It's all geek to me

A Geek I am not. At least, I'm not supposed to be a Geek.

But last night I took Newsweek's How Geeky Are You? test (via Dr. Helen Smith), and I find the results deeply disturbing.

According to the test, here's how I scored:

61 to 102: Seriously Nerdy
And here's how the rest of the world compares to me:
  • 0 to 29: Stuck in the Last Century - 57%
  • 30 to 60: Heading to Geekdom -- 38%
  • 61 and up: Seriously Nerdy -- 5%
  • Seriously nerdy? Moi? And in the top 5% of nerddom?

    Impossible and unfair! But when I clicked on my score below and "hit 'submit' to compare yourself to others" it compared me to the 26589 responses they've received so far.

    I had thought my Geekdom (or lack thereof) was well settled, because nearly three years ago I took this Geek test and reported the results, which didn't show I was all that geeky or all that nerdy, but rather well balanced!

    Here; I'll report the results again, for all the world to see.

    You are 24% geek
    OK, so maybe you ain't a geek. You do, at least, show a bit of interest in the world around you. Either that, or you have enough of a sense of humor to pick some of the sillier answers on the test. Regardless, you're probably a pretty nifty, well-rounded person who gets along fine with people and can chat with just about anyone without fear of looking stupid or foolish or overly concerned with minutiae. God, I hate you.

    Take the Polygeek Quiz at

    (Link courtesy of Common Sense and Wonder.)

    At the time, I said the word "Geek" was bothersome:

    I don't like the word "Geek" -- as it is often confused with "Greek." This causes all kinds of confusion, especially with the young and impressionable...
    But forget the definitions! I want to know how I became such a Geek, such a Nerd, whatever it is, in just three years!

    I hope blogging doesn't do this to people.

    posted by Eric at 06:51 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    Fascist-free speech is fascist free speech?

    While I'm on the subject of books, Jeff from Beautiful Atrocities reminded me in the comments of something that he, Sean Kinsell and I had posted about before -- that San Francisco's City Lights doesn't sell books by fascists.


    I don't know why it took me so long to think of this, but I have one question:

    What about Ezra Pound?

    (Pound is not new topic on this blog, but this is purely a fascist-free-speech question.)

    While Ezra Pound has to be considered a quintessential fascist by definition (the man avoided trial for treason by commitment to a mental hospital), apparently City Lights makes an exception to it's "We don't carry books by fascists" rule if the fascists are leaders of a particular literary tradition. I'm not sure quite how this exception to the City Lights Rule works, so I was forced to look for guidance in the various pontifications of City Lights' founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

    In an interview with Jeff Troiano, Ferlinghetti condemns fascism as a threat to free speech:

    Freedom of speech is always under attack by Fascist mentality, which exists in all parts of the world, unfortunately.
    I think Ferlinghetti is absolutely right on that account. The anti-Danish rioting over the Muhammad cartoons is a classic example. (Which means City Lights probably supports the Danish cartoonists in their struggle against fascism, right?)

    While the fascism Ferlinghetti opposes the most appears to be Bush fascism ("American corporate monoculture" is presided over by Bush's "bandits" and "international criminals"), he proudly mentions his long association with Pound's leading publisher:

    How do you envision the future of publishing? E-books?

    The future of publishing lies with the small and medium-sized presses, because the big publishers in New York are all part of huge conglomerates. The real literary editors have mostly been fired. Those that remain are all "bottom line" editors; everything depends on the money. New Directions, who's been my publisher since they published my book A Coney Island of the Mind> in 1958, is a rare exception. They were the first to report on and publish poets like Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, Tennessee Williams—a huge list of important American, as well as European, writers. New Directions is still going strong, and they're still not a part of any corporate conglomerate.

    I guess the important thing is that Pound wasn't associated with a "corporate conglomerate."

    Over the Fourth of July weekend in 2003, Ferlinghetti attended the Ezra Pound Conference (held in honor of Pound in his native Idaho) where he read gave a poetry reading:

    Taking advantage of the Idahoan connections, the 20th International Ezra Pound Conference takes place in Sun Valley over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Scholars and students from 10 different countries will attend the meeting to discuss Pound's life and work. Two eminent and accomplished American poets, Robert Creeley and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, will join them.

    Four conference events are open to the public. Both Creeley and Ferlinghetti will give public readings of their work. On July 2, Creeley reads in the Continental Room in the Sun Valley Inn at 8:15 p.m. Ferlinghetti reads also in the Continental Inn on July 3 at 8:15 p.m.

    Now that's cool! I like honoring authentic fascists as opposed to the Bushitler McHalliburton ReChimplican wannabes.

    But they have to tone it down. Please! Image. Context.

    Which means that Pound's fascism has to be seen in, um, context:

    Despite his Fascist leanings during World War II, he helped define and promote a modernist sensibility in poetry.
    Pound may be a fascist, but his "sensibility" is "modern."

    And that's what's important. Elaborating on Pound's modernist sensibility at City Lights' website, Ferlinghetti describes Pound as part of an important movement:

    The attack had indeed begun much earlier, with Whitman's "barbaric yawp," and was carried forward by the American lingo of poets like W.C. Williams, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings, further aided and abetted after World War II by poets of the Black Mountain School--Robert Creeley, Charles Olson--who were in tune with what the New York abstract expressionists--de Kooning and Kline and Motherwell and Pollock--were doing in their spontaneous gestural action painting.

    Today, raw thought as poetry is everywhere, at every festival, every open mike, every poetry slam, from rap to hip-hop and back--black and white and Latino poets and the latest youth movement poets, from the Nuyorican Cafe to Wednesdays at La Peña in Berkeley, and on Youth Radio on FM stations late at night.

    In the autumn of our civilization, the poets of the world are speaking up and speaking their mind.

    Fine. OK. I have no problem seeing Pound as part of modernism. Hell, he may be part of post-modernism. My problem is that the man was an unapologetic, unreconstructed fascist, and this is being ignored by people who not only claim that refuse to sell books by fascists, but who complain that free speech is under attack by fascists!

    This is a bit much.

    Then there's Ferlinghetti's own poem -- "Baseball Canto," -- described as being "as much about Pound and his influence as it is about the epic nature and forces embedded in the game of baseball." It begins:

    Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,

    reading Ezra Pound

    and wishing that Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the

    Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto

    and demolish the barbarian invaders

    I know I'm starting to belabor the point, but Ferlinghetti's attachment to Pound is itself an exercise in belaboring the point. Here's Ferlinghetti interviewed by Ernest Beyl:
    I am working on a documentary poem now called "Americus." It's modeled on Ezra Pound's "Cantos."

    And if you don't like it, GO POUND SAND!

    UPDATE: I see that last month, Common Sense and Wonder noted City Lights' Ezra Pound connection. (What took me so long?)

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

    Free speech is one thing in books, but another in our bookstore!

    In what the magazine says is a historical first, major bookstore chains are refusing to sell a particular issue of Free Inquiry magazine -- not because it is violent, pornographic or advocates illegal conduct, but simply because they do not like its editorial content. (The magazine dared to reprint the Danish Muhammad cartoons -- only the subject of one of the biggest news stories to come along in the past couple of years.)

    Roger L. Simon, Charles Johnson, and Ed Driscoll have more on this step backwards.

    I completely agree with Glenn Reynolds' characterization:

    Advancing toward fascism, one cowardly institution at a time.

    The Buffalo News has more on the story, including a report that Barnes & Noble "expressed some concerns" and that Free Inquiry isn't available there either:

    This week, a Canada-based distributor of Free Inquiry informed editors that Borders would not sell the latest issue in its stores.

    Beth Bingham, a company spokeswoman, confirmed that Wednesday.

    "We feel strongly for the safety and security of our employees and customers," Bingham said.

    She said the company operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.

    The Borders stores usually stock as many as 1,000 copies of Free Inquiry, and the chain typically is the magazine's largest newsstand retailer, said Tom Flynn, editor.

    Barnes & Noble, the magazine's second-largest retailer, also expressed some concerns about the April-May issue, printed March 16, Flynn said. A distributor told Flynn more than a week ago that the chain was reviewing the magazine, but the issue so far has not been refused, he said.

    The magazine hadn't become available as of Wednesday at the Barnes & Noble stores on Transit Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard stores in Amherst, which usually carry Free Inquiry. Company officials could not be reached to comment.

    Flynn said he was disappointed by what he described as "exaggerated concerns" that were not in the best interests of readers.

    Such "exaggerated concerns" are, however, in the best interest of those who believe in blowing things up in order to be listened to.


    He noted that publication of the cartoons in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Austin American-Statesman had not provoked any violent response in the United States.

    "This is the first time any retailer has declined to carry one of our issues because of content," he said.

    Bingham said she did not know whether Borders stores in Philadelphia and Austin had refused to sell those newspapers on the day the cartoons ran.

    That same question occurred to me earlier, but I'm quite sure they sold the Inquirer on that day. (It was a Saturday surprise, and I doubt Borders -- or Barnes & Noble as the case may be -- saw it coming.)

    I think everyone in the blogosphere who cares about these things should go order a copy here.

    UPDATE (03/31/06): Samizata's Dale Amon urges that we BOYCOTT BORDERS:

    I recommend anyone who decides to quit Borders not simply stop going. You should make one last appearance and tell them why you will not be back. If you prefer a carrot approach, tell them what they could do to win the return of you and others like you.
    (Via InstaPundit, who also links to another hell of a good letter to Borders.)

    (My local Barnes & Noble is across the street from my local Borders, which makes it effortless to boycott the latter.)

    UPDATE: I just sent the following letter to Borders' Public Relations Manager Beth Bingham (who is quoted above):

    Ms. Beth Bingham
    Public Relations Manager
    Borders Group, Inc.


    Dear Ms. Bingham:

    As a longtime Borders customer, I am appalled by your company's decision to ban the sale of Free Inquiry because of the magazine's content. As you know, your stores carried the magazine routinely, but have specifically refused the latest issue because it includes the Danish Muhammad cartoons -- perfectly legal material the subject of which goes to the very heart of free speech and our democratic traditions.

    As a reason for banning the magazine, you stated that "we feel strongly for the safety and security of our employees and customers." That statement makes it perfectly clear that you are allowing threats (or perceived threats) of violence to dictate content. Under the logic which you have proffered, any group -- whether a racist group, an anti-gay group, or a radical environmental or animal rights group -- ought to now feel encouraged to issue violent threats in order to have literature it does not like pulled from the shelves. How does such a result in any way promote "safety"?

    If there was a genuine threat of violence, why didn't Borders simply contact the police or FBI before complying with the demands? I think Borders' conduct does a disservice to its customers as well as the cause of free speech.

    If a leading bookstore cannot appreciate the value of free speech, perhaps it can appreciate the value of customer goodwill. You have lost mine.

    Unless I am assured that Borders' policy has been changed I will buy my books elsewhere.


    Eric Scheie

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

    Felons or citizens? (Good cop, bad cop?)

    I'm beginning to understand why the MSM is disinclined to show things like Mexican flags on flagpoles or signs claiming that the Southwest belongs to Mexico.

    In a previous post I questioned the advisability of creating millions of new felons. Earlier today I googled the phrase "12 million new felons," and found only one article using the term, in the Indiana Daily Student:

    The United States could potentially have 12 million new felons or 12 million new citizens, depending on two sets of immigration reform legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

    Congress, the nation and the IU community are currently taking up the debate whether to follow Monday's Senate Judiciary Committee proposal, which would create a guest worker program and presents a path toward citizenship for many illegal immigrants already in the country. On the other hand is the option to go along with the more hard-line lead of a bill the House passed last December, which strengthens border security and would make illegal immigration a felony offense.

    "Everyone can agree that our immigration policy is broken," said John Nieto-Phillips, associate professor of history and Latino studies. "There are more people who want to work than there are visas."

    Yeah, we all agree that the system is broken, but there's no consensus on what to do about it. Blah blah blah.

    Before I get into the political considerations, let me elaborate on why I oppose the Sensenbrenner bill. I know it's tough to speculate about precisely how these things might play out, but what would be the consequences of having twelve million new felons (plus their non-alien supporters)? For starters, even though they're here and many of them have been here for years, they would never be allowed to vote, serve in the military, or immigrate to the United States. The felony classification would mean a readjustment of police priorities, because felonies are treated as high-priority matters. Suddenly, illegal alien status would become a more urgent matter than any misdemeanor.

    The felon status might also change the nature of personal interactions between citizens and non-citizens. If the latter got into a car accident with the former, would the dynamics of accident reporting be changed? (Saying "Officer, that man is a felon!" carries more clout than saying that he ran the red light, as police officers are not allowed to ignore felonies.)

    Then there's the "fleeing felon rule," which traditionally allowed officers (and often bystanders) to use lethal force to stop a fleeing felon. Since 1985, lethal force has not been allowed, so I don't think people would be authorized to shoot aliens for running away. But felony status would increase the number of what police call "felony stops."

    I could play devil's advocate with this (and I know a good case can be made for the bill) but my concern is that the creation of 12 million new felons (with God-knows how many accomplices) is not something to be taken lightly.

    Does anyone know well this might play with the voters? I haven't seen the polls. But after thinking it over, I am inclined to think that the draconian Sensenbrenner bill will help the Republicans -- provided it does not actually pass.

    I'll try to explain.

    Some have asked whether the felon bill is "threatening to undercut a decade-long effort by President Bush and his party to court Hispanic voters, just as both parties are gearing up for the 2006 elections." There's the obvious argument that it will galvanize the Republican base, but on the other hand passage of it might give the Democrats something to run against. ("The Republicans are going to imprison your entire family!")

    What happens in November depends on a lot of things. As things stand, even if the hardline Sensenbrenner felony bill doesn't prevail, as long as the immigration issue stays alive, I think the Republicans will be seen as the party that at least tried to do something (and thus, would be more likely to do something in the future).

    Recent polls show that the supposedly embattled Arnold Schwarzenegger is suddenly doing pretty well. Although Arnold is not a hard-liner on immigration by Republican standards, immigration is now a major issue, and his past remark that the border should be closed may have resonated in his favor. Today's LA Times says that the recent protests "reshape the governor's race":

    A poll released today by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that illegal immigration has emerged as the top concern among Republicans in the state and the second most important among all of those surveyed. With the exception of education, the subjects that all three candidates have embraced have fallen behind.

    The governor has not entirely ignored illegal immigration. He offered support for the civilian Minuteman border-patrol group last year and said California should "close the border," a comment he quickly rescinded.

    On Tuesday, he outlined his views on immigration in an opinion piece in The Times. He endorsed a guest-worker program to help California businesses and argued against "criminalizing immigrants for coming here," though he also said that making citizens out of all illegal immigrants in the United States would be "anarchy."

    I agree that it is a stupid idea to make citizens of people who came here illegally.

    The fact that the "choice" is seen as being between citizenship and felony status is almost as absurd as asking people to choose between sodomy laws and gay marriage. It only shows how hugely polarizing the issue is. And while a majority of Americans might not want to imprison 12 million people who have crossed the border illegally, that does not mean they want their conduct rewarded. Americans were hugely pissed off to begin with, and now that they've seen the angry demonstrations by people with no right to be here, they're in no mood for rewarding illegal behavior.

    The Sensenbrenner bill allows the Republicans to play good cop/bad cop. Come November, they can take all the credit for taking a hard line on immigration, and if it fails, they won't have to face the tough questions about tearing families apart and putting people in jail.

    At the risk of sounding like the cynical Machiavellian I sometimes am, I think the Republicans will be helped by the Sensenbrenner bill -- as long as it never becomes law.

    By far the best way would be to get the Democrats to kill it, or at least be seen as killing it.

    Hillary Clinton was off to a good start when she denounced the Sensenbrenner as being likely to lead to a "police state." And she did even better with last week's criminalize Jesus remark. But since the Mexican flags and the Reconquista stuff, she's been much too silent. Tim Graham says the "police state" remark is now being downplayed. What's the matter? Can't she be annointed as the Sensenbrenner bill killer?

    And what's up with Karl Rove? Can't he do a better job of making sure that Indymedia and wave the "Reconquista" signs and Mexican flags? Why is so damned silent about the immigration issue? (Well, at least Indymedia hasn't been sleeping on the job, but I'm disappointed in How about Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore? Where are they now that the undocumented need them?

    If the Democrats are to be seen as killing the bill, the Republicans will have to work harder.

    Right now it's looking as though the Senate Republicans are going to kill the Sensenbrenner bill by burying it in a lack of consensus.

    (I guess that's a form of cood cop/bad cop.)

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus begins by noting Paul Krugman's observation ("high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration") and thinks the ball should be in the Democrats' camp:

    Krugman is clearly way off the PC/Dem/elite legalization reservation here. Republican Tony Blankley noticed. But will the Left? ... P.S.: The effect of immigrants in driving down the wages of unskilled African-American men is not just an economic question. It's a profound social question. Only by offering a decent living through legitimate work will we have a chance of integrating the large segment--maybe almost half--of the black male populations that's currently spinning off into a separate, destructive, "left behind" culture (even as black women are joining the regular labor force in record numbers). Where's the Congressional Black Caucus?
    All good questions.

    I'm not expecting answers.

    AND MORE: Also via Glenn Reynolds, McQ at QandO thinks border control should come first. Yes, and it should have come first long ago. It's the one thing on which there's overwhelming popular (as opposed to political) consensus.

    UPDATE (03/31/06): Sean Kinsell (while "of two minds" on how far to go with enforcement) also sees a backlash as a likely result of the recent demonstrations:

    If the purpose of the demonstrations over the last few weeks was to win over Middle America, I'm thinking there were some serious miscalculations. Waving the Mexican flag or painting your face in its colors is a poor way to indicate your loyalty to the US. And thronging the streets of LA in the hundreds of thousands is...I mean, only the Blue City liberals who recall 60s-era demonstrations fondly as opportunities for The People to Speak Truth to Power are likely to be moved to sympathize, and they're already on the side of illegal aliens, anyway.
    The demonstrations will resonate in favor of the Republicans as will the immigration issue if it continues to receive media coverage. (Which means maybe it won't.)

    posted by Eric at 01:24 PM | Comments (2)

    Reconquista Si, Texas no!

    A typical argument often advanced in favor of the so-called "Reconquista" plan is that the annexation of the southwestern United States was unjust:

    The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was fought primarily to enable the United States to expand at the expense of Mexico. Texas became the focal point of hostilities between an expansionist United States and a recently independent Mexico. Increasingly dominated by white immigrants from the United States, Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836. This short-lived Texas republic sought U.S. protection against Mexico and possible interference from the British or other European powers.

    At the urging of President James K. Polk, Congress approved the annexation of Texas on March 1, 1845. Polk also sent representatives to Mexico to negotiate the purchase of what are today New Mexico and California, but the Mexicans refused and both sides sent troops to the Texas-Mexico border. U.S. forces, led by future President Zachary Taylor, provoked an incident with the Mexican army, and Polk quickly obtained a declaration of war from Congress on May 13, 1846. In August 1847, after 15 months of fighting, the Mexican Government accepted a temporary armistice and began to negotiate a permanent peace settlement with Polk's personal representative, Chief Clerk of the Department of State Nicholas P. Trist. After the Mexican delegation rejected U.S. proposals for a settlement, the armistice was terminated on September 7. The war was won decisively by the United States, culminating with the capture of Mexico City about 1 week later.

    I have to assume that the above is the official history of the United States, because it's right there at the United States State Department web site.

    The problem is, a few details are being left out. The State Department's paltry history of Texas implies that the whole thing was a quick land-grab and the Texas Republic a short-lived fraud.

    Here's another account:

    Texas remained an independent republic for almost a decade. Although Texas formally asked to become part of the United States, the American government hesitated. Mexico had made it clear that annexing Texas to the Union would be equivalent to the declaration of war. But on December 29, 1845, President John Tyler signed the bill to admit Texas to the Union as the last act of his administration. Mexico broke relations with the United States.

    James K. Polk, who had strongly advocated annexation of Texas and expansionism in general, followed Tyler as President. Polk sent John Slidell, Minister of Mexico, to negotiate, offering to cancel a series of debts if Mexico recognized the Rio Grande as the border between the two countries. Slidell also tried to buy the territories of New Mexico and California.

    In turn, Mexico asked the United States to reconsider annexing Texas if it admitted Slidell to negotiations. The United States refused, Mexico declined to talk with Slidell, and Polk ordered troops to the disputed border.

    General Zachary Taylor with 4,000 men arrived near Corpus Christi along the Rio Grande in late January 1846. The Mexicans regarded it as an invasion of their territory and threatened to attack if the United States did not remove its troops.

    The American troops stayed along the mouth of the Rio Grande, waiting for Mexico to begin hostilities to initiate the war. In April 1846, during a small encounter between American and Mexican troops, several American soldiers were killed. President Polk convened Congress and announced: "American blood has been shed on American soil." The United States officially declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846.

    The war lasted two years with the Mexican Army suffering huge losses. General Zachary Taylor's forces moved south from Texas to capture Monterrey. On February 22, 1847, Taylor's troops marched from Monterrey to Buena Vista and defeated Santa Anna's men, who outnumbered the American force three to one.

    It strikes me that the State Department ought to at least mention that Mexico broke relations over the admission of Texas to the United States. I mean, isn't the breaking of diplomatic relations supposed to be State Department "turf"? Futhermore, once Texas was admitted as a state and Mexico broke relations, wouldn't the dispatching of troops to the border be the sort of thing to be expected?

    The State Department clearly conveys the image of a huge power invading and crushing helpless defenders. Yet the Americans were fighting in a foreign country and outnumbered three to one. Isn't that worth a mention? Isn't it worth a mention that the war began when Mexican General Mariano Arista's troops crossed the Rio Grande into Texas and ambushed a U.S. Patrol? That the first major battle of the War of 1848 took place in Palo Alto, Texas, eight miles north of the Rio Grande?

    It seems to me that if the admission of Texas to the United States was legitimate, then the United States was at least obliged to defend it.

    Does the State Department feel the same way? Well, how does the State Department feel?

    While it's tough to determine the feelings of a bureaucracy, reading the rest of the history they give, the tone seems to be one of remorse:

    Although ordered by Polk to return to Washington, Trist remained in Mexico and carried out unauthorized talks with Mexican representatives in late 1847. These meetings formed the basis for the final peace treaty, also negotiated by Trist. Although Polk refused to acknowledge or compensate Trist, he grudgingly accepted the agreement and submitted it to the Senate for ratification. The February 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (named for a town outside Mexico City) signaled Mexico's surrender and finalized the purchase of New Mexico and California for $15 million.

    This conflict had several long-term results: First, it largely completed the continental republic; other than the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, the borders of what would become the lower 48 states were set in 1848. Second, the war spawned a legacy of antagonism between the United States and Mexico that exists even today. Third, through the protests of Henry David Thoreau (of Walden Pond fame) and others, the conflict with Mexico sparked one of the early anti-war movements in the United States. It also helped revive contentious debates over the expansion of slavery into the American West.

    I don't think it's my responsibility to contradict my own State Department, but I think it's fair to point out that not all accounts view the war as solely a racist land-grab by greedy Americans:
    Since end of the U.S.-Mexican War, historians have been divided in their interpretations. Some have held the United States cupable. Others blame Mexico. Studies of the literature reveal the majority of writers have taken a balanced view, holding neither country entirely blameless. Despite the fact that there is no hard evidence to support their views, those who blame the U.S. claim that the war was a "shameless land-grab" brought on by the intrigues of President James K. Polk or that it was part of some sinister plot on the part of the so-called "Slavocracy" to extend slavery. These unfounded arguments are nothing new. They are the same ones used by nineteenth century Whig politicians in their attempts to discredit President Polk. The truth is more simple: The war was fought to defend the right of a free people, namely the citizens of the Republic of Texas, to determine their own destiny, that is to join the American union of states. This was a right that the government of Mexico sought to deny them.

    Opposition to the war has often been exaggerated. Only a few outspoken Whig politicians, such as John Quincy Adams, were against it. At the time of the war another oft-cited critic, the writer Henry David Thoreau, was virtually unknown outside his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. Most Americans enthusiastically supported the war. Approximately 75,000 men eagerly enlisted in volunteer regiments raised by the various states. Thousands more enlisted in the regular U.S. Army. There was no need for a draft. In some places, so many men flocked to recruiting stations that large numbers had to be turned away. Thousands of newly-arrived Irish and German immigrants also heeded the call to arms. (Emphasis in original.)

    I haven't studied the War of 1848 as I should have, but I'm fascinated by the Texas aspect, because that was the war's triggering event. Texas history goes to the crux of the matter.

    For nearly ten years, Texas was an independent country with disputed borders. Its national sovereignty was given diplomatic recognition by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Yucatán. (Interestingly, there was much unrest in Mexico and Yucatán was another breakaway state which resented the dictatorial methods of General Santa Anna, and which actually declared itself neutral during the War of 1848.)

    The history of the admission of Texas is complicated and still disputed, but here's the Wikipedia account:

    On February 28, 1845, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would authorize the United States to annex the Republic of Texas and on March 1 U.S. President John Tyler signed the bill. The legislation set the date for annexation for December 29 of the same year. On October 13 of the same year, a majority of voters in the Republic approved a proposed constitution that was later accepted by the US Congress, making Texas a U.S. state on the same day annexation took effect (therefore bypassing a territorial phase). One of the primary motivations for annexation was that the Texas government had incurred huge debts which the United States agreed to assume upon annexation. In 1852, in return for this assumption of debt, a large portion of Texas-claimed territory, now parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming, was ceded to the Federal government.
    There's more here, and also more on the war, including accounts of battles and casualties, which numbered into the thousands on both sides.

    Anyone know who writes history for the State Department?

    Is it our official history and are we bound by it?

    I mean, I know that government web sites can't be expected to be as democratic as Wikipedia, but shouldn't Texas have the right to weigh in?

    posted by Eric at 08:33 AM | Comments (1)

    Demonstrations against freedom?

    The tension between democracy and freedom is an unsettling topic, especially when the issue is economic freedom.

    For over a week now, there have been huge, often violent demonstrations in France by people who believe so fervently in the "right" to employment that they cannot countenance a right of an employer to fire them. Harvard professors Pepper D. Culpepper and Peter A. Hall opine thusly in the IHT:

    . . . [T]he terms "left" and "right" have lost much of their political meaning in the nation that invented them. Instead of seeing more open markets as avenues toward jobs, many of the young view them as instruments of oppression.

    The result is political disarray that is likely to continue until French leaders can assemble a new vision of social justice for a market society.

    The youth of France do not want a new neo-liberal contract. They want a new social contract that distributes the burdens of a market economy equitably across the populace.

    Until political parties deliver that kind of compromise, the underlying political crisis will not go away.

    The Chicago Sun Times sums it up:

    Students and labor unions say the labor law will erode France's cherished workplace protections. Set to take effect next month, it would let companies fire employees under 26 without reason in the first two years on the job. Under current French law, it is very difficult to fire anyone.
    Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the French students are rioting against freedom. The freedom to hire someone. Or not. Or fire someone. Or not. This is economic freedom of the type Americans are supposed take for granted as a birthright. The French model is different, and it is based upon communitarian perspectives heavily influenced by French Marxism, and thus we would assume it has little relevance to American society.

    But let's contrast the French demonstrations with the American "pro-immigration" demonstrations. While half a million pouring from places like area schools into the streets of Los Angeles is hardly comparable in size, scope, or length of time with the mess in France, there is a certain eerie similarity in that the demonstrators' mindset in both countries stems from a similarly warped sense of entitlement. I believe this arises from the continental view of rights as entitlements as opposed to the American view of rights as freedom.

    In France, there's a belief that there's an entitlement to a job at someone else's expense, while in the United States, the idea is that Americans have some sort of responsibility to foreign nationals who have no right to be here.

    I know that libertarians are stereotyped as favoring open borders, and to the extent they do, then I guess I'm not living up to the libertarian stereotype. (May whoever is tasked with libertarian thought policing please forgive me or forgive me not!)

    But with all respect to those who favor open borders, I don't think that's really on the same page of history as the argument being made by the demonstrators. They don't seek the merely to come back and forth in order to work along the lines of freedom or free trade; they want -- they demand -- the perks and privileges of United States citizenship. They want education, housing, medical care -- all paid for at taxpayer's expense. Their extreme wing actually believes that the borders of the United States are illegitimate (i.e. that the United States has no right to exist).

    A sample of their professionally-prepared signs:


    That's hardly advocacy of freedom. But even if we put this extremist "Reconquista" wing aside, I seriously doubt that the L.A. demonstrators have given any more thought to the idea of American freedom than the demonstrators in Paris. If they have thought about it, they've rejected it.

    Freedom is seen by the demonstrators in terms of rights which are not rights at all, but entitlements at someone else's expense. The idea that the mere act of crossing a border into another country would convey entitlements of any sort is almost laughable, but considering the Marxist nature of many of the organizers, I guess it isn't surprising. What is surprising is to see so many people in apparent agreement -- and the Marxist (and overtly racist) aspects of the demonstrations so under-reported. As PR for their "cause," it's almost as if they're asking the American public to round them up and ship them back. (Are they forgetting that the latter is something the United States still has the right to do?)

    They're acting as if they have a right to be here, and a right to all sorts of things to which they don't have a right. (And to which Americans don't even have a right.)

    As someone who believes that rights are based on individual freedom, I believe that there is a human right to own property and to have your own money. I believe that this right necessarily includes the right to spend your money on anything you want, and to hire and fire whomever you want without restriction. Hiring a person to perform work no more creates a responsibility to take care of that person than does buying the goods he might have made whether here or if he lived in some other country. This is why I agree philosophically with abolishing the restrictions on employers in France, and disagree philosophically with the proposed draconian restrictions on employers in the United States. The fact that these people should never have been allowed to enter the United States (and that they are subject to deportation) is a separate issue from the economic freedom of employers.

    It is not, however, a separate issue to those who believe in regulating private economic transactions "for the common good." Why does it become anyone else's business if a guy I hire to paint my house is behind on child support payments or doesn't have some other kind of correct "papers" -- any more than it would be if I bought a painting he had painted on canvas? My only duty is to pay the agreed-on price. Socialists who believe private consensual economic transactions should be called "exploitation" and regulated operate under the communitarian principle that there is no such thing as private conduct. That we're all interrelated and that what I do affects everyone. (Logically, of course, this means that there is as much right to regulate my pocket as there is to regulate my penis, but I'm supposed to be talking about immigration here....)

    Much as I disagree with the communitarian view of rights (and ever-expanded notions of communal obligations), the latter view seems to be winning. The fundamental error is the redefinition of obligations as "rights." Crossing a border into another country does not convey any rights or perks of citizenship whatsoever to the border crossers. Nor does it create an obligation or burden on the part of any employer anywhere.

    To maintain otherwise degrades American freedom and makes a mockery of democracy.

    But hey, let's look on the bright side.

    At least we're not living in France!

    LINGERING QUESTION: Is opposition to socialism becoming synonymous with advocating anarchy? (Sometimes it seems that way....)

    UPDATE: In a thoughtful post, Dr. Helen asks "Does Rioting Create Jobs?" She concludes that

    rioting for cradle to grave job security is not the answer to the job crisis in France.
    Absolutely right.

    And giving "rights" to non-citizens here illegally isn't going to help the people who live in this country legitimately.

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

    The end of wisdom
    Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

    -- Proverbs 6:6

    Well that's all fine and good. In the face of a recent invasion of ants in my kitchen, I've been considering them a lot. And I'm trying to be wise (at least, wise to the ways of the ants). I've studied -- and restudied -- their penchant for empire building.

    But I guess I forgot to ask why they hate me . . .

    Empire4.jpgempire6.jpgEmpire of The Ants.jpg
    empireoftheants5.jpgempireoftheants8.jpgEmpire of The Ants2.jpg

    posted by Eric at 06:10 PM | Comments (4)

    Y'all better take this test, hear?

    As I try to make clear, I am a staunch opponent of culture wars as well as all forms of identity politics.

    So naturally, as soon I learned about the so-called Rebel-Yankee Test via a friend's email, I considered it my patriotic duty to take it.

    The results did not please me:

    36% Dixie. You are definitely a Yankee.
    (I didn't want to be anything, so I would have liked to have been 50-50, but I answered the questions honestly.) Of course, I spent more than half my life in California, and although I have lived in rural California, for a year in Hawaii, and shorter periods in the Midwest, I've never lived in the South at all. So I'm a bit puzzled that I'd score 36% Dixie.


    Must be my love for the Second Amendment. And dogs. And all things rebellious.

    It's a fun test, and I think the whole matter calls for some kitsch.

    SOUVLogo.jpg SOCVlogo.jpg

    (After much agonizing, I decided not to supply any links to the above organizations, lest I be accused of harboring copperhead sentiments . . .)

    MORE: Recovered memory! I don't know how it managed to slip my mind, but I forgot my dad's military service at Camp Pickett, Virginia (which probably accounts for part of my 36%). We rented a place in rural North Carolina. (Considering that my dad "retard" from the service in 1964, and these trips were of a couple of weeks duration, this took place over 40 years ago. Am I supposed to remember everything?)

    posted by Eric at 01:11 PM | Comments (9)

    fringe growth

    Islamic clerics in Afghanistan are none too happy about the release (thanks to international pressure, including President Bush) of that poor guy who faced the death penalty for being a Christian. They're doing what they do best -- stirring up the mob and demanding his death (and the death of all Christians):

    On Monday, hundreds of clerics, students and others chanting "Death to Christians!" marched through the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif to protest the court decision Sunday to dismiss the case. Several Muslim clerics threatened to incite Afghans to kill Rahman if he is freed, saying that he is clearly guilty of apostasy and deserves to die.

    "Abdul Rahman must be killed. Islam demands it," said senior Cleric Faiez Mohammed, from the nearby northern city of Kunduz. "The Christian foreigners occupying Afghanistan are attacking our religion."

    Trying to save someone's life strikes me as a very odd way of "attacking," but then, these are Islamic clerics. . . As Eugene Volokh (via Glenn Reynolds) said earlier,
    Trying to prevent people from being killed for their religious beliefs is not an "assault against Islam." It's defense against Islam, or to be precise against a certain strand of Islam that regrettably cannot be dismissed as just some unimportant lunatic fringe.
    Usually the term "fringe" refers to loud, extremist minorities. By definition, people on the fringe are in the minority. If they are in the majority, then they cannot (and should not) be called "fringe." The problem I have seen in American politics is that fringe ideological activists end up in positions of leadership by default, because normal people tire of being in the same room (or perhaps "tent" if that's not an Islamophobic term) and listening to them till all hours.

    Might the same thing be going on in Muslim countries?

    Via Glenn Reynolds, Zeyad reflects on a recent incident of religious butchery in Iraq:

    Islamic clerics (of all denominations) never fail to disgust me. Thanks to their efforts, we are becoming quite fluent in 7th century medieval vocabulary. How many Iraqis will listen to such sermons then go out on a rampage to slaughter their Nawasib neighbours, or their Rafidha friends?
    Zeyad has a cell phone video of the incident, with cars driving by the whole time. ("Normal" traffic.)

    I don't know how many Iraqis would actually go out and lynch someone, but the act doesn't require a huge number of people. A very small mob -- call them the "fringe" if you will -- can, by just a few lynchings, intimidate the vast majority of normal people who only want to be left alone to live their lives in peace. Given time, many of the ordinary people will chime in at least verbally, in the hope that they might be able to avoid being dragged through the streets and butchered themselves.

    According to Eugene Volokh, even members of the accused Afghan Christian's own family expressed agreement with the murderous fringe:

    What's worth remembering about the case, though, is that "even moderate Muslim clerics, as well as members of Rahman's own family, have said that death is the only fair and logical punishment for him." If that's "moderat[ion]" as Muslims go, that's mighty troubling.
    It might just be cowardly behavior by otherwise "moderate" people, along the lines of, "Yes, kill our relative! Just please leave us alone!"

