Happy New Year!

Today is not only New Year's Eve, it's also the birthday of Civil War General George Gordon Meade, which was celebrated with full Civil War military regalia by reenactors at Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery. Representatives from today's Army, Navy and Marines were all present, and the ceremony included speeches, wreath-laying, and a twenty one gun salute with Springfield and Enfield rifles.

It was cold and rainy but I managed to take some pictures. Hope you like them.

Um, I took all of them except this first one, as there was no way to photograph General Meade (who'd be 190 years old today):


To go with the above, here's Robert E. Lee's assessment of him:

"Meade, in my judgment, had the greatest ability. I feared him more than any man I ever met upon the field of battle."







I think General Meade's birthday is as good an occasion as any to mark the end of the year, by remembering the past (and those who've gone before), as we think about the future. In a letter to his daughter in 1862, General Meade expresses a timeless sentiment:

Duty, however, requires me to be here, to do the little I can to defend our old flag, and whatever duty requires us to do, we should all, old and young, do cheerfully, however disagreeable it may be.
Yes, we should.

And with that, Happy New Year everyone!

posted by Eric at 08:51 PM | Comments (3)

Detecting the direction of undirected readings

Dennis's last post reminded me of certain extremely stubborn pieces of primary source historical evidence which won't go away, because they're made of metal.


I've discussed ancient Roman coins in several posts, particularly the ones which were struck to commemorate victories over the Jews in a place called "Judea" -- which of course was named on the coin. A bound, captive Jew is proudly displayed on the reverse of one of the better known of these coins:


The coin celebrates the military exploits of emperor Vespasian who, as a Roman general, was sent in to destroy and occupy Judea in 66 A.D. (Vespasian became emperor in 69 A.D., and the coin dates from his reign.)

Likewise, the Romans also built triumphal arches showing the destruction and plundering of the great Jewish Temple of Jerusalem. Like this:


It seems self evident to me than no sane person would question what is part of history -- and staring at us on the plain face of these coins and monuments (that the Romans put down the Jewish rebellion and destroyed the Temple). So the contention of so many governments in the Mideast hold that the Jews were never there, that these coins must be "forgeries," why, that strikes me as so laughable as to be pathetic.

But now, thanks to Dennis, I see that the Roman presence in Judea, their military victory, the destruction of the Temple, is only my "reading" of history. What would my reading be called?

Pro Roman? Or pro Zionist?

According to the professor Dennis quotes, "each of us had a different but equally valid view of history." (As I wisecracked earlier, "Denial of reality is, of course, a 'view.'") That must mean that it is equally valid to declare coins and monuments "modern Jewish forgeries" as it is to see them for what they are.

It might just be my "reading," but I think the lunatics are trying to run the asylum. (Well, they already are running certain asylums -- a fact which reflects poorly on people dumb enough to imagine that they're being "educated" in them.)

I'm left wondering whether they actually believe their nonsense, or whether it's a tactic. Because, if they really can't recognize the plain meaning of primary source material like what's on the face of a coin, how can they be expected to do things like drive a car? Or vote? (The former requires "reading" street signs, while the latter requires "reading" ballots.) And how would you read a compass? If I say it points North, is that just my "reading?"

Is it all as absurdly directionless as it seems? Or is there a hidden direction of which I'm unaware?

(I try to use logic, but I'm told that too is a reading -- and a "masculinist" one.....) BTW, "masculist" is gaining in usage, but the former still wins the Google memefest.

Isn't it time to look at the bigger picture? Shouldn't we ask what it is that we call "reading," and whether it has any value at all? Or why, say, should what we judgmentally call "mathematics" be considered culturally superior to drinking blood?

It's going to be a long day, and I might not have time for any more posts. I think I'll take a "reading" from my watch, then go outside and try to "read" the weather. It's supposed to rain, but whether it rains or not depends on our "views."


(But can I really say that? I mean, isn't that just my "reading" of a Western, Judeo-Christian-centric calendar?)

posted by Eric at 08:26 AM | Comments (2)

Reading as a weapon in the culture war

I was just thinking the other day about the politicization of scholarship and how people who inject their work with an agenda create enemies in the process. For example, I know of a 'feminist reading' of a poem by Catullus, published in a major classics journal, the stated goal of which (right there in the introduction) is to help modern man to become more sensitive and more fully human. This sort of thing willfully ignores the author's intent and the work's peculiar cultural context while serving the critic's political goals. That article was partly responsible for deepening a rift between a feminist bloc that kept silent but seethed, and a number of independent voices (myself included) who openly attacked the article in a seminar discussion. The feminists took it personally, and we were thus enemies of feminism, and were in turn misogynists.

If we did not accept the feminist reading, we must have had an anti-feminist reading.

You see, in this crazy, mixed-up, po-mo world, texts don't matter -- just readings. We 'read' everything from history to film, and expose the ideology of our enemies through their 'readings' as defined in contrast to our own. It's not what happened, but how you 'read' it. It says something about YOU. And YOUR KIND.

Creepy, isn't it?

If you reject a given reading, then you've made yourself an enemy of that reading's interest group. The group doesn't need to adhere to it, by the way. It's enough to make something a 'women's reading' that a 'feminist' critic has made it. To deny the critique is to attack women, to be a misogynist. To deny a 'queer reading' is to be a homophobe.

If you're gay, you're a self-hating homosexual. If you're a woman, we might as well call you Suzy Homemaker (and that's supposed to sting).

I stopped by a used book store this morning and found amid the stacks of new arrivals Mary Lefkowitz's Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History. The book is a rational response to a politically motivated reconstruction of ancient history called Afrocentrism, whose proponents necessarily charge their detractors with 'Eurocentrism.' (I think Afrocentrist's fail to recognize that what they see as their enemies' vice is the mirror of their own virtue.) This is the same thing that was discussed above: by creating your own subjective reading, you can charge those who challenge you with having their own subjective reading, which is often characterized as the perpetuation of a long-standing cultural hegemony or a reactionary attack.

The familiar themes crop up: Lefkowitz was called a white racist, and the member of a 'Jewish onslaught.' It's funny how Jews are so often linked to white racism on the fringes of the political left. (I suspect sometimes that the ultimate target is really the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West.)

In 1993 Professor Lefkowitz attended a talk by Afrocentrist author Dr. Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannan, who had been invited to deliver the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial lecture, and who has claimed in print that Aristotle robbed the library of Alexandria:

After Dr. ben-Jochannan made these same assertions once again in his lecture, I asked him during the question and answer period why he said that Aristotle had come to Egypt with Alexander and had stolen his philosophy from the library at Alexandria, when that library had only been built after his death. Dr. ben-Jochannan was unable to answer the question, and said that he resented the tone of the inquiry. Several students came up to me after the lecture and accused me of racism, suggesting that I had been brainwashed by white historians. ...

A lecture at which serious questions could not be asked, and in fact were greeted with hostility--the occasion seemed more like a political rally than an academic event (2-3).

Professor Lefkowitz describes the silence of her colleagues, one of whom later called the lecture 'hopeless,' thus requiring no discussion. Charges of racism, she suspects, kept them quiet. Her dean tried to pacify her by claiming that 'each of us had a different but equally valid view of history.'

This last claim, common enough, negates the value of history. If any of us actually believed it we'd have no reason to make one or another reading of history. Except of course were it politically advantageous.

This brings me to the point of this post, namely that there really are things knowable with a degree of certainty, that history, like science (though judged on very different evidential grounds), should not lie within the provenance of rhetoric and politics.

Afrocentrism and various other agenda-driven 'readings' of history and culture that manufacture enemies are no different in this respect from Intelligent Design, that bastard child of Creationism which pits evolutionary theory against god and makes those who deny politically advantageous 'readings' of nature the enemies of Christianity.

But this line of thought matters little. It will doubtless be 'read' as a racist, Zionist, anti-Christian, misogynistic, homophobic attack in support of the Western capitalist hegemony.

posted by Dennis at 03:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

Stereotypes are for sheep?

WARNING! This post has been called a "spoiler." People who don't want to read about certain details in "Brokeback Mountain" might not want to read any further.

Someone at the Childress, Texas Chamber of Commerce isn't doing a very good job. For a shrinking town of some 6500 people, it seems to be the capital of far more mayhem and murder than it should.

You'd never know Childress was a terrible place merely by Googling the name. What you get are interesting facts like these:

The community was named after George Campbell Childress, who wrote the Texas Declaration of Independence

Former and merged community names include:
· Henry

Crime: The number of violent crimes recorded by the FBI in 2003 was 19. The number of murders and homicides was 0. The violent crime rate was 2.8 per 1,000 people.

Well-known residents have included:
· Walter P. Chrysler, founder of Chrysler Motor Corp.

Hey wait a second! Number of murders and homicides was 0? What about the awful Sawyer family who murdered motorists by the carful and then ate them? As attentive fans of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre know, Childress was the nearest town to the murder scene.

And now, from "Brokeback Mountain," we know that homosexuals get beaten to death in Childress.

Which means the above statistics can't be right, can they?

Should it matter that "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Brokeback Mountain" are actually fictional? That no such murders actually took place near Childress?

Is it fair to ask whether Childress is a victim of unfair stereotyping? Might it have been better to pick another town?

Another state, perhaps?

The reason for my concern about Childress is that I saw "Brokeback Mountain" last night, and the night before that I rented and watched the umpteenth version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." (A must for all fans of Full Metal Jacket's R. Lee Ermey, BTW....) What I'm troubled by is the logic of stereotyping a small town I've never visited and probably never will. Am I supposed to be more afraid of cannibals with chainsaws? Or homophobes with tire irons?

Somehow, the latter seems intended as the more truthful stereotype of the two. Perhaps evocative of the death of Matthew Shepard?

No, that can't be right, because his name aside, Matthew Shepard never herded sheep, and he wasn't what you'd call a man's man. He was tiny and effeminate, and it is doubtful he could have put up much of a fight -- either on the night the thugs beat him to death or any time.

But the "Brokeback Mountain" guy who was murdered in Childress, well, he was tough enough to ride bulls in rodeos, physically threaten his bullying father-in-law into submission, and duke it out with his violent boyfriend. He was also smart enough to carry on a gay relationship behind his wife's back, as well as score with guys in Mexico (where such things can be more dangerous than here). He just didn't strike me as the type who'd get himself beaten to death by fag bashers.

I don't mean to engage in stereotypical thinking, but the few cases of fag bashing I've personally known about took place not at the hands of cowboys, but in urban areas, at the hands of minority youths offended by gay men who ventured too close to "their" neighborhoods (and who were too open for their liking). This is not to say that small town Texans wouldn't do the same thing, but seeing stuff like that on a big screen always makes me wonder whether there's a message being sent. ("GAY MEN BEWARE! Texas towns are dangerous places.") In reality, I think most gay men would be more likely to be attacked in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or even tolerant San Francisco than in Childress, Texas.

But again, is Childress really the issue?

Or is there a bigger stereotype meant to include Texas, Wyoming, and other flyover states? The red-state/blue-state cultural stereotypes, perhaps?

Anyway, there was just something about portraying a Texas small town that way that struck me as a bit unfair. I can see past the stereotypes (assuming that is what they are), but are there clueless people out there who won't?

And am I supposed to care about clueless people?

As it is, the clueless hordes drive me to utter distraction, because while I don't know where they are or what they think, they are always invoked by communitarian proponents of the National Kindergarten mindset which so infuriates me. From what the ideologues on both sides say, they -- the little people -- are victims of bad leadership and propaganda aimed at manipulating them and leading them astray. The evil Red State Neocons make them think Saddam Hussein personally directed the 9/11 attacks, fill their minds with homophobia, and trick them into voting for antigay marriage ordinances. Clearly, they don't know what they should think. This justifies the people on the other (blue state) side in telling them how bigoted, insensitive, and murderous they are, and of course what they should think.

It's almost as if American ideologues on both sides believe that non-ideological Americans are sheep to be led. But it's insulting to tell people they're sheep. It can backfire. So, instead of telling them that directly, they're told that they're acting like sheep if they follow the evil ideologues on the other side.

I tire of this, mainly because I dislike the idea that Americans are sheep. In fact, I hate the very idea of human sheep. I do my best to deny the existence of a class of people who want to be led, and I defend individuality to the best of my ability, because I don't think it is natural for human beings to be led, much less Americans, who are a proud, independent, individualistic people.

On some deep subconscious level, I hated the endless images of sheep in "Brokeback Mountain." I'm not sure why, but I'm now finding myself wondering whether I saw them as a symbol of the imaginary mindless Americans who think what they're told to think, and whose existence I deny, but who fill me with fear and loathing. For, if we are a nation of sheep, then libertarianism is wrong, and the communitarians, the fascists, and the Communists are right. So, I refuse to believe in sheep. The catch is that it makes me sheepophobic. (Would that be oviphobic?) I hate and fear the sheep I deny, because they threaten my view of a proud, free, independent America.

Is it an accident that the cowboys in "Brokeback Mountain" were portrayed as neglecting the sheep while they were screwing, or am I just being paranoid?

Author (and non-Texan, non-Wyomingite) Annie Proulx doesn't say much about the sheep, but the way she talks about her characters might be seen as a tad condescending:

I had to imagine my way into the minds of two uneducated, rough-spoken, uninformed young men, and that takes some doing if you happen to be an elderly female person. I spent a great deal of time thinking about each character and the balance of the story, working it out, trying to do it in a fair kind of way.
It didn't seem fair to me.

But then, neither did "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," and I never complained about that.

So what the hell is my problem with unfair stereotypes and sheep?

(I think I should conclude by reassuring myself that these movies are all fiction and we are not a nation of sheep.....)

UPDATE: A reader who wishes to remain nameless has sent an email titled "Stereotypes are sometimes real" in which he argues that in his experience, small towns are more dangerous for gays:

My partner and I have lived in rural northern California together for 27 years. Our experience in many ways mirrors that of what is portrayed in "Brokeback Mountain" (We haven't seen the movie yet, but have read the reviews - so I'm kind of flying loose here.)

Anyway, you say that gays are far more likely to get mugged or beat in cities than in small towns.

Not in our experience.

In 1999 two closeted friends of ours were brutally murdered in bed in Redding, California. Gary Matson & Winfield Mouder were their names. They befriended the Williams brothers, Identity Christians, who also burned a couple of synagogues in Sacramento and had a list on them of well known Jews they intended to murder when they were captured.

Some 25 years ago a close friend of mine was bludgeoned to death in Red Bluff, California. He was gay in a cowboy town. Ever heard of the "Red Bluff Round Up"? His name was Russ Baldwin.

And finally my own experience:

My partner & I have tried to live a quiet existence in a small rural community. But like all small towns, everyone knows.

So, a few years ago the 20 acres next door to us was sold to a couple in their 70's. They just happened to be former occupants of Mt. Carmel, Texas. In fact they were some of the original Dividians. And without trying to sound paranoid, I believe they have brought other followers with them. To the point that this tiny Sierra foothill community now has quite a group of 7th Day Adventists with intent of building a church, a food processing center, and a school.

A year ago last Labor Day, one of the flock living on another adjoining piece of property to ours, started a fire that burned up through our 5 acres destroying everything in its path except the house. We were BBQing on the deck when the fire storm approached, and escaped with our lives. Only because of a large water-filled Live Oak tree in the front yard that deflected the fire around the house, did we survive.

Ever read in the Bible about "and they shall be consumed in fire"?

I sleep with a 12 gauge by the head of the bed, and we are getting ready to move.

This is no joke.

It's life for gays in small town USA. (And Canada is looking better by the day.)

Obviously, these things can happen anywhere, but I can only speak from personal experience, and the incidents I've known of took place in large cities. It's certainly true that Christian Identity types (as well as certain fringe fanatics) often prefer rural locations, but I'd want to see a statistical breakdown before generalizing.

I do remember reading about the Matson-Mowder murders described in the email. Yet California as a state was never implicated in the same way that Wyoming was for the Matthew Shepard murder.

(If I lived in Wyoming, I might consider that a double standard.)

UPDATE (1/02/06): The Philadelphia Inquirer's Faye Flam rounds out the discussion of "Brokeback Mountain" with a quasi-scientific piece on gay sheep:

....in his book Biological Exuberance, author Bruce Bagemihl details gay behavior in a huge variety of wild animals. Here's an excerpt from his section on bighorn mountain rams: "Typically the larger male rears up on his hind legs and mounts the smaller male... the mountee assumes a characteristic posture known as lordosis, in which he arches his back to facilitiate copulation."

"Usually the mounting male has an erect penis and achieves full anal penetration," the book goes on to say - apparently the anatomy of wild sheep is suited for it, unlike that of domesticated sheep.

This anatomical coincidence is shared by various other living things, including, it would seem, sheep-herding cowboys.

I say Bah!

posted by Eric at 07:57 AM | Comments (11)

A strange sign

Via Samizdata, I found the perfect sign for my house:


Haven't run it past Coco yet, and it might take a little explaining. But how many dogs devote themselves to fighting coverups, promoting products, and writing in the snow?

Or hiding in a trunk?


How about hiding behind designer jeans?


I'll let Coco think this over...

posted by Eric at 12:47 PM

Spears won't kill Piggy's traffic!

La Shawn Barber's observations about blogger responsibility are well worth reading:

....[U]nrestrained power coupled with little to no accountability is a dangerous thing. As a blogger who’s been the subject of nasty and false statements made by bloggers and in comment sections by anonymous cowards, I know what people are capable of saying when they get caught up in online anonymity. When you’re not man or woman enough to stand behind your words using your own name, high ideals like accountability and responsibility are mere afterthoughts.
(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

While this came up during La Shawn's response to Kathleen Parker's attack on bloggers (we're like the uncontrolled children in Lord of the Flies, claims Parker), I do think that there are probably a lot of bloggers who do behave precisely like undisciplined brats, and who are unaccountable. I'd rather avoid reading them if possible, but I think it's fair to criticize unaccountability and condemn "Lord of the Flies" antics whenever they are found.

Which is not to say that bloggers in general behave that way, because they don't. These days, there are so many bloggers that there isn't any generalization which could apply to all of them -- save the fact that they all write web logs. (Well, a spammer or a bot is not a blogger. Nor do I consider certain vast conglomerates to be the same as individual blogs, but that's another issue.)

Because I realize bloggers will disagree on issues like accountability (as they do on nearly everything), I can only speak for myself, and by way of definition of accountability, I can only offer the standard I apply to myself, and it's pretty close to La Shawn's. As I have said before, I have to be ready to defend anything and everything I have written in this blog, at any time. That's a pretty tall order for anyone writing opinions every day, as it is impossible to do this and be right all the time. Accountability means knowing the difference between fact and opinion, being willing to admit and correct errors and (at least for me), always being open to the possibility that I might be wrong about nearly everything.

Even my most deeply held beliefs.

For example, it is always possible that there really does exist the God so many people want to see as the angry bearded legend who sends people to hell for things like using their genitalia for purposes he's said to dislike. It is therefore possible that I might face eternal damnation. Although I have to be just as willing to acknowledge and answer for everything I have done in my life as I am to defend the thoughts in this blog, I live with that possibility, and the only bright side is that I'd probably be going where most of my friends have gone. I might not believe in such a God, but I know it's just my opinion and belief, and other people have other opinions and beliefs. Similarly, I don't believe in Communism, socialism, or other forms of communitarianism, but I must acknowledge that my beliefs may be wrong. I hesitate to attack people simply because their opinions differ from mine, and I try to limit my disagreements to the ideas rather than the people who hold them. But I'm human, and I'm always tempted to return fire when differences of opinion are coupled with ad hominem attacks.

If only the world of opinion consisted of verifiable facts! But it doesn't. Even the distinction between fact and opinion can be tricky. Many people believe what they want to believe despite evidence to the contrary. This leads to assertions of being wrong, of lying, and of being stupid or evil. In general, people who are willing to acknowledge that they have said what they said and are willing to defend it in a sincere manner are less likely to resort to insulting ad hominem attacks, they are more accountable, and less like the kids in Lord of the Flies.

I think the flaw in the Lords of the Flies analogy is that in the novel, a bunch of ordinary kids found themselves on an island where they reverted to natural savagery which resulted in mob tyranny by bigger and stronger boys. While some bloggers might voluntarily submit to systems which could be characterized as mob rule, there is no way for them to rule over other bloggers. If, in the blogosphere, a blogger doesn't want to join an online mob, there's no way to make him do anything, and there is no way to destroy his blog. Unlike "Ralph" (or poor "Piggy"), he can't have his glasses broken or be speared to death by other bloggers for speaking up. There might be people who'd want to do that, but they're ultimately powerless because the Internet more resembles a universe than a small island.

The only spears to be thrown are verbal.

And here's the problem and paradox for would-be tyrants (whether of the MSM or blogger variety): the stronger and sharper their verbal spear thrusts, the stronger their "victims" become.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Obviously, if we see "The Lord of the Flies" in blogospheric terms, a compelling argument can be made that the "Piggy" character (a voice for reason who argued against mob thinking) represents the best of the blogosphere. (Saying the blogosphere resembles his killers reduces him to their level, and IMHO, rather misses the point.)

posted by Eric at 09:53 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

Drugs and terror. A nexus of evil?

That last story (about an innocent girl whose imprisonment on phony drug charges resulted from an airport search) highlights a longtime concern I've had about the war on terror, and that is that the "War on Drugs" may be its Achilles heel.

The problem with giving authorities extraordinary powers to search citizens for bombs is that there's no clear line limiting their jurisdiction. That's because once an officer has the right to search you for things including, say, a "white powder," (which might be TATP), any other white powder he finds becomes admissible as evidence.

It doesn't take much imagination to see how this can pave the way for a hellish future in which all citizens are subject to search at all times.

Arguably, we may be there right now. To fight terrorism, many citizens are willing to be searched, whether on planes, trains, or buses. It wouldn't take more than one or two suicide car bombers to cause people to willingly allow searches of their cars, too. And with geiger counters pointed at homes, how much more difficult would it be to add computerized drug sniffing devices?

Would Americans tolerate what would be totalitarian police tactics in the fight against terrorism? It depends. I think many of them would.

But throw in the damned "War on Drugs," and limited, quasi-totalitarian tactics can lead to a nexus in which our constitutional freedoms are lost -- a scenario which I think may be a bit too intolerable for most people.

While there may be practical ways to exclude drug law enforcement from the war on terror, I don't see much discussion of it.

In fact, I see precisely the opposite.

From a recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor titled "Terror War Aiding Drug War":

As Congress and President Bush wrangle over the USA Patriot Act, the Border Security bill, and other tools of the war on terror, they may want to keep another law-enforcement group in mind – the nation's drug-fighters.

That's because the war on terror is proving to be a boon to the war on drugs. Drug seizures are up all along the US-Mexico border. Nowhere is the trend clearer than along a desolate 118-mile patch of Arizona desert across the border from the Mexican state of Sonora.

In what is rapidly becoming one of the highest drug-trafficking and people-smuggling sectors along the border, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers there have seized 13,000 pounds of marijuana since Oct. 1, triple the amount captured in the same period last year. That year, fiscal 2005, also set a record. The reasons for the success? Better intelligence-sharing, increased manpower, and improved technology that border officials have received in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.

If this trend continues, I think we can expect more Drug War abuses committed against citizens in the name of the War on Terror.

For the record, I strongly support the War on Terror, and I strongly oppose the "Drug War."

I wish that certain totalitarian-minded bureaucrats wouldn't keep trying to blur the distinction, as I'd hate to have to change my mind.

UPDATE: This policy briefing makes a good case that the Drug War is actually impeding the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

As I've argued before, the Drug War is also a great way to turn former allies into enemies.

posted by Eric at 08:16 AM

As laughable as a hoax
(Except I'm not laughing....)

The main reason I thought the Little Red Book hoax was so laughable was that I couldn't believe that federal officers would seriously waste their time on innocuous, universally-available, tacky Communist kitsch.

A story in this morning's Inquirer, however, would be even more laughable if it wasn't true, which it appears to be. Amazing as it sounds, a Bryn Mawr college student was arrested not for a silly book, but for flour in condoms:

She was a freshman on an academic scholarship at Bryn Mawr College, preparing to fly home to California for Christmas, sleep-deprived, with questions from a calculus exam still racing through her head.

In the space of a few hours on Dec. 21, 2003, Janet Lee landed in a Philadelphia jail cell, where she would remain for three weeks, held on $500,000 bail and facing 20 years in prison on drug charges.

All over flour found in her luggage.

It wasn't as if she was trying to pass the stuff off as drugs, either. The girls at Bryn Mawr are known for making goofy arts and crafts things during Finals Week, and young Ms. Lee stuffed the condoms to make improvised stress squeeze balls (a bit like these omnipresent things).

Obviously it was not a busy day for terrorism, as the authorities we normally trust to keep us safe from Osama bin Laden devoted themselves assiduously to putting this girl in jail on trumped up charges:

....[S]creeners at Philadelphia International Airport inspecting her checked luggage found three condoms filled with white powder. Lee laughed and told city police they were filled with flour. It was just part of a phallic gag at a women's college, she told them, a stress-reliever, something to squeeze while studying for exams.

The police didn't find it funny. They told her a field test showed that the powder contained opium and cocaine.

A lab test later proved the substance was flour - and no one now disputes that Lee is innocent, including the prosecutor.

How in the world could a "field test" determine that flour was opium and cocaine? The police won't say -- and apparently many of the records remain "confidential":
Capt. Benjamin Naish, a spokesman for the Police Department, declined to comment, noting that the department rarely comments on litigation. Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, also declined to comment.

Lee's lawsuit seeks to answer a central question: Why did the police field test initially conclude that the white powder contained drugs?

Her lawyers, former prosecutors David Oh and Jeremy Ibrahim, say there are two possibilities: Either the field test was faulty or someone fixed the results.

Ellen Green-Ceisler, who directed the Police Department's Office of Integrity and Accountability from 1997 to 2005, called Lee's case highly unusual. Field tests are rarely wrong.

'Almost never happens'

"I've looked at thousands of these cases, and in the context of trained narcotics officers, it almost never happens," she said. "The whole issue will come down to the field test. Was the officer trained? Was the test contaminated?"

Ibrahim said he waited to file the lawsuit until last week, on the eve of the end of the two-year statute of limitations, because Lee needed time to process what happened.

"She was devastated emotionally," Ibrahim said, noting that the event became a minor scandal among her Korean American family and friends. "She lost significant face with this event."

Many records in the case are still confidential, not yet accessible even to Lee's lawyers. What is undisputed is that she was detained at the airport shortly before she was to board a plane to Los Angeles. Court records confirm her arrest and three-week detention on drug charges. Records also confirm why prosecutors dropped the charges.

(Only after she got a lawyer was the flour retested again and determined to be flour.)

I don't blame this woman for suing! I note that her lawyer (former White House appointee Jeremy Ibrahim) is no slouch, and I honestly hope she ends up owning the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Airport so she can fire everyone responsible and tell the rest to devote themselves to fighting terrorism.

While I find the story hard to believe, the Inquirer is not some college newspaper, and I don't think they'd have run this story without checking the facts.

I have a brief observation and a question.

First of all, airport authorities have no business abusing the extraordinary powers granted them during war on terrorism to shake down people for drug offenses -- real or (as in this case) imaginary.

Second of all, what the hell kind of "drug field tests" are being used in this country? If they can't determine the difference between flour and cocaine and opium, why, it makes me afraid to get on a plane.

(Especially if I'm carrying well-known methamphetamine precursors like sudafed and lithium.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: My gut reaction to this is that the police probably never did a field test. It's just a guess on my part, but my common sense tells me that they just made up the test results to "teach her a lesson." If so, I hope she teaches them a lesson. I wish it didn't have to be at the taxpayers' expense, but maybe if things like this happen more often, people will start asking tough questions about the growing totalitarianism inherent in that damnable human rights atrocity so euphemistically called the "Drug War."

MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Michael Totten looks at airport security in Libya (a "total-surveillance police state" in which "one person in six works for the secret police"):

A bored official glanced at my visa, rubbed his face, stamped my passport and pointed me toward my first Libyan checkpoint. A man in an untucked button-up shirt, with a cigarette jutting out the side of his mouth, waved me toward a metal detector. He hadn’t shaved in two days. I walked through. The alarm screamed and I braced for a pat-down. He just stood there, took a long drag on his cigarette and stared bleary-eyed into space over my shoulder. I guessed that meant I could go. So I did.
I hate to say it, but right now I'd rather be searched by lethargic Libyans.

posted by Eric at 07:25 AM | Comments (5)

Breaking the back of violence and other U.S. "exports"

In what appears to have been a gang-related dispute in Toronto yesterday, a girl was killed and six people were injured in a shootout in a crowded shopping center. Rather than blaming the individuals who did the shooting (or even gang violence), Toronto's mayor blames guns. And above all, he blames the United States:

Mayor David Miller said almost every other type of crime is down in Toronto, but the supply of guns has increased and half come from the United States.

"The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence," he said.

I'm not much of an expert on imports and exports.

However, Mayor Miller is right there on the scene, so obviously he knows more than I do about United States exports. If in fact we are exporting what he says we are, why not simply impose a huge tariff? Whenever guns or violence appear at the border, just tax them!

No, that wouldn't work for guns, because they're already subject to considerable regulation.

As the U.S. State Department points out, importing most firearms into Canada is severely restricted:

Prohibited Firearms

You cannot import prohibited firearms, or any prohibited weapons or devices, including silencers and replica firearms. A prohibited firearm is:

* a handgun with a barrel length of 105 mm (4.1 inches) or less;
* a handgun designed or adapted to discharge 25 or 32 caliber ammunition

All handguns which are not prohibited are restricted, and according to the State Department are subject to lengthy bureaucratic delays:
To be able to bring a restricted firearm to Canada in person, you will need to obtain an Authorization to Transport (ATT) from the CFO of the province where you will be entering Canada. If you are bringing firearms with you and declaring them with a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration, you will need to wait until your declaration has been confirmed, before you call the CFO to request an ATT.
I'm wondering whether any of the guns used in yesterday's Toronto shooting were either prohibited or restricted. If they were brought in from the United States illegally, can it really be said that the U.S. "exported" them?

What I'd like to know is how we manage to "export violence" to a country with which we're not even at war.

Well, more prominent minds than mine have argued that the United States exported homosexuality into a country we invaded.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that "Brokeback Mountain" was unveiled to wide critical acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival last September.

Wow. I also see it was set for "wide release in Canada in December." (The same month as the shooting!)

Case closed, I'd say.

posted by Eric at 11:05 AM | Comments (4)

The only real Christian is a loud and angry Christian?
History is written by the victors.

-- Churchill

And so is morality.

In another reminder of the principle I touched on in the last post (that moral debates are won by those who yell the loudest), Jeff Jarvis links to a very tedious "Culture War" skirmish between the American Family Association and NBC. The AFA has decided that a television program ("The Book of Daniel") -- featuring a minister with a substance abuse problem -- is an attack on Christianity and Christians.

Why would that necessarily be the case? Didn't Jesus go out of his way and endure great criticism to befriend and hang out with disreputable people like drunks, tax collectors, and sinners of various stripes? Wasn't Jesus the guy who Christianity was named for? I haven't seen the series (it hasn't aired yet), but in theory, why can't a guy with a substance abuse problem be one of his ministers as long as he beliefs are sincere (which according to the website they apparently are)?

Can't they at least watch the show before jumping to the conclusion that it's against Christianity?

A major reason the AFA gives for opposing the show is that it's written by a "practicing homosexual." I'm assuming their argument is that this is bad on it's face, because no Christian could possibly be a homosexual, because homosexuality is condemned as a sin in the Bible. But isn't there someplace else where it says all Christians are sinners? Aren't there also adulterous Christians, lying Christians, covetous Christians, and Christians who don't always strictly obey the Sabbath? Is the AFA arguing that Jesus would want a background check run on all writers to see whether they're free from sin? Furthermore, where do they get the idea that homosexuality was one of Jesus Christ's primary concerns?

Is the AFA free from sin? If not, then who put them in charge?

One thing is sure: they'll try to yell louder than anyone else.

That's because they hope that their yelling will be seen as the only "Christian" voice. Loud, cacophonous, and unreasonable. Isn't that how the godless secular atheist heathens want to portray all Christians?

Back to Jeff Jarvis, who raises an interesting point about fairness.

Change the channel. Go watch the 700 Club, which offends me, though I’m not trying to keep you from watching it.
Jeff's point about changing the channel, of course, is lost on people who are not content with merely not watching something they don't like; as he says, their goal is to stop other people from watching what they don't like.

Again, assuming there is some right to not be offended, isn't it possible that some Christians might find the 700 Club just as offensive as other Christians might find "The Book of Daniel"? Don't they have just as much right to complain that the 700 Club presents Christianity in an unfavorable light, and does great damage to the cause of Jesus Christ? Legally speaking, they do, but they're just not as loud in presenting their moral argument.

Whether it be a left wing or right wing variety, it's because morality is often confused with volume that the loudest voices win.

posted by Eric at 09:10 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

Toys 'Я' worse than Communism and murder?

What is art? What is speech? What is offensive speech?

Such questions leaped from the front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer in an article about Sony's "Playstation kid" graffiti advertising campaign. Local activists who favor political murals but hate corporate ones are in a dither:

Sony has conceded that the graffiti ads are not spontaneous art, but contrived marketing for the handheld games.

That annoys Mary Tracy, a local watchdog against illegal billboards through her group, SCRUB - the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight.

"It's not mural art," Tracy said. "This is someone trying to sell a product. This is commercialism. You have a multi-conglomerate operation coming into the city and breaking our laws."

She added that if it is art, why not put it everywhere?

"They're not putting this on walls in Gladwyne or Ardmore," Tracy said. "These are poor neighborhoods. The whole notion that 'if it's urban, it's OK' is very arrogant and very disrespectful."

Philadelphia has strict billboard regulations. Companies have to get a permit from the city's Licenses and Inspections Department before putting up an advertisement.

