French forests, pigs have not previously been motivated to climb trees. In any case, toxin-constrained nano-bonsai ought to do the trick here.

    5. No feathers: the Drosophila antennapaedia gene, for which a Nobel prize was recently awarded, allows the transformation of bristles into legs or antennas, and there's no reason this wouldn't work for feathers and pigs, too.

    6. Lack of motivation: easy to solve: LySergic Acid Diethylamide.

    7. Tweet problem: implantable helium sacs, just under the armpits, so whenever they flap their wings a bit of helium gets squirted into their vocal cavity. I read an article about this in MIT's distinguished and highly respected alumni journal, Technology Review, so I know it can be done.

    Although each of these strategies is based upon sound scientific precedent or fantasy, nonetheless some of my conservative critics here on the local faculty have argued, from their ivory tower, that no one has yet proven that any one of these methods has been shown to convert porkers to parakeets. But no one has yet tried all seven of them together, don't you see! In addition, funding for porcine avionics research has to date been very very low, due to the stubborn insistence of NIH on peer review. The PEPA program, however, has been endorsed, or at any rate not publicly pilloried, by dozens of eminent scientists whose names I could give you if necessary.

    Amazing though it may seem, I believe that we are now at what I call a 'cusp' in the history of either porkiculture or aviation or both. Pigs born before April 14, 2009, will be destined to a life on the ground, rooting about for scraps, grunting unpleasantly, and constantly getting their curly little tails entangled in low-lying shrubs. Pigs born after April 15, 2009 (or perhaps a few days later), will in contrast waft lazily through the lambent skies, tweeting merry greetings to one another, nibbling at an occasional air-truffle, and enjoying panoramic views of either Cambridge or Phobos, depending. Also, they?ll get to live forever, by following the practices so stirringly depicted in your own articles.

    All I need is a clever marketing gimmick ­ perhaps a prize of some sort, that will fool journalists and conference organizers into thinking that the only reason none of this works yet is that scientists are afraid to debate with me. Any advice?

    All the best,

    Prof. Richard Miller, M.D., Ph.D.
    University of Michigan
    Ann Arbor, Michigan

    In all honesty, Dr. Miller has a wonderful way with words. Even so, I've yet to see Aubrey de Grey come off the worse in a duel of words. Here's his response...

    My dear Rich, how delightful to hear from you. I am so heartened that you have chosen to dissociate yourself publicly from the anti-SENS sentiment recently expressed by some of our colleagues in EMBO Reports [November 2005 issue]. I hope you will succeed in extracting from them an apology for including your name in the list of authors (and even so outrageously parodying your inestimable writing style). Perhaps, since your name was midway down a long author list, they thought no one would notice. What an interesting problem you raise. I confess I had not considered the hardship endured by pigs as a result of their flightlessness, but you articulate it most effectively. I think I can indeed help.

    Before addressing the marketing aspect, I feel it is worth examining this problem for alternative solutions that may be even more straightforward than those you list -- and which may indeed be applicable to those unfortunate pigs who are already alive, so for whom your strategies 1, 2 and 5 are inapplicable. It would surely be best to alleviate as much porcine suffering as possible, so this would be a definite improvement. Further, since those who might fund your project are also already alive, this might facilitate marketing too.

    In considering this question I have adopted the age-old strategy of looking to evolution for clues. Evolution has of course created flying creatures from flightless ones several times. However, most of these processes are thought to have been slow, progressing through long periods of aeronautical semi-competence that far exceed that of contemporary pigs. Moreover, almost all flying species share with birds most of the seven differences from pigs that you list. However, after much research I have identified a remarkable exception to this pattern. Amazing though it may seem, the little-known species Homo sapiens progressed, about a century ago, from a state of absolute flightlessness (unless we count floating, which you clearly do not count) to one of quite considerable competence at flying, and they did so over a period of only a few years. I am therefore inclined to look to the methods H. sapiens have adopted, as a starting-point for freeing our porcine friends from their current misery.

    This approach seems most promising. The technique employed by H. sapiens involves no alterations to their anatomy or genetics, only the use of large prostheses. These "machines" are of essentially the same design when built to carry one organism or many, so should be rather easy to adapt for porcine use despite the anatomical differences between the two species. Further, my research indicates that in recent years H. sapiens has automated nearly all the operating procedures of these machines, such that a method for the pig passenger to express its desired destination may be all that is needed to complete the design.

    This, however, brings me to perhaps the greatest challenge to either my proposal or yours, namely item six in your list of reasons why pigs remain so obstinately ground-dwelling. Pigs are well known to be among the more intelligent mammalian species. It is a sad fact that some of the brightest among us are inclined to presume that everyone else is stupid, such that when someone articulates an idea that they do not consider obviously correct they tend to dismiss it -- sometimes even ridicule it -- without bothering to familiarise themselves with the details. (Do you know, I once even encountered an American who thought so highly of himself that he believed he could outdo an Englishman at sarcasm!) As I'm sure you agree (and as I duly noted in my demolition of their piece in the same issue), your so-called coauthors in EMBO Reports are conspicuous examples of this flaw. Another case would be a learned immunologist's presumption that the word "allotopic" is merely a careless mis-spelling of the immunological term "allotypic", when in fact "allotopic" can trivially be looked up in, for example, PubMed. These individuals are also prone to resist debate on such matters, perhaps out of a subconscious reluctance to risk the possibility of being proved wrong. I therefore fear that the intended beneficiaries of your efforts may, by virtue of their intelligence (and awareness of it), spurn this chance to improve their lot; they may even refuse to entertain debate on whether the curious "engineering solution" we offer them will work. After all, the term "pig-headed" was not coined for nothing.

    I am confident that this can be overcome, however. The clear feasibility of adapting for porcine use a technique used to such effect by another mammalian species can only be denied for so long; media exposure of the absurdity of the nay-sayers' position will bring the public around soon enough. After all, that position ultimately consists of arguments so laughable as that H. sapiens' methods will not work because the reasons pigs might want to fly (the air-truffles you mention) are not high on the H. sapiens agenda. Such tunnel vision cannot delude people for long, however great the supposed authority of its proponent -- we all meet our match some time. In particular, your characteristic eloquence on this matter, as exemplified in your letter, will surely suffice to sway the occasional billionaire to your cause, thereby circumventing the NIH conservatism you so rightly deplore. Best of luck!

    Cheers, Aubrey

    Remind me never to trade barbs with Aubrey de Grey.

    posted by Justin at 01:14 PM | Comments (3)

    Just Playing Around With Boldface

    Events have conspired to delay this long promised post. However, like marriage, some things are worth waiting for. Here at last is "The End Of Courtship", part two. As usual, I've front-paged a few especially relevant excerpts, then taken excessive liberties with emphasis and boldface.

    Also worth waiting for is the Bradley Prize, which Dr. Kass won in 2003, along with Charles Krauthammer, Thomas Sowell, and Mary Ann Glendon. Here's a picture (pdf) of the happy winners. And why should they not appear happy?
    Each of them was 250,000 dollars richer. Congratulations!

    Let's just look at some of the rich social observation that helped Dr. Kass earn his cool quarter million...

    The sexual revolution that liberated (especially) female sexual desire from the confines of marriage, and even from love and intimacy, would almost certainly not have occurred had there not been available cheap and effective female birth control — the pill — which for the first time severed female sexual activity from its generative consequences.

    Not to nitpick, but this is factually incorrect. The pill is the latest in a long line of fertility control techniques, some of which can be traced back over at least two millennia. What's really new is that the pill is safer, cheaper, more convenient, and of course, legal.

    Thanks to technology, a woman could declare herself free from the teleological meaning of her sexuality — as free as a man appears to be from his. Her menstrual cycle, since puberty a regular reminder of her natural maternal destiny, is now anovulatory and directed instead by her will and her medications, serving goals only of pleasure and convenience, enjoyable without apparent risk to personal health and safety.

    Woman on the pill is thus not only freed from the practical risk of pregnancy; she has, wittingly or not, begun to redefine the meaning of her own womanliness...

    Ironically, but absolutely predictably, the chemicals devised to assist in family planning keep many a potential family from forming, at least with a proper matrimonial beginning.

    News flash? That's what they're there for . If they didn't work, no one would take them.

    Sex education in our elementary and secondary schools is an independent yet related obstacle to courtship and marriage...most programs of sex education in public schools have a twofold aim: the prevention of teenage pregnancy and the prevention of venereal disease, especially AIDS...

    The entire approach of sex education is technocratic and, at best, morally neutral...No effort is made to teach the importance of marriage as the proper home for sexual intimacy.

    But perhaps still worse than such amorality — and amorality on this subject is itself morally culpable — is the failure of sex education to attempt to inform and elevate the erotic imagination of the young...

    True sex education is an education of the heart; it concerns itself with beautiful and worthy beloveds, with elevating transports of the soul. The energy of sexual desire, if properly sublimated, is transformable into genuine and lofty longings...

    The sonnets and plays of Shakespeare, the poetry of Keats and Shelley, and the novels of Jane Austen can incline a heart to woo, and even show one whom and how...

    The ubiquitous experience of divorce is also deadly for courtship and marriage. Some people try to argue...that children of divorce will marry better than their parents...But the deck is stacked...Not only are many of them frightened of marriage...they are often maimed for love and intimacy.

    ...their capacity for trust and love has been severely crippled by the betrayal of the primal trust all children naturally repose in their parents, to provide that durable, reliable, and absolutely trustworthy haven of permanent and unconditional love in an otherwise often unloving and undependable world.

    Countless students at the University of Chicago have told me and my wife that the divorce of their parents has been the most devastating and life-shaping event of their lives.

    Full disclosure. I myself am the product of a "broken home". And you know what? You get over it.

    Given time and experience, you can even begin to see the good in it. My parent's divorce was long overdue, mostly because they took their marriage vows so seriously. They should have done it years before. I don't know a single divorced couple who took the end of their marriage lightly. Not one. They all agonized over it, they all did their best to make it work. It is impossible for me not to feel honest anger at Kass's glib dismissal of their efforts.

    If "countless" students think that their parent's divorce has been "the most devastating and life-shaping event of their lives" it's probably because they they haven't yet had much of a life, or encountered grown-up problems of their own.

    We now return to our scheduled programming...

    They are conscious of the fact that they enter into relationships guardedly and tentatively...Accordingly, they feel little sense of devotion to another...they are not generally eager for or partial to children...

    And many of the fatherless men are themselves unmanned for fatherhood...these children of divorce have a hard time finding, winning, and committing themselves to the right one.

    It is surely the fear of making a mistake in marriage, and the desire to avoid a later divorce, that leads some people to undertake cohabitation...It is far easier, so the argument goes, to get to know one another by cohabiting than by the artificial systems of courting or dating...

    But such arrangements, even when they eventuate in matrimony, are, precisely because they are a trial, not a trial of marriage. Marriage is not something one tries on for size, and then decides whether to keep; it is rather something one decides with a promise, and then bends every effort to keep...

    Nice. A real marriage, with virgins and all, is ineffably superior to those cheap hook-up marriages. That's why I've been saving myself...

    cohabitation is an arrangement of convenience, with each partner taken on approval and returnable at will. Many are, in fact, just playing house...

    When long-cohabiting couples do later marital life is generally regarded and experienced as a continuation of the same...

    The formal rite of passage that is the wedding ceremony is, however welcome and joyous, also something of a mockery...

    Does he even know what he sounds like? Sail ever on, o my captain...

    Given that they have more or less drifted into marriage, it should come as no great surprise that couples who have lived together before marriage have a higher, not lower, rate of divorce...Too much familiarity? Disenchantment? Or is it rather the lack of wooing...

    That the cause of courtship has been severely damaged by feminist ideology and attitudes goes almost without saying.

    Even leaving aside the radical attacks on traditional sex roles, on the worth of motherhood or the vanishing art of homemaking, and sometimes even on the whole male race, the reconception of all relations between the sexes as relations based on power is simply deadly for love.

    I thought it was about equality. Shows what I know.

    Anyone who has ever loved or been loved knows the difference between love and the will to power...

    On the one side, there is a rise in female assertiveness and efforts at empowerment, with a consequent need to deny all womanly dependence and the kind of vulnerability that calls for the protection of strong and loving men...

    On the other side, we see the enfeeblement of men, who, contrary to the dominant ideology, are not likely to become better lovers, husbands, or fathers if they too become feminists or fellow-travelers...

    These ever so sensitive males will defend not a woman's honor but her right to learn the manly art of self-defense...

    The problem is not woman's desire for meaningful work. It is rather the ordering of one's loves. Many women have managed to combine work and family; the difficulty is finally not work but careers, or, rather, careerism. surely no friend to love or marriage; and the careerist character of higher education is greater than ever. Women are under special pressures to prove they can be as dedicated to their work as men...they are compelled to regard private life, and especially marriage, homemaking, and family, as lesser goods...And marriage, should it come for careerist women, is often compromised from the start...

    the economic independence of itself not an asset for marital stability, as both the woman and the man can more readily contemplate leaving a marriage.

    Indeed, a woman's earning power can become her own worst enemy when the children are born. Many professional women who would like to stay home with their new babies nonetheless work full-time.

    Tragically, some cling to their economic independence because they worry that their husbands will leave them for another woman before the children are grown...

    In previous generations, people chose to marry, but they were not compelled also to choose what marriage meant...

    Sometimes, they were merely compelled to marry...

    Having in so many cases already given their bodies to one another — not to speak of the previous others — how does one understand the link between marriage and conjugal fidelity?

    And what, finally, of that first purpose of marriage, procreation, for whose sake societies everywhere have instituted and safeguarded this institution?...

    Marriage, especially when seen as the institution designed to provide for the next generation, is most definitely the business of adults, by which I mean, people who are serious about life, people who aspire to go outward and forward to embrace and to assume responsibility for the future.

    To be sure, most college graduates do go out, find jobs, and become self- supporting...But, though out of the nest, they don't have a course to fly. They do not experience their lives as a trajectory, with an inner meaning partly given by the life cycle itself.

    The carefreeness and independence of youth they do not see as a stage on the way to maturity, in which they then take responsibility for the world and especially, as parents, for the new lives that will replace them. The necessities of aging and mortality are out of sight;

    The view of life as play has often characterized the young. But, remarkably, today this is not something regrettable, to be outgrown as soon as possible; for their narcissistic absorption in themselves and in immediate pleasures and present experiences, the young are not condemned but are even envied by many of their elders.

    Parents and children wear the same cool clothes, speak the same lingo, listen to the same music. Youth, not adulthood, is the cultural ideal, at least as celebrated in the popular culture.

    Yes, everyone feels themselves to be always growing, as a result of this failed relationship or that change of job. But very few aspire to be fully grown-up...

    So this is our situation. But just because it is novel and of recent origin does not mean that it is reversible or even that it was avoidable.

    Indeed, virtually all of the social changes we have so recently experienced are the bittersweet fruits of the success of our modern democratic, liberal, enlightened society — celebrating equality, freedom, and universal secularized education, and featuring prosperity, mobility, and astonishing progress in science and technology.

    Even brief reflection shows how the dominant features of the American way of life are finally inhospitable to the stability of marriage and family life and to the mores that lead people self- consciously to marry.

    Tocqueville already observed the unsettling implications of American individualism, each person seeking only in himself for the reasons for things.

    Gratuitous Tocqueville quote...

    Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

    I met with several kinds of associations in America of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for the exertions of a great many men and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.

    Back to Kass...

    The celebration of equality gradually undermines the authority of religion, tradition, and custom, and, within families, of husbands over wives and fathers over sons.

    A nation dedicated to safeguarding individual rights to liberty and the privately defined pursuit of happiness is, willy- nilly, preparing the way for the "liberation" of women; in the absence of powerful non-liberal cultural forces, such as traditional biblical religion, that defend sex-linked social roles, androgyny in education and employment is the most likely outcome.

    Further, our liberal approach to important moral issues in terms of the rights of individuals — e.g., contraception as part of a right to privacy, or abortion as belonging to a woman's right over her own body, or procreation as governed by a right to reproduce — flies in the face of the necessarily social character of sexuality and marriage.

    The courtship and marriage of people who see themselves as self-sufficient rights- bearing individuals will be decisively different from the courtship and marriage of people who understand themselves as, say, unavoidably incomplete and dependent children of the Lord who have been enjoined to be fruitful and multiply....

    Not all the obstacles to courtship and marriage are cultural. At bottom, there is also the deeply ingrained, natural waywardness and unruliness of the human male.
    Sociobiologists were not the first to discover that males have a penchant for promiscuity and polygyny — this was well known to biblical religion.

    And yet, counterexamples are available...

    Men are also naturally more restless and ambitious than women; lacking woman's powerful and immediate link to life's generative answer to mortality, men flee from the fear of death into heroic deed, great quests, or sheer distraction after distraction.

    One can make a good case that biblical religion is, not least, an attempt to domesticate male sexuality and male erotic longings, and to put them in the service of transmitting a righteous and holy way of life through countless generations.

    For as long as American society kept strong its uneasy union between modern liberal political principles and Judeo-Christian moral and social beliefs, marriage and the family could be sustained and could even prosper.

    But the gender-neutral individualism of our political teaching has, it seems, at last won the day, and the result has been male "liberation" — from domestication, from civility, from responsible self-command.

    Contemporary liberals and conservatives alike are trying to figure out how to get men "to commit" to marriage, or to keep their marital vows, or to stay home with the children, but their own androgynous view of humankind prevents them from seeing how hard it has always been to make a monogamous husband and devoted father out of the human male.

    Ogden Nash had it right: "Hogamus higamus, men are polygamous; higamus hogamus, women monogamous."

    To make naturally polygamous men accept the conventional institution of monogamous marriage has been the work of centuries of Western civilization, with social sanctions, backed by religious teachings and authority, as major instruments of the transformation, and with female modesty as the crucial civilizing device.

    As these mores and sanctions disappear, courtship gives way to seduction and possession, and men become again the sexually, familially, and civically irresponsible creatures they are naturally always in danger of being.