    I don't mean to compare Islamic mob psychology to American mob psychology, but I have noticed that it's human nature to want to be left alone. Especially by activists. (Far be it from me to call them lunatic fringe. That might be interpreted as persecution.)

    When I was a kid I noticed that bullies were experts at playing victim, and they were the first to cry foul if a victim got the better of them. Of course, victims usually didn't get the better of bullies. Often they ended up joining them. It's always tough for people to sit in judgment when they simply want to be left alone.

    posted by Eric at 07:34 AM | Comments (1)

    My reluctant moderation in pursuit of extremism

    A brief word on "transhumanism." Earlier Justin reminded me that this subject is hotly debated, and as it really isn't "my" issue, I'll leave the details to him. I've already expressed skepticism about things like life extension, because (as I tried to explain in my mega post about Andrew Keen) I was left embittered by seeing my life-extension-advocating loved ones die. Little good it did them.

    But would I oppose such technologies? God forbid. Anything that might add years to the lifespan of man, or which might improve his mental or physical capacities, I am one hundred percent for.

    Who wouldn't be? Well, for starters, Luddites. Control freaks. Communitarians. People who want to retard human progress or even roll back the clock. People like Leon Kass and Andrew Keen (and, of course, their less "civilized" friends like John Zerzan and Ted Kaczynski.)

    Keen accuses Glenn Reynolds of being a transhumanist (a word he claims is so "devoid of meaning" as to be Orwellian), yet he simultaneously declares the philosophy "extremist" (a word he does not define but doubtless thinks has more meaning than "transhumanist"). Expressions of sympathy with the idea of "singularity" are seen as a form of mental illness by people in Keen's circles, who liken it to religious belief in the Rapture. (Wishful thinking, perhaps?)

    Is one man's transhumanism another man's extremism? For now, I'll leave the definability of "transhumanism" and extremism to others. (But I do think it's worth noting that extremism typically involves the use of violence to achieve one's ends -- something I have not seen the "transhumanists" doing yet....)

    I think there are two debates going on.

    One is whether this technology will be available in the future, and the other is whether it should be stopped. Debating the former strikes me as a little silly, because of the nature of technology. Either a given technological advance is possible or it is not. If it is not possible, why worry about it other than in a purely theoretical sense? To dismiss an idea as crazy because "it will never happen" doesn't really go anywhere. Opposing life extension because it will never happen makes as much sense as opposing, say, cold fusion because it will never happen. No sane person would waste his time fighting something which he really didn't believe would happen.

    Therefore, the fact that the enemies of these technological advances devote so much time to attacking them must mean that they believe they are possible, and want to stop them.

    In my view, opposition to technology is backward, because technology is what man is all about. Ever since Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers invented tools and weapons, man has been improving upon what he started with, and himself. Ultimately, even if man ends up creating a newer, superior form of life, that will be part of this continuum. While I don't see it happening in my lifetime, I would never do anything to thwart it, because I think that long term, man is as doomed as the dinosaur as long as remains permanently stuck on this planet. There are too many things that can go wrong, and the odds are increasing that sooner or later they will. If not a massive nuclear holocaust reducing us to another Stone Age (or temporary Dark Age if man is lucky), then sooner or later another catastrophic asteroid impact (or shower) triggering massive extinction (including man). Given enough time, a catastrophic end for earth-limited mankind strikes me as inevitable.

    Once, however, man becomes self-perpetuating and is able to live independently in other places, then all bets on his extinction are off. Limiting ourselves to this planet is a poor strategy for man's continued survival. That's why I strongly disagree with the people who think retarding progress will "save" mankind. I think if these fools had their way, precisely the opposite would occur.

    If that makes me a "transhumanist" or a "singularitarian," fine. In light of my gloomy outlook, I think I'm rather a poor one.

    But, to reiterate -- the fact that I experienced problems and failures, and watched so many people die, that makes me less inclined to place roadblocks in the way of others. I cannot think of anything more small-minded than opposing human progress because of embittering life experiences, and I think those who would do that ought to be a bit ashamed of themselves.

    (I'll leave it to Justin to shame them properly, because I'm supposed to be the nice guy around here....)

    PARADOXICAL FUTURE UPDATE: It turns out that Andrew Keen is enough of a futurist to predict the future of human wisdom:

    ....I will guarantee that no blogger will ever provide lasting wisdom to later generations. That’s a promise. And a warning.
    Assuming the above is serious, I'm sure Keen realizes that he is just one blogger among 30 million. He may be right in his assessment of his own abilities, but can he really be so sure about every last one of the others?

    What assumptions are being made by Keen? If a man with wisdom becomes a blogger, does that make his wisdom disappear? Or would the fact that he started a blog mean that by definition he could not have been a wise man?

    In logic, of course, Keen's statement -- no blogger will ever provide lasting wisdom -- cannot possibly be true. Because if we assume it is true, then a blogger (Keen) will have provided lasting wisdom.


    I guess some things aren't meant to be taken seriously.

    Is that it?

    Am I misconstruing Keen's attempt at humor?

    UPDATE: Thanks to Pajamas Media for the link!

    posted by Eric at 06:04 PM | Comments (2)

    Whose life is it anyway?

    Via Roger L. Simon, good news for those suffering from insomnia -- they get to suffer more! That's right, the more sleep you lose, the longer you live:

    the refrain that Americans are sleep deprived originates largely from people funded by the drug industry or with financial interests in sleep research clinics.

    "They think that scaring people about sleep increases their income," Kripke told LiveScience.

    Thanks to the marketing of less addictive drugs directly to consumers, sleeping pills have become a hot commodity, especially in the past five years. People worldwide spent $2 billion on the most popular sleeping pill, Ambien (zolpidem), in 2004, according to the BioMarket, a biotech research company.

    Nightly sleeping pill use is about as dangerous as cigarette smoking:
    A six-year study Kripke headed up of more than a million adults ages 30 to 102 showed that people who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep. The risk from taking sleeping pills 30 times or more a month was not much less than the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, he says.

    Those who took sleeping pills nightly had a greater risk of death than those who took them occasionally, but the latter risk was still 10 to 15 percent higher than it was among people who never took sleeping pills. Sleeping pills appear unsafe in any amount, Kripke writes in his online book, "The Dark Side of Sleeping Pills."

    "There is really no evidence that the average 8-hour sleeper functions better than the average 6- or 7-hour sleeper," Kripke says, on the basis of his ongoing psychiatric practice with patients along with research, including the large study of a million adults (called the Cancer Prevention Study II).

    And he suspects that people who sleep less than average make more money and are more successful.

    The Cancer Prevention Study II even showed that people with serious insomnia or who only get 3.5 hours of sleep per night, live longer than people who get more than 7.5 hours.

    One of the reasons I don't trust statistics is that they depend on who compiles them. The drug companies come up with statistics showing that "sleep deprivation" kills, then another study comes along and says too much sleep kills.

    The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported a study showing that black cigarette smokers developed cancer at a higher rate than whites. Yet the actual numbers were only of interest as statistics, because they weren't that dramatic. Nevertheless, the study was widely written up (this one in the Philadelphia Inquirer was typical). Most of the stories scrubbed the actual numbers, and while I can't prove my suspicions, I suspect that there's a policy decision involved (i.e. they don't want people knowing the actual statistical risks from smoking). Here's the New England Journal of Medicine:

    Among participants who smoked no more than 30 cigarettes per day, African Americans and Native Hawaiians had significantly greater risks of lung cancer than did the other groups. Among those who smoked no more than 10 and those who smoked 11 to 20 cigarettes per day, relative risks ranged from 0.21 to 0.39 (P<0.001) among Japanese Americans and Latinos and from 0.45 to 0.57 (P<0.001) among whites, as compared with African Americans. However, at levels exceeding 30 cigarettes per day, these differences were not significant.
    Here's a table which MSNBC was honest enough to reprint, showing lung cancer totals for smokers:


    (Shhhhhh! We wouldn't want the kids know that the chance of getting lung cancer average out to slightly more than one in a thousand. If they thought that 99.8% of smokers don't get cancer, they might wonder what the crackdown on smoking in "public places" was all about. And we just can't have that!) Had it not been for the racial differences which made the story newsworthy, I doubt the total numbers would have appeared in very many places.

    I may be old-fashioned, but I don't think that either corporate profits or public policy should influence statistical compilations or news reporting, and I'm always distrustful of statistics.

    If I've learned one thing, it's that that if you rely on them, they'll change!

    It's always nice to remember that individuals are not statistics.

    The statisticians didn't tell me when I was going to be born, so what business have they telling me when I'm going to die?

    (Sheesh. You'd almost think the world was being run by fatalists trying to run the world according to some neo-Calvinistic theories of predestination.)

    posted by Eric at 09:34 PM | Comments (2)

    The fun of deconstructing foreign resources

    In computers as well as life, some of the most minor and nitpicky annoyances can be a real hassle to fix. And if, like me, you sometimes have an irresistible tendency to get to the bottom of a problem, you can end up spending way too much time on something utterly inconsequential.

    So it was with my computer's new hard drive and new (Windows XP) OS. Probably because I have an old motherboard, the new OS installation sees this computer as being non-ACPI compliant, and the only way I might be able to fix that would be to reinstall again, which isn't worth it considering the trouble I went through installing it the first time around. Besides, the only real consequence of the ACPI issue is that when I shut the computer down all the way, I have to shut down Windows and then turn off the computer switch on the case. Not a big deal, really -- except I found myself annoyed by a very odd detail -- the display of the phrase, "It is now safe to turn off your computer."

    I don't mind being saddled with the annoyance of having to push the button, but something about the presence of the mini-lecture added to the process each time made me want to engage in vandalism. I thought it would be an easy thing to find the phrase and change it.

    Think again. After way too much research into a very unfamiliar area, I learned that it's not text, but a sort of image known as a "resource." And that is located inside a vital part of the operating system called the kernel. This takes the form of a file called ntoskrnl.exe and it isn't designed to be trifled with. You mess it up, and your computer will be rendered unbootable.

    However, in the process of learning about this, I discovered a cottage industry devoted to "kernel hacking." The ntoskrnl.exe file is the location of the Windows XP bootscreen image, and there are several ways to edit this image and replace it with a variety of alternative images.

    And the alternatives abound. (There are hundreds, if not thousands, and if you don't like them you can make your own. However, if you insist on making your own image the old-fashioned way, you need to follow detailed instructions using a hexadecimal editor like this.)

    For some, the trouble seems to be well worth it.

    The truly paranoid, for example, might want to imagine (or make their friends imagine) that they're under surveillance by the FBI. And the Masons:

    FBIboot.JPG MasonsBoot.JPG

    (There's also one for the CIA, of course....)

    Dragons are available for fantasy fans and those who are teenagers at heart. I especially liked these two:

    GreyDragonBoot.JPG RedDragonBoot.JPG

    And if you like to keep your friends and coworkers guessing (or have the kind of taste people never get tired of), here are two wonderful American trademarks -- both located in the wrong place at the wrong time:

    WinMacboot.JPG Coke.jpg

    (Why do I keep having product placement issues?)

    There are different ways to install the bootscreens (the changeable ones are called "bootskins") -- the easiest being to use software which does it all for you more or less automatically (and can be downloaded here).

    But none of that satisfied my irrational craving to change Microsoft's stultifying safety reminder. (Something no one in his right mind would be interested in doing -- which means I probably ought to be more concerned with my mental health.)


    For the truly dedicated few, there are still plenty of sites dedicated to old-fashioned manual kernel hacking, and at one of them in Germany, I was able to download prehacked German kernels. I found a wonderful piece of freeware called Resource Hacker™, which is described as:

    ...a utility to view, modify, add, rename and delete resources in Win32 executables and resource files. Incorporates an internal resource compiler and decompiler. Works on Win9x, WinNT, Win2000 and WinXP.
    This allowed me to carefully unpack the German kernel, until I found the location of the "It is now safe to turn off your computer" resource. Making a copy of my computer's kernel (it's not a good idea to install a strange kernel), I was able to edit the offending "resource" by substituting the German safety command image in place of the English one. Renaming/replacing the ntoskrnl.exe file had to be done in "safe mode" of course...)

    So now when I shut down Windows, instead of getting the safety lecture in English, I see this:

    "Sie können den Computer jetzt ausschalten."

    That's better!

    To explain why would absurdly complicate the simply absurd.

    posted by Eric at 02:19 PM

    Wars on too many fronts?

    "Had enough?"

    That, claims Newt Gingrich in Time, is the slogan Democrats should be using to run against Republican incumbents this Fall:

    if the elections were held today, top strategists of both parties say privately, the Republicans would probably lose the 15 seats they need to keep control of the House of Representatives and could come within a seat or two of losing the Senate as well. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who masterminded the 1994 elections that brought Republicans to power on promises of revolutionizing the way Washington is run, told Time that his party has so bungled the job of governing that the best campaign slogan for Democrats today could be boiled down to just two words: "Had enough?"
    While Time focuses on a loss of public support for the war in Iraq, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman focuses on abortion:
    ...hardly anybody in the GOP camp seems anxious to address the historic event that transpired this month out on the high plains and now threatens to roll eastward, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    It is, of course, abortion. For the party of the elephant, the new South Dakota law - which prohibits the procedure for every woman in the state, unless she is dying - is truly the elephant in the room.

    It puts Republican politicians, especially those seeking the 2008 presidential nomination, squarely on the spot. If they side with conservatives - who tend to vote heavily in the primaries, and who generally hope that the South Dakota law will be a weapon to overturn Roe v. Wade - they risk alienating the independent voters who often swing November elections. The swing people generally desire that the right to legal abortion, as codified by Roe, be sustained.

    That explains why not a single Republican with White House aspirations has declared that the South Dakota law - passed by a Republican legislature, and signed on March 6 by a Republican governor - should be the model for an ultimate ban on abortions nationwide. None bring up the law at all; they have to be asked first.

    Polman points out that even some of the anti-abortion conservatives are timid about this one:
    Even ardent foes of abortion acknowledge that the issue is dicey. In the words of Jeffrey Bell, a veteran Washington activist who has worked with religious conservatives, "This is a real curveball that people weren't expecting. I'd understand if strategists might not want their [GOP] clients to say, 'Yeah, South Dakota, bring it on!' They don't know whether the public has moved that far."

    Jack Pitney, a former national Republican official and Capitol Hill staffer who closely tracks GOP politics, said the other day: "This [abortion law] is a delicate situation for the Republicans. It makes a lot of them nervous. It's one thing to just talk about banning abortion - and they do that all the time, because it's a great way to fire up the base and raise money. But it's another thing to actually ban abortion nationwide.

    "Because that would raise all kinds of uncomfortable questions that could hurt the party politically - such as, if this is truly a crime, whom do you jail? Very few Republican candidates want to answer that question."

    Polman concludes with a quote from Glenn Reynolds:
    [Jeffrey] Bell, the Washington activist, says the current conservative discomfiture needs to be put in perspective.

    "Look at the progress we've made since 1992," he said. "Back then, we had the 'year of the woman,' when all these pro-choice Democrats got elected to the Senate, and Bill Clinton got elected president, and there was talk of passing a national law modeled on Roe. The pro-life people in the Republican party were absolutely pathetic.

    "Today? Republicans have all three branches, and Democrats are so worried [about appealing to cultural conservatives] that they recruit Bob Casey Jr., a pro-lifer, to run for the Senate in Pennsylvania. The Democrats and the pro-choice people are on the defensive in ways they've never been before."

    Perhaps. But law professor and conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds contends that the new abortion debate "will actually be bad for the Republicans. When the topic is defense, the Democrats lose. When it's sex, the Republicans lose."

    (Reynolds quote here.)

    Back to Time:

    Voters have plenty to take out on Republican candidates this year—ethics scandals, the g.o.p.'s failure to curb spending, the government's inept response to Hurricane Katrina, a confusing new prescription-drug program for seniors and, more than anything else, an unpopular President who is fighting an unpopular war. Iraq could make a vulnerability of the Republicans' greatest asset, the security issue.
    I just hope Time is wrong about Iraq being a Republican liability, because I don't think a pullout is in our interest in the ongoing war on terror. Nor is it in the interest of freedom in Iraq -- or in the Mideast.

    Where does all this leave the people who voted for Bush because of the war?


    What war? The word is so misused that it has become vague. While I like to talk about ending the "Culture War," the activists on both sides always seem to be winning against ordinary people who don't like politicizing the personal. It's tough to fight a war in Iraq and a war on terror when people are told they must take "sides" in, well, sex wars.

    I'm wondering whether the voting public has developed general battle fatigue.

    If so, the party that wins this Fall might be the one that shuts up the loudest.

    posted by Eric at 11:17 AM | Comments (3)

    Terrorism "can be politically unyielding" at times

    On the front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer is a touching story along the lines of "local boy makes good in his struggle against oppression":

    Dweik, who wears his moustache short and sports a white beard, is highly educated. He earned a bachelor's degree in geography in Jordan and a master's in education from Bethlehem University. Studying on a U.S.-backed scholarship, he earned a master's in urban planning at State University of New York in Binghamton.

    From 1985 to 1988, once again on a U.S. grant, he earned a master's and a doctorate in urban planning at Penn. His doctoral dissertation analyzed the reasons Palestinians commuted from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to work in Israel.

    In a recent interview, he recalled his days in West Philadelphia fondly. Afternoons spent at the Van Pelt Library, reveling in its "millions of books." Forays to buy doughnuts, to which he says he became almost addicted. Communal prayer five times a day with fellow Muslim students in a room on the Penn campus.

    Dweik said he was accepted at other universities, including one in the Southwest, but he chose Penn for the city's rich history and because being on the East Coast gave him the feeling of being physically closer to his home in the Middle East.

    "I said Philadelphia is the best. It was the first capital of the United States. So let me go there," he recalled.

    Moving to a different apartment about once a year, he had roommates from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. He can't recall the exact location of the apartments, but "something about Walnut Street" sticks in his mind.

    He returned to Hebron imbued with democratic values, including a deep respect for freedom of speech. Amid growing Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Dweik began speaking out, "talking about the Palestinian problem as a political problem and calling for the emancipation of our people" at public forums, which got him arrested by Israeli authorities, he said.

    "When I went to the court, I said, 'Can I defend myself in English?' They said no. So I spoke Arabic, and it was translated, and some of them knew Arabic very well. I said, 'Guys, I was in the United States, saying whatever I like, nobody stopped me there.' "

    Isn't that nice? I like Philadelphia's doughnuts too! And Walnut Street! And freedom of speech! Why, isn't that what we're all for? (Well, almost all.....)

    Oh dear. Now comes the hard part.

    I didn't want to be in a hurry to spoil such a nice human interest story, so I left out a detail or two.

    The local boy, Abdel Aziz Dweik is with Hamas. In fact, he's their newly elected speaker.

    But -- but -- he lived in Philadelphia, right? And isn't he smiling on the front page of the Inquirer? Doesn't that mean he's really a moderate, and basically a nice man who will sooner or later realize that we're all humans and we're all in this together, and that there will be peace and understanding?

    Not according to Jonathan Fighel, of Israel's International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism:

    For now, Hamas will try to present itself as pragmatic on the one hand, while it keeps shooting on the other hand, said Jonathan Fighel, a senior researcher at Israel's International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism.

    "This double policy is very much suitable [for them]," said Fighel. They do not abandon their original objective and they are still engaged in jihad (holy war) while at the same time they have to be pragmatic and "talk to the devil" (Israel) so the people don't go hungry and hospitals have supplies like oxygen," he said.

    Ismail Haniye was nominated to be the Palestinian prime minister and Aziz Dweik was elected parliamentary speaker over the weekend.

    Dweik said the policy of the new Hamas-dominated government would be based on negotiating while at the same time preserving the "right to resist" (carry out terror attacks against Israel).

    Dweik is being presented as a moderate, but what makes him a moderate when he still stands for the destruction of the State of Israel? Fighel asked.

    But isn't Fighel an Israeli? A Jew? And aren't they like, really biased and hateful people who run over innocent American girls with bulldozers? There's no need to quote Israelis in an article on a local boy who's making it big in Hamas.

    Which is my objection to the article. Not one Israeli spokesman is quoted. The Hamas speaker has instead been given carte blanche to present the Israelis as occupiers, as people who "forced the detainees to strip to their underwear," as practitioners of "targeted killings," and as slaveholders. Dweik is softened as much as possible:

    A gregarious, soft-spoken man with an easy manner, Dweik can be politically unyielding.

    He firmly states that all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, even those accused of engineering suicide bombings, are "freedom seekers" who deserve to be released because "Israel has no right to keep us under the slavery of occupation."

    Can be politically unyielding?

    Is that all?

    (I'm wondering.)

    posted by Eric at 11:27 AM

    Polyandrous political paradigm?

    In a comment the other day, Justin complained that I was "too nice" to an anonymous anti-gay commenter who thought homosexuals should be imprisoned.

    Being nice is one of my shortcomings, and it may eventually be my undoing. As a matter of fact, it may have already been my undoing (as I failed big time in a business venture based on naively altruistic assumptions about success). So, undone as I am by niceness, I'm now going to undo myself again by being nice to Andrew Keen -- a man who many people would not consider nice. He's not threatening to kill or imprison homosexuals. In fact, he's mainly getting attention right now because of a couple of articles in the Weekly Standard and on CBS News -- one attacking the new Internet utopia and the other attacking Glenn Reynolds' An Army of Davids in similar fashion.

    Calling An Army of Davids a "utopian manifesto," Keen claims that Glenn Reynolds has been seduced:

    In many ways, Reynolds has been seduced by the ideal of amateurism.
    To which David M replies that Glenn was,
    seduced by, well, me. But he's not even my type.
    At this stage in my life, the "type" I'm most concerned with is Movable Type, and trust me, it's no utopia to figure it out.

    But attacking utopias is what Keen is all about. That's because he sees himself as a victim of utopia.

    ....I came willingly to the Bay Area, the set for Vertigo, as a doctoral student in Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley. There, I fell under the spell of the political anthropologist Ken Jowitt whose glitteringly original reading of modern history contrasted with the facile utopianism of the typical political “scientist”.

    After Berkeley, I shifted coasts and taught modern history and politics, Jowitt-style, at Tufts, Northeastern and the University of Massachusetts. Another coast, another great seduction. Alongside my academic teaching, I developed a parallel career as a popular cultural critic. And it was as a journalist that, in the early Nineties, I “discovered” the Internet, the greatest seduction since the dream of world communism. Rushing back to the Bay Area, now known as Silicon Valley, I founded a website called and, securing investment from Intel and SAP, built it into an early paragon of the online revolution. I became an uncle Reuben of the Internet upheaval, a true believer in the historical inevitability of online community, commerce and content.

    Then, in April 2000, I woke up. Audiocafe crashed, Silicon Valley crashed, Wall Street crashed. The narrative had the hallmarks of classic Hitchcock, as cruel and inevitable as the plot of Vertigo. Real life interfered with the dream, the blond turned into the brunette and the lights came back on. Amerika.

    OK, folks, get out the handkerchiefs, because here comes Eric's "too nice" part.

    I sympathize with Keen. No really, I do. That's because I too was a failure. I started a nightclub called Thunder Bay in Berkeley, California. By all appearances, it was a huge success. We held rave parties with thousands of people, we had gay nights, lesbian square dancing nights, biker nights, punk rock nights. Two bars with four bartender stations, laser light shows, an incredibly cool interior, on a good night we'd have over a thousand people. (One rave drew as many as 5,000.) San Francisco columnist Herb Caen -- a giant in journalism who IMHO has to be called the world's first blogger -- gave us two favorable mentions in his column. (No easy thing, trust me). We won a Bay Guardian Best of the Bay award in 1993 ("Best Place to Go Dancing in Black"). Among other things, we were one of the birthplaces of the Goth movement in the San Francisco Bay Area (the House of Usher started at Thunder Bay).

    Blah blah blah. It's all in the increasingly distant past.

    The bottom line (as I've said before) was that despite the huge crowds, we couldn't pay the rent. 7500 square feet is a lot of space, and it wasn't cheap then, and isn't cheap now. The kids didn't drink enough.

    As Keen and I both realize, utopia alone does not pay the rent. While the patrons screamed that the "community" should be preserved (by the government, if necessary!), Thunder Bay crashed. And I crashed too. The doors closed in March of 1994, and if they hadn't been, the taxing authorities would have padlocked them.

    I don't know if my failure was on as large a level as Keen's, but I do know what it is like to experience failure. I was stuck owing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it took years to get over it.

    I think I've learned from my mistakes, and one of the things I learned is that nice guys shouldn't run nightclubs. To run a nightclub you have to be a little bit of an ass. I don't like being an ass, so I am unlikely to venture back into that type of business. But you never know.

    What I absolutely will not do is behave like a Prophet of Doom, and project my experiences onto other people who had nothing to do with my failures. I am not here to warn anyone about utopias. I am deeply suspicious about utopian thinking, and much as I'd love to see them happen, I am skeptical about things like life extension, and I've said so.

    But the last thing I would do is to try to begrudge the success of others. Even less would I want to thwart them. Yet thwarting others' attempts at success (what he calls utopian "seduction" is Andrew Keen's goal:

    now there is a new great seduction in Silicon Valley. Today, the trinitarianism of digital community, commerce and content goes under the name of “Web 2.0”. The new democratizing technologies are blogs, wikis, social networking sites and podcasts. But I’ve changed. I am now an outsider on the inside, revealing the great seduction and warning of its grave cultural consequences.
    Grave cultural consequences? I'm almost tempted to say I've heard such talk before, but again, I'm trying to be nice. I would suggest to Keen, though, that others might say the same thing about some of his activities, like involvement with rap music.

    Of course, by relating the above story of my business failure, I am running afoul of something Keen condemned last weekend (in Berkeley of all places), when he derisively asked,

    "What is the value of sharing your experiences?"
    I don't know. Maybe readers might learn something from my experiences. Maybe not.

    What is the value of Keen sharing his?

    He certainly has no problem doing precisely that:

    In addition to being an aspiring Terry Gross, I am also a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and impresario. I founded in 1996 and built it into a cacophonous, generously funded digital media business. In 2000, I was the Executive Producer of MB5: The Festival for New Media Visionaries, the legendary show that captured the most lucid prophesies and worst hubris of the Nineties Internet mania. Since 2000, I’ve played executive roles at a number of high profile, venture backed technology companies including Pulse 3D, Santa Cruz Networks, Jazziz Digital and Pure Depth, where I currently direct the company’s global strategic sales.
    Well that's just peachy! How would he like it if I came along and told him that unless people spend money on it, it'll never pay the rent? Is that my business? Should I lecture him about cultural consequences?

    Perhaps I am taking this character too seriously, perhaps not. But I can relate to his failure, and I understand his bitterness. (I try not to be bitter, but it has a way of creeping up on me sometimes, and I try to combat it with humor when I can.)

    And while I'm trying not to be too judgmental, I have to say that in Keen's case, bitterness it is. My impression of the man is that he's extremely bitter, and he sees of himself as an unheralded, unrecognized leader of a utopia that never came to pass. Right now, I think he resents the blogosphere like hell. And he bitterly resents advocates of the future ("cybernetic totalists") for essentially stealing his show. In addition to writing for the Weekly Standard, he's holding a series of conferences in San Francisco devoted to attacking both "citizen journalists" as well as "cybernetic totalists." Here was last night's show:

    Schmootopia 3: The War Against Expertise

    Is there something intrinsically untrustworthy about big media and honest about "citizen journalists", bloggers and podcasters? If not, then why are so many American technophiles infatuated with the ideal of the amateur?

    on Thursday, March 23 2005 at 6:30pm

    Coming next month, he's planning to indict the utopia's religious fringe:
    Schmootopia 4: Transcendence and the Mind

    The extreme fringe of today's technology utopians shares much in common with the Evangelical Christians: the belief that a rapture is imminent, and that a select few shall be chosen, and catapulted forward to enjoy the future.

    But such wild fantasies are shared by more than just a fringe, and the consequences of the technologists' hazy and hopeful belief systems pose problems for us all. Jaron Lanier described how the "cybernetic totalists", anticipating a fusion of biology and technology, consistently devalue subjectivity and real human experience. Nicholas Carr, in his essay "The Amorality of Web 2.0", describes how transcendence has become a tick box item for new internet projects.

    Our fourth panel examines the gnostic, religious and eschatological dimensions of techno utopianism.

    on Thursday, April 20 2005 at 6:30pm

    Dang! I just knew there had to be gnostic, religious and eschatological dimensions behind all that Tennessee-based techno utopianism that the InstaRapture Pollyanna hippie guy is promoting!

    I mean, look at this alarmingly amateurish pose:


    Pollyanna Schmollyanna!

    (As for the name of the above San Francisco tribunals -- "Schmootopia" -- I think it may derive from "Utopia Schmootopia" which seems to have been uttered by a professor in 1998.)

    Pollyannaism aside, I'm about as much of an expert on utopia bashers as I am on utopias, so I don't know what explains the thinking of Lanier, although I can see from his background that he's no slouch. Might it be that extreme form of hippie NeoLuddism which fears the loss of the soul? I can't get too excited about that either; I lost too many souls to AIDS, and nearly lost my own in the process. (I understand Keen's bitterness and even despair, but I have to say that I prefer the Pollyanna approach.)

    As to Nicholas Carr, like Keen he drips with loathing for "amateurism":

    The Internet is changing the economics of creative work - or, to put it more broadly, the economics of culture - and it's doing it in a way that may well restrict rather than expand our choices. Wikipedia might be a pale shadow of the Britannica, but because it's created by amateurs rather than professionals, it's free. And free trumps quality all the time. So what happens to those poor saps who write encyclopedias for a living? They wither and die. The same thing happens when blogs and other free on-line content go up against old-fashioned newspapers and magazines. Of course the mainstream media sees the blogosphere as a competitor. It is a competitor. And, given the economics of the competition, it may well turn out to be a superior competitor. The layoffs we've recently seen at major newspapers may just be the beginning, and those layoffs should be cause not for self-satisfied snickering but for despair. Implicit in the ecstatic visions of Web 2.0 is the hegemony of the amateur. I for one can't imagine anything more frightening.
    Elsewhere, Carr agrees with Keen and says that blogs will "destroy culture."
    As I've thought about the watery philosophy and the powerful technology that dovetail so neatly in Web 2.0, I've become fearful that we're building a machine that will, to great and general applause, destroy culture. Keen gets close to the heart of the matter: "If you democratize media, then you end up democratizing talent. The unintended consequence of all this democratization, to misquote Web 2.0 apologist Thomas Friedman, is cultural 'flattening.'" In the end we're left with nothing more than "the flat noise of opinion - Socrates's nightmare."

    I don't mind it when people have their own opinions, but when they drag in the ancients, I'm always made to feel as if I should pay attention, and that's really annoying, so I have to confess that this guy is challenging my ability to be nice. Anyway, I don't have all day to write this blog post, so I'm deferring to Dennis on Socrates. Dennis is, after all, a classical scholar -- something I suspect Keen is not.

    Good job, Dennis!

    (And may the gods forgive me for being such a classical amateur!)

    With the gods' permission, I should probably add that I like Socrates, and common sense suggests that the image of him as a classical voice against the blogosphere is preposterous. How could Socrates, stonecutter and self-proclaimed gadfly who hassled pompous Athenian aristocrats in the marketplace, be against blogging? How could man who said, "Those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable" be against "amateurism"?

    What bothers me is not so much that Keen is invoking Socrates against the blogosphere. It's that he's doing it with the help of CBS and the Weekly Standard. Whether this is a form of high-level trolling or an astute attack combining elements of the communitarian left and the communitarian right remains to be see. Considering some of the other stuff Keen says (more on that later), it could be argued that calling him a "troll" is almost too kind.

    Again, maybe I'm being too nice.

    Ed Driscoll understands Keen's point, but likens his message to putting the genie back in the bottle: can't put the genie back in the bottle: the mass media began to splinter in the 1970s with the birth of cable TV and the first dial-up computer bulletin board systems. It's only going to continue, and accelerate.

    Sadly, that means less and less shared culture. But would you like to go back to the alternative? Three TV networks, one or two big city newspapers, a handful of music radio stations, no viable talk radio, no Internet, no blogs, no fun.

    No thanks.

    I agree, and I think the vast majority of us amateurs (and maybe a number of professionals) would say "No thanks."

    The problem is that "back to the alternative" is precisely where Keen and his Luddites want us to go. And it is here that I lose sympathy with Keen. Bitterness does not excuse intolerance like this:

    Yes, the artist has nailed it, Martin Luther style, with this anonymous manifesto. It’s a much more direct critique of technology than my vertiginous 11 Unfashionable Thoughts. It should be nailed on the cubicle wall of every Silicon Valley software engineer who has been seduced by Google-like nonsense about technology “doing no evil.”

    Perhaps the San Francisco artist should drive down 101 to Mountain View and nail it, Martin Luther style, on the front door of the Google office. Martin Luther 2.0. The only problem is that, here in Silicon Valley, where The Law of Forgetting is the only game in town, nobody can remember Martin Luther 1.0. No, grand historical gesture here is pointless. Better to slap the manifesto on the blogosphere. Anonymously. Just as Martin Luther would probably do, if he happened to reappear now, almost five hundred years after the Edict of Worms, in our brave new Web 2.0 world.

    Lest anyone think Keen is content with the grandoise gesture of being Martin Luther nailing his manifesto to the blogosphere, a simple click on the "unfashionable" reveals an apparently serious call for outright censorship:
    9. As always, today’s pornography reveals tomorrow’s media. The future of general media content, the place culture is going, is the convergence of self-authored shamelessness, narcissism and vulgarity. . . a perfect case for censorship. As Edmund Burke reminds us, we have a responsibility to protect people from their worst impulses. If people aren’t able to censor their worst instincts, then they need to be censored by others wiser and more disciplined than themselves.
    At the risk of sounding like a right wing nut, aren't words like that a little chilling to the American concept of freedom?

    Or is "freedom" just another utopian word to be disdained and placed in quotes by Andrew Keen? I know, I know, I'm supposed to be nice. But how far do I go with this niceness routine? Should I bend over backwards and say that because Keen is British, we must recognize that he hails from a different cultural tradition than our own? I think not. I know it isn't nice to say this, but I think calls for censorship are despicable. And if Keen is serious and not just a high-level troll, I think his calls for censorship are more despicable than the Islamic variety.

    Fortunately, we live in a country with a First Amendment, where the "amateurs" Keen so hates are actually permitted to write online diaries.

    Like mine. I've been blogging for nearly three years. It's a ton of work, and a thankless task much of the time. I knew full well when I started that there were "millions and millions of blogs," but I was tickled pink to see that I was soon getting five, then ten readers a day! And yes, it grew over the years, but only because I posted every damned day no matter how awful I felt. Some utopia! Fact is, I was an amateur. I still am an amateur. For that reason (and for my additional crime of being part of a "utopia" of which I'm skeptical), Keen (and, I assume, other proud "elitists") would claim a right to silence me.

    I think Keen's tortured call for censorship is a strange if quite logical product of his frustration. He has to realize that what happened to the Dotcom boom simply cannot (and thus will not) happen to the blogosphere, because the Dotcom boom consisted of hype fueled by money, while the blogosphere consists of individuals writing diaries. The blogosphere isn't dependent on money; only on writing, and people who want to write. There’s no way to stop anyone who wants to write from writing. Except of course, by censorship. (Or by the physical destruction of the Internet, which is a pretty remote possibility.)

    For now, Keen is playing the game of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," while he works to build his coalition of assorted left-wing and right-wing communitarian Luddites. The call for censorship is of course an extreme form of intolerance, and it is quite similar to what we saw in the case of clamor for censorship after the publication of the Mohammad cartoons. Except it's worse. The difference is that Keen and his ilk should know better.