Sony did not get permission ahead of time for its graffiti ads, the L&I office confirmed yesterday.

L&I intended to issue a violation to the property owner and inform Sony that such advertising required a permit, said a department official who asked not to be identified.

I know it's a simplistic question, but I'd like to know why a permit would be required for a Playstation kid, but not for Che Guevara, Rachel Corrie, or Tookie Williams? (In many cities, even building owners are prohibited from painting over what's called "mural art.")

Is the current uproar over the fact that someone wants to make money, and that's bad? Unlike the case of regular graffiti art, Sony is paying the owners of buildings to allow the art, and some of them like it. (A fact which appears not to matter at all.)

It strikes me that there is a serious philosophical question somewhere in all of this.

Dare I ask whether this question involves morality? Commercial graffiti is more immoral than graffiti glorifying murderers?

New York blogger (and "street-art aficionado") Jake Dobkin does not like Sony's Playstation graffiti (to say the least):

I've written about this so many times on Gothamist that I'm worried about sounding like a broken record-- but apparently the big corporations have not gotten the message. This week, Sony Playstation graffiti pieces have been popping up like cancer all over Manhattan. The pieces are sometimes drawn by hand-- others are wheat pasted to walls all over SoHo and NoLIta. It's clearly a large campaign, and deserves a thoughtful, measured response. Here's mine: corporate graffiti sucks. Sucks! Sucks! Sucks! It sucks for a variety of specific reasons....
He lists the reasons why it sucks (exploitive, fake, deceptive, illegal, hated by neighbors, bad PR, etc.), and I think he has some good points.

He also provides a photo of Sony's sucky-ass art:


I have to admit, I don't especially like Sony's graffiti art, but I think there's a huge double standard which isn't being acknowledged. Forgetting for a moment First Amendment concerns, I'd like to ask why there should be more of a moral right to deface buildings with pictures of a communist murderer than with pictures of the Playstation kids.

For example, Mr. Dobkin links to some of his own art, which features a picture of Che Guevara surrounded by BB King, Ernest Hemingway, and others. Many people wouldn't mind seeing Che Guevara, but many would. (I know it's just my own personal opinion, but may I be so bold as to venture that Communism sucks?)

While I'm not especially offended by Dobkin's work (because he's at least kind enough to also feature images of people I do like), here's an example (by another artist) which typifies the type of mural I don't like:


Again, why does the fact that this is not commercial make the above morally superior? Is it less offensive because it doesn't advertise a product? Isn't it advertising Communism and murder? Aren't Communism and murder at least as offensive as high tech toys?

Well, no!

That's because making money is immoral. Committing murder in the name of "social justice" is not. Whether anyone likes it or not, moral questions are won by those who scream the loudest.

(What, you're expecting I should scream more loudly? On behalf of the DRM-virus-spreading Sony?)

UPDATE (12/29/05): Yahoo has picked up the story, and links to a photo of Sony's actual Philadelphia, um, art.


The owner likes it, but the City says he has to get a license because he violates "zoning" or something.

(And of course, commies get to advertise free.)

Go figure.

posted by Eric at 07:55 AM | Comments (3)

Fatally bad manners?

Via Pajamas Media, here's a tale of road mob psychosis:

MILWAUKEE, Dec. 27, 2005 (AP Online delivered by Newstex) -- At least 15 young people dragged a motorist out of his car and kicked and punched him, causing severe head trauma, after he honked his horn to get them to move out of a street, police said.

It was the latest in a series of mob beatings in the city.

The 50-year-old man was in critical condition Tuesday and it was unclear whether he would survive, police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said.

Schwartz said the man was driving alone on the city's north side late Monday when he honked at the group of young people in the middle of a road.

"Instead of moving they surrounded the vehicle," and kicked and beat him, she said.

"They left him for dead and when we showed up he was lying in the street," she said.

Officers hadn't made any arrests Tuesday, she said.

According to the article, there have been other similar incidents. I'd say there's a failure of law enforcement in Milwaukee, and if I had to live there, I'd want be be armed. Had the driver been armed, he'd have been fully justified in defending himself against a crowd of fifteen murderous people. As it was, he was defenseless.

But that is no excuse for what may well have been rudeness on the part of the driver. Being in a car does not entitle a driver to behave any differently than he would were he walking down the street. I'm reminded of an incident in New Jersey in which a driver who'd been cut off in traffic followed another driver all the way home, ran him down with his car, whereupon the injured driver struck back with his fists and killed the other driver. He'd have been equally justified in shooting back, and that is true notwithstanding his initial rudeness.

Cases like this make me wonder whether armed drivers might not be a bit slower to anger in situations that provoke confrontations. There's truth to that old saying -- "An armed society is a polite society."

Most of the people I've known who carry guns also understand the consequences of escalation, and consequently, they're slower to do things like flip people the bird.

MORE: According to this organization working to change the laws, Wisconsin is "one of only four states that prohibits anyone other than police officers from carrying concealed weapons."

I'd say it's a good place to be a criminal.

UPDATE (12/30/05): Five uveniles may soon be charged with the mob beating:

Two are 17 years old, two are 16 and one is 14, according to a police statement that did not give the genders of the suspects in the attack on Samuel McClain, a 50-year-old father of 12. Police continue to seek more suspects, the release said.

"We're talking to a lot of people to try to get to the bottom of what happened," said police department spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz.

"We're getting some tips," she added, but declined to be specific.

Thomas Potter, a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney, was handling the case.

"I'm going to be talking to a lot of people over the next day and a half," Potter said, estimating he would likely interview more than a dozen witnesses.

A group of as many as 15 youths punched, kicked and jumped on McClain after he honked for them to move out of the street Monday night, witnesses said.

Pictures of the victim before and after the incident can be seen here.

AND MORE: According to this report, three teens have already been arrested.

CNN has another report of the arrests, as well as pictures.

posted by Eric at 04:35 PM | Comments (1)

The mother of all precursors

In my haste to complain about the crackdown on sudafed sales to Americans with colds, I forgot about something that a lot of people seem to have forgotten about: a substance called phenyl 2 propanone (also known by the abbreviation P2P).

Back in the 70s and 80s (a period I remember well) there was at least as much methampetamine abuse as there is now, but instead of using sudafed as a precursor, the meth labs used P2P. This triggered a crackdown on P2P, which led to the shift to sudafed.

It's been so long that I'd forgotten. But the lab operators don't forget.

In the 1960s and ’70s, biker gangs made meth using phenyl-2-propanone, a dark brown syrupy chemical that eventually was regulated by the government. Methamphetamine made in “mom-and-pop labs” is chemically different than its 1960s counterpart, making it extremely addictive, police say.
It's the business of these people to make methedrine whatever way they can, and if they can't get sudafed, they can always go back to P2P. Whether, as police say, the old fashioned stuff is "chemically different" (and therefore less addictive) is debatable, because methamphetamine is methamphetamine. The only difference might be in the way it's cut.

P2P is not an especially profound substance. It's not mind altering, and cannot get anyone high. Yet it's regulated as a Schedule III narcotic -- something which caused the lab operators to switch to the less regulated pseudoephedrine. Here's one underground chemist shooting off his mouth:

The major problem with methedrine synthesis is procuring the precursors. Phenyl-2-propanone is the most direct precursor to my knowledge and is (unfortunately?) at Schedule III controlled substance. It has no pharmacological activity and yet the DEA saw fit to regulate it around 1975. The first synthesis I will give uses this in as a starting material. Actually it is still possible to find this substance tucked away in store rooms in many universities that presumably purchased the compound before it was controlled. A friend of mine came across 500 mls made by Eastman Kodak in the stock room at Princeton. I purchased 100 mls when I lived in England many years ago and did my first run using it. The reaction can be completed in about 6 hours giving about 60% yield; I am a biologist, not a chemist so someone who knew what they were doing could probably improve on that.
The recipe he goes on to supply appears no more complicated than many kitchen recipes; all you need is old fashioned P2P.

Are history and chemistry being forgotten in the latest bout of hysteria? An MSN piece by Jack Shafer debunked current hysteria with much-needed historical perspective, and it's worth reading if you marvel over the cyclical nature of hysteria (or enjoy reading about drug addiction in the White House):

One well-known and avid consumer of legal amphetamines was President John Kennedy. When users (and dealers) couldn't obtain a doctor's prescription, they would divert the drugs from legal channels—stealing them, forging prescriptions, setting up fraudulent companies and ordering them from the source, or smuggling them across the border. Use was so prevalent that a 1964 study in Oklahoma City (population 300,000) identified 5,000 individuals who got amphetamines and barbiturates (downers) through illegal sources.

In 1965, the federal government tried to reduce the flow of legal amphetamines into the black market by passing the Federal Drug Abuse Control Amendments, but the law had an unintended effect. At the time, the legal amphetamines wholesaled for as little as 14 tablets a penny, writes Edward M. Brecher in his landmark 1972 study, Licit and Illicit Drugs. "Kitchen chemists" had been producing amphetamines in clandestine labs since the early 1950s, but they couldn't compete with the licit producers on price. When the government restricted the legal supply, the street price for the diverted amphetamines logically went up. This opened the door "for profitable illicit manufacture on a far larger scale" for the first time, notes Brecher.

Of course, the switch from legal to illegal led to the switch from P2P to sudafed:
In 1988, the federal government attempted to curtail the production of illicit methamphetamine by severely restricting access to the P2P precursor compound. Some chemists switched to ephedrine, which could be found in cold remedies, and when the government suppressed ephedrine, some moved on to pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed and other decongestants. Now, the government strictly limits even the sale of over-the-counter preparations containing pseudoephedrine. According to Newsweek (which I should be reluctant to present as a reliable source), the precursor clampdown helped drive half of all U.S. methamphetamine production to Mexico, where there are few controls.
And if you really enjoy being titillated by the vagaries of the "Drug War," this piece on "Nazi Meth" is a real treat. Excerpt:
Large amounts of the drugs were diverted into the black market, which swelled in the 1960s as speed use escalated, prompting Congress to enact laws to stem illicit sales in 1965. It was then that clandestine labs really started to proliferate, many of them large-scale. The region between Dallas and Oklahoma City, with its ready access to interstate highways and its miles of unpatrolled farm and ranch lands, became home to more than its share of "P2P" labs, named after one of the precursor chemicals, phenyl-2-propanone. Back then the manufacturing process required some chemical savvy, it smelled much worse than the Nazi method, and it took a few days; speed cooks would go out into the country and come back with a pound or two. In North Texas it was, in part, a kind of oilfield supply business: Roughnecks commonly took speed to get through their shifts of 12 hours and longer.

"Up through the early '90s North Texas was the methamphetamine capital of the world, back when they made the 'good meth,'" says Bill Coombs, the chemical dependency counselor. "Then the precursors were made illegal, and so the supply of methamphetamine almost dried up. It was fairly expensive until this new method came about." (The changes in speed manufacturing techniques over the years are a textbook case of regulation-inspired evolution. Each time the government manages to clamp down on one version of the drug, an easier manufacturing method emerges, often resulting in a more potent product.) The new method has affected not just the drug's availability, but its palpability, the sense of its presence in small communities. Because the method is easier, faster, and not quite as smelly, the drug is more likely to be made in town than in the past. And because there are more manufacturers, there are more manufacturing cases moving through the courts.

The current crackdown is intended to slow the production of "Nazi Meth" (a label which sounds emotionally contrived, as if to inflame pro-Drug War passions), but if pseudoephedrine becomes as scarce as P2P, the chemists will simply synthesize whichever precursor is easier.

Regarding "Nazi Meth," it's not my purpose to get into underground chemistry, but the recipes are readily available online. This anti-meth website's summary of the ingredients highlights the drug cookers' ingenuity (and in my view, the futility of criminalizing the human appetite):

Once the ephedrine has been extracted, the cook will manufacture “Nazi” or “Red P” meth. Both “recipes” utilize heat and chemical reactions to manufacture the finished product, Methamphetamine Hydrochloride. The process is essentially the same with the exception of the agents used in the reaction. In Nazi meth, the cook will add lithium strips, usually extracted from batteries, and anhydrous ammonia to the reduced ephedrine to start the chemical reaction. In the Red P recipe, red phosphorous, usually extracted from match tips, and iodine are used in lieu of lithium and anhydrous. Most of the ingredients used in ephedrine reduction can be purchased legally, thus contributing to its popularity. Common household items used in the production of meth include denatured alcohol, ether, salt, drain cleaner, camping fuel, paint thinner and lye. Obviously, most of us would be reluctant to ingest ingredients. However, most of these precursor ingredients are destroyed or consumed in the manufacturing process and the finished product does not contain the poisons used in the process. The availability of these items and the simplicity of the process contribute to meth’s growing popularity.
Isn't it about time we banned lithium batteries? I mean, does anyone really need a digital camera or MP3 player?

Why, I'm almost ashamed to admit that my very own Nikon Coolpix 7900 has a lithium battery! I already knew I had the deadly sudafed in the house, but had no idea how guilty I truly was.

So I might as well confess, folks.

For the past week, I suffered from an awful cold, but I've had many social commitments. This situation has required me to take sudafed regularly, while running around with my camera, and until now I hadn't realized that I've been a walking speed lab. (And a Nazi one at that! Have I no shame?)

Making me get rid of my camera would be a small price to pay if it would save just one life....

Satire aside, there's a serious irony in all of this. When I was a kid, amphetamines could be easily obtained from any doctor, and the "speed problem" was a medical problem.

And a much less dangerous one.

There's a lot of talk about medicalizing a host of social problems, including such things as bias, and even guns. But here, an actual medical problem has been de-medicalized, and instead of people going to the doctor for a prescription, they're polluting veins and sinuses with foul stuff like the (new and improved) "Nazi meth."

Can anyone tell me how this is an improvement?

posted by Eric at 09:03 AM | Comments (1)

Almost back, but not on track!

Not quite through the Christmas social ramble, so I'm not back to regular posting.

But here are couple of pictures I took today.

This was near the railroad tracks:


And here's something more festive:


(At least, I guess that's festive.....)

posted by Eric at 04:34 PM | Comments (2)

Shrinking common sense

In an earlier post I objected to the medicalization of bias, because I see this as leading towards classfying dissent as disease.

However, some of the top minds in the psychiatric community not only continue to insist that bias is a mental illness, but they do so in language revealing such contempt for the distinction between the sanity and insanity that I wonder whether they believe everyone is insane (or want them to be). Fortunately, there are still mental health practitioners with enough common sense to object:

Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses.

If it succeeds, it could have huge ramifications on clinical practice, employment disputes, and the criminal justice system. Perpetrators of hate crimes could become candidates for treatment, and physicians would become arbiters of how to distinguish "ordinary prejudice" from pathological bias.

Several experts say they are unsure whether bias can be pathological. Solomon, for instance, is uncomfortable with the idea. But they agree that psychiatry has been inattentive to the effects of prejudice on mental health and illness.

"Has anyone done a word search for 'racism' " in psychiatry's manual of mental disorders, asked Carl C. Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist. "It doesn't exist. Has anyone asked, 'If you have paranoia, do you project your hostility toward other groups?' The answer is 'Hell, no!' "

The proposed guidelines that California psychologist Edward Dunbar created describe people whose daily functioning is paralyzed by persistent fears and worries about other groups. The guidelines have not been endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM); advocates are mostly seeking support for systematic study.

Darrel A. Regier, director of research at the psychiatric association, said he supported research into whether pathological bias is a disorder. But he said the jury was out on whether a diagnostic classification would add anything useful, given that clinicians already know about disorders in which people rigidly hold onto false beliefs.

"If you are going to put racism into the next edition of DSM, you would have enormous criticism," Regier said. Critics would ask, " 'Are you pathologizing all of life?' You better be prepared to defend that classification."

The problem with pathologizing all of life is that if everyone is sick, then no one is sick. There are people who are really suffering and unable to perceive reality amidst hallucinations. When the great egalitarian state lumps them in with people who are shy at cocktail parties and children who don't pay attention in school, or simple bigots, then how are they to get the help they so desperately need?

Might as well just diagnose them as "homeless" and tell them they're victims of capitalism while they run around yelling at people who aren't there.

But never mind that. It all comes down to social, um "context":

Psychiatrists who advocate a new diagnosis, such as Gary Belkin, deputy chief of psychiatry at New York's Bellevue Hospital, said social norms play a central role in how all psychiatric disorders are defined. Pedophilia is considered a disorder by psychiatrists, Belkin noted, but that does not keep child molesters from being prosecuted.

"Psychiatrists who are uneasy with including something like this in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual need to get used to the fact that the whole manual reflects social context," said Belkin, who is planning to launch a study on pathological bias among patients at his hospital. "That is true of depression on down. Pathological bias is no more or less scientific than major depression."

Pathological bias is no more or less scientific than major depression?

I don't even know how to begin to analyze a statement like that. I'd almost swear the man believes science stands in opposition to common sense.

(Perhaps common sense itself will soon be declared a delusion, and therefore worthy of DSM inclusion as a disease.)

posted by Eric at 09:07 AM | Comments (9)

Something still smells fishy, and I don't know what. . .

I'm sorry, but the story about the Little Red Book hoax (and the now disappearing "student") continues to not make sense:

Mr. Hoey, the university spokesman, said the university had been unable to substantiate any of the facts of the story since it first was reported in The Standard-Times on Dec. 17.

As to any possible repercussions against the student, Mr. Hoey said, "We consider this to be an issue to be handled faculty member to student. We wouldn't discuss publicly any other action. Student discipline is a private matter."

Dr. Williams said the whole affair has had one bright point: The question of whether it is safe for students to do research has been answered.

"I can now tell my students that it is safe to do research without being monitored," he said. "With that hanging in the air like before, I couldn't say that to them."

The student's motivation remains a mystery, but in the interview on Thursday, he provided a glimpse.

"When I came back, like wow, there's this circus coming on. I saw my cell phone, and I see like, wow, I have something like 75 messages and like something like 87 missed calls," he said. "Wow, I was popular. I usually get one or probably two a week and that's about it, and I usually pick them up."

Why is this student being protected and his identity being withheld? Has anyone even seen or talked to him other than the same people who've quoted him from the start?

How do we know he even exists? We have only the word of the same reporter who broke the story (Aaron Nicodemus), plus the professors who were supposedly conned, and "university spokesman John Hoey," who seems overly eager to provide official cover for both the student and his professors.

The tale was so laughably unbelievable that at this point I can't believe anyone in this group ever believed it.

I'm wondering whether they ever did. Naturally, this makes me wonder about the "source."

(Considering his statement that he received "75 messages and like something like 87 missed calls," his identity shouldn't be too tough to track down.)

MORE: The Boston Globe claims that someone from the Globe spoke to the student, but won't say who, nor will they identify him:

The student was not identified in any reports. The Globe interviewed him Thursday but decided not to write a story about his assertion, because of doubts about its veracity. The student could not be reached yesterday.

Williams said the student gave no explanation. But Williams, who praised the student as hard-working and likeable, said he was shaken by the deception.

''I feel as if I was lied to, and I have no idea why," said Williams, an associate professor of Islamic history. He said the possibility the government was scrutinizing books borrowed by his students ''disturbed me tremendously."

Why not interview him again? This story was important enough to be cited by Senator Kennedy, and it's been reported all around the world. Now that it's been identified as a hoax, why protect the identity of the hoaxster?

Regarding the hoaxster's professor, his website shows that he's a sophisticated international traveler, and not someone who'd be expected to be taken in so lightly.

The story just doesn't make sense. What's going on now more resembles political damage control than reporting.

MORE: Because he asks such a good question, Glenn Reynolds' comment is well worth repeating:

I'm disturbed tremendously that such a suspicious story was accepted so uncritically by alleged critical thinkers -- and I'm a bit surprised that the student's identity is still being protected. Why shouldn't we know who's behind this?

If I may be permitted to speculate, I'll offer an answer.

Because, if it were discovered that the identity of the person claiming to be protected was fictitious, that might shed too much light on who's behind this!

If, on the other hand, there really is an unnamed student whose identity is being protected, it would behoove the professor(s) to speak up.

Otherwise speculation like this is fair game.

MORE: Regarding motivation, I want to return to the apparent claim by original reporter Aaron Nicodemus that the student wanted attention ("Wow, I was popular. I usually get one or probably two a week and that's about it, and I usually pick them up.")

I think it's very odd that a student who enjoys a circus atmosphere would not want more. (And I agree with commenter Swen Swenson that it's even odder that "one of those [87] callers wouldn't like call the press just to like claim their 15 minutes.")

Unless, of course there is no student. And no 87 calls.

AND MORE: There's a reason I'm dwelling on this at such length, and that's because if the student did not exist, the hoax becomes much larger (and infinitely more perfidious) than if he did.

I think the people who pushed this story now have a duty of full disclosure.

MORE: I'm also intrigued by Professor Pontbriand's statement that the alleged student is in need of care and attention:

"It was a disastrous thing for him to do. He needs attention, he needs care. I feel for the kid. We have great concern for this student's health and welfare."
If we are to believe the accounts, this story involves a 22 year old man who fabricated a tale and then admitted he lied when the details didn't check out.

If Professor Pontbriand knows that this student has health problems, when and how did he discover that? Is additional information being withheld?

Or is the professor assuming that lying is a form of illness?

(If it is, the world is a much sicker place than I thought . . .)

MORE: It is possible that the student could be half-fake. That is, there might have been no student with the initial story, but as the pressure built, the professor found someone willing to impersonate the alleged lying student, safe in thne assurance that he would simply disappear and his identity would never be known. That way, people could honestly claim that they'd seen and talked to him. But this is all pure speculation, based on the mysterious failure to identify a "confidential liar."

AND MORE: Michelle Malkin discusses campus hoaxes. (The "Little Red hoax" isn't the first one...)

posted by Eric at 07:34 PM | Comments (2)

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Lots of running around today, so blogging will probably be light.

But Coco and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!


MORE: "Brokeback Mountain" update here.

posted by Eric at 09:58 AM

NEWSFLASH! Santa has been debunked!
(Oh really? The Devil, you say . . .)

Whether I agree with them or not, within certain limits I try to respect everyone's beliefs. This respect might even extend to beliefs I consider childish or ridiculous, depending on the context.

Such as the age of the, um, believer, perhaps?

Anyway, it's Christmas Eve and I found myself intrigued and irritated by this story about a teacher apparently unable resist debunking Santa Claus for six year old children:

Theresa Farrisi stood in for Schaeffer’s regular music teacher one day last week. One of her assignments was to read Clement C. Moore’s famous poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” to a first-grade class at Lickdale Elementary School.

“The poem has great literary value, but it goes against my conscience to teach something which I know to be false to children, who are impressionable,” said Farrisi, 43, of Myerstown. “It’s a story. I taught it as a story. There’s no real person called Santa Claus living at the North Pole.”

(I hope she debunked Kwanzaa while she was at it....)

Farrisi doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and she doesn’t think anyone else should, either. She made her feelings clear to the classroom full of 6- and 7-year-olds, some of whom went home crying.

Schaeffer got off the school bus later that day, dragging her backpack in the mud, tears in her angry little eyes.

“She yelled at me, ‘Why did you lie?’” recalled Jamey’s mother, Elizabeth. “‘Why didn’t you tell me Santa Claus died?’”

Elizabeth Schaeffer said she was appalled by Farrisi’s bluntness.

“I had to call the school,” said Schaeffer, a part-time custodial employee for the school district who is on temporary leave after complications from her last child’s birth. “I had to do something.”

Meanwhile, Farrisi, who is well versed on the history of “Santa Claus” — the traditional and literary figure — clarified her comments.

“I did not tell the students Santa Claus was dead,” she explained. “I said there was a man named Nickolas of Myrna who died in 343 A.D., upon whom the Santa Claus myth (is based).”

On Monday night, Jamey started to recite Moore’s famous poem while sitting on a couch next to a freshly cut tree, trimmed in tinsel and topped with a golden star: “’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house. No creatures stirred.”

She paused, looked up, and said that’s when the teacher interjected, just a few lines before the verse that announces the arrival of “a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.”

“The teacher stopped reading and told us no one comes down the chimney,” Jamey said, curling into a ball on the couch, bracing her chin on her knees, her voice shrinking away like melting ice cream. “She said our parents buy the presents, not Santa.”

Well! We can't have children thinking things that aren't true, can we? Next thing you know, they'll start believing in the Easter Bunny! Or the tooth fairy! Or storks bringing babies!

"Mommy, why did you lie to me?"

Good question, damn it! It's high time six year olds when home and confronted their parents about these and other very harmful lies.

My immediate reaction was to assume that this teacher was probably one of those "godless secular atheists" we've been hearing about. But I should never assume, because after a minimum of digging, I found an additional report, which reveals possible religious bias by Ms. Farrisi:

....erecting a sign along the eastbound side of I-78, between the Bethel and Grimes exits, Leonard H. Martin has taken it upon himself to shatter the myth of Santa Claus for any youngster able to read the message from the back seat of a car as their parents drive by.

It marks the second consecutive year that Martin has posted what he termed a spiritual message on his land adjacent to I-78.

Last year, the sign stated, “Santa is a myth, lying to our children brings moral decay.”

For this season, Martin toned it down slightly. The sign now reads, “Worship God, who is all knowing & all seeing, Santa is a Myth.”

Martin, who operates a dairy farm at 250 Legion Drive, Bethel Township, is also a deacon with Harmony Christian Fellowship.

“We wanted to bring out the point that (Americans) are making Santa out to be what God actually is,” Martin said Tuesday. “We’re making Santa a god. I believe that is idol worship.”

Last week, Theresa Farrisi was working as a substitute music teacher at Lickdale Elementary School when she told a first-grade class that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Farrisi is a former member of Martin’s church.

“The practice of Santa Claus, as it’s taught today, is a religious practice,” Farrisi said yesterday. “It’s a secular religion, but it’s not Christian.” (Emphasis added.)

Gee. Now I'm confused.

Next she'll be telling the kids that Halloween is evil and Satanic.

What I want to know is, can Ms. Farrisi prove there's no Santa Claus?

As I proved two years ago today, science, religion, and logic are all very close to agreement that Santa Claus does in fact exist, which means Ms. Farrisi is promoting junk science, bogus religion, and bad logic.

She has 24 hours to repent or else she's getting coal in her you-know-whats!


posted by Eric at 08:59 AM | Comments (4)

Suffocating Mary

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I consider myself a non-practicing atheist. (i.e., I don't believe in gods, but I'm not evangelical about.) What follows is only logical.

A british artist has pulled one over on the Jesuits at America (a Catholic weekly magazine), buying an ad for a sculpture of the Virgin Mary in a condom (described as a 'latex veil'). Many will consider the artist's motive just, as he clearly does:

The artist, British-based Steve Rosenthal, said in a media e-mail on Thursday, "The primary aim of the work is to highlight the Vatican's continuance of non-advocation regarding the use of condoms and I conceived America magazine to be the most suitable place to contextualize the work outside of the gallery space and produce a dialogue."

Let me parse part of what Rosenthal said. 'Continuance of non-advocation regarding the use of condoms' is, stated another way, 'failure to advocate condom use.' The complaint appears to be that the Catholic Church doesn't actively take an advocacy position on the promotion of condom use.

But is that really what the Catholic Church should be doing? Isn't that asking the Church to cease being the Church?

Marriage ('Holy Matrimony') is one of the seven sacraments which Catholics believe were instituted by Christ as the basis of the New Law. They believe that Jesus writes the the New Law 'on the hearts' of the faithful, as he said in the Sermon on the Mount. It, and its sacraments, are thus part and parcel of Catholic faith.

Why do I bring this up? Because Catholics also believe that sex has no place outside of 'Holy Matrimony,' the greater purpose of which is the salvation of others (i.e., one's family). The purpose of sex within the context of Catholic marriage, then, is to make more Catholics.

Incidentally, the sacrament of marriage is believed to restore the natural union of man of woman as found before 'the fall.' Catholics believe that sin introduced lust. You might as well lobby the Church to promote masturbating to internet porn: while most of us see the difference, Catholocism doesn't.

And so it is completely out of the realm of possibility for the Catholic Church to advocate any kind of sexual activity beyond that outlined in one of its core sacraments. To do so would be to deny the importance of its own beliefs. It would tell the fold 'aim high, but don't sweat it if you miss.'

That's why we in the West don't allow religious law to write the state's laws (i.e., there is no equivalent to the Muslim application of Sharia). The rest of us don't accept the Catholic sacraments, and we don't need the help of those who do in order to address issues outside their highly restrictive moral code. Our answer is condoms; their answer is not to have sex, and they can't have any other.

Which explains the title of this post: the imagery of the condom on the Virgin Mary was meant to convey something quite different, but I think it's best interpreted as symbolizing an attempt by non-Catholics (or even Catholics who defy or misunderstand the sacraments) to suffocate the Church by removing its most sacred beliefs.

What goes for 'offensive' TV goes also for churches: 'If you don't like it, change the channel.' If you don't accept a church's beliefs, don't join it.

None of this, however, addresses what might be a legitimate issue, and that's whether the Church contributes to the spread of disease by actively opposing those who advocate condom use, particularly in the developing world.

Is that the case, and if so what do you do about it?

posted by Dennis at 01:54 PM | Comments (10)

Politicizing self hatred?

Reflecting on the "all-gays-must-see-this" hype surrounding the release of "Brokeback Mountain," Sean Kinsell demonstrates why he's one of the most honest voices in the blogosphere:

...those of us who don't see our story in it have to be allowed to appreciate it on our own terms and to our own degree, and that's where I find the implication that it's our homosexual duty to rally around Brokeback Mountain, the pop culture phenomenon, annoying. Gays deserve as much liberty to decide whom to identify with as anyone else does. Sometimes we'll sympathize with people without necessarily seeing them as reflections of ourselves, even if gay advocates deem it politically expedient to do so. We have to be as free to choose for ourselves as we are to speak for ourselves.
If only a time would come when it wouldn't require the courage that Sean displays to say what really amounts to common sense. A lot of gay men would agree with Sean, but they don't feel free to say so. This is a movie, for God's sake. If you can't identify with two cowboys falling in love (of if that just doesn't fulfill your romantic ideal) that should not mean you hate yourself or that there's something wrong with your view of the world. To analogize to a heterosexual setting, how many love stories have been put on film with which all heterosexuals can identify? I've seen a lot of shlocky love films, and some that are considered timeless classics, but that doesn't mean I've been able to identify with them.

A good example is "Gone With The Wind" -- a great film, but I just couldn't relate to either Rhett Butler or Scarlet O'Hara as especially worthy of love, so I had little empathy with either side of this dysfunctional relationship. Had the same relationship been homosexual in nature, I'd have thought it equally irritating. These things are personal, and I can think of few things more distasteful than the idea of culturally dictated tastes. Popular culture is often held hostage by lowest common denominator thinking, and I don't see why I should apply a separate standard to a film because Hollywood has bent over backwards to smash some all-American stereotype about cowboys. I mean, wasn't it Hollywood which gave us the cowboy stereotype in the first place? Might this film reflect some need to demonstrate that Hollywood has the right create and destroy these stereotypes at will? Is it reasonable to ask whether "Brokeback Mountain" might be seen as an exercise in raw power? Sometimes I find the whole stereotype smashing thing as tedious as the underlying stereotypes being smashed. Is that allowed?

I haven't seen the film, but Sean's hoping that it might be like Romeo and Juliet:

Personally, my highest hope for Brokeback Mountain is that it's kind of like Romeo and Juliet, making a generalizable point about the raw resilience of love in the face of social pressure by taking the circumstances to an unusual extreme. Given the frantic "It's not a gay movie!" PR fusillade, that appears to be the way its makers are also hoping it will be regarded. But that may not make it a metaphor for gay life in any kind of direct and overarching way.
While forbidden or impossible love is kind of cool, I could relate more to a gay "Palestinian guerilla falls in love with Israeli soldier" meme (or perhaps "1960s IRA Provo falls in love with Ulster Orange Order Man") than cowboys. This may or may not be a good film, but I'm not especially captivated by the cowboys as an inherently forbidden class.

If we really want to milk the gay Romeo and Juliet theme, why not a cowboy falling in love with a ferocious Indian brave whose tribe has sworn to exterminate him (and vice versa)?

Or how about a gay man and a lesbian paired off as a faux hetero couple by unthinking fundamentalist activists at Exodus, but who actually fell in love with each other just as they became disenchanted with Exodus, which left them with no place to hide, no one to accept them (for two open and unrepentant homosexuals cannot be said to be "saved" merely by falling into heterosexual carnal knowledge), and anathema to gay activists who'd denounced them as "ex gays." Crazy as that might sound, a relationship hated and spurned by both lovers' peers (with no available "support group") would seem truer to Romeo and Juliet than a pair of gay cowboys.

Sean concludes by complaining that the stereotype doesn't fit him:

....self-loathing and the necessity of keeping things hidden don't govern adult reality for many of us, and it's not clear to me why we should push the line that Brokeback Mountain says more than it actually does about the gay experience just to get more exposure for gay love stories.
Ah, but the magic of the "self loathing" stereotype is that these days it's applied to those who disagree with the stereotype! There's only one way out of the old "self-loathing" stereotype, and that's the new identity politics. There is a group for you, it defines "your" culture because it has been assigned a role and a script in "our" culture, and you have been assigned to it based on what you do with your genitalia. Therefore, you will accept, follow, and embrace it!

That's because the only alternative is the old self loathing, comrade!

Why, we'll even let you be a gay cowboy!

What, you don't like your new identity? Obviously you hate yourself.

(Be careful, or else we'll hate you too!)

UPDATE (12/25/05): A front page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer massages box office statistics in a manner almost calculated to persuade non-critical readers that "Brokeback Mountain" is already a huge success:

In its opening weekend, in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the movie pulled in more per theater than almost any film in the last two decades. Last weekend, in 69 theaters, it took in $36,354 per theater, according to Box Office Mojo, more than twice the average of King Kong (though Kong's total, $66 million, dwarfed Brokeback's $3.5 million).
"Five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco" constitutes niche marketing.