    At the top of the social ladder, executives walk out on their families and take up with trophy wives. At the bottom of the scale, low-status males, utterly uncivilized by marriage, return to the fighting gangs, taking young women as prizes for their prowess. Rebarbarization is just around the corner.

    Courtship, anyone?

    Wow. A quarter of a million dollars.

    If you read this essay in its original form, you may notice that Dr. Kass has included footnotes. Yes, footnotes. To maintain my facade of scholarly erudition, I shall include one for you, me being such a completist and all...

    Truth to tell, the reigning ideology often rules only people's tongues, not their hearts. Many a young woman secretly hopes to meet and catch a gentleman, though the forms that might help her do so are either politically incorrect or simply unknown to her. In my wife's course on Henry James' The Bostonians, the class's most strident feminist, who had all term denounced patriarchy and male hegemonism, honestly confessed in the last class that she wished she could meet a Basil Ransom who would carry her off. But the way to her heart is blocked by her prickly opinions and by those of the dominant ethos.


    posted by Justin at 01:02 PM | Comments (11)

    Let The Sunni Shine In?

    Okay, so I'm old enough to remember the original. So what? It's funnier if you can remember the original.

    "Age of Aquarius", anyone?

    Without further ado, Iowahawk's "Age of Eurabia"...

    When Mahmooooud is in the Notre Dame And prayer rugs line Versailles Then this will please the Prophet We'll get hot chicks in Paradise!

    This is the dawning of the Age of Eurabia!
    Age of Eurabiaaaaa!
    Eu-ra-bi-AH! Eu-RA-bi-ah!
    Harmony and peace abounding
    all the Jews we will be hounding
    No more blaspheme or derision
    Imams making all decisions
    Mystic Qu’ran revelations
    No more homo celebrations
    Eu-ra-bi-AH! Eu-RA-bi-ah!

    Briiiing the Imams, bring the Imams in, the Imams in… (repeat chorus)

    HT Rand Simberg

    posted by Justin at 10:28 AM | Comments (4)

    Running against an incumbent is tricky business!

    Two heads are better than one.

    It took Sean Kinsell to make me finally figure out Senator Rick Santorum's reelection strategy. After trying without much success to make sense out of his behavior, I've finally concluded that he's running an anti-incumbency campaign.

    Politically speaking, running against an incumbent makes a lot of sense right now. The voters are fed up with incumbents, and the numbers are in. The latest polls indicate that being an incumbent sucks.

    Here are the ominous numbers:

    Incumbents 37%

    New Person - 51%.

    Why, that's almost the same spread as the distance between Santorum and his opponent (Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat):
    New Keystone Poll out in Pennsylvania and the news keeps getting worse for the current GOP number three in the Senate.

    In the same poll in March Senator Santorum trailed by 1 point, in June by 7 points, in September by 13 points, and in the latest (Nov. 2 - 7) Casey leads by a whopping 16 points, 51% - 35%.

    What this means, obviously, is that Rick Santorum can't run as a top Bush Senate honcho. He must become a new person. This poses problems, and here's the comment I left at White Peril:
    "Pennsylvania is weird." Three truer words have not been spoken. But Santorum seems to equate weirdness with stupidity.

    On Friday (Veterans Day, when politicians seem to love such things), Santorum raised the ante from a "scheduling conflict" to a full-blown assault on Bush for insufficiently strong language. This was at the same time, same state, as Bush's controversial speech, and was attributed to another scheduling conflict.

    Santorum has my sympathy, as it must be tough facing a pro-life Democrat. But if he runs to the right of himself and Casey holds the center, I'm not sure there are enough Twomey-style voters to carry it for him.

    If I didn't know any better, I'd almost swear that Santorum wants to be running against an incumbent. Not that there's anything wrong with an anti-incumbent strategy, mind you. But isn't Santorum overlooking something?

    I guess that depends on whether Pennsylvania voters overlook the same thing. There's still a year between now and the election, so perhaps Santorum is counting on voters to have short memories.

    There's always the Clintonesque strategy of running as an underdog.

    posted by Eric at 07:51 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

    DRM -- ruining your computer and compromising national security

    Did you know that Sony's latest CDs -- the kind you pay big bucks for in stores -- have been sold with preinstalled Trojan-style malware which installs itself into your computer? The idea is to stop you from copying the CDs, but already, hackers have written viruses which "piggyback" onto the malware. I didn't know about this until tonight, but it's a big scandal, which has caused Sony to withdraw this form of DRM from the market:

    When the affected CDs are played on a Windows personal computer, the software secretly installs itself and limits how many times the CDs can be copied. The code was discovered by Windows experts Mark Russinovich on Oct. 31.

    Sony is already facing at least six lawsuits over the program. The discovery of three Trojan horse viruses that use the secret program to enter computers undetected instantly increased the backlash against the company. "The development we feared most from Sony's inclusion of technology to conceal its DRM (digital rights management) software was its use to conceal malicious code," said David Emm of security firm Kaspersky Labs. "Unfortunately, it seems our fears were well- grounded."

    According to the Washington Post's blog, Sony's so-called DRM (digital rights management) copyright protection software also drew sharp criticism from Stewart Baker, recently appointed as the Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for policy:
    "I wanted to raise one point of caution as we go forward, because we are also responsible for maintaining the security of the information infrastructure of the United States and making sure peoples' [and] businesses' computers are secure. ... There's been a lot of publicity recently about tactics used in pursuing protection for music and DVD CDs in which questions have been raised about whether the protection measures install hidden files on peoples' computers that even the system administrators can’t find."

    "It's very important to remember that it's your intellectual property -- it's not your computer.

    These words were reported as sending a shiver up the spine of the RIAA rep:
    The Recording Industry Association of America's CEO Mitch Bainwol was in attendance and you knew that these words had to run a shiver down his spine. He is spending quite a bit of time on the beltway these days pushing several new bills to give Hollywood control of how consumers use future electronic products. But, it is hard to call certain activities illegal when one of your members spreads what security pundits called malicious code to millions of home computers. It just undermines his argument, especially when a senior Bush official looks him straight in the eye and says he agrees with the pundits.

    Bainwol has another big worry. The controversy from the Sony scandal has the potential to go beyond Sony by tainting the CD format itself in the eyes of consumers. This could kill the format, though it is not clear yet what effect, if any, this will have on record sales. The word-of-mouth building on the Net looks ominous right now. The industry is now looking to lay low and hope this passes.

    But cheer up, folks!

    It appears that Microsoft is coming to the rescue, with the newest versions of Microsoft's anti-spyware being set to zap Sony's offending software:

    The software giant's Windows AntiSpyware application will be updated to add a detection and removal signature for the rootkit features used in the XCP digital rights management technology.

    According to Jason Garms, group product manager in Microsoft's Anti-Malware Technology Team, the rootkit removal signature will be pushed out at Windows users through the anti-spyware application's weekly signature update process.

    Detection and removal of the XCP rootkit will also appear in Windows Defender, the next version of Windows AntiSpyware when that makeover ships.

    DRM. A solution which promises to be much worse than the problem.

    Here here!

    posted by Eric at 08:44 PM | Comments (1)

    Give (or take) a century of initiative

    There's a curious slogan written in giant letters on the bridge which spans the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and Trenton, New Jersey.

    Here's what it looked like earlier today:


    I have no idea how many times I've driven across that bridge and wondered about the meaning of the message, but I always assumed it had something to do with days long in Trenton's past, as the classically elegant architectural feactures of Trenton's crumbling downtown area stand at once stand in sharp contrast against the severe economic depression of the city today just as they seem to recoil against it. (I'm surprised today's wannabe Ceausescus haven't done to them what that bastard did to Bucharest....)

    Were it not for this blog's ongoing interest in America's latent Classicism, I might never have been motivated enough to research the history of the sign, but today I have, and I found my suspicions confirmed. The sign dates to 1911 -- a happier and far more prosperous time for Trenton. Unfortunately, the sign's irony is now the butt of jokes:

    ....[I]n 1911, they proclaimed their knack for industry with a sign hung from the trusses of the lower Delaware River bridge. Slightly changed, it's a phrase that still rings generations later:

    'Trenton Makes, the World Takes."

    Longer than a football field and made of glowing neon, the sign is like a welcome mat for everyone who gets to Trenton by crossing the river - and an electric monument to civic boosterism.

    The sign has survived war, depression and energy crisis. it survives the inevitable snide jokes about how Trenton is no longer making anything and the world is no longer taking from it. It survives criticism like that of writer Paul Fussell, who called the slogan "an idiomatic disaster" and used it to illustrate America's culture of hucksterism in his 1991 book, "BAD."

    But it wasn't intended as hucksterism when it was erected. As the above article notes, there was a time when Trenton did make. And the world did take:
    Trenton in 1911 made the the steel rope used to hold up the world's longest suspension bridges and the anvils used to forge the nation's iron. It made pottery and rubber and wall plaster and cars and farm tools and mattresses and watches and bricks and linoleum an cigars.

    It even made the world's largest bathtub and shipped it to Washington so the president, William Howard Taft, could soak his 350-pound body.

    Imagine. A 350-pound president of the United States. In those days, size mattered! Corpulence denoted not decadence or disease, but wealth, status, power.

    (If President Bush managed to increase his weight to such a size, people would call it a national security issue, and possibly demand his resignation.)

    While in Trenton, I visited the Mercer Cemetery, at its height during the Neo-Classical period.

    A couple of views:


    Perhaps because everything is dying, cemeteries are at their best this time of year.


    I found myself drawn to the grave of William Borrow -- a man who died in 1854 at the age of 33. The grave is very worn, but the bas-relief depicts an important invention:


    I'd never heard of Borrow before, but it turns out that history (especially archtitectural history) is indebted to him for having made it possible to manufacture the I-beam.

    The desideratum was therefore to make a solid rolled flanged beam of the right shape and proportions, and of the weight required for the spans ordinarily adopted in the buildings of large cities. The method of rolling such flanged beams was finally brought into successful operation at the iron-works of the Trenton Iron Company, situated in Trenton, N. J. The difficulties to be overcome in contriving and constructing the necessary machinery were very great. The mass of iron required for each beam, and which has, of course, to be pressed through the rollers at almost a white heat, is enormously heavy. Then the difficulty of constructing the rollers so that the iron, in passing through between them, shall have formed upon it flauges so wide as are necessary for beams, was very serious. We can not here describe the means by which at length the end was attained. * The arrangement was invented by a young Englishman named William Borrow. He was a relative of the author of Lavengro and of the Bible in Spain. Mr. Peter Cooper, under whose general charge the operation was conducted, was specially interested in the work, from the desire to employ such beams for the purpose of making fire-proof the large edifice which he was then erecting in New York for the Scientific Institution. He calculated that he should be able to put up the machinery in four months, and at an expense of about thirty thousand dollars.

    The difficulties were, however, found to be far greater than had been foreseen. Instead of four months, it was two years before the machinery was brought into successful operation, and the cost of it, instead of thirty, was a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. And when at length the machinery was made to work successfully, the designer, Mr. Borrow, suddenly became ill, and died within a week, from the prostration of all his energies, mental and physical--a martyr to the difficulties which beset the practical workers of the world, whose story is seldom told, and who die without odes or funeral orations to celebrate their triumph or to honor their memory. And yet it is very likely to prove in the end that William Borrow has been one of the benefactors of his race. His invention will probably save millions of property from destruction--will ward off sorrow and calamity from innumerable hearths and homes; and, by the preserving of capital from destruction, give vigor to great industrial enterprises in many future years.

    He literally threw himself into his work, and according to his brother George, William's talent had been forced out of England -- a tragedy for which he blamed the British aristocracy:
    William Borrow had gone to America, where he had won a prize for a new and wonderful application of steam. His death is said to have occurred as the result of mental fatigue. In this Borrow saw cause for grave complaint against the wretched English Aristocracy that forced talent out of the country by denying it employment or honour, which were all for their "connections and lick- spittles."
    Um, would that be called, maybe, stifling initiative?

    Some things never change.

    Last night I saw a very aristocratic-looking SUV with a bumper sticker which proudly proclaimed "Doing my part to piss off the radical right."

    By driving an SUV?

    Hey, I'm only trying to be an interpreter, but here it is:


    (I guess you have to have connections and lick-spittles to really understand . . .)

    posted by Eric at 12:34 PM | Comments (7)

    Missing lots of details . . .

    Because I spent most of yesterday shopping, I missed two events which occurred in my state: Bush's speech in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, and Rick Santorum's simultaneous criticism of Bush in Philadelphia. Remarkably, the Inquirer's report on latter was headlined "Santorum: White House stumbling in war of words -- It could do a better job of making the public understand the stakes in Iraq, the GOP senator said at the Union League." (Such seeming clairvoyance is remarkable considering the simultaneity of the speeches....)

    What this means is that Senator Santorum's avoidance of Bush earlier this week was no coincidence. Except he's gone from avoiding to attacking. Here's his argument:

    Americans have soured on the war in Iraq because they do not understand it as part of a long and necessary fight against "Islamic fascist forces" bent on destroying democracy - and the White House is partially to blame for not articulating the stakes, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said yesterday.

    With a couple of exceptions, President Bush has defined the struggle as a "war on terror" rather than against Islamic fundamentalists because of religious sensitivities, Santorum said during a speech at the Union League.

    "It's as if FDR were to define World War II as a 'war on blitzkrieg,' a military tactic," the Pennsylvania Republican said.

    The Islamic terrorists are as dangerous as the fascist enemy six decades ago, he said, calling them "an authoritarian regime that wants to impose their values, their way of life."

    While I agree that the Islamofascism is the enemy, I'm not sure how many Americans there are who've actually "soured" on the war have done so because Bush has failed to use the correct terminology in describing it. I think Santorum is trying to position himself to the right of Bush in the hope of winning the election. Whether it's a working strategy remains to be seen. Santorum ought to consider himself lucky that Bush has not singled out Islamic fascism as the enemy (although "Axis of Evil" comes close). Because if he had, then in order to position himself to Bush's right, Santorum would have to claim that this is a war between Christianity and Islam. Regardless of who might agree, a "Christian Holy War" is a hard sell to your average voter.

    In what may have been just another coincidence (one can't be too sure these days...), Classical Values had another mini-summit at an undisclosed location. Here's an altered picture of a blurry Dennis in a sighly altered state, with a deliberately blurrier companion):


    The topic was "reconstructing the classics," and it was resolved that he deconstructionists have failed due to a complete failure of logic and reason (things they view as sexist and unnecessary). That their failure doesn't bother them and they are talking only to themselves only highlights their plight.

    (I just returned from a long drive to New Jersey, and right now I'm so caught up with details that I can't catch up with the rest of them.)

    posted by Eric at 12:21 PM | Comments (5)

    Terror strikes in unexpected places

    Roger L. Simon reports that Moustapha Akkad -- along with his daughter Rima (a friend of Andrew Breitbart) were both murdered by the bombings in Amman, Jordan. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    As I've said before, Akkad's "Lion of the Desert" is an old favorite. I have it on DVD, and I'll watch it again in Akkad's honor. A Syrian born Muslim, Akkad was obviously more sympathetic to Islamism than I would have liked, but he was a great artist. And frankly, his views are more understandable than those of most of his Hollywood cohorts.

    His death is a real loss to the industry, and it's more than just tragic.

    The fact that a major, internationally acclaimed advocate of Islam was killed in this way does more to demonstrate the mindless, nihilistic evil of terrorism than any film anyone could have made. I'm hoping (just hoping) that maybe a few unlikely people will ask some much-needed questions that haven't been asked. Possibly in places where they wouldn't have been expected.

    Mr. Akkad's family has all my sympathy.

    posted by Eric at 10:03 PM | Comments (1)

    But what is hateful ideology?

    Much as I hate spammers, and a lot of what passes for human thought, I don't want the UN to "help."

    Others do, however.

    There are also legitimate concerns about the use of the Internet to incite terrorism or help terrorists, disseminate pornography, facilitate illegal activities or glorify Nazism and other hateful ideologies.
    So said Kofi Annan, in remarks intended to reassure those with concerns about UN control over the internet.

    (Via Beltway Blogroll, who notes that Glenn is remaining uncomforted.)

    I'm particularly uncomforted by the "other hateful ideologies" part, because I'm having a definitional problem. What might Kofi Annan have in mind? As it is, Ebay and Yahoo have already been censored in France and Germany. (For selling World War II memorabilia relating to Hitler, but not Stalin!)

    Not that there aren't sites which do actively promote hateful ideology. Nazis and skinheads aside, Michael Marcavage is considered by many people to be running a hate site because he calls for (among other things) the deliberate execution of homosexuals. Much as I abhor Marcavage, I think he should be given the same right to free speech as Nazis, Aryan skinhead types, or Islamofascists (all of whom call for the death of homosexuals and of course Jews).

    But then there are the false charges of hate. Plenty of people accuse Little Green Footballs of being a hate site -- even though the blog is written by a libertarian who devoted himself to fighting hateful Islamofascist ideology after 9/11. And even though (as I've noted before) the blog has gone out of its way to condemn bigotry and hatred in all varieties, and has praised Muslims when they show genuinely peaceful intentions. Nonetheless, there's a longstanding movement with a goal of censoring Charles Johnson -- and all who might agree with him. Put the UN bureaucrats in charge of the Internet, I don't think it's at all farfetched to imagine that LGF would be included among "hateful ideologies." More here. And Kathy Seipp has an excellent discussion of the attacks on LGF at NRO.

    As most readers know, I hate most ideology, which in itself might make me vulnerable to a charge of "hateful ideology." Philosophically speaking, why isn't hatred of hateful ideology also a form of hateful ideology? "Hate speech" versus "hate-hate speech"? ("Nazis. I hate those guys!" will do just fine as an example. Try substituting "Commies" or "IslamoNazis" and it might become, well, hateful.)

    The fact is, not too many ideologies are based on all love, all the time, and few I know of are "hate free."

    I don't mean to "glorify" hate, or the hatred of hate. But Annan's remarks not only failed to reassure me, they worried me.

    Because his assumptions are undefinable.