    What was that about grave cultural consequences?

    Or are calls for censorship simply matters of cultural taste?

    Is that it? Did someone put Andrew Keen (a man I'd never heard of until quote recently) in charge of taste? I've enjoyed quoting the Roman maxim "de gustibus non est disputandum" (in matters of taste there can be no disagreement). But that ancient wisdom would seem to be lost on Keen:

    The digital utopian much heralded "democratization" of media will have a destructive impact upon culture, particularly upon criticism. "Good taste" is, by definition, undemocratic. Taste resides with an elite of cultural critics able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a work-of-art. The digital utopia seeks to flatten this elite into an ochlocracy. The danger, therefore, is that the future will be tasteless.
    The future will be tasteless?

    Look, I know we cannot all agree on what constitutes good taste. But isn't the question of whether an "elite of cultural critics" should be "able to determine, on behalf of the public, the value of a work-of-art" at least debatable?

    Numerous other bloggers have of course weighed in, including Samizdata's Philip Chaston who concludes,

    It must be such a chore to be one voice amongst many.
    (Yes it is. And my nice side is almost tempted to welcome Keen to the club of many voices, except that he no more wants to be a welcome voice than does your typical troll. Unlike trolls, however, Keen does not seek attention for its own sake. As Dennis confirms, he promotes his own form of Utopian Elitism.)

    Jeff Jarvis also has thoughts on Keen's view of culture:
    Traditional, controlled, centralized, elitist media that gave us The Beverly Hillbillies and Oliver Stone movies and Oprah and monopoly newspapers and Mary Higgins Clark books on the successful end… and unread literature on the unsuccessful end.
    If the official arbiters of taste are right, we amateurs ought to defer to the life experiences of Nobel Prize winners like Elfriede Jelinek, among whose notable quotes is the following mouthful:
    This dog, language, which is supposed to protect me, that’s why I have him, after all, is now snapping at my heels. My protector wants to bite me. My only protector against being described, language, which, conversely, exists to describe something else, that I am not -- that is why I cover so much paper -- my only protector is turning against me.

    ELFRIEDE JELINEK, Nobel Lecture, Dec. 7, 2004

    (She ought to check out John Zerzan, who proposes abolishing language.)

    Tasteless future? Flattening of culture? I think we're already there, and it isn't the blogosphere's fault. Except I don't claim to be an arbiter of taste.

    Mick Stockinger looks at art and culture, and characterizes Keen's view as "total unmitigated crap":

    what [Keen] is really saying is that we should consider the ethical implications of the Marxist, flower-child future he draws for us. A future where the artistic and cultural acheivements of the masters are lost or fall on the deaf ears of narcissistic cultural morons.

    Total unmitigated crap.

    I really should be more sympathetic to the argument as someone with an appreciation for the value of tradition and the continuity provided by society's institutions, but this isn't a cheer for the barbarians to conquer Rome. Its the simple recognition that Keen doesn't know what he is talking about.

    To put it succinctly, the new enabling technologies aren't about pulling down the exceptional until its all just one uniform landscape of mediocrity--its about news ways to discover excellence.

    Its not about Marxism, its about Americanism, about the possibility for self-realization by the individual without the limiting factors of class. In fact, every single on of the thinkers Keen cites came from a culture that more fully exploited the human resources at their disposal than any other of their day. I submit that Lenardo da Vinci wasn't the creation of renaissance Italy, but that renaissance Italy was the creation of da Vinci and thousands and hundreds of thousands of exceptional people like him.

    Quality shines through. Art always has a way of leading culture, but the idea of elitist cultural critics leading art is belied by the innumerable van Goghs whose art managed to prevail despite and not because of officially sanctioned art.

    I'm struggling to be nice, folks, but I have to ask, is there any way to get this Andrew Keen to loosen up?

    Here's his picture:


    He doesn't look terribly happy to me. (Well, at least the background isn't black. That's progress....)

    In fairness to him, I imagine I wouldn't be too happy either. Not if I thought I was a victim of utopian seduction and spent my time trying to cobble together a coalition of conservative scolds plus sour old hippie Luddites. Hell, I'd probably feel like issuing a call for censorship too.

    You know what? I think Andrew could use a touch of the Pollyanna (well, maybe altered slightly to reflect the sophisticated seductionism of the utopian 1990s).


    Just trying to be nice.

    (I hope no one thinks I have bad taste.)

    UPDATE: Justin has told me that he thinks Keen "looks like he's getting his yearly prostate exam." (Sorry Justin, but that's not nice.)

    posted by Eric at 02:24 PM | Comments (4)

    Warning: Seduction in Progress
    THE ANCIENTS were good at resisting seduction. Odysseus fought the seductive song of the Sirens by having his men tie him to the mast of his ship as it sailed past the Siren's Isle. Socrates was so intent on protecting citizens from the seductive opinions of artists and writers, that he outlawed them from his imaginary republic.

    Yawn. Oh ... are we on? What I meant to say was grumble grumble! That sort of sexy prose and provocative appeal to the foundational figure of Western philosophy has left me shaken. This may be what's called 'doing things with texts,' and don't forget that these are texts. Odysseus and Socrates were characters, the former of the epic cycle, the latter of the works of Plato and Xenophon. Yes, there was a Socrates, but the whole of Plato's literary output (aside from the letters, which virtually no one reads and few acknowledge) is comprised of Socratic dialogues. Do we really believe that Plato spent a lifetime painstakingly recording the doctrines of his dead mentor? He was a tool used by Plato to present philosophy in a digestible form. The dialogue caught on, and a number of efforts by later writers have been transmitted as Platonic texts.

    This is an old academic trick, picked up from clever schoolchildren, to dress an empty argument in the prettily arranged scraps of the past, or at least of things that sound authoritative. Socrates is as good here as Foucault and doesn't sound as radical.

    Is this sophistry, or irony? I don't know which.

    But at any rate what we're dealing with are apparently 'seductive opinions.' Can any one define that? What links the opening examples for Keen is apparently seduction, but for the Greeks it was song.

    In the case of Odysseus the point is not resistance to seduction but defiance. Odysseus stopped his men's ears with wax and had himself tied to the mast so that he could live through an experience no one else had. This is the same Odysseus who blinded the cyclops Polyphemus, the son of the sea god Poseidon, and taunted him during his escape. Poseidon's wrath ensured an action-packed journey homeward, but in the end the defiant Odysseus reached his home, slaughtered his wife's suitors, and reclaimed his kingdom. He was a true adventurer and audiences ate it up. Let's not forget that Odysseus was fond of spinning yarns and pulled the wool over many an eye by his 'seductive' stories making him the perfect sort of person to live through the song of the Sirens (in another version the legendary singer Orpheus drowns out the Sirens with his own music, saving the Argonauts).

    But first a digression on the attitude of some Greek writers toward song, which was synonymous for the Greeks with poetry.

    Hesiod (ca 7th c. BC) described his own poetic initiation at the hands of the Muses, who gave him the gift of song and then famously told him, "we know how to say many things that seem like true things, and we know, when we want to, how to sing the truth" (Theogony 26-28).

    This is in part a reference to Odyssey 19.203 (almost exactly worded), wherein Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, falsified a story so effectively that his own wife Penelope mourned for him. The critique of Odysseus as a singer of tales is a common one, and is born out by passages such as this. One can not ignore, either, that Odysseus is also a classic trickster, 'the man of may turns' in a number of ways (cf. Od. 1.1; πολύτροπος).

    Hesiod surely didn't believe in his own mystical meeting with the Muses. And yet audiences in successive generations and centuries seem to have believed in the works of both poets as divinely inspired texts.

    This acknowledgement of the ambiguity of poetry became a trope in Greek poetry and philosophy, which was originally written in verse. Xenophanes the philosopher-poet (6th-5th c. BC), who was critical of the immoral depiction of the gods by poets, echoed Hesiod's and Homer's phrase when he closed a line by saying, "if in fact I know how to speak the truth" (fragment 8). This admits of two possible readings, implying either confidence (if I do ... and of course I do, I who am so critical of the poets) or doubt (if I really do, as poetry is tricky business). Either way it points up the question of the power of a certain kind of speech to pursuade whether it's true or not.

    Gorgias (5th-4th c. BC) wrote an encomium of the face that launched a thousand ships, Helen, in part defending her honor by claiming that words arranged metrically, i.e., in verse, had a kind of magical affect that could persuade people (Encomium 9). This comes as no surprise from the reputed founder of Greek rhetoric. But notice that he specifically refers to words arranged metrically, i.e., to verse.

    Plato and Aristotle had more sophisticated views on the matter and identified this property of art as mimesis, often translated wrongly as 'imitation' or 'representation.' In rhetorical training mimesis was the emulation of a master's style, called imitatio by the Romans. But in the writings of Plato and Aristotle it represents something different.

    Poetry was viewed as inherently ambiguous, as we've seen, either concealing great truths or presenting falsehoods convincingly. Poets played with this, but philosophers took it very seriously. Xenophanes attacked poets (like Homer) for essentially the same reason that Plato so limited their role in the Republic: mimesis is a powerful tool. Xenophanes believed that poets had spread lies about the gods, and Homer's texts, which permitted licenses among the divine that would be shameful for men, became something like doctrine in panhellenic religion.

    Plato's characters were in full agreement with Xenophanes. The passages on the role of poetry in the Republic are inextricably bound to the rigid morality and social roles defined therein. In Republic 376e and following Plato is concerned with the depiction of gods and heroes, and his speakers (led by Socrates) conclude that the good of the republic depends upon (1) the proper cultivation of its citizens by telling only 'true' stories about the nature of the divine, i.e., that is only good, and (2) creating a warrior class that is willing to die in war, encouraged by censored stories of the great heroes that make the afterlife seem glorious and that depict only noble actions. As an afterthought they conclude that stories for the general public should promote the idea that good things happen to good people, effectively outlawing virtually the whole of literature.

    Does this sound like a great society? There's probably a good reason it was just a philosophical exercise.

    This is picked up much later (595a and following) where the nature of poetry is defined as being at the third remove from true reality. The truest level of reality is the form, the next is the object, and finally the depiction. The danger which Plato's speakers see here is in the poet's or the artist's ability to depict things that seem real and thus that may convince people of the artist's expertise in what he depicts.

    Because these productions could be said to represent something, but not to be a thing in any concrete sense, they were poieseis (creations) in a metaphorical sense. At Sophist 165b Plato has the stranger define mimesis as a sort of poiesis of mental pictures, not of the things themselves (cf. Laws 719c where the poet is said not to know which parts of his work are true). Contrary to the popular conception, mimesis is evocation rather than imitation. The stranger’s definition makes better sense when viewed in this way: mimetic works create a real intellectual or emotional response in the audience, founded upon things that may not be true.

    So we return to the beginning. Does any of this suggest the nimbleness of 'the ancients' in avoiding seduction?

    On the contrary it shows that (1) poetry has always impacted the soul of man, (2) that the masses were thought to accept uncritically what was written in their traditional texts, and (3) that these ideas were inconsistent with the rigid moral and social system imagined in Plato's Republic.

    But doesn't Socrates provide a model which we are to follow? The very act of dialectic necessitates raising questions like these and challenging prejudices and received opinion. The reader is invited to disagree with the text by thinking critically about the issue. He is even supplied with ample examples of the supposedly offending texts. Far from doctrine, Plato's texts layout the blueprint of philosophical investigation conducted in a manner of which all citizens are capable: dialogue.

    Keen makes a ridiculously short-sighted claim for his wrongly adopted authority:

    This Web 2.0 dream is Socrates's nightmare: technology that arms every citizen with the means to be an opinionated artist or writer.

    This is patently false. If anything the changing landscape leans toward dialectic more than art. This is the key that Keen has missed. Socrates did not argue about opinions, but art, and in the Platonic corpus artists and writers are very often charged with ignorance, generating images and stories that appeal to popular taste. Opinion has nothing to do with this. More important is the public's uncritical consumption.

    Mass participation can only be a remedy.

    What's it all mean, then? What's Keen's beef?

    One of the unintended consequences of the Web 2.0 movement may well be that we fall, collectively, into the amnesia that Kafka describes. Without an elite mainstream media, we will lose our memory for things learnt, read, experienced, or heard. The cultural consequences of this are dire, requiring the authoritative voice of at least an Allan Bloom, if not an Oswald Spengler. But here in Silicon Valley, on the brink of the Web 2.0 epoch, there no longer are any Blooms or Spenglers. All we have is the great seduction of citizen media, democratized content and authentic online communities. And weblogs, course. Millions and millions of blogs.

    Did I really have to waste so much time typing this response? This is what I'm arguing against, the notion that the proliferation of opinion and the active involvement of the masses in media might supplant the elite few and mean the end of culture?

    Elitists have never trusted you.

    It's instructive that Keen considers democratization a utopian fantasy and holds the Republic up as a model of good sense. The Republic precisely explores the concept of a utopia, an ideal society, and it's a society that is built upon censorship and the division of labor, a place for everyone and everyone in his place:

    ... in this city alone do we find that the shoemaker is a shoemaker and not a pilot in addition to making shoes, and that the farmer is a farmer and not a juryman in addition to farming, and that the warrior is a warrior and not a businessman in addition to making war ... (397e).

    I'll take my chances on the mast like the man of many turns.

    posted by Dennis at 10:49 AM | Comments (1)

    Iraq war coverage undermined by Craig's List?

    Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the (British) Guardian is unhappy with blogs, and he's especially unhappy with Craig's List (longer entry here). He sees them as part of a vast "pincer movement" seeking to destroy print journalism:

    Alan Rusbridger spoke to the Royal Society of Arts in London yesterday on the subject "Newspapers in the age of blogs." The Guardian's editor is almost certainly unique amongst British newspaper editors as having regularly supped with start-ups and Web 2.0 companies in Silicon Valley. He is trying to figure out, understandably, how his newspaper should deal with the pincer movement of the terminal decline in newspaper readership and the loss of display and classified advertising revenue - all thanks to the Internet.
    For starters (complains Rusbridger) young people don't read newspapers:
    The latest research from the Pew Internet Foundation has shown that in the US there's not a great appetite for reading newspapers among 18-30 years olds. Meanwhile, the existing newspaper readership is slowly dying off.
    FWIW, I read the Philadelphia Inquirer every day, but I'm an old codger with irrepressible feelings of nostalgia for the past. I say that by way of self-deprecating disclosure, but the fact is I really want the Inquirer to remain successful -- both as a print and as a blog venture -- and if everyone around here subscribed (as I do), Philly would be the better for it. So I'm sympathetic to Mr. Rusbridger's plight, but not his blame-the-bloggers meme. (In fact, it irritates me to be accused of bringing down something I'd like to preserve, and maybe even improve.)

    Nor am I terribly sympathetic to the idea of Craig's List as the villain:

    . . .Rusbridger turned to the revenue problems for newspaper looming from the web start-ups.

    "A lot is down to Craig Newmark, an archetypal West Coast liberal who is almost single-handedly destroying the American newspaper industry with"

    Sorry, but I have to interrupt.

    Isn't there such a thing as a free market? Isn't Rusbridger's complaint a little like the Dakota auctioneers who wanted to criminalize ebay for taking away their business? Is anyone stopping the angry newspaper industry from starting its own alternative?

    Can't anybody do what Craig's List does?

    Actually, that seems to be the complaint. It's too down to earth.

    A web site that "will never win any prizes for design" started off as a lark by Newmark, but evolved to offer a unique business model: advertising listings which were free to place and free to view.

    This is clearly "a difficult model to beat."

    Craigslist is now in 192 cities, and only charges for want ads in three of them, and only $25 , while Craigslist competitors, like the New York Times, charge $300.

    With no marketing costs - it's all word of mouth - Craigslist has little overheads.

    He employs 18 people, in a fairly run-down office in San Francisco and he won't sell the company to any newspaper he's put the fear of God into.

    As Rusbridger said, "this is a utopian exercise, we think he's making $10m a year and he's not going to sell. He's just interested in creating a space that's free to both sides."

    A run-down office containing a ten million dollar a year utopia? If that much wealth has actually been created, I'd hardly call it utopianism. A better word would be capitalism. Bill Gates started out of a garage (simply with an idea of selling operating systems separately from machines), and now he's the richest man in the world.

    Isn't rags to riches the nature of capitalism? Of the free market system?

    The contrast with the New York Times is obvious. It is about to move into a massive new headquarters, employs around 10,000 people: "Craig has a shack and these NYT people are terrified. And that goes for the whole of the American print industry."
    If they can do a better job, then they should. There's something about this argument that smacks of protectionism. Or even corporate socialism.

    Sheesh. Next thing you know, the "whole of the American print industry" will be asking for government help.

    There I go again, engaging in what I consider satire. When will I get it through my skull that my satire is someone else's public policy?

    Finally, Rusbridger turns to what he considers a major blogosphere shortcoming:

    Concluding, his speech, Rusbridger asked "where does the newspaper sit in society?"

    If newspapers can't afford to report the news because the economic support has been taken away; If chunks are taken away editorially; If people follow only their own fragmented range of interests, then papers are trouble.

    But for a society to work well, citizens have to be informed across a range of subjects. Politicians, in fact, would find it hard to govern without informed citizens. And newspapers stand outside government and can critique it.

    Rusbridger drew on an anecdote about a dinner he attended where representatives form the highest levels of politics, the military and judiciary were present, just after the Iraq war.

    "One by one they said we all failed. All the parts if the state that were supposed to work didn't. The only thing that did work was newspapers and broadcasters."

    In an age where some parts of the world remain no-go areas to ordinary people, like Baghdad, it's newspapers which are sending reporters like Jonathon Steel, 67, who said "he wanted to go. What happens if all the journalists pull out? There's a duty to go. There' aren't any bloggers volunteering to go."

    There aren't any bloggers volunteering to go?


    Was Michael Yon drafted into service? Michael Totten? How about Bill Roggio? None of those guys volunteered?

    And what about the Iraqi bloggers? Like Iraq the Model? Zeyad? How about the other Iraqi bloggers too numerous to count? Don't they count as bloggers? Sure, they might not have "volunteered to go," because after all, they're already there.

    With all due respect to Mr. Rusbridger, there are bloggers in Iraq. Simple logic dictates that either he knew or he didn't know. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't know.

    Is that the fault of Craig's List?

    UPDATE: My thanks to Dean Esmay for the link! Says Dean,

    The question is, is Rusbridger a deeply ignorant man, or simply a liar? Let's give him [Rusbridger] the benefit of the doubt and assume "deeply ignorant." It still says everything we need to know about why his industry is in free fall, doesn't it?

    posted by Eric at 07:54 AM | Comments (5)

    Andrew Keen: A Second Impression

    Click here...

    posted by Justin at 05:05 PM | Comments (4)

    Andrew Keen: A First Impression

    He has managed to merge the social relevance of Leon Kass with the trenchant historical insight of Jeremy Rifkin.

    posted by Justin at 04:48 PM

    Kids, don't do this at school!

    Peter Schweizer cites a new white paper on public diplomacy by Michael Waller (Walter and Leonore Annenberg chair in International Communication at The Institute of World Politics) which concludes that ridicule can be a potent weapon against terrorism:

    "Ridicule raises morale at home. Ridicule strips the enemy/adversary of his mystique and prestige. Ridicule erodes the enemy's claim to justice. Ridicule eliminates the enemy's image of invincibility. Directed properly at an enemy, ridicule can be a fate worse than death," writes Waller.

    History teaches that ridicule weakens the moral and political capital of our enemies. Ronald Reagan employed it with great effect during the Cold War. We all remember the "evil empire" speech, but what about the jokes? Two guys were standing in line at the vodka store. They were there for half an hour, then an hour, then an hour and a half. "I'm sick of this," one finally said. "I'm going over to the Kremlin to shoot (Mikhail) Gorbachev." The man left and returned about an hour later. "Well, did you shoot him?" "Heck no," he responded. "The line up there is a lot longer than this one."

    Schweizer advises mocking the terrorists and highlighting their ridiculous failures.

    I agree.

    Of course, whether it's a weapon or not, mocking terrorists might not be considered appropriate conduct at airports.

    Or at certain colleges. Even using the word "terrorist" can cause trouble. (A problem I tried to address by proposing alternatives.....)

    But no matter how careful we are, it is inevitable that sometimes, someone will be unhappy, or some group might be offended.

    Regrettable as it is, the hard reality is that in war sometimes feelings get hurt.

    posted by Eric at 10:34 AM | Comments (1)

    non-political scientists studying political diseases?

    While I've discussed a couple of studies recently (and I'm open to the possibility that too much obsession with politics is not good for one's mental health), I nonetheless see a twofold problem in applying the medical model to politics. One is the tendency of politics to creep into things that are not normally thought of as political, and the other is the inevitable political bias on the part of the scientists who research these things and then apply medical models.

    Joe Gandelman and Dean Esmay both discussed a fascinating study (infra) of nexus between emotion in politics. Not surprisingly, political partisans and activists become blind to reason (or at least highly emotional) whenever they perceive that "their" issues are threatened. For a true activist, this means almost any time it is discussed. I was reminded of the famous "IF YOU'RE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION, YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM" either/or thinking which so typified the 1960s.

    What I'd like to know about this study is whether the subjects in the political group (people displaying strong emotions about politics) were compared to a control group of "non-political" people, because I think the social scientists might have been in for a surprise. What I've noticed is that most people have strong personal feelings about things that interest them the most. Political people were singled out for study, and the implication is that they're emotionally aberrational.

    Are they? In almost every field or interest (whether work-related, hobby-related, or even entertainment-related), people tend to form opinions based on their experience or knowledge. If someone comes along with a different opinion, why, the reaction is often highly emotional -- the way teenagers will become indignant when their music is criticized. In the Philadelphia area, there are sports fans who do not take kindly to criticism of their opinions or teams. I remember that not long after I moved back to Philadelphia from California, there was huge local hysteria over a showdown between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. While riding through Philly in a friend's car and thinking it was funny to hear people cheering in the streets for the Lakers, I thought it would be equally funny to evoke (in an imitative if insincere manner) a little pro-California cheering. I opened the window and yelled "GO LAKERS!"

    According to my friend who was driving, this was not a good idea at all! He yelled at me to shut up, and said he was worried for our safety, and about his car getting damaged.

    You know what? I think he was right to shut me up. In retrospect, I was being an ass, and I shouldn't have shouted out support for the Lakers. (I don't think I need to conduct extensive research to document the fact that soccer games are taken even more seriously in Europe.)

    And that's just sports. There are also career interests. People who become experts at almost anything can become highly emotional and indignant when someone else (expert or not) sounds off on "their" issue. Is Mac (or Linux) better than Windows?

    I'm almost afraid to ask whether people have seen any good movies lately...

    (And I honestly don't know what to do when the topic of "blogs" comes up with people who "know" me in my supposedly "real" "private" "offline" life.)

    So, this begs the question of what is politics. Increasingly, it is everything. The most personal issues of life have been politicized.

    And the most non-personal.

    I can remember a time when the most mundane, even boring things -- things like the weather -- could be discussed for what they were. Nowadays, mentioning bad weather can trigger a political diatribe.

    How would we find a "non-political" control group? Beats me, because emotions run through almost any, um, interest. Hell, even the word "interest" sounds political. That's because human interests are the stock in trade of those who seek political power. (Their election and very survival depends upon politicizing every last interest they can identify to motivate voters.)

    Finally, there's the question of whether there is such an animal as a "disinterested scientist." Has such a being managed to evolve?

    (Or did I just ask a politically charged Darwinian question?)

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

    Emergency blog power

    Here's something to do with an old lawnmower engine: turn it into a power generator. All you need is a car alternator, a couple of pulleys, a bracket and the time to put it together.

    Brutally simple. The finished project looks like this:


    Whether to add the power inverter depends on what you want to do:

    "It isn't difficult to make this work. If you are after a system to charge a battery between rounds so you can run the race car without an alternator, it works great! As a standby power source, the most expensive thing is the inverter. It has the advantage that you can run it to charge batteries, and subsequently run the inverter off the batteries for some light and silence! In an emergency, there is a battery in your car, one in your spouse's car, one in your neighbors car, etc. so there is no shortage of ability to store some power. Deep cycle (marine/RV) type batteries are greatly to be preferred, but if you don't have a boat or RV already, you are not likely to have them around, and the object of this project is to keep costs down while still avoiding "being powerless". If you are only after some light, use 12 V light fittings and bulbs, and save the cost of the inverter. Or use an inverter to run the heat recovery fan in your furnace/fireplace, and cycle it with the refrigerator / freezer to minimize the size of the inverter required and still use the 12 V lights."
    What I like about this is that the stuff is easily available if not lying around. It beats going out and buying an expensive generator. And it's something to do with that old lawnmower.

    Now that I think about it, I have an alternator and an old lawnmower sitting in the garage. And a power inverter for my laptop.

    The catch is that in general, small engines are only rated for 1000 hours before an overhaul is needed. But how long will a need for emergency power last? Even in the case of major emergencies like earthquakes or hurricanes, power outages usually don't last for more than a week (56 hours of engine life).

    In terms of fuel cost, it beats running a laptop from a car engine by a long shot. In October, the power line on my street crashed and burned, and if I'd had a generator the hassle would have been avoidable.

    Hate to think what would happen if the terrorists detonated a nuke. (It would be worse than an act of God, I'm afraid. And, because the human fallout might be worse than the nuclear kind, it's good to be prepared.)

    posted by Eric at 07:38 AM | Comments (2)

    I'll try to be more likely to not conform to these statistics

    According to the statistics in a new national study, I am more likely to not use turn signals than to use them:

    A new national survey reveals that 57% of American drivers admit they don't use their turn signal when changing lanes, but what is most startling are the excuses drivers gave.
    Hey, that's 57% of American drivers, and I'm an American driver, which means I'm substantially more likely not to use turn signals than to use them!

    Sheesh! I never knew what a bad driver I was.

    The study breaks things down:

    According to Response Insurance, a national car insurer, 42% of those drivers say they don't have enough time, 23% admit they are just plain "lazy," 17% don't signal because when they do, they forget to turn it off, 12% admit they are changing lanes too frequently to bother, 11% say it is not important, 8% say they don't signal because other drivers don't, and perhaps most disturbing 7% say forgoing the signal "adds excitement to driving."
    That's an odd way to obtain excitement, but I guess we shouldn't be too judgmental.

    They've even broken down the turn signal ignorers down into groups:

    The Company identified several driver-types when it comes to ignoring turn signals - Impulsive, Lazy, Forgetful, Swervers, Ostriches, Followers, and the Dare Devils.
    I've always thought of myself as the impulsive, lazy, forgetful swerver type with ostrich-following Dare-Devil tendencies. But I use turn signals anyway. That's because I like being a non-conformist. And now that I know the majority don't use turn signals, I'll be even more meticulous about useing them. I'll make it a matter of stubborn personal pride.

    But where do I get the statistics on how many people refuse to conform to statistics?

    posted by Eric at 10:50 PM | Comments (2)

    No alternative but to whine about alternatives . . .

    Here's something worth whining about!

    A new "scientific" (that word again) study shows that whiny, complaining children grow up to be conservative, while children described as "confident, resilient, self-reliant" grew up to be liberals:

    The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.

    But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.

    A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

    I hate to interrupt, but I've always loved these ambiguities! Does that mean I wasn't whiny as a child? Actually, I was known as being a little morbid, a little aloof, and a little estranged from authority. Whining wasn't an effective technique, though, so I didn't use it much. Maybe there's something to this. So why do I tend to get labeled conservative by liberals and liberal by conservatives?

    Maybe it's because as a child I wasn't what they call "confident":

    The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

    Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.

    In a society that values self-confidence and out-goingness, it's a mostly flattering picture for liberals. It also runs contrary to the American stereotype of wimpy liberals and strong conservatives.

    Right now I'm in no mood to technorati the excoriation of this on right-wing blogs, but I do have a couple of initial questions.

    Considering the degeneration of the terminology, how are "liberal" and "conservative" being defined? Is not rigidity of thinking to be found at both ends of the political spectrum? That was the reaction of Jeff Greenberg, a critic of the study:

    "I found it to be biased, shoddy work, poor science at best," he said of the Block study. He thinks insecure, defensive, rigid people can as easily gravitate to left-wing ideologies as right-wing ones. He suspects that in Communist China, those kinds of people would likely become fervid party members.
    Actually, it doesn't take much imagination to predict that a child who is "insecure, defensive, and rigid" will tend to mature into an adult possessed of similar characteristics.

    But is that always the case? Can we be so sure that insecure, defensive, and rigid personalities like Michael Moore and Pat Robertson were always that way? Can't these things also be a result of life experiences?

    And what are the implications for Churchill's famous remark:

    Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.
    Obviously, the rule is not true in every case, but it reflects the common sense reality that people change as they grow older. In theory, with age comes wisdom. I grew out of Marxism in the 1970s, and eventually grew into a libertarian way of looking at the world (which I see as classical liberalism). It causes me a great deal of disappointment.

    And while I try to state what I think as clearly as I can, I feel anything but "confident" -- because I distrust false confidence.

    What puzzles me the most about the study is the statement that "the more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are."

    The way what things are? What way is that? Remember, this study was done in Berkeley, hardly a bastion of political conservatism. A place where "liberals" (a term I hate to use to characterize the hard left) are not known for being "eager to explore alternatives." Especially alternatives to whining.

    (I don't know, but I'm not feeling confident enough to be rigid.)

    UPDATE (03/23/06): Via Glenn Reynolds, Michelle Malkin provides the full text of the study. And InstaWife Dr. Helen asks a good question:

    What about people who change their political orientation over time--were they really just whiny kids or self-reliant ones originally who fooled themselves?
    That's what I've been trying to figure out.

    (My inner child has been whining about self reliance for years...)

    posted by Eric at 09:14 AM | Comments (5)

    Did anyone think our Islamic allies would be nice?

    When I criticized Grand Ayatollah Sistani's medieval and murderous statements, I didn't mean to suggest that gays were the only victims of fundamentalist Islamic persecution or that Iraq was in any way unique in that regard.

    Far from it.

    The reason I'm especially concerned about Iraq is because not only did we go there to advance the cause of freedom and human rights, but we're still fighting there. Presumably, we still have some influence over what goes on in Iraq.

    And now -- if this BBC report is true -- the human rights situation in Afghanistan is even worse. Because it's not just religious opinion; it's the law:

    An Afghan man is being tried in a court in the capital, Kabul, for converting from Islam to Christianity.

    Abdul Rahman is charged with rejecting Islam and could face the death sentence under Sharia law unless he recants.

    He converted 16 years ago as an aid worker helping refugees in Pakistan. His estranged family denounced him in a custody dispute over his two children.

    It is thought to be Afghanistan's first such trial, reflecting tensions between conservative clerics and reformists.

    The guy was found carrying a Bible, of all things:
    When he was arrested last month he was found to be carrying a bible and charged with rejecting Islam which is punishable by death in Afghanistan.

    Trial judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah told the BBC that Mr Rahman, 41, would be asked to reconsider his conversion, which he made while working for a Christian aid group in Pakistan.

    "We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him," the judge told the BBC on Monday.

    But if he refused to reconvert, then his mental state would be considered first before he was dealt with under Sharia law, the judge added.

    (Via Andrew Jackson, who adds that there has been a deafening silence from "peace loving Muslims." And Bush.)

    In all honesty, it must be admitted that there are probably more taxpaying Christians who supported Bush than there are taxpaying gays who supported Bush. But human rights issues shouldn't come down to who gave more money or who worked harder for the Republican base.

    A lot of people have been asking whether Islam is compatible with democracy. I like to hope it is, but if stuff like this keeps happening people will start asking whether Islam is compatible with human rights. History shows that giving people the right to vote is no guarantee that they'll respect human rights.

    While I'm still waiting and hoping for the triumph of truly moderate Muslims, my dark side recogizes that despite the well-meaning rhetoric, Machiavellian realpolitik remains alive and well.

    How quickly we forget that Stalin was once our friend.

    UPDATE (02/22/06): President Bush has spoken up about the trial of the Christian in Afghanistan:

    President Bush said Wednesday that he is "deeply troubled" that an Afghan man is being tried for converting to Christianity.

    Abdul Rahman, 41, faces a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. He has been charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under this country's Islamic laws. Bush said in a speech that a young democracy is growing in Afghanistan, but he's concerned about the case.

    "We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom," Bush said. "I'm troubled when I hear, deeply troubled when I hear, the fact that a person who converted away from Islam may be held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that I talked about. I look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship."

    Good for President Bush! I'm glad that the word "universal" is not being interpreted as having an exception for Islamic countries.

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


    Means saying who's boss. . .

    posted by Eric at 01:40 PM | Comments (2)

    Encouraging crime?

    Today's Inquirer reports a demonstration in Trenton, NJ against legislation by Congressman James Sensenbrenner which would (among many other things) make illegal alien status a felony. Earlier, a much bigger demonstration in Chicago drew an angry crowd of 100,000 -- dwarfing any of this past weekend's antiwar demonstrations.

    Almost everyone agrees that illegal immigration is a mess. But there's nowhere near a national consensus on what to do about it, or in what order. With the coming elections, politicians are understandably nervous, and this is not an issue which breaks neatly along either side of the conventional left-wing/right-wing political spectrum. While the most vociferous opponents of illegal immigration are conservative Republicans, the Bush administration is clearly not in their camp, and on this issue, the president doesn't seem especially amenable to changing his mind to suit the tastes of people claiming to be his "base."

    I'd like to take a look at certain language in the bill that's creating the stink right now, Congressman Sensenbrenner's H.R.4437 -- the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005" (described as "Referred to Senate Committee after being Received from House"):


    `SEC. 274. (a) Criminal Offenses and Penalties-



    `(C) assists, encourages, directs, or induces a person to reside in or remain in the United States, or to attempt to reside in or remain in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to reside in or remain in the United States;


    `(E) harbors, conceals, or shields from detection a person in the United States knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to be in the United States;


    `(G) conspires or attempts to commit any of the preceding acts,


    `(2) CRIMINAL PENALTIES- A person who violates the provisions of paragraph (1) shall--

    `(A).... where the offense was not committed for commercial advantage, profit, or private financial gain, be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or fined under title 18, United States Code, or both;

    (B).... where the offense was committed for commercial advantage, profit, or private financial gain--

    `(i) in the case of a first violation of this subparagraph, be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or fined under title 18, United States Code, or both;

    [NOTE: If the above link doesn't work and you want to read the original, simply copy and paste the bill number -- 4437 -- here.]

    For starters, I'm not quite sure what the word "encourage" means in a legal context.

    We're not talking about morality here, are we? The reason I ask is because the word "encouragement" means to instill with courage -- an idea which goes to the heart of morality.

    I hate to sound hysterical, but there's something that just rubs me the wrong way about making it a federal felony to encourage someone. Nothing in the bill spells out what the word "encourage" means. Most people can understand what alien smuggling is, but there's a huge difference between packing people into the trunk of your car to evade a roadblock and wishing someone luck in remaining a resident of the United States.

    Would it be illegal to say, "I hope you stay, José, and I hope someday the laws are changed! Good luck, and may God be with you!" (Or equivalent expressions like "adios.")

    Or do you have to buy the guy a beer and, like really sit down and encourage him? (Like "Don't give up hope, José! Always look on the bright side of life!")

    Sensenbrenner can't be talking about moral encouragement, can he? I mean, we still have the First Amendment right to freely associate with whomever we want, and we also have the right to hold opinions, don't we?

    The hell with morality then. This must be some sort of legal definition. And as a self-hating lawyer, I feel a certain moral obligation to think legally.