What remains to be seen (as the Inquirer admits) is how well the film will do in the national metroplex market:

Early next month, the film is to open in 300 to 800, where it will have to perform on a much broader stage.
From what I've read, the film targets the mainstream heterosexual market, but that doesn't guarantee that they'll be lining up to see it in large numbers. Hype won't persuade people to see a film with which they can't identify, nor will a good scolding. (It's a real stretch to blame "heterosexual bigotry" for the failure of people to see a film.)

If only there'd been a major coordinated attack on the film by social conservatives with massive boycotts and picket lines in front of every theater! That might have triggered a Brokeback Mountain backlash, but the social conservatives seem to be learning what not to do. (I guess I should keep my trap shut about such things....)

MORE: I think, however, that it would be a mistake to misread this strategic silence as an indication of tolerance or an embrace of a live-and-let-live philosophy.

That's because the hard core opposition to the film arises from a moral collectivist belief that people are not responsible for their own actions:

"If [Brokeback Mountain] encourages even one confused boy to engage in sex with another male, that makes it an instrument of corruption, not one of enlightenment."
I may be in a minority, but I can't think of a single time -- at any point in my life -- where sex resulted from confusion.

posted by Eric at 09:11 AM | Comments (13)

Onward Christmas soldiers!

I've been too busy to write, but not too busy to commit a random act of PhotoShop kindness.

I was just thinking, well, if there's really a war on Christmas, we need some warriors!

santache2.jpg santache2.jpg santache2.jpg

I think our hero looks postively Mongolian in that stunning hat.

Almost like Genghis (in a manner reminiscent of "Jenjis"?) Khan!

UPDATE: Even though I don't have the skills for Santa Che animation, in the spirit of the season I'll speculate about the rest of his costume...


posted by Eric at 05:17 PM | Comments (3)

Summoning my unconscious . . .

Dreadfully depressing dream in which my house was under construction.

A nasty fight with racial overtones broke out between two completely unreasonable contractors -- each of whom blamed me for the presence of "the other." Naturally each one blamed the other for starting the fight, and of course I had not seen any of it. All I knew is that it was my house, and I was going to be sued by both of these total assholes. The white guy, main contractor and supreme loudmouthed know-it-all who pronounced long and loudly on all subjects, fancied himself in charge of my house (which he called "the job site"), while the black guy (there only to remove and replace a broken dishwasher), had an equally serious attitude problem, had barged in blasting the place with loud rap music, and loudly referred to the white guy as a "cracker!" It became clear that they'd been on a collision course from the moment they met -- at my expense and in my house.

Despite my best efforts, there was no reasoning with either one of them, no way to find out what had really happened, and nothing fair about it. Each man seemed capable only of uttering his respective culture's stereotypical sound bytes (man-in-the-street populist slogans almost shouted from scripts) -- and the only probable truth I could discern was that the other guy just didn't get it.

It was all my fault, of course.

In real life, that's why we have insurance.

In a dream, a house represents your mind.

Hopefully mine does not consist of two unreasonable and irreconcilable sides, but I guess I'll never know, because I'm not witness to what goes on in my unconscious.

The dream might as well be a summons.

(I'm incredibly guilty, of course.)

In my dream, the fact that I could see that each one of these guys had a good side only seemed to add to my guilt.

posted by Eric at 08:49 AM | Comments (3)

Cycle completed

Blogging has been light because of major Christmas-related responsibilities.

It's not yet Christmas, so today I'll just say Happy Solstice!

A couple of solstice scenes:

posted by Eric at 10:22 PM

Therapeutic howl

Dr. Helen's speculation about bloggers being people who don't feel well has cheered me immeasurably:

Winston Churchill once said, "85% of the world's work is done by people who don't feel very well." Perhaps this saying applies to bloggers. Is it my imagination or do a lot of bloggers seem to be people who don't feel very well?
What's interesting to me is the quote from Churchill, whose primary problem was depression.

His "black dog," as he called it:

"Black Dog" was Churchill's name for his depression, and as is true with all metaphors, it speaks volumes. The nickname implies both familiarity and an attempt at mastery, because while that dog may sink his fangs into one's person every now and then, he's still, after all, only a dog, and he can be cajoled sometimes and locked up other times.

The man was in lustrous company - Goethe, Schumann, Luther, and Tolstoy to name but a few - all of them great men who suffered from recurrent depression. Who doesn't have at least a passing familiarity with the notion that depression sometimes acts as a spur to those of a certain temperament and native ability? Aware of how low they will sink at times, they propel themselves into activity and achievements the rest of us regard with awe.

There's even a Black Dog Institute in Australia, featuring this logo:


Notwithstanding Mohammad's fear of these mischievous animals, I rather like the emotionally detached idea of bloggers utilizing black dogs in packs.

MORE: Black dog bloggers with thoughts of unpacking might want to read this.

UPDATE (12/23/05): My thanks to Dr. Helen for linking this post!

posted by Eric at 09:36 AM | Comments (6)

Why I sometimes hate blogging (and need to clear the air)

This kind of thing (via Drudge) makes me so sick of blogging that I could scream.

Here's Clinton, February 9, 1995:

"The Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order"
And, of course, Carter (May 23, 1979):
"Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order."
Why does it make me sick of blogging? Because I remember the hue and cry by the right wing when Clinton invoked the same powers everyone's screaming about now.

It's a bunch of hyperpoliticized nonsense by sanctimonious poseurs, and what I'm mad about is that there seems to be some duty incumbent upon me as a blogger to address it. (Yeah, I touched on it earlier. And a big "so what" to that!)

Whether it's the latest NSA "scandal," or the previous Wilson Plame out-my-wife tempest in a teapot, there's nothing new about spooks using their skills and power to subvert presidents they don't like. They are perfectly positioned to do it, and ever since Watergate (where things converged), there's been an alliance between spooks in the bureaucracy and conniving journalists (who do each other's bidding in a very unholy, totally denied alliance). This machine (for lack of a better word) has been in a position of great strength ever since the overthrow of Nixon. It's able to manipulate public opinion quite easily, for memories are short, and American people are very trusting, and easily shocked. I'm not shocked by any of this stuff.

What I don't like is this feeling that the spooks and their MSM allies are setting the agenda.

Hence my distaste for the idea that I'm even supposed to pay attention to it. I started this blog because I wanted to discuss ideas and write about things I wanted to write about, and it gives me the creeps when "huge national scandals" are created out of whole cloth, and if you don't address them as a blogger, why, it's as if you're not living up to someone's idea of "responsibilities."

It's precisely what I hated litigation. It's a reactive process, driven by your mandatory response someone to else's bullshit. (Or, if you get aggressive, their response to yours.)

Now, my rational side knows that I don't "have to" address this latest spookfest scandal. But it's the sense of obligation (blogligation), a creeping sense of nagging responsibility to respond to an agenda dictated by people whose great unearned power I distrust and detest, that makes me very angry.

Can I "prove" that there's a conspiracy of spooks and journalists? Of course not. I don't have a security clearance, nor access to information, and so all I can offer is speculation based on what I've seen over the years.

But it's nothing new. For me, it's old and tired, and exhausting in the extreme.

What's new is a feeling I can't shake that the blogosphere has been drafted into service -- along the lines of "Here's the latest scandal, so you better hop to it right now or else you're not doing your job as a blogger!"

I know this is just an irrational feeling, but it's as if I'm being given marching orders by an old enemy I've long detested. I resent the fact that these people have so much power, and I wish they could be summarily ignored.

I'd like to say "I told you so!" but that's just another big so-what. (I might as well have tried to warn people about the existence of evil in the world.) Still, there's something degrading about having to pretend to be shocked and outraged.

(Sorry I haven't jumped through all the necessary hoops.)

MORE: As luck would have it, just I'm about to publish this depressing post, I find yet another scandal deflator:

....the Internet is full of armchair constitutional scholars right now who're fighting tooth and nail over these questions, generating much heat but very little light. Instead, I'd like to point your attention to some later developments in this case that clearly indicate that there's much more going on here than we initially assumed. When the truth comes out (if it ever does), this NSA wiretapping story will almost certainly be a story not just about the Constitutional concept of the separation of powers, but about high technology.
(Via Glenn Reynolds, whose admirable stamina makes me ashamed of my depressive yawning.)


Despite my gloomy outlook, I'll end on a note of optimism. The blogosphere is clearly shortcircuiting the hoop jumping process.

More bloggers mean fewer hoops! That's good.

posted by Eric at 07:52 AM | Comments (4)

The war to end all drug wars?

While I wouldn't normally get too worked up about an election in Bolivia, when an anti-American leftist wins based on his opposition to the failed U.S. "War on Drugs," I think it's worth paying attention. I agree with Glenn Reynolds. I'm for relegalization.

But until the other day, I had not known how desperate or how crazy the United States' efforts had become. In response to massive spraying of glyphosphate (aka Roundup) on coca fields, growers appear to have resorted to bioengineering to create a new, glyphospate proof strain of coca (Boliviana negra) which has now been replanted everywhere. In response, the United States has been trying to introduce a potent, coca-eating fungus (Fusarium) into the soil:

Last summer, documents show, anti-narcotics officials at the US embassy in Bogotá quietly approached Colombia's president, Álvaro Uribe, and asked him if he'd consider switching from Roundup to Fusarium oxysporum, a plant-killing fungus classified as a mycoherbicide. Some species are known to attack coca; in the early '90s, a natural Fusarium outbreak decimated the Peruvian coca crop.

But Fusarium is not a chemical - it's a fungus, and it can live on in the soil. A proposal to consider using it in Florida in 1999 was rejected after the head of the state's Department of Environmental Protection found that it was "difficult, if not impossible, to control [Fusarium's] spread" and that the "mutated fungi can cause disease in a large number of crops, including tomatoes, peppers, flowers, corn, and vines." A switch to Fusarium would, at the least, be an escalation in the herbicide war and a tacit acknowledgment of glyphosate's failure. It could also turn out to be the A-bomb of herbicides.


Now we threaten Bolivia with the "A-bomb" of potent mutant herbicides? Because we have a drug problem?

Excuse me, but I didn't think we owned Bolivia.

I think the Drug War stinks, and I can't think of a better way to empower anti-American commies.

And now Evo Morales has risen to power from his base (pun unintended) as a leader in the opposition to the United States' coca eradication efforts.

What the hell are we trying to do, anyway? Transform a phony war into a real one? As I pointed out in a comment the other day, I don't think this nonsense will end until some libertarian idealist with nothing to gain resorts to a different sort of bioengineering.

UPDATE: More on Morales here:

DUBAI (Reuters) - Evo Morales, the winner of Bolivia's presidential election, branded U.S. President George W. Bush a "terrorist", in an interview with Arabic satellite television on Tuesday.

"The only terrorist in this world that I know of is Bush. His military intervention, such as the one in Iraq, that is state terrorism," he told Al Jazeera television.

The leftist won slightly more than half the votes cast in Bolivia's election on Sunday and is set to become the country's first indigenous president.

"There is a difference between people fighting for a cause and what terrorists do," he said in comments, which were translated into Arabic.

"Today in Bolivia and Latin America, it's no longer people that are lifting their weapons against imperialism, but it's imperialism that is lifting its weapons against people through military intervention and military bases."

Morales has alarmed the Bush administration with his opposition to its strategy in the war on drugs and his admiration for U.S. foes President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Fidel Castro of Cuba.

But for the damned drug war, I seriously doubt that this crackpot would have ever managed to get a majority.

Blaming other countries for America's drug appetite is like blaming bartenders or distilleries for alcoholism.

Morales (a pissed off cocalero) is no more worthy of Bolivia's presidency than a pissed off bartender would be worthy of our presidency.

(Dysfunctional behavior is so damned enabling!)

posted by Eric at 07:28 PM | Comments (5)

Little red lie?

The other night when Sean Kinsell was visiting, I read this story about Homeland Security agents showing up at the home of a student and intimidating him for checking out Chairman Mao's ridiculous (and omnipresent) "Little Red Book," and my immediate reaction was "I don't believe this!"

It's just too hokey. I don't think the government would hire agents that stupid.

I started a post and forgot all about it. I've had a bad cold and haven't blogged much the last few days, and it seemed so idiotic that I didn't think it would be taken seriously. But alas! The Internet lefties are eating it up as proof of President Bush's Gestapo tactics.

Anyway, I'm delighted to see that Sean Hackbarth has been all over this, and he's determined that it's almost certainly a fraud:

Looking at DHS's website I'm not sure what agency would have visited him. Maybe it was the Secret Service. But this sounds like something the FBI would do, not someone from DHS. The student wishes to remain anonymous so we have no details from him. No word also from DHS. Only two professors conveyed the story, one, of which, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams stands by the story he was told. In fact, he only mentioned the story to the reporter as a comment on the NSA spying story. In an e-mail he wrote, "I cited this incident as an example of the White
House policies' very real applications and how they trickle down to the university level." This incident supposedly happened in October, and only now did the professor tell someone.

Two glaring factual errors in the original story include the university has no record of the book coming into their library, and the library doesn't require a student's Social Security for an inter-library loan request.

Something is fishy....

Yeah, something certainly is. But that hasn't stopped the big leftie blogs (and countless other sites) from jumping all over an unverified story which is probably a hoax.

My common sense suggested this was utter nonsense, because there were hundreds of millions of Little Red Books distributed and sold all over the world, even as novelties. It's sold at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and it's of historical interest (and possibly of interest as a novelty or nostalgic item) but it doesn't pose one iota of a threat to Homeland Security. If DHS agents actually did spend their time tracking down copies of the Little Red Book, we'd lose the war. I knew this was baloney.

Good work Sean!

ADDITIONAL NOTE: In my attempt to leave no stone unturned, I did find one version of the Little Red Book which might be considered dangerous, and which might even be confiscated at airports!


posted by Eric at 06:17 PM | Comments (4)

Revolutionary genetics

Gee, it must be Stalin day at Classical Values....

Here's a news item for the bioethicists to ponder:

THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

In 1926 the Politburo in Moscow passed the request to the Academy of Science with the order to build a "living war machine". The order came at a time when the Soviet Union was embarked on a crusade to turn the world upside down, with social engineering seen as a partner to industrialisation: new cities, architecture, and a new egalitarian society were being created.

Stalin's plan failed before it got very far:
Mr Ivanov's ideas were music to the ears of Soviet planners and in 1926 he was dispatched to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct his first experiment in impregnating chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, a centre for the experiments was set up in Georgia - Stalin's birthplace - for the apes to be raised.

Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.

A final attempt to persuade a Cuban heiress to lend some of her monkeys for further experiments reached American ears, with the New York Times reporting on the story, and she dropped the idea amid the uproar.

Scientific techniques have improved since then, and a number of experts have asserted that such a transspecies cross is certainly possible. The problem is that most of the fertilized eggs tend to get rejected, which means that multiple attempts are required. They didn't work at it hard enough or long enough.

From a genetic viewpoint, we're pretty damned close to chimpanzees:

Chimpanzees are believed by many scientists to be the closest relatives of humans. The genetic difference between the two species is estimated to be about 1.7 percent at the DNA level (less than that between horses and zebras). Recent progress in studies of DNA sequences, the fossil record, and brain functions support the idea that there is a sizeable gap separating chimpanzees and monkeys, but not chimpanzees and humans.
The writer goes on to speculate that it may have happened in Italy, but was, um, "interrupted" because of ethical concerns:
A very interesting article, headlined “New breed of half-ape ‘slave’ thought possible,” was published in the May 14, 1987, issue of the Houston Chronicle. Brunetto Chiarelli, dean of anthropology at Florence University, claimed that he had knowledge of a secret experiment in which a chimpanzee egg was exposed to human sperm with the result that an apparently viable embryo was created. The experiment was interrupted at the embryo stage because of ethical considerations. “Scientific information is numerous but reserved. Maybe at the end of the year we will have an idea of what has been achieved,” Chiarelli said. Apparently, the cell proceeded to divide; it was the beginning of a routine developmental process that could potentially have resulted in a human-chimpanzee hybrid.
Assuming such a thing happened, I'm wondering whether it would have been considered destruction of human life.

As I see it, there are two different ethical issues; creation and destruction. If it is unethical to create such a life, would that make it ethical to destroy it?

In all probability, the creation would be more intelligent than its ape parent, and depending on how the genes lined up, it might even be capable of speech. It would not be human in the true sense, though, but I think its existence might tend to blur the distinction between humans and animals, possibly to the detriment of humans, and to the benefit of animal rights advocates. I'm sure a lot of people would be extremely upset, but I think the one I'd be most concerned about would be the poor creature itself, which would have had no say in its existence, but which would face a life of innumerable frustrations (including quite possibly being regularly targeted for killing). Whether that's an acceptable argument in favor of aborting the thing, I don't know. Would it matter whether the mother was human or ape? What if the mother was human, and had consented? (For whatever reason -- perhaps in order to advance the animal rights agenda....) One could argue that it had fewer legal rights than a human, but I think it would have more rights than an ape. The legal system is predicated on a distinction which would be challenged.

I'm glad I don't have to decide these things.

MORE: Last year, Harvard's Michael Sandel addressed the President's Commission on Bioethics on this very issue:

Imagine, said Robert Streiffer, a professor of philosophy and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, a human-chimpanzee chimera endowed with speech and an enhanced potential to learn — what some have called a "humanzee."

"There's a knee-jerk reaction that enhancing the moral status of an animal is bad," Streiffer said. "But if you did it, and you gave it the protections it deserves, how could the animal complain?"

Unfortunately, said Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel, speaking last fall at a meeting of the President's Council on Bioethics, such protections are unlikely.

"Chances are we would make them perform menial jobs or dangerous jobs," Sandel said. "That would be an objection."

AND MORE: Rumors of the 1987 Italian ape-man experiment inspired a British film called "Monkey Boy" in 1991. (Released in the United States as "Chimera.")

posted by Eric at 02:58 PM | Comments (4)

Here's why they hate us!

Via Kathy Kinsley at On The Third Hand, I found a fantastic, thought-provoking essay on radical losers. It's much too long to discuss in its entirety, but the writer identifies certain traits shared in common by the loser:

He can explode at any moment. This is the only solution to his problem that he can imagine: a worsening of the evil conditions under which he suffers. The newspapers run stories on him every week: the father of two who killed his wife, his small children and finally himself. Unthinkable! A headline in the local section: A Family Tragedy. Or the man who suddenly barricades himself in his apartment, taking the landlord, who wanted money from him, as his hostage. When the police finally gets to the scene, he starts shooting. He is then said to have "run amok", a word borrowed from the Malayan. He kills an officer before collapsing in the shower of bullets. What triggered this explosion remains unclear. His wife's nagging perhaps, noisy neighbours, an argument at the pub, or the bank cancelling his loan. A disparaging remark from a superior is enough to make the man climb a tower and start firing at anything that moves outside the supermarket, not in spite of but precisely because of the fact that this massacre will accelerate his own end. Where on earth did he get that machine pistol from?

At last, this radical loser – he may be just fifteen and having a hard time with his spots – at last, he is master over life and death. Then, in the newsreader's words, he "dies at his own hands" and the investigators get down to work. They find a few videos, a few confused journal entries. The parents, neighbours, teachers noticed nothing unusual. A few bad grades, for sure, a certain reticence – the boy didn't talk much. But that is no reason to shoot dead a dozen of his schoolmates. The experts deliver their verdicts. Cultural critics bring forth their arguments. Inevitably, they speak of a "debate on values". The search for reasons comes to nothing. Politicians express their dismay. The conclusion is reached that it was an isolated case.

This is correct, since the culprits are always isolated individuals who have found no access to a collective. And it is incorrect, since isolated cases of this kind are becoming more and more frequent. This increase leads one to conclude that there are more and more radical losers. This is due to the so-called "state of things." This might refer equally to the world market or to an insurance company that refuses to pay.

But anyone wishing to understand the radical loser would be well advised to go a little further back. Progress has not put an end to human suffering, but it has changed it in no small way. Over the past two centuries, the more successful societies have fought for and established new rights, new expectations and new demands. They have done away with the notion of an inevitable fate. They have put concepts like human dignity and human rights on the agenda. The have democratized the struggle for recognition and awakened expectations of equality which they are unable to fulfil. And at the same time, they have made sure that inequality is constantly demonstrated to all of the planet's inhabitants round the clock on every television channel. As a result, with every stage of progress, people's capacity for disappointment has increased accordingly.

As I read through the piece, I immediately started thinking about the danger posed by such people finding each other, and of course, the German author, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, has much to say about Hitler and the Nazis as classic radical losers:
The radical loser has no notion of resolving conflicts, of compromise that might involve him in a normal network of interests and defuse his destructive energy. The more hopeless his project, the more fanatically he clings to it. There are grounds to suspect that Hitler and his followers were interested not in victory, but in radicalizing and eternalizing their own status as losers.

Their pent up anger discharged itself in a war of unprecedented destruction against all those others who they blamed for their own defeats. First and foremost, it was a matter of destroying the Jews and the opponents of 1919. But they certainly had no intention of sparing the Germans. Their actual objective was not victory, but elimination, downfall, collective suicide, the terrible end. There is no other explanation for the way the Germans fought on in World War II right to the last pile of rubble in Berlin. Hitler himself confirmed this diagnosis when he said that the German people did not deserve to survive. At a huge cost, he achieved what he wanted – he lost.

If you think this sounds like the Islamofascist mentality, well, you're right, and you owe it to yourself to read the rest. The essay one of the most thoughtful explanations I've seen to the vexing but unanswerable question of "Why Do They Hate Us?" (A question I've always thought should be asked psychiatrically, preferably post mortem!)

I found myself wondering whether the term "loser" isn't a modern construct for what Nietzsche called the "untermensch," -- the people who are down, but who lurk, have to be watched and kept down by the ubermensch lest they band together in a sense of triumphant inferiority, rise up, and ruin everything for everyone. The Romans knew that such people ("barbarians") were all around them, and they worked tirelessly to keep them down, while allowing civilization to spread where it could.

(Not politically correct stuff in an era which glorifies losers.)

And at the risk of compounding politically incorrectness, I think one way to take the stigma and the sting out of losing would be the relegalization of drugs. Obviously, this wouldn't work for everyone. And hell hath no fury like a reformed sinner (especially if he's an angry loser who now demands to win -- or die trying). I think the reason this sort of thing isn't discussed much is because it's elitist to call anyone a loser. More than elitist, it might be dangerous. Prisons are said to be full of losers. The term "three time loser" has been part of the criminologist's lexicon for many decades.

The thing is, I've known and loved some losers who were very nice people, and who really weren't a threat to anyone. In order to become dangerous, a loser has to be filled with a thing called resentment. Resentment is the ultimate source of fuel, and it can really cause something to arise where there was nothing. In certain instances (as at least arguably it can supply pride) it can turn losers into winners in the good sense, but I think resentment is usually a very negative emotion -- hence the need for the Tenth Commandment. But don't tell that to the people whose purpose in life is to instill losers with "righteous" resentment (whether via class war, jihad, or God knows which Kultur Kampf.)

Ultimately, I think there may be a form of animal instinct at work here. Whether it's a poorly understood remnant of our Pleistocene past, and whether we want to face it or not, the barbarians will always be at the gates.

Here's Josef Dzhugashvili -- a man who would seem to epitomize the type of "radical loser" outlined above -- at the time of his arrest by Czarist authorities:


The irritating paradox is that according to the laws of nature, Stalin would have to be declared a winner.

posted by Eric at 09:31 AM | Comments (3)

I will eat green eggs and ham! (And you will too!)

What? No Christmas ham?

A WA hospital has scrubbed baked ham from its Christmas menu, fearing Muslim patients could be offended.

It has also overhauled its entire menu so that all meals are now halal – containing only meat and other food prepared according to Muslim customs.

But Port Hedland Regional Hospital staff and many non-Muslim patients are outraged, saying it is a case of political correctness gone mad.

Kitchen staff are so angry that they have organised a petition demanding ham be put back on the Christmas menu.

Other WA hospitals are also introducing halal dining, though the Health Department says Port Hedland is the only one to convert its entire menu to suit Muslims.

It's one thing to eat or not eat whatever you want, or refrain from eating what your religious tastes prohibit. But offering halal food as a dietary option is very different from taking "offensive" food off the menu. As far as I'm concerned, that hospital is -- by taking something off the menu which otherwise would have been there -- imposing the religious dietary restrictions of some people on people who don't share them.

Furthermore, taking pork off the menu will not be enough to avoid giving offense, as it is inherently offensive to be served non-halal meat!

I'm a little tired of a shrill minority of offended people demanding that the majority conform to their standards. If they get their way and succeed at forcing institutions to discontinue serving pork, mark my words: they'll up the ante and demand that no meat that isn't halal be served. To anyone!

I think the best way to combat this nonsense is with proactive food satire. If the words are so offensive, why not just serve the pork anyway, but change the descriptive words on the menu to "Traditional Christmas Halal ham"? After all, it's all based on words anyway. Even the prohibition on ham.

(And, as we all know, words are not truth!)

What I'd like to know is why vegetarians (especially Hindus, who are vegetarian for religious reasons) don't also enjoy the right to not be offended.

And what about people who find halal slaughtering methods offensive? Don't they too have a right not to be offended?

From where derives this right to not be offended? What is it that constitutes offending sensibilities? The Koran prohibits a lot more than eating pork, and if eating pork in a hospital is offensive, then why wouldn't homosexual visitation rights in the same hospital be just as offensive?

So what if people are offended? There are plenty of things that offend me, but my being offended does not give me the right to compel anyone not to do that which is offensive -- as long as they're not harmful to me. Does a vegetarian have any more "right" to be offended by meat eating than a meat eater does by vegetarianism? I don't see why, but these are issues of morality and not logic.

Years ago in Berkeley, a friend was searching for a room to rent, and there were a number of vegetarian households which advertised that fact. My friend was a meat eater, but he didn't mind living with vegetarians, not eating meat in the household, and not bringing meat into the household. But when he was asked whether he might eat meat elsewhere, he was honest enough to tell them that he would. They refused to rent to him -- because the fact that he might still eat meat somewhere was offensive to them. At that point my friend no longer wanted to live with them, but I never forgot the illogical nature of it. In a household situation, of course, people are free to be that way. But there's something about the human need to control others which can lead vegetarians to demand vegetarianism from the whole world. And they're not even religious; they're just thinking along the lines of "the world would be a better place if everyone did what I did." Ditto for people who don't like guns. They're not content to give up their own guns; they want mine! (By their logic, shouldn't I demand that they be armed?)

Throw in religion, and the "sensibilities" multiply. (Yeah, I guess atheists are claiming a similar right not to be offended.)

I'll tell you what offends me: it's the fact that I have to put up with being offended, while others don't!

Maybe being offensive ought to become a moral imperative.

Which makes it morally imperative that I go on the moral offensive.

Therefore, by the power vested in me as a morally offensive, um, imperator, I hereby declare that green eggs and ham are halal!

It's official, and so certified:


OK, now everyone eat!

posted by Eric at 05:32 PM | Comments (6)

20th Raging of the RINOs!

This week's RINO Sightings Carnival has been posted by Judith Weiss at one of the first blogs I read as a beginning blogger, the wonderful Kesher Talk. All the posts are good, and Judith (who, BTW, runs a RINO and DINO social club) does a nice job of categorizing and summarizing them.

Here are the ones which stood out for me:

  • Judith's own post on leftist human rights hypocrisy -- which Judith calls "rampant narcissism disguised as social activism." She's right.
  • Respectful Insolence makes a very compelling argument against criminalization of speech, even of the most offensive variety, and I couldn't agree more.
  • Larry Bernard has a great post about bogus religious arguments made on Tookie Williams' behalf.
  • Evolution has a must-read post about the absurdity of identity politics in the NAACP's attack on Donovan McNabb.
  • Cardinal Martini hates obnoxious movie theater patrons as much as I do, and says things I'm generally too nice to say in my blog. (But it's fun, and very tempting....)
  • Last, be sure to read both AJ-Strata's and Bostonian Exile's posts about the NSA wiretapping issue. (For those who might be wondering why I haven't been yelling and screaming about this not-so-new, puffed up scandal, I didn't like the NSA's conduct under Bill Clinton, and I don't like it now. The difference is that we're now at war, bad things happen in war, and rules are usually broken. The important thing is that the Constitution reign supreme. Things done in war like illegal searches (and torture for that matter) must remain illegal. Our protection is that the fruits of illegal searches and coerced confessions cannot be used in any criminal prosecutions. I think this is politically motivated Monday morning quarterbacking, some of it coming from people who approved the whole deal.)
  • Anyway, go read the rest!

    posted by Eric at 04:17 PM | Comments (1)

    Drink globally -- a Philadelphia Tradition!

    I'm late getting to my blog today, and that's because I've been running around with Sean Kinsell, who's visiting from Japan for just a few days.

    Yesterday afternoon, Sean drove to my place, where he charmed the socks off Coco, who is normally very reserved about strangers.

    In fact, Coco liked Sean so much that she seemed genuinely willing to share her rawhide chew strip:


    A rare privilege granted only to a select few, but Sean was so polite that he let Coco keep it all to herself.

    But Sean did not come all the way from Japan to visit Coco. (No need to tell Coco that, is there?)

    Following what has now become an annual (if controversial) tradition, we drove to Philadelphia to meet up with Tom Brennan. Anyone who hasn't read Tom's famous Agenda Bender blog is missing out on some of the wittiest, most unpredictable writing in the blogosphere. As I told Tom yesterday, he was one of my first role models (which is saying something for someone who disagrees with the idea of role models).

    In addition to being a blogger, Tom has now become a charitable entrepreneur (is that the right term?) in Philadelphia's trendy South Street area. With a couple of other people, Tom has started the Philadelphia AIDS Thrift store (aka PAT) at 514 Bainbridge Street. The store has its own blog (written by.... who else!), and unlike many of the gouge-em thrift stores in the area, everything is priced to go, and customers are helping a very worthy cause. Here's what they're about:

    Philadelphia AIDS Thrift is incorporated in Pennsylvania as a non-profit business. We are in the process of getting certification as a federal 501(c)3 charitable organization. Our mission is to sell the lovely and interesting stuff generous people donate to our thrift store and then distribute the proceeds to a wide variety of local organizations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

    We are committed to making a difference in the lives of people affected by HIV/AIDS. And to creating a store that serves this mission and is at the same time a good place to shop and fun place to be.

    If you're in the Philadelphia area, do check it out.

    A busy man, Tom was on a tight schedule, so I really didn't have time to take endless pictures of him posing before every item in the store, but I did catch him posing in front of this very fetching beach towel:


    But please! Don't anyone think the shark reflects on the store's prices or business practices! The prices are so low I was shocked. Two fine books I'd been looking for for years cost me a total of $1.34.

    Regular readers who have heard about my struggles with fax machines might remember my stated goal of buying one. Well, I found one there without a pricetag, and they told me it was $25.00. Later on my way out, the price was dropped to $15.00, so I couldn't leave without it. I've checked it out and it works beautifully. Plus it came with a brand new cartidge (worth $25.00 on ebay), and it doubles as an answering machine with caller ID, multiple mailboxes, PC hookup capacity and more stuff than I need or understand. Now I feel really guilty. (So, bear in mind that notwithstanding the picture it's not Tom who's the shark.)

    From the store we went to have coffee at the Bean Cafe (615 South Street), a great little hangout where we could all dish the blogosphere to our hearts' content.

    When it was time to go I realized that I didn't have a group picture, so I perched my camera on a nearby shelf and did my best with the auto-timer, jump-in-the-photo feature. Here we are, all wired on caffeine and good times:


    After dinner, wine, and talk, it was a little too late for Sean to do any more driving, so he stayed here in the guest house. And after breakfast, Sean was on his way back:


    (Not quite all the way back. I don't think Japan is within driving distance.)

    NEWSFLASH!! Well, Japan is certainly within blogging distance! I now see that Sean had already written a post about his visit before I did -- and he did so right here, while I was asleep!

    (Which means I can't blame Sean for my tardiness!)

    MORE: At the end of the evening last night, Sean and I drank to Steven Malcolm Anderson. If only Steven could have been there in person.

    posted by Eric at 01:03 PM | Comments (10)

    Sexy versus conservative?

    Via Charles G. Hill, I have learned that women who dress in a sexy manner face workplace discrimination:

    Harvard librarian Desiree Goodwin, who holds two advanced degrees from Cornell University, charged that she was passed over for promotion 16 times because of her attire and physical attractiveness. Goodwin claimed the jobs she sought were given to women with less experience and education and that a supervisor told her she was perceived as a "pretty girl" who wore "sexy outfits."

    Meanwhile, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Caterina Bonci, a Roman Catholic religion teacher, said she was fired from her job at a state-run school for being too sexy. (The school principal said both parents and teachers complained about her high hemlines and ample décolletage.)

    As a result, dress codes are being imposed which ban such things as "clothing that is particularly revealing and of extreme fit," and "excessive use of makeup." The courts are upholding the codes, despite occasional complaints that they discriminate in favor of men. While it's considered "fair" if employers simply require men to "dress conservatively," I'm wondering whether even that's necessary in light of the phenomenon of Metrosexual Men who sport revealing attire and excessive makeup. If an employer simply forbids such things to both sexes, wouldn't that be enough? There's already a double standard in most workplaces which allows women to dress like men, but not vice versa.

    In any case, there are obvious issues of self interest and common sense:

    "If you flaunt your figure in a professional setting, colleagues and clients may question your judgment or make unflattering assumptions about your character," warns Susan RoAne, lecturer, author and business etiquette expert, who adds that several clients have sought her advice on how to inform employees that their revealing attire detracts from the company's image.

    "After all, who wants to entrust their child to a teacher who dresses as if she'd rather be clubbing or invest their money with a financial planner who looks like she should be swinging from a strippers' pole?"