    I hate that stuff!

    posted by Eric at 11:14 AM | Comments (1)

    Spamicidal thoughts

    I'm starting to get tired of blog comment and trackback spam. Really tired. Nothing seems to work, and even MT Blacklist, while making spam somewhat easier to delete, only provides an illusory feeling of a solution, because it only adds old spam to a master list, whereas new spam "sites" are cranked out ad infinitum. The spammers now are using to start up phony blogs which only complicate my deleting them (because if I am not careful I'll end up blocking all blogspot blogs), and worst of all the legitimate comments and trackbacks are lost in a sea of spam, and end up getting deleted with them.

    It seems as if the longer this blog exists, the worse it gets. And I know it sounds paranoid, but it also seems that my very act of deleting the spam serves to fuel the creation of more. It is monstrous, growing, and interfering with blogging.

    No one has any solutions, and some purported "solutions" are part of the problem. The worst thing you can do is complain to a spammer's trash spam ISP in some damned country so trashy that its government probably thinks trash spam is good for the economy. Hell I'll bet there are spam countries by now. I'm so sure there are that I don't even want to know. I hate getting mad at entire countries because of the electronic activities of a few crooks.

    I've called for crucifixion of spammers, but that's just another utopian dream. It's tempting to consider a nuclear option against the host countries, but that's overkill, as there are relatively few actual spammers who do this.

    Could we perhaps hit the electronic backbones of spam ISP countries with non-lethal electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) radiation?

    Quoting the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (1-23-98), the news agency AFP said the high-power microwave bombs ("bear cans") could be bought on the Russian market for "several hundreds of thousands kronor" (< $150,000) and had already been bought by the Australian military among others.

    It said the bomb was stored in a briefcase and emitted short, high-energy pulses reaching 10 gigawatts, which could destroy complex electronics systems. As tested, the bomb presents a threat to the Swedish military, in particular to the JAS 39 Gripen jet fighter that it is trying to export. It can also knock out electronic systems of nuclear or electric power plants, banks, trains, or even a simple telephone switchboard.

    That was in 1998. I haven't researched this, but I'm sure the price $150,000 pricetag has gone down by now. If enough bloggers contributed enough money, maybe some visiting "tourists" could get the job done.

    I'd hate to think that such a wonderful deed might be considered terrorism, but we live in a complex world.

    Plans for improvised EMP devices can be downloaded here . . .

    Seriously, I don't advocate doing anything illegal. But if there are certifiable spam countries, might there be a way to simply shut off their Internet access? No. Because, even if there were, the United States tops the list of spam-generating countries.

    I guess my search to blame countries is all in vain. Even blaming the ISPs isn't completely fair, because anyone can do anything, and even hasn't been able to stop spam blogs from being created, automatically, by robots.

    According to Web log index Technorati (, 39,000 fake blogs were created in the past week by automated "spam blog" creation tools and designed to promote the Google page rank of other pages. A large portion of those sites were reportedly created through Blogger.

    The spam blogs typically include nonsensical or stolen content with a high number of links to the site the creator wants to promote among search algorithms. Google's algorithm is known to consider external links as a key indicator of a site's popularity.

    Some of the posts are keyword-optimized. Reports say that many of Google's blogs feature posts that are littered with the names of prominent bloggers, another tactic designed to increase popularity in search rankings.

    The volume of spam blogs has raised the ire of critics and blog search engine IceRocket ( went so far as to stop indexing posts from Blogger. One of its investors, outspoken NBA owner Mark Cuban, wrote this week in his own personal blog ( that the measure is temporary but warned Google should ameliorate the situation or face a permanent ban.

    It's all quite frustrating, and at this point I'm willing to listen to Dave Winer:
    I may have a better perspective on this, having spent much of the last year watching the quality of go down as spam-blogs (mostly from Blogspot, as Chris notes below) filled the pipe with their nonsense, and of course we pass the junk right on down the food chain to Technorati and PubSub. Good news about that, I had lunch with Niall Kennedy at Technorati on Thursday, in SF, and we're going to do some work to help get better data to flow into Technorati. I know how to bootstrap cooperation, even if people don't necessarily like me, I know how to get them to help each other. I'll explain later. In any case, here's something to memorize. Links are now devalued. Page-rank is under attack and the attackers are winning. It won't be long before Google itself is infested. Tim Bray is right, below, it's time for Google to get on top of this. They're both the victimizer and the victim. The spammers found a huge hole in Page-rank. You could drive a truck through it. I was the early warning system on this, the canary in the coal mine. They don't like to listen to me, maybe they'll accept Verisign's help.
    Despite my criticism of Winer in the past, I'm all ears. If there's one thing human bloggers ought to be able to agree on, it's spam.

    (Fortunately, no one has thought of using political spam blogs to compete for ecosystem rankings. Oh, no, they'd never do such a thing! That's because some things shouldn't be politicized. . . Spam can consist only of commercial things, of course.)

    MORE: I emailed about a blogspot site which spammed me last night, but the damned site is still up. While it might feel good to do things like "spam the spammer" by mass emailing to the blog's ISP, that would only hurt other blogs. The system is vulnerable, because there's no easy way to distinguish real words from fake words. Might as well try to distinguish sincerity from insincerity.

    AND MORE: I was being facetious about political spam. It's protected of course. Which means that regardless of its insincerity, it's not "real" spam. The philosophical implications (i.e. why gratuitously advertising things is more egregious than gratuitously advertising ideas or politicians) will have to wait.

    posted by Eric at 08:52 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)


    I never know what to say on Veteran's Day, because it happens on the same day every year, and I'm not terribly good at writing things that aren't spontaneous. But that doesn't change the fact that today is an important day to remember all U.S. veterans -- whether deceased or living.

    Regarding the living, there are fewer and fewer. Today's Philadelphia Inquirer supplies some statistics:

    U.S. War Veterans

    Estimated number of veterans by era, including those outside of war zones, in civilian life as of Sept. 30:

    • World War I: Fewer than 50.

    • World War II: 3.52 million.

    • Korean War: 3.25 million.

    • Vietnam War: 8.05 million.

    • Desert Shield/Storm

    (theater only): 615,000.

    • Iraq/Afghanistan

    (theater only): 433,000.

    I have always disliked the way anti-war activists dwell on the Iraq War dead (a tactic also used during the Vietnam War), because it undercuts the fact that these veterans gave their lives for something they believed in. That activists would use their deaths to oppose the very cause they died for strikes me as worse than disingenuous. The bright side, though, is that the fact of their very deaths being used this way is a graphic illustration that the freedom they died for is alive and well.

    Anyway, one such veteran -- Special Forces Capt. Jeffrey P. Toczylowski -- from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (which happens to be my county), anticipated that his death might be used as fodder for the anti-war effort. So, taking advantage of a medium which he knew would survive him, he composed an email to his family (the full text of which is here):

    If you are getting this email, it means that I have passed away. No, it's not a sick Toz joke, but a letter I wanted to write in case this happened. Please don't be sad for me. It was an honor to serve my country, and I wouldn't change a thing. It was just my time.

    Don't ever think that you are defending me by slamming the Global War on Terrorism or the US goals in that war. As far as I am concerned, we can send guys like me to go after them or we can wait for them to come back to us again. I died doing something I believed in and have no regrets except that I couldn't do more. (Emphasis added.)

    Captain Toczylowski died in Iraq on November 3, and it wasn't in vain at all. I think it should be remembered that the enemy he died fighting would have much preferred to pull off this week's triple hotel bombing in the United States, but they had to settle for Amman, Jordan. For that we should thank him, and others like him.

    Captain Toczylowski's regret that he couldn't do more only makes me wish I could do more.

    So remember the veterans.

    posted by Eric at 07:23 AM | Comments (3)

    Good art is cheaper than bad art!

    I'm sorry, but I just don't think I'd pay $23.8 million for this:


    But that's exactly what a New York art dealer paid:

    NEW YORK (AFP) - A large-scale metal sculpture by American artist David Smith has become the most expensive work of contemporary art ever sold at auction, fetching 23.8 million dollars at Sotheby's in New York.


    The 1965 sculpture was finally snapped up by Manhattan dealer Larry Gagosian at nearly twice its high estimate of 12 million dollars.

    Experts attributed the record price to the fact that most of Smith's works are in museums or permanent collections and therefore make extremely rare auction appearances.

    I don't care how rare it is; I just don't like it. The flow isn't there for me.

    I asked a friend who's an art collector and an artist himself. His immediate reaction?

    "What a piece of trash! The emperor's new clothes!!!"

    I told him that I thought a 1950s bumper sculpture he owns would be worth far more to me, and that if he'd send me a photo, I'd be glad to put it in my blog.

    So here it is:


    (It's made from 1950s car bumpers.)

    In all honesty, I would pay more for the bumper sculpture than I would for the one that fetched the $23.8 million.

    I know there's no accounting for taste, things are worth what they sell for, and you get what you pay for. I'd rather get value.


    posted by Eric at 08:51 PM | Comments (8)

    Newsflash! France needs affirmative action!

    Unless something is very wrong with my counter, I don't think I get as many visitors as Matt Drudge, so I think it might be time to visit the Wizard and ask some basic questions.

    What's Drudge have that I haven't got?

    For one thing, he has a flashing police light!

    Like this:


    Whenever he has a big story, that light appears right over it.

    There's absolutely no reason why I can't have the same thing.

    Fair is fair!

    Not only that, I don't even need to steal the animated gif from Drudge. There are plenty of other flashing lights available.

    A few choices:



    How's that for flashy?


    Twins! Not bad.


    Well, that's a Drudge clone but smaller, and I'm trying to be original, so I'll pass on that one.


    Too puny! They might think I have nothing to, um, flash.

    OK, so there are my flashing light choices! I don't know what I should do. But I do know that I can't leave this as "all flash and no post."

    So where's the story?

    Obviously, the real story is that France needs affirmative action.

    At least, if you read Ken Dilanian's latest piece, you'd realize that the reason America's cities aren't on fire is because of affirmative action:

    Last year, a French sociologist answered 258 help-wanted ads for salespeople by sending nearly 2,000 fictitious resumes with identical qualifications, and photos attached, as is the custom here.

    Faring poorly, among others, were members of France's most disadvantaged minority group - Arab Muslims.

    White males with French names received an invitation to interview at a rate of 30 percent, compared with just 5 percent for people with Arab names.

    In the United States, such findings might be met with a renewed commitment to affirmative action and vows by the government to continue prosecuting illegal hiring discrimination. But in France, where rioting by mostly Muslim youths has wracked the country for the last 12 days, affirmative action is illegal, and the country's job-discrimination law, enacted in 2001, is rarely enforced.

    In a republic where it is proudly enshrined that every citizen is equal under the law, experts say many people are in denial about the reality that they are not equal.

    (BTW, Dilanian had a different spin earlier in the week, but that's his right.)

    Since when does equality translate into affirmative action? Isn't that like saying equal opportunity must mean equal results?

    I'm wondering whether this affirmative action meme falls into what GaijinBiker calls "cherry-picked facts, misleading comparisons, and hackneyed, sky-is-falling negativity soundly debunked by actual events." (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    While you might think France would love affirmative action, the problem (as Colby Cosh reminds us) is that the French "regard multiculturalism as just another one of our [Anglo American] stupid innovations." This was further confirmed by a New York Times report identifying Interior Minister Sarkozy as an affirmative action advocate:

    ..... [A]ffirmative action or "positive discrimination," as it is called here, is not supposed to exist in France, which does not gather data according to race, religion or ethnicity, even in its census. The practice has been seen as an ill-conceived American invention that encourages divisivness.

    But in a television debate last November, the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, broke a political taboo and touched off a fierce public debate by arguing in favor of the practice to help raise Muslims out of poor suburban ghettos and give them a place in French society.

    Since then the French government has found itself caught between the impulse to respond to the needs of its large ethnic Arab and Muslim population and the desire to reject any practice that threatens the French republican ideal of equality.

    "There are parts of France and categories of French citizen who have loaded on their heads so many handicaps that if we do not help them more than we help others, they will never escape," Mr. Sarkozy, who is said to have presidential ambitions, said in a debate this month.

    By contrast, in a meeting with high school students in Tunisia in December, President Jacques Chirac said that discrimination could not be positive and that it was not "acceptable" to "appoint people based on their origins."

    One question: if Sarkozy is for affirmative action, and that's what the rioters want, then why are they demanding his ouster?

    Just asking....

    That aside, there's not much dispute that France lags "behind" (if that's the right word) on affirmative action, but I'm a bit skeptical about that being a cause of the riots. From what I've read, the rioters are thuggish types battling over (among other things) drug turf war. I might be wrong, but had affirmative action laws been in place, I just don't think they're the types who'd be sprucing themselves up, putting on suits, and running around answering "help-wanted ads for salespeople."

    Yet I don't doubt that affirmative action will be the result of these riots. Because, from what I can see, the French welfare state created the problems which led to these riots, and governments love to create more government programs to "solve" the problems created by government programs. It's their nature.

    But who knows? Affirmative action might supply a new source of revenue for French bureaucrats who could eagerly collect bribes from employers seeking to evade the new laws.

    At least that would be good for the underground economy.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Another argument in favor of imposing affirmative action on French employers is that the problems created can all be blamed on the United States! A win-win, by any standard....


    posted by Eric at 12:04 PM | Comments (3)

    More rights, more wrongs?

    In what's described as "huge news" (from a study in Ireland), I see that early prenatal testing for Downs Syndrome has been developed, allowing pregnant women to detect this genetic horror in the first trimester:

    WASHINGTON - A first-trimester screening test can reliably identify fetuses likely to be born with Down syndrome, providing expectant women with that information much earlier in a pregnancy than current testing allows, according to a major study being released today.

    The study of more than 38,000 U.S. women found that the screening method, which combines a blood test with an ultrasound exam, can pinpoint many fetuses with the common genetic disorder 11 weeks after conception. That allows women to decide sooner whether to undergo the riskier follow-up testing needed to confirm the diagnosis.

    "This is a big deal for women. It's going to have a big impact on care for women, not just in the United States but throughout the world," said Fergal Malone of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, who led the study in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

    Screening women before the second trimester allows those who might opt to terminate a pregnancy to make that decision when an abortion is safer and less traumatic.

    I think it will only generate more rancor in the United States, and that's because mothers-to-be are more likely to consider an abortion during the first trimester, when the maternal instincts aren't as fully developed.

    Whether anyone likes it or not, most people see the morality of abortion as directly related to the age of a fetus.

    Or embryo.

    I do not doubt that as testing grows more sophisticated, it might become possible to detect the Downs chromosomal abnormality even at the blastomere stage. Whether it is immoral to refuse to carry a Downs embryo to full term can be the subject of debate, but I don't think most people think of blastomeres as human beings, and I doubt they ever will.

    Why this is called a "Culture War" I am not sure.

    I suppose I'd have to be a woman who didn't want to give a Downs embryo nine long months in my womb in order to find out.

    But would it be "genocide" for individual mothers to decide to abort such embryos? There are probably some advocacy groups which would say so (manufacturers of RU-486 have been likened to Nazis), but I don't see how individual decisions can be considered genocide absent any organizing force.

    But then, I have the right to be wrong.

    posted by Eric at 08:25 AM | Comments (6)

    Feeling disadvantaged yet?

    In what appears to be a bad sign for Republicans, Rick Santorum seems to be avoiding President Bush:

    When President Bush touches down in Wilkes-Barre to talk about the war on terrorism Friday, the Senate's No. 3 Republican - the vulnerable Rick Santorum - will be 116 miles away in Philadelphia addressing the American Legion.

    Unavoidable scheduling conflict, Santorum's office says.

    As the GOP loss in the Virginia governor's race Tuesday showed, however, it might also be a blessing to be in a different media market when Bush and his rock-bottom approval ratings come to your state.

    While the Virginia election results are definitely bad news for Republicans, I don't think playing a game of running away and hiding is going to help much. I think voters ultimately respect honesty and loyalty more.

    It shouldn't be forgotten that Republican infighting was at an all time high just before this election, with the Harriet Miers nomination being the last straw for many Republicans. (The appearance of corruption inherent in the Libby indictment -- coming right on top of the Miers flap and the fake Katrina "scandal" -- probably caused the existing Republican infection to burst open and toxify the minds of the general voting public, who dislike voting for the sick, the moribund, or the corrupt.)

    I'm so used to being cynical and disappointed that I barely noticed, and I think it just goes with the turf of being a libertarian Republican. I just voted for the Republicans on Tuesday, and all that entitles me to is to have the label of "RINO" thrown at me by "real conservatives," and "conservative" thrown at me by liberals. If I registered and voted Democrat with my views, I'd be equally (if not more) suspect.

    But that's just me. The election results in general don't seem to say as much as the screaming headlines would indicate. The New Jersey results mean nothing, as Republicans cannot win there -- any more than in Massachusetts. Virginia, however, is supposed to drive fear into the hearts of Republican powerbrokers. What the reasons are, I'm not sure. James Joyner calls the "ominous harbinger" theory "nonsense," and offers an excellent analysis with lots of links, with a reminder that this is the second time in four years that voters have chosen a Democratic governor, which should surprise no one because of Virginia's increasingly Democratic demographics. In short, people are probably reading too much into this.

    Santorum's display of fear (if in fact that is what it is) reminds me of the way some Democrats shunned Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal. As it turned out, the voters didn't much care. If anything, there was a pro-Clinton backlash.

    But then, Clinton was a master at spinning disadvantages into advantages.

    I remember when Rove used to be pretty good at the same thing.

    posted by Eric at 07:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

    Major Terrorist Attack

    On Fox News, I just heard about three simultaneously-timed huge hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan (Holiday Inn, Days Inn, and the Hyatt....) At least 57 were killed and 115 injured.

    All the hallmarks of Zarqawi (and Al Qaida).

    UPDATE: I was wrong about the Holiday Inn; it was the Radisson. Full story at the Washington Post:

    AMMAN, Jordan -- Suicide bombers carried out nearly simultaneous attacks on three U.S.-based hotels in the Jordanian capital Wednesday night, killing at least 57 people and wounding 115 in what appeared to be an al-Qaida assault on an Arab kingdom with close ties to the United States.