    The most common legal definition of "encourage" involves accessories:

    An accessory before the fact is a person who encourages, procures and otherwise assists in a crime, but is not present when the crime occurs. Mere knowledge and/or approval of a crime are not enough; there must be more assertive activity involved.

    The accessory after the fact is the person who assists after the crime, protecting the participant(s) or facilitating escape. This role pertains regardless of whether the assisted party was a principal or an accessory before the fact. It is not necessary for the accessory after the fact to be absent from the scene. He is liable if he is a passive observer but provides aid after the crime.

    The problem here is that the criminal offense does not involve a specific plan or activity, but the crime is the mere presence of a person "who lacks lawful authority to be in the United States." The offense is an ongoing one, a crime of status, and not of action.

    Encouraging someone to continue in that status would be a federal felony.

    Do we really want to go there?

    In my view, the immigration mess results from sloppy border control efforts over the past several decades. The federal government, while pretending to enforce the law, looked the other way while millions of people crossed the border illegally. And now that same federal government would make it a felony for its own citizens to "encourage" the very people it negligently allowed to enter. It's tempting to say that this is passing the buck, but I think it's more than that. It's creating a huge new class of American criminals. Not just the aliens, but dissenters.

    I hate to restate the obvious, but laws that create many millions of new crimes and add many millions of new criminals do not stop crime; they increase it.

    Why increase crime?

    And what about landlords? Could renting an alien an apartment become a felony? Selling an alien a car? Where under the Constitution does the federal government derive such power? What say the federalists?

    While I think illegal immigration is out of control, I think H.R. 4437 is irresponsible legislation. Why am I not surprised that Sensenbrenner's behind it? He's the same guy who sought to make it a federal five-year-felony for people witnessing teen drug crimes to fail to affirmatively become government informants.

    At times like this, I feel encouraged to leave the United States. I don't think they've have made that a crime yet.

    (Maybe I should take advantage of the loophole. . . But where would I go? Where on this planet is the freedom we once enjoyed anywhere to be found?)

    UPDATE (03/22/06): Senatorial hopeful Paul Streitz thinks we are at war:

    Mexico has declared war on the United States. The Mexicans call it Reconquista. They say they are reconquering Aztlan.

    This is a war of the 21st Century. It is not conquering the United States by armed troops. It is conquering the United States by a demographic invasion unprecedented in the history of the world. Never has any country ever allowed millions of people to come through its borders unchecked, uncontrolled and then given housing, education, medical care and welfare.

    Mexico is at war with us and our government is surrendering.

    Senators Kennedy, McCain, Specter and Lieberman are surrendering this country to the Mexicans. Amnesty is surrender.

    Amnesty is surrender to those who have invaded our country, broken our laws and remain as conquering invaders on street corners throughout every town in America.

    I don't agree with Streitz's invaders-on-street-corners view, but I think it shows how polarizing this issue can be.

    posted by Eric at 08:12 AM | Comments (1)

    If Sistani is the answer, then what was the question?

    Writing for the National Review, Andrew McCarthy takes a long look at Grand Ayatollah Sistani's utterances on homosexuality (which I discussed earlier) and other subjects.

    While the earlier reports were inaccurate and the uproar is new, Sistani's actual opinions are neither new nor (unfortunately) unusual. Sistani is a thoroughly medieval man, and like it or not, fundamentalist Islam is a thoroughly medieval religion. As McCarthy warns, we should not be conflating opposition to terrorism (which Sistani is) with democratic reform (which Sistani is not):

    What is dangerously naïve is to conflate two very different, and at times contradictory, goals of American foreign policy: opposition to terrorism and democratic reform in Muslim countries. Let’s say one is inclined to suspend disbelief and regard as an “ally” in the struggle against Islamist terrorism someone whose profoundly influential views actually bolster core conceits of the jihadists. That would still not make Sistani an ally in the related but distinct project to build a democracy recognizable as such.

    The only democracy the United States should be building is one based on liberty, equality, the inherent dignity of all human beings, and the conviction that authority to rule is reposed in the people rather than in some external theological or political force. That, surely, is the democracy of President Bush’s soaring rhetoric, if not his administration’s on-the-ground practice. If we are going to sacrifice American blood and treasure on this project, that better be what we are sacrificing them for.

    That project calls for a very long-term cultural evolution, one that may take decades if it can happen at all. It is not achieved by a mere election or two’s being given the green-light by a savvy Shiite imam — one who can count, and who sees Shiites outnumbering everyone else by about two-to-one. It is not achieved by a celebrated constitution’s being given the green-light by such an imam only after Islam has been installed as the official state religion and the sharia made a primary source of fundamental law.

    To believe Sistani is an ally in that project is to hallucinate.

    Sorry, but despite my youthful regular attendance at Grateful Dead concerts, I'm just not into hallucinating at this stage of my life.

    Sistani's views on homosexuality ("sodomites should be killed in the worst manner possible") are medieval and despicably inhumane. Yet they've been known for years (I've read that the web site quote has been there for three years), and differ very little from the views of other fundamentalist Islamic clerics.

    The problem, I think, involves the inherently medieval, inherently backward nature of fundamentalist Islam. As McCarthy notes, "Sistani’s stated view" is that non-Muslims (that includes me) "should be considered in the same category as 'urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dogs, pigs, alcoholic liquors, and 'the sweat of an animal who persistently eats [unclean things].'"


    All I can say is that mullahcracy sucks. Whether in Iran or Iraq. (Sistani apparently is a hybrid Iranian-Iraqi mullah.) I don't care how long it takes, but I don't think we will have succeeded in our mission until the region is free from tyranny. As Iraqi blogger Mohammad said earlier "Iraq will be the model":

    ....[T]he old will fight back fiercely and the old here is not only Saddam and the Ba'ath, the old can be found among many of our current leaders and the mentality they carry that belong to the same generation that bred Saddam but I believe they will melt away as well because no one can go against the direction of time and the clock cannot be forced backwards.

    The green bud looks weak and is buried in the dirt and surrounded by a tough shell but it will break through this covering, pierce the dirt and stand on its feet to announce a new era.

    We will not be defeated and orphans of the dark past will get what they deserve and our sacrifices and the sacrifices of those who stand with us shall not go in vain, our sacrifices will pave an easier road for those want to follow us when they decide it's time for them to change.

    And yes... Iraq will be the model.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    We dare not let them down.

    Far from being the brand-new provocation as they've been portrayed, Sistani's pronouncements have to be seen as epitomizing what Mohammad calls "the old" which is fighting to trample out the new. This is all the more reason not to be in any hurry to withdraw our troops from Iraq. If the troops depart after overseeing the installation of a mullahcracy, shame on the United States.

    Right now I'm wondering whether guys like Thomas Friedman aren't in a little bit of a hurry to sanitize and modernize the medieval Sistani to package him for public consumption.

    Perhaps the goal is to declare victory and get out.

    Well, there are many ways to hallucinate.

    (But at least with drugs, the delusions tend to wear off.)

    UPDATE (03/22/06): Rather than disagree with what I said, commenters below are putting words in my mouth, and disagreeing with what I didn't say. (I suggest reading my more recent post before jumping to conclusions.)

    MORE: My thanks to Pajamas Media for the links to this post!

    posted by Eric at 03:02 PM | Comments (13)

    Patriarchal peeing contest?

    The front page of yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer featured an irresistible story about Philly's latest urinal quagmire. I mean, who could resist this headline?

    City plumbers union says no way to no-flush urinals

    A political fissure has developed between environmentalists (who love the no-flush urinals because they don't waste water) and the plumbers' union (which wants building codes to require old fashioned urinals because the labor costs are higher).

    No, seriously! The situation is an embarrassment for Philadelphia, which always lags behind New York anyway:

    The local plumbers union is blocking Liberty's plan to install no-flush, water-saving urinals in the men's rooms at the Comcast Center. Without them, the finished skyscraper would guzzle an extra 1.6 million gallons of water a year, and Liberty could have trouble obtaining a coveted seal of approval from the U.S. Green Building Council.

    If the 975-foot Comcast Center fails to win the council's certification, the title of tallest green building will fall instead to New York's 962-foot Bank of America Tower, going up across from Manhattan's Bryant Park - complete with waterless urinals.

    Once again, New York wins. And all because it has better toilets.

    New York wins because of better toilets? (I'm assuming that must be why Philadelphia is going to pot....)

    Understanding local political chicanery and corruption is of course the key to understanding the urinalysis:

    "It's a terrible situation. Here's a private developer trying to do the right thing, and they're hitting a roadblock," said Robert Diemer, who chairs the board of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. "This is an important project for Philadelphia. The city needs to take a leadership role."

    Philadelphia's powerful trade unions, which contribute heavily to political campaigns, have long called the shots on various building issues. During the years that the Zoning Board of Adjustment was run by Tom Kelly, head of the Sheetmetal Workers Union, he insisted that even modest construction projects have central air-conditioning rather than less-costly window units. No city code requires a central-air system, which is connected by expensive metal ducts.

    Ironically, the Philadelphia Water Department has been looking for ways to reduce the water flowing into the city's overburdened sewer system. After a heavy rain, the city must often release untreated sewage into the Delaware River. "Waterless urinals would certainly be in line with our sustainable goals," said Glenn Abrams, the department's urban watersheds planner.

    I hate to say anything which might be construed as advice for clueless political hacks, but in this case I think it's safe, because I doubt they read this blog. And besides, I consider my remarks to political satire. If others take satire seriously, that's not my responsibility.

    So, here's what I'd do were I running the plumber's union. I'd contact the local chapter of NOW, remind them of the union's "commitment" to "gender equality," and ask their opinion of the Liberty's building's stated plan to "install no-flush, water-saving urinals in the men's rooms at the Comcast Center."

    I'd ask the feminists, why only the men's rooms?

    Potty parity is not a new idea of course, and I've discussed it repeatedly. But this is a bit different, and from a feminist perspective, I think it's far worse.

    Does this not send a clear message to society that men are more environmentally friendly than women? Doesn't that create and enable a brand new and totally unfair stereotype? Isn't it bad enough that women face discrimination everywhere without granting men another patriarchal advantage to hold over women? Rather than be seen as lagging behind New York, shouldn't Philadelphia be seen as leading the way towards environmental gender equality?

    Those who think this is an exercise in frivolity should bear in mind that some of the most invidious forms of sexist discrimination arise from unnoticed subtleties of precisely this sort. Every time men take a leak in the environmentally friendly urinals, they'll be likely to harbor hidden thoughts that they've done a better job of saving the environment than women. Pretty soon, they'll be emerging from the men's rooms with barely perceptible, knowing sneers. A nod here, a wink there.

    The old boys network is at it again.

    (They always find a way to get a leg up on women.)

    posted by Eric at 09:12 AM | Comments (2)

    The citing of the RINO sightings' insights

    This week's RINO Sightings Carnival is hosted by Doug Mataconis at his excellent Blog, "Below the Beltway."

    In addition to reviewing the many fine posts, Doug links to his own reflections on a Peggy Noonan editorial and asks a question on the minds of many:

    Have the Republicans been snookered?

    That's good question, and I think it may shed light on the questions I raised in my post about about "Goldwater liberalism". It's simple logic, really; if advocacy of big government interventionism is now defined as "conservativism," then why not call principled opposition to big government "liberalism"? (FWIW, I think Bush forged an uneasy coalition between remnants of Rockefeller Republicans and moral majority-style social conservatives -- hoping the Goldwater-style libertarians would just go along with it. Hey, it worked; the guy got his second term, and by the time the check bounces, he'll be out of town. That's not a personal indictment of Bush so much as a reflection on the nature of politics.)

    Among the posts which stood out for me:

    Barry Campbell reminds us that having children is now as politicized as not having them -- with conservatives having the kids and liberals keeping pets. (Meanwhile, the government regulates the kids, while the Animal Rights people want to regulate the dogs.)

    jd at evolution has a post on crackpots who are apparently invoking religion to oppose vaccination against cervical cancer. Sigh. The same mentality opposed the development of treatment for syphilis, as the latter was thought to be a sexual deterrent -- by way of "God's punishment." Yet various remedies for menstrual cramps are sold over the counter despite the fact that menstruation is every bit as much "God's punishment" -- so isn't that a double standard? In fairness, I see no reason why people with religious objections shouldn't have the right not to be vaccinated (or to refuse aspirin for menstrual cramps), in the same way that people with religious objections to certain foods may refuse to eat them. Just please stay away from my plate, and leave my health issues to me, will you Dr. Dobson? In return, I promise to stay away from your dinner table and your medicine cabinet. What could be more fair than that? (Not to complicate the discussion, but I feel obligated to point out that there is also a religious view that even God's alleged curses constitute challenges to be overcome.)

    Chris Tiberius advocates war with Canada (at least a Tomahawk rocket attack) to save the fluffy baby seals. The bastards up there have brought it on themselves by scolding the U.S. about environmental issues. When we think of baby seals, we're supposed to think of cutesy postcards for sale at Barnes and Noble, not images of "adorable fluffy pelts splattered red, crying out in pain as the spears are plunged into their brains." Still, I don't know if I'd go along with outright war, as we're too busy in other countries right now to tackle Canada. Maybe just send in the SEALS to save the seals.

    And Tom Hanna didn't like the historical revisionism in a WorldNetDaily film review. (Considering WorldNetDaily made me defend a film I didn't even like, I'm not surprised.)

    Great carnival; read them all!

    posted by Eric at 07:48 AM | Comments (2)

    Buried treasure can be a gas

    While shopping at the supermarket, yesterday, I forgot my common sense instincts and committed a spontaneous act of frivolity. (And now I'm now wondering about the moral dynamics, if any.)

    When I opened the trunk of my used car (it was "pre-owned" by persons unknown to me), I noticed a round piece of plastic wedged way down between the wall of the fender and the floor of the trunk. It turned out to be really wedged in, but when I pried it out, I discovered that it was a container holding a roll of 35mm camera film. This was odd, because I haven't used regular cameras in years, and I've only owned the car since 2004, so I knew it wasn't mine. I had no use for it, but when I pulled out the roll I saw that the film had been rolled inside -- which meant it was probably someone else's exposed film.

    Mystery film! And there I was -- just yards away from the supermarket which has a film dropoff bin. Without bothering to think things through, I ran in, filled out the envelope, checked the box for the cheapest development option, and left the film there.

    Assuming the developed film reveals photographic images, and I pick them up, does that mean that I would be snooping into the lives of total strangers I never met, and whose names I don't know? (I bought the car from a dealer.)

    Worse still, what if the film contains illegal images? Would the FBI have the right to arrest me for having possessed it and having it developed? The legal issues are perplexing indeed, which is why I'm writing this blog post. (As the bureaucrats say, "CYA" . . .)

    Normally, I would never take such leave of my senses and do something so irresponsible as developing "found photos."

    Should I blame Glenn Reynolds? (His post may very well be what originally planted the "undeveloped" idea in my impressionable mind.)

    Is there any responsibility on the part of the finder for items he may have found? I mean, if I find it, is it mine? Or do I have to possess it in a "willful" manner?

    (Finders weepers, perhaps?)

    And speaking of "found" items, look what Coco has been trying to drag into my house.


    That rusted old cylinder has been half buried in the yard for years (long before I lived here), and I was getting ready to have it hauled away as junk. But Coco, obviously, can't leave well enough alone.


    As a matter of fact, Coco has become obsessed with the thing, because she can't lift it or tear pieces off of it as she would with a log. All she can do is roll it around, and it's tough to show the movement in still pictures, but I think you can see that she's doing her best to grip the tank with her paws. But biting the tank didn't work. Nor did she find straddling and gripping especially fruitful:


    The tank valve is the only thing small enough for Coco to bite:


    But that was also unproductive. So she just rolled it around the yard like a steamroller. Eventually, she became so annoyed with the thing and was making so much noise barking and growling at it that I had to drag her back in the house.

    Might Coco have been trying to tell me that this tank was a very evil thing? I know a little bit about cylinders because I'm a SCUBA diver, and I know a little bit about medical gases from hanging out in hospitals, so I know that tanks can often be identified by their valves. That's because the valves are designed to avoid potentially lethal human errors like hooking up the wrong tank to the wrong intake hose. Tanks used in hospitals come in similar sizes (the one in my yard is an "E" size), but as explained here "the valves are specific for each gas."

    In technical parlance, the valves are differentiated by something called a "pin index yoke system":

    A gas-specific pin-index system is provided on small cylinders: pins on the yoke of the anaesthetic machine mate with holes drilled in specific positions on the valve of the cylinder to provide a mechanical means of preventing incorrect connection.
    Here's the illustration from the above site:


    So, while oxygen tanks are green and nitrous oxide tanks are blue, even a color blind, mentally challenged hospital worker would be physically incapable of hooking up a nitrous tank to an oxygen line or vice versa.

    Coco's tank (well, it isn't mine, and she's more interested in it than I am, so I'll call it hers) is so thoroughly rusted that there's no way to identify it by color. But here's a closeup of the valve, showing the pin yoke part:



    I'd say those off-center yoke pins are a dead giveaway as to the nature of the tank.

    Of course, Coco's a rather humorless sort, and she takes these things much too seriously. I hope she forgives me for saying this in my blog, but Coco just doesn't understand yokes. Even nitrous oxide yokes.

    Nitrous oxide, folks. That's laughing gas.

    No laughing matter!

    posted by Eric at 11:47 AM | Comments (2)

    On being "part of the problem"

    Via Dean Esmay, I found Joe Gandelman's very important post on a very thorny subject: politics and emotion. MRI studies confirm that people who will not listen to reason may be slaves to their ventromedial prefrontal cortexes!

    Apparently, information that relates to politics is not processed by political partisans the same way that normal people process information. Instead, there's something I see as a sort of animalistic threat response. Here's Joe Gandelman:

    Many political partisans get so emotionally involved in issues that taking stands on issues becomes less a process of looking at information from a variety of sources and making decisions than of protecting and defending belief systems. A conflicting fact seemingly endangers a cherished belief system and therefore must be ignored, discredited or simply denied as fact.
    Joe points out that the partisan groups are growing, and warns that it could lead to tribalism:
    The decline in the automatic acceptance of fact-based reporting and the rise of news consumers who now want to read news slanted in way that agrees with their preconceived views (on the right and left) is yet another sign that it's no longer a "given" that people harvest info, sift through and analyze what they have in front of them, and then decide. Rather, many people now seem to pick up factoids that fit into what they already believe, and ignore ones that conflict with what they already "know."

    Instead of the highly-touted global community, in political terms modern-day America increasingly seems moving towards more of a tribal community. Or to a model where politics is like sports and political parties are considered like sports teams: you always defend YOUR team and demonize and dump on the other team (even if the other team does exactly what your team has done minutes before) — and keep focused only on the goal (your team winning).

    As I've said so many times, there's a contradiction between winning a debate and sharing thoughts in order to ascertain the truth. One of the reasons I started this blog was because of my weariness with these "debates" which focus on winning. Blogging struck me as an ideal medium for simply sharing thoughts. What I didn't fully comprehend three years ago was that the blogosphere (at least major portions of it) would become part of the partisan battleground I hoped to escape.

    What really bothers me is that if you aren't a partisan, you'll get more grief from partisans than you would if you were. Worse, you'll get it from both sides. So in light of the study that Joe Gandelman cites, I'm wondering whether political partisans (especially activists of the sort I've tried many times to analyze) might tend to see everyone as either a fellow partisan or an enemy. And, further, that activists might in fact be enraged by non-activists -- in many cases considering them a bigger threat than even the partisan activists from the other "side."

    To put it in more primitive terms, it's as if you have to be a member of a tribe. And to put it in more animalistic terms, if you aren't in our tribe, we'll give you one last chance to join, and if you don't, why, you deserve to die! (It often seems to me that the political divisions in this country are making us more and more like Northern Ireland.)

    In the 1960s, this was reduced to a convenient slogan:


    I think that slogan typifies people who just plain flat-out refuse to listen to reason. Reasoning with people whose only political goal is to determine which "tribe" you belong to and then "debate" you accordingly is an utter waste of time. This can be hard on the emotions of the person trying to use reason.

    Dean identifies this additional factor (something I'm inclined to call "reason fatigue"):

    I'm personally sick of having to shoot down the same arguments over and over and over again.
    Well, I am too, so I try to bypass the problem by finding totally new topics, or attempting to stay with ridicule. Ridicule means not having to shoot down arguments, but instead merely laughing at them as they fly around. I realize this can't always be done, but if something is ridiculous enough -- "scientist" Rosalie Bertell will do as an example -- it's more fun to laugh than shoot.

    That's because it doesn't matter how ridiculous or unreasonable an argument may be. Arguments never die, no matter how many times they may be shot down.

    At the risk of sounding all mealy-mouthed and mushy, I have to confess that there's an eternal optimist trapped inside me who thinks that shooting down arguments is better than shooting down people. Or shooting down civilization.

    (Not all activists would agree.)

    posted by Eric at 09:59 AM | Comments (1)

    Potentially bad news

    I hope this story is not true:

    (London) As Iraq sinks closer and closer to all-out civil war the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is reportedly calling for death to gays and Sunni Moslems.

    Sunni Arabs, who have run Iraq since its creation nearly 90 years ago, total barely a fifth of the population are involved in bitter armed battled with Shiites.

    Sistani, a native Iraqi who was trained in Iran, has emerged as one of the country's leading figures in the push by Shiites for an Islamic republic.

    His heavily armed Badr Corps was trained by the Iranian military in the 1980s.

    The armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, it was brought into the government by U.S. officials in 2003.

    But the Corps, believed to have about 20,000 men, is now suspected of running death squads in the Iraqi police. Estimated to have perhaps.

    On his Web site, used to communicate with Shiite masses throughout the country, Sistani this week issued a fatwa against Sunnis and gays.

    He urges followers to kill homosexuals in the "worst, most severe way".

    "Sistani's murderous homophobic incitement has given a green light to Shia Muslims to hunt and kill lesbians and gay men,” says exiled gay Iraqi, Ali Hili, of the London-based gay human rights group OutRage.

    Hili also heads up the new Iraqi LGBT – UK Abu Nawas group, which consists of exiled gay Iraqis and has close links with clandestine gay activists inside Iraq.

    "We hold Sistani personally responsible for the murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iraqis. He gives the killers theological sanction and encouragement,” Hili in a statement on Wednesday.

    Hili accused the West of allowing Sistani and the Badr Corps to go on a witch-hunt of lesbian and gay Iraqis.

    "Despite Badr’s murderous record, the UK allows its political arm, SCIRI, to have offices and fundraise in the UK. Badr is the terrorist wing of SCIRI. Badr should be proscribed as a terrorist organization," said Hili.

    He also alleged that Badr militants are entrapping gay men via internet chat rooms.

    "They arrange a date, and then beat and kill the victim," Hili said.

    (Via Dean Esmay.) More here.

    I hope it's not true, as I wouldn't want to think that my tax dollars (or American lives) are helping to support someone like that. For now, it's mostly being reported on gay sites. I'd want to see it confirmed in some of the larger mainstream news sites before jumping to some very unsettling conclusions. (Not just about Iraq, but about moderate Islam. Sigh. This is the sort of thing I expect from Hamas. But then, we're not supposed to be supporting Hamas.)

    UPDATE: A recent Wikipedia entry gives reason to suspect that the report about Sistani may be inaccurate:

    On March 16th, 2006, Sistani was blamed for issuing an edict that declared that homosexuality and lesbianism are "forbidden" and that gay people should be killed. However, there are numerous reasons to doubt this unsubstantiated claim. The source for this claim also stated that he was the leader of the Badr Corps and SCIRI: he is not. The probably false edict also stated that Sunnis should be attacked: this goes against Sistani's own previous fatwas.
    Skepticism is a good thing in dealing with reports like this. (I noticed that some of the reports are urging people to show up at an antiwar demo in London this weekend.)

    UPDATE (03/19/06): Writing for Indybay, Juan Cole says much of the Sistani report is untrue:

    the charge leveled by some, and mentioned at Pandagon, that Sistani has called for the killing of Sunnis, is completely untrue. The implication given by exiled gay Iraqi, Ali Hili, of the London-based gay human rights group OutRage, that Sistani has called for vigilante killings of gays, is untrue, though it is accurate that Sistani advises that the state make homosexual activity a capital crime; it is also accurate to call this "sick."
    Cole also points out that the Sistani "fatwas" which are being cited involved "adult men penetrating boys." Moreover, Sistani, claims Cole, "does not have or even claim the right to impose a death penalty on individuals for their activities."
    In contemporary Iraq, the legality of homosexuality would be determined by statute passed by parliament (or by provincial assemblies), and if it were illegal, sentencing would be carried out by civil judges. Sistani is here acting as a jurisconsult, saying what he thinks Islamic canon law requires. But Iraq is not governed, or not solely governed, by shariah or Islamic canon law.

    The Iraqi constitution adopted on October 15 contains a provision that no law be passed directly contradicting the established laws of Islam, but another article says that no law may be passed that is contrary to human rights standards. Given that homosexuality has never been such a big an issue in the Middle East (and for long stretches some sort of homosociality was accepted elite practice) that its prohibition would rise to the level of an "established" Islamic law (thawabit ahkam al-Islam), one wonders if Iraqi law will really take this direction. Certainly, it would not be in accord with the other provision, concerning basic human rights.

    What prompted Cole's post was an outcry by a blogger who treated the Sistani rumor as true, and then stated that there were only "a few degrees of separation" between Sistani and "Christofascists" (fundamentalists in Asheville, North Carolina.) Interestingly, the post drew a number of comments pointing out that it would have been out of character for Sistani to issue such statements. Here's one:
    Huh. Something smells here. For starters, Sistani is not the head of either SCIRI or the Badr Corps; he stays out of politics. Sistani is a moderate. He’s called for unity between Sunnis and Shi’ites several times, and he’s repeatedly ordered Shia not to respond in kind to Sunni acts of violence. In at least one case that I personally know of, he summoned Muqtada Sadr to Najaf and reamed him out for causing death and pain to Iraqis in the name of power. He’s expressed no opinion about homosexuals in at least two years. For him to issue a fatwa on either group is not like him.

    Something really smells here. To, to recap:

    1.Not the leader of these groups.
    2. Not known for homophobia.
    3. Has issued fatwas, but they tend to be in the nature of calming things down, not stirring things up.

    There’s that word ‘reportedly’ there which makes me wonder what actually is going on. But I find this almost impossible to believe.

    It's beginning to look like a hoax. (Maybe an op of some sort, I suppose....)

    posted by Eric at 09:56 PM | Comments (3)

    Goldwater Liberals, unite!

    In addition to the fear of being called right wing (discussed infra), there's also a form of intimidation which can only be called the fear of being called left wing or liberal. Or at least, of being insufficiently right wing.

    Yet it must be remembered that in logic, to refuse to succumb to the fear of being labeled (by acquiescing to the label) does not make the label correct! I get called right wing by leftists and left wing by rightists. Surely I cannot be both. (And surely I still have the right to think what I think.)

    The terms "conservative" and "liberal" are more in use now as insults than accurate descriptors.

    Ditto the catchall phrase -- RINO:

    RINO stands for Republican In Name Only, a disparaging term for a member of the United States Republican Party whose words and actions are thought to be too fiscally or socially moderate or liberal. It has replaced the older term Rockefeller Republican.
    (Here's another traditional definition of RINO -- notable for its failure to mention libertarians.)

    I hear the term "RINO" being hurled around a lot these days. But a lot of the time, it isn't being used to describe Rockefeller Republicans (or even Big Government Republicans like Kristol and Bush). More and more it's being used to characterize disagreement with the social conservative view on certain hot button issues -- particularly abortion and gay rights.

    In other words, libertarian (and I mean that with a small "l") Republicans are now finding themselves called RINOs. (With Big Government Republicans in the party ascendancy, I wonder whether we'll see the term being used to describe Republicans who dislike runaway government spending.)

    At the risk of being divisive of party unity (but can dividing an oxymoron be divisive?) I have a simple question:

    Is Barry Goldwater a RINO?

    If so, I think I should head them off at the pass and take this one step further.

    I hereby declare myself proud to be a "Goldwater liberal."

    While I've mentioned Goldwater fondly before, I never seriously thought of him as a liberal. There's a supreme irony in referring to the grand old man of American conservatism as a liberal.

    Here's his fellow liberal and protege, Sandra Day O'Connor

    And while Goldwater was a minority in his own party -- and in limbo for years after his unsuccessful 1964 presidential campaign -- O'Connor said, ''He managed to articulate conservative views in a way that changed the debate for the nation.''

    Without Goldwater, O'Connor said, there might not have been a President Reagan, whose 1980 election ''certainly had a beginning with the Goldwater campaign in 1964.''

    Well, she's considered a dangerous liberal by the folks who did things like pray for her to die. And when Ronald Reagan nominated her for the Supreme Court, Barry Goldwater fought to get her confirmed. He also committed what would be political treason today:
    [Goldwater]. . .led the 1981 Senate fight for confirmation of a fellow Arizonan, Sandra Day O'Connor, as the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. When Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, was quoted (inaccurately) as saying that every good Christian should be concerned about her because of abortion, he responded "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."
    McCain was pilloried as a borderline Commie for saying something much milder than that.

    I like what Goldwater said about conservatism:

    The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process.
    That sounds pretty liberal to me. Traditional, classical liberalism. Just drop the "conservative" label, and it's fine. So what if it's ironic?

    Hell, even Goldwater himself commented on the irony in 1996:

    In 1996, Barry Goldwater sat in his Paradise Valley home with Bob Dole and joked about his strange new standing as a GOP outsider.

    ''We're the new liberals of the Republican Party,'' Goldwater told Dole, who was then facing criticisms from hard-line conservatives in the presidential campaign.

    ''Can you imagine that?''

    Of course, whether Goldwater became liberal or was liberal all along is an unsettled question.

    But one thing is becoming clear to me. Goldwater has been dead for nearly a decade, but he keeps getting more and more liberal. And I find myself liking him -- and missing him -- more and more. Does that mean I am getting more liberal too? Or does liberalism automatically result from the passage of time?

    I'm wondering what questions this old picture might raise about the passage of time:


    I can remember when the above would have been considered by nearly everyone to be a picture of two famous American conservatives.

    No more.

    The guy on the left is now a liberal.

    Please, dear God, don't let that happen to the guy on the right!

    posted by Eric at 07:20 PM | Comments (1)

    Postponing procrastination accelerates inevitable slowdowns!

    While I'd hesitate to draw too many moral lessons from computer related nightmares, the problem I have been having for the last fourteen hours results from procrastination. (Which might be a moral lesson, of sorts.) And sheer clutter. My main hard drive filled to over 90% capacity, and it was slowing everything down. I knew I didn't need a new computer (even though a strangulating-to-the-point-of-cyber-gangrene hard drive will make an OS unbearably slow), but I knew I needed a new hard drive badly, so I got one.

    (These days, size matters!)

    Assuming it would be a snap with the slick software ("copy drive to drive!" it says), I booted up the poor thing with both hard drives connected, following all instructions to the letter. My hope was that I could transfer everything -- including the OS -- in one fell swoop, but these hopes were dashed by a sudden error message stating that the transfer had been aborted because of file errors, and it was "recommended" that I go back and defrag the old hard drive.

    Defragging a 120 gigabyte drive with only 7 gigabytes free is a challenging and time-consuming (if not impossible) task, but I thought, what the hell, I'll just get some sleep and wake up tomorrow morning and do what I had intended to do. Wishful thinking on my part. Upon rebooting with my old drive, the OS refused to start. Instead it went into an endless reboot cycle, from the Windows startup screen back to the BIOS ad infinitum. Assuming I'd wiped the master boot record, I restored it. No effect. The OS was irreparably damaged by the software that was supposed to merely move it. So, I ended up having to reinstall a new OS on the new 300 Gigabyte drive. This was complicated by the dreaded 137 Gigabyte barrier, and an older anti-growth motherboard. I had to format the new drive for 137 Gigs, thus conning the Luddite board and my old Windows XP CD into accepting the install. After four failed installation attempts, it finally booted! Then I had to go through over 40 lengthy Windows Critical File Updates, then update the XP Service Packs (this all took hours), and only then could I install another piece of software instructing XP's registry to see the rest of the drive.

    Now I'm having to laboriously, manually, go through the old drive to "migrate" the files, folders, settings, and software one at a time. Some of my software goes back to Windows 98, and the old drive ran on Windows 2000, so there are a lot of "issues," and I know this must be as tedious to read as it is to write!

    But that's why I'm slowed down a bit. Hard drives have a way of affecting the ability to blog.

    Procrastination sucks.

    (That's why I always try to postpone it.)

    posted by Eric at 11:26 AM

    But who's responsible for impulses?

    For some reason, TJ's book made me want to play liberal Devil's Advocate and revisit the gun control impulse.

    Impulse is indeed what it's all about. Return once again to this remark by Philadelphia's Police Commissioner:

    At this point, right now, we have over 32,000 people in Philly who have permits to carry (and) actually walk the streets of Philly with a gun. We only have 6,400 police officers. We're outnumbered nearly 5-to-1 with people who are on the streets with guns...
    The liberal impulse is to take away all guns, starting with the most law abiding of all gun owners -- the carefully selected and screened group of citizens who are allowed to carry concealed.

    Yet I think if they were honest, they'd recognize that these people are not the problem. They are not the ones with the oft-described penchant for getting into arguments which can only be resolved by gunfire. (Or, as the chief's equation goes, argument plus presence of firearm equals murder.)

    What I think is being missed is the central moral aspect of the argument for gun control. A communitarian one, and an often unacknowledged one, but one which we disregard at our peril. I do not mean to make the case for gun control here, but I think there is something that no one wants to admit, and it is highlighted by the stark absurdity of Commissioner Johnson's sincere plea to go after the law abiding gun owners.

    Some people are, for lack of a better word, impulsive. Ruled by impulse. Whether you call it "victims of the emotions," whatever it is, they exist. In fact, they're all over the place, and their numbers are growing. Lest anyone think I'm referring to uneducated people or poor people, think again. For years I lived in Berkeley, one of the best-educated cities in the world, and never have I seen so many impulsive people. People I'd never trust anywhere near a gun.

    People who (ironically) wanted to take away my guns.

    Just as there are people who should never take a drink, there are people who should never own a gun. Yet we allow the sale of liquor, and we allow the sale of guns. Why? Because this is a free country, and one which believes in the right to keep and bear arms, the right to self defense, and whose founders once hinted that there might be such a thing as the right to pursue happiness.

    What that means is that people who can't control their impulses will buy guns, they will get into arguments, and they will then use the guns to settle these arguments.

    Communitarians argue that the presence of irresponsible people alongside responsible people means that we must take away all guns -- in a top-down manner -- from the most responsible first, and then work our way down. I think this is a dangerously irresponsible argument, but we can't begin to address it unless we recognize the problem.


    I hate to think that this country is on a collision course between the more-impulsive (the irresponsible) and the more controlled (the responsible), but I do think it lies at the center of the gun control debate.

    To not recognize it is to not recognize reality.

    That's irresponsible in itself.

    Anyway, this division lies at the heart of so many problems which plague me and which cause such bitter divisions between "responsible" libertarians (who think the communitarians encourage irresponsibility by having government nanny statism) and the "irresponsible" communitarians (who think libertarians encourage irresponsibility by opposing government nanny statism). I see this hopeless division in debates over so many things. Like cell phones, pit bulls, Internet pornography, even tolerance for gays. (Let's face it, some people can handle shit, others can't.)

    My own view is that there are people so impulsive that they're in need of protection. There always have been, and always will be.

    But they're not going to protect me, are they? Does that mean I should protect them from themselves (supposedly to avoid my having to protect myself against them)?

    Even if this comes at the cost of my freedom?

    I can't think of anything more irresponsible.