    Analogizing to men, I'd be likely to worry about my money if a banker wore blue jeans to work, or if a doctor's stethoscope dangled in front of a grimy Metallica T shirt. (Likewise, a "sexy" doctor might be unnerving.....)

    It's obvious to me that a lot of people are clueless, and lack the most elementary common sense. I'll never forget seeing a fellow UC Berkeley college student who went job hunting. He was told he should wear a suit, so he went out and bought a nice dark suit. But he failed to trim his frizzy, shoulder length hair, and it never occurred to him that conservative suits don't go with Birkenstock sandals. He looked so ridiculous that I couldn't believe it, but he really and truly had no idea, so I patiently explained what it was that employers expected to see. (The way he looked, I think he'd have had a better chance if he hadn't even bothered with the suit, as it's better to look like a slob than a certifiable loony tune.)

    I was reminded of this when I read about the flap over the girls wearing flip-flops to the White House.

    Whether flip-flops are sexy or not, there's no teaching common sense.

    ADDITIONAL INFO: Charles, by the way, thinks CNN is being simplistic in characterizing this woman as a case of being "too sexy," noting that she herself considers race to be a factor. I don't know the details, but if the dress code is being enforced unequally, she may be right.

    posted by Eric at 12:47 PM | Comments (5)

    High priced nihilism leads to involuntary servitude!

    Dr. Helen has an excellent post about debt.

    I always laugh when I read articles such as this that describes why young people are in debt. The cause--rising college costs and easy access to credit cards they say. Uh, could it possibly have something to do with making $42,000 a year and spending $25,000 on your wedding? I realize this is not an expensive wedding but if you are in debt and crying about leading a "poor lifestyle" at the age of 29, it seems like you would pay off your debts first and have a tasteful but inexpensive wedding.
    The problem, of course, is a lack of self-discipline, aggravated by lenders who can spot that lack of self discipline as quickly as a vulture can spot fresh roadkill.

    The kids aren't really roadkill, of course, so that's not really a fair analogy. But I do think that debt -- especially student loan debt -- is the closest thing we have to modern indentured servitude.

    Despite this problem, there's a regular, ongoing campaign to make the government stop so-called "payday lending" as a form of exploitation that "hurts the poor." This Philadelphia Inquirer editorial if a good example:

    Were payday loans less available, no one would go homeless. Loans this size are not useful for major purchases such as a car, washing machine, or to replace a leaky roof.

    So without payday loans, a great many borrowers would be cash-strapped at first. But they could be better off if they didn't run up huge fees, and were forced to live within their means. A useful role for government could be to promote financial literacy by paying for counseling for people having trouble managing their money.

    Is it the government's proper role to protect people from their own lack of self discipline?

    I'm not trying to be a moralist here or point the finger at anyone. I've incurred terrible debts, and I'm probably a lot more guilty than the average person.

    What I want to know is, by what standard are we to decide which form of debt is more harmful, and which debtors more deserve to be seen as victims? As the MSN article cited above makes clear, debts incurred by middle class college kids often haunt them for the rest of their lives.

    For reasons that aren't clear to me, there's a lot less sympathy for the student loan victims than the payday loan victims. That's despite the fact that "payday loans" are dischargeable in bankruptcy, while student loans are not.

    I think student debt is the closest thing we have to indentured servitude. (Well, at least there's no debtor's prison.)

    But clearly, I missing something. Obviously, there are moral issues, but what are they? Assuming that the debt problem is grounded in a lack of discipline compounded by gullibility, why are the gullible working poor more deserving of sympathy and government protection than the gullible middle class kids? Is it because they're more likely to become a public burden? Certainly it can't be that the middle class is less willing to escape their debts, otherwise the student loans would be as dischargeable as any other form of debt.

    Might the idea be to keep the middle class working -- no matter what? After all, someone has to pay the taxes to "fix" these problems.

    (At least in theory, bankruptcy is not supposed to make class distinctions between poor and middle class.)

    Considering the sort of Deconstructionist nonsense which passes as education these days, the cynic in me wonders whether it's worth a life of indebtedness. Lots of kids don't know why they're going to college, and some of them know less when they come out than they did when they went in.

    I'm not saying that the latter group of college students are in the majority, but I've sure as hell met some. And at the risk of being a bore, to the extent that kids are going to college to learn the intricacies of nihilist thought, I would humbly suggest that there are less expensive ways to do that. In real life, nihilism can be had for nothing. Plus, nihilism is less than worthless, so why not get more nothing for less money?

    Going into debt for nothing makes less than no sense.

    MORE: Regarding student loans, there's a book which is getting excellent reviews called "The Guerrilla Guide to Mastering Student Loan Debt: Everything You Should Know About Negotiating the Right Loan for You, Paying it Off, Protecting Your Financial Future" by Anne Stockwell.

    posted by Eric at 09:40 AM | Comments (4)

    Have a child, lose your freedom?

    Not long ago, I touched on the problem of the presence of children as a threat to freedom:

    And suppose I decided that no undisciplined brats would ever enter my home. Even that wouldn't avoid possible contamination, as my child might end up visiting the home which created the problem, and on top of all that the busybody parents of the undisciplined brats might start asking all kinds of nosy questions about who I voted for in the last election and why I owned pit bulls and had over a dozen guns in the house.... and despite my attempts at avoiding other people's undisciplined children I'd still end up being visited by the Child Police.
    Today I found an addition to the list. Cigarette smoking. It seems that the anti-smoking lobby is now flexing its muscle to invade the homes of smokers dumb enough to have had children:
    Anti-smoking activists who are driving cigarettes from public places across the country are now targeting private homes -- especially those with children.

    Their efforts so far have contributed to regulations in three states -- Maine, Oklahoma and Vermont -- forbidding foster parents from smoking around children. Parental smoking also has become a critical point in some child-custody cases, including ones in Virginia and Maryland.

    In a highly publicized Virginia case, a judge barred Caroline County resident Tamara Silvius from smoking around her children as a condition for child visitation.

    Mrs. Silvius, a waitress at a truck stop in Doswell, Va., calls herself "highly disappointed" with the court's ruling.

    "I'm an adult. Who is anybody to tell me I can't smoke or drink?" she said in an interview yesterday.

    Saying "I'm an adult" is just wishful thinking in our national kindergarten. Might as well try to say your home is your castle.

    One major organization in the drive to prevent people from being allowed to smoke in their own homes is Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). It is that organization's position that, children or not, there is no right to smoke in one's home:

    Many smokers apparently feel that the one place in an increasingly no-smoking society where they can light up is in their home, perhaps believing that their home is their castle. But, as Prof. Banzhaf notes, most other forms of child abuse also occur in the home, and parents have no right to light up marijuana cigarettes, abuse alcohol, use other recreational drugs, engage in inappropriate sexual behavior, or even allow garbage to pile up around a child -- even in their own home.

    Similarly, if their smoking at home endangers the child's health, their privilege to smoke at home must give way to the child's right not to be unnecessarily subjected to toxic substances, says Banzhaf, whether those substances are asbestos, benzene, or environmental tobacco smoke -- all of which are known human carcinogens.

    Similarly, in other cases in which ASH has provided assistance, nonsmokers have successfully sued persons who are smoking in their homes if the tobacco smoke drifts and/or recirculates to another apartment and/or condo unit. "There is no legal right to smoke in one's own home if it endangers or even unreasonably offends neighbors, any more than there is a right to produce tear gas in an apartment, or to play music too loudly or at inappropriate hours," says Banzhaf.

    I'd love to hear how they define "endangers or even unreasonably offends neighbors."

    I don't smoke, and I don't advocate smoking -- whether around children or anywhere else. But there is no certainty that in any given situation, exposure to second hand smoke will harm the health of a child. It's one risk among many. According to certain statistics, health risks from second hand smoke are more likely. But even that is disputed by other statistics. Take a look at the video at this site!

    Applying statistics to individuals is one of those things that really ticks me off, because there is no certainty that a risk will produce an effect on an individual. Evaluating risk is a relative thing, and parents are normally the ones entrusted to do it, for it is they who had the kids, and they are the ones who have their best interests at heart. Cars are a risk. Swimming pools are a risk. Hunting is a risk. Living in cities is a risk. Playing football is a risk.

    So why single out second hand smoke?

    Lots of people argue that guns are more dangerous than cigarettes, and there's a movement to declare this a "health issue" too. Anti-homosexual activists often claim that homosexuality carries great health risks. Should children be taken away from parents who own guns? Should gay teenagers be taken away from parents who allow them to be gay? Absurd as these ideas sound, I am sure that actuarial statistics could be found from some damned organization somewhere to justify them.

    Communitarian rot is destroying American freedom, and children are being used as a wedge. I thought I was being paranoid in my previous post on the subject, but it's becoming pretty clear to me that home invasion in the name of "the children" is a very real threat.

    Saying that the solution is simply not to have them seems like a cop out.

    posted by Eric at 06:51 PM | Comments (5)

    Too many permanent aliens on one plate!

    To the left of the headline about the elections in Iraq, the Philadelphia Inquirer's readers are treated to a scary headline -- "It's in the river: The dreaded snakehead" -- accompanied by a photo and an article about the latest alien invasion. (Yes, we're still allowed to use the word "alien" when speaking about non-human invaders.)

    With so many snakeheads on the loose, officials have decided simply to educate the public about what havoc the fish can wreak.

    One weekend last year, a Chicago museum displayed the carcass of that city's harbor specimen in a lab pan, and thousands of people went to gawk.

    Here, the Academy of Natural Sciences on Logan Circle has expanded on the concept.

    Two bathtub-size tanks have been installed in an upstairs hallway. In one is a living adult snakehead caught last spring in FDR Park. Next door is a tankful of younger specimens.

    Titled "Aliens in Pennsylvania," the exhibit is a testament to the snakeheads' destructive potential. About once a week, Laura McRae approaches. She grabs a piece of smelt with tongs and wiggles it enticingly in the tank with the big snakehead.

    Whap! The snakehead demonstrates its appetite.

    The little snakeheads usually get live goldfish. McRae dumps in about 50, and a mini-melee ensues.

    The academy staff was hesitant at first, envisioning busloads of schoolchildren horrified by cute, wiggly goldfish being devoured before their eyes. Instead, as a group of young visitors recently demonstrated, the kids are riveted.

    "Look at it! In its mouth!"

    "Look! He's not dead yet!"

    Cute, wiggly goldfish?

    Whatever happened to the good old days of fraternity goldfish-swallowing contests? Nowadays, even religious goldfish swallowing is frowned upon. What has happened to our culture of predatory ambition?

    While I cannot share the Inquirer's snakehead picture because it's not online, I did find a better one more in keeping with the spirit of an alien invasion.



    According to the experts, these fish, which have been found all over the country now, have been brought here for years for food and for the aquarium trade:

    During routine sampling of Meadow Lake earlier this month, DEC staff found three snakehead fish. In response to the initial collection of these exotic fish, DEC conducted more intensive sampling and collected a fourth northern snakehead. The identification of the fish as northern snakeheads have been confirmed by fisheries scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Snakeheads are an exotic species. They are air-breathing freshwater fishes that are native to Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and tropical Africa. Several species of snakeheads are highly valued as food within parts of their native range, while several species are sought by hobbyists through the aquarium trade. The northern snakehead in particular is a popular food fish and is cultured in China and Korea. This species has been exported to other nations, including Canada and the United States where it has been sold alive in certain ethnic markets and restaurants.

    Because of their aggressive and indestructible nature, they've even been called "pit bulls with fins," while paleoclimatologists claim that that summer precipitation aids their migration:
    “Killer fish,” “Frankenfish,” or “pit bull with fins” are terms that are given to snakehead fishes (Channidae) by the public, because of the predatory lifestyle and the high migration potential of this air-breeding fish. In summer 2002, snakeheads became a media superstar in the United States. Treated as an invasive, non-indigenous fish group in North America, it was feared that they seriously harm native ecosystems. An unexpected contribution to paleoclimatology gives the fossil record of snakeheads, reaching back to 50 Ma. The study shows that snakeheads are sensitive indicators of summer precipitation maxima in subtropical and temperate regions and occur regularly if the wettest month exceeds 150 mm precipitation and 20 °C mean temperature. The analysis of 515 fossil freshwater fish deposits of the past 50 m.y. from Africa and Eurasia shows two continental-scale migration events from the snakeheads’ center of origin in the south Himalayan region, which can be related to changes in the Northern Hemisphere circulation pattern. The first migration at ca. 17.5 Ma into western and central Eurasia may have been caused by a northward shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone that brought western Eurasia under the influence of trade winds that produced a zonal and meridional precipitation gradient in Europe. During the second migration, between 8 and 4 Ma into Africa and East Asia, snakeheads reached their present-day distribution. This migration could have been related to the intensification of the Asian monsoon that brought summer precipitation to their migratory pathways in East Africa–Arabia and East Asia.

    If the snakehead population spreads, maybe Global Warming can be blamed.

    Meanwhile, I think we can expect to see more hard, um, hitting, law enforcement action like this:

    Wildlife Inspector Michael Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, inspected the shipment to find three open boxes containing fish he thought were “unusual looking.” When he asked the driver what they were, his reply was that they were snakeheads that had been pond raised in China and shipped without water to Canada, adding this was the first time his employer had made such a shipment. Upon examining one box, Williams noticed the fish moved and, on further investigation, found that most were alive and some “capable of vigorous movement.” Williams informed the driver that possession of live snakeheads was in violation of Washington State regulations. The driver was asked to kill the fish and began striking them with a board. Williams notified the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and, after returning to the truck, found that the fish were still alive despite the drivers attempt to kill them. He seized the 80 fish at noon and placed them in a freezer. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife authorities arrived about 12:30 and removed the fish from the freezer. Most were still alive. State authorities took possession of the fish to proceed with penalties against the companies involved (Mike Williams, personal commun., 2003). The shipping invoice listed the fish as “Fresh Snakehead Fish-Product of China.” The fish were subsequently identified as northern snakeheads.
    Beating and freezing these poor fish? Where are the animal rights activists when we need them?

    And why are we so much harder on piscine aliens than on the human variety? I mean, normally whiny environmentalist types are advocating brutal Gestapo tactics which would make those to the right of the Minutemen blush.

    Is it because the fish can't be rounded up and deported? Or is it because they're unable to assimilate? According to the Inquirer, once they're established, the snakeheads' presence is permanent:

    Absent the predators that keep the snakehead population in check in Asia, fisheries officials fear their numbers will blossom. The newcomers - which may be up to two feet long - could wolf down entire populations of indigenous fish, permanently changing streamlife.

    For a hint of what's to come here, fisheries officials have only to look about 150 miles south to the Potomac River.

    Snakeheads showed up there in 2004, when about 20 were caught by biologists, recreational anglers, and a passerby who saw a tiny specimen flop out of the weeds at a boat ramp.

    This year, Washington-area anglers caught more than 300 - a clear sign that the snakeheads are thriving.

    "That's quick growth," said Steve Minkkinen, a snakehead expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "If we're able to collect hundreds of fish, how many might be out there is anyone's guess."

    I'd be a little hesitant to use the term "permanent," especially if we factor in things like geologic time. Usually, the word "permanent" doesn't mean permanent in the eternal sense -- it just means for the duration of the lives of the people using the word. Besides, by all accounts the fish are highly edible (they're even raised for food in fish farms), and I see no reason why that might not cause them to be overfished in the same way as any other fish population. As things stand, there's no limit or season on them, and as the Inquirer points out, recipes abound.

    Nice fish here:


    Gooood snakehead!

    Much as I detest anthropomorphism, I had been planning some sort of analogy to the human invasions.

    However, even though I hate double standards, I think I'm heading towards, um, bad taste with my analogy, so I'd better stop or I'll have to eat my words.

    posted by Eric at 07:49 AM | Comments (5)

    Not in vain!

    Today's historic election in Iraq celebrates freedom and democracy in the truest sense.

    While I'm very happy for the Iraqi people, I think this election is good news for Americans so accustomed to hearing that our troops died in vain.

    They absolutely did not.

    Via Glenn Reynolds and Black Five, my attention was drawn to an Iraqi blogger named Alaa who wrote this in THE MESOPOTAMIAN back in January:

    My condolences to the Great American people for the tragic recent losses of soldiers. The blood of Iraqis and Americans is being shed on the soil of Mesopotamia; a baptism with blood. A baptism of a lasting friendship and alliance, for many years to come, through thick and thin, we shall never forget the brave soldiers fallen while defending our freedom and future.
    Today proved that this blood was worth shedding, and it's deeply moving to see the results.

    As for the results, Glenn Reynolds has a great collection of links. A turnout of up to 84% according to Pajamas Media:

    More and more people are going to the polling centers and the turnout levels have exceeded 84% in some centers.
    If that happened in the United States, it would be considered the dawn of a new era. Well, even though it happened in Iraq, it is the dawn of a new era, and the only tragic aspect of it is that so many Americans are unable to appreciate the good their country has done.

    Tom Smith from an American soldier:

    Though bracing for any vote-disrupting violence, U.S. troops in Iraq are witnessing firsthand the celebration phenomenon.

    I spoke with some of those soldiers and Marines Wednesday evening as they returned from routine street patrols and other duties, and prepared to move into the wings — just behind Iraqi Army and police forces — for what may prove to be one of the most important parliamentary elections in modern history. All say the festive atmosphere of the elections stems from a variety of factors, including the Iraqis' pride in their new nation, newfound freedoms, and trust in their Americans allies.

    "On this side of the world, saying something and coming through and doing it means a great deal," U.S. Marine Maj. Neil F. Murphy Jr., spokesman for Multi-National Force West at Camp Fallujah, tells National Review Online. "Iraqis know that we mean what we say by staying and helping them get on their feet."

    Consequently, he adds, "The Iraqi people are looking at this [election day] like an actual holiday." Not in the sense that it need not be taken seriously, but in the sense of what one Iraqi army soldier said: "This is the first time in my whole life I got to choose the government of my country!"

    I don't expect to see such celebrations much reported in the MSM, and I do hope it's covered in my local paper.

    My God! Via Gateway Pundit (who links Michelle Malkin's big roundup and Boll Roggio post), I see that the BBC is saying "This is stability, at last"! (I can't think of a more remarkable development than that admission.)

    It pains me knowing that there are a lot of people in this country who will not be happy with the election news -- as if there's something wrong with seeing democracy actually working in Iraq.

    What gives? Do they have something against democracy?

    UPDATE (12/15/05): I'm glad to see that the election turnout made the front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer, with a large headline, spaced as follows:

    Turnout High, Violence
    Low; Now the Counting

    The analysis, however, might have been a little more upbeat than this:

    U.S. officials have expressed repeated hope that the election will lead to greater stability and create opportunities for a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops.

    Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said he thought the elections would allow up to 70,000 troops to leave next year, which would bring the American troop total well under 100,000.

    A critical challenge ahead is whether Iraq's ethnic groups would be able to overcome their sharp differences in political negotiations and avoid a slide into open civil war.

    Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.), who was visiting Baghdad yesterday, said that while he was pleased to see the elections go off without much of a hitch, he remained concerned that Sunnis would be frustrated should they fail to achieve the fundamental revisions they are seeking in the new constitution.

    "If it's something the Sunnis don't buy into, then Katie bar the door, you couldn't have enough troops here," he said at a luncheon. "The fact is we could end up with a Shiite-based theocracy after this election."

    But what was I expecting? The BBC?

    MORE: Via "It's All George Bush's Fault!!!," a picture of the celebratory mood in Iraq:


    Hey, what's with that caption? I didn't think the Democrats actually ran. I thought they only advocated running.

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

    Less than zero tolerance!

    Speaking of our national kindergarten, it's almost comical to see the "War on Drugs" degenerate into a War on Sudafed -- soon to be a "War On All Substances That Even Though They Can't Get You High Might Be Used In Theory By Someone To Make Something That Could Get Someone High."

    Uncle Sam is pushing safe and effective medications behind the pharmacy counter while Food and Drug Administration regulation discourages pharmaceutical companies from developing new medicines to satisfy sick consumers and drug warriors alike.

    Over-the-counter cold pills like Sudafed contain pseudoephedrine, which can be used to make meth. So politicians increasingly are declaring war on common remedies. (Next may be campaigns against other products, such as brake fluid and rubbing alcohol, also used in meth production.)

    States increasingly penalize anyone with the sniffles. At least 30 states limit the amount of over-the-counter medicine consumers can purchase, restrict the number of pills per package, mandate that allergy and cold remedies be kept in locked cabinets, limit sales to pharmacies, and require sellers to maintain a registry of buyers.

    Who knows? Maybe this will lead to formation of a new czarhood -- whatever the next closest wannabe thing to a Drug Czar is.

    The Precursor Ingredient Czar?

    We can't be too careful, folks.

    I said this was almost comical, because it really would be funny if it wasn't happening. The current anti-sudafed legislation links cold remedy restrictions to the War On Terror, by attaching the bill to the Patriot Act:

    WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced an agreement on Wednesday to restrict the sales of cold medicines that can be used to manufacture the illegal and highly addictive drug methamphetamine.

    Under the proposal, Sudafed and similar medicines would have to be under lock and key in stores. Buyers would have to sign a sheet and show a driver's license. Purchases would be limited to one box a day and three boxes a month.

    The legislation is attached to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, which passed in the House on Wednesday but whose prospects in the Senate are uncertain.

    Foot dragging on the War on Terror is one thing. But the War on Sudafed? Never!

    Easily available cold medicine is the direst threat we face, and it must be stopped by any means necessary.

    Unless something is done quickly the sinister sudafedayeen will gain a toehold through the well-known propensity of Americans to develop cold symptoms during the winter months. This might cause some of the runny-nosed, sniffling sissies in our midst to question the need for these restrictions, and we can't give up now -- not when there are signs that we're winning. The more laws there are, the more laws we need, because clever criminals will always try to figure out a way to do things legally.

    I think this is a little bit like the loopholes that allow non-criminals to buy guns. Pretty soon, we'll be seeing straw sudafed purchasers -- lots of people buying their three box per month limit in order to resell them for a hefty markup. I think pharmacists should be required to conduct additional background checks to see whether these buyers have criminal records, plus make them show some actual evidence of sniffles. The least we can do is make it harder for law abiding people to get this stuff, because as we know in the case of guns, when we take guns away from honest people, then the criminals won't have them either.

    Besides, didn't Benjamin Franklin say that we might need to give up a little essential sudafed in order to be safe from the people who use it to make the stuff that might get you high?

    Something like that.

    UPDATE: My thanks to Billy Beck for linking this post! Perhaps it's time to sudafederalgovernment.

    posted by Eric at 04:42 PM | Comments (4)

    Race matters?

    Is there "implicit racism" in King Kong? According to David Edelstein, there is. And here's "the implication":

    Kong stands for the black man brought in chains from a dark island...
    I never knew.

    Seriously, this is the first I've heard about the racism of King Kong. But according to Baldilocks, "only a racist would automatically think of race *whenever* monkeys are mentioned." John Hawkins has more on this old, rather tired strategy of finding hidden racism in the most innocuous (and humorous) discussions of simians.

    At the risk of asking a serious question, though, if "monkey" is a racist slur, is it fair to ask which race is being targeted? As Larry Elder points out, the term is often used by radical Muslims to describe Jews. Does that mean the racism implicit in "King Kong" might be anti-Jewish? How are we to know?

    I'm confused.

    And what about the term "ReCHIMPlican" (and likening Bush to a chimp)? Is that racism too?

    Frank J. call your office!

    posted by Eric at 12:03 PM | Comments (5)

    But some people WANT a vast national kindergarten!

    One of my pet peeves (which goes beyond ordinary political left-versus-right considerations) is what I see as this country's relentless degeneration into what I've called a vast "national kindergarten" -- more times than I can remember.

    Not everyone agrees with me that a national kindergarten would be a bad thing. In fact, there's a piece touchingly called "Kindergarten Communism," by Raw Story columnist Hannah Selinger. In it, she defends communism by arguing that it works in a restaurant where all tips are shared, and all waitpersons pull together. (Well, at least in theory.)

    At the upscale New York restaurant which employs Ms. Selinger as a waitperson (is that "waitron" these days?), the employee arrangement is called a "pooled house":

    ....which means that tips—no matter how much an individual brings in individually—were split equally. On nights that I sold our most expensive wines and entrees to the best Big Apple tippers, I divided what I’ve earned with the rest of the house.

    Needless to say, this is an experiment in the successes and pitfalls of a socialist society. The good parts are plentiful; when a server gets weeded (waitspeak for “too busy to function”), it is the responsibility of the entire house to pick up the slack. The house does this out of respect for the concept of teamwork and, more importantly, out of a selfish desire to protect the common monetary interest.

    By Ms. Selinger's own admission, however, not all the workers see it that way. One such, um "workmate" (a man she deems "obnoxious") has actually "complained":

    Conceptually, this inspires in my coworkers different reactions. One particularly obnoxious workmate of mine constantly complained that some servers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. They’re lazy, he says, or they don’t sell the same amount of food as he does.
    How dare this ingrate complain? What sort of cad doesn't want to share equally? And why would anyone want to work harder, anyway? Certainly not in order to make more money! And besides, it works. Because it's been ordained by the Management Of The Establishment:
    if the system didn’t work in some capacity, one would expect that New York’s premier dining havens wouldn’t have adopted it in the first place. At the end of the day, the good points of a pooled house—the sense of community, the understanding that you will be taken care of if you get weeded, the knowledge that everyone is actually working together for a common purpose—outweigh the bad ones.

    I bring all of this up because people learn of my extreme political views and, often, accuse me of being a Communist, as if being a Communist were something shameful. My experience with Communism—Communism in the loosest sense—however, has made me more, and not less, inclined to agree with the philosophy behind it. People’s best behavior and best intentions are never extracted from selfish endeavors. That is to say, when one works and lives entirely for himself, he shows nothing of what he can give back to the human community. When, however, a communal society is forced upon a person, as it is in my restaurant, some of the best human traits are allowed to shine.

    That last one I placed in bold, because I think it's a remarkably bold thing to say. Normally, when I think of communal societies being "forced" on people, I think of urbanites being marched out into the fields, and stuff like that.

    Is anyone forced to work in a premier Manhattan restaurant?

    Or might it be that some people work there because they think they might be able to earn a decent living waiting tables? Perhaps even make a career of it? I've known waiters (yes, they called themselves that) who've done rather well for themselves. I've lived with several, and heard their complaints about how tough it is pleasing certain customers, keeping your sanity while working your butt off for tips. The idea is to make money -- as much money as you can. This idea -- making money from work, seems to be a tough concept for the author:

    .... that’s an American mindset. We are possessionists, obsessed with belongings and ownership. We are a nation of deeds and titles, a nation mired in proving what we have. In the end, if we have shelter and freedom and family, that should be enough to sate any of us.

    The fact that the fulfillment of these needs isn’t enough is disconcerting, because if a pooled house is a microcosm of that elusive Communist society that has never entirely worked, the one truth is that success is a (distant?) possibility. But we need to divorce ourselves from the idea that each of us is directly responsible for certain things and take a more proactive role in living life. As the environment, economy, and government continue to suffer varying degrees of trauma, it feels increasingly important that we leave our individual bubbles and join a community. Call it a manifesto, or call it a practical approach to changing the world, but it seems to me that we could all be better people if we learned what our teachers tried to impart in kindergarten: sharing is good.

    Back to kindergarten, and back to the idea that "if we have shelter and freedom and family, that should be enough to sate any of us." What's freedom? Might it not include the right to work hard enough to earn the money to buy, say, a Canon Digital Rebel? Who gets to say what it is that should "sate" us? Obviously, whoever is in charge of the kindergarten.

    I have no problem with voluntary socialism of the sort found in small restaurants, if that's what people want. To call it "forced," though, when no one has to work there, is to torture the meaning of force. And to extrapolate from a single restaurant to all of American society (while throwing in a judgment about what people "should" need) is almost as naive as advocating kindergarten for adults.

    Call me anti-social, but even within that microcosm, I find my heart going out to the "obnoxious" guy -- the one who works harder and doesn't think it's fair that slackers should get the benefit of his work. He'd do well to find a job in a place where tips aren't pooled, because it sounds as if he just wants to make a real living as a waiter.


    I think the notion of restaurant careerism might be a missing ingredient in the Selinger analysis. I don't know what her intentions are for the future, but I notice that not only is she a regular columnist for Raw Story, but she appears to have had a fine education (at Columbia). Nor does Selinger appear enamored by "the restaurant industry." In another column, she writes,

    It wouldn’t be so bad to meet someone spectacular who doesn’t work in the restaurant industry and who doesn’t have a severe drinking problem.
    That may mean that she doesn't want to spend her life as a wait-person-tron. And it may be that her disgruntled comrade didn't go to Columbia and doesn't aspire to earn a living as a writer, and that he therefore sees waiting as his life's occupation. I don't mean to suggest that being a career waiter is superior; only that it might give one a different perspective.

    Let's hear from one such careerist in the "restaurant industry." A woman named L.T., described as "veteran professional waitress in Austin" (gasp! A real "waitress"? From way down there in Red Country?):

    A number of restaurants pool their wait tips and split them up at the end of the shift based on the number of hours worked that shift. It's a system that ensures even pay, but it also allows substandard waiters to survive financially, defeating economic Darwinism. It's good for the bad waiter; not so good for the customer.

    A good waiter always wants to keep his own tips and not pool. "No way in hell I'll ever work with pooled tips again," says L.T. "I don't want to have to carry some nimrod on my shoulders and lose money because of it. My table? My money!"

    What's this? "Good waiters" want to earn their own money?

    All things considered, I think I'd prefer to eat in a restaurant where they let the waiters keep what they earn. If the money goes into a pool, unless the place is run by a small family or a tightly knit group of friends, common sense suggests that this would be reflected in the service.

    Fortunately, though, it's still a free enough country that we're not all forced to eat in a pooled house.

    In all fairness, I don't think Ms. Selinger has proved that communism works even in restaurants.

    (Much less has she presented a good argument for a national kindergarten.)

    posted by Eric at 08:52 AM | Comments (5)

    Are psychotic delusions to be called "views"?

    Last week (via Mark In Mexico), I found this startling discussion of Iranian President Mohamed Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial:

    Yesterday we noted that a Reuters dispatch, titled "Iran's President Questions Holocaust," included this sentence: "Historians say six million Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust." A later version of the dispatch, however, deleted the words "Historians say" and presented the Holocaust as fact: "The Nazis killed some 6 million Jews during their 1933-1945 rule."

    But today, Reuters has a new formulation:

    Historians say six million Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust. Regarding this widely-accepted view, Ahmadinejad was quoted by the official Iranian news agency IRNA . . .
    Reuters, of course, famously forbade its "reporters" from referring to the Sept. 11 attacks as an act of terrorism.

    I was reminded of that today by this Reuters report of Ahmadinejad's latest assertion that the Holocaust was a fabricated "legend":

    TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday the Holocaust was a myth, reiterating a view that has caused international uproar and drawn a rebuke from the U.N. Security Council.

    "They have fabricated a legend under the name 'Massacre of the Jews', and they hold it higher than God himself, religion itself and the prophets themselves," he told a crowd in the southeastern city of Zahedan.

    Denial of reality is, of course, a "view." And we shouldn't be too judgmental about views. After all, the delusional crowd roared "rapturous cries" of approval, and we don't want deluded psychos getting upset at cowardly reporters from Reuters. Best to present them as reasonable people, who merely have differing, um, "views."

    Denial by radical Muslims of recent, eyewitnessed history fits right in with their denial of ancient history. I've been over this before, but it's been some time, and it seems that the radical Muslims are in need of another history lesson.

    The Romans struck coins and built many monuments to commemorate their various battles with the ancient Jews who lived in Roman occupied Palestine. Here's an example of one such coin:


    The coin celebrates the military exploits of emperor Vespasian who, as a Roman general, was sent in to destroy and occupy Judea in 66 A.D. (Vespasian became emperor in 69 A.D., and the coin dates from his reign.)

    And here's a section from the triumphal arch of Titus, built by the Romans to commemorate the Roman victory over the Jews in AD 68.


    The above shows the Romans carting off the menorah from the sacked Temple of Jerusalem (which was of course completely destroyed).

    But according to many Mideastern governments, the Romans lied! Their coins are Jewish forgeries, and the Arch of Titus is a fraud, because the Jews never lived in Judea:

    The Palestinian Authority, and some other Arab governments and universities, teach that Jews never lived in Israel. They teach that all archaeological proof to the contrary is part of an international western anti-Arab conspiracy. In this view, the Bible's claims are deliberate fictions, and the ancient Jews actually came from Yemen, on the Arabian peninsula. This is a mainstream Arab view, taught in many schools across the Middle East.

    This view has garnered support among many Muslims because it is in accord with traditional Muslim beliefs. According to Islam, the leaders of both Judaism and Christianity deliberately altered the true word of God, and thus led all of their believers down a false path. In the Quran, Mohammed charges the Jewish people with "falsehood" (Sura 3:71), distortion (4:46), and of being "corrupters of Scripture." This belief was developed further in medieval Islamic polemics, and is a mainstream part of both Sunii and Shiite Islami today. This is known as the doctrine of tahrifi-lafzi, "the corruption of the text".

    NOTE: The above came from a Wikipedia entry, which has apparently been pulled! It no longer says what it said when I linked it. What that means, I guess, is that it's considered "insensitive" to point out the denial of history!

    Cowardly bastards. But at least others are keeping track of Wikipedia's censorship. (The above can still be found here.)

    I'm sorry, but this voluntary delusional behavior is no different from saying the earth is flat.

    The problem I'm having is that by characterizing this thinking as a "psychotic delusion," I may be falling into the trap I condemned earlier (of allowing bigotry to be written off as "mental illness.")

    I think that willful delusions, while bigotry, are an extreme form of it, but it's still bigotry. It's so irrational as to be beyond disagreement. I note that in many European countries, denying the Holocaust is a criminal offense.

    But are Holocaust deniers mentally ill?

    Personally, I don't think so.

    I think they're willfully evil.