    The explosions hit the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels just before 9 p.m. One of the blasts took place inside a wedding hall where 300 guests were celebrating. Black smoke rose into the night, and wounded victims stumbled from the hotels.

    "We thought it was fireworks for the wedding but I saw people falling to the ground," said Ahmed, a wedding guest at the five-star Radisson who did not give his surname. "I saw blood. There were people killed. It was ugly."

    Jordan's deputy prime minister, Marwan Muasher, said there was no claim of responsibility but that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, was a "prime suspect."

    A U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the strong suspicion is that al-Zarqawi was involved because of his known animosity for Jordanian monarchy and the fact that it was a suicide attack, one of his hallmarks.

    MORE: It's probably a coincidence, but today happens to be the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

    posted by Eric at 07:04 PM | Comments (3)

    hate is never homeless

    In local Philadelphia news, a man charged with attempted murder of a total stranger is on record as demanding an "Islamic nation":

    Kelly is charged with three counts each of attempted murder and aggravated assault for the July 15, 2004, attack outside the District Attorney's Office on Arch Street in Center City.

    Owens, of the Police Department's Special Victims Unit, testified that when he saw Kelly wielding a daggerlike knife with a four-inch blade, he drew his gun and ordered Kelly to drop the knife.

    "He lunged forward at me, and I fired my weapon once," Owens told the jury. Kelly was struck in the arm.

    Harman, 25, required emergency surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for a stab wound to the abdomen.

    Harman and Markovitz did not know Kelly. Letters found in Kelly's pants pockets indicate that he was driven by "fanatical religious ideas," Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo told jurors at the beginning of the trial. The Attorney General's Office is handling the case at the request of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

    "Give me an Islamic nation, or give me death. Muslims must unite... and fight America... . I want revenge," said one of the handprinted letters placed in evidence yesterday."

    Accounts of the attack last July described it as without provocation:
    "Even though it was unfortunate what happened, there were officers on the scene immediately and prevented this incident from escalating further," he said. "The area is safe. I read the crime reports every day. I don't see any area in Center City that is of major concern. We don't have any discernible patterns that people need to be looking at."

    Police said Harman and Assistant District Attorney Vicki Markovitz, of the Major Trials unit, had just left the District Attorney's Office at 1421 Arch St. Thursday when a man described as homeless made "a thrusting motion" toward Harman.

    The man initially told police he was Kareem Abdul, but fingerprints identified him as Larry Kelly, 51, whose last known address was on North Stillman Street in North Philadelphia.

    Kelly stabbed Harman once in the left side without provocation, police said.

    I'm glad that "fanatical religious ideas" don't form a discernible pattern.

    Much as I hate being cute, let's suppose this jerk had been white, and had written the following note:

    "Give me a Christian nation, or give me death. Christians must unite... and fight America... . I want revenge."
    Suppose further that when he overturned the bench in court, instead of calling the judge a "white devil" he'd called him a "black devil." Or a "sodomite devil"? (I guess sodomite devils are hated either way, so maybe that's not a fair comparison.)

    But I'm just wondering whether they still have these hate crime laws we keep hearing about. Or is the man's "homeless" status is more relevant than his motivation (and previous felonies)?

    Nah. No discernible pattern there either. (It's not as if we're talking about homeless suicide bombers or anything . . .)

    UPDATE (11/11/05): Kelly was convicted of attempted murder by a jury yesterday, and the Inquirer provides more information about his writings:

    Hand-printed letters found in Kelly's pockets said: "Give me a Islamic nation, or give me death. The Muslims must unite behind [Osama Bin Laden] and fight America and not die kissing anti-Allah America white ass... I want revenge."

    In his closing argument Wednesday, Costanzo told the jury: "In the letters, you get a piece of what he was doing here, what was in his mind, what he was trying to accomplish... . We know the motivation: He's an Islamic fundamentalist who wants to kill people."

    But I thought there was "no discernable pattern."

    I guess freelance supporters of Osama bin Laden don't "count."

    posted by Eric at 02:43 PM | Comments (2)

    Fear leads to bigotry
    "A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity."

    -- Sigmund Freud, "General Introduction to Psychoanalysis".

    Via Les Jones, I see that San Francisco voters have passed Proposition H (the handgun ban).

    I guess the fact that 42% of San Franciscans voted against it ought to renew my faith somewhat, but it scares me that 58% of that city has such contempt for the Bill of Rights, and self defense.

    I haven't been able to find any demographic breakdown of the vote, so I don't know what the neighborhood vote looks like or how gay citizens might have voted.

    What I'd like to know is why a city on record as opposing homophobia would want to pass laws based on hoplophobia. (Defined here.) Protecting people's lifestyles and keeping government out of people's bedrooms, are, I believe, fine goals. But intolerance of lifestyles (especially the lifestyle of protecting one's lifestyle) should have no place in San Francisco.

    I hope the California courts throw this one out as they did in 1982.

    UPDATE: My blogfather has provided some interesting demographics on the gun ban's direct beneficiaries.

    posted by Eric at 12:30 PM | Comments (2)

    "There's them that laughs, and knows better. . ."

    Just when I was complaining about having to shut up, I discovered that another perfectly good and affectionate word -- "codger" -- is now offensive: "codger" is forbidden, as an "offensive term referring to a senior citizen."

    Codger! "Offensive." No word strikes more fear into the heart of modern journalists. "Offensive" could mean meetings and memos and warning notes and angry emails. Some journos love it; so I offend. Fine. It’s in the job description. Others fold up like a card table, horrified — but only if the offended person hails from a designated victim group; they don't lose a lot of sleep if they've offended some nutball right-winger. That is merely a sign you're doing something right.
    Charles Hill (who's already calling himself a codger) alerted me to this outrage, and I think I'd better start calling myself a codger right now, before it's too late.

    This might take some getting used to.

    But hell, there are plenty of role models.


    MORE: I just received an email about this from a proud and sarcastic codger:

    I think "senior" is offensive, and ageist! In fact, "citizen" is a bit offensive too, as it conotates superiority to non-citizens!

    posted by Eric at 10:48 AM | Comments (6)

    just shut up!

    That's what I keep telling myself, and in many ways I'm sick and tired of this feeling that I can't write posts about anything anymore. Too much self censorship is getting in my way. There's a lot of stuff I want to write about and can't. Some of it is personal to me, but it might spill over and hurt other people.

    I figured I could always write about my personal stuff. But it's tougher and tougher.

    On top of that, it's increasingly impossible to write about political stuff. (And a longstanding complaint of mine is that the personal meets the political in the form of the god-damned "Culture War"....)

    In a word, I feel whipsawed.

    Politically, things have reached a point where the conventional right wing and the conventional left wing (here I'll use terms I hate -- "liberals" and "conservatives") are agreed around a basic communitarian "center" (again, for lack of a better word). This center consists of agreement on a huge role for government, on virtually unlimited spending, and on morality-based restrictions on both economic and personal life. Meanwhile, the "Culture War" pits people against each other by endlessly politicizing the paltry remnants still uncontaminated by government (or quasi-governmental bureaucracy) in their personal lives. Children are to be raised and indoctrinated by the state, and not only is no child to be left alone, but in a dumbed down world where adults are treated as children, no adult is to left alone either.

    Sorry to sound so negative, but it's been bothering me.

    I don't know which "side" I find more loathsome, and the "middle" is at least as bad as both. To be a libertarian nowadays means being SOL.

    I hope I'm alone in feeling this way. I wouldn't wish such feelings on others.

    Hence the need to shut up. But this annoying "need" places me in a conflict of interest as a blogger.* I don't know whether to bare my soul, or just bear it.

    * Unfortunately for me, a stated purpose of this blog is to "End the Culture War."

    Excuse me?

    End the driving force of politics?

    UPDATE: Speaking of "Culture War," I see that a high school student went on a rampage yesterday, killing an assistant principal and wounding two others. Glenn Reynolds' wife, Dr. Helen, offers some insights into the kid's mental pathology ("active depression that manifests itself in irritability, anger and blaming others for their problems"), and links to Michael Silence's roundup.

    I'm against the usual orgy of blaming everyone except the kid and I agree with both Les Jones and SayUncle. Fortunately, most people with active depression don't shoot up schools. If their pathology consists of blaming others for their problems, I think society makes a similar mistake when it blames others for their actions.

    There always have been and always will be bad people in this world. Arm the teachers.

    posted by Eric at 08:27 AM | Comments (8)

    Hatred and understanding

    "We hate France and France hates us" is the Guardian's headline, and I'm sure it's true. One young rioter, um, explains:

    "We hate France and France hates us," he spat, refusing to give even his first name. "I don't know what I am. Here's not home; my gran's in Algeria. But in any case France is just fucking with us. We're like mad dogs, you know? We bite everything we see. Go back to Paris, man."

    Sylla summed it up. "We burn because it's the only way to make ourselves heard, because it's solidarity with the rest of the non-citizens in this country, with this whole underclass. Because it feels good to do something with your rage," he said.

    "The guys whose cars get torched, they understand. OK, sometimes they do. We have to do this. Our parents, they should understand. They did nothing, they suffered in silence. We don't have a choice. We're sinking in shit, and France is standing on our heads. One way or another we're heading for prison. It might as well be for actually doing something."

    Does this mean I'm supposed to have compassion?

    For whom?

    I'm having a bit of trouble with the concept right now.

    Is this the French Dream?

    MORE: Interestingly, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (a major target of the rioters' wrath) is of Hungarian and Jewish descent and has attempted to revitalize religion in France:

    In Sarkozy’s eyes, “religions must exist elsewhere besides in the museums, and the churches must not become nostalgic conservatories of a glorious past. . . .We’re not in the ussr where the churches became markets and gymnasiums.” He sees in religious structures “a factor of integration, of meetings, of exchanges, whichever religion is concerned.”

    Although Sarkozy must know that there are considerable risks involved in melding democracy and Islam, he refuses to countenance the possibility of their ultimate incompatibility, dismissing such suggestions as “irresponsible.” This may well be rhetoric intended to appeal to potential Muslim democrats, but it may indeed be irresponsible not to consider, or to underemphasize, the ways in which Islam has manifested itself in the past, and its tolerance (or lack) of political freedom. The French must therefore confront the terrible possibility that Islam as it has existed in the past and their secular democracy may not be able to unite over the long term. Sarkozy isn’t so naïve as not to realize that religion can be used to justify violence and intolerance. A real clash of civilizations could occur if he and his allies fail to guide French politics successfully, as Tocqueville warned at the beginning of the democratic era. To be sure, Tocqueville’s isn’t the last word on the matter, and many faithful Muslims, like Dalil Boubakeur, the head of the Paris mosque, are more sanguine than he was about establishing a democratic Islam. Muslim citizens enjoy the same rights as others, as Sarkozy makes clear, and they should not be deprived of their right to believe. Time and time again, Sarkozy insists that there must be an Islam of France, not an Islam in France.

    The cfcm is intended to organize and represent Muslim believers by allowing them to associate publicly, to encourage dialogue with others and thus promote democratic compromise, and to deprive the extremists of their main arguments. Regional councils have also been created, encouraging local representation. In addition, Sarkozy favors educating more young Muslims in public administration, which has so far been a successful experiment at the prestigious Sciences-Po.

    Sarkozy’s strong support of religion in public life may shock people who believe that taking religion seriously is symptomatic of nostalgia for the dark ages.

    The piece (written last April) is worth reading. Its somewhat prescient conclusion:
    The coexistence of mosque-goers and shameless Euro Disney tourists with sophisticated Gauloise-smoking grande école graduates will be trying at the very least. But Sarkozy’s ambitious plans may be steering French democracy in that direction. If he is unsuccessful the alternatives may be far uglier. None of his critics has proposed a feasible alternative strategy.
    The riots might just derail Sarkozy's presidential aspirations as effectively as assassination derailed Pim Fortuyn's.

    MORE: This piece on anti-Semitism in France might shed some light on Sarkozy as a possible target for removal.

    AND MORE: Nazi apologists don't seem to like Sarkozy either.

    posted by Eric at 06:14 AM | Comments (1)

    Whose definition is redefined?

    Hearing Alan Sears promote his anti-ACLU book (The Aclu Vs. America: Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values) on the radio (see my previous posts, and Sears' previous book) I was reminded once again that there remains a major stumbling block over the definition of a simple word -- morality.

    That's because regardless of what anyone might say about the absolute, permanent, unchanging nature of morality, there is an absence of agreement over what morality is.

    Or whose morality it is. Who gets to say? If God gets to say, then who gets to say what God says? And then who gets to interpret whatever it is that whoever it is who gets to say what God says actually says?

    I'll start with the oft-enunciated absolutist position that morality is absolute and unchanging in all places, with all peoples, at all times. In the logical sense, this cannot be so, because (regardless of whether one believes in evolution) man has existed in his present form since Pleistocene times, yet the morality said to be "unchanging" is usually said to derive from the Bible, which is only a few thousand years old. The form of morality deriving from Old Testament law was written for ancient Hebrews, and other cultures in the Western tradition (namely Greek and Roman) were not bound by it. It was not until early Roman Christians decided to incorporate Jewish scripture into the earliest Christian bible (as compiled by order of Constantine) that the law of the Hebrews can be said to be a part of what is argued to be "unchanging." Yet before Constantine, Western sexual morality was not based on Jewish law. Unless my logic is faulty, the creation of the Christian Bible by Constantine represented a change. Which means that morality -- at least the sexual form which so often plagues these endless arguments -- cannot be said to be unchanging, absolute or eternal.

    This, of course, begs the question of what is morality. For the most part, sexual morality is what people think about when they hear the word. "Moral conservative," for example, usually denotes someone whose primary concerns involve sexual matters like abortion, homosexuality and pornography. (Abortion really should be treated as a separate issue because the moral argument involves a disagreement not over the definition of morality itself -- but whether or not a fetus is a human being, and at what point. For the most part, I think both sides of the abortion dispute agree that murder is immoral. Which means that if the fetus or embryo is a person, abortion is immoral. And if it isn't a person, then killing it is no more immoral than killing a dog.)

    Analysis is complicated by the fact that words like "adultery" and "sodomy" do not have precise and ascertainable meanings.

    I think the reason it's such a strain to analyze the morality of consensual sex is because there really isn't absolute agreement among all people as to what that morality is, and there never will be. The huge majority of human beings can agree that crimes against other people -- murder, theft, rape, robbery -- are immoral. That's because of things like the social compact, enlightened self interest, and common sense all militate in favor of the right of society to defend itself as well as the members in it. Resort to religion is not necessary, nor does it especially matter whether these things have always been immoral for all peoples in all times.

    But with consensual, private sex, enlightened self interest and common sense fail to supply a moral rule, and that is because those who are not involved with the sex are not affected, and have no more logical reason to care than they would about any other non-threatening behavior. Thus, while humans might pass sexual laws, it would not do to have men asserting moral sexual rules so readily subject to disagreement, so the moral rules about sex end up being said to come not from man, but from deities. Depending on the deity, polygamy might be OK in one culture, divorce in another, wife swapping in another, and homosexuality in still another.

    Absent a religious standard, personal loyalty and fidelity are certainly desirable qualities, and I think disloyalty to a spouse is pretty shabby conduct by anyone. I don't think resort to religion is necessary to make such a determination. Many people would feel that homosexuality would be a bad thing -- a sexual mistake, if you will -- without needing a reference to religion to make that determination for them.

    Many people wouldn't.

    But few people equate the type of personal morality that prevents them from engaging in adultery or homosexuality with the kind of morality which would prevent them from robbing or killing another person. Yet those few -- the ones who insist that sodomy is like murder or robbery -- claim that their opinions are based on a system of morality which has always been there and never changes, and they would see Julius Caesar or Hadrian as violating an "eternal" moral standard those men had never contemplated.

    People who think that way certainly just as much right to their opinion as I do mine, and just as much right to be mistaken as I do. It's not my goal here to say that they're wrong or that I am right; only to highlight once again the utter hopelessness of debating sexual morality.

    If you're in the sort of argument where there's no agreement on the definition of morality, there are only a few ways to engage in dialogue. One is to disagree over the definition of morality. Another (the deconstructionist approach) is simply to disagree with the idea that there is any such thing as morality. The last is simply concede that a given thing is immoral under the definition of morality as they have defined it. (A little like admitting to being a liberal, or being a conservative; where would anyone go from there?)

    One of the reasons I use the dietary analogy is because it is a form of religious morality which is not as inflammatory as sex. To those who believe the eating of pork is immoral, I am by definition immoral if I sometimes engage in an activity which is by definition immoral. That's OK, and I can live with that. I guess it would be a bit more complicated if I were a stricter vegetarian than I am, because then I would never eat pork (instead of occasionally). But if I refrain from eating pork for reasons having nothing to do with morality, can I really be said to be a more moral person for it? I fail to see how.

    In logic, I am no more threatened by the fact that people consider pork eating immoral than I am by people who consider non-marital, non missionary position sex to be immoral. Yet for the most part, people who refrain from eating pork for religious reasons are less likely to seek to impose their laws on pork eaters (and far less insistent that pork eaters are "immoral") than the people concerned about religious restrictions on sex.

    But let's just suppose that I don't like pork. Should my not eating it make me a better person in the eyes of those who think pork eating is immoral? I can think of no logical reason why, because in not eating it I am not deliberately obeying any dietary law -- any more than I am "observing the Sabbath" if I stay at home and do absolutely nothing on Sunday because I just don't feel like doing anything. Analogizing to an activity completely outside the sweep of morality, take golf. As I've discussed before, I hate playing golf, but for years I was told that I "should" play golf because it was a desirable social activity. There are many people who love golf, and who'd be miserable if they did what I did. Absent any moral rule, these two groups of people -- golf lovers and golf haters -- are just doing what they want. So why would we say that someone who hasn't the slightest desire to engage in certain sexual activities is being "morally virtuous" if he does not do what he does not want to do? Why would a heterosexual who refrains from homosexual activity be considered virtuous for not engaging in homosexual acts? (Reversing the question sounds almost absurd, yet the mechanism is the same.) It strikes me that aside from the question of what morality is, moral authority ought not to attach to people not doing what they don't want to do. But it does.