    Others disagree, and think I should give up freedom to protect people from themselves.

    I understand the impulse, but understanding it doesn't make it right.

    posted by Eric at 09:54 AM | Comments (5)

    yearning in anticipation . . .

    Anyone who's a regular reader will know that T.J. Marshman is a regular commenter here. He's also an excellent dialogue writer -- intuitive enough to actually get inside the minds of al Qaida's leadership, and see through their recent, pre-9/11 level chatter. (This remarkable ability was noticed by Glenn Reynolds yesterday.)

    Anyway, if T.J. can get inside the top minds of al Qaida, imagine what he can do with the Seattle street!

    Regarding the old rule about never judging a book by its cover, I think it's safe to disregard in this case:


    As I told TJ, when I took the book on a plane it scared the passenger next to me (at least I hope it was the book....) Once I got into it, I couldn't put it down, as it's a little creepy in the way a morbid soul like me likes creepy, and the narrator ("Clown") has a way of getting inside your head. The dark side of your head. And if your head doesn't have a dark side, I'd say you're either dishonest or you need a shrink.

    I don't want to spoil the book, but I'm going to try to improve on Lulu's book description:

    A frustrated poet decides he'll feel better about himself if he kills someone.
    It's not quite that simple. I think most of us have flirted with the idea of murdering someone. Our poet/narrator takes this a step further, and if you have any imagination at all, you'll be lulled into co-conspirator fantasies as he bounces back and forth from suicide (auto-erotic strangulation) to killing the innocent (out of a twisted sense of aiding righteousness) to zeroing in on What We All Like (which is to actually target and kill an awful sicko who just plain needs killing).

    Favorite line:

    The wonder of not fearing death is that you can do things you'd never consider when you really wanted to live.
    This rings true from my personal experience, and I wish I'd written it in a book. In fact, the whole thing makes me want to write a goddamned book. Read it and you might want to do the same thing. (An army of Clowns, perhaps?)

    Really, I was reminded of the novel I never wrote about some poor shmuck who just couldn't take being a victim anymore, so he decided to become a justifiable murderer. Of course, that wouldn't be murder, which is the whole point of the book I didn't write. (Move into a wretched high crime neighborhood, wait for the burglars, kill them in self defense, stick them in the deep freeze and wait for more....) But here I go, reviewing my own book which I never wrote and probably never will. I admire TJ for sticking to what I never stuck to, and following through. (Some Clown!)

    Highly recommended reading! Especially for those of us who are squeamish about our dark sides. Or our loser sides. (Which means most of us.)

    MORE: (Another tease.) Careful readers of TJ's book will understand the origin of this post's title.

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

    Lies, damn lies, and statistics communitarianism!
    At this point, right now, we have over 32,000 people in Philly who have permits to carry (and) actually walk the streets of Philly with a gun. We only have 6,400 police officers. We're outnumbered nearly 5-to-1 with people who are on the streets with guns...

    -- Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson

    For every child killed with a gun, four are wounded.

    -- The Brady Campaign

    ....a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used to commit homicide, suicide, or an accidental killing than it is to be used to kill in self-defense. Residents of homes containing guns are five times more likely to experience a suicide and three times more likely to experience a homicide than residents without guns.

    -- Ceasefire (quoting Arthur Kellerman)

    Only 1 percent of the homosexual population in America will die of old age. The average life expectancy for a homosexual in the United States of America is 43 years of age. A lesbian can only expect to live to be 45 years of age. Homosexuals represent 2 percent of the population, yet today they're carrying 60 percent of the known cases of syphilis.

    -- Rev. Rod Parsley (quoting Paul Cameron)

    86 percent of pedophiles described themselves as homosexual or bisexual.

    -- Steve Baldwin

    ...the average homosexual ingests the fecal material of 23 different men each year.

    -- Brian J. Kopp, DPM

    If you are a responsible gun owner who hasn't shot yourself and doesn't plan to shoot police officers, you're likely to feel a bit insulted by the gun statistics, and if you're a homosexual who is in good health and hasn't been munching on turds or preying on boys, you might not be too happy with the gay statistics. (And if you're a homosexual gun owner, may God have pity on you, you poor soul.)

    The reason that so many individual gun owners or individual homosexuals would be irritated is precisely because of that individuality. There is nothing individualized about statistics. They are the antithesis of individuality.

    And communitarians tend to see mankind as a vast actuarial table. There are no individuals; there are groups, demographics, trends, tendencies, correlations, extrapolations, probabilities, and possibilities. And in politics, there are "climates" and "slippery slopes." Not only are we all held answerable to the lowest common denominator, we must be reduced to it.

    I hate to say that statistics are inherently communitarian, for absent an analyst with a motive, they are data. It is not until someone uses them to construct things like "policy arguments" that they become communitarian, and usually, the only way they can be used against a communitarian argument is in the few cases where there are no statistics, or where the data simply are wrong.

    I think that what's often forgotten is that arguing one's individuality to a statistician is an exercise in futility (one which I learned in the earliest days of this blog). ("But I won't use my gun to shoot myself!" is wasted on someone who claims "Statistics show you will!")

    If we take the example of Police Commissioner Johnson, he clearly thinks that guns are inherently evil, even in the hands of law-abiding people. If a decent law abiding citizen told him that he would never use his gun to settle an "argument" he'd be wasting his time. That's because Johnson believes that the activity (gun owning) is bad for everyone, because of the statistical irresponsibility of some. Likewise, because some homosexuals are turd-eaters and pedophiles, the rest are to be condemned.

    Whether the statistics are accurate or not isn't the point. They are inherently anti-individual in nature, and I think they both inflame and expand identity politics. Statistics by their nature classify people into groups. Unfortunately, individuals who fall within the definitional parameters of these groups tend to react to the statistics. In a variety of ways. If the group consists of people an individual dislikes, he'll often want to use the stats as evidence to attack the group. (And to show that he is "better" than the group.) But if an individual belongs to that group, his natural tendency is to defend it -- as he'll see the statistic as an attack on himself. Thus, by pulling individuals into a group (or driving him away from it) statistics reinforce the identity of the identified group, as well as the counter-identity of those outside it.

    Individuality is becoming a casualty.

    It's also lonely, especially if you feel "alienated" by identity groups.

    So, you'd better join something, or you won't have any statistics to call your own.


    ...male homosexuals are about one third (31%) more likely than heterosexuals to be left-handed (2), while lesbians are almost twice as likely (91%) to be left-handed as heterosexual women.

    -- Canadian study, discussed here

    Well, "sinister" does mean "left," so I'm not surprised.

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

    My ongoing product placement issues . . .

    While there's no proof that this blog is funded by the tobacco lobby, I did find an online test which has revealed the true identity of my inner drink:

    You Are Coke
    A true original and classic, you represent the best of everything you can offer.
    Just the right amount of sweet, just the right amount of energy... you're the life of the party.

    Your best soda match: Mountain Dew

    Stay away from:Dr Pepper

    Well, something has to go with the faux cigarette-smoking routine I outlined earlier. So why not accessorize?

    (Via Kimdergarten.)

    posted by Eric at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)

    But what about the REAL magic guns?

    Earlier I was asked how huge earth movements like this could be blamed on Bush:

    Geologist Dereje Ayalew and his colleagues from Addis Ababa University were amazed -- and frightened. They had only just stepped out of their helicopter onto the desert plains of central Ethiopia when the ground began to shake under their feet. The pilot shouted for the scientists to get back to the helicopter. And then it happened: the Earth split open. Crevices began racing toward the researchers like a zipper opening up. After a few seconds, the ground stopped moving, and after they had recovered from their shock, Ayalew and his colleagues realized they had just witnessed history. For the first time ever, human beings were able to witness the first stages in the birth of an ocean.
    How to blame Bush?

    Easy, I said. Just ask Dr. Rosalie Bertell, huckster extraordinaire (and 1993 UN Global 500 Laureate). She maintains that the U.S. military's various high pulse experiments, and nuclear experiments have set off earthquakes, tsunamis -- the result being that the earth itself is being utilized as a gigantic military weapon. She's written a book to this effect, appears regularly on the radio, and is all over the usual tin foil web sites. This description of a radio interview with her offers a pretty fair encapsulation of her, um, philosophy:

    "Rosalie Bertell shows how the space programme, Star Wars research and electromagnetic weapons have destabilised the ecosystem, causing widespread devastation in environmental, economic and social terms. She calls for a new approach to security, rising above the national agendas, to seek global solutions to a global problem.”
    She's regularly still in the news (still spouting her usual vintage nonsense) and more recently, she's taken to use a new word "omnicide."

    Wanna read her books? Amazon's got 'em.

    While she's easy enough to debunk, instead of saying "Never mind" like Emily Litella, she launches personal attacks.

    Imagine. An unrepentant Emily Litella! What's the world coming to?


    There's more, of course. Her theories, while entertaining, have been debunked many times (especially her favorite -- the depleted uranium scare). As I'm already repeating myself, I might as well actually repeat myself, because it's easier than rewriting the post I wrote two years ago.

    Sometimes it's worth repeating that snake oil is snake oil.

    So, take this, "Dr. Litella":

    Bertell blames El Nino and many other things on the US military, but a driving interest -- a subject about which she has written extensively -- is the supremely dangerous nature of depleted uranium.

    Nonsense! For the real lowdown on depleted uranium, read Michael McNeil's scholarly refutation of these bogus claims. (via InstaPundit.) See also these posts -- by Steven Den Beste, and Robert Prather.

    But who the hell reads these things? The activists certainly don't.

    What bothers the hell out of me is that this elderly female nun (er, that's not really a redundancy, but I don't want to get off-topic) gets away with monstrous allegations and outright lies, and no one calls her on it.

    And why? The only reason I can see is because she is an elderly female nun , that's why!

    This is logic? I consider it a grotesque abuse of logic.


    Serious people would call this woman a kook -- and consider it a waste of time to even read her or take her seriously. Perhaps that is why she is considered a world renowned "scientist" -- and why she has been awarded five honorary doctorates.

    The problem is the same problem I see with so many things. Criticizing her does not make her go away. Using logic does not make her go away. Defeating bogus hucksterism does not make bogus hucksterism stop, any more than it would stop a traveling circus charlatan from continuing to travel around being a circus charlatan. As long as there are people willing to stand in line to buy snake oil, people will sell it.

    Actually, it might be fun to watch her on the telly. But there I go -- making fun of serious issues.

    Never mind!

    AFTERTHOUGHT: It occurs to me that if people like crackpot conspiracy theories, why should anyone object? Doesn't this nice old lady just provide a little popular entertainment for the masses? I mean, even if they give her a Nobel Prize, is that any worse than handing out Oscars to crummy movies? Why am I being so uptight, and so judgmental?

    Again, never mind!

    posted by Eric at 03:36 PM | Comments (5)

    Magical guns turn nice people into killers!

    Jeff Soyer does a better job of reading the Philadelphia Daily News letters to the editor than I do (I tend to skip letters to the editor, which I shouldn't), and he reprints an especially good one:

    THE NOTION that Philadelphia can control or reduce its burgeoning murder rate by enacting gun-control legislation is nothing short of ludicrous. You write in your editorial that of the 380 homicides committed in Philadelphia last year, about 80 percent were "caused" by handguns. Really? I would have thought that 100 percent of all homicides are committed by other people. Handguns, indeed all firearms, are inanimate objects incapable of independent action.

    Since all murders are committed by criminals, what makes you think that they will all of sudden start obeying gun-control laws when they show no inclination to obey any other laws?

    You must be joking when you call for "ordinances to control such things as where firearms could be discharged or to limit guns on publicly owned grounds." I can just see it now - a young armed thug is about to commit mayhem but suddenly realizes he is standing on publicly owned land and leaves peaceably.

    As to whether one-a-month gun purchases will reduce the murder rate, just look at Washington to see how such legislation is totally ineffective. D.C. doesn't let citizens purchase any handguns in any time period and their murder rate is at or near the top of all the rates countrywide.

    Paul B. Raynolds, Summit, N.J.

    They'd never be allowed to get away with saying that automobile deaths (of whatever percentage) were "caused" by SUVs, because (absent some physical defect or malfunction) accidents are not caused by vehicles, but by drivers. What's especially egregious is that few shootings are accidental in nature.

    Still, the "guns cause murder" meme never seems to go away. Even criminals have caught on, and they're starting to blame their guns. The argument is along the lines of "but for the gun, I would never have shot my friend."

    Murder is said to result from "arguments" which only become fatal because of the presence of a gun:

    In the end, it's not a lack of civility that leads to arguments ending in murder - it's the presence of a gun. Unless the unending flow of lethal weapons gets slowed, no amount of respect for life, or community involvement or police overtime - or even God himself - can solve this problem.
    I don't know how to begin with this logic, but I'll try. Apparently, if I get into an argument with someone (yes, it does happen), the presence of my gun makes it more likely that the argument will "end in murder." Why would that happen? Under what theory is my gun supposed to increase my anger, eventually transforming it into a murderous rage? What am I missing here? How does a gun transform a non-murderous mood into a murderous mood? Now, I can understand the argument that for someone who's already bent on murder, the presence of a gun might make the murder easier to commit. But I cannot see how a gun is going to create a murderous state of mind unless that was already there. Again, this is the magical animus argument at work, and it defies logic, because that's the nature of magic.

    But there are a lot of people who believe in gun magic, and magical guns. The magical guns are so powerful that in addition to making criminals commit crime, they can turn law abiding gun owners into criminals, all by themselves. Lest you think I exaggerate, read what one Philadelphia public official (in this case, Police Commissioner Johnson) says about concealed carry permit holders:

    The commissioner said that the number of police officers is disproportionately low compared to the number of citizens with guns.

    "At this point, right now, we have over 32,000 people in Philly who have permits to carry (and) actually walk the streets of Philly with a gun. We only have 6,400 police officers. We're outnumbered nearly 5-to-1 with people who are on the streets with guns," Johnson said.

    Never mind that concealed carry permits are only issued after a lengthy background check. Or that concealed carry permit holders are much more law-abiding than the rest of the public. They have magical guns, and no matter how law abiding the permit holders have been in the past, their guns will eventually overcome their law-abiding nature, and force them to become murderers.

    Crazy as the theory of magical guns sounds to me, I'm willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the argument.

    So, let's assume guns are magical. What I'd like to know is, what special training is imparted to the police which apparently immunizes them (but not other law abiding people, no matter how carefully screened) against the magical forces which radiate from the guns they carry? There has to be something, because I'm sure police officers get into arguments like everybody else, and yet I haven't seen a single story about an officer's gun turning an argument into a murder.

    So what's the secret? Is there some specialized training that conveys immunity from gun magic? Do they wear magic amulets?

    Whatever it is, if the goal is to neutralize evil gun magic, why not share the secret with the general public?

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

    As games get tougher, the tough get gamer!

    There's a growing anti-videogame mentality in this country. While it's typically directed against "violent" video games (like this Tennessee effort Glenn Reynolds highlighted recently) people forget that (as Glenn reminds elsewhere, that video games can "save your life."

    I think it's worth noting that familiarity with video games (and the video game mentality) might make or break your career in civilian life.

    While I didn't grow up with video games, if I had a kid today, I'd want him to be thoroughly familiar with the technology and the mentality, because like it or not, it's creeping into everything.

    Even something as dry and supposedly mundane as the GRE. (That's the Graduate Record Exam.) Gone are the days in which I grew up when standardized testing consisted of a group of people all taking the same test at the same time. It used to be that every single test taker got the same identical test booklet, and all you needed to to take the test was a pencil. A brain, of course, would help. But the whole idea was to compare in very linear, inherently objective terms, how well the different brains performed when faced with the same test. Obviously, few people know the answer to each question. How much time to spend on a tough question, whether to guess or leave the hard questions to return later is time permits (or if a later question suddenly triggers the memory to supply the answer to an earlier question) -- this all tests the ability of a test taker to use judgment under pressure. But still, all test takers were treated the same.

    That was in the old days.

    Today's GRE is a video game. They don't call it that, of course. It's called a "Computer-Adaptive Test." Instead of having a booklet full of the same questions, the test morphs into an ever-harder challenge depending on how well the test taker performs. It is designed so that no one can "ace the test" as they might have in the old days. Nor can harder items be skipped over and returned to later.

    Because the CAT works like a video game, strategies have developed accordingly.

    With each examinee receiving a different set of questions, there can be perceived inequities.

    Examinees are not usually permitted to go back and change answers. A clever examinee could intentionally miss initial questions. The CAT program would then assume low ability and select a series of easy questions. The examinee could then go back and change the answers, getting them all right. The result could be a 100% correct answers which would result in the examinee's estimated ability being the highest ability level.

    Students in Asia quickly learned that the questions could be shared later, which gave them an advantage. Apparently, this has caused ETS to rethink the game, so they're revising the test to make it more "linear":
    Many graduate students have cheered the GRE board's decision to replace the computer-adaptive test format with a linear testing model. The computer-adaptive test calibrates the difficulty of each question based on how the test taker had answered the previous question. In the linear approach, every test taker receives the same questions in identical order.

    ETS officials said they are no longer administering the test in the computer-adaptive format because examinees in Asia were posting test
    questions from the GRE on Web sites after they had completed the test. In the computer-adaptive format, anyone who takes the test can have the same questions as someone else who took the test at an earlier date. As a result, some test takers had gained an unfair advantage over others who took the GRE before them.

    Well that's a hell of a note.

    Just because of some clever kids in Asia, the ETS is getting rid of Computer Adaptive Testing? No more video game? Well, not until 2007:

    The biggest change will be a shift from a computer-adaptive test to a computer-based linear test. This means the test will be much more standardized.

    Currently, the GRE adapts to your performance so the question pool varies by test taker. You start with a question of medium difficulty. If you answer it correctly, the testing engine serves a harder question and the more correct answers you give, the more difficult the questions get. The new computer-based format means the text would be fixed. Everyone takes the exam on the same day at the same time and receives the same questions in the same order, much like the SAT taken in high school.

    While ETS claims that the test won't be changed until 2007, it hasn't happened yet, and skepticism is being voiced:
    Graduating students planning to take the Graduate Record Examinations this fall will now have extra time to prepare for the new format, which was announced last year.

    Educational Testing Services announced earlier this month that the revised version of the GREs will be delayed until the fall of 2007.

    The implementation of the new format of the exam, which is required for admission into graduate school, was supposed to begin in October 2006.

    The changes will be significant, according to Liz Wands, national director of graduate programs at The Princeton Review.

    She said the new test is changing from a computer-adaptive test to a computer-based, linear test.

    Current forms of the test challenge students — the difficulty levels of the questions increase — and the scores are then calculated based on the level difficulty reached.

    The revised exams, however, will provide the same questions to all students.

    But lovers of the old non video, "fair"-style linear test -- don't hold your breath waiting for things to hurry up and change. It might take longer than ETS is claiming. While ETS is as cagey as the NSA (and probably tougher to pin down), reading between the lines, it's clear that the test is not popular in some circles:
    Despite claims by the ETS that the new exam will more accurately determine how students will perform in graduate school, Wands said The Princeton Review disagrees, adding that the changes came from graduate schools — clients of ETS — which wanted a better, more accurate test.

    “The GRE is changing based on this,” she said. “But they failed to come up with a more valid test.”

    She is not surprised about the delay after several changes in the last few months.

    “The main reason for the delay is because their field testing has not been successful,” she said. “We [The Princeton Review] would not be surprised if it is delayed past 2007, but it is too early to tell.”

    I wonder whether there might be fear of litigation, because it strikes me that there's something unfair about a test that changes depending on the taker. The theory that slower minds should get easier tests, while faster minds get harder tests sounds to me like video-based socialism. Because it's done by computer program, it invites the smarter minds to figure out how it works, and beat not the test, but the game.

    I can't help but wonder whether ETS has any inside data suggesting a correlation between high scores and the video game skills of the test taker.

    Philosophically, I know that all tests can be seen as games. But there's something utterly intriguing to me about seeing tests that appear to be games by their very design.

    I hadn't known about the CAT GRE tests until recently, and I understand why someone who came up under the old school of thinking might be incredibly pissed off by the new way of testing.

    Frankly, I don't know what I think, and I'm glad I don't have to take the test, either in its old format, the new video game format, or the new "return" to the old linear format.

    I hate to say this, but I think my view of the test would probably vary according to how well I could manage to beat it.


    Is morality involved? I mean, if you can deliberately increase your score by pretending to be more stupid than you are, that can't be called cheating, can it?

    I mean, isn't this just a game?

    MORE: Commenter Euler Function explains why pretending to be more stupid than you are would not work. (And assuming that there's no way to correct earlier answers, he's probably right.)

    Also, some apparent confirmation that the credibility of the GRE among admissions officials has suffered:

    Timothy Blackman, associate dean of students in the Social Science Division, said that he did not think there was any consensus among graduate officials at the University of Chicago on whether or not the updated GRE will be given any more weight than the current GRE in admission to graduate school.

    Blackman was reluctant to comment on ETS’s claim that graduate admission officials would perceive the new GRE as a more valid examination of an applicant’s critical thinking skills. He noted that besides GRE scores, a candidate’s transcript and letters of recommendation also take high priority in applications for graduate school.

    Louis Tremante, Senior Advisor in the College, however, recalled that several years ago officials from the Biological Sciences Division had said they felt that the computer-adaptive test format of the GRE made it a less reliable examination.

    “My impression was that they subsequently gave it less weight,” Tremante said.

    ETS has a lot of power over a lot of people's lives.

    I assume there has to be some system of accountability, but I'm afraid I'm outside my field of expertise on the field of GRE testing.

    posted by Eric at 07:54 AM | Comments (12)

    Out On The Kunstler Axis

    Both long time readers and new acquaintences who've delved into our archives may be familiar with James Kunstler. I've taken him to task more than once, and thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

    What the sane well-adjusted reader, fully engaged in his or her life, may not realize is that Mr. Kunstler is merely the tip of a particularly filthy iceberg. Apparently, peak oil doomsmanship is a growth industry, and our Mr. Kunstler is a latecomer to the ongoing bonanza.

    Now, I thought I knew my way around eco-apocalypse as well as the next man, but I must confess to a degree of consternation at the hyperbolic rhetoric gushing from certain quarters these days. It makes Kunstler look like a staid Rotarian. After all, he thinks our retrograde social slide will stop at the early nineteenth century. In Peak Oil quarters, that makes him an optimist! Others (who should know better) are not so sanguine...

    "By 2025, we're going to be back in the Stone Age."

    That's the opinion of Kenneth S. Deffeyes, retired Professor of Geology at Princeton. Cheerful old sod, isn't he? Sadly, I suspect he's not entirely engaged in hyperbole here. Or is he?

    I do have an apology to make...After stating that the world oil peak had already occurred on December 16, 2005, I reported that the Bush administration hoped to double the direct solar electric generation from the present one percent to two percent by the year 2025. My fingers got away from me and typed out: "By 2025, we'll be back in the Stone Age." I'm sorry that some readers thought that I actually meant that we would be wearing furs and hunting buffalo with flint spear points. It's called "hyperbole." Nevertheless, I have been looking into acquiring some property on the Arkansas novaculite belt. Great flint.

    His fingers got away from him. Well, I suppose it will all be very funny until someone puts a pistol in their mouth. And as JD at Peak Oil Debunked has pointed out...

    Yah, I know how those finger slips go, Ken. It happens to me a lot, but I usually just erase with the delete key and retype. Generally, I don't break the goof out of the body of the main text, and highlight it in yellow with a snappy black border.

    Good point about the snappy black border. Still the man is disavowing his earlier remark, no matter how ironically. So if you prefer that your Oil Peak Prophets be certified absolutely irony free, just consider this fellow...

    To those sentimentalists who cannot understand the need to reduce UK population from 60 million to about 2 million over 150 years, and who are outraged at the proposed replacement of human rights by cold logic, I would say “You have had your day, in which your woolly thinking has messed up not just the Western world but the whole planet, which could, if Homo sapiens had been truly intelligent, have supported a small population enjoying a wonderful quality of life almost for ever. You have thrown away that opportunity.”

    Perhaps he's just certifiable? That was William Stanton, sharing his deep thoughts with us. Charmingly frank, isn't he? Have you noticed how it's always too late for reasonable measures with these sorts of fellows?

    Back in the Golden Age, Paul Ehrlich was advocating compulsory sterilization of the heedlessly procreating Indian peasantry. The battle to feed humanity, after all, was over. It had been fought and lost. Harsh measures were called for, since the ultimate survival of our civilization was at stake. I fear that Mr. Stanton puts Dr. Ehrlich in perspective as the whiney little milk-sop bitch he truly is. Check it out...

    The scenario is: Immigration is banned. Unauthorised arrives are treated as criminals. Every woman is entitled to raise one healthy child. No religious or cultural exceptions can be made, but entitlements can be traded. Abortion or infanticide is compulsory if the fetus or baby proves to be handicapped (Darwinian selection weeds out the unfit). When, through old age, accident or disease, an individual becomes more of a burden than a benefit to society, his or her life is humanely ended. Voluntary euthanasia is legal and made easy. Imprisonment is rare, replaced by corporal punishment for lesser offences and painless capital punishment for greater.

    Whew! A commenter suggested that the above piece of nasty sounds better when read aloud with a German accent. I do believe they're on to something. Ruhig, untermenschen! Heute...England! Am morgen...die ganze welt!

    Regarding all those excess people cluttering up the countryside, Ehrlich just wanted to cut their nuts off. Herr Doktor Stanton proposes to kill them outright, albeit painlessly, and only after the optimal amount of their socially beneficial labor has been extracted. Are we making progress here, or what?

    A rough calculation suggests that by following these Draconian but simple rules UK population could be reduced by 5 to 10 million during the first ten years, without excessive pain (compared to the alternatives). If this was thought too fast or too slow, there would be scope for modifying the child entitlements. The punishment regime would improve social cohesiveness by weeding out criminal elements.

    I should certainly think so. And that social cohesiveness through public flogging bit sounds like a real win/win doesn't it?

    UK military forces should be maintained strong and alert, given that other nations working to different scenarios, or to none, would certainly attempt Darwinian piracy on UK trade routes, or mount mass immigration invasions of UK coasts...

    Mass immigration invasions? Darwinian piracy? Say what?

    "Arrrrr, Jim. Yer wee favorable alleles be smart as paint, lad, just smart as paint. Hie ye o'er here and bowse yer jib wi' auld Long John."

    The, um, extended phenotype? Perhaps we should just move on...

    What you couldn't know from the excerpts I've fed you so far is that Stanton postulates an economy based on wood burning as its primary power source. It's ever so sustainable, and "greenhouse neutral" too. Too bad it's also freaking insane. For an excellent first hack at his flawed premise, check out the Ergosphere's analysis.

    Is 230 tons of wood per capita per year a reasonable assumption, what would it take to get its energy equivalent without burning fossil fuel, and how much land would be required?

    Assuming elm wood at 20 million BTU/cord (128 cubic feet), 23% void space and 35 pounds per cubic foot yields a heat product of ~5800 BTU per pound or ~3750 kWh per metric ton. 230 tons per capita per year comes out to 862,500 kWh/capita/year or an energy consumption of 98 kW equivalent. That's average, not peak. This is clearly a very high number, leading to an extremely pessimistic conclusion...

    Forests are not particularly good converters of solar energy to biomass; they use a great deal on housekeeping. Grasses are certainly better. But is biomass even among the top contenders? Stanton's productivity figure of 8 dry tons per hectare per year leads to an average power capture of 30,000 kWh/ha/yr or 3.4 kW/ha. This is a pitifully low figure. If the average house has a footprint of 80 square meters, the roof is covered with PV cells at 15% efficiency and each square meter receives an average of 4 kWh of sunlight per day, the roof would produce 48 kWh/day or an average of 2 kW.

    A hectare of these roofs would average 250 kW, or more than 70 times Stanton's assumption. A city-full of solar roofs could easily be twenty times as productive as Stanton's proposed energy farms; a hectare could support the complete energy needs of 25 people, and the land Stanton would devote to a hamlet of 100 would be able to support the energy needs of 7500 people using a mere 10% of its 3000 hectares - much of which could be met by the light falling on buildings and roads...It is clear that the assumption of a wood economy is not just unreasonable, it is ridiculous.

    Hmm. I wonder what the Engineer-Poet would make of that barodynamic (pneumokinetic?) power plant notion at Cold Energy LLC. Is it just a pipe dream? He has the analytical math skills which I (in all humility) lack.

    Regarding Stanton and his ilk, I find that it's almost too easy to laugh at such people. And very much to their credit, most of the people who buy into the peak oil doom scenario find such ideas contemptible. Good for them! But they're still sick with worry about this alleged doom hanging over their heads.

    Thirty five years ago I was taught to believe as they do and I'm truly sympathetic to their situation.
    It's not especially pleasant to contemplate the wreck of all you hold dear. I know. Having shared their situation, perhaps I'm overly sensitized to their troubles. I'll let you be the judge.

    Let me give you just a few examples from the comment section of Peak Oil Debunked, a site that I admire most for going out and digging up, you know, actual facts. But enough with the introduction. Let's meet some worried people...

    All the sites you mention are not only inaccurate, they are actually dangerous. Many people (myself included) have been taken in by the 'scientific' language used and wasted enormous amounts of time and energy on worrying and preparing for the 'hard landing' scenario they assure us is inevitable. Because these sites all link to each other it can take a long time before you realise that nobody else thinks like they do. I got caught up in the downward spiral of checking, energybulletin, bloomberg's oil page and several egroups (runningonempty2 & 3, alasbabylon etc.) on a daily basis - this leads to a self-reinforcing belief that the doomsters are right. This leads to a mindset that thinks things like: 'What is the point in trying to better yourself as it's all going to end soon anyway?' I think it is essential that the whole 'peak oil' bandwagon is exposed as a gigantic fraud...

    I agree. But it's rather daunting when I realize that this is the same sort of flaccid, half-baked, dismal pseudo-science that I've been railing about for twenty years now. You'd almost think that no one was listening...

    I have to say, first off, that I'm like anonymous #2 said. I discovered the concept of PO through one of the scariest doorways possible: LATOC...and let me tell you, to this day i am really grateful to Matt Savinar for the wake up call...the problem with LATOC's approach is that...lawyers present only those facts that support their case and work very very hard to hide or discredit any facts that go against their case...

    LATOC almost cost me my job and my family. i was almost literally paralyzed (certainly mentally) for months. like anon #2 i visited dieoff, read the olduvai crap, spent a lot of time on runningonempty. my wife started to find me intolerable, i was unable to get work done at my job, i was neglecting my kid... basically i was of the opinion that we are already totally fucked and there's nothing to do but wait for the carnage to begin.

    it took me a long time to get out of the funk, and i'm now significantly more optimistic. deep down inside the fear remains, but i realized that it's not game over yet.

    i think this is a bad thing that happened to me. i could easily see people like myself putting a gun in their mouth or committing non-physical suicide such as losing their jobs, health, etc.

    i don't want to sound like a JD worshipper, but this blog was a primary reason for me getting out of my funk...i disagree with JD on a lot of points, and don't share his optimism for space power or his disdain for the american people but i do agree with this blog's name more and more.

    So JD has helped save a marriage at the very least. Perhaps even a life. That's more than most blogs manage to do. Let's meet another depressed fellow...

    I have to agree with Popmonkey. Like him, I came to the notion of Peak Oil via LATOC.

    Also like him, I was emotionally paralyzed with fear. He talks about metaphorically putting a gun in his mouth. I very nearly did so literally, and only responsibility to my wife and two young children saved me from that...Fortunately, I started reading some other stuff...

    While the doomer sites do get your attention, I fear that they are dangerous. As I said, if it weren't for my kids, LATOC would be responsible for at least one death by now...

    There is no question for me that peak is inevitable. On the other hand, I now hold out hope that we can and will be able to sustain worthwhile life on Earth without massive die-offs and collapse of civilization.

    Progress, of a sort. I'm somewhat heartened. Certainly, some people will cling to their negativity like gloomy remoras rather than admit the possibility of success. It makes me happy that this fellow was willing to evaluate the evidence dispassionately, and then change his mind. If you spend enough time on political blogs, you begin to doubt that's possible...

    I remember when I first came across Peak Oil through the doomer websites, it was like the entire universe had come crashing down. It was the worst feeling I have ever experienced. Because I knew very little about oil and oil-related issues, I just assumed that things like "oil has no substitutes" and "oil creates a phantom carrying capacity" were true.

    Luckily I did some proper research and soon realised that there are about a thousand solutions to Peak Oil. The argument that increasing oil prices will make them impossible to implement is utter bollocks.

    Music to my ears. A good home research program can have a remarkably calmative effect. Outreach can be helpful too...

    I'd like to converse with some of you guys. See, I've been in the PO Doom for about a month now and I had it early in the year as's funny someone talked about offing themself, because I've come close several times now...

    If people want to shoot their mouths off and panic the unwary, well, I suppose that's their constitutional right. Caveat emptor, and all that. I would never want to abolish freedom of speech, or even just abridge it a little. And I would certainly be the last man to say that people shouldn't have hobbies. But Kunstler and the other Peak Oil Professional Alarmists offend me.

    They deserve as much ridicule (leavened with helpful facts) as we can possibly afford to ladle out. In a nutshell, they are despicable opportunists, battening on the fears of the trusting and credulous. They steal attention from real problems (of which we have no shortage). Ridicule is too good for them.

    posted by Justin at 04:38 PM | Comments (4)

    Playing with powerful forces of darkness. . .
    (No really. Just playing.)

    After that last post, I need some cheering up. Oddly enough, a memory involving my gallows humor supplied just the prompt.

    As it happens, on the occasion of one of my friend's deaths, I "inherited" his last pack of cigarettes. But what do you do with a pack of cigarettes if you don't smoke? Being a sentimental sort, I carried around the silly cigarette pack, as if hopeful that it might contain some magical connection to the land of the dead. I remember going to some bureaucratic office or another and sitting there nervously. While I drank heavily in those days, I recall seeing a big "NO SMOKING" sign in front of an angry overweight female bureaucrat (the sort my now dead friend would have hated), and this prompted my mischievous side to take the package of cigarettes out of my pocket. Whoa! Was I bad or what? Now, I had no intention of smoking, because I don't smoke, but there I was, all nervous and full of a mischievous desire to eke out a tiny bit of meaningless vengeance any way I could. So, just as I felt certain that the pair of angry dull eyes was beaming malevolence in my direction, I took the pack and actually started making it go "tap tap tap" onto my other hand!

    "THERE'S NO SMOKING IN HERE!!" was the immediate shriek in my direction.

    Looking over, I said (feigning innocence, although in truth I was innocent), "I wasn't going to smoke them. I'm just tapping them."

    Needless to say, this did not calm the infuriated bureaucrat down. She repeated her command, which was totally lost on me, and only made me feel more mischievous. I mean, if you aren't smoking, you aren't smoking, right? I felt no need to put the cigarettes away, because there was no rule against possessing or displaying cigarettes, only smoking them. The amazing thing was her attitude. I think she'd have been less irritated had I been a real smoker shamed into submission. (Or, I guess, guilt-tripped into submission, depending on your, um, "values.")

    How could I feel guilt or shame when I had no intention of smoking?

    One of these days, I'd love to make a video called "Playing With Cigarettes." But there are so many issues involved.

    And so many loopholes in the law.

    I know it's hard to believe, but as a free American, I still enjoy the following rights:

    The right to buy cigarettes.

    The right to possess cigarettes, anywhere and at any time.

    The right to keep and bear cigarettes, a right which exists no matter where I am, because cigarettes are actually legal.

    The right even to brandish cigarettes.

    It's the brandishing which most fascinates me, because it's as legal as it is inflammatory in nature. Considering the general disgust I feel for the anti-smoking movement (especially its more pompous manifestations), I think there might even be a First Amendment right to brandish cigarettes as a form of political free speech expression.