    And I think their delusion is deliberate. To say otherwise makes about as much sense as calling a man blind because he refuses to open his eyes.

    posted by Eric at 08:30 AM | Comments (3)

    My highest unqualified digital camera endorsments

    Here I go, a non-photographer shooting off my mouth about photography! Well, it's for a good cause; Glenn Reynolds is putting together a Carnival of the Digital Cameras. Frankly, Glenn's background in professional photography is a bit humbling, because I'm a total hack who just likes to have fun with a camera. My hope, though, is that with this post I might be able to help some similarly situated less than professional photographers, non- photographers, or even people who don't own a digital camera and don't want to read tech talk.

    While that great commenter, the recently deceased Steven Malcolm Anderson, used to praise my photos, I have no idea whether they're any good or not. I have absolutely no background in photography, and I never much enjoyed it because I'm just too lazy to take the rolls of film in and have them developed. It's too much of a hassle. But with the advent of quality digital photography, my attitude changed. Depending on memory (and whether or not you're willing to delete on the fly), there is no practical limit on how many photographs can be taken. This means that I can afford to be as bad a photographer as I want, with zero consequences. What I've found to be the best way to get a photo I consider half decent is to take a whole bunch of shots at whatever it is, and hope for the best. Occasionally I'll surprise myself, and occasionally I'll put the ones that surprise me into the blog.

    Until last summer, I used a 2.1 megapixel Epson PhotoPC 850Z. This camera is a relic now, but still a trusty workhorse -- good to keep in the car trunk.

    Finally I tired of the Epson's large size and slowness (the three second delay was infuriating), and I just wanted something with more detail. The problem is that there are so many damned choices that I just couldn't make up my mind. Because of my inexperience with photography (and love of things made deliberately simple), I decided upon the Nikon Coolpix 7900.


    It's small, attractively designed with a black finish, has a large LCD screen, long lasting rechargeable battery, and it has a number of very slick, pre-customized settings designed for idiots like me. It excels at indoor, nighttime portrait shots, as it has a special feature which double flashes in just the right way. There are special settings for museums (no flash allowed!), outdoor scenes, sunsets, sports, landscapes, and architecture. (The latter displays has a grid you can line up with the buildings.) There's a lot more than I listed, of course, and I am sure professional photographers would tend to pass on this camera, because they like to control all the settings themselves. Naturally, there's a video feature, and the sound and picture quality are great. I don't do much videoblogging, but if I did I'd probably adjust the settings to a lower quality, as the default setting results in files too large for easy uploading and later streaming.

    PC World rated the Coolpix 7900 as one of the top 100 products of the year, and they review it here. Or, if you don't trust PC World, here's Steve's Digicams' review. These cameras sell for $325 to $400.00, which is odd, because I got mine for $319. (If you're looking for bargains, I suggest searching on Froogle, then running a resellerratings.com check on the seller. Often, prices that seem too good to be true are precisely that!)

    I heartily recommend this camera. A friend who bought one on my recommendation because he wanted something simple and foolproof was delighted, and thanked me. (Money was no object with this guy, but he's persnickety and it was a real relief to me that he liked it.)

    Here's a macro shot I took right out of the box, without any practice:


    Regular visitors to this blog know that I post photographs with some regularity -- usually at least a couple of times a month. Since last June I have been using the Nikon.

    While I really can't fault this camera for someone possessed of my skills who wants to keep things simple, there are a couple of downsides which I think might apply to most of the smaller, newer cameras like this one. First, it's very difficult holding a camera this small completely still for a zoom shot, and this results in blurring which didn't happen with the larger body Epson camera. Second, I'd like a more powerful optical zoom, and most of these little cameras are only 3x optical. Third, the high megapixel format create files that are awkward to work with -- either to send as email attachments or to upload in blog posts. What that means is that I end up reducing the size dramatically, which sometimes makes me wonder why I bothered to buy a high megapixel camera in the first place.

    But that's not a complaint about the Coolpix camera. However, it does lead me to another camera review. Taking into account the limitations of this small camera, I began to miss my old Epson clunker, and I decided to buy a a more up-to-date, larger-sized camera with a more powerful zoom. Especially if you don't care about having over 5 megapixels, they're now incredibly -- even irresistibly -- cheap. I settled on the Minolta Dimage Z-1, which has a 10x optical zoom and 3.2-megapixels.


    Steve's Digicams' review is here. It's a cool looking camera with a solid feel, and I paid only $143.00 for it. It works very well for the long distances, but of course the drawback is that it's larger -- which means you can't just throw it in your pocket and go.

    The Dimage Z1 has many nice automatic features, plus unlike the Coolpix it is possible for a photographer with advanced skills to set everything manually. The video is great too! In fact, what sold me on the camera was that a professional photographer had bought one and while he was showing it to me it took an accidental video (of the party we were both attending), and the "accident" is so good that I saved it and I've watched it repeatedly. I don't doubt that there are better cameras than the Minolta, but for the money I seriously doubt it.

    I would recommend either of these cameras without hesitation.

    Or both!

    UPDATE: The Carnival is here. My thanks to Glenn for linking this post despite my screwing up the email.

    Carnivals like this trigger my consumer consumptivitis factor, and make me want what I don't have. I'm jealous, for example, of the Canon Digital Rebel, I'd like to have Bill Quick's waterproof Pentax, and I liked CatHouse's Sony DSC W-1 which was one of the cameras I passed over for the Nikon. (I see CatHouse also envies the Canon Digital Rebel, while Bill Hobbs has advice on which lens to buy the latter instead of the standard lens.) Geez, and if Charles Simmins's post is any indication, everyone wants a Canon Digital Rebel. Wish I had one, but I guess maybe I should wait for prices to come down, and then buy one when people are talking about something else. Nice Carnival!

    posted by Eric at 03:23 PM | Comments (2)

    Who's really behind the Evil Halliburton?

    Why, Michael Moore, that's who. (It's right there on his tax returns.)

    posted by Eric at 01:16 PM | Comments (1)

    No redemption either way

    Now that Tookie Williams has been executed, I guess the question is whether riots will be triggered, as, um, threatened? (Promised?)

    I hope not.

    It's tough to understand why someone who claimed "redemption" wouldn't have expressed regret for past crimes -- particularly here, as it would have saved his life. What this means is that California has just either:

  • a) executed an innocent man (unlikely IMHO); or
  • b) has executed a guilty man who falsely claimed redemption.
  • There's no alternative, but either way, the innocent have no need of redemption.

    And either way, I see nothing redeeming about riots or threats of riots.

    UPDATE: Predictably, European countries are upset by the execution, and particularly by Governor Schwarzeneggar's denial of a commutation, with the Austrian Green Party calling for him to be stripped of Austrian citizenship:

    VIENNA, Austria - The execution of convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams sparked outrage Tuesday throughout Europe, which has a deep aversion to capital punishment sustained by the painful memory of state-organized murder during the Nazi era. The disappointment was particularly strong in Austria, native country of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, where many had hoped the former bodybuilder and film star would spare the 51-year-old Williams.

    Leaders of Austria's opposition Green Party even called for Schwarzenegger to be stripped of his Austrian citizenship _ a demand rejected by Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel as "absurd" despite his government's opposition to the death penalty.

    It might be an honor, though.

    UPDATE (12/14/05): Baldilocks has a must-read post (To A Young One Who Is An Apologist For A Terrorist) on Tookie Williams. Ansering an astonishingly callused email she received from one of his deluded young white defenders, she says (in part):

    ...few of you have seemed motivated to move into my South Central LA neighborhood to see what “Tookie” and his Crip co-founder Raymond Lee Washington (who’s burning in Hell right now) have wrought for the last thirty-odd years. And I know that you won’t be choosing to live here anytime soon. That’s understandable; however, don’t tell me that we should coddle these TERRORISTS like “Tookie” and those he created if you don’t have to put up with them. (Okay, you can tell me, but you can expect a barely polite response and that’s if I’m feeling generous.)

    Secondly—and this is especially for people like Jeremy: black people are thinking, functioning humans who, when adult and without some actual mental deficiency that they can’t control, are just as responsible for their actions as are members of any other race of people. We’re not murderers by nature (that is, any more than any other set of humans are). Therefore, we don’t need a separate, lower standard of behavior in any area, whether it’s education, employment or criminal justice.

    When black people do well, they deserve recognition; when they do wrong, they deserve the consequences—no more or no less than any other.

    posted by Eric at 08:39 AM | Comments (6)

    Rely on the French? (Oui, Monsieur Wilson!)

    Speaking somewhat rhetorically about the notion that the United States was "warned" by France (about phony intel), Glenn asked recently, "Would you have relied on the French?"

    No. And I certainly wouldn't have relied on Wilson either. Not in light of what's coming out now (albeit in bits and pieces).

    If this thought-provoking piece in The American Thinker has it right, Wilson may have even been a French agent provocateur (or damned close to it). A few excerpts:

    There are an amazing number of French fingerprints all over the Plame-Wilson affair. While it is not easy to penetrate the dark fog of lies, there is a highly consistent pattern pointing to French government involvement with a Watergate-style assault on the American Presidency, fronted by Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

    In 2002 French intelligence forged the notorious document claiming that Saddam tried to obtain Niger uranium. The Italian middle man, Rocco Martino, later confessed to French involvement in open court. Rocco Martino might sound like a small-time mafia hood from the Sopranos. Actually, he works at times for Italian military intelligence. The truth about the French connection came out when Martino confessed in court that the French had given him the forged document to peddle to various intelligence agencies. The Italians and French have had a furious war of words ever since then about who was responsible for the forgery.

    There's a lot more about Wilson's French connections, including these tantalizing tidbits:
  • Wilson "met his first wife at the French Embassy in Washington"
  • "His second wife, Jacqueline, to whom he was still married when he took up with Valerie Plame, was a former French diplomat"
  • There is even a report that she was a “cultural attaché” in Francophone Africa, a post often used as cover for intelligence operatives, though this remains quite a murky point, as tradecraft suggests it should.
  • Today Wilson claims to be a business agent for “African mining companies.” But Niger’s mines are owned by a French consortium....
  • There's certainly more than enough there for Wilson to flunk my smell test.

    The piece continues:

    What about France and Wilson? While we do not know all the facts, there is no question that Joseph Wilson has acted precisely as we might expect from an agent provocateur. He worked fervently to undermine the Bush White House with plainly false accusations, putting the Niger forgery to very good use. Joe Wilson calls himself a business agent for unnamed “African mining companies.” We can reasonably guess that he made those contacts during his several postings in Francophone West Africa, possibly when he was Ambassador to Gabon, another former French colony, at the culmination of his State Department career.
    The conclusion? Wilson's a real pro:
    Is all that tangled enough for you? Keep in mind that the whole affair may be a classic disinformation campaign, run by the pros who make their living doing just that. Just as Watergate showed how Mark Felt learned how to make damaging leaks from J. Edgar Hoover, the modus operandi of the Plame-Wilson affair reflects professional intelligence methods.
    Rely on the French?

    Well, yes.

    posted by Eric at 11:00 PM

    I didn't know RINOs were allowed to enter Rodeos

    Blogging has been light today for a variety of reasons, but be sure to read this week's Carnival of the RINOs at The Countertop Chronicles. "The Rino Rodeo" is a very witty carnival, and Countertop (a gun blogger after my heart) does a fine job despite an earlier trip to hell.

    A few faves:

  • SayUncle is tired of the war on the word "Holidays," even though he doesn't much care for the PC attacks on Christmas:
    both extremist sides are sort of being dicks. Both of you, knock it off. No one really cares except you five percenters.
    (If you ask me, the whole thing has become left wing PC versus right wing PC....)
  • The Commissar has a hilarious post about Global Warming:

    “It is further believed that exhaust gases from M-1A1 Abrams tanks and Humvees used in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq have contributed significantly to global warming,” said Chief In No Nookie as he swallowed a heaping bowl of raw endangered Kugluktuk Tundra voles (prepared by crushing them under snowmobile treads).

  • Bostonian Exile (who needs your vote BTW) has a good post about the unending "either with us or against us" illogic that I endured for decades and which doesn't seem as if it will ever go away.
  • Tinkerty Tonk has a problem with ill-behaved children, and her sentiments almost remind me of my own dark thoughts on the subject of undisciplined monsters.
  • Read while they stampede!

    posted by Eric at 09:50 PM

    "Get your hands off my culture! And keep it away from me!"

    Disturbing, downright intrusive dreams directing my attention to the Maori last night.

    Awakening with a feeling that I really didn't need to be dragged into something about which I knew very little, I immediately suspected Steven Malcolm Anderson's ghost of making mischief with my unconscious. I can't prove that, of course, but I have as much First Amendment right to speculate about the origin of my dreams as much as does anyone else. (Anyway, I hope it was Steven.)

    But why the Maori? I mean, I know they're a warrior people possessed of an elitist religion, whose ferocity in battle and ritual cannibalism of their defeated enemies caused the Europeans to respect and honor treaties made with them.... All good things, of course, except maybe the cannibalism crosses a certain line. (Maybe there should be cultural dietary restrictions.)

    Forgive my ignorance, but when I think of Maori, I tend to think of the anthropological stereotypes, and pictures like this:


    But in all honesty, I've read nothing about the Maori recently.

    Until today. I see that a lot of them are mad as hell. At Western culture. Apparently, in this instance, for abandoning the values they brought as a conquering people!

    Here's a blog entry by a left wing New Zealand lesbian who contemplates (with much horror) a demonstration by angry anti-gay Maoris wearing black shirts which said "Enough is Enough!"

    About 350 men and boys took part in a haka – a war dance. Kind of weird having war symbolism at a Christian event if you ask me, but then, no one did ask me.

    The haka is designed to intimidate, and it was successful in that respect. Made me wonder if our sports teams should be allowed to use that sort of tactic on the field.

    She's upset by the fact that there weren't any Maoris standing up for what she believes in:
    I really wish there had been a strong Maori response. A haka? Or is that fighting aggression with aggression (maybe Te Whiti and Tohu should be consulted on that one). I kept kicking myself for not rounding up some people from the kapa haka groups I’ve been a part of... but ultimately, it’s not me who can respond to that aspect of Tamaki’s doctrine… though I’ll be supportive in anyway I can. I really hope their will be a strong response from Maori. I’m worried that it will be left up to queer Maori people to offer any response… because those in the wider community might not be directly effected enough to care passionately enough to do anything.

    Speaking of family... Tamaki was on 60 minutes saying that a family could only ever be a mother, a father and their children. Hellooooooo? Can someone please introduce the man to the concept of “whanau”?

    That’s one of the (many) things that made me really sad: seeing a Maori person pushing such white ideals. It made me angry. My ignorant ancestors brought this disease, homophobia, to this land… Can't we claim intellectual property rights or something, and stop him from using it?! "Get your hands off my culture! And keep it away from me!"

    Maori war dances under Christian fundamentalist cover?

    Who scripts these things? Don't I have enough problems keeping track of the "Culture War" in this country? Why do I have to be directed into this by intrusive dreams?

    The above entry was written over a year ago, but the issue isn't going away. A fundamentalist bishop (in the Destiny pentecostal church) of Maori descent named Brian Tamaki complains that New Zealand is under seige. And he blames (who else) the "Radical Homosexual Agenda":

    A large percentage of Destiny supporters are Maori or Pacific Islanders and the party is standing candidates in all seven Maori seats, where it believes it has a realistic chance of attracting the vote.

    However, broadcaster and former MP Willie Jackson, who attended the weekend's rally, said it was unlikely the party would win any Maori seats, which would go to the Maori Party or Labour.

    "Their best chance would be if Tamaki stood. He has the 'X' factor."

    Bishop Tamaki said he was not standing as a politician because he had not received the calling from God and had the higher role of leading his church.

    Bishop Tamaki and Mr Lewis will be touring the country over the next weeks on their 'Nation under Siege' tour.

    A DVD video, produced to correspond with the tour, has been sent to the Chief Censor for classification because it contains overt political and anti-gay content.

    Bishop Tamaki's four reasons NZ is under siege:

    * The Government has "gone evil".
    * There is a "radical homosexual agenda".
    * The media is "modern day witchcraft" and a vehicle for evil ideologies.
    * The retreat of religion in NZ.

    What has any of this let's-stir-up-the-Maoris business to do with the United States, and why would it intrude into a dream when I'd never heard of it before?

    Good question.

    Honestly, I'd never heard a word about it until today. New Zealand is so far away as to seem irrelevant. And the Maoris would seem largely of interest to anthropologists. I woke up thinking I'd do a little historical research to satisfy my curiosity, then forget the whole thing.

    But when I read (from Dr Peter Lineham, Chairman of the Auckland Community Church) that the 9/11 Twin Towers are implicated, well, that gets my attention:

    In the space of less than a year religion has gone from being at the bottom of the social agenda to the top! It has been an astonishing rise. And all because of Brian Tamaki and the 'Enough is Enough' march, it seems.

    We can give too much credit to Tamaki for this. The media loves to hate Tamaki, just because he is so black and white. It makes a colourful story! But ever since the Twin Towers, religion has been the centre of a great deal of controversy, and the recent US election has confirmed this.

    Mind you, the Destiny story is an interesting one, and I'm surprised that it took the media so long to discover it.

    The most obvious aspect of Destiny phenomenon is its place in the colourful and highly politicised world of fundamentalist Pentecostalism. Pentecostals are not a new group in New Zealand. Pentecostalism has been here since the 1920s, although from early on it was divided into three sectarian denominations. Only in the 1960s did a modern 'Charismatic' form emerge. As the mainstream Protestant churches declined, it became a form of Christianity with a powerful appeal to contemporary people, who wanted a faith which fitted modern lives. It is highly individualised and commodified, yet it is sufficiently counter-cultural to appeal to those who want to be Christians in a very secular society. It has more recently become slicker and more internationalised, using a formula of handsome pastor and glamorous pastor's wife controlling an enterprise, often based in a warehouse, and attracting younger people through loud music and simple exhortation. The Destiny churches are a split from the old Apostolic denomination, which emerged after a power vacuum in their old denomination. Splits and new movements are very common in the Protestant world.

    But Destiny is in some ways very different from other Pentecostal churches. The latest Destiny stories have focused on its growing links with Ratana, its presence at Waitangi, its Legacy march down Queen Street and the title of bishop which its founder and leader, Brian Tamaki has taken. The explanation for the title of Bishop is relatively clear. Brian Tamaki has in recent years been deeply influenced by the Black American religious tradition. He has spoken at the churches of the Baptist mega church leader, Eddie Long, and Eddie Long calls himself a bishop. Of course Tamaki has made himself ridiculous in the eyes of respectable middle class people who know that there is a little history behind such titles, but I don't suppose this will worry him or his followers. The development of Destiny over the past few months has focused on political issues, with growing links with the Ratana Church cemented at Waitangi. We must recall that it is Maori at heart, although not tribal Maori. It trains people in Kapa haka (and performed them all too vehemently at Waitangi); it captures the hearts of many Maori women, perhaps appealing particularly to detribalised Maori. And it has a political agenda which places treaty issues high on the agenda. (Emphasis added.)

    Concludes Dr. Lineham:

    Let there be no doubt, there are some deep tensions running through New Zealand society, troubles underneath the optimism, and fundamentally they are cultural differences. Culture and religion walk hand in hand. The issues facing us today involve a deep debate over values. We should never be confident that we know which side will win.
    There we go. "Values" and "sides." Individuality is under attack from all such "sides."

    Elsewhere, Lineham portrays Destiny's appeal as communitarian in the extreme, with deep roots in identity politics:

    Those drawn to churches like Destiny tend to be people who have been broken by the circumstances of life. Tamaki's passionate hostility to prostitution and homosexuality and his advocacy of a Christian society may be simplistic – but "enough is enough" has an appeal to those who have been stung by modern society. In South Auckland, Porirua, Gisborne and Rotorua, the levels of violence, broken homes and drug and alcohol abuse add relevance to the message. There have been some remarkable conversions at Destiny, as well as some remarkable failures.


    Destiny has huge potential because it is unique in its appeal to Maori and Pacific Islanders. It is "black power", shaped in the American black pentecostal mould. The church recruits many young people from South Auckland through youth programmes, blending hip-hop culture with fundamental truths, and offering a substitute family. Some of the black-shirted marchers looked like former gang members, and probably were, for the church is a new gang.

    Great. I guess I shouldn't imagine that moving to New Zealand would be a panacea. There doesn't seem to be any way to get away from mob thinking.

    Hard core communitarianism seems to have a way of not going away.

    And anyone who thinks Destiny's form of pentecostalist communitarianism looks bad should consider the alternative. Islam is spreading among the Maoris:

    A fascinating article in the Sunday Star Times today: radical Islam is being promoted among Maori prisoners in New Zealand, and is gaining a foothold, particularly among gang members.

    The attraction of Islam to "downtrodden" groups (especially the soi-disant variety) is a well known phenomonon. It has finally been noticed in New Zealand.

    The article focusses on an individual called Te Amorangi Izhaq Kireka-Whaanga, a Hallal slaughter-man and self-proclaimed fan of Osama bin Laden. He claims that one of the chief selling points of Islam among Maori inmates is hate for the west, and specifically NZ Pakeha.

    One can see the attraction for many Maori convicts. On the positive side, there is discipline, order, a set of rules, and (best of all) a ban on alcohol and other intoxicants.

    Unfortunately, Islam also tends to bring with it misogyny, homophobia, and legitimation of nihilistic violence (Kireki-Whaanga feels the attack in Beslan was Islamically legitimate). Most importantly, it can provide a religious justification for rage-fueled aggression.

    Bigotry spawns identity politics which in turn begets identity politics.

    And I thought the Maoris were a quaint sort of people idealized by anthropologists for introducing new sexual practices to the West!

    Which begs the question of whose culture (and whose "Culture War") it is.

    posted by Eric at 08:12 AM | Comments (6)

    Steven Malcolm Anderson, R.I.P.

    NOTE (12/11/05): This post was written last night after I received the tragic news, but as today is the day of Steven's funeral, I'm moving this to the top of the blog, where it will stay all day to honor him.

    I just received the saddest personal news in the history of this blog. (I'm afraid I can't do this subject justice in a post, but I have to write something, awkward and difficult though it is. So bear with me.)

    Via an email from his twin brother, I have learned that Steven Malcolm Anderson died suddenly of heart failure on Sunday, November 27, at a hospital in Bellevue, Washington.

    I'm in a state of shock, as I had no idea. I'd been missing Steven's comments over the last ten days or so -- wow, I now see that his last comment was on November 27, the day he died.

    As I replied to his brother, even though we never met, Steven was more than a friend to me. His comments were more than comments, and I considered him to be a sort of de facto co-blogger. (I can't tell you how many times his comments were longer than my posts, and better!) While I hadn't yet complained, it was depressing lately that Steven wasn't around, but I didn't bother him because the last time I thought Steven had disappeared, it turned out to be a computer problem. I even wanted to take up a collection to buy him a new computer -- that's how much Steven meant to me.

    For now, I am putting the world, the blogosphere (and all appropriate deities) on notice that Steven's glorious spirit -- his style! if I can borrow his favorite word -- will always be part of my blog. I'll do my best to keep him alive, and I'll never forget him. I'm just now starting to grieve, and this is exactly like losing a close friend. The fact that I never met him physically changes nothing; if anything it makes me regret not having met him even more. I had a standing offer to get together if he ever came East but he never did.

    Few human beings are possessed of such joyous exuberance, such charm and wit, such knowledge of history, and such brilliant humor. Truly, the world is a worse place for his passing. Mine certainly is.

    Regular readers know Steven, and they've even been asking about him. Like commenter Arisotmedes, I too had been waiting for Steven's fix on Coco's cosmic snow circles.

    What would Dawn and Wanda say?

    Now I'll never know.

    I could fill an entire book with the guy's innumerable comments, and I just might put them all together in his honor. Hell, they weren't comments; they were essays! (Steven wrote over a thousand comments just this year!)

    This isn't just a loss for me; it's a real loss for the blogosphere.

    I'm just starting to grieve, and I'm lucky no one can see me cry.

    Miss you, Steven!

    MORE: Steven's favorites, Dean Esmay and his wife Rosemary -- the Queen Of All Evil -- express their shock and condolences in a very touching manner. Please go visit them and read the many touching comments. Steven would insist.

    One of the last things he said here was, "I admire Dean
    For marrying the Queen. I admire the Queen For marrying Dean."

    As Rosemary said, "All Hail and Mourn Steven Malcolm Anderson."

    I'm borrowing her flag in his honor:


    Requiescat in pace, Steven.

    MORE: Via a comment at Dean's World, I found Steven's official obituary. Excerpt:

    He read voraciously and was an expert in many fields, including mythology and comparative religion, philosophy and political science, and color theory. He wrote highly creative and original fiction. He was a long-time, confident computer and Internet user, and fully exploited the latter, not for shopping (other than for books) or entertainment, but to participate actively in a world-wide community of thinkers and writers who became devoted friends. He charmed all who knew him with his gentle kindness, modesty, humor, erudition, and wisdom. A Memorial Service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 11, at Beck's Funeral Home, 405 - 5th Ave S, Edmonds, WA 98020. (425) 771-1234. We will share memories and stories that celebrate Steven's life. If you cannot attend, please send your memories, pictures, and tributes to Beck's Funeral Home or to sma@3dmdev.com. An enduring memorial is being created at steven.malcolm.anderson.name. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Steven's name to the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, or the American Heart Association.

    UPDATE: Sean Kinsell (who's extremely busy) has taken time from a short break to remember Steven:

    I wish him an eternity of pho, lesbians, and good loving from his pantheon of goddesses. RIP, big guy.

    MORE: Mary Madigan remembers Steven as "Scholar, writer and one of my favorite commenters at Dean's World."

    MORE: Mark at Urthshu shares his memories:

    probably one of the funniest, most prolific commenters on Dean's World & Classical Values, amongst many other blogs. You didn't always know where he was coming from, but he always said it with style, certainly.

    Gonna miss that guy.

    MORE: Over at Dean's World, I see that IndustrialBlog, The Glittering Eye, and WILLisms are all remembering Steven.

    So is Bloggledygook:

    SMA was one of those whose writing spoke of his intelligence and humor, not from self-aggrandizing, but from its pure lucidity and purpose. He will be greatly missed.
    And Doc Rampage explains how it feels to lose a friend you've never met:
    I never met the man and all that I knew about him was what he wrote, but I feel that I have lost a friend.

    How is it that I feel so bad about a man I never met? Many authors, actors, and performers that I knew have died. What was different about Steven? I suppose it was that I didn't just read what he wrote, but responded to him, and he would sometimes respond to me. We interacted, even if only through the comments at Dean's World. We were aware of each other, not merely as a collection of written ideas, but as living souls.

    Rest in Peace, Steven Malcolm Anderson.

    MORE: And at Postive Liberty, Jonathan Rowe remembers, and thanks Steven. (Jonathan, of course, was one of Steven's nominees for the Supreme Court.)

    AND MORE: Gay Orbit's Michael Demmons remembers Steven as a frequent commenter, and adds,

    My heart goes out to Steven’s family.

    I don’t know what to say. This is very upsetting. I will miss Steven.

    What can anyone say, really? It's just a damned shame, and a terrible loss.

    MORE: Not Exactly Rocket Science remembers Steven. So does Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush!

    And here's Bryan of Arguing with Singposts who frequently disagreed with Steven:

    While I disagreed with 90 75 percent of what he said, he said it with panache, and you could tell that he was intelligent and well read. He will be missed.

    Paul Burgess remembers Steven as

    "a true conservative and a true original, and a man of honor and deep integrity." He and I shared an interest in certain rather esoteric writings, such as Goethe's Theory of Colours, and Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. He will very much be missed.
    How true. This blog will never be the same.

    UPDATE (12/15/05): Danny at Carnival of Tribute (whose specialty blog -- "A roundup of obituary tributes in the blogosphere" -- I found at InstaPundit) has honored Steven Malcolm Anderson with post.

    posted by Eric at 11:59 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBacks (3)

    Blaze of Glory

    The sunset was looking spectacularly crazy a few weeks ago, and I'm glad I'm not an augurer, because I wouldn't want to interpret it.

    Here's how it looked:



    Doesn't happen very often.

    (And Steven Malcolm Anderson, I'm missing you. Wherever you are.)

    posted by Eric at 08:48 PM

    Heroic behavior refuses to die!

    Another screwy airline incident! This time, it appears that a crazed passenger went berserk and among other things threatened a baby. Finally, passengers were forced to take matters into their own hands:

    About 10 minutes before Flight 91 was preparing to touch down last night in Honolulu, the unidentified 37-year-old Mexican national burst toward the cockpit of the plane and was subdued by four people in the business-class section, according to passengers and the parents of the baby girl, who live in Montreal, Canada.

    The man was put in plastic "tough cuff" restraints aboard the plane and detained for the remainder of the flight, said Scott Ishikawa, state Department of Transportation spokesman.

    "He was threatening to harm somebody else's infant," Ishikawa said. "It took several people to subdue him. We don't have a reason why he allegedly wanted to harm the infant."

    FBI agents had the man in custody last night, Ishikawa said. The FBI did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

    The Boeing 757-300 left Los Angeles at 3:21 p.m. with 177 passengers and a crew of two pilots and five flight attendants.

    "During the course of the flight, one of the passengers was exhibiting behavior of concern," Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhock said. "Attendants and one passenger helped manage the situation."

    A local Hawaii news channel has a better fix on the story:
    the man even gestured threats toward a baby with a cell phone cord, and couldn't sit still. But thanks to one father's planning, a group of passengers are heroes to nearly 200 people on the flight.

    "We got the word around first class that if he makes a move for the cockpit door, he's going down," said passenger Mike Deckard. "And that's just what happened. He made a move for the cockpit door and we were on top of him."

    He and six others bound the suspect's hands and feet with a belt and cords from an on-board restraint pack.

    "I think he's a hero," says Michael Deckard, age 13, about his dad. "I think he did a good job. Obviously he's watching a little bit of football with that tackle. Go dad!"

    "If anybody's wants to try something, remember - there are 200 other people on the aircraft who are gonna stop you," Mike Deckard said.

    The suspect is a 37-year-old Mexican national. He bit one man who helped tackle him -- a Honolulu Marathon runner who had to get a tetanus shot when they landed.

    As so often seems to be the case in matters like this, the airline doesn't want to say anything -- about anything:

    Many airlines keep plastic restraints aboard for use in emergencies, law enforcement authorities said, but Shawn Brumbaugh, a Northwest Airlines spokeswoman in Indianapolis, would not say whether that was Northwest policy.

    "We'll decline to comment on that," she said yesterday.

    She also would not discuss the Northwest policy for handling passengers who are behaving in a threatening manner toward other passengers.

    I'd say the real story is that the passengers were the heroes here.

    It doesn't look like the airline did much of anything.

    Well, at least they didn't stop the passengers from tackling this nut. (And I guess the heroic passengers should be grateful that they weren't arrested for "taking the law into their own hands.")

    Am I alone in suspecting that the bureaucrats who want to run things like big airlines just don't like the idea of people defending each other and helping themselves?

    posted by Eric at 01:28 PM | Comments (1)

    Crazy bigots like me

    When most people think of bigotry, they think of people who have made up their minds about people they never met and don't know, based on their membership in a group. Identity politics shares this characteristic with bigotry, except that instead of having made up their mind in a negative way about the people in a group, they've made up their mind in a positive, self-affirming way. I've long thought that identity politics was created by bigotry, and, if Bigotry is a Great Satan, Identity Politics is a Little Satan.

    Bigotry is, of course, heavily influenced by identity politics, and as Jeff Goldstein and many others have noted, the latter often ends up defining the former. Because some identity groups are more powerful than others, there's nothing fair or logical about how bigotry is defined. Not all bigotry is equal. Some forms are considered far worse than others. For example, it is perfectly permissible in certain circles to assert or imply that homosexuals are pederasts. As an example, last week I heard a lovely little jingle intended to make fun of "Bareback Mountain" -- a satirical version of "Home, Home on the Range." The first line was,

    "Oh give me a home, where the pederasts roam...."
    Wish I had the rest, it was a real knee-slapper.

    Whoa there. Down boy. Did I just say "Bareback"? Was it Freudian or was it a typo? The correct spelling is "Brokeback." I stand corrected, and I'm so honest that I'm acknowledging and correcting this error in the original, yet-unpublished post instead of in an update. What could be more honest that that?

    Anyway, back to the Brokeback pederast satire. My point is that a similar lyric unfairly stereotyping blacks or Jews would probably not be greeted with as much uproarious laughter, and not just because there aren't as many people who hate blacks and Jews. It's because racism is a more serious offense than anti-gay prejudice. Logic and fairness have less to do with this than power, and the changing of styles. Anyone who thinks racism has universally been considered wrong has only to look at once popular stuff like this.

    Similarly, when religion is invoked to condemn homosexuals, the people who do this are able to claim a sort of religious immunity from criticism which would never be extended to the now-outdated religious claim that black people were cursed by God.

    None of this is to advocate restrictions of any kind on free speech; I defend the right of people like Michael Marcavage to demand the death penalty for homosexuals. I'm simply trying to make sense of cultural factors to the extent I can, despite my admitted biases against the so-called "Culture War."

    These days, the Bible's call for the death penalty against witches found in Exodus 22:18 ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live") is more out of style than the death penalty apparently called for in Levitcus 18:22 ("Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination") for homosexuals. (Certainly, if Google is any measure of style, Leviticus's death* for homos** yields more hits than Exodus's death for witches.)

    While I'm sure there are people who'd still advocate death to witches, any claims they might make for biblically based punishments for witches would be condemned even by many of the people who believe in sodomy laws. Why? Because the Salem witch trials put this issue to rest a long time ago, and 99% of the American public just wouldn't buy it.

    It is far more publicly acceptable to assert that homosexuality is an unhealthy and perverted lifestyle than it is to assert that black people have lower IQ scores than white or Asians. I'm not arguing the merits; just reflecting on a simple point. Anyone asserting the latter would quickly be criticized as a bigot, while someone asserting the former, while he would definitely be called a bigot by some, more people would leap to his defense.