    None of this would really be a problem if sexual morality were seen as a private matter in the way that matters of choice in diet were private. Disagreement would then be possible in the same way. Increasingly, though, the division is not over what people do; it's over what they think.

    It's tougher and tougher to agree to disagree. Especially over definitions.

    The result is that morality -- once a word as important as it was ambiguous -- has degenerated into unambiguous code language.

    When words can no longer be used in meaningful conversation, they're effectively redefined out of useful existence.

    posted by Eric at 08:28 PM | Comments (3)

    Hungry for fantasy? (I'm fantasy starved . . .)

    "Read this book," said Justin.

    "No, I won't!" said I.

    But in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I will review it. After all, I have a long history of reviewing movies I haven't seen; why not review a book I haven't read? Anything related to science fiction would seem to deserve a scientifically fictional review. And fantasy begets fantasy. Morally, I feel completely justified in doing this, because not only am I not a science fiction reader or fan, but the Amazon reviewers are already accusing each other of reviewing the book before its publication date (i.e. without reading it). One such entry:

    Reviewer: Sania H. "gypsiqueen" (boston, ma usa) - See all my reviews

    You people haven't read the book yet, it's not yet out, and you're already rating it. Shame. Commercialism at its most crass.

    If the Sci Fi/Fantasy readers can review without reading (as Justin did a few weeks ago), well, why can't I? Any attempt to shame me will fail, as experts have tried and failed for years. And no one can accuse me of commercialism, because I am not in any way promoting this book, nor have I been paid one cent by anyone. (At least I'm honest enough to admit that I haven't read it and never will!)

    Anyway, the book is A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4) by George R. R. Martin (an author Justin has reviewed before), and the book is now for sale in most stores.

    Judging from its cover (something I have every right to do as a non-judgmental, non-Sci Fi fan with a wholesome hatred of fantasy), the book appears to be a good one. It features a red cover, with a cool picture of a crow arranged with its wings spread to form a Hapsburg-style coat of arms.

    Hell, I'll even share it with you:


    Now, is that a nice cover or what?

    Fans have been made to wait for this for a long time, and anticipation has obviously been building. Even the stodgy Wikipedia says the book has been "highly anticipated." What that indicates is that the book is a must-read for all who have been waiting. Hell, I'm even getting curious to know what the fuss is all about myself. (But don't worry; I would never succumb to temptation and read it. Well, I did glance through this chapter, which the author made available on line. But I won't allow a small detail like that to taint this interview in any way.)

    In addition, there are cultish aspects to the novels of George R. R. Martin (abbreviated GRRM). There's an official game site featuring various board games, kits and tournaments, and in browsing around I discovered -- to my surprise and even shock -- that today, November 8, 2005 is the Official Day of the Feast!

    With this in mind, FFG is sponsoring celebrations at retailers worldwide on the Day of the Feast, November 8th. By encouraging fans of the book to play the games and fans of the games to read the book, we will enrich and reenergize both communities.
    I strongly encourage just such a thing! Nothing like wholesome community enrichment, I always say.

    (The stuff you learn when you admit your ignorance!)

    Heck, I could build my entire day around this book I've never read -- and so could you!

    And you know what else is really cool, poetically just, and eerily parallel? Just as I'm not a science fiction reviewer and haven't read the book, author GRRM is not a blogger has written a "Not A Blog" -- a blog he's not writing! Excerpt:

    I'm calling this "Not A Blog."

    I mean, I don't have time to do a weblog. I don't have the energy to do a weblog. There's just no way I could do a weblog.

    And there's no way I could write a science fiction review.

    But I will try to be honest about this book, and if called as a witness in court, I could swear to the following under penalty of perjury:

  • 1. Of all the science fiction books to have reached the attention of this reviewer, I can truthfully say that this one stands out as the best I've reviewed.
  • 2. The fact that I would have reviewed the book on such an important day as this one (without knowing anything about it) shows that there are powerful forces involved beyond my comprehension.
  • 3. There is absolutely nothing negative I can say about the book. And that is something I cannot honestly say about many of the books I've read.
  • While I feel I have only scratched the surface with this review, now comes the exciting part. I get to rate it, and urge you to buy it. I think if you're a fan of GRRM, buying it will be a no-brainer. But for the others, I think the sheer power of this book makes it worth buying (it certainly makes it worthy of great respect), because what other science fiction or fantasy book could possibly have caused someone like me to review it?

    One last point. I note that the author is very much a turtle fan, and in childhood his pet turtles used to fuel his literary imagination:

    I wrote as far back as I can remember. I used to make up stories about my pet turtles and write them up in school notebooks. Later on I wrote monster stories and sold them for a nickle to other kids in the projects where I grew up.
    This is reflected in a caricature of the author:


    In my view, any writer who likes turtles deserves voracious readers like the ones this GRRM has.


    So snap to it!

    After all, isn't today the DAY OF THE FEAST?

    posted by Eric at 02:15 PM | Comments (1)

    The games economists play?

    Here's Thomas Schelling, "Nobel" Economist and game theoretician, displaying a sample of his wares:

    "If I go downstairs to investigate a noise at night, with a gun in my hand, and find myself face to face with a burglar who has a gun in his hand, there is a danger of an outcome that neither of us desires. Even if he prefers to just leave quietly, and I wish him to, there is danger that he may think I want to shoot, and shoot first."
    Yeah, and if I go downstairs without a gun, there's an even greater danger of an outcome that I definitely don't desire -- regardless of what the home invader might have desired. Plus, it's my house, and the burglar entered it armed. The only desirable outcome for me is his death, before he kills me. While I would rather not have been put in the position of having to shoot him, it was he who broke in, not I.

    In today's Wall Street Journal, Schelling is quoted as saying that the threat from terrorism is a "minuscule" one:

    In an interview in The Wall Street Journal, Thomas Schelling, game theorist and co-winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics, asserts that "terrorism is an almost miniscule problem." He points out that more people die from car accidents in three-and-a-half weeks in this country than died in the World Trade Center disaster. Also, when terrorism is compared with the common ways of dying (accidents, drowning, heart attacks, etc.), it is down near the bottom.
    Lest anyone doubt that a leading economist would spout vintage Michael Moore nonsense, I've obtained the full quote (which I'm transcribing):
    Prof. Schelling: It is important for us, the potential victims, to recognize that with the exception of the Twin Towers in New York, terrorism is an almost minuscule problem. [John] Mueller, at Ohio State University, estimates that the number of people who die from terrorist attacks is smaller than the number of people who die in their bathtubs. If you take the Trade Towers, we lost about 3,000 people. Three thousand people is about 3 1/2 weeks of automobile fatalities in the U.S. If you rank all the causes of death in the U.S. or around the world, different kinds of accidents, struck by lightning, heart attacks, infections acquired during hospital surgery, terrorism is way down at the bottom.

    Q. Then what are the biggest issues globally that need to be addressed?

    Prof. Schelling: A big problem is going to be climate change....

    I placed "Nobel" in quotes because the "Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel" is technically not a Nobel Prize. But it might as well be the Nobel Prize. Because they're handing them out to people who make about as much sense as some of the people who get Nobel Prizes....

    While I'm neither an economist nor a game theorist, I don't see what game theory has to do with how the number of people who are murdered in a given event relates to the future number of people who might be killed. Or whether the seriousness of the event can be measured by tallying numbers. Is jumping from a building to avoid being burned alive really comparable to "infections acquired during hospital surgery"? Fewer Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor than at the Ground Zero on 9/11; does that mean Pearl Harbor was more "minuscule"?

    Using the same logic, the number of Jews killed by Nazis before the Final Solution was implemented might have been described as "minuscule." Even on the night of the Nazi "Kristallnacht" pogram on November 9, 1938 -- an event said to mark the beginning of the Holocaust -- fewer than 200 Jews were actually killed.

    I realize this is unfair, but let's play 1938 retroactive game theory:

    "If you ranked all the causes of death in Germany or around the world, different kinds of accidents, struck by lightning, heart attacks, infections acquired during hospital surgery, Nazi pogroms would have been way down at the bottom."
    Yeah. And climate change was more important. Besides, weren't there more Iraqi babies killed by American bombs than there were Jewish babies murdered by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele?

    I'm sure I'm missing something, but I can't say I'm all that impressed with Professor Schelling, or his theory of games.

    posted by Eric at 08:51 PM | Comments (5)

    Wingnuts cover what moonbats neglect?

    I'm not much of a bicycle fan, probably because the issue has been so politicized by groups like Critical Mass -- a group I've repeatedly criticized in the past because I consider it mostly composed of anti-gasoline, anti-car "moonbats."

    But nearly everyone is talking about "hybrids" these days ("nearly everyone" certainly includes Glenn Reynolds -- who's been called a "political hybrid"), and something I recently found made me wonder why bicycles can't also be included among the hybrids.

    Lots of people have been riding their bikes to work recently, but one of the limitations is the physical ability of the rider, especially on long trips, or riding uphill. For not a whole lot of money, I found an incredibly cool way to hybridize your bicycle with an add-on motor, which is profiled here:

    The performance of this little 2-stroke is amazing. It's rated at 1.2 hp, but unlike more powerful, less efficient designs, it delivers more power to the wheel.

    We clocked 33 mph out of the box--the engine started instantly with a yank of the pull cord. It uses a centrifugal clutch and thumb-lever throttle. You pedal away from a standstill to ease the initial load on the Kevlar belt, which is said to last up to 5000 miles.

    Our test area was in the Adirondack Mountains, so we had plenty of hills. The engine never faltered and took on the grades with verve. It was a delightful, fun ride. Our fuel mileage figured out to be more than 250 mpg. The exhaust is clean (EPA approved through 2010) and quiet--about 70 dBA at idle, 84 dBA flat out. If there was one bang that we couldn't ignore, it was the bang for the buck.

    The actual engine they used is for sale here, and profiled here.

    There are plenty of pictures at Popular Mechanics, and here's a closeup:


    I've ridden motorcycles, bicycles, scooters and mopeds, but the latter just aren't any good for pedaling as they're too heavy. At five pounds, this motor weighs the same as a laptop.

    The only thing I didn't like was the caption under that last picture:

    The engine cover slips right on and is held in place by a wingnut.
    I know it sounds nitpicky, but the term "wingnut" might be found at least as offensive to political sensitivities as pig references are to religious sensitivities. Should Popular Mechanics consider some sensitivity training?

    I mean, would they say that an engine cover was held in place by a "moonbat"? I doubt it.

    Although in fairness to Popular Mechanics (recently the subject of ridiculous moonbat attacks), this might be because according to Google, moonbats are tougher nuts than the wingnuts themselves.

    But someone has to hold the covers in place, dammit!

    (And I doubt the moonbats at Critical Mass would want anything to do with it....)

    posted by Eric at 12:28 PM | Comments (5)

    Been there? Got the T-Shirt?

    In a story that wants to be an editorial, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Ken Dilanian weighs in on what's behind the riots in France:

    Looking as wary as U.S. soldiers in the streets of Iraq's Sunni Triangle, the armor-clad police pointed shields and rubber-projectile cannons at groups of mostly black and Arab residents, who gazed back with hard stares. The officers left after a few minutes, dodging rotten fruit thrown from high windows.

    "The only dialogue between the French state and the ghetto is through the police," said Karin Allawi, 24, a high school counselor who watched the scene. "And this is how the police communicate. It's been that way for 30 years."

    For the last 11 days, the Parisian ghettos have been communicating back, in a fit of riotous rage that has spread across the country, resulting in vast property destruction and a handful of serious injuries. About 1,300 cars were burned on Saturday night alone, authorities said.

    The riots were growing more violent - and looking increasingly well-organized. Last night, youths ordered passengers off a bus in southern France, then torched it.

    On Saturday night, police found a gasoline bomb-making factory in a building in Evry, south of Paris. More than 100 bottles were ready to be turned into bombs and 50 were already prepared. Fuel stocks and hoods for hiding rioters' faces also were found, the Justice Ministry said. Police arrested six people, all under 18.

    U.S. soldiers in the streets of Iraq's Sunni Triangle?

    Isn't that a quagmire?

    Isn't it a little premature to be implying that the French riots are a quagmire?

    While I have a problem with Dilanian's analogy, because I disagree with the apparently underlying "quagmire" premise, there's more for American readers to ponder than the analogy to Iraq. There's also an analogy to America's race problem -- only the situation in France is described as, well, better:

    Many of those suburbs have come to resemble the worst of America's inner cities - segregated pockets of alienation - although there are important differences.

    On one hand, the French welfare state, with its universal health care and generous payments to the long-term unemployed, has ensured that the French underclass - which includes large numbers of ethnic minorities - does not suffer the kind of privation widely experienced by the poorest Americans. And, although crime in the suburban ghettos is common, guns are not, so neither is murder.

    Many of today's young Arabs, whose parents and grandparents came here from France's former colonies to work, say they do not feel a sense of belonging in the country in which they grew up.

    They face job discrimination, they say, and there is a lack of Arab or African representation in parliament, in local government, in the media, and in corporate boardrooms.

    A few hours talking to these young people makes it clear that French welfare payments do not counter their sense of having been rejected by society.

    Does this mean they're better off than their American, um, counterparts, because of things like "universal health care," generous long-term unemployment and gun control? If poor Americans must do without these wonders, why aren't American cities all in flames? No explanation.

    However, Glenn links to a fascinating piece by Brussels Journal which argues that the analogy to American blacks is hopelessy inapt:

    Those media that tell us that the rioting “youths” want to be a part of our society and feel left out of it, are misrepresenting the facts. As the insurgents see it, they are not a part of our society and they want us to keep out of theirs. The violence in France is in no way comparable with that of the blacks in the U.S. in the 1960s. The Paris correspondent of The New York Times who writes that this a “variant of the same problem” is either lying or does not know what he is talking about. The violence in France is of the type one finds when one group wants to assert its authority and drive the others out of its territory. American MSM who imply that there is a direct line from Rosa Parks, the black woman who refused to stand up for a white man on an American bus in 1955, to the rabble that are now throwing molotov cocktails into French buses containing passengers, are misrepresenting the facts.
    I'd have to agree, although I can certainly understand the need to translate this story into something Americans can easily understand (which I suspect is the problem with the misplaced analogy to the "worst of America's inner cities.")

    I'm fascinated by the fact that there are as many explanations for the causes of the unrest as there are reports.

    ABC News has a different spin from the Inquirer:

    Authorities say drug traffickers and Islamist militants are helping organize the unrest, via the Internet and mobile phones, among the North and sub-Saharan African immigrant communities who make up a significant part of many suburban housing estates.

    The violence has tarnished France's image abroad, forcing Villepin to cancel a trip to Canada, while Russia and the United States have warned their citizens to avoid troubled suburbs.

    Neighboring Germany, too, has a large immigrant population, including over 3 million Muslims — most of Turkish origin.

    Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy leader of the conservative Christian Democrats in parliament, said Germany should be under no illusion that similar events could happen there too.

    (Roger L. Simon shares a report confirming the role of a turf war by drug criminals.)

    The New York Times sees the riots as a failure of assimilation:

    The government has been embarrassed by its inability to quell the disturbances, which have called into question its unique integration model, which discourages recognizing ethnic, religious or cultural differences in favor of French unity. There is no affirmative action, for example, and religious symbols, like the Muslim veil, are banned in schools.

    "The republican integration model, on which France has for decades based its self-perception, is in flames," the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung declared. An editorial in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung called the violence around Paris an "intifada at the city gates," a reference to the anti-Israeli uprising by Palestinians.

    Writers across the spectrum cite the failure of assimilation as a key ingredient. Arguing that "French Arabs have been carrying on a low-level intifada against synagogues, kosher butchers, Jewish schools, etc.," Mark Steyn goes so far as to ridicule the idea that the rioters are even "French":

    As Thursday's edition of the Guardian reported in London: ''French youths fired at police and burned over 300 cars last night as towns around Paris experienced their worst night of violence in a week of urban unrest.''

    ''French youths,'' huh? You mean Pierre and Jacques and Marcel and Alphonse? Granted that most of the "youths" are technically citizens of the French Republic, it doesn't take much time in les banlieus of Paris to discover that the rioters do not think of their primary identity as ''French'': They're young men from North Africa growing ever more estranged from the broader community with each passing year and wedded ever more intensely to an assertive Muslim identity more implacable than anything you're likely to find in the Middle East. After four somnolent years, it turns out finally that there really is an explosive ''Arab street,'' but it's in Clichy-sous-Bois.

    If I could editorialize for a second, I'd point out that in all fairness, neither assimilation nor multiculturalism would seem to be possible in xenophobic, intolerant France (a place where English words aren't just frowned on; they're banned!) The idea that anyone might think of France as a "melting pot" is almost absurd. Despite whatever rhetoric its leaders might use, I don't think France is comfortable with other cultures -- and whether they are to be assimilated or merely tolerated in a segregated form.

    Analyzing a piece by Francis Fukuyama, Belmont Club's Wretchard explores the tension between multiculturalism and assimilation:

    Is it possible to "reverse the counterproductive multiculturalist policies that sheltered radicalism, and crack down on extremists" and then "reformulate their definitions of national identity to be more accepting of people from non-Western backgrounds"? Or isn't that rather like taking two aspirins prior to massaging your head with a claw hammer?
    I don't think there's much question that multiculturalist policies shelter radicalism. They encourage it.

    Frankly, I don't think the forced analogies to "America's inner cities" are helpful, and while I understand the need to make the news interesting I'm a bit disappointed to see the Inquirer promoting them.

    But since everyone has a different take on the French riots (and since I want to try to be fair), I might as well take a look at riots with which I'm more familiar, not to search for an analogy but to see whether there's a common thread. The famous South Central rioting in Los Angeles, while ignited in black neighborhoods in reaction to the videotaped beating of Rodney King, quickly spread into many other neighborhoods in the form of opportunistic behavior by assorted criminals, thugs, and even people who wanted to run wild and trash things.