    How far can cigarette brandishing go? Is there a legal definition of smoking? Clearly, there's a slippery slope somewhere, but certainly brandishing the pack is not smoking. Nor is tapping the pack.

    How about pulling out an individual cigarette and tapping it?

    Putting it in your mouth? Is that smoking? Sorry, but without fire, there can be no smoke.

    What about pulling out a pack of matches? Getting ready to strike one? Actually striking a match? How close does the match have to get to the cigarette before we can call it "smoking."

    Can there be such an offense as attempted smoking? And even if the attempt requires intent to smoke, could deliberate cigarette brandishing in publicly marked "NO SMOKING" areas be considered disturbing the peace? If so, why?

    Anyway, these would be fun issues to explore in a film.

    But I think I should end with a sobering afterthought. Lest anyone think this is just a funny idea from a blogger, shouldn't it be remembered that I might be working for -- or in the pay of -- the (gasp) tobacco lobby?

    Can anyone prove I am not? Doesn't that mean I might as well be?

    What this means, of course, is that it's wise to keep in mind the warnings against hidden blogger evil quoted by Scott Burgess:

    "Behind those quirky expressions of personal opinion may lurk, undeclared, some powerful forces."
    (Via the blogosphere's lurkiest, quirkiest, undeclaredest, power.)

    posted by Eric at 02:20 PM | Comments (4)

    Keeping cluelessness in the closet

    I was looking at an old picture last night, showing me at my 1982 law school graduation. Three of my closest friends are there -- two in front of me, one behind me. One was to die in 1986, another in 1988, the other in 1995. I went to law school because of them, and they helped get me through by making life as easy as they could for me, and giving me a sense of purpose, and above all a sense of community. It's painful to look at that picture right now, because I looked so damnably happy. Not a clue that a tiny virus was about to destroy that community I so loved and depended on.

    Community? Well, yes. Not really a community in today's "identity politics" sense of the word, but a community nonetheless. We were arrogant enough to call ourselves a "family" before the reactions and counterreactions surrounding identity politics inflamed and then destroyed that word. (AIDS, of course, helped cement gay identity politics firmly into place by a mechanism similar to martyrdom.) These days I'd hesitate to call my dog a family member. . .

    In one of his inimitable from-the-belly-of-the-beast style posts, Sean Kinsell reflects on the angry gay commenter who menaced Dr. Helen Smith with threats of lawsuits, death wishes, and angry insults.

    As far as I'm concerned, people who haven't been out long get some leeway if they're a little touchy and extra-combative about gay stuff. But no one in his mid-30s gets enough leeway to accommodate looking forward to someone's next heart attack. I don't care whether you just came out ten minutes ago and were driven from your parents' house by your entire knife-brandishing extended family--if you've been an adult for over a decade, you are supposed to know how to handle yourself in public, and if you're not up to it, you keep still until you've regained your equanimity. When you cross a line or two--I've certainly been known to--you apologize and discipline yourself not to do it again.

    Would that it were only his tone that was objectionable, but the content doesn't entirely wash, either. There are few beliefs propagated by some of my fellow homos that drive me up the wall more than the idea that the pain and isolation we experience up until we come out exhausts our full lifetime ration of misery and that, therefore, it's society's job to make us feel good about ourselves from that point on. No, no one ever actually puts it that way, but the implicit belief that any questions raised about gay life are in and of themselves anti-gay or [yawn] homophobic seems to govern a lot of the public debate.

    But life doesn't work like that for ANYONE. Fat people, Mormons, and folks with Appalachian accents who move to the big city come in for their share of callous judgments, and they're expected to deal. If they decide they'd like to change, no one goes bananas trying to prevent them, even in cases in which it seems they'd probably be happier just accepting themselves.

    Homosexual behavior only began to be decriminalized very recently. No one should be bowled over by the fact that a lot of people still have strong positions against it. Or by the fact that some people are unhappy being homosexual themselves. Or by the fact that parents who wish their kids weren't homosexual will try everything they can to remold them--the same way pushy parents who want their artistic kids to become lawyers or want their bookish kids to play on the football team do. One need not like such situations to acknowledge that bureaucratic fiat is a bad way to try to address them, especially when it's alloyed with identity politics.

    Sean is right. And on a personal level, the whole "coming out" thing has always annoyed me, as I just never got it. I never knew what coming out was, because I never experienced the phenomenon. Instead, when I was 16 hears old I pontificated about human sexuality at the high school lunch table, allowed that I was "bisexual" and speculated about certain activities. I noticed that this frightened a few asshole jocks in the same way that a snake or a rat might frighten a group of girls. No one dared say a word. They looked at their food. If that's coming out, where was the party? What's coming out when you weren't in? The words never quite worked, and they still don't. So why are people so imprisoned by them? Why do people care? Do they really care, or do they just say they care?

    Understanding the fact that people get all hot and bothered over sexual issues is beside the point, really. It's important to understand that they do, but unless you feel what they are feeling, the understanding is purely intellectual, and not of much value in any sort of meaningful debate. Typically, a young man who "comes out" about his homosexuality goes through what we are told is a gut-wrenching emotional experience. I know that because I have read about it. But I do not feel it. There's just no empathy there. Similarly, the emotional reactions of people on the other "side" of this proper-placement-of-penises issue is something I understand intellectually, but I'm at a loss to feel what they claim to be feeling.

    By no means am I singling out people with strong religious objections to homosexuality. I don't even mean to necessarily include all of them, because I am talking about emotions here, not religion. (The two are not synonymous, and there are plenty of people with religious convictions who aren't emotional about them.)

    As I just brought up the stereotype of girls with snakes, let me stay with the snake analogy. (OK, I know animals aren't moral issues but bear with me. Yeah right! "Animals aren't moral issues"? Tell that to the activists....)

    Well, sorry to catch myself in another thoughtcrime there. But "animal morality" aside, there are people who have a strong aversion to snakes, who find them repugnant and cannot stand to be around them. This might be called "fear," but it might be more than that and I'm trying to avoid labels here. Anyway, there are other people who think snakes are beautiful and cool. And there are people who have no strong feelings at all about snakes, but who might see them in the same morally indifferent way they'd see squirrels. Would it not be unreasonable to expect these latter two groups to share the deeply felt feelings of the "strong reaction to snakes" group? While the "snakes are cool" group and the "snakes are terrible" group might even be so incapable of dialogue as to be in direct conflict with each other, and the "indifferent-to-snakes" people might understand that there are people with strong feelings, it would be unreasonable to expect people to feel feelings they just don't have.

    The frenzied "I just came out and I'm proud" people and the people who regard homosexuality with shock and awe -- these are people my rational side understands are there. But my emotional side only finds their emotions irritating, because I don't share them. In my case, it's further complicated by the fact that the intimates I lost to AIDS all tended to be in the "proud and emotional" category, and I get a bit hot under the collar when I sense that they are under attack. I am emotional about the need to defend the ethoi of dead people I failed to save (and I feel irrational guilt and anger over my failure to save them). And while it is personal to me because they are dead and I loved them, its not as personal as it would be if I actually felt what they felt about the sexual issues which still plague us in the form of the "Culture War." As to homosexuality, the emotions I feel are not grounded in issues of gay activism or gay politics. I despise these labels and I hate identity politics as well as the shrill and hysterical activism and petty demands. What I get a little emotional about from time to time is the mentality which I see as disrespecting the memory of my dead.

    It's not easy trying to explain why I feel so strongly about this when the "issue" is one I don't feel strongly about.

    Anyway, looking at the law school graduation picture reminded me that I'm as clueless now as I was then. I mean, here I am, stumbling through life with this ridiculous can't-we-all-get-along attitude while the psychotic mullahs are trying to get that nuke into a shipping container to level Manhattan and make me move to California in the hope that somehow I'll be left alone.

    My biggest worry is not whether I came out but whether they'll shut down the blogosphere when we're nuked. Because, after all, blogging happens to be the community I now have, and life has taught me to fear destruction of my communities. Looking at the picture of my law school graduation, it's appalling how clueless I was about the coming destruction of everything I loved. I don't want that to happen again. But I fear that I'm as powerless over nukes as I was over a tiny virus.

    To give just one teensy example or why I worry, if the damn thing goes off tomorrow, how do I know I'll be able to write a post?

    If there's one thing worse than depression talking, it's reality talking. Reality sucks bad.

    The problem is, even as I relate this painful history, I must make the case for cluelessness. I was probably better off not knowing that AIDS would destroy my community. Life was more fun not knowing.

    Contrast that with 9/11 -- an event which struck me as a mild prelude to the nuke I expected. I was not surprised in the least by 9/11. I will not be surprised by the damned nuke. I'll just be more bitter. (To the millions of Americans who'll be dead and dying, I doubt my told-you-so bitterness will be very helpful.)

    The bottom line is that, like it or not I am as powerless against the nuke as I was against a tiny virus. And the picture reminded me of it.

    The difference of course, is that in 1982 I didn't see the AIDS virus coming.

    (Is that supposed to be a comforting thought?)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Reading over this post, I'm aware that I'm looking on the dark side, so I should add a maybe.

    Maybe we won't be nuked. After all, it hasn't happened yet.

    UPDATE: I was delighted to read ShrinkWrapped's take on homosexuality:

    ....there is no single entity known as homosexuality; just as there are a myriad of characterological and constitutional determinants that shape one's heterosexuality, the same is true of homosexuality.
    I'm not a psychotherapist, but I've been saying the same thing for years, and I know it's true from my own observations, experience, and common sense. ShrinkWrapped and Dr. Helen renew my faith in the psychoanalytic profession.

    posted by Eric at 09:18 AM | Comments (1)

    French Mimes On The March

    You may have already seen this on Instapundit, but on the off chance that you missed it, check out this pack mule robot from Boston Dynamics.

    It's one of four different models, and though it creeps me out just a bit, it also makes me laugh. Check out the video. I swear, the thing appears to be mincing. In fact, it reminds me of nothing so much as two skinny French mimes trapped head to head in a gigantic aluminum chinese finger trap. Magnifique! C'est le "high concept", non? You will admire the black leotards!

    The tree climbing robo-tick is even creepier.

    posted by Justin at 09:00 AM

    Religion ends satire, or satire ends religion?

    Attention South Park conservatives! (And this probably applies to South Park liberals as well....)

    The Chef has quit. Well, his voice, that is. Isaac Hayes refuses to continue doing the Chef voiceover any longer, because of what he considers the show's disrespect for religion:

    Hayes, who has played the ladies' man/school cook in the animated Comedy Central satire since 1997, said in a statement Monday that he feels a line has been crossed.

    "There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," the 63-year-old soul singer and outspoken Scientologist said.

    His concerns are not over Islam or Christianity, or Muhammad cartoons, mind you. South Park went too far when it made fun of Scientology:
    "South Park" co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem — and he's cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians."

    Last November, "South Park" targeted the Church of Scientology and its celebrity followers, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, in a top-rated episode called "Trapped in the Closet." In the episode, Stan, one of the show's four mischievous fourth graders, is hailed as a reluctant savior by Scientology leaders, while a cartoon Cruise locks himself in a closet and won't come out.

    Trapped in the Closet? Doesn't that also have a homophobic ring to it?

    I'm sorry to see the Chef go. I know satire has its limits, but these Scientologists sound like a particularly intolerant bunch. When I previously took a peek at Tom Cruise's statements, I honestly didn't know where to begin. I mean, what's to satirize about stuff like this?

    The hundreds of billions of captured thetans were taken to a type of cinema, where they were forced to watch a "three-D, super colossal motion picture" for 36 days. This implanted what Hubbard termed "various misleading data" (collectively termed the R6 implant) into the memories of the hapless thetans, "which has to do with God, the Devil, space opera, etcetera". This included all world religions, with Hubbard specifically attributing Roman Catholicism and the image of the Crucifixion to the influence of Xenu. The interior decoration of "all modern theaters" is also said by Hubbard to be due to an unconscious recollection of Xenu's implants.

    In addition to implanting new beliefs in the thetans, the images deprived them of their sense of identity. When the thetans left the projection areas, they started to cluster together in groups of a few thousand, having lost the ability to differentiate between each other. Each cluster of thetans gathered into one of the few remaining bodies that survived the explosion. These became what are known as body thetans, which are said to be still clinging to and adversely affecting everyone except those Scientologists who have performed the necessary steps to remove them.

    The question in my mind isn't where satire ends, but where religion begins. I try to take everything seriously and I try to be respectful within the limits of . . ah, never mind!

    Sorry, but I think the body thetans have gotten the better of Mr. Hayes.

    posted by Eric at 06:33 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

    Theories of rights are going to the dogs!

    I don't write about the gay issue as much as I should. The reason, I am sorry to say, is that people feel so strongly about the issue on both sides that it really isn't capable of rational discussion. A perfect example can be found in the comments to this post by Dr. Helen Smith about the American Psychological Association's attempt to silence advocates of so-called "reparations therapy" for homosexuals seeking to change their sexuality. For what it's worth, this "reparative therapy" business strikes me as hokum, but it's not my business to tell other people either what to do with their penises or whether to enlist professional help if they don't like what their penises are doing.

    Dr. Helen is also skeptical, but asks whether this is the client's business:

    Personally, I'm skeptical about turning gay people straight. But shouldn't the client be the one to choose, not the APA? The APA has decided that the answer is no.

    Not only did the APA deny CE (Continuing Education) credit to professionals attending the annual NARTH conference in November, stating that "The program content is not consistent with APA policy" but the APA is attempting to declare therapy to modify sexual orientation unethical (National Psychologist, March,April 2006). Nicholas Cummings and Rogers Wright, authors of Destructive Trends in Mental Health,talk about the APA's attempt to silence those who disagree with their positions...

    Because of this thoughtful post, a relentless commenter descended upon the blog, among other things calling Dr. Helen a "closed minded conservative bigot" who "thinks gay kids committing suicide is something that should be encouraged." And threatening litigation:
    How many years have gay people spent trying to "change" their sexuality to no avail?

    I myself spent 15 years.

    It's about time we started a lawsuit against these phonies at Narth. And I think Dr. Helen should be included in that lawsuit.

    This shit has been forced on us. We were lied to as well. The "success" rates they tout have been proven to be bogus crap.

    Fine - try to convert us all you want. But when it fails - you have every right to be held accountable for destroying people's lives. It's called malpractice.

    It's time to sue Dr. Helen and make her defend this hocus pocus crap in front of a jury of her peers.

    Time to sue Dr. Helen? For allowing that clients might have a right to seek "reparations therapy" even though she's skeptical of the idea?

    I left a comment echoing what I've said in this blog for years:

    If there is such a thing as sexual freedom, well, doesn't that mean the right to be free to choose what you do sexually? If there's a right to be gay, isn't there just as much right not to be? This intolerant attitude reveals major insecurity on the part of gay activists -- it's as if the idea what other people might do sexually is a threat to their own sexuality. Even their existence! Yet wasn't the gay movement originally started to combat intolerant and intrusive views of human sexuality?
    The issue was once whether there's a right to be gay. Over the years that has morphed into the crazy idea that if you are gay, you must always remain gay because it is your identity, and that the slightest disagreement with this idea constitutes the direst threat, and actually causes harm. This makes no sense, and I think it's a form of intolerance motivated by a type of insecurity similar to (although not as extreme as) what we've been seeing in the case of people who went ballistic over the Muhammad cartoons.

    Anyway, the commenter* became more and more ballistic, until he finally declared (after having left 19 comments) that the blog bored him -- but he'd be back after Dr. Helen's (whom he calls "Dr. Laura") "next heart attack":

    This blog bores me.

    I'll come back when Dr. Laura has her next heart attack to give my condolences . . .

    I can think of few things more vicious -- and yes, evil -- than gloating over the prospect of someone with a heart problem having a heart attack. (I can only wonder what the commenter's reaction would have been had someone said "I'll come back after you die of AIDS." BTW, he's also targeted Eugene Volokh.) That kind of insulting ad hominem invective is simply outrageous. It's one of the reasons I started this blog.

    I was feeling especially daring this morning, so when I read the attacks I was emboldened to leave another comment (even though it might have been very insensitive of me):

    Helen, I'd like to really stick my neck out here and take issue with the preposterous assertion that you are a "closed minded conservative bigot" who "thinks gay kids committing suicide is something that should be encouraged."

    Insulting and outrageous remarks like those illustrate why most people hesitate to discuss the gay issue, as well as any other identity politics issue. Intimidation often works. I'm glad it doesn't in your case.

    Unfortunately, the hurling of threats, insults and ad hominem invective has become an inherent feature of identity politics. Anyone who disagrees with any of the premises is fair game. Reasonable disagreements can result in charges of "encouraging suicide." Or even "genocide."

    Jeff Goldstein has another excellent post on the mechanism, and warns about the risk of not standing up to it:

    Until we begin doing so, we’ll be cowed into making apologies we don’t mean to people or groups who don’t deserve them. Such is the power of the conditioning we’ve received in this country—through years of schooling and a culture of PC “tolerance”—that our greatest fear is to be labeled racist or homophobic or misogynistic, which is a most powerful weapon against intellectualism, inasmuch as it is able to put the apostate to PC orthodoxy on the defensive, and so forestall substantive debate. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)
    The irony, of course, is that identity politics arose as a reaction against bigotry. Over time, that has morphed into the redefining of bigotry as disagreement with identity politics.

    Increasingly, rights no longer mean the right to do or not do something or the right to be left alone to do it or not do it. They have come to mean some sort of immunity from criticism or even disagreement.

    I don't mean to change the subject too drastically, but in a number of posts, I've taken issue with the idea that people should have the right to sterilize my dog in the name of "animal rights." (According to AR theory, domesticated animals are a product of human "exploitation," and should not be bred.) I've had dogs for many decades, and I have seen a form of "animal PC" (in which it is now assumed that you are evil or ignorant if you haven't cut your animal's nuts off) metastasize incrementally to reach its now full ascendancy. According to those who claim to be speaking in the interest of animals (I think they're power seekers who want to tell us what to do) it is in the best interest of animals to neuter them. The ultimate goal -- that there be no more breeding of domestic animals -- is a canon of the animal rights mentality. The spay-and-neuter mantra is so widespread that I could easily imagine a push to declare it a breach of veterinary "ethics" for any veterinarian to counsel against neutering a perfectly normal dog. For all I know, that's already the case.

    In light of the activists' claim that animals and people are of equal moral worth, I'm tempted to ask why physicians shouldn't be urging the routine castration of boys, but fortunately, that's an issue ahead of its time. So I'll stick with the present.

    Just as my dogs' genitalia are not someone else's business, what I do with my genitalia is not someone else's business.

    (Rights theory once meant stuff like that.)

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, here's Carol Iannone on the effectiveness of intimidation:

    I can't tell you the number of people who assured me through the years that all the left wing propaganda, and Marxist and quasi-Marxist theorizing and indoctrination that was going on in universities was just a fad that would soon pass, would be rejected by students, not be tolerated by parents who had to spend so much money on tuition, and so on. I can't tell you all the professors who might have joined in the movement to rout the radicals but could not rouse themselves to do so because they wouldn't take it seriously (I'll be there waiting when these fads have passed, one professor said to me. He's still waiting). In some cases, moderately liberal professors with a traditional bent who should have joined in the anti-radical movement shrank from it, for fear of being called "right-wing." That's why radicalism always wins out over liberalism, as Solzehenitsyn pointed out.
    For more see also "Why Activists Win," and "Why Activists Win, Part II." Another factor is the I-don't-want-to-sit-here-and-listen-to-these-people-all-night attrition factor.

    The problem is, even now, after all I've been through, I still don't want to listen to these people until two in the morning! In fact, I don't want to listen to them at all. Ever!

    (Can this be cured?)

    * The commenter is an anonymous ex gay gay ex blogger known as "downtownlad."

    posted by Eric at 10:41 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Does your hard drive contain official secrets from your local coroner?

    In a fascinating local "news leak" case, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office has seized hard drives from a Lancaster newspaper's computer -- to determine whether reporters were allowed improper access to the local coroner's web site. Pennsylvania's supreme court has refused to intervene:

    "This is horrifying, an editor's worst nightmare," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington. "For the government to actually physically have those hard drives from a newsroom is amazing. I'm just flabbergasted to hear of this."

    The grand jury is investigating whether the Lancaster County coroner gave reporters for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal his password to a restricted law enforcement Web site. The site contained nonpublic details of local crimes. The newspaper allegedly used some of those details in articles.

    If the reporters used the Web site without authorization, officials say, they may have committed a crime.

    In interviews yesterday, the reporters' lawyer, William DeStefano, and the coroner, Gary Kirchner, disagreed over whether Kirchner had given them permission to access the site.

    DeStefano said that although he didn't know whether any of the reporters used the Web site, "evidence has been presented to the attorney general which makes it clear that the county coroner, an elected official, invited and authorized the paper or reporters access to the restricted portion of the Web site... . If somebody is authorized to give me a password and does, it's not hacking."

    The coroner denies that he gave reporters the password.

    Putting aside the First Amendment issue, I'm disturbed by the idea that it can be a crime to visit a taxpayer-funded site even when the public official in charge allows access. If he's breaking the rules, does that give the government the right to search through hard drives of all his contacts?

    The applicability of this to bloggers is obvious. Lots of information comes from visiting hard drives which require logging in. If I'm looking for information and someone sends me to a web site and gives me a password and I go there, how the hell am I supposed to know whether that's a crime? All I want is the damned information, not a hassle. As a practical matter, how many times do we have to log in to these pompous and ridiculous web sites every day? If you're online gathering information, these things are little more than an annoyance to be bypassed any way you can. But as more and more laws involving "internet security" are passed, why, I could imagine it might become a crime for a blogger to read Paul Krugman's stupid "pay only" opinions without paying.

    Pennsylvania law enforcement officials maintain that journalists have misused the First Amendment to shield a crime:

    Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Eshbach argued that this was not a case of a journalist's right to protect a source but an attempt to use the First Amendment to shield a crime.

    "We know the source," she said. It is a password-protected Web site, she said, essentially "a bulletin board in a locked room, and it is getting into that locked room and seeing the bulletin board that makes this a crime."

    At the hearing, another lawyer for the newspaper, Jayson Wolfgang, said the search was illegal, and troubling.

    "The government simply doesn't have the ability or the right, nor should it, in a free democracy, to seize the work-product materials, source information, computer hard drives, folders with paper, cabinet drawers of a newspaper," he argued.

    How many web sites might be characterized as "a bulletin board in a locked room"? What the hell does that mean? Is there something about the digital nature of the bulletin board which changes its nature? Suppose we analogize to an actual, physical, bulletin board, located on the wall in the coroner's office. If, for whatever reason, the coroner allowed someone to see it who was not supposed to be "authorized," doesn't that go to the nature of news gathering and news reporting? If the reporter saw the bulletin board and took notes, does that give the government the right to raid the newspaper offices?

    Or for that matter, a blogger's home?


    Next they'll be making it a crime to listen to public officials who aren't allowed to talk.

    posted by Eric at 07:28 AM | Comments (1)

    All morality is equal. But natural morality is better than unnatural morality!

    I feel the need to return to an issue which might be confusing to readers who don't spend their time worrying about applying human conceptions of rights to animals, and that is sterilization.

    While I have previously discussed my personal squeamishness over the idea of sterilizing my dogs, in no way did I mean to tell other people what they should be doing with their dogs and cats. What I do in my own life is personal to me, and even if it strikes me as "unnatural" to cut off a dog's testicles or a female's ovaries, I do not claim to be any sort of ultimate moral arbiter on these matters. For starters, it's not my business what other people do with their animals. They might have very good reasons. People have to make all kinds of choices about these things. (The animal might be an escape artist, there might be too many kids in the house who'd let the dog out, the dog might be lifting his leg on the furniture, three weeks of vaginal dripping is hell on carpets, etc...)

    Plus, I have no more right than anyone else to declare what is natural and what is not. Just as two men screwing each other strikes some people as unnatural, being in a metal box and sitting for hours in front of a toll booth while surrounded by other humans sitting in metal boxes strikes me as a grotesque perversion of what man is all about. But I don't judge these things, because not only have I spent long hours sitting in the metal boxes we call cars, but I think human nature includes just about everything people do, and while I oppose doing harm to others, nature is pretty much what man makes of it. Is it natural for man to wear clothes? Why? And if it is, what dictates that today's suits, ties and dresses are more natural than the animal skins our ancestors wore? I don't have satisfactory answers, and I don't think anyone does. (Certainly, there are no answers on which we can all agree.)

    Anyway, I don't want readers to think that when I decry animal sterilization I'm some kind of "nature" freak preaching and condemning people for doing what they consider the right and responsible thing with their pets. What rankles me about the sterilization movement is that it's one of the cornerstones of animal rights politics. In that context, the glaring inconsistency makes the words "animal rights" appear Orwellian and almost surreal.

    A commenter yesterday suggested I read books by various animal rights authors. This is something I am not about to do. There are a lot of books I have not read, and life is too short to read them all. The point of this blog is to share my thoughts, and I don't have to read anything in order to think what I think. People who deem a thought or an idea expressed in a book to be especially valuable would do better to quote it than provide me with a list of books to read.

    One of the recommended authors in yesterday's list is a man named Tom Regan. I don't have time to read his books, but I've read enough on line to see that my disagreement with his philosophy is so profound that it would waste my time to read his books. According to Tom Regan, animal rights are the same as human rights:

    ...the animal rights position, properly understood, is the human rights position. It's not that we are saying that non-human animals have a right to be treated with respect but human animals don't. We're dealing with the rights of all animals, and since we humans are animals, it follows that we have the same basic kinds of rights as they do.

    As Regan explains here the common denominator of his philosophy is based on what he calls "subjects-of-a-life":

    ...meaning (roughly) that they are alive, in the world, aware of the world, aware of what happens to them, and aware of what happens to them matters to them -- aware that it makes a difference to the quality of life they are living. Moreover, I believe that nonhuman animals who are subjects-of-a-life have basic rights and possess equal moral worth.
    I'm troubled by the idea of assigning humans and animals equal moral worth, for the simple reason that this cheapens the dignity of man, and leads inexorably towards profound moral nihilism of the anti-civilization variety. If there's no moral distinction between humans and animals, then there's no difference morally between killing a human for food and killing an animal for food -- and no difference between a man killing another man's children and a lion killing another lion's cubs.

    Interestingly, Tom Regan's philosophy formed the basis for a fascinating scholarly essay -- "Do Animal Rights Include Reproductive Rights?" -- by University of Colorado's David Boonin. Like me, Mr. Boonin is not morally opposed to all sterilization or euthanasia of animals, but he's quite troubled by the animal rights community's inconsistency:

    there is a strong prima facie argument in favor of the claim that Regan’s position commits him to the view that spaying and neutering cats and dogs is, in typical cases at least, morally imper­missible. I have now considered a number of responses which might be made on Regan’s behalf, and have argued that none of them are successful. For better or worse, the claim that Regan’s position commits him to opposing spaying and neutering seems to me to be true. The question now becomes: how shall we respond to it?
    I'm not sure how important it is to devote a lot of time to the inconsistencies of a particular animal rights philosopher -- especially because Mr. Boonin has already done a better job than I could.

    I fail to understand how things like sterilization and euthanasia can be justified in the name of "animal rights" when that would be a grotesque violation of human rights. Furthermore, the idea that some animals should be killed and sterilized but not for others strikes me as the height of human arrogance. Domestic animals, it is claimed, have no right to exist and should never have been bred. That's because they're a result of human exploitation of animals, and they must not be allowed to breed further. OK, now assuming that humans and animals have the same moral value, in logic why would an animal lose its moral value simply because humans were involved in facilitating its reproduction by allowing it to breed with another animal? Wouldn't this same argument mean that human slaves who were encouraged to breed by their captors were of diminished moral value, and could therefore be sterilized. Or euthanized (if there were "too many" of them, and "good homes" were not available)? Why should either forfeit the ability of reproduction? I suspect that the reason "domesticated" animals are seen as having less moral value is because of their association with humans. They are no longer "wild" and therefore suspect.

    Again, this begs the question of what is natural. There seems to be a hidden assumption that animals are natural, and that man is not. Thus, any animal that man has touched, influenced, or moved is seen as having less value than untouched, unmoved animals. Thus, not only are "domesticated" animals bad, but so are "non-native species." Rats, pigeons, and feral cats are contaminated by human interference. If man is an animal, and all animals are equal, then why would the value of any animal be affected because of its contact with another animal (in this case, man)? It makes no sense to me -- unless the idea is that some animals are better than other animals.

    Many animal rights activists (including Tom Regan) believe that dissection of animals is wrong. But if sterilization is in the best interest of animals from a communitarian perspective, then why is dissection wrong? If an animal can be euthanized for the common good, it escapes me why the dissection of that same animal becomes evil. And if dissection of animals in veterinary schools is bad, then why isn't dissection of humans in anatomy class bad? This is not to advocate killing animals (or humans, for that matter) in order to dissect them; only to raise questions about consistency.

    I realize that it puts me in a strange moral position to countenance sterilization and euthanasia of animals even though I am personally against doing those things to animals I happen to love. But I would never advocate sterilization and euthanasia for human beings, though, and my objection is grounded in the difference between humans and animals.

    People who advocate animal rights on the basis of the moral sameness of humans and animals while simultaneously deeming some animals morally less worthy than others are in no moral position to criticize those who believe humans are more morally worthy than animals.

    I really don't care whether my argument is natural. Although in fairness, it might be that being unnatural is part of my nature.

    One other disconnected point. As John Beck (who's celebrating a second blogiversary, BTW) reminded me in an earlier comment, I tend to neglect cats in this blog. I should probably read more about cats, and maybe spend more time visiting the cat blogs (or at least go to the Carnival of the Cats.) But I don't keep up with the cats as I should. For that I am sorry.

    And I'm particularly sorry that I have no time today to devote to the pressing issue of "vegan cats."


    Whether such a thing is natural or unnatural or moral or immoral depends on whether you believe in making the right moral choices for your cat, I suppose.

    (Considering that cats prey routinely on other animals, for some people, policing a house cat would entail the same moral burden as keeping a man-eating tiger from eating your neighbors!)

    posted by Eric at 08:52 AM | Comments (8)

    Don't you laugh!

    Because of my tendency to satirize things that strike me as ridiculous, I'm sometimes afraid that people might think I'm minimizing the importance of major assaults on freedom, or on our way of life. Far from it. I use satire because I am at a loss to understand how such idiocy prevails, and my resort to ridicule is in all honesty a form of optimism about the human spirit.

    What? A cynic like me talking optimistically? Yes. I think ridicule can stop even the worst horrors -- provided the right laughter is aided and abetted in the right places at the right time. Many an historian has pointed out that Hitler could have been stopped had he been laughed off the stage in his early days. But instead of laughing, people took Hitler -- a frustrated artist spouting nonsensical racial theories -- as seriously as he took himself, which was definitely not a good thing.

    There's a balance in there somewhere and I think it has something to do with time and place. What might have been funny in the 20s was a crime to laugh at in the 30s.

    The radical transformation of our legal system (and way of life) by the abolition of animals as property is still capable of being ridiculed. Most people dismiss it as a "fringe" idea, and they would argue that just because a few cities have declared that certain animals can no longer be owned that this doesn't mean anything. They might even laugh. The problem is, that's not the kind of laughter that will stop a movement organized and led by people who conceal their true fanaticism and utilize the best intentions of millions of well-meaning people.

    Leading Animal Rights theorist and law professor Gary Francione, while a fanatic, is refreshingly honest about the agenda and the philosophy.

    On veganism:

    Veganism is the single most important issue in the movement. Veganism is the abolitionist principle implemented in one's own life. Anyone who maintains that they are an "animal rights" advocate but are not vegan is not to be taken seriously. Many US animal advocates criticize my view that veganism should be the central plank of the animal rights platform. They claim that it is "elitist" to maintain that there are moral baselines, such as veganism. But that is like saying that it is "elitist" to reject rape as a baseline principle of a movement for the rights of women. Perhaps their reaction reflects the unfortunate reality that many so-called "animal rights" advocates are not vegetarians much less vegans. It is clear, however, that if animals have any moral significance at all – if they are not merely things – then we cannot justify using them for food. Moreover, veganism is the one truly abolitionist goal that we can all achieve – and we can achieve it immediately, starting with our next meal. It is simply inconsistent to maintain that you accept an animal rights position but that you are not a vegan.

    On animals as property:

    I do not believe in a "single stroke" solution. I know that is impossible as a practical matter. What I do promote is incremental change, but change that is predicated explicitly on abolition and not regulation. Our becoming vegan is incremental – it happens one at a time – but it is abolitionist. Our educating others about the need for abolition is incremental – we educate people one at a time – but such incremental change is a necessary step toward justice for nonhumans.

    Q. Is it true to say that what you are insisting upon is a revolution throughout our entire value system, not just to get the law changed to accommodate some nonhumans, such as the great apes, that humans regard as "rationally" worthy?

    A. Yes and no; In one sense, my position that we must abolish and not merely regulate our institutionalized exploitation of animals: seems to be very radical. In another sense, my position is not radical at all and rests on a moral foundation that most of us already except.

    The central argument of my book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? is precisely that the abolition of the property status of animals follows from moral beliefs that we already claim to accept. As I explain in the book, most of us already accept that animals have at least some moral value in that most of us agree that we do have moral obligations to animals and we cannot have moral obligations to rocks or plants. But if animals have any moral value at all, then we are no longer justified in treating them as our property and that leads to an abolitionist; conclusion. I am very excited about Introduction to Animal Rights because it takes the reader from a position that most people can accept as a starting point, and shows how ideas we already accept lead to more radical conclusions than we have been willing to recognize.

    Francione's radical conclusion is a simple one:
    . . . animals should have one right: the right not to be our property. Indeed, I argue that a "person" is any being who is entitled to this one right and all sentient beings should be regarded as "persons", or as holders of this one right not to be property. If we accepted that animals have this one right, we would be committed to abolishing animal exploitation because our use of animals for food, experiments, product testing, entertainment and clothing assumes that animals are nothing but property. If we accepted that animals have this one right, we would stop, completely, bringing domestic animals into existence.

    I am not interested in whether a cow should be able to bring a lawsuit against a farmer; I am interested in why we have the cow at all.

    And finally, Francione on guardianship:
    KK: How should the laws be changed, then?

    GF: We have two choices. We either change them completely and we really get rights for animals, which would probably entail massive social dislocation, upheaval and violence. Or we can try to work within the system. What we need to be doing is abolishing certain forms of exploitation, not regulating them. We need to recognize that animals, like humans, have certain interests that can't be traded away. We have got to start chipping away at the world exploitation brick by brick. You abolish exploitative practices, you don't regulate them.

    KK: How will animals be able to exercise their legal rights, if some are granted?

    GF: You have a ready analogy already existing in law, which is the notion of guardian ad litem. It's a guardian appointed by the court for somebody who can't exercise or claim his or her own rights. Retarded children, insane people, people on life support systems. We have the mechanism already available.

    Is this as laughable as it sounds? After all, Francione is one of those radicals, isn't he? Yeah, he's a law professor, but law professors don't really have power over our lives, do they? Private property like your dog or your pet turtle can't just be expropriated on their say so, can it?

    What about the mainstream legal thinkers? The big guys?

    Would Laurence Tribe qualify? He's been on the Democrats' "short list" for the Supreme Court for years now, and had Kerry won the last election, there's a good chance he'd be sitting where Roberts and Alito are right now.

    Tribe not only likes the guardian ad litem approach, he's "ready to roll":

    It's not just serendipity that they've selected "guardian" as their term of choice. The word guardian already claims definitive legal meaning in state and local statutes. Guardian is equivalent to "caregiver." When the government diminishes a German Shepherd's owner to caregiver status, it simultaneously elevates its own standing and makes the dog a ward of the state.