    Glenn Reynolds discusses the recent trend towards making anti-gay bigotry (as well as racism) a disease, and notes the anomalous situation that as recently as 1973 gays were considered diseased, while now a growing chorus wants to call anti-gay prejudice a disease:

    when homosexuality was unpopular, it was a mental disorder. Now that it's popular, not liking it is a mental disorder. Evidence for either position? Not much. My diagnosis: How about we recognize a disorder consisting of turning intellectual fashions into pseudoscience? Seems like this is a case of "mental health" consisting largely of agreeing with whatever political opinions psychiatrists hold at a particular moment in time.
    Glenn is absolutely right, and my first reaction reading this was to wonder, why the word "homophobia"? Why not "Negrophobia"? "Judeophobia"? I mean, it's not as if gays are the only minority said to inspire fear. And, once again, why is "homophobia" used to denote hatred? If it is a disease, why aren't "homophobes" just as much to be pitied as claustrophobes or agoraphobes?

    In my opinion, mental health professionals calling simple bigotry a disease is truly Orwellian. And not just because its evocative of Soviet-style treatment of dissidents as mentally ill. Rather, it trivializes bigotry, and allows people to escape responsibility for their thoughts. No matter how angry I might get at someone (and the temptation to call someone I disagree with "crazy" is always there), we all have the right to our beliefs.

    And above all, we all have the right to be wrong. If you disagree with me, while I might prefer that you explain why you think I'm wrong in a logical, patient and polite manner, even if you hurled insults and profanities, at least you're acknowledging that I think what I think. You can even say I'm crazy. Calling someone a nut is one thing; creating an official psychiatric category for a disagreement is another. If mental health professionals are able to declare that my opinions are based on a disease, that completely negates independent thought, and takes away even my right to think. I can't think of anything more Orwellian. (Especially in light of attempts to identify conservative beliefs as mental illness, and attempts to locate a religious gene and identify brain receptors associated with spirituality.)

    And again, this discussion begs the question of what is bigotry. If, as I and many others suggest, bigotry is often defined by identity politics, and bigotry is then labeled a disease, what that means is that one's political beliefs are by definition subject to the whims of mental health professionals, who are themselves often highly political.

    I can't think of a better way to replicate the Soviet, or Chinese, or Cuban, system of treating dissidents as mentally ill.

    Not only does this simultaneously trivialize genuine bigotry and independent thought, but it also trivializes mental illness. If things like shyness are mental illnesses, and not wanting to be around homosexuals or harboring suspicions of other minority groups are mental illnesses, then where does this leave suffering schizophrenics who really need treatment?

    If everyone is mentally ill, then no one is mentally ill.

    Abhorrent and as tough to define as bigotry is (I admit that I can't define it, although I think I know it when I see it), I'm still going to call it a form of extreme disagreement. And after all, I'm probably being a bigot whenever I use the term to label people I have never met -- even if I'm doing that in retaliation for their crime of having labeling me, whom they've also never met!

    Back to homosexuality, which seems to be American society's most recent place of convergence -- often more resembling a train wreck -- over the definition of bigotry. Another anomaly which has long amazed me is the huge gap (a strange disconnect at the very least) between:

  • people who want sodomy laws; and
  • people who want gay marriage.
  • They're not having the same argument. Not even on the same page of history. In their haste to call ordinary people who disagree with gay marriage "bigots," advocates of same sex marriage overlook the fact that sodomy laws are now more popular than ever. Only sixteen states had these laws before Lawrence v. Texas, and the number was steadily dwindling. Public opinion was strongly against what most Americans would consider medieval laws. But now they're more popular than ever before, and there's even a growing movement to bring back sodomy laws.

    Excuse me? Bring back sodomy laws? And push for same sex marriage? To suggest a compromise under such circumstances, you almost have to be a satirist.

    So I'll try.

    I notice that (perhaps because it's more popular than sodomy) adultery isn't being taken as seriously as it once was. Never mind that the Bible condemns adulterous men and women to death. Never mind that adultery made in into the Ten Commandments while sodomy did not.

    Why not fold the concept of homosexual sodomy into the broader category of adultery, and use same sex marriage as a social engineering tool? As things stand now, without gay marriage there can be no such thing as gay adultery, because the traditional biblical definition of adultery requires that one of the adulterers be married. How about coupling same sex marriage with a huge nationwide crackdown on adultery? A grace period could allowing gays to get married, and after that, send in the adultery police.

    What could be more fair, and less bigoted?

    Why, you'd almost have to be crazy to disagree!

    *Interestingly, the death penalty for homosexuality isn't listed until later (in Leviticus 19:13), where it's lumped in with deaths for a variety of offenses long out of style to punish:

    9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

    10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

    11And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    12 And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them.

    13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    14 And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.

    ** What Leviticus 18:22 actually prohibits is also subject to debate. Might the original meaning have been lost in translation?


    I don't know, and I'm afraid I'd need to study ancient languages for many years to find out.

    UPDATE: Dr. Helen Smith asks an excellent question:

    Can you imagine the uproar if the US government had shot Muslim prisoners full of antipsychotic drugs to treat their extreme hatred of Jews?
    The uproar would be unimaginable. It all depends on who's being treated, and who's being hated.

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

    Who's in charge of our terrorist asylum?

    A local Philadelphia Imam (whose preachings included references to "our hero, bin Laden") has been deported back to his native Egypt:

    An Egyptian cleric arrested during a high-profile federal raid last year on his East Frankford mosque has finally been deported.

    Mohamed Ghorab, the imam or spiritual leader at the Ansaar Allaah Islamic Society on Wakeling Street, arrived in Cairo escorted by U.S. immigration agents yesterday morning.

    The cleric had sought asylum in the United States, saying he feared persecution in his native country as a member of Dawaa Salafia, an Islamic sect whose members have been repeatedly imprisoned by Egyptian authorities.

    A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled last week that Ghorab had waited too long to ask for asylum.

    He came to the United States in 2000 on a tourist visa that soon expired. First he tried to stay by claiming marriage to a U.S. citizen, and then by applying for a religious worker's visa. Immigration judges rejected both petitions.

    Good riddance, I'd say. And it's long overdue. What's remarkable about the legal process is not merely that it took so long (I posted about it a year and a half ago, but the guy was a problem before that), but that this terrorist supporter is able to game the system by calling himself a "refugee" from his country -- Egypt -- which apparently considers him a terrorist!

    What kind of legal system are we running? It's bad enough that terrorist supporters of bin Laden manage to get themselves into the United States in the first place. But if they can then turn right around and claim "asylum" status when they're discovered, what are we to do?

    Am I allowed to ask who's running the asylum?

    And where does it end?

    Seriously, if he isn't treated well in Egypt, I wouldn't surprised to see this same Imam accuse the United States of conspiracy to torture him by sending him back to Egypt.

    A hell of a way to run a war.

    (But fortunately, I'm not supposed to be a war blogger.)

    posted by Eric at 06:13 PM

    Not an LGBT blog?

    I see that the voting is still open for the Weblog Awards, and I take umbrage with Eric's previous post on the matter ... this is without a doubt the best site around featuring Libertarian Guys Blogging Things.

    Oh ... you mean ...

    I get it now.

    posted by Dennis at 05:57 PM

    Walls can be breached by the tiniest invaders

    As I just reiterated in another post, "A man's home is his castle!"

    (But, as the communitarians would counter, "No man is an island!")

    With that in mind, this piece by Cathy Seipp really irritated me, and made me glad I don't have kids, because the undisciplined monsters among them scare the crap out of me for a variety of reasons. Cathy Seipp doesn't seem to like the monsters either. But ominously (in my view) she says it places her "in a minority."

    ....this willingness to speak severely to children at all - along with not always finding their behavior acceptable - has long put me in the minority among fellow urbanite moms.
    Cathy Seipp slams "today's "parenting culture... in which parents are essentially encouraged to idolize their children, to marvel at their inherent goodness and wisdom." and has more:
    ....just a few weeks ago, everyone was talking (mostly approvingly) about the N.Y. Times feature on a Chicago coffee shop owner who'd posted signs warning that customers' small children were expected to use "indoor voices" and refrain from running around banging into things.

    Predictably, some shocked parents are now boycotting the shop. (The money quote from one: "What are we supposed to do, not enjoy ourselves at a café?" Yes, yes! If you can't control your kids, that's exactly what you're supposed to do!) Not so predictably, there was an outpouring of support for the coffee shop owner on the Times letters page a few days later, with one suggesting he be nominated for the Nobel Prize.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    The reason I get so ticked off about this is that in the case of children, my natural libertarian impulses collide head-on with the inherent reality of a system where your children are not your own, but are part of a vast, interlocking communitarian network of other children, teachers, day care workers, Child Protective Services, and nosy busybody parents of other children. Unless you are willing to really drop out of society, you just can't raise kids out on the prairie somewhere where they'll be truly yours, and free from unwanted outside influences. It seems that it would be hard enough to raise kids without having to "be in a minority" like Cathy Seipp. She's very brave to attempt such a thing. I don't think I could do it without major problems.

    I mean, it's fine for a crank like me to condemn people who can't ignore outside influences, and slam them for being a bunch of sheep who mindlessly follow a culture of monkey-see monkey-do. And I'm quite fond of exclaiming things like "Hey, if you don't like Howard Stern, turn off the goddamn radio!"

    As it happens, I do like Howard Stern. But if I didn't like him and my kid turned him on, it wouldn't be quite as simple. I'd have to throw some kind of fit, and get all agitated. And even then, it would be very, very tough to stop the kid from listening. Radios, televisions, magazines, and the Internet are universal.

    And so are other children. If I don't like brats whose parents let them run around emitting high decibel shrieks, putting their slimy little paws in restaurant sugar bowls, and hassling total strangers, it's real easy for me to not patronize places that let children in, and condemn the parents of undisciplined brats.

    But what if I had a kid? Eventually, it would be required by the state to go to school somewhere, and escaping other people's undisciplined brats wouldn't be so easy. Hell, reality being the way it is, they might even end up invading my house, under cover of "friendship" with my own child! That's a nightmarish situation to contemplate, as I'd then be forced to go ballistic at someone else's kids.

    If I got arrested, would the ACLU take my case?

    And suppose I decided that no undisciplined brats would ever enter my home. Even that wouldn't avoid possible contamination, as my child might end up visiting the home which created the problem, and on top of all that the busybody parents of the undisciplined brats might start asking all kinds of nosy questions about who I voted for in the last election and why I owned pit bulls and had over a dozen guns in the house.... and despite my attempts at avoiding other people's undisciplined children I'd still end up being visited by the Child Police.

    Again, where's the ACLU?

    It's given me comfort to think in terms of a wall of separation between libertarianism and communitarianism. It's a nice dividing line, and it simplifies analysis.

    Am I just being paranoid, or do children -- particularly "other people's children" -- breach the wall?

    MORE: It's probably fair to point out that my fear of undisciplined brats might stem from my having been attacked by children at the age of two. I don't buy into the popular myth that children are innocent.

    Also (as I've discussed) the tension between libertarianism and communitarianism will always reminds me of my childless libertarian neighbors, who have been told that their views would change if they had children. (I guess libertarians with views like mine should go colonize space.)

    posted by Eric at 09:01 AM | Comments (5)

    Death penalty for self defense?

    In a discussion of a murder conviction of a man who defended himself against the police and is now on Death Row, Glenn Reynolds touches on one of the worst fears of many a law-abiding gun owner: distinguishing between police and criminals.

    In a way, this is the flipside of the Miami airport shooting. And I regard the shooting of a cop in this situation similarly: It's a tragedy, but the risk is, and should be, borne by the person who's acting unreasonably. Here, it's the cop's. When you break down people's doors and charge in unannounced, you do so at your own risk, cop or not.
    According to Radley Balko, Cory Maye, a man with no criminal record, defended himself against a SWAT Team member who, at the wrong residence, broke down his door without knocking:
    As the raid on Smith commenced, some officers - including Jones -- went around to what they thought was a side door to Smith's residence, looking for a larger stash of drugs. The door was actually a door to Maye's home. Maye was home alone with his young daughter, and asleep, when one member of the SWAT team broke down the outside door. Jones, who wasn't armed, charged in, and made his way to Maye's bedroom. Because police believed Maye's side of the duplex was still part of Smith's residence, they never announced themselves (Note added on 12/0/05: Police said at trial that they did announce themselves before entering Maye's apartment -- Maye and his attorney say otherwise. I'm inclined to believe Maye, for reasons outlined in this post. However, even if they did, announcing seconds before bursting in just before midnight, isn't much better than not announcing at all. An innocent person on the other end of the raid, particularly if still asleep, has every reason to fear for his life.). Maye, fearing for his life and the safety of his daughter, fired at Jones, hitting him in the abdomen, just below his bulletproof vest. Jones died a short time later.

    Here's the Mississippi murder statute under which Maye was convicted (also via Radley Balko):

    (a) Murder which is perpetrated by killing a peace officer or fireman while such officer or fireman is acting in his official capacity or by reason of an act performed in his official capacity, and with knowledge that the victim was a peace officer or fireman..."
    While it appears that Maye didn't know Jones was a police officer, I'm not sure that should be the sole consideration. Was breaking down the door to the wrong residence "an act performed in [Jones'] official capacity"? Does it depend on police good faith? What is that? Suppose the police obtain a "no-knock" warrant, but that because of a computer error, it has the wrong address. Is that different than if the warrant was correct but they mistakenly showed up at the wrong house? I'd argue that breaking down a door without a warrant -- or breaking down the wrong door -- is, simply, an illegal act -- and that (at least for purposes of raising the self defense issue), Jones was not acting within his official capacity. But I'm not sure about the relevant law regarding "official capacity" in the context of self defense against illegal police conduct.

    Certainly, if Maye had not shot Jones, he could have sued him for violations of Civil Rights (under 42 U.S.C. §1983):

    A police officer acts "under color of law," even if he violates state or local law, provided he acted within the apparent scope of his authority and office.

    Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961).

    It may be that my argument fails, and that there is no right to self defense against illegal police conduct, but that the victim of it must wait and sue.

    Self defense against police misconduct was a successful defense in a highly politicized New York case, but I think the standard may be murky, and a New York case would not be applicable in Mississippi.

    But suppose Officer Jones, seeing that Maye was armed, had fired first and killed him. This has happened before, and the Cato Institute argues that it's an expected consequence of the drug laws.

    The decision to take an illegal shortcut around the warrant application process was bad enough, but the police proceeded to execute a reckless raid. Barging into someone's home in the middle of the night is an extraordinary police action that can be justified only under extraordinary circumstances. The startling and frightening sounds of a forced entry during the night would lead most Americans to believe they were in imminent danger from a predator. If a person in such circumstances has a gun, who in the world can blame him for using it to protect himself?
    Concludes writer Tim Lynch:
    The endless escalations of the "drug war" have led to the militarization of police tactics and the dilution of constitutional safeguards. For the sake of Oregon and all of the other innocent casualties of this war, it's time to reassess the awful toll it is taking on our society. Dangerous as drugs may be to those who use them, that danger pales in comparison with the dangers of a police state. Yet little by little, that is what the War on Drugs is giving us.
    I agree.

    The use of SWAT teams to conduct ordinary drug law enforcement results in serious problems even if police have the right address. Here's an account of an Oregon marijuana raid:

    Neighbors looked out their windows Oct. 17 to see an armored truck rolling down the street. They saw at least 45 officers armed with shotguns and assault rifles entering a trio of houses, standing guard at alleyways and blocking traffic lanes.

    Officers wouldn't explain to startled residents what was going on.

    Police pulled four people - including a nude woman and another woman wearing only underpants and a T-shirt - from their beds and kept them in handcuffs in a room of one of the houses for several hours. One woman reported that an officer covered her head with a black fabric bag and removed it only when she agreed to cooperate.

    This house at 909 W. Fifth Ave. was one of several raided by police Oct. 17 in a search for illegal drugs.

    Neighbors later learned that officers had served a search warrant at three adjacent houses near West Fifth Avenue and Adams Street, where police suspected people were growing marijuana.

    The raid sparked immediate outrage among more than a dozen neighbors and friends of the property owners and in recent weeks has become a rallying point for community organizers. The fact that police found no marijuana plants or weapons has only angered neighbors further.

    Well, at least they had the right address!

    Self defense against the police is a very, very scary thing to contemplate. But as an armed homeowner, how am I supposed to know whether a group of men breaking down my door in the dark are police with a bad warrant, or a criminal gang?

    Situations like this beg the question of what is a criminal gang, and who is in it. I once had a close call with police who suspected me of being with a group of Symbionese Liberation Army bank robbers. I suppose I could have been killed by either side for being in the heat of battle -- in a "war" I didn't know was going on.

    At least it wasn't a SWAT team.

    Too often, SWAT teams are deployed on the flimsiest of pretexts. A neighbor complaining about a domestic dispute can lead to coding the call as a "hostage situation" which can then trigger a call for a SWAT team. Bureaucrats are just as capable of being wrong as anyone else.

    Mistakes made in the heat of battle can be very unforgiving.

    So can self defense.

    UPDATE (12/10/05): Via InstaPundit, Talk Left shares a Hattisburg American report from Maye's original trial:

    The man accused of killing Prentiss police officer Ron Jones in December 2001 testified Thursday that he didn't know Jones was a law enforcement officer when he shot him.

    Cory Maye, 23, said he was asleep on a chair in the living room of his Prentiss apartment as his 14-month-old daughter slept in the bedroom when he heard a loud crash at his front door. "I immediately ran to my daughter's room, got a pistol, put in a magazine and chambered a round," said Maye, who is on trial for capital murder in Marion County. "As I laid on the floor by the bed, I heard kicks at the back door. I was frightened, I thought someone was trying to break in on me and my daughter."

    Maye testified that it was dark in his apartment when he heard someone breaking into the back door, which was located in the bedroom. "That's when I fired the shots," Maye said. "After I fired the shots, I heard them yell 'police! police!' Once I heard them, I put the weapon down and slid it away. I did not know they were police officers."

    How was he supposed to have known that it was the police who made the loud crash, and who were kicking in the door? Clearly, there was reasonable doubt at the very least.

    I'm wondering about the quality of Mr. Maye's defense.

    Unless we are prepared to establish a new duty to ask home invaders whether they are police (I can only imagine how a criminal would answer that), I don't see how this man could have been convicted consistent with our legal system.

    The problem, of course, is that the whole idea of "no-knock" warrants is inconsistent with our legal system. We might as well abolish the "man's home is his castle" doctrine, as well as self defense.

    Cowardly new world, I'd say....

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Silent Running has written an open letter to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. In his post, he calls this a case of "there but for the grace of God go I":

    ....the death penalty isn’t the issue. The main issue is that Cory Maye ended up in jail at all. There is an expression “there but for the grace of god go I” - and it is really hard to read the particulars of this case without having that thought, or one which expresses the same sentiment, cross your mind.
    It's a disgraceful miscarriage of justice with unmistakable overtones of racial bias and highly emotional favoritism mixed with grief. (The officer was the son of the local police chief, and at the very least, venue should have been moved to another area.)

    This makes Mississippi look bad, and I think it makes the country look bad. Haley Barbour is an honorable man. Here's hoping he does the honorable thing.

    MORE: A comment by a police officer left at Silent Running reminds me that this whole affair also makes good police officers look bad:

    I was a cop for 29 years. Some of it in Homicide, some of it in the narcs and some as a senior police commander. You are right…..If the facts are as presented, this is a miscarriage. I don’t like no-knocks and this is exactly why. I recognize that they are sometimes necessary for the safety of the officers involved and to insure that you get the evidence that you are looking for but you absolutely have to do your homework.

    I have been involved in a lot of search warrant services and a few have gone sideways….almost always because we missed something in the prep. If you are doing a no-knock, you have absolutely got to know everythng you possibly can about your target and you have to practice and practice and practice until you can do it in the dark.

    I hope this can be resolved….no police officer worthy of the name wants to see an innocent man in prison let alone on death row.

    MORE: There's more at Radley Balko's blog, and it's beginning to appear possible that account he was earlier given by the court clerk might turn out to be inaccurate.

    Here are some excerpts from prosecutor Buddy McDonald's reply to Balko:

    ....There were 2 separate search warrants issued for 2 separate apartments in a wood frame duplex which were located side by side one of which was the apartment Maye was in. The warrant was not for the wrong apartment. The warrants were issued by a lawyer/city judge not a lay judge. The warrants were served at the same time by two teams. The testimony was that there were several announcements that they were the police and that they had a search warrant.


    If the officer had not had a valid warrant and right to be there the trial judge would not have allowed the case to go forward.


    The case was not tried in the county of the killing but venue was changed to another county. From the State and the jury’s point of view it was not a no knock or no announce case. I can really say no more than this now but the transcript will give you the full story.

    Radley Balko is now attempting to get the actual warrant from the clerk to resolve the discrepancy, but there remain unanswered questions. Why did the clerk told him that Maye's name was not on the warrant? And what about the burden of proof to show Maye knew there was a police officer?

    More here.

    And questions for the DA here.

    We'll just have to stay tuned.

    AND MORE (12/12/05): Via Glenn Reynolds.com, I see that Radley Balko is getting answers to the questions he asked the DA. Maye was apparently not named on the search warrant, and there's still been no showing (in the form of any reliable report) that he was dealing drugs which would have been suffient to justify the raid on his premises. As Radley Balko says, this would have been highly relevant to whether he might have thought it was the police who were invading his home.

    As Balko points out, not knowing is an inherent problem posed by no-knock (or simultaneously announcing-while-breaking-in) raids:

    If the narcotics task force that raided Maye's home really did set out to knock, announce themselves, then give Maye a reasonable time to answer the door, why would they serve the warrant at 11:30 at night?

    Wouldn't it make more sense to serve the warrant at 7 or 8, when Maye would be less likely to be sleeping, and more likely to hear the police announce themselves, come to the door, and answer? Isn't a late-night raid more likely to inspire fear and apprehension?

    Unfortunately, this is a pretty common practice, particularly in jurisdictions where no-knock raids have been outlawed or severely restricted. Police get around it by conducting "knock-and-announce" raids at hours when a normal person would be least likely to hear the announcement.

    If I am asleep, and police say "police" outside my door, then smash it in, the only thing that's going to wake me up is the smashing. These types of raids should be abolished, as they're predicated on the assumption of certain behavior by guilty drug dealers, but when executed against innocent citizens, tragedies like this are an inevitable result. In the case of Maye, I think it's obvious that the police didn't even know who he was, but just wanted to raid his place because it was next door to a drug dealer's place.

    Radley has more on the ineffective counsel issue here.

    I agree with Glenn


    UPDATE (12/14/05): Radley Balko has been working very hard getting all the details, and he now has a comprehensive post on everything he has found to date. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    UPDATE (12/15/05): Despite the fact that he was misinformed by the clerk, and relied (as would have any blogger) on a certain amount of speculation about what he did not know, via InstaPundit I see that Radley Balko is now being condemned for not having gotten all the detail right -- especially in his first big post on the Maye matter. Well, there but for the grace of God go I! What Radley has done is to live up to a standard to which every blogger should aspire. Say what you know, offer speculation (identified as speculation) about what you don't know, offer your opinion, and then UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE. He's written more posts about the Maye matter than I can count, and is living up to a very high standard of blogger accountability. Not getting it exactly right the first time is to be expected in this kind of reporting, especially with this kind of case. The important thing is to admit mistakes and keep posting as information becomes available, and that's exactly what Radley has done.

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

    Time Magazine's single witness theory

    In a story quick to point the finger of blame at federal officials for shooting mentally ill passenger Rigoberto Alpizar, Time Magazine quotes a passenger named John McAlhaney for the proposition that authorities overreacted, and that Alpizar had been behaving in a "normal" manner before the flight:

    McAlhany said he saw Alpizar before the flight and is absolutely stunned by what unfolded on the airplane. He says he saw Alpizar eating a sandwich in the boarding area before getting on the plane. He looked normal at that time, McAlhany says. He thinks the whole thing was a mistake: "I don't believe he should be dead right now."
    He looked normal before the flight?

    But look at what the same guy (McAlhaney) said in an earlier report:

    Just before the shooting, passengers reported seeing the man running wildly down the aisle of the plane with a woman in pursuit yelling that he was ``sick.''

    Passenger John McAlhany, in seat 24-C, said the man ``came running from the back. He must have been doing 1,000 miles an hour. He knocked over stewardesses.''

    McAlhany, a Sebastian, Fla., construction worker on his way home from a fishing trip in the Keys, noticed the man acting erratically during the boarding process.

    ``When we got on the plane, he got off, then came back on with his wife,'' McAlhany said. ``He didn't look stable.''

    Unless it's "normal" to be "unstable" and "erratic," this passenger's story appears inconsistent and unreliable.

    (And how about knocking over stewardesses while "doing 1000 miles an hour"? Is that normal too?)

    In light of what he said about the "normal" passenger, I'm also having a bit of trouble understanding his statement (quoted in Time) about being ready to "break somebody's neck":

    By the time Alpizar made it to the front of the airplane, the crew had ordered the rest of the passengers to get down between the seats. "I didn't see him get shot," he says. "They kept telling me to get down. I heard about five shots."

    McAlhany says he tried to see what was happening just in case he needed to take evasive action. "I wanted to make sure if anything was coming toward me and they were killing passengers I would have a chance to break somebody's neck," he says. "I was looking through the seats because I wanted to see what was coming.

    "I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said put your hands on the seat in front of you. I got my cell phone karate chopped out of my hand. Then I realized it was an official."

    If his phone was in fact "karate chopped," that would certainly have been excessive force. While I never earned Black Belt in Karate, I did study Tai Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do and worked my way to the Purple Belt level. One of the things I had to do was break boards with my hands, and I think I can state confidently that if this man's cell phone was given a genuine "karate chop," it would have been broken. Was it? He doesn't say.

    I think the overall flavor of the McAlhaney remarks bespeaks hyperbole, and I'm wondering why Time magazine is putting so much stock in them.

    Aren't there any other passengers?

    MORE: USA Today reports that Alpizar told a fight attendant that he had a bomb.

    Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, made the bomb threat after a flight attendant blocked him from exiting Flight 924 just minutes before the plane was scheduled to leave for Orlando, said Lonny Glover, national safety coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

    "As the man came forward it was obvious that he was upset," Glover said. "That's when one of our attendants at the front of plane told him, 'Sir, you can't leave the plane.' His response, she said, was 'I have a bomb.' It was at that point that the air marshals gave up their cover and pursued him out the door and up the jetbridge."

    Curiously, Mr. McAlhaney is not quoted by USA Today, so I guess that means they didn't think what he said he didn't hear was worth reporting. But I guess there are a lot of things people don't hear that never get reported at all!)


    Interpreting the news can be a challenge.

    AND MORE: In a Newsday account, another passenger named Jorge Borelli is quoted as saying that Alpizar "never said a thing":

    "I can tell you, he never said a thing in that airplane. He never called out he had a bomb," said Orlando architect Jorge A. Borrelli, who helped comfort Alpizar's wife after the gunfire. "He never said a word from the point he passed me at Row 9. . . . He did not say a word to anybody."

    Two teens seated in Row 26 agreed. So did Jorge Figueroa, a power-plant operator from Lakeland seated a few rows behind first class.


    "I heard very clearly, 'Stop!' and about four to six gunshots," Borrelli said. "At that point the flight attendants started screaming, 'Get down! Get down!' "

    Buechner turned back toward the front of the aircraft and tried to get to her husband. But another passenger -- a doctor -- restrained her, with help from Borrelli and a flight attendant.

    "She was saying, 'My husband's sick. He's sick. He's bipolar. He didn't take his medicine. It was my fault. I made him get on the plane. You know, we just came from a medical mission. Oh, my God; they've killed my husband!'" Borrelli said.

    "And she said to the small group of us kind of huddled around her, holding her, that -- I believe she said -- that he feared there was a bomb on the plane. . . . I think he was having a panic attack."

    If, as Borelli states, " he never said a thing in that airplane," then how could his wife have known that he "feared there was a bomb on the plane"?

    My hearing is pretty good, but when I'm on a plane I have a lot of trouble hearing what people are saying unless they're right next to me. I don't know where Mr. Alpizar was seated, but unless it was right next to Mr. Borelli, how would he be able to confidently state that Alpizar never said a thing?

    I don't know whether a story like this depends on the facts or whether the facts depend on the story, but it's quite frustrating.

    AND MORE: I have no way to evaluate this, but another passenger is quoted as hearing Alpizar sing "Go Down Moses":

    MIAMI - The passenger shot to death by air marshals in Miami had been agitated before boarding the plane and was singing "Go Down Moses" as his wife tried to calm him, a fellow passenger said Thursday.

    "The wife was telling him, 'Calm down. Let other people get on the plane. It will be all right,'" said Alan Tirpak.

    "I thought maybe he's afraid of flying," Tirpak said.

    According to Wikipedia (in an entry I think is reliable in this instance), "Go Down Moses" is better known as "Let My People Go," famously sung by Paul Robeson.

    MORE: A Pajamas Media story reiterates the "Go Down Moses" part, cites conflicting accounts, and adds another witness, Mary Gardner:

    McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker who was returning home from a fishing trip in Key West, said he was sitting in Seat 21C when he noticed a commotion a few rows back.

    "I heard him saying to his wife, 'I've got to get off the plane,'" McAlhany said. "He bumped me, bumped a couple of stewardesses. He just wanted to get off the plane."

    Alpizar ran up the aisle into the first-class cabin, where marshals chased him onto the jetway, McAlhany said.

    McAlhany said he "absolutely never heard the word 'bomb' at all."

    "The first time I heard the word 'bomb' was when I was interviewed by the FBI," McAlhany said. "They kept asking if I heard him say the B-word. And I said, 'What is the B-word?' And they were like, 'Bomb.' I said no. They said, 'Are you sure?' And I am."

    Added another passenger, Mary Gardner: "I did not hear him say that he had a bomb."

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Well, if the "commotion" was "a few rows back" from row 21, I don't see how the passenger in row 9 could have heard anything. (I'd have to listen pretty hard to hear even a passenger behind me on an airplane.)

    Whatever else turns up, I think it's a serious mistake to conclude that not hearing something means that it wasn't said.

    posted by Eric at 08:21 AM | Comments (2)

    When all fragility fails . . .

    John Lennon a Republican?

    Hard to know. But Glenn Reynolds adds:

    I had heard stories of him breaking people's ribs, and they didn't seem very credible in light of my memories of the fragile and emaciated Yoko-era John. But looking at the earlier Lennon, well, yeah.

    Incredible as it may sound to the people forever stuck on Lennon's pacifist image, among the last books Lennon read was Will, by G. Gordon Liddy. (I've written about the book before, and I don't think I need to revisit it in detail. But take my word for it; Will is not a pacifist screed.)

    While I can't find Internet confirmation of this, I have read and heard repeatedly that Lennon was in his strung out, dependent state when he read Will, and was moved and inspired by Liddy's story of defeating fear, defying all three branches of the federal government, and transforming a prison sentence into an opportunity to prevail.

    Whether John Lennon would have become a Republican I do not know. But what I do know is that reading a book like Will in a state of despair can lead to the discovery of previously unsuspected inner strength and self reliance. Such things are anything but fragile. Whether they are -- or were -- necessarily Republican is more of a political question.

    (A question which John Lennon can't answer.)

    posted by Eric at 09:32 PM

    Holier than thou war?
    I think it’s more important to put Christ back into our war planning than into our Christmas cards.

    --Rev. Bob Edgar, former Democratic congressman, General Secretary, National Council of Churches

    I've been thinking that statement over, and for the life of me, I'm just not sure what Reverend Edgar means. Does he think the flap over Christmas cards is less important than the war? Or does he want to change the focus of the war from a secular-ish Western war against Islamic terrorism into a sort of Christian Holy War? Certainly, he would not be alone, because plenty of people think the war should be not freedom versus its enemies (or even the West versus Islamofascism), but Christianity versus Islam. I think the latter would be a strategic disaster, but I just don't know whether that's what he means.

    But wait a second! I just found a post at a Methodist blog which emphatically states that Reverend Edgar is an outspoken anti-war activist, and that he should resign his leadership position with the National Council of Churches. (Edgar's antiwar views are confirmed at the NCC website.)

    Which means that he is probably not advocating a Christian Holy War against Islam. Most likely, by putting Christ "back into our war planning" he means to say that Jesus Christ is against war, or that at least he's against the War in Iraq. Does that mean Jesus wouild have supported leaving Saddam Hussein in power as a way of practicing "turn the other cheek"?

    How can Rev. Edgar be so sure what's in the mind of Jesus Christ? Furthermore, what does he mean by "put back"?

    Did Jesus used to be involved with United States war planning?

    Or does he mean that Christian doctrine should be taken into account when the United States goes to war?

    I'm not all that great of a war blogger, so I can't say for sure. I do know that this country has seen plenty of religious soldiers fighting in plenty of wars. Does Rev. Edgar want us to return to this past? Or is he implying that Christianity is purely a pacifist doctrine? If he is, he ought to read this look at American Christian pacifism, for he might be very surprised:

    The true roots of pacifist theology lie in individual salvation - the objection to war is not so much that war is evil but that it is evil to kill anyone who doesn't deserve it. People should refrain from killing other people to save their own souls, not to save others or to make society better. True religious pacifists deem any killing or use of force by themselves as a mortal threat to their own souls because they might be mistaken about the moral consequences of such acts. Use of force is wrong in its own right as well as being the start of a slippery slope which might lead to killing.

    So religious pacifists won't use any force at all, let alone kill, to save their own souls. The early history of the Brethren in America included one ghastly Indian massacre in which most of a German village in Pennsylvannia was hacked down while lined up and praying, en mass, "Gott mit uns" (God is with us) over and over. The survivors high-tailed it east to the protection of the "English" militia.