    There's no escaping the simple fact that if you're young and wild, riots are cool! (And being a rioter is a hell of a way to impress your friends....)

    I saw the same thing in Berkeley in the case of the various "People's Park" riots. Riots can be ignited by radicals, but the initial "reason" quickly morphs into a crassly opportunistic excuse, or in other cases is forgotten. It's just a riot, and people who like riots pour into the streets.

    I was in attendance at San Francisco's Dan White Riot -- a gay riot, which -- as I've said before -- was about as "civilized" as a riot can get. But even there, opportunists apppeared out of nowhere, mingling with the crowd and exorting them to do things like attack the San Francisco Opera House. (Something gay rioters refused to do.) But even that riot (a fluke by rioting standards), came very close to going beyond it's original attack-the-police purpose, and that's because of the dangerous and evil nature inherent in mob violence.

    Maybe it's because I'm twenty six years older, and maybe it's because I feel a bit guilty at having been so close to the center of the action, but I don't think mob violence should be encouraged. Ever. Whether by misleading analogies or by art reviews which shelter radicalism.

    The latter may be a stretch, because whether the Inquirer sheltered radicalism or not, certainly the paper didn't glorify mob violence. All they did was helped promote an artist who sells T-shirts like this:


    (At least I hope that's not glorification of mob violence.)

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has more, including a link to this classic Clockwork Orange (that's "L'horloge orange" for all you despicable Yankees), life-imitates-art piece from Affordable Housing Institute. My favorite:

    Where there is free-flowing violence, there are megalomaniacs ready to use it.
    Yes. And plenty of ways to use it.

    posted by Eric at 08:17 AM | Comments (4)

    Different strokes for different folks!

    According to Robert Spencer, wife beating in Australia is becoming a religious rite right:

    Can wife-beating be justified under any circumstances? According to some in Australia, yes — if the couple is Muslim.

    The Australasian Police Multicultural Advisory Bureau has published and distributed 50,000 copies of an 82-page handbook for Australian police officers, directing them on how to deal with people from all the unfamiliar cultures that an Australian policeman may encounter. A Sikh, for example, may receive a three-day reprieve from arrest if the arresting officer happens upon him while he is reading his holy scriptures — a practice that takes fifty hours, and must not be interrupted. And Muslim husbands who beat their wives must be treated differently from other domestic violence cases, as a matter of cultural sensitivity: “In incidents such as domestic violence,” says the handbook, “police need to have an understanding of the traditions, ways of life and habits of Muslims.”

    I guess the stoning of adulterers and "sodomites" in the name of multiculturalism shouldn't be too far behind.

    Fortunately, the Aztecs no longer drag sacrificial victims to the tops of pyramids to cut out their beating hearts for the gods.




    posted by Eric at 09:14 AM | Comments (3)

    Ice cream debate linked to retardation and bad parenting!

    I don't normally print emails, but I thought I'd share an amusing one from reader "Kristin Edwards":


    [That's the Leon Kass ice cream post, folks.]

    To: escheie_AT_yahoo_dot_com

    There are maybe 100 people in America who are disgusted by eating in public. those people are probably very old and sad. YOU are retarded. people don't think like that anymore, wake up! I feel very sorry for your children if you have any...

    I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding.

    The issue wasn't eating in public; it was eating (more properly, licking) ice cream in public. An activity said to be "cat-like" of which Leon Kass expressed disapproval in one of his books. I have no idea how many people would agree with the view Kass expressed, and whether it's 100, 1000, or only Kass himself really isn't the point. The point was that Leon Kass said it, and the purpose of the post was simply to point it out and express surprise (and rather restrained ridicule). As to people who might agree with Kass being "very old and sad," I have no way of evaluating their age or mental status, but Kass doesn't strike me as particularly old or sad. The question of whether I am "retarded" is irrelevant to the Kass quote -- and simply an ad hominem attack. Also irrelevant is the contention that my children (if any) would deserve sympathy from Kristin Edwards. (Because of the gratuitous nature of the sympathy, coupled with the ad hominem flavor of the email, its sincerity is doubtful.)

    But it's nice to see that someone felt strongly about dietary issues to write to me like this, and I do welcome all readers. Even those who think I'm retarded and pity the children I don't yet have.

    posted by Eric at 01:37 PM | Comments (3)

    Another loss for the taxpayers

    A Philadelphia jury has found the two LaSalle University basketball players (in a case I've posted about twice) not guilty of rape:

    A jury yesterday found two former La Salle University basketball players not guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman last year, but the judge rebuked the pair for their behavior.

    "This court does not condone your actions, or the lack of respect you showed" the woman, Common Pleas Court Judge Shelley Robins New told Gary Neal, 21, and Michael Cleaves, 23, moments after jurors announced their decision.

    Nor do I condone their actions. But to call drunken sex rape is to torture the meaning of the word.

    Not only did this woman get drunk, she went to the athlete's bedroom, refused to leave with her friends who asked her to leave, and then sat on a man's lap and told him that she'd performed oral sex "on a basketball player they both knew." She didn't report the "rape" until a considerable time later, and her story changed repeatedly. According to the Inquirer, "she refused to directly answer questions. She was also combative with the defense attorneys." The trial testimony provides ample evidence from which a jury might have concluded that, far from being a victim, she'd played a major role in setting in motion the whole chain of events:

    During the graphic and explicit two-week trial, members of the La Salle women's basketball team testified that in the days before the alleged assault, the woman had suggested that the group obtain alcohol. Earlier that day, witnesses said, she had examined a photograph of the men's basketball team and said she wanted to meet the players. And before she started drinking that night, she got a double-shot glass from her car.

    Two La Salle women's basketball players testified that they believed that the woman was trying to "hook up" with Neal and Cleaves.

    What I don't understand is why the DA spent so much time and taxpayers' money on such an obvious loser of a case.

    (I suspect the DA saw it as a winner regardless of result.)

    posted by Eric at 07:36 AM | Comments (5)

    Global warming causes immorality!

    Here's something you don't see every day: Galapagos tortoises having sex. It was amazing to see these huge things get so excited, and the male (at least, whichever one was on top) was making a strange bellowing sound which sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. A male peacock was watching, and eventually a crowd gathered, cheering on the pair with lewd remarks.


    I took the above photo today at the Philadelphia Zoo, where I entertained a visitor on a day warm enough for T-shirts. The confused tortoises must have thought Spring had arrived.

    (Bush's fault, no doubt.)

    posted by Eric at 11:37 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    examinations and conclusions for sale?

    A local art gallery is featuring works of propaganda art by "urban artist" Shepard Fairey. Long considered a champion of an anarchic, neo-Dadaist street art subtly calculated to ridicule conventional propaganda (whether of the commercial or political variety), Fairey has now decided to take a political turn which many would consider crass, but which is bringing him commercial success. His current show is titled "Manufacturing Dissent":

    The term “Manufacturing Dissent” is a derivation of “the manufacturing of consent,” a phrase coined by Walter Lippmann to describe the propaganda engineering that he helped devise in order to drum up public support for World War I. Shepard Fairey designed his politically-charged pieces to counteract the hawkish manipulations of right-wing spin doctors with biting sarcasm and thought-provoking paradoxy. He juxtaposes symbols of combat with feminine imagery to expound upon his concept of powerful pacifism, the idea that force should be used as a means of protection rather than aggression. The explicit messages are a departure from Fairey’s deliberately ambiguous style. Rather than calling on people to question their surroundings, he asks them to fortify their values. While politicians and public relations gurus aim to skew reality into a more satisfying tune, Fairey strikes a dissonant chord, unusually lovely in its honesty.
    For those whose "values" are in need of fortification, here's his unusually lovely poster of Angela Davis:


    According to the Inquirer, he's sensitve to accusations that he's selling out to "the system":

    Despite Fairey's efforts to maintain street-artist credibility, detractors have questioned his social-science maverick sensibilities because of his participation in the commercialism he has seemed at odds with.

    His ad agency has done work with a number of companies, including Levis, Sunkist, Express and Sprite (remember "Obey your thirst?"). His Web site,, sells T-shirts, posters, books, CDs and more, including prints of images from his music-and-image box-set collaboration with DJ Shadow, Public Works.

    "When I do a corporate job, no one is expecting me to kiss corporate ass; they want me to do it the way I want to do it. I then take the money from that and put it back into my gallery, my magazine [Swindle], and my street art," Fairey explains. "It's super-important for me to show that you can succeed in the system without being absorbed by it."

    The key, I think, would be to avoid the leftie communitarian impulse and remain true to his artistic principle of self-absorption.

    I mean, what else would compel an artist to engage in what he calls mass bombing -- "slang for spreading a piece of artwork on as many places as possible and in full view of the public"? I think that when something evolves from being free to costing over a hundred dollars for a print, that means that "the system" has reared its ugly head, and contaminated him. At least when it was free, no one had to pay for it. (Actually, people couldn't avoid seeing it -- which might mean that its cost was less than "free" in the usual sense.)

    Over the years, the evolution in Fairey's art from hypnotic and subtle chaos towards in-your-face leftist politics (his art now glorifies not only Angela Davis, but Mao and Chomsky) seems to have coincided with -- possibly helped bring about -- his current media successes. (Although in fairness to him, it may be that corporate success forces him into leftist rebellion, leading cyclically to more corporate success -- because after all leftist rebellion is "cool"!)

    He admits to a conflict between his stated philosophy and things that need addressing:

    ....a couple of pieces will offer much more overt views on events, including the war in Iraq.

    "I am usually a live-and-let-live type of person, as long as your examinations and conclusions are your own. I just think right now there are a lot of things going on that need to be addressed," he says. "While I am torn between those two sides of me, I have decided to toss my hat in the ring and participate."

    While I'm not fond of the "bombing" approach to art, I think he'd do better to stick to his original philosophy of live-and-let-live, coupled with satire. Otherwise he might succumb to the disease of taking himself seriously -- a deadly form of intellectual stultification which could cause him to start believing his political propaganda. While that might translate into commercial success in a world of socialist corporate Big Brotherism (which loves faux rebellion), his "examinations and conclusions" won't remain his own. At least not for long.

    While I have generally low and flexible standards, I do think there's more than one way to sell out. Some things shouldn't be for sale.

    (But I suppose that's something that isn't for me -- an admitted sellout -- to say....)

    posted by Eric at 09:15 AM | Comments (6)

    I Can't Find The Little Prince

    Via Hobbyspace, a long and quite informative article on the Japanese Hayabusa asteroid mission. Much interesting stuff is due to start happening...

    After overcoming a host of obstacles, including several life-threatening solar flares on its 1-billion kilometer journey (about 620 million miles), the JAXA spacecraft finally arrived at Itokawa in September.

    Currently, Hayabusa -- which means "falcon" in Japanese -- is "hovering" 4.4 kilometers (about 2.7 miles) from Itokawa, as team members put the spacecraft through its final paces and instrument calibrations in preparation for the coming events this month. The schedule is as follows:

    November 4: Hayabusa will descend to just 30 meters (about 100 feet) above the asteroid's surface, and release a target marker, followed by the release of Minerva, which will land, then hop about the asteroid collecting data and taking images.

    November 12: Hayabusa will make its first "soft" landing and collect its first sample, then return to its "home orbit," and continue studying the asteroid.

    November 25: Hayabusa makes its second "soft" landing for its second sample collection, then, once again, will return to its "home orbit," several kilometers above the asteroid.

    Click here for a closeup shot of asteroid Itokowa. More stuff here, at the mission homepage. Apparently, today's Minerva landing has been cancelled, pending resolution of a technical difficulty. The probe got within less than a kilometer of the asteroid before aborting.

    posted by Justin at 07:43 AM | Comments (1)

    citizenship: n. a door prize

    The new UK citizenship test is now being bandied about in the culture war across the pond:

    Being British is not about whether you know the lyrics to God Save the Queen or can order tea in a cool accent.

    It's not about your familiarity with Shakespeare, your knowledge of the Restoration or your command of the battles that forged the empire.

    As far as the British government is concerned, it's about knowing how old you must be to buy a lottery ticket (answer: 16). It's about UK voltage standards (240 volts). It's about what numbers to dial for police (999) and the fire department (112).

    No one's going to argue that citizens should have no familiarity with emergency services, but an 18 question trivia quiz does not a citizen make. The man who got the last word used it well:

    "History binds us together, but, of course, history can also divide," says Lawrence Goldman, editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, who says new immigrants should know the basics. "There are some key moments, key figures, key experiences that bring this nation together — the first two World Wars, for example."

    I have no doubt that this sort of thing grows out of historicism and relativism, two pernicious -isms which ultimately make people not only devalue their own culture and history but feel ashamed of it. There is apparently a kind of chauvinism in valuing the West's traditions of inclusiveness, openness, and rational inquiry.

    By encouraging immigrants to adopt these very virtues we are apparently attacking the dignity of the cultures they might lose in the process.

    To demand that an immigrant study and understand the society which he wishes to join is mutually beneficial. You're a fool if you fail to acknowledge that.

    At least here in the States we still get it.

    Anyone interested in playing the American version, or at least a quick, online quiz modeled somewhat on the U.S. citizenship test, here you go:

    You Passed the US Citizenship Test
    Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!
    posted by Dennis at 12:08 PM | Comments (7)

    Emotionless appeal?

    Writing about Steve Gilliard reminded me that as a blogger, he is far more successful than I am, and will probably remain that way.

    Being jealous of people who are successful in their endeavors is not my style. While I know that rich and successful people like Bill Gates are the target of much jealousy (even hatred), I've never been able to fully understand why people feel that way, because I just don't empathize.

    Normally, when someone is more successful than I am (especially at something I'm also doing), I try to examine why, in the hope of learning what I am doing wrong, and what they're doing right. But that approach doesn't help me when I contrast my blog with that of Steve Gilliard. True, his blog is far more interesting to most people, but that's because it's far more inflammatory, and people like to get stirred up about things. Aside from being inflammatory, insulting, and emotional, he's reaching two large audiences: those who agree with him (and are also highly emotional) and those who disagree with him (especially those who disagree emotionally).

    My problem is that I try to avoid emotion as much as I can, I try to avoid inflammatory rhetoric, and I try to avoid insulting people. While I'm a libertarian, I also tend to see problems with both "sides" on many of the common ideological disputes which tend to dominate debates.

    I'm afraid that approach is, simply, boring to most people.

    If only I could figure out a way to be inflammatory, insulting, and emotional without being inflammatory, insulting or emotional!


    I'll probably never get it, as I find emotionally-charged debates between ideologues rather boring. Until I get irritated. But even then, my interest is in how illogical ideas powered by emotion become so popular, which makes me suspend even my emotion of irritation.

    (Looking on the bright side, I guess I should be surprised that anyone at all would find this process interesting.)

    posted by Eric at 10:39 AM | Comments (6)

    Profile of the victim as a bully?

    Cathy Seipp shares her thoughts on Islamic hypersensitivity (if in fact it is that) in contrast to the other religious sensitivities:

    An orthodox Jew I know, for instance, told me that the handwritten Torah (not a mass-produced copy, like the Korans of those detainees) is considered so sacred that people have died trying to prevent it from being desecrated. But there are no riots when it gets desecrated anyway. Christian religious scholars point out that the Koran is not really comparable to the Bible - it's comparable to Jesus Christ, who is seen as the eternal Word of God. But Christians didn't riot when artist Andres Serrano depicted a crucifix in urine several years ago.

    Woodward's commentary about the relative holiness of the Koran compared to the Torah or the Bible is beside the point anyway. Who cares what any given group of barbarians decides is worth rioting about? Muslim extremists also find it offensive when women drive, or appear in public without burkas, or when anyone tries to enter Saudi Arabia with Korans that differ from the hard-line Wahhabi version. (Pilgrims journeying to Mecca with non-Wahhabi-approved Korans see them confiscated and destroyed by Saudi authorities.)All this over the notion of books as objects. But what about the far more important function of books as purveyors of ideas? As it happens, around the same time as the Koran-flushing non-incident, an Italian judge ordered bestselling author and journalist Oriana Fallaci to stand trial for defaming Islam in her new book "The Force of Reason," which was supposed to be available in English this fall but has been delayed until January. Perhaps that's because Fallaci herself, who worries (not without cause) that Europe is in danger of becoming an anti-Western Islamic colony, has been delayed by wrongheaded Italian rules against defaming religion.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    While there's a lot of talk about Islamic "sensitivities" and "sensibilities" (leading to things like banning cutesy pig pictures) I'm not all that convinced that there isn't an element of bullying involved.

    Aren't a lot of adults forgetting that bullies often love to play victim? That they'll pick on someone, only to complain if their victim fights back? That they'll often walk around with a chip on their shoulder, just waiting for the slightest imagined offense?

    Perhaps it's because I lived in Berkeley, California too long, but many times, I've seen activists behaving in exactly the same way. Often they'd challenge Berkeley's well-trained and highly restrained police to the breaking point in the hope that some officer might "lose it," and then they'd have a case of "police misconduct." Sometimes the activists would be right, of course, and they were usually quite knowledgeable about exactly what the law would permit. Waving inflammatory signs while screaming at the top of your lungs can sometimes cause even well-trained officers to behave in an unconstitutional manner. I can remember one review board I sat on in my capacity as Police Review Commissioner in which an officer went so far as to snatch away a sign he thought was inflammatory ("F--- THE POLICE!" type of stuff). After spending hours, we ruled that the officer shouldn't have done that. But the demonstrator's claim of massive outrage was just a bit strained.

    Because I know the pattern when I see it, I've been quick to identify anti-gay activist Michael Marcavage as a highly skilled provocateur. An advocate of the death penalty for homosexuality, he's fond of making noise and waving highly provocative signs at just the right place and time, then claiming "religious persecution" when people overreact to his "message."

    I thought about Marcavage last night when I read about this provocative conduct at a football stadium in New Jersey:

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - New Jersey officials denied yesterday that racial or religious profiling had anything to do with the detention of five Muslim football fans at a New York Giants game on Sept. 19, even as several of the men insisted that they had been singled out for praying at the stadium.