    Sounds bizarre. These are just crack-pot fringe lunatics, right?

    No exactly. Which leads us to our second example.

    A Harvard Man

    Professor Lawrence Tribe is a respected member of the Harvard Law School faculty. He argued in the Supreme Court for Vice President Gore during the Florida election case. He's been on the Democrat's short list, himself, for a spot on the High Court.


    Professor Tribe believes chimpanzees (and other non-human animals) have rights as "persons" under the Constitution. According to the Wall Street Journal:

    "More and more legal reformers think animals deserve Constitutional protection. They are pressing to give chimpanzees legal standing -- specifically, the ability to have suits filed in their names and to ask courts to protect their interests. Chimpanzees couldn't take such action on their own, of course, but animal-rights activists say judges would appoint a human guardian ad litem, or guardian at law, to represent a chimp, much as judges now appoint such guardians to represent children in abuse cases or mentally incompetent adults."

    The University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein advises us to look out because:

    "The lawsuits are just beginning."


    Professor Tribe is ready to roll:

    "The leap isn't as great as it might appear. Courts," he said, "recognize corporations as juristic, or legal, persons. That is, they enjoy and are subject to legal rights and duties.

    "The whole status of animals as things is what needs to be rethought," said Tribe. "Non-human animals certainly can be given (legal) standing."

    Tribe, who has a creative legal mind, doesn't stop with the guardianship idea. According to the Wall Street Journal, he's also big on his interpretation of the 13th Amendment:
    . . . the case of Jerom, a 13-year-old chimpanzee who he says died alone in 1996 in a windowless box at a research facility in Atlanta after being infected with several strains of HIV virus. In a speech in Boston and a later law-review article, Mr. Tribe agreed, "Clearly, Jerom was enslaved."

    But Mr. Tribe says there's no need for constitutional protections on that score. The 13th Amendment already forbids slavery. Mr. Tribe notes that nowhere does it state that only humans are covered; the status itself is forbidden, he argues. Likewise, the 8th Amendment bars cruel and unusual punishment. Legal standing for chimpanzees could make it easier, not harder, for courts to balance conflicting interests, he says.

    Look, I'm totally against mistreating apes, and I share the view that the higher an animal is on the evolutionary chain, the better we as humans should treat it. I have no problem with the idea that cruelty to an ape should be a worse crime than cruelty to a rat (and so on). But to argue that the word "slavery" is intended to apply to animals is, simply, insane. That has never been the meaning of the word (which derives from "Slavs," a traditional slave source). The very basis of the anti-slavery movement was the recognition that because people are not animals, they should not be treated like them. To argue that the 13th Amendment includes animals reverts to a primitivistic idea that people are like animals.

    I think that unless more people laugh at this idiocy, our civilization might be at stake.

    And then Laurence Tribe would no longer be as funny as he is now.

    posted by Eric at 06:41 AM | Comments (3)

    Trying to make the case for animal rights (and failing)

    While I don't subscribe to the animal rights philosophy, I do try to put my own philosophy of animal rights into practice with the animals I come into contact. I don't hunt, and I wouldn't kill or harm animals unless they threatened me or invaded my home. I'm not much of a meat eater, but I do eat fish. And (gasp) I actually enjoy fishing from time to time! Whether a fish is the type of animal which could even arguably be said to have rights is a good question, I suppose. Are insects? Some think so, but I don't think too many people weigh the pros and cons of treating a maggot-infested wound. (Not sure about the rights of the hepatitis virus.)

    But I think "animal rights" is a misnomer, as no serious person contends that animals on an individual basis have a right to life. And if they don't have a right to life, then they have no right to reproduce.

    In fact, the animal rights activists claim that certain animals must be prevented from reproduction by means of sterilization procedures. Performed upon them by humans, of course. How anyone can call this a "right" is beyond me. Certainly it is not "natural" to remove an animal's reproductive organs. (I'm not saying this should not be done; only that doing it in the name of "rights" strikes me as perverse.)

    I love my dog Coco, and I don't want to remove her ovaries. Similarly, I did not want to remove Puff's testicles. (Something I never did.) And it caused me great emotional pain and anguish to have a hand in ending that lovely animal's life. (I'm still not over it.) So, where it comes down to individual animals that I love, I do try to respect their natural rights as best as I can perceive them. Do unto others?

    Yet the animal "rights" people want to have things done things to my animals which they would never voluntarily choose for themselves, nor would the one human being who loves them. This seems manifestly cruel to both the animals and their loving care giver.

    The thinking that would justify enforced removal of my dog's sex organs is that she has no right to reproduce. Again, the opposite of a right. But to follow this thinking out, it is based on the idea that there are "too many" dogs, and that therefore Coco should not have puppies. Excuse me, but did anyone consult Coco or her ancestors? How many dogs is too many? According to what I've been reading, dog "overpopulation" is a myth, but even if we assume it's true, suppose for the sake of argument that I had twelve friends who liked Coco so much that they wanted her puppies, and only her puppies? Suppose one of them had another dog who wanted to breed with Coco when she was in heat. And suppose that I allowed that to happen. I'd be accused of a monstrous moral crime: dog breeding! Why? Because there are already too many dogs. So (if I can follow the logic), Coco having puppies is a crime against what? Dogs? But dogs are unnatural creatures bred by man so they shouldn't be there in the first place. So the crime is against what? Other animals? Do they know? Or is it that Coco would be "used" in a continuation of man's plot against "nature"?

    Excuse me, but who gets to decide these things for me and Coco? It's quite obvious to me that "animal rights" like these are not rights at all -- either for animals or humans. They are the very antithesis. They are someone's idea of what is best -- not for an individual animal, but for some vaguely defined idea of "animals."

    "Animal rights" is, simply, communitarian logic applied in an anthropomorphic manner to animals. (Actually, the word "anthropomorphic" is a bit scary in this context, as it reminds me of applying similar logic to nonconsenting humans. Well? Aren't there "too many" "unwanted" people?)

    Again, my point is not to argue the merits of dog sterilization or euthanasia. I'd be a hypocrite to claim there's no right to do these things to dogs, even if I don't want them done to mine. (Otherwise, I should want to stop the slaughter of cattle for food too -- which I don't.) What bothers me is to do these things in the name of "animal rights."

    The phrase is a misnomer of Orwellian proportions.

    MORE: The nature of the fallacy here can further be illustrated by a simple question: why can't involuntary sterilization and euthanasia of the unwanted be done to humans?

    The answer, obviously, is because of a thing called human rights.

    What, there's a problem with rights?

    posted by Eric at 05:23 PM | Comments (3)

    An anti-dog movement? No, really!

    What do words mean? What is ownership? What is property? If you have a dog or a cat, are you the owner?

    Maybe not.

    There's a growing movement to remove words like "pet" and "owner" and replace them with the legal term "guardian."

    Before you laugh at what might appear to be mere semantics of interest to no one except activist windbags who love hearing themselves prattle on till the wee hours at city commission hearings, consider that this word change is already a fait accompli via legislation which has been passed in many places, including:

    - Sherwood, AR,
    - innumerable California cities including Albany, Berkeley, 28 cities in Marin County, San Francisco, Sebastopol, and West Hollywood
    - Boulder, CO
    - Amherst, MA
    - St. Louis, MO
    - Wanaque, NJ
    - the entire state of Rhode Island
    - Menomonee Falls, WI
    This growing trend has many in the veterinary profession already worried.

    The University of Pennsylvania's Susan I. Finkelstein has written an article titled "High Noon for Animal Rights Law: The Coming Showdown Between Pet Owners and Guardians" which should raise more eyebrows than it has. (Here's a backup link to the same story.) Among other things, Finkelstein warns:

    Taking the “pet guardian” issue to its logical conclusion, many critics believe the elimination of property status for pets will ultimately result in the elimination of keeping companion animals at all. Animals themselves, they conclude, would suffer the most from the good intentions of animal rightists.

    Obviously, a central concern of veterinarians is that this will drive up the cost of veterinary practice. But long term, the idea is to work towards elimination of the keeping of animals by man in any way shape or form. This has long been a central philosophical goal of the animal rights movement (as distinguished from the animal welfare movement). A perfect example of this philosophy is this 1993 statement by Wayne Pacelle (no fringe loony BTW; he's the current President of the Humane Society of the United States):

    "One generation and out. We have no problem with the extinction of domestic animals. The are creations of human selective breeding."

    "We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding."

    [Wayne Pacelle, Senior Vice-President of HSUS, formerly of Friends for Animals; Quoted in Animal People, May, 1993]

    I don't know how many people realize it, but there's a major campaign going on right now against dog breeding. As so typifies activism, it's incremental in nature, and here the focus is on things we're said to agree on like dog "overpopulation" and on people we hate (such as operators of puppy mills). But long term, the goal is to criminalize all breeding of animals. Dogs and cats should not be owned or (especially) bred. Purebred dogs are simply more evidence of man's ultimately evil relationship with animals.

    What's fascinating about this is that the animals haven't been consulted about their right to breed (a right they don't have, but to which I devoted a long essay) or even their right to life. What sort of "guardian" advocates extinction of his wards?

    The American Kennel Club's Dr. James Holt thinks the problem stems from confusion, in that ordinary animal lovers believe that "animal rights" activists are people like themselves, but more passionate. They couldn't be more wrong. From a speech titled "Could canis familiaris be the next endangered species?"

    When I start talking about the animal rights extremists, most people are totally unaware that pet ownership is one of their targets. Many people know of the animal rights opposition to fur and leather, many are aware of the opposition to hunting, or at least to certain forms of hunting, some know about the animal rights opposition to animal agriculture, or at least to veal, and a few know about the animal rights opposition to the use of animals in medical and biological research.

    While many people are aware of these targets of the animal rights movement, most ordinary people do not feel immediately threatened by the extremists, because research, agriculture and even hunting and fur are things that are removed from the daily experience of most people. But the general population is almost totally unaware of the animal rights opposition to pet ownership. Even many dog owners, fanciers and breeders don't understand the animal rights movement's position on pet ownership. If they have any awareness about it at all, they assume the opposition is to 'puppy mills' or dog fighting or animal cruelty. Most pet owners, and even many members of the purebred dog fancy, assume that the organizations we know as the animal rights movement are made up of animal lovers more or less just like them, albeit perhaps a bit more zealous. They are shocked to learn that the radical animal rights movement opposes the mere keeping of a pet as "animal fascism." Most of my purebred dog colleagues have never heard the term natural dog – the term animal rights activists use to refer to what we call mutts, and their dismissal of purebred dogs as "unnatural" dogs.

    (For more on the evil of purebred dogs, read this interview with Dr. Michael Fox of HSUS.)

    Actually, even mutts are bad, as the entire species we call Canis familiaris is man's creation, and was bred for centuries in violation of the animal rights philosophy.

    In other words, dogs are unnatural creatures. There should be no such animal. Eliminating breeding of purebred dogs is only a first step (along with neutering all dogs, of course) towards a world of no domesticated dogs.

    While it's very tough to get real statistics (a fact that always works to the benefit of activists), I see increasing evidence that there's been such a dramatic reduction in the canine population that adoption agencies are using new methods to come up with adoptable dogs:

    Nationwide, studies show that during the last 30 years shelter intakes and euthanasias have decreased by 70-90 percent or more in many cities, particularly those located on the east and west coasts. One consequence of this remarkable development is a steep decline in the number of shelter dogs available for adoption in many parts of the country. In order to deal with their newfound success, some shelters and rescue groups have had to realign their efforts, sometimes with surprising results.

    Faced with fewer small dogs and puppies to offer the public, a handful of shelters and organizations have swapped their traditional mission for a new bottom line strategy aimed at filling consumer demands. Simply stated, they have become pet stores. Some are importing stray dogs across state lines and from foreign countries to maintain an inventory of adoptable dogs.

    The above quotation is from Patti Strand, author of The Hijacking of the Humane Movement: Animal Extremism. (As the NAIA notes elsewhere, a distinction should be made between dogs and cats; the latter are in surplus because of the huge feral population.)

    A future without canis familiaris? Instead only wild dogs for us to contemplate -- from a respectful distance?

    No! I refuse to submit to this nonsense.

    Whether they're mutts or purebred, dogs are uniquely ours. They're both animals and part of what we are as human beings. Those who work against this symbiotic relationship are neither friends of animals nor of human civilization.

    MORE: Readers who keep birds should read this.

    MORE: Interesting Randian analysis of "animal rights" by Russell Madden:

    Rand defines a right as: "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life." ("Man's Rights," p. 93.) She goes on to point out that rights pertain only to actions, that is, to the freedom to act; it is a freedom from direct or indirect "physical compulsion, coercion, or interference by other" people. For the individual, a right is a positive: it is a freedom to act. For others, "rights impose no obligations...except of a negative kind": to refrain from violating the rights of another.

    Animals do not need nor are they capable of using ethics. They do not need to discover the proper behaviors required for their individual existences. Those actions have been programmed genetically through the process of evolution. They therefore do not have anything needing to be protected by rights in a social context.

    Ethics and morality are applicable only to beings who possess a volitional, conceptual, rational consciousness. Since rights are an extension of ethics/morality, they are therefore applicable only to such beings possessing free will, and, more specifically, only to individual people. Only the rights of the individual exist: there are no gay rights or women's rights or Black rights or handicapped rights or the rights of the unborn.

    If the right to life is the fundamental right (from which other rights derive), then why aren't animal rights advocates chaining themselves to the doors of their local pounds (or "liberating" captive animals) to stop the slaughter?

    MORE: A chilling look at how the word "guardian" will be used.

    posted by Eric at 08:40 AM | Comments (13)

    Overblown Bubbles of genocidal sentiment

    Considering that we're living in times when everyone will eventually have his fifteen minutes of fuhrerdom, if you want to insult someone who has achieved success, you have to do better than make the usual tired and strained Hitler comparisons.

    Success by centrist libertarians must be punished especially severely, and no simple Hitler comparison will suffice. So yesterday, Atrios accused Glenn Reynolds of "provoking genocide," and linked to this metallic mouthful (offered by way of scolding a reader who had defended Glenn):

    For more than any other blogger, Glenn is responsible for creating the titanium bubble that encases much of the right-wing blogosphere. Inconvenient facts are summarily dismissed as the result of biased research or polling, or the work of a malevolent media that is basically on the side of the enemy.
    A Titanium Bubble?

    But, but -- a Titanium Bubble is a golf club!

    And I hate golf!

    This bothers me a lot more than genocide because I don't want to be part of a golf club! (I don't want to go into the reasons, which I've explained in full before.)

    I hope the latest smear is not true, as I refuse to have anything whatsoever to do with a Titanium Bubble. I don't want to be in one, and I don't want to be part of an army of one -- or of many.

    Do I have to take this Titanium Bubble seriously?

    I'm afraid so. If I don't, no one else will -- especially the ones who've leveled the "bubble" charge.

    So here it is.


    (Couldn't they have said "Titanium Bible"? That would have been more fun!)

    But seriously, how would I take this Titanium Bubble meme seriously? I don't know whether the bubble is supposed to offensive or defensive, or how Glenn managed to design it, but I think this passage might provide a clue:

    ....who are these young men who will lead the swarthy blue-collar men to their deaths? Ding! That's right! They're the Cheetos-stained wretches of the blogosphere, those noble warriors whose mission to serve their country by typing the words "Welcome Instapundit readers!" O, what a Brave New World that has such Doughy Pantloads in it!
    Ah the Doughy Pantloads!

    (I'm getting all hot and sweaty just thinking of the bubble blowing which obviously goes on. But what else can you expect from a "Glenndentured Servant" with "Glennocidal Tendencies" whose drag name is "Grade B Wingnuttia"?)

    posted by Eric at 04:48 PM | Comments (4)

    Either somebody stole my Army or I've lost it!

    I don't know which is more overdue; this review or my copy of An Army of Davids. According to Amazon's "Where's My Stuff" feature, I ordered Glenn's book on October 17, 2005. Over the next few months, I kept getting emails from Amazon telling me I had to update my order or else it would be lost. I kept clicking to update the order (I don't know how many times).

    My "Where's My Stuff" page now says that the book was "Shipped on March 4, 2006," which is true. I did receive it a couple of days ago, and I opened it up and started reading it, flipped through it a couple of times, but before I could really get into serious devouring, the book just plain disappeared. Can't find it anywhere.

    Someone has borrowed it. Right out of My Own Stuff, in My Own House.

    Obviously, this book is popular. In fact, I've never had a book which was more worth waiting for!

    I'll supplement this review as soon as I get my hands on the book.

    (As to who might have borrowed it, that question calls for speculation.)

    So what am I missing? Is the book "right wing trash," or is it "a romantic book"? A book to be "read out loud" to a "wife in the hot tub"?

    All speculation, because how can you tell if a book is a right-wing-trash-hot-tub-romance without the book?


    Hey, lest anyone think I'm engaged in shameless flattery, all I did was stick a picture of Glenn's book where John Kerry's face used to be. (More like shameful, don't you think?)

    posted by Eric at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

    Geography is colorful

    Looking ahead to the gubernatorial election (in which his seat is at stake), Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is worried about geography:

    One day after announcing he was running in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, former U.S. Rep. Joseph Hoeffel was out, a victim of a hard reality of winning in a large state with strong geographical - and cultural - divisions.

    Hoeffel's quick departure came at the resquest of Gov. Rendell, who in the last week decided that the Montgomery County resident would be a geographical liability in the general election against a balanced Republican ticket.

    Hoeffel, speaking at a news conference with Rendell yesterday, said: "The bottom line is he is asking me not to go forward with the race."

    Hoeffel's exit gives the edge to Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, whose strongest asset might be her Pittsburgh roots, which balance Rendell's deep political ties to Southeastern Pennsylvania.

    Of course, the Republicans are several steps ahead of Rendell, because their candidate, Lynn Swann, is not only a black Republican (heresy in identity-politics circles), but hails from Pittsburgh. This touches on something even touchier than geography or race -- and that is sports:
    "He doesn't come with all the political baggage of a career politician who's beholden to all these people he does business with," said Glenn Pison, 36, of Shaler. The independent voter said his wife votes far to the left, but even she is considering a vote for Swann.

    Swann's race is not a factor with any other white voters that Pison knows, though he does wonder whether voters in eastern portions of the state -- i.e. Philadelphia Eagles territory -- will vote for a Steeler for governor. "But they just won the Super Bowl and that can only help him," Pison said.

    No wonder Rendell is scrambling. Because, I mean, if Eagles fans could vote for a Steeler (and yes, Swann was a genuine Steeler) then anything is possible.

    Hell, if I were Rendell I'd be wetting my pants. (No wonder he sounded so worn out and nervous announcing the dump-Hoeffel move on the radio yesterday.)

    Of course, all Rendell mentions is geography. And even that is something he says shouldn't matter, but if it does matter, it's only because it's the Republicans' fault:

    Rendell, who had initially said he was neutral on Hoeffel's candidacy, decided to ask him to withdraw after talking with party leaders in the southwest, who told him two Democrats from Southeastern Pennsylvania would be a hard sell in their region.

    "Two southeasterners on the ticket was very difficult for them," he said. "There are some in the Republican Party who will try to make it an east-west race when it shouldn't be."

    Democratic leaders in the west said geographical balance on a ticket has become vital to a gubernatorial victory.

    One of the things I hate about the damned "red state"/"blue state" argument is that I live in a red state that's blue.

    Or is that a blue state that's red?

    Here's the national map -- graphically illustrating the popular stereotype of "blue state" Pennsylvania:


    How uniformly blue the entire Northeast region appears! Pennsylvania is nearly a third of the geographical area, and psychologically, it's vital to the blue staters and their foes to point to that large swath of a supposedly impenetrable leftist stronghold.

    The problem with this analysis is that when seen by counties, Pennsylvania looks very, very red.


    (Pity Rendell. Depending on which map he looks at in the morning, he might feel as if he's being forced to be governor over a bunch of "flyover country.")

    I realize that the vast majority of us live in places which are varying shades of purple. But that's not sexy. Nor does it appeal to the us-versus-them, energize-the-base party activists. This is not to deny that there is real geographical (at least demographical) tension in this country. But it's more along the lines of "Big Cities" versus "The Rest." It is not the country which is blue; it is the cities which are blue. For the most part, the cities aren't even purple, the way the rest of the country is; Philadelphia is about as blue as it's possible to be. A full 80% of Philadelphians voted for John Kerry in the last election, (ditto Gore in 2000). Al Gore received a whopping 98 percent of Philadelphia's black vote.

    But the demographics are changing. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,

    Bush also drew 16 percent of the black vote in Pennsylvania (up from 7 percent in 2000), and that's one reason his loss to Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) was far narrower than expected.
    Is geography Rendell's biggest worry?

    I wonder whether it's talk like this that might be putting the "fear of GOP" into him: Republican strategist argued that any measurable inroad into the Democrats' minority support, even if Mr. Rendell still held onto the bulk of the African-Americans voters, could be fatal to the Democrat's re-election.

    "If [Mr. Swann] got 18 to 25 percent [of black voters], he would be elected governor," the Republican said.

    Yeah, but would Eagles fans vote for a Steeler?

    posted by Eric at 08:31 AM | Comments (1)

    Lying escalates to arson?

    Orac at Respectful Insolence has alerted the blogosphere to a very disturbing incident: arsonists recently targeted the offices of the Holocaust History Project:

    In the early hours of March 6, 2006, a fire broke out at a warehouse complex near San Antonio International Airport, causing extensive damage to the offices of The Holocaust History Project (THHP), an organization that has been, for the last ten years, in the forefront of confronting Holocaust denial online, in addition to providing educational materials to students throughout the world. Arson investigators now have confirmed that the fire was intentionally set and are continuing their investigation.

    It was just the latest in a series of attacks with the apparent intent to silence THHP. For the past 18 months, the THHP website has been under an unprecedented Distributed Denial of Service attack. This cyber attack began on September 11, 2004, and is being carried out by a specially modified version of the MyDoom computer worm, programmed to target the THHP web server. See the THHP statement:

    Harry Mazal, the Director of THHP said, "We have been able to defend our work against these cyber attackers. They tried, but couldn't shut us down. We have strong indications that this arson is the next step in a series of attacks against our educational and scholarly work. Although the fire caused significant damage to our offices, there is no way we will be silenced. Our web site has not been affected, and our work will continue."

    I can think of few things more despicable than Holocaust denial, because it isn't a form of legitimate debate; it's pure malice (at least, on the part of the people who knowingly promulgate the lies), and I think it really ought to be called Holocaust apology. They're lying, and they know it. Torching the offices of the Holocaust History Project is wholly consistent with such a mentality.

    Dean Esmay has more, (along with some interesting background on Nazis in Chicago), and he's supplied a button which anyone can use who wants to link to the Holocaust History Project, which I'm proud to use here.

    As Dean says, "if we deny that certain events happened, we make it easier for them to happen again."

    I suspect that the arsonists would love to see the Holocaust happen again.

    It's worth a reminder that the Holocaust didn't start with the gas chambers; it started with broken windows, and arson.

    MORE: Not that I'd compare it with Holocaust denial, but idiocy like this makes my blood boil:

    Charles Smith has been marketing shirts that read, "I (heart) Wal-ocaust" T-shirts. Wal-Mart filed a cease-and-desist order in an attempt to make him stop printing the shirts.

    The company said Smith is engaging in trademark infringement. It has threatened to sue Smith if he continues to display the logos on his Web site and to print them on his products.

    The 48-year-old Smith is a computer repairman and said he has no deep connection to the company. But he claims using the logos is a free speech issue.

    Smith said he came up with his anti-Wal-Mart logo after conversations with a customer and an employee who both had bad experiences with the retailer.

    Bad experiences with a retailer. Yeah, that's exactly like being machine-gunned in killing pits or crammed into a cattle cars and taken to the gas chambers.

    Such Holocaust trivialization is despicable. (The fact that the First Amendment permits it is no reason to give its perpetrators a pass.)

    posted by Eric at 08:03 AM

    Progress report

    Not to dwell unduly on my own problems, but so far I'm very lucky with this frozen shoulder/adhesive capsulitis. After just one day with the (admittedly painful) exercises, the movement of my arm is greatly increased, and the nature of pain has changed to severe soreness on movement instead of an inability to move. It feels as if an abcess has broken, and while my overall body feels toxic and I'm tired, I'm cautiously optimistic that I'm on top of this. Being in good shape and diagnosing it early are, I think, to my advantage. I doubt it will take me the long months it's supposed to take to recover.

    The pushups (which I'd discontinued for a week) went OK. But the chinups! Extreme pain in the left shoulder! ! So I called the physical therapist who told me to lay off the chinups for a while. (I had already done them in two sets of 15 and one set of 30, but I think I was overreaching. Obsessive-compulsive overexcerise is not in my interest right now, so I am going to have to listen to my body -- and the docs -- for awhile and take it slowly.

    MORE: And here are the exercises I have to do for the frozen shoulder (repeated three times a day):







    (Now that I've scanned the sheet and cropped it into individually enlarged images, it'll be easy to use this blog as a reference, and I won't have to worry about losing the piece of paper.)

    posted by Eric at 08:56 PM

    Education: a "right" some people don't want!

    One of my pet peeves is the appalling state of education in this country, and I've tended to focus on misguided educational theories, as well as teachers who can't teach.

    Patrick Welsh, an English teacher from Alexandria, Virginia, argues that in a rush to blame teachers, too many people are forgetting that American students just don't apply themselves:

    When asked to identify the most important factors in their performance in math, the percentage of Japanese and Taiwanese students who answered "studying hard" was twice that of American students.

    American students named native intelligence, and some said the home environment. But a clear majority of U.S. students put the responsibility on their teachers. A good teacher, they said, was the determining factor in how well they did in math.

    "Kids have convinced parents that it is the teacher or the system that is the problem, not their own lack of effort," says Dave Roscher, a chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams in this Washington suburb. "In my day, parents didn't listen when kids complained about teachers. We are supposed to miraculously make kids learn even though they are not working."

    As my colleague Ed Cannon puts it: "Today, the teacher is supposed to be responsible for motivating the kid. If they don't learn it is supposed to be our problem, not theirs."

    And, of course, busy parents guilt-ridden over the little time they spend with their kids are big subscribers to this theory.

    Maybe every generation of kids has wanted to take it easy, but until the past few decades students were not allowed to get away with it. "Nowadays, it's the kids who have the power. When they don't do the work and get lower grades, they scream and yell. Parents side with the kids who pressure teachers to lower standards," says Joel Kaplan, another chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams.

    Every year, I have had parents come in to argue about the grades I have given in my AP English classes. To me, my grades are far too generous; to middle-class parents, they are often an affront to their sense of entitlement. If their kids do a modicum of work, many parents expect them to get at least a B. When I have given C's or D's to bright middle-class kids who have done poor or mediocre work, some parents have accused me of destroying their children's futures.

    I would note that the place in which Mr. Welsh teaches -- T.C. Williams High School -- is a public school. That means some of the students don't want to be there, and it is probably very difficult for them to be disciplined or expelled. I had a friend who taught school and gave up. The kids didn't pay attention and there was no way to make them pay attention.

    I went to a private religious school, and if a student didn't pay attention, inevitable consequences would follow. If he was distracting other boys, he'd be immediately kicked out of class and sent to the principal. If he merely didn't apply himself, he'd get a failing grade. If these problems persisted, he'd be kicked out.

    What complicates this process in the public schools is that they're held hostage by a lack of alternative schools (and fierce legal opposition to the few that exist). As a practical matter, what is to be done with kids who simply will not pay attention, who will not learn, and who are disciplinary problems? It all seems to come down to this notion that there's a "right" to be there.

    I don't think there is any such right. Whether there's a "right" to education is questionable at best (as a libertarian I have a problem with the theory), but even if we concede that there is such a "right," what does it mean? A right to be educated? What is that? A right is something we normally think of as voluntary. In theory, a right is not a duty. The First Amendment right to free speech no more imposes a duty to speak out publicly than the Second Amendment imposes a duty to carry a gun.

    So how does this education "right" factor into the theory of rights? As a right to simply be in a physical location where there is an opportunity to be educated? The problem with seeing education as a "right" is that we don't see it as a right. We use government force to compel students to be in these places. Thus, it is not reasonable to see education merely as a right. What we call "education" is a duty imposed by the state as well as a right. If the state can impose such a duty, and compel the physical presence of students in places of learning, I see no reason why it can't require them to behave in certain ways. To do otherwise means that education ceases to be education, and ceases to be a right. Schools simply become government-mandated holding facilities for children.

    I'm not saying that there should not be government-mandated holding facilities for children, mind you. But why not restrict them to the students whose conduct demonstrates that they don't want to be in real schools? A two tiered system -- one for students who want to learn, and another for "students" who won't -- strikes me as eminently reasonable, and better than the present system of pretending that a duty is a right.

    This idea has been tried in the form of "alternative schools." But it's opposed -- and litigated every step of the way -- by people whose subordinates the rights of the many to the tyranny of the few -- the latter consisting of people who seem to think the right to education means the right to destroy it for others:

    Discipline and behavior problems in America's public schools are serious, pervasive and are compromising student learning. They are also driving a substantial number of teachers out of the profession. These are some key findings from a new national study of teachers and parents which found that while only a handful of trouble makers cause most disciplinary problems, "the tyranny of the few" leads to a distracting and disrespectful atmosphere. Teachers in particular complain about the growing willingness of some students and parents to challenge teacher judgment and threaten legal action.

    According to a new report by the nonpartisan, nonprofit opinion research organization Public Agenda, teachers too often must operate "in a culture of challenge and second guessing" that is affecting their ability to teach and maintain order.

  • Nearly 8 in 10 teachers (78%) said students are quick to remind them that they have rights or that their parents can sue.
  • Nearly half of teachers surveyed (49%) reported they have been accused of unfairly disciplining a student.
  • More than half of teachers (55%) said that districts backing down from assertive parents causes discipline problems in the nation's schools.
  • Under the present system, it borders on the frivolous to call education a right. If it is a right, it should be freely exercisable like any other right -- with penalties for interfering with it. There can be no right to education without a right to exclude those who interfere with the right, because interference with others' rights is not a right.

    The more troubling moral question is whether or not a student has a right to refuse to be educated. Does the right to education include the right to fail? I'd argue that it does, because without failure, there is no right to succeed.

    But if failure is not an option (as many don't think it should be), then why pretend there is such a thing as a right to education?

    posted by Eric at 08:46 AM | Comments (4)

    Off base remarks

    The politicking behind South Dakota's ban on all abortions (except to save a mother's life) fascinates me.

    I think this is part of a concerted effort to force the hand of the new Supreme Court in time for the next election. Whether newly appointed justices Roberts and Alito will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade remains to be seen; I think it's unlikely.

    South Dakota isn't the only state, of course. There's been a rush of state legislatures doing the same thing, and it's almost as if the "rank and file" of the Republican base are finally having their say. Assuming Roe is not overturned and these laws are invalidated, the longterm national political question is whether this will be seen as an official effort by the Republican Party as a whole.

    If it is, it might mean trouble in the national elections. According to this poll reported by Fox News, a solid majority opposes efforts like South Dakota's:

    According to the latest FOX News poll, most Americans think abortion should be legal if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest — exceptions not included in the South Dakota law.

    The poll finds that 59 percent of Americans would oppose the South Dakota law in the state where they live and 35 percent would support it. Gov. Mike Rounds signed the new abortion bill earlier this week, and Planned Parenthood says it will fight the law in court.

    The South Dakota law is clearly too narrow for many Americans, as more than seven in 10 (74 percent) think abortion should be legal in the cases of rape or incest — including majorities of independents (82 percent), Democrats (79 percent) and Republicans (67 percent).

    Fully 83 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal if the pregnancy puts the mother’s life at risk, and another 62 percent think it should be legal if the mother’s mental health is at risk.

    I understand that the Republican "base" is restive.

    But is what's food for the base also food for the Democrats? Time will tell.

    I'm also fascinated by the mechanics of deliberately passing laws of dubious constitutionality (I mean that in the sense of settled Supreme Court precedent). Might this be a trend? I mean, if the idea is to supply "food for the base," why stop with abortion? Can't "new" sodomy laws be passed too?

    Which leads to a related point. Would they really be "new"?

    While I haven't researched the individual state abortion laws, normally, when the Supreme Court declares a law unconstitutional, it remains on the books unless the state legislature actually goes to the trouble of repealing it. For example, in a case with which I'm intimately familiar -- KOLENDER v. LAWSON -- the U.S. Supreme court struck down (for vagueness) California Penal Code Section 647 (e) (which prohibited "loiter[ing] or wander[ing] upon the streets or from place to place without apparent reason or business and who refuses to identify himself or herself and to account for his or her presence when requested by any peace officer so to do, if the surrounding circumstances would indicate to a reasonable person that the public safety demands this identification"). Yet 647(e) remains on the books. It's just not enforceable.

    So, my mechnical question is, if states like South Dakota already have old unconstitutional laws on the books (which sixteen states still do) why bother passing duplicates?

    If the goal is to stop abortion, why not just enforce the old laws?

    posted by Eric at 07:13 AM | Comments (2)

    34th Sighting of the RINOs

    This week's RINO Sightings Carnival is posted at The Politechnical Institute. Great blog, and great posts, all worth reading. I alsoe like the attempt to summarize the beliefs of this tough-to-define group:

    If one were to sum up the beliefs of the Raging Rinos, it would be independent minded. Wait, that’s two words. If you were to sum up the RINOs in two words, it would be unorthodox independent mind-set with a --
    Not so fast! I won't spoil the punchline!

    These RINO carnivals are, I think, the best evidence that independent thinking is alive and well.

    Don't miss this one.

    posted by Eric at 11:21 PM

    Bad and good news!

    I spent most of today having a shoulder injury (well, what I thought was a shoulder injury) diagnosed. Two doctors, plus a visit to a rehab specialist.

    I'm an exercise nut, and among other things I do a minimum of 120 consecutive full-motion pushups on alternate days (with stands, and feet elevated), plus a minimum of 50 consecutive pullups. I've done daily exercises for years, but a few weeks ago, pain began in my left shoulder without any precipating injury, and it got worse -- to the point where reaching behind me (to put on a coat or fasten a seat belt) was excruciating. This seemed to fit the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury, but I couldn't figure out how I injured myself. So today my doctor referred me to a sports medicine specialist who diagnosed the problem as adhesive capsulitis

    . . .a condition of "unknown etiology characterized by gradually progressive, painful restriction of all joint motion . . . with spontaneous restoration of partial or complete motion over months to years."
    (More here.)

    I'd never heard of this before, but I don't need surgery, and I was told that because it was caught early (in the "freezing" stage), assuming I do the exercises they've prescribed, the shoulder will return to normal with no permanent limitation of motion.

    I was sure I'd suffered a rotator cuff injury and I've heard horror stories about them. I'm glad I didn't follow the recommendations to stop all exercise which causes pain (I had already stopped the pushups and pullups, hoping that the rest would help, which it didn't). I can and will return to my full exercise plus the new stretching routine.

    It's a good lesson in the importance of going to the doctor rather than attempting self-diagnosis. These things are tricky to diagnose -- even for specialists, and the guy I saw today sees nothing but shoulders.

    As to the cause, no one knows. A few months of torment, and I'm sure I'll be as good as new.

    Just having an answer feels better.

    posted by Eric at 08:12 PM | Comments (4)

    Is it really a gay rights issue?

    A brief word about Rumsfeld v. FAIR (Supreme Court holding that ROTC and military recruiters cannot be barred from universities despite sexual preference discrimination).