    There's more there about the theology involved. While I'm no theologian, I suspect Rev. Edgar knows full well that pacifism was never part of the "Christian war planning" he claims we should bring "back."

    With such people in charge of mainstream churches, I'd have little interest in joining one. The fire-and-brimstone alternatives have even less appeal to someone like me.

    I mean, it's bad enough to be forcing people into a phony choice (socialism versus fundamentalism) in politics.

    Do they have to do the same thing with religion?

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

    Quick Question, slow answer

    How is anyone supposed to be able to tell the difference between a crazy person who actually has a bomb, and a crazy person who only thinks he has a bomb?

    Beats me.

    (I'll let you know when I figure it out....)

    posted by Eric at 12:28 PM | Comments (4)

    Morally superior fraud

    Via Glenn Reynolds' link, my attention was drawn to an absolutely monstrous device which instantly makes barcodes for whatever item you might want, at whatever price you might set.

    Ichiku's Barcode Magic can be used to generate your own custom pricing labels for whatever price you choose. Since most barcodes use a uniform system, it isn't that difficult to make something expensive -- say, an iPod -- cost just a five-spot.
    In my first year contracts class at law school I was taught that a price tag constitutes an "offer" to sell the goods at the price on the tag, and that the offer is accepted by the customer tendering the goods to the clerk. The contract is performed (completed) as soon as the cash register literally "rings down" the sale. During class discussion, some smartass law student raised the issue of counteroffers (aka "haggling"), and asked why it wouldn't constitute a counteroffer to change the price tag to reflect what the counterofferor was willing to pay. This caused much derisive laughter, and obviously it would be no defense to a charge of larceny.

    Or, in the case of the fake barcode labels, forgery.

    But everyone is operating under the assumption that barcodes on store items would necessarily be altered for personal gain. Would they?

    Suppose a group of activists decided that the best way to hurt a given company was to deliberately misprice it's product line, and they went into stores and simply stuck incorrect barcodes onto the targeted product line. There are plenty of things that a lot of people think should not be sold, and there are plenty of companies (and store chains) considered evil. I don't think examples are needed. Would that be forgery? Depends on the forgery statute; some of them require that there be some intent to acheive personal gain, while some don't. (A subject discussed extensively during Rathergate.) Is it more noble to alter one's driver's license to get into the military than to get into a nightclub?

    While the answer to the last one is obvious, what makes the deliberate harming of a product line or a store chain morally superior to saving a few bucks on a pack of razor blades? Is it because the latter is selfish, while harming a store in the name of a cause is "altruistic"? I'm a bit puzzled, and quite frankly, if I owned the company which was being hurt this way, I'd see the activists as infinitely more evil than the ordinary thief. Society (and the courts) see otherwise, and that's because of a thing we call "moral authority."

    Because moral authority invests people with a right (at least in their minds) to do evil in the name of good, I think it is arguably more evil than an honestly acknowledged ordinary criminal motive. History shows that far more harm has been done by people who believed that their moral authority erases ordinary guilt.

    Back in the 1970s, even theft was considered morally virtuous, provided the thief was a leftist, and called his theft the "liberation" of an item. (Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book explains why.) And even today, responsible journalists sometimes claim that robberies committed by poor people are morally superior to lies told by the well-off.

    I'm sure that certain morally superior deconstructionists would claim that all morality is fraud (a fraudulent social construct of whatever sort), but, then, isn't such a claim necessarily predicated on morality? If so, then isn't it just another form of fraud, cloaked with self-canceling moral superiority?

    MORE: Raging Bee's comment below highlights the fact that barcodes are not necessarily prices; they're often codes for items. Which means that mispricing an item would require mislabeling that item.

    posted by Eric at 09:46 AM | Comments (6)

    I don't need no stinkin' sex roles!

    Via Dr. Helen, I found a fascinating test called the "Bem Sex Role Inventory" and I'm not sure what to make of the result, but here it is:

    You scored 53 masculinity and 70 femininity!

    You scored high on both masculinity and femininity. You have a strong personality exhibiting characteristics of both traditional sex roles.


    My test tracked 2 variables

    How you compared to other people

    your age and gender:

    You scored higher than 25% on masculinity

    You scored higher than 74% on femininity

    The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

    I found most of the questions impossible to answer, so I usually gave a default answer of "often." Had there been an "it depends" choice, the test would have been much easier. I was briefly reminded of my freshman psychology class at UC Berkeley -- which I dropped because they wouldn't let me examine the inner workings of another damned test.

    UPDATE: Speaking of inner workings, if you have a blog and decide to directly copy the code for your profile, be advised that it has all kinds of extraneous garbage and commands in there which will mess up the layout of your page. (Took me awhile to edit it all out.)

    MORE (12/08/05): Having had a chance to ponder the test results, I've concluded that this might account for my status as a "woman who wants to become a man but who is by accident of birth already trapped in the body of a man."

    Well? Can anyone offer a better explanation?

    AND MORE: I'm not alone. According to Tom Maguire, Bob Woodward is Valerie Plame. (Glenn agrees.) But that's said to be a metaphor....

    Hmmm.... That must mean that there was a metaphormosis. Like this?


    Sigh. It's all in the head.

    posted by Eric at 09:10 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)

    Cococonspirator's concentric conundrum

    Coco is more artistic than I thought. (Either that or something unexplainable is going on, which I don't want to contemplate.)

    She has a white plastic frisbee, which she normally uses as an exercise plaything in the conventional manner. I throw it, and she catches it (often before it hits the ground). I really have no explanation to offer for why, but ever since the snow covered the ground, her attitude towards the frisbee has changed completely, and instead of using it as a toy, she has decided that it must be used as a snow scoop -- to carve long circular patterns into the ground. They look for the world like crop circles, and naturally, I'm worried that Coco might be tuned into some sort of extraterrestrial signal that I cannot receive.

    Coco's snow sculpting technique is to grasp the frisbee with her front paws as best she can, then use it to push snow between her back legs and then behind her. Then without picking up the frisbee, she'll repeat the process from its last stopping point, moving snow behind her again and again as if she considers the frisbee an improvised snow plough.

    The first picture shows how deadly serious she is about positioning her feet to obtain the best grip on the frisbee:


    Here she is, giving it a shove backwards:


    And finally, the result:


    Coco spent quite a bit of time positioning and pushing, as if she wanted to get things just so. (An obsessive kind of perfectionism which was eerily like the people in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind.")

    I've heard of canine art before, but not canine crop circles.

    Frankly, I thought it looked remarkably like a giant hammer and sickle, but I quickly dismissed that possibility, for I refuse to succumb to such paranoid thinking, and I refuse to allow politics to enter into my relationship with my dog.

    Er, companion animal! (Sorry.)

    UPDATE: I'm afraid I've been busted as the fraud that I am. Bonnie Wren has conspired to conduct helicopter surveillance of my yard, deciphered Coco's snow writing, and reveals to the world what it says:


    More proof here.

    On top of that, Bonnie is also giving Coco thoughts of abandoning me to go and play with Lachlan's Sumi.

    The way things are today, there's no way to prevent dogs from networking!

    posted by Eric at 06:24 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

    History reminds only if we remember . . .
    "the Japanese had very real grievances...."

    -- Noam Chomsky on Pearl Harbor

    (Which proves mainly that some people will live in infamy....)

    I'm not much of a "metablogger," so I'll leave it to La Shawn Barber and Michelle Malkin to provide comprehensive links to blog posts about the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. (Glenn, BTW, linked to La Shawn's post, which is really all you need to get pointed to the rest.)

    Today's date will always live in infamy, though, and the fact that the ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning, in my view, highlights the importance of remembering Pearl Harbor. So does September 11.

    To forget Pearl Harbor is to commit the blunder of which Santayana famously warned:

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    Because I think it's human nature to forget the past and repeat past mistakes over and over again, I feel obligated to remember Pearl Harbor, even though it's a bit of a chore to write a post about something I've already posted about.

    Donald Sensing has an excellent post, poignantly illustrated by photos he took when he and his wife visited Pearl Harbor in May.

    Scared Monkeys has a nice collection of posts and pictures including this one, which I especially liked:


    (The original is here, and the detail is incredible.)

    Scared Monkeys links to Musing Minds' "A Date Which Will Live In Infamy"; Red State.org's "A Day That Lives in Infamy"; Dean Esmay's "December 7, 1941," and Smalltalk Tidbits' "Always Remember."

    Oh, and Justin's father was actually there. He fought at Pearl Harbor. Others like him recall their memories here.

    For all these reasons and more, Classical Values is not forgetting, and I'm glad that neither is the blogosphere.

    UPDATE: My thanks to Donald Sensing for linking this post.

    MORE: And thanks to Musing Minds too!

    posted by Eric at 01:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    If nominated elected I will not serve!
    (But PLEASE vote against bigotry!)

    Via Bostonian Exile (himself a finalist for Best of the Top 3501-5000 Blogs) I discovered that I seem to be a finalist in a Weblog Awards category I have no right or desire to win, the Best LGBT Blog.


    Here's what I said in a comment at Bostonian Exile:

    Although it's flattering, it's a bit ironic to see that I'm nominated for a category with which I've taken issue over the years.
    Not only that, despite my innumerable discussions of sexuality, and despite my advocacy of sexual freedom, it really isn't fair to consider Classical Values a LGBT Blog. I take issue with the category because I don't agree with categorizing people based on what they do with their genitalia. Why, it's one of the sacrosanct founding principles (choke!) of this blog! So it would be hypocritical of me to run for this, um, office. Furthermore, there are two other co-authors, and it would be even more presumptuous to assume that Justin or Dennis would want to "win" without asking them. Nor have I asked them, but neither have they asked me how the "campaign" is going (a campaign I hadn't heard about until yesterday).

    What this means is that I am very flattered that someone nominated me, but I am unworthy of the honor, and I feel that I would only be doing the category a disservice by being elected to it. Bear that in mind if you vote for me.

    However, considering that leading finalist Pam Spaulding is an advocate of the practice of "outing" (which I consider loathsome and have repeatedly condemned in a number of posts), I would urge that readers who disagree with outing to go and vote for someone who opposes the practice. Anyone. I see that at least five libertarianish gay candidates -- Boi from Troy, Gay Patriot, Gay Orbit, Brat Boy School, and Right Rainbow -- have total votes collectively far exceeding those of the "outing" advocate (who, BTW, attacks Hillary Clinton from the left).

    (I also note that a much more outspokenly pro-outing candidate has thrown his weight behind Pam Spaulding, which may indicate a certain degree of organization, although I have no way of knowing these things.)

    Elsewhere in her blog, Ms. Spaulding accuses the "Right" of ignoring this report of the beating of Kansas professor Paul Mirecki (allegedly for his outspoken opposition to Intelligent Design):

    I'm sure those good "Christians" that opened the can of Whoop-Ass on the professor went home, dropped on their knees and prayed for forgiveness, right?

    I agree with Shakes Sis on this one -- you won't see any outrage on the Right about this.

    I disagree. I think most human beings -- right or left -- would be outraged. I think ID advocates would be especially outraged, because if true, something like this makes ID advocates look like fascists in the public eye, and hurts their cause.

    I am as outraged as I would be if a group of ID opponents had beaten up an ID advocate, and now that I have read about the incident, I'm not going to ignore it. I'd like to know what happened. In a more recent story from the Lawrence Journal-World (the source cited in the blog above), Professor Mirecki is now "declin[ing] to clarify" reporters' questions about the incident:

    “I got the hell beat out of me,” he told the Journal-World on Monday.

    Key facts about the reported attack remained unclear Tuesday, including exactly where it happened. A report released by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said the location was “unknown” and listed it as south of 31st Street on either East 1400 Road or East 1500 Road.

    Louisiana Street turns into East 1400 Road outside the city limits. Haskell Avenue becomes East 1500 Road.

    Also, there was conflicting information about whether Mirecki reported it at the scene or at the hospital. In an interview Monday with the Journal-World, he said he called police from the side of the road, but sheriff’s officials said they were dispatched to the hospital.

    Mirecki declined to clarify the discrepancy when asked about it Tuesday outside the sheriff’s office.

    “I can; I just don’t want to,” he said.

    The sheriff’s report, which is classified as an aggravated battery, says that Mirecki suffered minor injuries. It says the incident started about 6:20 a.m. and was reported about 6:40 a.m.

    As to the suspects, all we know is the following:

    two white men in their 30s or 40s, one with a red visor and wool gloves, both wearing jeans, and driving a large pickup truck.
    That really doesn't narrow it down, does it? No license plate, not even the make or model of the truck.

    But if the professor's memory is accurate, I think it's fair to assume the men were white bigots driving a "large pickup," isn't it?

    And according to the above blogger, the "large pickup" of choice for bigots these days seems to be the Ford Klansman:


    As the logo says, they're "Fundie Tough." (For Fundie Toughs, perhaps?)

    Look, I abhor bigotry, and I think saying Intelligent Design equals fundamentalism equals the Taliban equals the Ku Klux Klan is bigotry, pure and simple. Might as well say that being gay equals the "Radical Homosexual Agenda" equals NAMBLA. (Or that being a gay conservative or gay libertarian equals "self loathing," for that matter....)

    With all that in mind, go vote.

    MORE: Sean Gleeson is skeptical of Professor Mirecki's version of the beating.

    AND MORE: Professor Mirecki has resigned:

    LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Two days after saying he was the victim of a roadside beating that may have been connected to a controversial creationism class, a religious studies professor has resigned from the University of Kansas.

    Barbara Romzek, KU's interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said Wednesday that she had accepted Associate Professor Paul Mirecki's resignation as chair of the department of religious studies.

    It's not completely clear to me why he resigned.

    MORE: Michelle Malkin (whom I thank for linking this post) has a number of links to blog posts discussing the still-unfolding Mirecki matter.

    Also, J.D. at Evolution (himself an evolution advocate from Lawrence, Kansas -- who's written several posts about Mirecki) is increasingly skeptical of Mirecki's version of the story, and has still more links to other blog posts.

    Stay tuned. (If this keeps up I'll have to start a new post on Mirecki.....)

    posted by Eric at 07:55 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    One nation, under leveraged fringe?

    Sex education, I often hear, is "none of the schools' business." Parents should be able to "opt out" at the very least.

    It's true that parenting should be up to the parents, and I certainly agree that schools shouldn't be parents.

    But what I want to know is why it seems that so many of the people who don't want schools getting into things like sex education because it's justly none of the schools' business nonetheless want religion, or "God" (now meaning new forms of religious indoctrination) "put back" in the schools? By what logic are sexual matters the responsibility of the parents, but not religious matters?

    I mean, shouldn't parents be allowed to opt out of having their kids learn Intelligent Design in science class? Wouldn't some parents find that just as offensive as others would a condom on a banana? (Or was that a cucumber?)

    Is it my imagination, or has the word "secular" become a synonym for "evil"?

    Just asking.

    And I'm not talking about God in the general secular sense, either. There used to be a more or less secular form of God, but over the years champions of secular atheism such as the ACLU -- in unholy collusion with certain religious conservatives -- worked relentlessly to purged this workable compromise from the schools and even from the founding. This has radicalized the debate into two very shrill camps: those who scream "God" when they mean fundamentalism, and those who scream "secular!" when they mean atheism. In my view, it's increasingly hopeless.

    Pat Robertson types and ACLU types have done more for each other than they have for the country. The fact that enemies often obtain leverage from their enemies is a simple enough concept that I suppose an economist or mathematician could reduce it to a formula.

    (I just wish they could come up with some way to protect the majority against the tyranny of this leveraged fringe.)

    posted by Eric at 12:39 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBacks (1)

    Is Christmas off limits? Even to Grinches?

    I don't mean to sound overly tolerant of the Ebenezer Scrooge school of intolerance, but whatever happened to "Bah Humbug!"?

    When I was a kid, plenty of people hated Christmas. The grownups used to complain about how the "real meaning" had been lost to crass commercialization, and Christmas was often said to be marred by human selfishness, stress, greed, war, etc. "Uncle Ebenezer" was intended to shame people into liking Christmas, while simultaneously appealing to their dark side. Mean people hate Christmas, and many people are mean. Whether they admit it or not, even people who aren't mean nonetheless have a mean, Scrooge-like side.


    Which makes the guy likable, even before his annual, um, redemption.

    The great W.C. Fields managed to actually die on Christmas, a day he claimed to hate. And in books written to entertain children (also hated by Fields), mean people have long been implicated as being anti-Christmas.

    Why, there was a famous book called "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

    It's probably a sign that I'm getting to be a curmudgeon, but I remember when being against Christmas was once, well, funny!

    As things stand now, there is said to be a "war" against Christmas, which takes the form of the ACLU, certain large chain stores (and of course, the evil, Homosexual-Agenda-supporting homos), all engaged in a puritanical (?) effort to censor out public references to Christmas, sanitize Christmas music, ban Salvation Army Santas, etc.

    I heard all about this war last year too, and I hate to sound like a Scrooge or a Grinch, but I'm one of those people who gets a little stressed out during Christmas. I try to remember cards and gifts and shopping and traffic, and it's an emotionally draining time of year characterized by loads of last minute hassles driving around in the snow to search for gifts, write cards, put them in the mail, etc. It doesn't help much that tempers fray this time of year.

    I've long suspected that there are a lot of people who inwardly hate Christmas for the same reason people used to complain about it when I was a kid, because it is such an immense obligation. But they're afraid to acknowledge this lest they be considered antisocial or Grinch-like. My parents are dead and I don't have kids, which means my family obligations are minimal, but it's still a big hassle, and I can only imagine what it would be like if I did have kids, inlaws, parents, grandparents. (It's almost scary to contemplate.)

    As it happens, I don't especially like the fact that the big stores aren't playing Christmas carols as they once did, and I don't like the ACLU's idea of enforced secularism. But still, I just want to get in and get out and get the whole damn thing over with. There's something about being told that I have to boycott a store for being too secular that just rattles me even more than the knowledge that the store is being secular. People have a right to boycott whatever they want, but this shrill harangue -- each year -- that there's a war against Christmas, and we must all fight for our god, and that we must all Boycott! Boycott! Boycott!

    I'm sorry, but it doesn't quite click with my already Christmas-stressed mental circuits.

    There's no question that Christmas is Christmas, that it celebrates the birth of Jesus, but it's also long been a secular enough occasion that even Jews, Pagans and non-religious people celebrate it. I'm not sure it's anyone's business how they do or how they don't, and I'm sure as hell not about to make it mine.

    What many people don't know is that war on Christmas is nothing new.
    There was a time when it was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas in England and in Massachusetts.

    Imagine, the Pilgrims were ahead of Scrooge, ahead of the Grinch, and even ahead of the ACLU.

    Almost makes me want to be a Christmas war pacifist. But pacifism sucks.

    How then, can we break the cycles of Christmas war?


    AFTERTHINKING: Foamy has it right, IMHO. (Via InstaPundit.)

    UPDATE (12/07/05): This flap (via Glenn Reynolds) over White House Christmas cards is too much. Really and truly too much. I don't care what you think about Christmas, whether you think it should be celebrated as a private family event, in solemn church services, drunken secular shopping sprees, pagan-derived yule log burnings, or not at all.

    But if someone is kind enough to have gone to the trouble of sending you a card (and it's a lot of trouble, at least it is for me), the idea of getting offended by the card and sanctimoniously demanding corrections is just plain rude. I think it borders on the despicable. Many years ago, way before this "War On Christmas" was discovered, my father used to worry about offending people he didn't know that well, so he tended to use cards that said "Seasons Greetings." He wasn't trying to be PC; he was just trying to be nice. No one was offended by his well meaning attempt not to offend. Nor was he (or anyone else I knew) ever offended by receiving cards saying "Merry Christmas." Each year I send out cards, and I receive cards.

    Never, ever, would I dream of hurting someone's feelings by being such an ass as to complain about a card!

    What, I should hold those lucky enough to get cards from the White House to a different standard?

    I see that WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah proudly threw away his card. I'm sure Cindy Sheehan would be just as proud to throw away her card if she got one, and I don't doubt that if the White House cards had said "Merry Christmas," the leftist PC patrol would have complained.

    Wish there was some way to declare war on Christmas asininity.

    posted by Eric at 09:53 AM | Comments (2)

    Herd of singing RINOs yet?

    Did you know that RINOs can sing?

    Well they can! And even I can sing.

    If you want to see what I'm talking about, don't miss Rose Nunez's Raging RINOs Carnival at her fine blog, No Credentials. A lot of work went into this Raging RINO Karaoke fest, and it's just a hoot!

    Here's a sample:

    "Here's a sweet little number for Mr. Ramsey Clark:

    You always love the ones who hurt
    The ones you shouldn't love at all
    You always grab the foulest souls
    To save them from a fall--

    You always love the cruelest hearts
    Their nasty deeds you cannot fault,
    And if they kill ten thousand folks
    That's when you love them most of all..."

    I won't spoil the rest, but I'm Hall and Oates!

    This Carnival is a really great one.

    Don't miss it.

    MORE: Rose also points out that two of my favorite blogs, Bostonian Exile and Evolution, are both award winners.

    (Glad to see evidence that I have good taste.)

    posted by Eric at 09:21 AM | Comments (2)

    Redeployment of Howard Dean

    According to Howard Dean, the

    idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong!
    No shock there.

    What was a shock, though, was seeing Donald Sensing -- of all people -- voicing similar sentiments:

    Remember, though, we are losing in Iraq. That terrorists’ former allies would turn on them and reveal them and their resources to American troops is proof of the strategic acumen of the terrorists. Yes, it’s another brick in the wall of their victory, and another abject defeat for the forces of freedom.

    (Now if only I could figure out how to strategically redeploy that little </sarcasm> thing at the end....)

    UPDATE: Tom Maguire (via Glenn Reynolds) has identfied Howard Dean's strategy:

    Leaving Iraq so we can fight Zarqawi, currently based in Iraq.
    Makes sense to me. Ought to keep Zarqawi guessing!

    posted by Eric at 03:17 PM | Comments (1)

    Being a victim is no fair!
    if you do not conform, if you are too much of a lone wolf or an individualist, you’re going to be shunned....

    Tammy Bruce, in an interview with John Hawkins. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    That is so damned true.

    The paradox, though, is that those who are shunned in this way are victims of the shunning, in much the same way that a scapegoat is a victim. And isn't being a victim supposed to be good?

    Well, not exactly. In Berkeley, I fell into the trap of being a landlord in a town where tenants are automatically considered a class of victims who are victimized by the landlord class. My frustration over the fact that landlords were not allowed to be victims despite Berkeley's draconian rent control led me into much insane thinking, caused largely by my attempts to be logical. If you see logic as a way out of insanity, prepare for a long haul.

    More from the interview:

    With an identity that’s based in victimhood, if you find either that you’re not a victim or you find personal independence and power, it literally becomes a threat. (If) your identity (is) based in victimhood (and) that is removed, it literally strikes at the core of the identity of that person.

    It literally becomes consciously and subconsciously, a fight for life and death, and oddly in a very macabre way, it is that being a victim is what keeps you alive in your own mind... It’s the ultimate world of the looking glass that getting out of victimhood will cause you to die and that is, I think, at the root, the psychological root of identity as victim. Many people have no concept of what life would be like not in that environment. That is their power, it is their passion, it is their sense of themselves. It’s a real pathology that is massaged and fomented by left wing leadership.

    While I've long ago stopped seeing myself as a victim, when I was a landlord in Berkeley I was outraged by the unfairness of the notion that only some victims are allowed to be victims. (I know that draconian rent control is a far cry from the gulags or a bullet in the back of the head, but it's the scapegoating that's at issue here, not the degree of punishment.)

    Homosexuality is traditionally seen as guaranteed victim status, but as Tammy points out, only some homosexuals are allowed to be victims:

    if you’re a homosexual you’d better identify as gay, you’d better say it is an orientation, that it’s not a preference, that all of these singular lines should be adhered to so that you have a united front.

    Well, I say bunk with that and how absurd that the community that says that it is the most different and the most unique demands such serious conformity on its own members. So I think it’s certainly time for some level of honesty in that discussion about the nature of it...

    Today, nonconforming homosexuals are more the victims of conformist homosexuals than the other way around, except that the word "victim" has been hijacked by the self appointed czars of victim status, so the word is not available for them to use.

    Insane as it may sound, classical liberals can similarly be seen the new victims -- of the left.

    In today’s day and age, I am a conservative, in the sense of what that stands for. Today’s conservative is yesterday’s classical liberal and I’m determined to try to help make that label more popular, more broad, more accepted, and more understood and I hope I’m doing a good job.
    If you try too hard to make sense out of this victim stuff, you'll go crazy. I once wanted to know why woman should be prevented from consenting to having themselves photographed by pornographers, but allowed to consent to having their fetuses cut out. If, I reasoned, women have the right to control their bodies, then why is consenting to having a fetus cut out different than consenting to being photographed? For asking these questions, I was treated to a very long lecture on victimization. Victimhood is not for the victim to decide. It's awarded by others.

    What this means is that a true individual can never be a victim. Maybe a true individual really isn't a victim.

    Might that mean that victimhood has to be chosen? No, that can't be, because the traditional definition of victimhood indicates a lack of control. (Crime victim, cancer victim, accident victim.)

    To conclude the victim paradox, my favorite victim was a Berkeley landlord who used to conduct one man demonstrations in front of City Hall. He'd pace back and forth, martyr-style, bearing a gigantic cross which said "WHY CRUCIFY ME?" along with signs calling Berkeley's Rent Board the "Slave Board." Believe me, this really used to piss off left wing activists, and the fact that the latter were mostly white and the landlord was black did not go unnoticed in a city which tended to see race as a major factor in awarding victim status. I thought the guy was a great satirist, despite the fact that he was deadly serious. Another paradox, I guess....

    It's all so unfair.

    posted by Eric at 08:51 AM

    Picking up honesty and putting it in its place

    I'm all for restoring honesty. But the prestigiously named RestoreHonesty.com, originally set up by Joe Wilson (and which Glenn Reynolds noted was paid for by Kerry campaign) doesn't look very honest these days.

    I mean phentermine Buy Online Pharmacy? No, really. (Check it out.)

    If my impatience is showing, the reason isn't so much that I'm getting sick of the damned now-you-see-it-now-you-don't Plame scandal. That's something I was sick to death of long ago (and which would make me what Mickey Kaus calls a "scandal pooper"). Nor is it that I'm sick of contemplating the endless shenanigans of which the CIA seems capable. Rather it just floors me that so many thinking people can't understand a very simple mechanism.

    At the risk of being simplistic, I'd like to point out a few things about the CIA.

    By its nature, the CIA is not a group of nice guys, but a naughty agency. Maybe even a naughty naughty agency! They do things that are often secret, sometimes illegal, and they build a thing called "plausible deniability" into almost everything they do. They're so secret that even talking about who they are and what they do can be a criminal offense if you're knowledgeable about what you're talking about.

    The CIA knows how to run individual agents, blackmail people, persuade them in all sorts of ways (again, legal and illegal), foment coups d'etat, and topple governments. It is an agency capable of great mischief at the very least.

    With all that in mind, isn't it obvious that if such an agency (or a large enough "flock of pouting spooks" within it) had a problem with its purported commander in chief, that a great deal of trouble might be created for him? And with minimal effort? Considering the delicate nature of the CIA's work, anything even approaching a little too much zeal would do fine. Or anything approaching a little too little zeal! (Plus, there's a labrythine bureaucratic maze in which to hide while playing "CYA" games.)

    Not that I'm attacking the CIA, mind you. To anyone wanting to be considered patriotic, any registered Republican, or for that matter anyone even slightly sympathetic to conservatism or libertarianism, such things are not allowed, because there's a war on and we need the CIA and its resources badly. Yet because the pouting flock (and those in sympathy with them) is on the left, as a practical matter this means that the CIA is largely immune from criticism, right or left.

    I mean, what critic would want to get hit by the pouting flock's scandal poop?

    Ah, but there are too many pooper scoopers in the blogosphere!

    UPDATE: An intriguing tidbit from a staunchly antiwar and anti-Bush source:

    For liberals and leftists accustomed to viewing the CIA as a rogue agency prone to unaccountable covert actions abroad, it is ironic that since 9-11, the CIA has emerged as a bastion of opposition to George W. Bush’s imperial foreign policy.
    Yes, the ironies abound.

    MORE: Speaking of too much or too little zeal, PunditGuy discusses the cavalier attitude some CIA officials exhibit over the naughty naughtiness which is supposed to be kept secret:

    ....CIA officials with an ax to grind are whispering into cell phones and conducting meetings over coffee at an undisclosed Starbucks.

    So, what’s the problem? After all, it’s only the secrets of the CIA, and ultimately the national security of the United States that is in serious jeopardy. For some, the risks are worth the temporary gain.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.) Actually, it isn't necessary to talk. Too much zeal with one op, then too little in another, and the cat's out of the bag.

    Heads they win. Tails they win.


    UPDATE (12/07/05): Here's Michael Ledeen, debating the war with Marc Cooper at Pajamas Media:

    CIA should be shut down, as Pat Moynihan rightly said. Tenet should have been fired on Sept. 12th. Why hasn't Bush seen that? Beats me. It's a colossal blunder. It almost brought him down, and it's cost us enormously.
    (HT Roger L. Simon.)

    posted by Eric at 01:02 PM | Comments (2)

    snow and tell

    The first snow of the season! While it didn't amount to much in my yard, it's a hint of what's yet to come.


    At first, Coco wasn't quite sure what to make of it, as there hasn't been any of that white funny stuff since she was a puppy last winter, and I'm not sure whether the memory record in her lime-sized brain records such details.


    Maybe I'm a bad influence on Coco, but I don't like snow, and in the next picture, Coco, after having thought it over, appears to be saying no to snow!


    (Many would be afraid not to agree with her.)

    UPDATE (12/06/05): A more picturesque form of snow fell last night. Here's how it looked this morning:

    posted by Eric at 11:10 AM | Comments (2)

    Dragging out Bunny Sloping

    I agree that correcting Maureen Dowd probably is the "Bunny Slope of blogging," and that fisking the LA Times is slightly more challenging (although I'm not sure Maureen Dowd would agree).

    I guess that means I should be properly embarrassed to be spending so much of my time with the Philadelphia Inquirer, especially because I don't have to go anywhere to do it. The paper hits my driveway every morning with a big thud! (Uh, this morning it was probably a squishy slosh sound, as there's slushy icy snow all over the ground.) I'm on some kind of slope, that's for sure.

    But I'm like really shameless about these things, and while I don't know what the correct terminology should be, let's assume that Maureen Dowd is for Bunny Slopers, that the LA Times is more advanced, and that the slope level of the Inquirer is unknown (although definitely not at the advanced level).

    What would you call correcting Barbra Streisand? (Jeff's post is hilarious, BTW, and don't miss this new high in slopery.)

    Just curious.

    And I'm not pointing any fingers. As I said, I'm shameless.

    Not to get literal about cute terms like "Bunny Slope," but now that I'm thinking it over, didn't we have a recent presidential candidate who not only wore a bunny suit, but had a problem with ski slopes?


    I'm glad that that bunny slope's behind us.

    But still...

    Doesn't "Bunny Slope" sound like the name of a drag queen?


    MORE (12/07/05): Dr. Helen (aka the Instawife) joins in speculation about whether Barbra Streisand is on crack cocaine. Her conclusion (based on highly sophisticated diagnostic equipment) is that the "signs point to yes."

    Who'da thunk it?

    posted by Eric at 08:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    "Like a good neighbor"

    Here's an example of why a gun is a better home self defense weapon than a knife:

    After being raped inside her Germantown home by a stranger yesterday afternoon, a woman persuaded her attacker to let her take her toddler upstairs - and when she came back down, she had a knife.

    Her attacker, a 51-year-old man whose name was withheld, was in critical condition last night at Albert Einstein Medical Center with a chest wound.

    Police said the events leading up to the rape and the woman fighting back began about 2:30 p.m., when the man approached the woman's home in the 200 block of West Haines Street and asked if he could rake her leaves.

    The 30-year-old woman, who was home alone with her 2-year-old child, declined, said Capt. John Darby of the Special Victims Unit.

    The man then asked for a glass of water, which made the woman suspicious. She tried to shut the door, but the man forced his way inside and raped her at knifepoint, Darby said.

    Darby said the woman then begged her attacker to allow her to put her child in an upstairs bedroom.

    When she returned, she rammed the knife into the man's chest.

    While I admire this very brave woman and applaud what she did, there's a slight problem: the rapist is not dead.

    I think guns are more effective than knives. A gun would have spared this woman the agony of having to go to court to face this man again, and be cross examined. A dead man can't come back with a story about how he knew the victim, who let him inside for a cup of eggnog -- or a discussion about the works of Thomas Aquinas. And even if the dead man's family sues, the homeowner's story is all there is.

    But ominously for homeowners, insurance companies are refusing to defend or indemnify homeowners who kill in self defense, and in one recent New York case, such a refusal was upheld by the Court of Appeal:

    A man who killed an intruder in his home in self-defense is not entitled to insurance defense in a wrongful death action, a divided Albany appellate panel ruled Thursday in a case of first impression.

    The split by New York's Appellate Division, 3rd Department, in Automobile Co. of Hartford v. Cook, 97160, illustrates a debate that has divided courts across the country. The question is whether a homeowner's insurance policy provides coverage when an insured is sued for wrongful death stemming from a killing in self-defense. That question was apparently addressed for the first time Thursday by a New York appellate court.

    Sometimes, the law is an ass.

    And according to the court's asinine reasoning, if the woman in today's story is sued, her insurance company would be allowed to refuse coverage, because (so goes the court's reasoning) actions taken in self defense are "expected" and "intended":

    Justice John A. Lahtinen and three of his four colleagues strictly construed the insurance policy language in holding that an occurrence of justifiable homicide results from an intentional rather than accidental act. Here, the defendant shot the decedent at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun. The action thus triggers the exception for incidents that are "expected or intended" by the insured, the panel found.
    I don't think there's anything expected or intended about defending against a sudden attack in the heat of battle during a home invasion. Self defense under these circumstances is little more than instinctual behavior, and no more expected or intended than struggling to breathe if you're being strangled.