    An FBI spokesman told the Associated Press that the men had been interrogated because they had congregated near Giants Stadium's main air intake duct.

    At a news conference yesterday in New York, Sami Shaban, 27, a Seton Hall Law School student who lives in Piscataway, said he and four friends had just gotten to the game when it was time for one of the daily prayers required of all Muslims. They prayed, then took their seats to see the Giants play the New Orleans Saints.

    Around halftime, 10 security officers and three state troopers approached and told the men to go with them, Shaban said.

    "I'm as American as apple pie, and I'm sitting there, and now I'm made to feel like I'm an outsider for no reason other than I have a long beard or that I prayed," he said.

    And that was just the Inquirer version of the story. According to other versions, former President George Bush was in the stands.

    And now CAIR is involved.

    The incident has prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to launch a national "Pray For Understanding" campaign, hoping to educate the public about Islam's five daily prayers.

    "This is a teachable moment," said Wissam Nasr, executive director of the group's New York City branch, where the men spoke to reporters. "When you see Muslims praying, it's not a terrorist act; it's not a prelude to terror."


    How about a prelude to a lawsuit?

    LaGuardia recently designated a grassy area for Muslims to pray, he said, and Kennedy is on the verge of designating new space inside a building for the cabbies' religious needs.

    One of the five Muslims detained, Sami Shaban, said he and others have contacted civil rights groups and have not ruled out suing authorities.

    Because this incident does not pass my smell test, I wondered about the possibility that the whole thing might have been a setup by professional activists. I couldn't help but notice that the older of the two activists was an information technology specialist named Mostafa Khalifa (also spelled "Mostaffa" in some of the writeups). According to Stephen Schwartz at TCS a man with the same name made quite a name for himself at Rutgers as a Wahhabi activist:
    On April 21, a university employee named Mostafa Khalifa delivered a lecture to ISRU members on the nature of leadership. The apparent intent of the lecture was to assure that the ISRU election would have an "Islamic," rather than a democratic and American character. Ms. Agha described Khalifa as an exponent of "fundamentalist thought." She complained that he not only exploited his position as a university functionary to support his ideological agenda, but that, since he is an alumnus of the university and not a student, as well as older than the students, his involvement in the voting process represented an inappropriate effort to steer students away from voting according to their own preferences and opinions.

    Further, Ms. Agha complained, "His participation exert(ed) a chilling effect on the participation of any students who disagree with his ideas and all of whom are younger than he." For anyone who knows the American Muslim community, the 'shock of recognition' is immediate: in the authority-driven environment of American Islam, older males are listened to, obeyed and almost never challenged.

    According to Ms. Agha, this resulted in a sort of tyranny favoring Mr. Khalifa:
    The seven elected representatives would then choose the ISRU president, who would bear the title "amir" or "commander." This last detail, showing that ISRU had adopted the vocabulary of a paramilitary group rather than a student organization, is the most disturbing element in this story. Ms. Agha notes that, as announced during the elections, the "amir" of the Rutgers Muslim students would be required to be male and would enjoy "dictatorial power."

    According to Ms. Agha, aside from the interloper, Mostafa Khalifa, the participants in the election, i.e. the candidates, were forbidden to make speeches; election tellers did not identify qualified voters or provide a structure to ensure fairness - they did not even ask to see Rutgers I.D.

    Whether the "Mostafa Khalifa" shown in the stadium report videos is the same man as the one in pictured at Mostafa Khalifa's web site, (elsewhere he's known as "Br. Mostafa Khalifa, Former ISRU President; Assistant Campus Computing Facilities Manager of Rutgers University, NJ; and Ameer of the AlMaghrib Institute Qabeelat Durbah" -- and his hometown matches the reports) is open to question -- and a bit beyond my Internet sleuthing skills.

    But would it be "profiling" to ask?

    Whoever he is, the Rutgers man ("Amir"?) certainly knows how to make provocative-sounding statements:

    Prepare for battle. So how can we prepare for this battle? We need each other. It has become very difficult to keep the same intensity up as we had in Ramadan. We need to continue to surround ourselves with good brothers and sisters who want to hold strong to each other, to work hard together, to pick one another up when we need that support. Prepare for battle.
    Battle? He must mean just a spiritual battle. There's more, of course:
    Prepare for battle. Our brothers and sisters, our young and our old, our sick and our weak in Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Philippines, Sudan, Gujarat, Guantanamo Bay, Europe, North and South America -- they are all suffering because we have let them suffer, by not fulfilling our duties to Allah and to each other, thinking only of ourselves. I intentionally left this part to the end. We need serious people with enough patience to get through one of my e-mails willing to work toward this goal. I am looking forward to all of your responses, and to working with each of you who have taken the time to read this, think about these words and to do your part to be a part of the solution and the renaissance of our community. Prepare for battle.

    Kull sana wantum tayyibeen ... kull `aam wantum bi khayr ... kull sana wantum salmeen ... Eid mubarak ... Eid kareem ... Eid sa`eed ... Feliz Eid Ul-Fitr ... Happy Eid Ul-Fitr. Prepare for battle. Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar! Laa illaha illa Allah! Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar! Wa lillah-il-hamd! Asalaamu `alaikum,

    Mostafa Khalifa

    Prepare for battle? It sounds too much like religious war for comfort.

    I should probably be relieved that the New York Times' Alan Feur ends his writeup of the incident on a positive note, jokingly joining the speculation that they might have been praying for the Giants to win.

    I have no objection to anyone praying, whether for the Giants, for the Goliaths, or for the Davids.

    What I can't shake is this suspicion that Christians would not have been praying in front of a ventilation duct at a large stadium like that, and if they had, that they wouldn't have been so quick to make charges of religious persecution.

    Except, maybe, Michael Marcavage at a baseball event....


    Would it constitute "persecution" to ask these air duct prayer-leaders about their views on the death penalty for homosexuality?

    (My bias may be showing, but when I was a kid, bullies loved to pick on homos.)

    posted by Eric at 09:36 AM | Comments (3)

    Google wants to eat your babies

    In opposing GooglePrint, Pat Schroeder and Bob Barr are guilty of the same kind of old-world idiocy that has been making the record industry look foolish for the past few years:

    And so we find ourselves joining together to fight a $90 billion company bent on unilaterally changing copyright law to their benefit and in turn denying publishers and authors the rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution.

    Because as we all know the Constitution secures the rights of authors and publishers to disallow potential readers to judge the content of a book before buying it. It's right there between hate crimes and the diversity clause.

    They claim that GooglePrint will not only change copyright law (solely for Google's financial gain), but that it stifles creativity because--get this--'If publishers and authors have to spend all their time policing Google for works they have already written, it is hard to create more.'

    Asinine. What they mean to say is that if they're so consumed with trying to sue Google for a share of ad revenue, they'll lose time writing cheap political memoirs for the rocking chair set.

    That's the underlying argument throughout, that Google will generate ad revenue while, like good anarchists, working to eliminate ownership rights. They don't resolve this contradiction, how anyone might actually be able to 'completely devalue everyone else's property and massively increase the value of its own.'

    That's some neat trick. Google is apparently on the verge of controlling the world's economies.

    They close with this insult (emphasis mine):

    Politically, we may not agree on much. But on this, we can both agree: These lawsuits are needed to halt theft of intellectual property. To see it any other way is intellectually dishonest.

    What's dishonest is taking the moral highground on the pretense of protecting property when in truth you just want a piece of ad revenue generated on web searches. By the logic here anyone whose 'intellectual property' were returned by a web search should get a few pennies, but of course that's ludicrous.

    I was working on a paper on Ancient Greek hero cult when Amazon first allowed users to search books. I was amazed at the number of useful sources I was able to find, often buried within books I would never have thought to check. Neither there nor with GooglePrint are you able to read an entire book but both allow you to skim short samples and search for specific content to determine if a book is what you're looking for.

    Think about this: it's the digital equivalent of picking a book up from the shelf (say, at a bookstore or the library) and flipping through the pages.

    'Sorry ... you flipped it, you bought it.' The 'Schroedery Barrn rule'? (I hear you groaning, but I couldn't help myself.)

    posted by Dennis at 06:51 AM | Comments (2)

    Understanding racism

    While I was inclined to dismiss recent outbursts by blogger Steve Gilliard (a minstrel caricature, use of the term "Sambo," etc.) as sui generis, the pelting of black Republican Michael Steele with Oreo cookies would seem to indicate that something more is going on.

    A coordinated approach, possibly?

    I suspect so, and I suspect the purpose is twofold. One is to convey a message that it's now open season on black conservatives or libertarians who think independently of the groupthink collectivism which has been imposed on them, and let them know that they, their families, and their finances are fair game for a no-holds-barred campaign of intimidation. The other is to grease the skids for similar future attacks against Condoleeza Rice on a much grander scale.

    According to today's Washington Times, black Democrats argue that racial attacks on conservative Republicans are justified:

    Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in his bid for the U.S. Senate are fair because he is a conservative Republican.

    Such attacks against the first black man to win a statewide election in Maryland include pelting him with Oreo cookies during a campaign appearance, calling him an "Uncle Tom" and depicting him as a black-faced minstrel on a liberal Web log.

    Operatives for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) also obtained a copy of his credit report -- the only Republican candidate so targeted.

    But black Democrats say there is nothing wrong with "pointing out the obvious."

    "There is a difference between pointing out the obvious and calling someone names," said a campaign spokesman for Kweisi Mfume, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

    State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a black Baltimore Democrat, said she does not expect her party to pull any punches, including racial jabs at Mr. Steele, in the race to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

    "Party trumps race, especially on the national level," she said. "If you are bold enough to run, you have to take whatever the voters are going to give you. It's democracy, perhaps at its worse, but it is democracy."

    Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, a black Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Steele invites comparisons to a slave who loves his cruel master or a cookie that is black on the outside and white inside because his conservative political philosophy is, in her view, anti-black.

    "Because he is a conservative, he is different than most public blacks, and he is different than most people in our community," she said. "His politics are not in the best interest of the masses of black people."

    During the 2002 campaign, Democratic supporters pelted Mr. Steele with Oreo cookies during a gubernatorial debate at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

    In 2001, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called Mr. Steele an "Uncle Tom," when Mr. Steele headed the state Republican Party. Mr. Miller, Prince George's County Democrat, later apologized for the remark.

    "That's not racial. If they call him the "N' word, that's racial," Mrs. Marriott said. "Just because he's black, everything bad you say about him isn't racial."

    This week, the News Blog -- a liberal Web log run by Steve Gilliard, a black New Yorker -- removed a doctored photo of Mr. Steele that depicted him as a black-faced minstrel.

    However, the blog has kept its headline "Simple Sambo wants to move to the big house." A caption beneath a photo of the lieutenant governor reads: "I's Simple Sambo and I's running for the Big House."

    A spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party denounced the depiction as being "extremely offensive" and having "no place in politics or in any other aspect of public discourse," The Washington Post reported. Democrats have denied any connection to the News Blog.

    (The whole thing is worth reading.)

    What's fascinating about this is that not only can a black man be called "anti-black" merely for having conservative views (which many on the left define as including libertarianism), but that all white people who agree with him are similarly called racists. (Obviously, this means that heterosexuals who might agree with a gay conservative are "homophobic," while men who agree with conservative women are sexist.)

    If we follow this logic, the words "racist" and "racism" take on an entirely new dimensions. In a world where pelting a black man with Oreo cookies is not racist (because the black man himself is against black people), then opposing the pelting should also be considered an act of racism.

    Steve Gilliard's thinking provides a clue to understanding the mechanism of the new racism.

    if Andy Sullivan doesn't like what I say, that's the point of the exercise. Little Green Fucktards, Michelle "I slander American heroes" Malkin?

    Good. I want them to read this site every day and say: I hate that nigger, I wish he'd go away. That, to me, is success. First, it was Instacracker, then Jonah "Chickenhawk" Goldberg, now Andy Sullivan. All I need is the Powerline assholes and my collection of Conservative bloggers who hate me would be complete. Well, they hate me for being black anyway, but now they would have a reason.

    Gilliard repeats the charge that he is hated by "conservatives" for being black:
    I'm black, I don't care what white conservatives have to say. They already hate me for my skin color, forget my politics. They are dedicated to making black lives harder. 97-98 percent of black people know that.
    Note the characteristics of the people who disagree with Steve Gilliard:
    1. All are said to be "conservatives";

    2. all "hate" Steve Gillard;

    3. they "hate" him not because of any disagreement, but because he is black.

    I first became familiar with Steve Gilliard when he crossed what I consider to be a line which should never be crossed: he urged his readers to go after Glenn Reynolds' job because he didn't like Glenn's sense of humor. I'd only been blogging for a year or so, but this struck me as the most hateful thing I had seen in the blogosphere. Anyway, Steve Gillard caused me to publish a photo of myself wearing the T-shirt he called racist (which has nothing to do with race whatsoever), but in all honesty, when I did that and wrote that post I had no idea that the man was black. I just thought he was an angry, hateful blogger named Steve Gilliard. I thought he should lighten up a bit. Apparently, he hasn't.

    Perhaps it's because I don't read blogs as much as I should, but had Justin not told me that Steve Gilliard was black, I might never have known.

    Now that I know the man is black, there's no way that I can escape the usual charge of conservatism, hate-mongering, and racism.

    I know I am considered guilty, but I just wanted to beg for a little understanding and point out that it would have been impossible for me to hate Steve Gilliard for being black before I knew he was black!

    I hope my ignorance (and previous color blindness) will be taken into account at sentencing.

    MORE: My plea for clemency is likely to be denied, as I just learned that I am not off the hook even if I didn't know Steve Gilliard was black. That's because my very act of not knowing that might leave me open to the accusation that I assumed he was white:

    ....why do people assume I'm white? Because many people simply cannot imagine a black man blogging, much less expressing his opinions on a range of topics. It isn't what they are trained to think. Sports, ok, but politics, nope.
    "Sports, ok"? What assumption is being made there? Last year I just thought Gilliard was being hateful and vindictive. Should that have made me assume anything else? And what's with the "many people," anyway? What color are these "many" supposed to be? Is he making assumptions that "people" are white? Why?


    (Next he'll be making the "heteronormative" assumption that "people" are heterosexual.)

    UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has posted Gilliard's Steele-as-minstrel picture. I'd been searching for it, and I'm sharing it here in the hope that it might help us in understanding, um, racism:


    MORE: Remember, the above is not racism according to the meaning of that term today.

    But criticizing it is.

    The bright side is that when words lose all meaning, why worry about the meaning of words?

    UPDATE: Black Democratic senatorial candidate Kweisi Mfume has condemned these racial attacks:

    Kweisi Mfume, who is running for senator, yesterday outright condemned the comments by his fellow black Democrats.

    "Racially tinged attacks have no place in this campaign for U.S. Senate," said Mr. Mfume, who has chided his party's lack of support for his campaign. "If they did, I could very well be the object of public racial humiliation, based on my skin color, by people who don't like my politics."

    "Black bigotry can be just as cruel and evil as white bigotry. There are too many bigots in too many places," Mr. Mfume said, repeating a common refrain from his speeches.

    Good for Kweisi Mfume!

    (I have to say, I'm pleasantly suprised.)

    UPDATE: Jeff Goldstein points out that it is now open anti-individualism that is being championed, and concludes:

    Perversely, then, we have progressives sanctioning the kind of racial attacks they would normally decry on the grounds that those who choose the wrong party affiliation have surrendered the protection of their race. And what makes this so troubling is that it redefines the idea of “offense” as something that is to be decided upon by identity groups—and so is yet another way in which identity politics robs the individual of autonomy.

    UPDATE: ANd more here via Glenn Reynolds, who notes that "'race-loyalty' has become an important campaign issue."

    Am I allowed to hope it's a losing one?

    posted by Eric at 03:41 PM | Comments (3)


    As a general rule, I would never chase after a story that Glenn Reynolds has already linked to. I mean, you've already read it there, right? Why indulge in pointless redundancy? But in this case, the link was rather inconspicuous, and the word "NanoBioTech" may have discouraged some readers from clicking through. That being the case, allow me some well meant copy-cattery. Ron Bailey had some observations which I found worthwhile, and would like to bring to your attention.

    These little snippets don't do justice to the entire article, but focus on a few points that I particularly agree with. The boldfacing, as usual, is my own alteration.

    Safety, however, is not what causes the greatest unease for some who contemplate nanobio. They fear that nanobio enhancements will dramatically change human nature...

    Goldstein complains that bioethicists have not done enough hard thinking about the ethical issues raised by the possibility of nanobio enhancements. He calls on us all to do a lot of very very very hard thinking before we go forward with the development of nanobio...Goldstein also wants researchers to begin a "dialogue" with the public about these impending revolutionary changes.

    But this sober call for harder thinking and more dialogue is a characteristic move in much of what passes for bioethical thinking. Instead of providing final answers, academic and government funded bioethicists artfully protest, "I am just asking some hard questions here. It’s my job to ask hard questions."

    But the implication is that technologists and researchers should stop what they are doing until the bioethicists have come up with the answers to all the hard questions that they are asking...

    Waiting until the ethicists catch up with scientific and technological progress is a recipe for technological stagnation.

    Slowing innovation is not cost free. It makes a difference to tens of millions of people whether a cure for cancer or heart disease is found in 2010 or 2020...

    The plain fact is that bioethics has advanced by codifying what we have learned from our past ethical blunders rather than by anticipating and preventing immoral acts.

    Forget trying to anticipate ethical problems. Even the smartest people cannot figure out how scientific and technological advances will play out over the next few decades, much less centuries...

    However revolutionary nanobiotech turns out to be...the revolution will develop incrementally. Humanity will have lots of opportunities for course corrections as we go along...

    As for worries about nanobio's effect on human nature, it's worth remembering that human nature is not some property that inheres in the species in general: Human nature belongs to each individual human being, and each one of us has the right to change our own human nature.

    This means that we all have the right to choose to use or not use new technologies to help us and our families to flourish. If our descendants don’t "breed like us, feed like us, or need like us," then that’s because they will decide that they have better alternatives.