    At least we don't have to pay premiums to burglars for protection.

    posted by Eric at 05:09 PM | Comments (2)

    No time to make the Oswald-Jesus connection today . . .

    Michael Demmons (via Glenn Reynolds) reviews a new film called The God Who Wasn't There -- which purports to prove that the historical Jesus never existed:

    .... 45 minutes into it and they’re already showing picture of Abu Ghraib. This is nothing more than a propaganda film.

    Unbelievable. But unsurprising. I should have known.

    Michael does note, however, that if you hate Bush, "this film is for you." I don't like to see hidden agendas in films, nor do I like having my time wasted with attempts to prove what can't be proven, so I think I'll skip it.

    But the film does sound at least as good as this book -- recently reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer (a review I could only find online in Duluth):

    PHILADELPHIA - There are some subjects - and the web of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy is certainly among them - that most members of the academic establishment avoid as much as possible.

    And then there is Temple University's Joan Mellen, whose new book, "A Farewell to Justice," pins the murder on the U.S. government itself.

    "Long live tenure," said Mellen, an English professor who has written an eclectic collection of 17 books.

    Her latest, which was published last week, started out as a biography of Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district attorney whose investigation of the assassination was dramatized in Oliver Stone's 1991 film "JFK."

    But in her research on Garrison, Mellen soon became fascinated by the assassination itself. After eight years of work, in which she says she conducted 1,200 interviews, Mellen concluded that Garrison had it right, and that the CIA - with the help of other government agencies - orchestrated the assassination and worked to thwart the district attorney's investigation.

    "Intra-government warfare caused the death of President Kennedy," she said. "The evidence is conclusive."

    Mellen presents her evidence in a dense and highly detailed 386 pages, with 140 additional pages of careful citations and sourcing.

    Noting that these books come out every November 22 (the anniversary of the assassination) the WaPo is far less impressed with the Mellen book, which appears to be little more than another recitation of Oliver Stone's theories. (Another writer quite credibly accuses Mellen of relying on documents that simply don't exist.) To believe Mellen, I think you'd have to believe that CIA Deputy Director Richard Helms authorized the JFK killing, which makes little sense to me.

    Oliver Stone's attempt to entangle Helms with acquitted New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw is debunked here, but these stories just go on and on, and I tire of them. Clay Shaw and David Ferrie were both said to have been gay, and in those days they'd have been closety as hell -- which means they'd have understandably not wanted anyone to know about it if they'd ever had sexual relations with Lee Harvey Oswald of all people. In the small, secretive gay world in early 60s New Orleans, it's certainly possible that there were contacts between these people, and if there were, they could very likely have been of a furtive homosexual nature. That's the sort of thing which can look highly suspicious, but closeted homosexual contacts -- even with Oswald -- do not add up to an assassination conspiracy.

    District Attorney Garrison, however, seems to have been positively obsessed with the gay angle nearly to the point of paranoia, and I agree that it rendered his investigation all but laughable. But instead, as author Dave Reitzes says, new leftist conspiracists cleaned things up:

    With time the "homosexual thrill killing" theme got sanitized out of the Garrison story. Left-leaning conspiracy buffs who swarmed all over the Garrison probe got his ear and pushed him in a more political direction.
    You can connect anyone to anyone if you try hard enough. (And if Oswald ran around and had sex with these guys, that proves nothing.)

    But conspiracy folks have tried to prove that Hitler and the Nazis were all another sinister gay plot. (As well as another looney and unprovable notion -- that Jesus was gay.)

    Life's too short to spend trying to prove the unprovable, much less enduring the attempts of others to do the same.

    I think I'll skip the film and the book.

    (My theory remains that Oswald never existed, of course....)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Today seems to be the day for conspiracies. Hmmm... Maybe I should make Saturdays Official Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Day at Classical Values....

    UPDATE (12/15/05): In what is a very interesting coincidence, blogger Jason Coleman has emailed with additional information about Shaw and Ferrie. Apparently, they were not as "closeted" as I made it appear:

    I was just catching up on your blog, and I noticed the JFK post.

    My grandmother worked for a prominent attorney in New Orleans for many years, Eberhard Deutsch. Garrison worked for Eberhard and consulted with him on his investigations of the JFK assassination, Eberhard did not necessarily agree with Garrison, but played Devil's Advocate with Garrison on many occasions, sometimes in my grandmothers presence. I don't think it'd be appropriate for me to characterize Col. Deutsch's opinions on the JFK assassination at this time.

    I mention all this because in your post you say that Clay Shaw and David Ferrie would have been "closeted" and unfortunately, that is
    incorrect. On a number of occasions my grandmother attended dinner
    parties where Mr. Shaw was in attendance and was even "escorted" (a
    more correct description would be "paired up") by Shaw on more than one occasion. The irony of her employment for Eberhard was not lost on Shaw, who found it, in his words, "simply fabulous". Shaw was also quite candid with any and all who were interested that he was in fact homosexual.

    David Ferrie was also well-known in New Orleans homosexual circles at
    the time. He was quite open about his (insofar as "openness" was taken at the time) homosexual persuasion. The two were not "open" in the same manner, Ferrie was an ass and an outcast, living in the "seedier" side of New Orleans' homosexual community while Shaw was considered a "gentleman" and quite welcome in the most affluent of New Orleans homes.

    Just thought you'd appreciate that info.

    If you want to revisit your post and have any questions, I'd be happy
    to try to present any questions you have about Shaw with my grandmother for you, although she is getting up a bit in age, just the other day she popped off about Shaw and comments he made in her presence.

    The convergence of her comments on Friday and seeing your post today
    triggered this email, I found the coincidence something I couldn't

    I appreciate the correction, although I'd note that gay men today who'd feel the need for female "escorts" would generally be considered "closeted." (Regarding any relationship either man may have had with Oswald, though, I suspect that they'd have wanted to cover it up even absent any connection to an assassination conspiracy.)

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

    Catching up with New Orleans and nihilistic materialists

    Those who think New Orleans has "come back to life" should read Gus Van Horn's account of his recent visit there. Excerpt:

    It is hard to characterize the general impression of New Orleans succinctly other than to say that it is overwhelming. The eeriest part of being in this ghost city is being there at night, as I was briefly after we'd finished work one day and were packing some things into a moving van. The night sky is as brilliant as it is in any remote location, and yet you are surrounded by perfectly dark buildings and deathly quiet.
    There's much more, plus pictures, and it's a good read, as is the blog in general. Gus is not only a good analyst, he obviously enjoys writing in order to make things clear. That, to me, what makes good blogging. (Having a fact checker always helps, though.)

    (My biggest frustration is that sometimes the more I struggle to make things clear, the less clear things become!)

    In a serious essay about reason and faith, Gus links to this thought-provoking claim about materialists:

    Consider three statements: 1. Torturing a child for one's own sexual gratification is evil. 2. Shakespeare is a better writer than George Lucas. 3. Human beings have free will. An intellectually honest materialist must reject all these claims.
    I know plenty of materialists who would consider the torturing of a child to be utterly evil, whether for sexual gratification or not. I'll be sure to tell them how dishonest -- and of course "nihilistic" -- they are. . . ("Nihilistic materialism" has a nice ring, doesn't it?)

    There's plenty more where that came from.

    Check out Gus's blog.

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

    A near miss? Or a near hit?

    This report (which, quite oddly, has turned up at the web site of my favorite local news radio station, KYW) is intriguing but it will probably go nowhere:

    FBI agents and Homeland Security officials spent the weekend investigating the report of a possible missile fired at an American Airlines plane taking off from Los Angeles International Airport.

    Sources tell ABC News the pilot of American Airlines Flight 621, en route to Chicago, radioed air traffic controllers after takeoff from LAX. He told them a missile had been fired at the aircraft and missed.

    The plane was over water when the pilot said he saw a smoke trail pass by the cockpit.

    FBI agents believe it was a flare or a bottle rocket, but say they may never know if that's what it actually was.

    The story has been linked by Drudge and by Charles Johnson. The "flare or bottle rocket" nonsense has been thoroughly debunked by Bill Quick, the Jawa Report, and WitNit, as these things simply can't make it up to 6600 feet.

    So the fumbling or dissembling FBI (don't know which) now has an alternative case-closed explanation: the pilot saw a "contrail" streaking past.

    Really? Contrails are only made by planes. Must have been a hallucination of some sort.

    Used to have a bumpersticker that said "I BRAKE FOR HALLUCINATIONS."

    This is all very interesting, but IMHO the story can't go anywhere unless witnesses come forth, as it's been reduced to case-officially-closed, blogospheric speculation. There's nothing else to do but speculate, and since it's Saturday, I'll join in with some (hopefully logical) speculation of my own.

    According to the report, this is just the word of a pilot. There's no word on what the copilot saw, nor of what any passengers might have seen. I'd like to know more, but I would note that many pilots are highly trained former military pilots, many of whom have seen and even fired missiles. Former military pilots are not the type of people who'd be likely to misread a contrail as a missile, so the FBI explanation does not pass my smell test. The fact that it was the second explanation offered after the blogosphere was all over the bottle rocket nonsense gives it even less credibility. I think it's pretty clear that if this was a missile, FBI and Homeland security would not want the public to know about it because that might cause a huge panic. Even less would the airline industry want the public to know -- especially this close to the Christmas travel season. So there would be enormous vested interests in covering this up. That, however, no more proves a coverup than the sudden murder of someone would prove his worst enemy was the murderer. Nor do allegations of previous coverups of missile attacks (like this stuff promulgated at NEIN) prove that there was a coverup here.

    Frustrating though it may be, we're stuck with an either or scenario. Missile or no missile. And even if there was a missile, while that probably indicates a terrorist attack, it doesn't necessarily. There are a number of bases in the area, and mistakes can happen.

    To coverup is as human as the urge to suspect a coverup. That's why (as I've said before), in examining conspiracy theories, I try to avoid the following common pitfalls:

  • the temptation of believing what I want to believe
  • the temptation of disbelieving (denying) what I don't want to believe
  • the temptation of clinging too tenaciously to my own conclusions (if any)
  • the temptation of being adversely influenced by emotions instead of logic (loud and ugly tones, or harsh rhetoric make me distrustful; reasonable tones engender trust and can create illusions of truth)
  • I'm open to looking at whatever evidence there is, but right now we only seem to have the word of a pilot, and FBI statements which are anything reassuring, and not (in my view) reason enough to close the case.

    I think it's obvious that information is being withheld. While that doesn't prove that there was a missile attack, it justifies blogospheric scrutiny.

    And "blogospheric scrutiny," I hasten to add, is not a synonym for "paranoid conspiracy theorizing"!

    AFTERTHOUGHT: If American Airlines in fact employs commercial jetline pilots who confuse contrails with missiles, that doesn't speak well for the company.

    UPDATE: In response to his earlier post, Bill Quick has received an email from a passenger who didn't see anything, but who says another passenger claimed she did, and spoke to the FBI.

    The blogosphere is amazing, really. While the case isn't yet unclosed, Bill Quick is already ahead of the MSM (and perhaps even the FBI) in straightening out the misreported flight information.

    Let's see, according to Bill, they had "the wrong flight number, the wrong date, and the wrong time of day."

    Good job, Bill!

    (I'm starting to think that the official story may soon be disembunked . . .)

    UPDATE(12/07/05): Bill Quick has posted what may be a sort of final report on this matter -- in the form of an "email from Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines."

    - Flight #612 was at 13,000 feet altitude - 7-10 miles offshore.
    - Cloud ceiling was at 4-5,000 feet (someone on the ground or on a boat
    wouldn't have been able to see the aircraft)
    - Captain saw straight vertical rocket contrail up to about 6,000 feet
    - Rocket was approximately 3-4 miles away from flight #612
    - That equals a horizontal separation of about 4 miles and a vertical
    separation of well over a mile.
    - The captain never used the word "missile" and never believed the
    aircraft was a target of the rocket.
    That's a very different story from what was in the MSM, and my hat's off to Bill.

    I remain skeptical, of course, that we'll ever know exactly what happened.

    posted by Eric at 10:40 AM

    Insidious laws of nature

    Global Warming ain't my thing, folks. But I'm a skeptic, and when more and more people repeat a theory that they can't prove, and not enough skepticism is expressed on the other side, I feel obligated to say something. I'm no scientist, but I can still read words.

    The latest Global Warming scare story -- that the Gulf Stream is slowing and this could trigger an "Ice Age" -- is apparently based on some inconclusive readings taken by a research student working for professors Harry Bryden and Stuart Cunningham. The following is from Professor Bryden's press release:

    The Atlantic Ocean overturning that maintains Europe's moderate climate has slowed by 30 per cent according to scientists from the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton in research published today in Nature (Thursday, 1 December 2005).

    Professor Harry Bryden, Dr Stuart Cunningham and University of Southampton research student Hannah Longworth have been researching the flow of the Atlantic Ocean across latitude 25 degrees north - comparing measurements across the Atlantic taken in 2004 with records from 1957, 1981, 1992 and 1998. Ocean flow is measured in Sverdrups, equivalent to one million tonnes of water a second. The team estimate a decrease in the overturning from 20 Sv in earlier surveys to 14 Sv in 2004.

    Paul at Wizbang (after demonstrating that the assertions are bad science and worse logic) concludes that Bryden's claims are so shallow that they're not worth debunking.

    The problem is that these claims are repeated over and over, like a religious litany. And I am sick and tired of seeing them spun as scientific facts.

    While the Guardian recites the Bryden claims almost as holy writ, the BBC at least acknowledges that the research is unconfirmed and inconclusive, and that even if it is confirmed, it wouldn't prove the process was human-induced:

    The NOC researchers admit that the case is not yet proven.

    The analysis involves only five sets of measurements, made in 1957, 1981, 1992 and 1998 from ships, and in 2004 from a line of research buoys tethered to the ocean floor.

    Even if the trend is confirmed by further data, it could be down to natural variability rather than human-induced global temperature change.

    "This issue of variability is very important," said Harry Bryden, "and we do not have any good grasp of it.

    "Models can predict it, but we think we ought to go out and measure it."

    The Economist, while taking this seriously, nonetheless questions the timing of the inconclusive research's release:
    It is probably no coincidence that the editors of Nature, who are no slouches when it comes to publicity, have published Dr Bryden's paper in the week that a meeting in Montreal is reviewing the implementation of the Kyoto protocol on climate change. But even if Kyoto were implemented in full, it would not save the conveyor belt if it really is slowing down.
    If and if. That's a bit too iffy for me.

    As is the Global Warming theory -- which seems to be transformed into fact by a process of repetition more than anything else.

    What worries me about the spread of this latest idea (Global Warming can usher in an Ice Age) is that any temperature fluctuations at all -- up or down -- will tend to be seen as "proof."

    If it's too warm next year in London, why, obviously the cause will be Bush's Global Warming. If it's too cool, that's Bush's Global Warming Ice Age.

    This echoes Mickey Kaus' economic model, which might as well be called the Law of Insidious Despair:

    "It's indeed deeply disturbing to learn that higher gas prices have held down demand, causing those prices to fall back to a level at which demand begins to rise again! It's almost as if some insidious law was at work--as prices rise, demand declines! As supply increases, prices fall! You can't win!"
    Via Glenn Reynolds, who has more [from the WSJ Opinion Journal]:
    No matter what happens, no matter what data are released, no matter which way markets move, a pall of pessimism hangs over the economy.

    It is amazing. Everything is negative. When bond yields rise, it is considered bad for the housing market and the consumer. But if bond yields fall and the yield curve narrows toward inversion, that is bad too, because an inverted yield curve could signal a recession.

    Considering that the inverted yields of rising and falling of temperatures are at least as insidious as the inverted rising and falling of gas prices and bond yields, why not consolidate the entire analysis with a new unifying theory of insidious despair?

    Why not put economists in charge of Global Warming?

    Um, maybe because some economists might come along and apply an economic model to show that Global Warming is bogus:

    After four years of one of the most rigorous peer reviews ever, Canadian Ross McKitrick and another of us (Michaels) published a paper searching for "economic" signals in the temperature record. McKitrick, an economist, was initially piqued by what several climatologists had noted as a curiosity in both the U.N. and satellite records: statistically speaking, the greater the GDP of a nation, the more it warms. The research showed that somewhere around one-half of the warming in the U.N. surface record was explained by economic factors, which can be changes in land use, quality of instrumentation, or upkeep of records. This worldwide study added fuel to a fire started a year earlier by the University of Maryland's Eugenia Kalnay, who calculated a similar 50 percent bias due to economic factors in the U.S. records.

    So, to all who worry about global warming, to all who think that people threatening to blow up millions to get their political way is no big deal by comparison, chill out. The science is settled. The "skeptics" -- the strange name applied to those whose work shows the planet isn't coming to an end -- have won.

    Hmmm... Doesn't sound like a unified economic theory of gloom to me. So much for the Law of Insidious Despair.


    I still remember the good old days in California, when droughts were accompanied by heavy rains which caused flooding, and we were told that we were still in a drought -- despite the flood!

    Lucky for the people who wrote the Bible that Noah didn't live in California, or he'd have had to build his Ark to escape the Great Drought (now known to be caused by Global Warming).

    Hey wait a minute! They have Global Warming on Mars, don't they?

    That means that there's no room left for escapist dreaming, not even if Noah built his Ark this way:


    MORE: At the risk of sounding like a relativist, in terms of geologic time, the discussion of recent climate patterns is an exercise in frivolity:

    All of this discussion of extremely short term weather patterns is ridiculous, as our longest human recorded temperature measurements are comparable to a pixel sized dot on a large movie theatre-sized screen. Geologists routinely think in terms of hundreds of thousands of years when we look at weather patterns, like the ice ages.
    There's more there, including a 1970s prediction of an Ice Age....

    I will never forget my freshman Paleontology class at U.C. Berkeley in 1972. A professor who'd devoted a great deal of time to studying climate patterns said it was a mistake to predict an Ice Age, or to refer to it in the past tense, because in his view we were still in it, and that what we call the "Recent" period happens to be one of the warmer blips.

    (Not that people who are interested in the past few decades would be particularly concerned about Geologic Time.)

    MORE: Here's a link to similar Geologic relativism. I know that many sorts of collectivists seek to blame man for a whole host of climates, but the more they try and the louder they yell, the more I suspect that they're motivated by ambition and power. (Even science has been known to be influenced by such things....)

    posted by Eric at 11:41 AM | Comments (7)

    Public nudity and public sex are very private matters

    Bureaucrats at the University of Pennsylvania have a fascinating new definition of privacy. If you take your clothes off and have sex on the street in public, apparently that's still private, and anyone who takes your picture is chargeable with invasion of privacy.

    At least, that's what they were pushing for until Penn professor Alan Kors stepped in. Now Penn is dropping the charges:

    The University of Pennsylvania drew the curtains on the Rear Window affair yesterday, dropping a sexual-harassment complaint against a student who photographed the bare backside of another student as she and her paramour apparently had sex in full view of the street below.

    Free-speech advocates had blasted the university for attempting to discipline the photographer, an engineering major who snapped the picture of the naked pair sometime in September and then posted it on his personal Penn Web site. His defenders argued that if anyone were to be punished, it should have been the coupling couple for lewd behavior and indecent exposure.

    Penn officials would not say what prompted their quick reversal, but recent media attention and the sudden involvement of Penn history professor Alan Kors, a prominent free-speech activist, likely played a role.

    (More on Alan Kors and his fine organization. Check out the web site!)

    The most laughable aspect of the case is that the couple's faces weren't visible enough for them to be identifiable in the photos. Their "privacy" complaint is what's generated all this attention.

    The faces of the naked couple are not clear in any of the most infamous images. And because the university disciplinary process is confidential, Penn did not release the names of anyone involved in this case. Nonetheless, the female student's identity has become well-known on campus.

    "My client is emotionally shattered from what is an extremely disturbing ordeal," said Jordan Koko, her attorney. "There has been a public invasion into her personal life."

    The Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, obtained investigative documents this week showing that the Student Conduct Office originally concluded that the photographer had violated the school's sexual-harassment policy and other codes. The memos said he had invaded the complainant's privacy, caused her "serious distress" and created "an intimidating living environment."


    I guess this means that if I take my clothes off and run around naked, and people photograph me, I'll still be able to find some lawyer to sue for invasion of my "privacy."

    Under this, um, theory, would it be too much of a logical stretch to argue that a blogger who posted nude photos of himself or herself would have a cause of action against the blog readers for invasion of privacy?

    Why shouldn't a flasher be able sue his so-called victims?

    I mean, nudity is a very personal thing.

    How dare anyone look!

    MORE: As a couple of commenters pointed out, I screwed up my recitation of the facts. I should have said "If you take your clothes off and have sex in view of the street in public." My mistake.

    But I don't think there's much question about the public nature of the conduct of the people now claiming their privacy was invaded:

    The pictures were taken during broad daylight, with no telephoto lenses. Small crowds that included a number of people with cameras gathered to watch the couple, who repeated the act in front of the dorm-room window over several days, said Andrew Geier, a Penn graduate student who served as an adviser to the accused photographer during the run-up to disciplinary proceedings.

    "They chose deliberately not to be private," said Kors, who also represented the photographer. "Whether it was part of their thrill, I don't know."

    Doing it in a window in view of crowds gathering in a street below. It's not the same thing as doing it in the street, but I don't see much expectation of privacy in either.

    MORE: Here's a picture I took in Amsterdam:


    Hope that wasn't too voyeuristic!

    MORE: Whether my taking the Amsterdam photo was voyeuristic or not, I've tracked down what purports to be the actual photo which got the student into trouble:


    (Not too shocking for the student newspaper to publish.)

    AND MORE: I should add that I'd have never gotten so far into this had I not been corrected by my commenters! If I made more mistakes like this, I might have more fun. (Which is no defense to making mistakes, of course. . .)

    MORE: Under Pennsylvania law, the conduct of the students in the window might be seen as "open lewdness":

    Title 18 Section 5901, Open lewdness. A person commits a misdemeanor of the third degree if he does any lewd act which he knows is likely to be observed by others who would be affronted or alarmed.
    On the other hand, it's hard to make a case that the crowd of observers was affronted or alarmed.

    UPDATE (12/07/05): I don't think that aiming a telephoto lens from a mile away is remotely comparable to what happened here, because from that distance there is a legitimate anticipation of privacy. (Via InstaPundit.)

    posted by Eric at 08:15 AM | Comments (10)

    Herd of cats' pajamas?

    I was happy with Pajamas Media. I was then happy with Open Source Media. I am again happy with Pajamas Media. Yes, still!

    To understand why, read this post by Vanderleun. Excerpt:

    If you call and say you're from something called "Pajamas Media," that is a perfect formula for never, ever getting the appointment or even the call returned. "Pajamas Media" is a spiffy little name, a quaint handle, a warm notion, and above all two words that have "inconsequential" stamped across them in bright red letters. Sometimes you have to let the things of childhood go in order to make your way in the real world and to get a chance to run with the big dogs. Much in the way that kids get upset when you take a toy away, so a bunch of bloggers were upset a name rich in nostalgia but little else has to get put away. They were upset in less time than it takes a knee to jerk and that knee has kept on twitching. You might say that the group could have gone forward and, by God, made those big advertisers pay attention no matter how funky the name. Perhaps. But in general nothing is impossible to those who don't have to pay the bills, find the revenue, and do the work.

    On a certain level, I'd offer those who ate the chicken, listened to Judith Miller blather about how great in bed the newspaper that betrayed her still is, and drank the Kool Aid at the W Hotel a steaming hot cup of that classic blog beverage, STFU. But they're bloggers and bitching is what they do. You might herd cats but that doesn't mean you'll ever change them.

    And who would want to? Nobody sane at Open Source Media. And because they're so not sane, they've done the perfect akido move in the blogsphere and gone back to their Pajamas. Adios Open Source, we hardlly knew ye. I guess big media will just have to get used to it. Do you Yahoo? Do you Pajamas? Are we not men? No, we are Pajamas! We shall just push this flannel rock up the slope again and again.

    Via Dean Esmay, who seems to be as much against blogger elitism as I am.

    I'm an absolute moral relativist about these things, though. I'll wear a suit while telling the MSM assholes I'm proud of the pajamas I don't own. I care enough to not care.

    What's the definition of blogger elitism, anyway? I'm pretty sure I could manage to fail whatever test might be required. (Certainly, I'm no celebrity blogger, I act against my own interest and then brag about it, I consciously violate many of the rules I've read about what it takes to succeed in blogging, and I probably violate the rest unconsciously.) As long as they don't define blogger elitism as forcing yourself to post something every goddamn day regardless of how you feel, I think I'm in the clear.

    I'm glad Pajamas Media, Open Source Media, Pajamas Media is showing some daring, genuine, initiative. There's no pleasing people who hate elitism, though, and there's no pleasing people who love elitism either.

    That's the sort of duality which pleases and intrigues me.

    MORE: I also read Jim Lowney's excellent post (which wouldn't open earlier). I saw nothing which made me feel any differently or which really seemed to contradict what I said. (But I'm not truly open, and I don't have a solid business plan.)

    posted by Eric at 04:08 PM

    Right to Life? Sometimes!

    I'm really confused today.

    Justin's post about "assisted" reproduction has me all in a dither, both morally and intellectually, because I want to follow the natural law wherever I can find it, but first I have to find it, then analyze it, and then I get all worried about things like logic and the Constitution and stuff...

    I guess I should start by asking, What is assisted reproduction? Is that in contrast to unassisted reproduction?

    I'm a little confused, because I thought that the people who are opposing assisted reproduction also had a problem with contraception (which is "assisted" prevention of reproduction -- i.e. assisted non-reproduction).

    So, apparently, is isn't reproduction per se that they're either for or against, but the assistance of it either way. Can't help it, can't hurt it. The federal government must (in their view) be used to prevent people from having assistance with either reproduction or non-reproduction.

    Well, to a point. Only married people get assistance. Unmarried people, you're on your own.

    If I take the broad, general view of this complex matter, it strikes me that all reproduction is, by definition, assisted. Barring parthenogenesis, one cannot reproduce on one's own. What is required is the assistance of either a member of the opposite sex, or a third party to assist or facilitate the process in one way or another. If a woman wants to have a baby, the easiest way for her to do that is to locate a man to assist reproduction. That kind of assistance, it seems, they would allow. But if the woman either doesn't want a man to assist her by means of penile-vaginal intercourse, or if that tried and true technique has failed to effect reproduction, then they see a problem.

    (A problem, apparently, requiring a federal government solution. I'd love to know just where the Constitution gives such a broad grant of authority, but for now I want to see this argument through. . .)

    The demand is that federal law require that the woman be married before she can be assisted by any third party other than a man she might persuade to engage in ordinary assisted reproduction (a.k.a. heterosexual sexual intercourse). Beyond that, they want the entire "assisted reproduction" process to be federally regulated, even for married couples.

    I take it that the goal here must be primarily to encourage marriage. But not by all. Unmarried women would still be free to engage in assisted reproduction by having sexual intercourse with as many men as they might choose, as much as they might want. But, because medically normal women would be barred by the federal government from escaping sexual intercourse unless they were married, the federal government would essentially be creating a new requirement -- that unmarried women must submit to male penetration in order to have children.

    (Gee. I wonder if the founders realized they were giving the federal government such vast powers. . .)

    Moving to the unmarried but medically abnormal women (those with fertility problems), the federal government would similarly not allow them the right to assistance unless they were married. The goal, I assume, must be to encourage marriage. But again, not by all. Unmarried women who couldn't have children would find the foot of the federal government planted firmly in their vaginas. I'm assuming that the public policy interest involves discouraging childbirth among unmarried women with fertility issues, but I think this is a pretty small portion of the unmarried, and I'm wondering how much money would really be saved this way.

    But wait a minute! If the goal of the people who are against assisted reproduction is really to stop reproduction by the unmarried, why are they limiting their effort to such a small portion of the unmarried?

    Or might this be a foot in the door approach? (I'd say "foot in the vagina" but that sounds dirty and besides, I already said it once.) I'm troubled by an apparent inconsistency, because so many of the same people are also against the prevention of pregnancies by unmarried women.

    OK. They don't want them to get pregnant. That I can handle. But, if they also don't want them to not get pregnant, what's going on?

    What am I missing?

    I'm having difficulty with following how they can be against assisted prevention, but also against assisted non-prevention, unless the idea is to just be against all assistance.

    Sheesh! Next they'll be against assisted living.

    Nah, that can't be right, because many of the same people were all for Terri Schiavo's right to life.

    Hey, don't get me wrong. I was all for Terri's right to live too, despite the fact that her life was assisted by feeding tubes and IV lines.

    But wait! They also want to have the federal government stop people from having assistance to prolong their lives. (Like assisted reproduction, some life extension is good! But other life extension is bad!)

    What makes some people think they should be in charge of other people's assistance?

    I'd rather leave people alone. I guess we should be lucky the Constitution is supposed to do that.

    Once again, I think atheists and believers should join in common prayer:


    I hasten to add that the people on what's often called the "other side" of this debate also have no problem with a role for the federal government. If they had their way, assisted reproduction would not only be a "right," but since rights are defined not as rights but as obligations, this "right" would require that the federal government (the taxpayers, of course) pay for reproductive assistance. Thus, limiting these arguments to the merits unwittingly enables another foot in the door by presuming federal jurisdiction. (Which is why I think the Constitution deserved at least a mention.)

    MORE: Speaking of bioethics and (gasp!) values, Almost Girl (who works for a medical ethicist) has a fascinating post called "A Question of Values" in which she asks whether fashion is just as important as, well, medical ethics:

    I do work in ethics and morals, the deepest root of what makes us human and yet I don’t consider it intrinsically more worthwhile than writing fashion copy or putting together a good poto shoot. Why? Because helping people dress themselves, express themselves, learn to appreciate their own beauty adds just as much to life as curing disease. I spent the better part of my high school years seriously ill and what I took from that experience as I struggled to get to college is that we need to appreciate the things in life that make it more worthwhile. Even as I lay in bed I took joy in the beauty of my town, music, clothing that made my life more functional. I don’t know why we don’t appreciate fashion as something socially worthwhile. Is it some residual sexism from the fact that fashion is primarily the domain of women? Do we not value their work? Do we think that fashion is only populated with self indulgent women who do it for superficial reasons? Heck, I even support some of those superficial reasons! We all need clothes! What is wrong with providing the world with better clothing, helping people dress better, or bringing out better style in the world?
    Not only is there nothing wrong with fashion, it hurts no one, and it's obviously helpful to some people. Certainly it's far more helpful, I think, than the regulation of assisted reproduction.

    (And fortunately, the Constitution prevents the federal government from regulating fashion.)

    posted by Eric at 09:40 AM | Comments (4)

    "Terrorism is way down at the bottom"

    A remarkable new meme (first widely promulgated by Michael Moore, then sanitized by a Nobel econonist) is that driving is more dangerous than terrorism:

    The body count from road accidents in developed economies is 390 times higher than the death toll in these countries from international terrorism, says a study appearing in a specialist journal, Injury Prevention. In 2001, as many people died every 26 days on American roads as died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it says.

    Researchers led by Nick Wilson of Otago University, New Zealand, trawled through a US State Department database of deaths caused by international terrorism, and compared this with an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development database on road crash deaths among 29 OECD countries.

    Gee, I never would have known! When I was a kid, the United States death rate from accidents was over 50,000 a year. American deaths in the Vietnam War totaled 57,000, and for many years, more Americans died on the road per year than had died in the entire Vietnam War.

    Now it takes two years.

    Obviously, traffic is more dangerous than Vietnam-style quagmires, so we'd better adjust our priorities accordingly. As today's "experts" say,

    "Policymakers need to be aware of this when allocating resources to preventing these two avoidable causes of mortality."
    Not that there's any difference between accidents and deliberate attacks.

    I prefer the "way down at the bottom" view of the Nobel economist:

    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.
    Obviously, we should start treat terrorism like any other accident. If planes get hijacked and flown into buildings, why, that's what insurance companies are for. Buildings should be built in a more terrorist-proof fashion. Or not at all. When a terrorist attacks, he should should simply be asked to provide his insurance card, just like everyone else. And if he isn't insured, well, lots of drivers aren't insured either.

    Accidents will happen. And thanks to this study, we now have scientific proof that terrorism isn't as bad as accidents.

    So get over it.

    MORE: I note that the author of this "study" is a New Zealand epidemiologist with a lot of expertise in getting people to quit smoking, and going after the evil tobacco industry. I know that smoking kills a lot of people, and I'm wondering why he didn't say the tobacco industry was also more dangerous than terrorism.

    Probably just an oversight. Or maybe he didn't think tobacco use was accidental.


    No, that can't be right, because he blames the tobacco companies. And terrorism isn't accidental either.

    Or is it?

    Sorry I don't get it, but I'll never understand all this statistical stuff.

    MORE: Dr. Wilson also specializes in "global climate change," (which Nobel economist Schelling stated was a bigger concern than terrorism), and he has proposed "carbon taxes" ("particularly in developed countries") as well as methane taxes (no, really) on animal flatulence. Additionally, he asserts that "higher fuel taxes reduce motor vehicle crash fatalities." Here's an excerpt from the study he cites:

    Economists view taxes as a more efficient means of reducing the consumption of a product than regulation. They have therefore suggested raising cigarette and alcohol taxes to reduce the undesirable effects of tobacco and alcohol on the public's health. This essay suggests that a gasoline tax can have similar beneficial influences on reducing highway deaths and injuries. Moreover, if some proceeds of the tax are used to finance mass transit, the regressivity of the tax can be ameliorated.
    Leaving aside the logic of contrasting taxation with regulation, how about just let's just tax the hell out of the terrorists?

    posted by Eric at 07:41 AM | Comments (1)

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