    I hope Mr. Bailey will forgive the liberties I've taken with his article. He has put his finger on some of the sources of my ongoing irritation with the bioethical mandarinate.

    From where do they derive the legitimacy of their authority? How long are we supposed to think before they allow that we have the right to act? Why do they even get a say in the matter?

    In my more irascible moments, I think of them as parasites, plain and simple.

    posted by Justin at 12:45 PM | Comments (1)

    This Was Your Father's Light Saber

    He wanted you to have it.

    posted by Justin at 11:37 AM

    Collusion and collision

    I really hate it when I find an important Philadelphia news item going largely unreported in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    But according to this report in a journal devoted to driving issues, "accidents have increased 10-20 percent since red light cameras began issuing tickets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."

    Why have I seen nothing about this in the Philadelphia Inquirer? As Philadelphia's only major daily, doesn't it have a sense of responsibility to report issues affecting the safety of its readers? (Especially right now, when a huge public transit strike is literally forcing commuters out of the buses and trolleys and into their cars to face what may be the worst gridlock in Philadelphia history....)

    I mean, I'm a subscriber to the Inquirer and a loyal daily reader. Why should I have to discover this by reading Glenn Reynolds' links?

    It's probably also worth asking why Glenn is doing a better job of reporting the story than the Inquirer, too, but I don't want to rub it in. I know that Knight-Ridder has fallen on bad times lately, but I don't think this explains the problem. More likely, I suspect, is a reluctance to "rock the boat" with the powers that be in the Philadelphia city government -- which desperately needs money.

    But should that be at the cost of public safety?

    The underlying circumstances strike me as outrageous. Not only has there been an increase in accidents, but the outfit which builds and supplies the cameras can also be fairly said to have built and supplied the legislation and the politicians too:

    The Philadelphia Daily News explained the circumstances surrounding the film provision. Dallas-based ACS is the largest U.S. camera contractor and is one of the few that have not yet converted to all-digital systems. ACS used a lot of money to influence the legislature, paying S.R. Wojdak & Associates $175,910 in lobbying fees. Stephen Wojdak just happens to be a lobbyist for the city of Philadelphia and raised money for the mayor's campaign.

    ACS itself gave $55,000 to the mayor, $5000 to the legislator who wrote the camera legislation and $75,000 to Governor Rendell.

    ACS already had made nearly $40 million from existing contracts with the city, and the president of ACS State & Local Solutions is a former consultant for Philadelphia's Parking Authority. The company's senior VP is also a former managing director for the city. The provision was designed to virtually assure that ACS would land the contract which ultimately went to Mulvihill Intelligent Control Systems.

    (Don't bother to click on the links which are supposed to go to the Philadelphia Daily News. They are now non-functional.)

    Back in the old days, with two competing daily locals, there'd have been no way to keep a story this major -- that the devices have increased accidents -- out of the papers. And lest anyone think the Inquirer "didn't know," consider their story which ran in August:

    A provision in the state law that allows the city to use the cameras at traffic intersections also puts photographs, written records, reports, facsimiles, names, addresses, and "the number of violations" off limits to the public.

    According to the law, such information is "for the exclusive use of the city" government and "shall not be deemed a public record."

    Critics say the provision leaves the public with no way of knowing whether the cameras are effective in helping reduce accidents at dangerous intersections or just mechanical money-makers.

    Currently, motorists can be ticketed for running red lights at the camera-equipped intersection at Roosevelt Boulevard and Grant Avenue in the city's Northeast section - one of the most accident-prone intersections in the country, according to city officials.

    "How do you know if it is about safety or if it is about revenue?" asked Eric Skrum, a spokesman for the National Motorists' Association, a group that has lobbied against the cameras nationwide.

    More recently the Inquirer reported a problem with a camera malfunction causing the generation of erroneous tickets.

    But the real story -- the one involving a direct danger to public safety -- is that accidents have increased, and that is not being reported in the Inquirer.

    It doesn't make sense -- unless the goal is to help Philadelphia keep the cameras. I sincerely hope that the Inquirer doesn't share this goal, and I'd hate to think that in their haste to preserve the cameras, they might be inadvertently assisting a government coverup of a dangerous condition.

    Because, if the non-reporting of the danger is coupled with the deliberate sealing of data, how are Philadelphians to ever know that the official information they're being given is wrong? To give an egregious example, the Philadelphia Parking Authority's web site FAQ would have Philadelphians believe that any increase in accidents caused by red light cameras is only temporary, and that the deadly "T-bone" collision rate does not rise at all:

    The installation of Red Light Cameras may temporarily cause an increase in rear end collisions. However, any small increase in these minor accidents returns to previous levels when drivers begin to slow down and comply with the speed limits and traffic signal phases. Significantly, however, the more severe accidents (like the deadly right angled “T-Bone” type) are dramatically reduced after camera installations. The vast majority of studies and reports (over 90%) support this fact.
    According to the Washington Post, that simply isn't true:
    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.

    As Glenn says, "traffic-ticket revenues are up, and that's more important than your safety!"

    It's bad enough that a financially troubled city government would consider revenue more important than safety.

    But when a leading newspaper ignores such a public safety issue, that's worse.

    posted by Eric at 07:41 AM | Comments (5)

    Liquid muse

    John Beck was the guest of honor at a quasi-official summit conference between Classical Values and Incite the other night, and quite a lot of liquid refreshment was consumed. (And liquidated.)

    While I hate to get involved in conspiracy theorizing, a seemingly innocuous (if not insignificant) topic appeared on John's blog on the same day the event was held.

    Usually I ignore things like this in the hope that they'll go away, but I now see that the liquid filled mouse meme has occupied a second post -- even though John's blog had up until Saturday avoided the topic entirely.

    Asked John rhetorically, "What in the hell is a liquid filled mouse?"

    This was a question to which he obviously knew the answer, as he supplied a picture.

    I'll supply two:


    And in what was probably just another coincidence, this was hanging over our heads the other night:


    (Still, there has to be some explanation. . .)

    posted by Eric at 01:54 PM | Comments (5)

    Big Australian Balls

    Over at The Ergosphere, there's an interesting post proposing that alternative energy is civil defense.

    What with one thing and another, we all live in potential disaster areas and I've long thought that we don't emphasize civil defense enough in this country. Though one can argue over the details of what makes for a more robust infrastructure, I would hope that all of us agree on the need for it. Check it out.

    More pleasant to think about (unless you're James Kunstler) is this post regarding a reconception of marine power.

    ...the high cost of oil is rekindling interest in sail. Modern materials and automation have reduced the labor requirements to use it. Roller-furling jibs are one thing, but computer-controlled parafoil kites are a whole new game. Flying well above the waves, these kites can capture more power than even the highest topsail of a clipper ship. With favorable winds, even large cargo ships can see substantial fuel savings, greater speeds or both.

    I had a rather cursory link to this concept last Earth Day, but the Ergosphere's coverage puts mine to shame. He devotes much more time to the idea of power kites that generate useful levels of electricity regardless of wind direction. Now, some of you may remember Cousteau's old wind turbine ship, the Alcyone, and wonder why we need anything as cumbersome and Rube Goldbergesque as a kite. The answer can be found in this wonderful paper, The Case for Transport Sail Craft.

    One of the big advantages of kites over conventional rigs, rotating cylinders, and wind turbines is the relative freedom from heeling moment. This will allow us to attach kites to most commercial ships without significant modifications. Another advantage is dynamic sheeting, or the ability to fly patterns in the sky to maintain relative winds at the kite that are several times stronger than the wind on the deck.

    So much to learn and so little time. It's humbling. But what about those titular Australian balls? Relax, we're almost there. This will call for a slight change of tack, but we'll still be in peak oil survival waters. They're powerballs. Solar power, specifically.

    Australia's Green & Gold Energy is preparing to market what they call SunBalls to the Australian consumer. I have to say, the individual units are sort of cute, in an R2-D2 kind of way. But cute is irrelevant when what you're paying for is juice. By that standard, and assuming that the company's claims stand up to scrutiny, these power units will be freaking beautiful.

    An example from their FAQ...

    What's different about the solar cells used in the SunBall™ Solar Appliance?

    The SunBall™ Solar Appliance uses 35 - 38% efficiency triple junction solar cells normally only used in space. Close cousins of our solar cells power the two Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit. Flat panels solar cells normally rate around 15%.

    Why not just use these high efficiency cells in flat panels?

    The cells cost around $10 / cm2. 1 m2 of these cells would cost around $100,000 so don't expect to see them in flat panels unless you happen to live on Mars or in a space station.

    How does the SunBall™ Solar Appliance use these cells yet cost less than flat panels?

    The SunBall™ Solar Appliance uses an optical acrylic Fresnel lens to capture the light from an area 500 times that of the solar cell and focus it onto the triple junction solar cell. This lens costs a lot less than using silicon solar cells to cover the same area. This is the first cost reduction effect we use in the SunBall™ Solar Appliance. In the SunBall™ Solar Appliance a 1cm2 (1cm x 1cm) concentrator cell (~$10) does about the same work (kWh output) as about 2,000 cm2 (45cm x 45cm) of typical silicon solar cells (~$120).

    Focusing the sun 500 times sounds like the solar cell would burn up from the heat. How does the SunBall™ Solar Appliance stop this from happening?

    The triple junction solar cells we use in the SunBall™ Solar Appliance are specially designed to handle this amount of concentrated sun light whereas normal silicon solar cells are not. We also mount the solar cells on a massive heat spreader which transfers the heat into the SunBall™ Solar Appliance's aluminium hemisphere shell which serves as a heat radiator. This heat radiator is 180% larger than the solar collection area, is always in the shade and cooled by passing winds much more easily than flat panels. While 500 suns sound massive it is really only a heat load of about 30 watts per solar cell. The rest is just good thermal engineering.

    As an example 500 cm^2 of Fresnel lens will connect 50 watts of power at 1,000W/m^2 or 0.1W/cm^2. The Fresnel lens will loose / reflect about 8% or 4 watts leaving 46 watts beaming to the cell which then converts say 40% to electricity. That leaves 46 * 0.6 = 27.6 watts to be spread and dissipated by the passive heat management system.

    This separated and broken down heat load is then very thermally manageable and no way as difficult to handle as the massive heat load found on dish and trough type concentrators which have to depend on pumped cooling liquid to stop their cells from being damaged and/or melted into expensive glass.

    Great stuff, eh? If you're even slightly interested in home power, I would urge you to give their website a closer look. Don't miss their calculator feature.

    I know we've all had our hopes raised and dashed a few times in regard to affordable solar power, but don't let that crimp and sour you. Hope is good for the heart.

    posted by Justin at 11:55 AM

    Right Hand, Left Hand

    There's almost always something worthwhile going on over at Defense Tech. A couple of articles caught my eye today.

    First, this evaluation of troop morale...

    Over three weeks in and around Baghdad this July, I spoke to dozens and dozens of soldiers about their views on the conflict. For the most part, morale among these infantrymen and engineers and bomb-disposers was high. Shockingly high, given the fact that they didn’t buy the Bush administration’s rationales for the war.

    “Democracy? Here? Are you fucking kidding me?”...But he’s glad he’s in Iraq, regardless. Mostly, because of the insurgents...

    “It boggles my mind, how someone can go into a crowd of kids, and kill them all. I’ll never understand it. But that’s why I’m here,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Palmer, with the 717th Ordnance Disposal Company, an Army bomb squad. “Yeah, it’s still fun to blow stuff up. But it’s not the core thing. Figuring out how this shit [the bomb] works. Stopping it from hurting people. That’s the main thing.”...

    I’d say three in four of the GIs I spoke with were planning to reenlist. The new, fat bonuses are one reason, of course. But another is the sense that there are real-life psychopaths out there that need to be stopped. It may sound corny. It may sound dumb. But that’s what I saw.

    Despite the name, the guys at Defense Tech are no mindless boosters of the American military establishment. They are quite often skeptical of the official armed forces line. They routinely refer to DARPA as the Pentagon's "mad scientist division".

    But they're honest skeptics.

    Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in a few caveats here. These soldiers were all stationed at Camp Victory, the poshest military base I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the safer places would could be in a warzone. Which means better morale. Could soldiers and marines feel differently out in the sticks, where it’s MREs three times a day and mortars all night? You bet.

    On a lighter note, they point us toward this ridiculous looking development in non-lethal weaponry, with appropriate skepticism of course...

    The weapon, developed by the laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate, employs a two-wavelength laser system and is the first of its kind as a hand-held, single-operator system for troop and perimeter defense. The laser light used in the weapon temporarily impairs aggressors by illuminating or "dazzling" individuals, removing their ability to see the laser source.

    The first two prototypes of the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response, or PHaSR, were built at Kirtland last month and delivered to the laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate at Brooks City Base, Texas, and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate at Quantico, Va. for testing.

    PHaSR, eh? Is there no shame?

    posted by Justin at 10:36 AM | Comments (1)

    Discussion spreads social viruses, one post at a time?

    Last week I remarked something in an afterthought to a post:

    ....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.)

    While I'd hate to be spreading social ills by discussing them, I'm nonetheless delighted to see that my speculations about the mechanism find apparent confirmation in the MSM.

    On the front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Marie McCullough discusses this phenomenon (politically unintended reverse psychology) in a piece titled "Critics' focus on morning-after pill may spur use":

    The Bush administration's opposition to emergency contraception seems to be doing wonders for awareness and use of the method.

    Health activists have promoted the so-called morning-after pill for 15 years as a way to reduce unplanned pregnancies and the need for abortions. But only now is it catching on, partly due to media coverage of the Bush administration's efforts to thwart easier access to it.

    "It has generated a ton of publicity, and that almost surely has a consequence of increasing awareness - and awareness is still the biggest barrier to use," said Princeton University economist James Trussell, a longtime proponent of emergency contraception.

    The old rule that certain things should never be discussed seems to have gone the way of the "crime against nature" which dared not speak its name. (More here.)

    But criminals against "nature" were convicted anyway, often by use of Latin phraseology.

    Humans being monkey-see/monkey-do creatures, the unraveling of such vague and ancient unspoken taboos began inexorably when people started discussing them.

    To illustrate by example, the following is as close as the Florida Supreme Court would come in 1921 to discussing oral sex:

    ....discussion of the loathsome, revolting crime would be of no edification to the people, nor interest to the members of the bar. The creatures who are guilty are entitled to a consideration of their case because they are called human beings and are entitled to the protection of the laws.
    My how times have changed!

    (Little did Justice Ellis know that he was referring to a future president of the United States.....)

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

    Lessons in dissent

    Once the "Scalito" business settles down, it will be interesting to see what the so-called "talking points" against Judge Alito turn out to be -- and how well they'll resonate with voters (and, of course, Democratic senators).

    Whether he has an inside line to Democratic strategy or whether's he's just prescient, Dick Polman has a pretty good knack for issue spotting. Right now he's leaning towards abortion and guns:

    ....Democrats, goaded by liberal interest groups, may nevertheless decide that Alito's conservative ideology warrants a filibuster. (In 1991, Alito said that wives should be required to notify their spouses before having an abortion; in 1996, he tried to curb Congress' power to ban possession of machine guns.)
    A machine gun toting maniac who wants women subordinated to their husbands?

    I can just see the cartoons.

    Remember, the best "talking points" are those things most easily reduced to a graphic stereotype that any idiot can understand. Most people are not going to spend their time reading Alito's dissent in U.S. v. Rybar in which he interpreted the Commerce Clause strictly, and didn't (gasp) display hostility to the Second Amendment.

    The details are here (Alito dissented because he did not think that "the purely intrastate possession of machine guns, by facilitating the commission of certain crimes," had "a substantial effect on interstate commerce.")

    But I really doubt the type of person who'd be persuaded by a cartoon of a machinegun-waving judge would read Alito's dissent.

    The abortion issue is of course more complicated. As Orin Kerr points out, the "talking points" focus is on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which conveniently avoids focusing on another case -- in which Alito concurred with "striking down New Jersey's partial birth abortion statute." (Links via InstaPundit.)

    If anything, such a record provides better fuel for activist pro-lifers against Alito than activist pro-choicers against him.

    Notwithstanding the "talking points" will focus on Casey. On this, liberal pundit Polman and conservative blogger Patterico would seem to agree:

    Democrats will, of course, distort Judge Alito’s dissent. They will say: "Judge Alito thinks that women should have to consult with their husbands before having an abortion. Evidently he views married women as nothing more than their husbands’ property. Also, he is insensitive to the fact that battered women aren’t going to get an abortion if they have to tell their husbands about it first. If Judge Alito is confirmed, the right of married women to obtain abortions will be severely restricted.”
    This tortured view of Casey would have people substitute Alito's own view for that of the legislature which passed the spousal notification provision.

    If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that Alito's willingness to defer to the Pennsylvania legislature and sustain the provision is being seen as, well, judicial activism! Certainly, it will be spun as if the guy was deliberately advocating judicial interventionism in order to "turn back the clock" on women's rights. (Men, of course, have no rights and nothing to say about the fate of babies they've helped create. Only responsibilities! I'm only surprised they're not also compelled to pay for the abortions they're not allowed to be told were to be performed. Regardless of whether abortion should be legal, doesn't even an impregnated egg have two parents?)

    Lost in all of this will be Alito's actual reasoning, which is accurately reflected by his statement that "whether the legislature’s approach represents sound public policy is not a question for us to decide."

    I think part of the problem is that activists see everything as activism -- especially anything that might threaten gains achieved by activism. Thus, if Alito defers to the legislature about spousal notification, he's a male supremacist actively trying to overrule Roe v. Wade. And if he opines that the Commerce Clause doesn't extend to intrastate possession of a gun, he's a machinegun waving activist.

    Well, I long ago learned that if you don't want to be called an activist, you must never disagree with an activist. That's because if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

    UPDATE: According to Bill Frist, in 1990, a Democrat-controlled Senate unanimously confirmed Judge Alito as a circuit judge -- a fact identified by Dick Polman as one of the Republican "talking points."


    But wouldn't that make the Democrats who voted to confirm Alito part of the problem?

    posted by Eric at 07:48 AM | Comments (2)

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