    While Orin Kerr and fellow Volokh conspirators have, in my view, done an excellent job analyzing the legal aspects of the case, I'm a bit more concerned about the political and perhaps the moral dimensions. And no; just because I used the word "morality" does not mean I am talking about the proper placement of penises (although regular readers know that I am on the side of sexual freedom as opposed to right wing or left wing "penile correctness.")

    I think that one of the worst things that can happen to any country is one of the things that led to the demise of Rome -- and that is when the upper, leadership classes -- and it matters little whether you characterize them with phrases like "privileged" elites, "the ruling class," or "noblesse oblige" -- disdain military service or hold things like military service and patriotism in contempt.

    History shows that there has always been a tendency among those with power and money to avoid military service. Often this takes the form of not wanting their own sons to risk getting killed. This is a natural enough phenomenon, and it can hardly be called "left wing" -- because it arises out of normal parental concern. During the American Civil War, wealthy parents would routinely (and legally) pay money so that others could serve in the place of their sons. (86,724 men paid the $300 exemption to avoid service -- a notable example being John D. Rockefeller.)

    Interestingly, modern military conscription has been described by its critics as a Machiavellian revival of an immoral "pagan" practice:

    "Machiavelli was the first modern to propose universal compulsory military service. Quite apart from the lateness of the age, here certainly is a strange beginning for a moral obligation! It is, in fact, with Machiavelli that the modern concept of war, as distinguished from the medieval idea, takes its beginning: the modern concept being one of unrestricted war-physically unrestricted in the extent of its destructiveness, morally unrestricted in its rejection of ethical limitation and control. Essential also to the modern idea is the use of war, not as a last resort, which was the requirement of traditional ethics, but as a normal, though alternate, means for securing national power and "honor" when diplomatic measures fail. As is to be expected, Machiavelli, true son of the Renaissance, went back to the example of pagan Rome in his study of war, finding no model for his studies during the Christian centuries. Here, then, in an environment of neo-paganism, which excluded deliberately and cynically, every breath of Christian thought and idealism, was born the idea of universal conscription.

    The subsequent history of this moral duty is scarcely less strange then its beginning. Although proposed by Machiavelli, conscription did not actually begin until the French Revolution. Its actual beginning, like its first conception, thus issued from an explicit rejection of Christianity. It came, in other words, not from the contemplation of religious or moral truth, but on the contrary from the irreligious tenets of the Revolution and the conscious repudiation of Christian teaching. Its service, from the beginning, was not made to the one true God nor to Jesus Christ His Son, but rather to the goddess reason. . .

    OK, we can argue about the morality of mandatory conscription, and I have mixed feelings about the practice. But I do think history shows that all countries need to be defended, and the wealthier the country, the more likely that it will be targeted. (Cf. MacArthur and Hemingway on "undefended wealth" as the primary cause of war.)

    World Wars One and Two were popular enough (and the country had vast enough reservoirs of patriotism in the upper classes) that military service was seen as something every patriotic American should do, with no exception for the upper classes. Indeed, the upper classes were supposed to be leaders, officers. (This, of course, accounts for the nexus between ROTC and higher education.)

    The Vietnam War was when the proverbial shit hit the fan. My theory has long been that a major reason the war (which didn't start out as unpopular) became so visibly unpopular was because of the unfair student deferment system. This encouraged not only children of the rich to stay in college to avoid service, but also the children of the middle class. Basically, any young man whose parents could afford to pay for college had the equivalent of what Rockefeller paid $300.00 for, as long as they managed to stay in school. Lots of Ph.D.s were acquired which never would have been acquired, and many an academic career was a direct result of draft avoidance.

    I don't think this was a good thing, because I think that if we assume a country must continue to exist and defend itself, it is better for that country if as many citizens as possible serve, and (to the extent possible) proudly. Especially those who would lead it. IMHO, the disconnect between leadership and military service had its origin in the Vietnam student deferment system, and what we're seeing today is part of the continued fallout.

    Military service by gays is honorable, and should be not only allowed, but encouraged. I have been debating this topic for many years, with anyone who will listen to me. I think I understand the concerns of both sides, and a primary military argument against it is that homosexuality can be disruptive. (Fine; if that's really a problem, then try allowing gay-only units, I've proposed. Should we lose valuable soldiers who might do some serious ass kicking?)

    My point here is not to debate the merits of gays in the military. But I couldn't help but notice that when the debate was in full swing during Clinton era, a lot of the loudest advocates of gay military service were people who, if you took the time to talk to them, in fact were very anti-military. The idea of a patriotic gay man who wanted to serve his country was something they considered strange if not contemptible, and their support seemed tactical to me. One activist frankly admitted to me that she couldn't understand why anyone would want to serve in the military, and I could tell that the idea of a patriotic gay man was something she regarded with barely concealed moral repugnance. It really bothered me at the time. There's just something odious about using people tactically that always bothers me. But when the people being used are having their feelings of genuine patriotism harnessed and used to advance the unpatriotic purposes of people who hate the military, that's even more odious.

    So I'd like to pose a simple question.

    For the sake of argument, let's assume that President Bush decided that the time had come to allow gay military service, and he issued an executive order along the lines of Harry Truman's 1948 racial integration order.

    How many of the academicians who champion the right of gays to serve in the military would really be happy? Would they welcome the return of ROTC? Would they tell students that it's now time to be proud of their country again, and to consider military service a civic obligation?

    I have no way of knowing, but based on what I've seen, I have my suspicions.

    posted by Eric at 10:00 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBacks (2)

    Anger is good, but better if you're proud!

    Anger is honorable, says Hillary Clinton:

    "People will be attacking you instead of your ideas, they may impugn your patriotism, they may even say you're angry."

    "If they do that, wear it as a badge of honor, because you know what? There are lots of things that we should be angry and outraged about these days," she said.

    I think anger is natural. There isn't anyone who doesn't become angry, and I'm probably angrier than your average person, although I try to control it as best I can. While I don't get angry about the same things as Hillary Clinton, this isn't about issues; it's about emotion. One of the reasons I write this blog is to manage my own anger. Another is because I think emotion gets in the way of thinking, and I like to counteract it. There's nothing "wrong" about emotion, as we are all emotional creatures. Emotion can be seen as propelling thought, and, when properly controlled, supplying thought.

    It's control over emotions that I think is important. To say that anger is honorable (or, more properly, the imputation of anger by others is a "badge of honor"), in my view, does a disservice to people who control their anger. Controlling anger is generally thought of as a virtue -- at least in anyone entrusted with power. People who have their finger on the button have to be able to control their anger.

    But we don't have to get into nuclear issues. Even people who get behind the wheel of a car are theoretically supposed to be able to control their anger. We even have a label for those who don't. Road rage. I suffer from it myself, and while I try to control it, if I were arrested for leaning out the window and screaming at another driver I doubt very much if a judge would be sympathetic to a claim that a road rage charge was a "badge of honor." (And I say this as someone who believes passionately that there are "lots of things that we should be angry and outraged about these days" on the road -- for I have seen them!)

    So, while I don't think anger is bad or unnatural, I do think control of anger is more virtuous than simply having the anger.

    For some reason, Hillary's anger pride makes me want to revisit the topic of concealed carry, and Heinlein's phrase "an armed society is a polite society." The state of being polite is epitomized by having control over anger, and it's long been my view that there's something about guns which inherently tends to force people to control their anger. Because, if you're armed, even if you take pride in your anger (a dubious proposition, IMO), it's not a good idea to routinely let your anger get the better of you. Otherwise, you might overreact to a situation like this (in which a local off-duty police officer chased down a man whose car had just collided with his own):

    When the driver stopped, he got out of the vehicle and yelled, "You're dead," and "I'm gonna get you," while reaching with both hands under his shirt toward his waistband and beginning to charge Sudler's car, which was stopped in the middle of the lot about 35 feet from the Chevrolet, Ferman said.

    Sudler said he thought the man had a gun under his shirt and fired three times, apparently missing as the man kept charging. The Chevrolet had two bullet holes in its driver's side doors and a flat tire from the shots.

    Sudler then took cover behind the rear passenger's side of his car as the man kept coming. The officer fired two more shots, striking the man, who fell next to Sudler's Lexus, Ferman said. Sudler called for an ambulance immediately, and police crews were on the scene within seconds, she said.

    No weapon was immediately found. The crime scene investigation and ballistics tests are pending, Ferman said.

    "You have to make a decision about what you are going to do," said Capt. Benjamin Naish, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department. "Should we get into a wrestling match with somebody?" The officer's gun "could get used on police," he said.

    Fortunately for the officer, he was an officer, and had told the other man he was. Had he been an ordinary Joe, he might well have been charged with a crime for shooting an unarmed man.

    What do you do if a psycho comes running at you and you're carrying a gun? This is a judgment call, and if you allow yourself to be ruled by your emotions, you can end up in a lot of trouble, whether it's "fair" or not, and whether you believe in the pride of anger or not.

    Ditto yesterday's story about teenage burglars who enjoyed breaking into homes for an "adrenaline rush":

    Police said the seven teens knew each other from work and school. All came from upper middle class homes but told authorities they carried out the crimes for "an adrenaline rush," Suelter told Florida Today.

    The teens randomly picked homes to break into during the day and early evening, Suelter said. In one home they stole a gun. In others, cash, electronics and jewelry were taken.

    He also said the teens would ring doorbells and if they did not get an answer they would kick in the doors.

    "The suspects were very arrogant and the attitude they had was unbelievable. I explained the possibility that one of them could get hurt or shot. One of them told us that he was a big boy and that 'I think I could take 'em,' " Suelter said.

    The thing is, if I was sitting on the john or something like that, and a "big boy" seeking an "adrenaline rush" kicked in the door, I wouldn't have a lot of time to carefully consider the logic involved or whether to engage them in appropriate dialogue about the merits of the "life choices" they were making. (Yeah, we all make what they call "bad choices" from time to time and all that.) More likely, I'd be fearing for my life, and if I had time to think about anything, it would be whether or not they might be police officers at the wrong house because of a bureaucratic error. I would hope that my anger wouldn't get the better of me. But suppose -- just suppose -- I was overcome by a wave of uncontrollable anger and I suddenly saw these kids as the epitome of casual evil and mindless mob thinking. (GRRR!!!! They represent all that is wrong with this country today, and with the entire world!) And suppose that anger influenced my decision to open fire and empty my gun into every last one of them. Would it be a good idea to tell the cops I was proud to have been angry at them because "there are lots of things that we should be angry and outraged about these days"?

    I don't think so. But then, I don't have the luxury of Secret Service protection.

    I'm glad I'm not one of those religious scolds who get moralistically ballastic about these things, or I might start yelling about the Seven Deadly Sins:

    Beginning in the early 14th-century, the popularity of the 7 deadly sins with artists of the time engrained them in human culture around the world. The generally accepted deadly sins are superbia (pride), avaritia (greed), luxuria (luxury, later lust), invidia (envy), gula (gluttony), ira (anger), and acedia (sloth).
    Hmmm.... Maybe I should give Hillary the benefit of the doubt here and pose a moral question.

    If you put two of the above together, is that a net gain?

    posted by Eric at 07:37 AM | Comments (1)

    At least he didn't ram a gay bar!

    I'm intrigued by Ayman al Zawahiri's latest remarks:

    Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said offences against Prophet Mohammad were part of a "crusader" campaign led by the United States, and he urged Muslims to conduct new strikes on the West.

    In a video broadcast Saturday on Al-Jazeera Arab satellite network, Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader criticized the West for insulting Islam's prophet.

    Referring to cartoons of the prophet that have been printed in European newspapers, Zawahri said: "They did it on purpose and they continue to do it without apologizing, even though no one dares to harm Jews or to challenge Jewish claims about the Holocaust, nor even to insult homosexuals."

    (Via Joe Gandelman.)

    Really? As if to underscore al Qaida's new hardline policy, Zawahiri repeated the anti-gay message, while throwing in an oddly gratuitous reference to "Jesus Christ":
    Zawahri, wearing a black turban -- a symbol of war to Muslims -- and seated in front of a curtained window, waived his right hand while speaking, emphasizing his message.

    "The insults against Prophet Muhammad are not the result of freedom of opinion but because what is sacred has changed in this culture,'' he said.

    "The Prophet Mohammed, prayers be upon him, and Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, are not sacred anymore, while Semites and the Holocaust and homosexuality have become sacred.''

    I don't know whether he really said "Jesus Christ" but if he did, the "Christ" term is not merely a name, but has distinct religious significance, and I'm wondering what the old coot is up to.

    Why add the homos all of a sudden and throw in Jesus? Might this be a crude way of attempting to broaden the message? As to what Zawahiri wants his loyal supporters to do, he emphasizes economic losses:

    Zawahri added: "(Muslims have to) inflict losses on the crusader West, especially to its economic infrastructure, with strikes that would make it bleed for years."

    "The strikes on New York, Washington, Madrid and London are the best examples," he said.

    Would he be happy with something small and spontaneous in North Carolina as a sort of appetizer? I note that the video was aired by al Jazeera on Saturday, but the audio track was "posted on the Internet earlier." I certainly hope there's no connection between Zawahiri's exortations and Friday's terrorist attack at the University of North Carolina in which an Iranian student rammed his SUV into a crowd of students to "avenge the death of Muslims around the world." Students are planning to protest today University's cowardly attempt to deny it's terrorism.

    According to UNC's student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel, the protest targets "the news media's reluctance to label it terrorism."

    Is the reluctance based on the fact that an SUV was used and they don't want to "cause a panic"? What are the qualifying attributes of an act of terrorism these days?

    Do you have to use a plane?

    Parenthetically, I think it's worth noting that not only was alcohol not involved, but as of last Spring, the SUV-wielding Iranian "lived up to the religious ideals of being a good person," "had begun studying the Quran," and "completely swore off alcohol and drugs."

    While I don't know what goes on at "the Pit" the Iranian's target was described as "a sunken, brick-paved area surrounded by two libraries, a dining hall and the student union."

    Probably a place where students enjoy having fun -- precisely the sort of thing guys like Zawahiri want to stop.

    (The best way to defy these assholes is to keep right on doing it.)

    MORE: God and Taliban Man at Yale? Say it isn't so! Sigh.

    The diversity of denial is a common thread these days.

    AND MORE: In another must-read essay, Jeff Goldstein really lets Yale and the multicultural left have it, arguing that feminists are laying the groundwork "for the deconstruction of western feminism itself" and concluding:

    ....over the last few years, I’ve come to recognize that America is battling for its very soul—and the battle is between those who promote liberal founding principles, and those whose learned relativism has taken a turn toward Machiavellian power politics and the attempt to wrest control over metanarratives, and has done so while, ironically, clinging to the liberal label.
    I agree. This is not to defend Machiavelli, but I think "Machiavellian" may be too kind (at least, too Western) a word for people who seek destruction of not merely liberal founding principles, but of all Western philosophical systems -- including Machiavelli's -- which factored into the founders' thinking. (The harsh and ruthless Machiavellian concept of virtue, while certainly at odds with our democratic tradition, is under assault along with the American concept of individuality.)

    MORE: The Jawa Report has two posts up on the UNC attack. (I guess it's safe to call it an "attack," even if it turns out that the attacker attacked because he "snapped.")

    UPDATE (2:50 p.m.): Michelle Malkin links to this post stating that the attacker's drug use caused him to be rejected from a fraternity:

    The guy I spoke with said Taheri-azar pledged his fraternity, Sig Ep, and that the frat "blackballed" him, meaning kicked him out because he was such a recluse and antisocial. They referred to him as "Mo."

    He said that Taheri-azar was from a wealthy family, a frequent marijuana smoker and "most always high" and that he drank heavily as well. So much for being religiously pious.

    My first conclusions were that it's highly unlikely he's related to any type of "cell." First of all, his actions show that he's a complete novice, that he had no operational funding, and that the attack was not well planned (although he did rent the Jeep from Enterprise). Further information continues to corroborate this.

    Interesting. That conflicts with the report I cited earlier, and I'm wondering what the relevant time frames are. I think it's very unlikely that he's connected to any organized terrorist group, and this looks like a "do it yourself" lone man op. (It's fortunate he didn't use explosives -- although lone terrorists inside Israel use anything they can get their hands on, including knives.)

    MORE: The defendant's statements at his arraignment make it clear (to me at least) that the man had a religious motivation for his crime, and sees his own trial as a propaganda opportunity:

    Judge Patricia Devine asked if he had any questions at this morning's arraignment.

    "I actually don't have any questions," said Taheri-azar, clad in a long-sleeve orange jumpsuit and leg shackles. "I am thankful you are going to hear this trial to learn more about the will of Allah, the creator."

    After police arrested Taheri-azar Friday, he told them he acted to "avenge the American treatment of Muslims," an FBI spokesman in Washington said.

    Six of the victims in Friday's attack were treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. Afterward, Taheri-azar called police and waited on a side street near campus. A police bomb squad also searched his apartment but would not say what was found.

    This is not looking like a personal grudge involving a depressed student who snapped.

    MORE: An anonymous commenter below states:

    I didn't say he was rejected because of his drug use. There are plenty, plenty, of frat boys who smoke marijuana. This was not your service fraternity. They rejected him because he didn't get along well, didn't fit in, and kept to himself all the time, which goes against the point of a frat.
    I appreciate the correction. What I'm especially interested in is when the marijuana and alcohol use occurred. Is The Daily Tarheel report (from a named source) correct in its portrayal of him as "reformed"? Or is that old news from last Spring? Has he been drinking and smoking pot since then?

    MORE: As to the definition of terrorism, there are many, but I'm inclined to agree with UNC student Stephen Mann

    Muslim students who debated with organizers and said Taheri-azar had not been linked to any terrorist group.

    "When you think in terms of a global context, this was an isolated incident," said Khurram Bilal Tariq, a 22-year-old junior.

    Stephen Mann, an 18-year-old freshman, said he wasn't singling out Islam with his call to label Friday's incident terrorism. He said a member of any religion who did what Taheri-azar is accused of doing should be called a terrorist.

    "If you try to hurt someone in the name of a cause, that's terrorism," he said.

    That would include people like Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, and, yes, Mr. Taher-azar (if he is convicted).

    MORE: According to a police recording Taher-azar told a dispatcher that he wanted to "punish the government":

    CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- A University of North Carolina graduate accused of running down nine people on campus told an emergency dispatcher he wanted to "punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world," according to a 911 recording released Monday.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: By referring to Zawahiri, I do not mean to suggest that he is directly in charge of individual acts of terrorism. Rather, he is (a bit like Zerzan and others, discussed infra) a sort of philosophical inspiration:

    Instead, we need to face up to the simple truth that bin Laden, Zawahiri et al do not need to organise attacks directly. They merely wait for the message they have spread around the world to inspire others. Al-Qaeda is now an idea, not an organisation.

    We now have a situation where autonomous cells carry out attacks on targets and at times of their own choosing, which are then applauded by al-Qaeda leaders of global infamy but limited practical ability to execute or organise strikes. This is exactly as Zawahiri and bin Laden had hoped. This is a virtual terrorist network, not a real one.

    UPDATE (03/07/06): Today's Philadelphia Inquirer (on page A7) has picked up the story, headlined "Graduate held in SUV attack cites Allah at N.C. bail hearing."

    UPDATE (03/09/06): Glenn weighs in:

    There's no question that this [Islamist] angle is being downplayed. But it's arguable that the papers are doing this to reduce the likelihood of copycats. This doesn't appear to have been any sort of organized attack, just a lone-wolf effort by a guy who's not too sharp. It's still terrorism, of course, of a sort -- after all, Eric Rudolph was a lone-wolf guy who wasn't too sharp, though he seems to have been considerably sharper than Taheri-azar -- but in some ways it's more like the school shootings of the 1990s than real Al Qaeda type terrorism. Hyping those shootings led to copycats, and made the killers look like martyrs to disturbed potential imitators. There's a pretty good argument that the same applies here, and that it's more responsible to address this in fairly muted tones.
    If these things are philosophically inspired, the less inspiration the better.

    posted by Eric at 07:48 AM | Comments (12)

    Live Dead blogging the Oscars

    I don't watch much television, but I thought out of fairness to the blogosphere I would do my duty and attempt to live blog the Oscars. So, I turned on my television, only to discover that they were showing a long montage.... But then I saw that meanwhile, PBS station WHYY is doing a fundraising marathon! Normally, that wouldn't be exciting, except they're showing "The Grateful Dead" (available on DVD) -- a documentary film of a series of concerts I actually attended when the Grateful Dead played at Winterland in October of 1974. Lots of footage of the crowd outside the place (a former skating arena which used to be located at Post and Steiner in San Francisco), and I'm somewhere in the damned audience, and it's like really intensely nostalgic to watch even though I'm supposed to be live blogging the Oscars. . .

    But they keep taking pledge breaks, so I can switch to the Oscars but they're just not as good as the Grateful Dead movie. (I just did, but they're now they're playing some sucky-ass music over at the Oscars.)

    Try as I might, I can't just can't seem to do what I'm supposed to do. . .



    UPDATE: More from the WHYY pledge break:


    MORE (10:49 p.m.): No quarrel with Philip Seymour Hoffman winning best actor. I saw the film ("Capote") and thought his performance was great.

    MORE: Judi Dench better win best actress, is all I can say...

    -- But she didn't. No basis for evaluating Reese Witherspoon's performance, as I never saw "I walk the line." (She gave a nice acceptance speech.)

    MORE (11:10 p.m.): "Brokeback Mountain" wins for best adapted screenplay. (Which means it probably won't take Best Picture, if my political antenna sense this correctly.)

    MORE (11:14 p.m.): I can't believe "Crash" won a thing, as I thought it was God-awful!

    AND MORE (11:17 p.m.): The Dead are doing a long spaced out set!

    MORE (11:21 p.m.): It's Ang Lee for Brokeback!

    And heeere's Jerry:


    AANNNDDDD LAST (11:24 p.m.): Jack Nicholson presents.....



    I'd have preferred "Brokeback Mountain." (And I didn't especially like "Brokeback Mountain," but "Crash" is left wing, anti-gun trash.)

    With that I crash!

    (All things considered, I'll sticking with the Dead. Even though the band is dead, they're more alive.)

    In the interest of being fair to "both sides," heeeere's Jack -- announcing "Crash":


    (I can't believe I really did this.)

    MORE (11:40 p.m.): The Oscars are over but the Dead are still playing. I should do this more often.

    UPDATE (03/06/06): The next day, I see that there was a distinct downside to dead-blogging the Oscars: I missed the best part: "frankj's triumphant moment in the sun. . ."

    Oh the humanity! (Be still my heart!)

    posted by Eric at 09:59 PM | Comments (4)

    As a geography teacher, I have a constitutional right to teach that the earth is flat!

    As I recently learned, ebay is not a venue for free speech. No matter how ridiculous a thing or a concept might appear to be, there is no right to ridicule or satirize it at ebay:

    Keyword spamming occurs when members place brand names or other inappropriate keywords in a title or description for the purpose of gaining attention or diverting members to a listing. Keyword spamming in listings is not permitted on eBay. The text sellers place in listings must be directly relevant to the item being sold.
    This is because things are supposed to be sold there, not debated or ridiculed. If, for example, I wanted to ridicule the concept of "shabby chic," I could not do so by deliberately listing a piece of trash for sale, putting an outlandish price on it, and labeling it "shabby chic."

    This is not a free speech issue, because even though the First Amendment prevents the government from restricting my right to ridicule the ill-defined "shabby chic" phenonenon, it likewise prevents the government from restricting ebay's right to stop me.

    I keep seeing "free speech" being evoked almost magically -- as a way of breathing life into bogus claims, or into the type of over-the-top political invective most people would consider morally indefensible. The other night David Lane (attorney for teacher Jay Bennish) carry on at length about "free speech" -- which he used as a characterization for Ward Churchill's "little Eichmanns" remark. Well, it is free speech. So, in this country, is Holocaust denial.

    Does that mean that a school should not be allowed to fire David Irving? Or a teacher who asked his students to draw cartoons denying the Holocaust? According to David Lane, apparently so.

    This is nonsense. Teaching is no more a venue for free speech than is ebay.

    Nor do I think much of the argument that there are "two sides" to "every issue." (Might Bennish be heard to argue that there are "two sides" to the issue of Jews drinking children's blood?)

    Similar illogic is involved in the New Jersey school plan to put President Bush on "trial" for "war crimes":

    ...students involved in the project, which began Monday after several weeks of research, said the decision to hold a mock trial over Bush's alleged "crimes against civilian populations" and "inhumane treatment of prisoners" had been agreed upon by all 27 classmates.

    Catherine Galdun, one of the student prosecutors, told the Daily Record of Parsippany for yesterday's newspapers that she would have been upset had the trial been halted.

    "I would say that we're doing this in a fair and balanced way," said Galdun, 18. "We're looking at both sides of it. If [critics] don't believe that's right to do in a classroom - to debate both sides of an issue - I don't agree with that."

    Township Council Vice President James Vigilante, an Air Force reservist, said he could see both sides. "I'm a Bush fan. I don't necessarily, myself, agree with the lesson plan, but on the flip side, I wouldn't condemn the teacher," he told the newspaper.

    Vigilante, a Republican, added, "For me, it's the right of free speech."

    Wrong. Free speech has nothing to do with it. We live in a partisan political system, and nothing could be more inherently partisan than demanding the president be put on trial.

    Does anyone seriously think the words "IMPEACH BUSH" translates into fairness and impartiality to "both sides" -- simply because Bush would be allowed an opportunity to be heard?

    As I suggested in the comments to an earlier post, if we were going to be "fair to both sides" about putting American leaders on trial, we might as well try Hillary Clinton for the murder of Vincent Foster.

    As David Bernstein reminds, the fact that government is involved in education means that it is sponsoring a point of view:

    ...the very existence of public schools means that the government will to some degree be inculcating values into minor students. Simply by choosing curriculum, textbooks, and engaging in other functions inherent in the education process, the government will inevitably be making value-laden choices that will dictate what students learn about various social, moral, and political issues
    so long as we live in a second-best world with public schools, government authorities have the right to dictate to teachers what to teach, and to punish those teachers who refuse to comply.
    David Bernstein also said he thought Bennish's remarks resembled satire.

    Well, I did enjoy his remark about capitalism being "at odds with human rights" remark -- and I especially loved the question and answer period:

    Q. Who is probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth?

    A. The United States of America, and we're a democracy, quote, unquote.

    Q. Who has the most weapons of mass destruction in the world?

    A. United States.

    Q. Who is continuing to develop new weapons of mass destruction as we speak?

    A. United States."

    I'm boning up on my geography here and I have a question: In what country do the citizens who pay this guy's salary live?

    (Parenthetically, it has to be noted that by his own logic, Bennish's comparison of Bush to Hitler is not as self-evident an indictment of Bush as he he might think. Because, if there are "two sides" to every issue, by what moral standard can Bennish argue that even that Hitler is bad? Certainly not by the standard he articulates for al Qaida!)

    MORE: Michelle Malkin thinks Bennish needs medical help. (I think he might be pinching the students' speed....)

    posted by Eric at 07:16 PM | Comments (1)

    Leaning towards classical values?

    That's easy for me to say. But when I was looking for something else on my um, hard drive late last night, I found a photo I surreptitiously took of Dionysius, and I saw that it was leaning. So I flipped it to make it lean the other way. But then the gods played tricks on me!

    Because then there were two!

    And then:


    But that's not right, because the Dionysius on the left appears to be leaning to the right, while the one on the right seems to be leaning to the left. Should they both be leaning towards the center?

    I mean, shouldn't they be leaning away?


    Dionysius, of course, just never seems to go out of style:

    From the perspective of more modern criticism, Dionysius shows himself to be a formidable thinker. His system is subtly simple, yet vast in what it encompasses. However, he, like many of his modern counterparts, failed to come to terms with paradox, especially with relation to the problem of evil and the omnipotence of deity.

    For Dionysius, God is the transcendent Good. There can be no evil in Him or his creation. Evil is actually a deficiency or imperfection in turning to God. As stated before, this deficiency of goodness is directly related to one's distance from God. This relationship becomes problematic when the question is raised as to the nature and source of this distance. How is it that this distance limits the transcendent goodness of God? Why is creation not uniformly Good? Did God create the distance? If so, then He is the source of the deficiency. If not, then the principle of distance preexists creation. It is the essential source of Evil, which Dionysius so disdains.

    Does that mean that evil should be placed in perspective? Or that perspective is evil?

    (Who is paying me to speculate about such things?)

    MORE: Wrong god! Wrong person, anyway.

    Dennis reminds me that this is more complicated than I thought -- pointing out that the Dionysius (in the above quote) is not the god, but the philosopher.

    From "Dionysiuses: A Spotter's Guide":

    Ancient history, philosophy and religion are full of people called Dionysius. This situation is further confused by the fact that in some cases it is uncertain which Dionysius did what, and a large number of works traditionally linked to one Dionysius have more recently been attributed to an unknown individual sometimes called Pseudo-Dionysius. Therefore, my intention here is simply to run through the various Dionysiuses (and those who might be confused with them), and provide the briefest list of identifying features while hopefully pointing you to other more detailed sources of information. In reading this, it should be noted that Dionysius can be spelt (in stricter accordance with the Greek) Dionysios, and the name Denis (which is derived from Dionysius) is sometimes used for many of these people particularly in religious contexts.

    Dionysus. Easily distinguished by not being called Dionysius, Dionysus was a Greek god who in some ways resembles the Roman Bacchus. However, confusion arises here too, because there may possibly be two gods called Dionysus, one the traditional fun-loving god of wine, women and song, and the other a slightly later figure linked with near-Eastern mystery religions. You can find more information in the write-up on him here.

    I stand corrected. These damned statues are still called "Dionysius" -- and intellectuals like Camille Paglia routinely use that spelling for the old god. Here's Paglia:
    Yes it's coming back. Yes I feel it coming back. They're concerned for the environment and globally it's starting to resurge. And I began noticing about five years ago that my students would, would just quiz me about the sixties that this generation of students is very very interested in the sixties. I began noticing people to class with Grateful Dead t-shirts and so on and so forth. And I felt something is happening. I don't think it's a sentimentalization of the sixties at all because I think the sixties had a vision, a real vision but it was lost in the excesses. What I say in my book essentially you see is Norman O. Brown and Marcuse and so on talking about Dionysius, these are older men okay, who came out of a different kind of a milieu. We are the ones who put the myth of Dionysius into action and we saw - we hit the wall okay because once you release the Dionysian forces, Euripides Bacchi tells you what happens, okay. There is destruction, disorder. No one can control Dionysius and he is not simply pleasure; he is pleasure-pain. Altamont, okay, the Rolling Stones' concert at Altamont shows what happens. The end result of that, the people just turning on each other and beating each other and a murder in front of the stage and so on. That's the Dionysian reality."
    Elsewhere she describes Dionysius's cults:
    The Dionysian cults were composed of women who tore their victims apart in a crazed sexual frenzy. Try that sometime. You won't see that in Shaker Heights. Bitchin.
    I guess revelry corrupts. And absolute revelry. . .

    I still enjoy the above speculation by the apparently Christian Dionysius (of which there may have been three conflated into one, which sounds vaguely paganistic.) There's also a longstanding accusation of forgery -- but he's said to have "transposed in a thoroughly original way the whole of Pagan Neoplatonism from Plotinus to Proclus . . .into a distinctively new Christian context."

    I've long believed that the pagan/Christian "incompatibility" meme has been a grand waste of time, and has caused much unnecessary grief.

    I mean, why wage war over deities when their very existence is being questioned?

    posted by Eric at 01:16 PM

    Wal-Mart is almost as cheap as Karl Rove

    Glenn's link reminded me that Wal-Mart has not paid me to write a post attacking the Philadelphia Inquirer's criticism of Wal-Mart for the crime of hiring people on Medicaid (or something like that).

    The data will add fuel to the debate, which may be part of today's budget hearing in Harrisburg, over whether too many employees at the nation's largest retailer are relying on public assistance.

    State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D., Allegheny) said yesterday he would ask the state Department of Public Welfare today to investigate whether corporations are abusing the tax-funded Medicaid program.

    "We need to protect taxpayers from subsidizing large corporations that can afford to provide health care to their employees," Wheatley said in a statement.

    When I read that, I found the number of assumptions being made to be mind-boggling. Worth a huge essay.

    But defending Wal-Mart? That ain't my job, baby! I'm not running this blog in order to be a corporate slave! I haven't received a single email from Wal-Mart. (Despite the fact that I defended the company in the past. For huge crimes involving cultural genocide!)

    This does not incline me towards defending Wal-Mart yet again. There are numerous other things I should be writing about, and I don't have time.

    My philosophical side, however, wonders how government funded medical care is a "corporate subsidy." Applying this same logic, isn't low income housing a "subsidy"? Aren't student loans and Pell grants also subsidies? From where derives the notion that employers are guarantors of things like health, housing, or education? When I was a kid, all they had to do was pay you if you did your job. The rest was up to you.

    But I'm annoyed at Wal-Mart! And I think we should require the evil place to fire all employees who go on any sort of government assistance.

    Take that, you mean old deadbeat capitalists!

    (I'm sorry to sound like such a leftist whiner, but I'm still waiting for my check from Karl Rove. Ye gods, it's been over a year!)

    AN EVEN SILLIER AFTERTHOUGHT: Since there's a big debate about money and power and influence, I think it's worth asking again: is the issue whether or not the stuff in a blog post is true? Or is the issue the source of funding -- i.e. who might be paying the guy who wrote it? I guess that depends on whether truth is a function of morality or economics. Such questions are over my head, and unless Wal-Mart pays me, the hell with the truth!

    posted by Eric at 11:47 AM

    Why activists occasionally lose

    In an ongoing series of posts (such as "Why Activists Win" parts I and Part II), I've explored the mechanism of intimidation by activists (something I've been a target of personally).

    I've long believed that there's a tacit (if not officially unacknowledged) connection between the public activist "leaders" and their anonymous-if-not-covert "followers." (The "street," if you will.) I fully recognize the inherently problematic nature in using terms like "leaders" and "followers," because they're interchangeable and replaceable. They tend to follow philosophies. (Or anti-philosophies.) Because of this, even the identities and names of the groups and "organizations" are not a reliable guide. In the event a group is identified and targeted, that group and its members will launch a ferocious defense -- but even that is a tactic intended to waste the enemy's time and resources.

    The people who get the real work done -- the job of intimidation -- why, they'll just start another organization with a different name, or no name at all. Or act individually. Whatever works in accordance with the philosophy.

    The more anonymous elements carry out violent acts from which the public elements disassociate themselves. The publicly identified "leaders" generally condemn the violence in a lawyerly manner -- even as they simultaneously give a wink and a nod to the violent acts as relatively minor compared to the various evils they were directed against.

    After reflecting on the New Jersey verdict and my last essay in the context of Timothy Garton Ash's piece in the Guardian (via Glenn Reynolds), I was left pondering a singular question:

    what makes a New Jersey jury braver than a city commission?

    Are jurors not "ordinary people" of precisely the type I've repeatedly contrasted with "activists"?

    What is going on? Does my thesis needs reexamination?

    Not if we see jurors as ordinary people in extraordinary (but temporary) circumstances. I think the crucial difference between jurors and city commission members (or prominent business execs) is that jurors don't have to come back day after day, week after week. They can go home and return to their anonymous lives -- generally certain in the knowledge that their windows will not be broken, their names will not be published on activists' lists, their families will not be threatened, and they've probably read that juror intimidation is still taken seriously (well, more seriously than intimidating the owner of a business). For this one moment in their lives, they are allowed to be brave with impunity. (To make a Warhol analogy, instead of fifteen minutes of fame, they have fifteen minutes of unaccountable power -- and they seem to know this intuitively.)

    So jurors are ordinary people, but they're in extraordinary circumstances. Plus, they're enveloped in a protective bubble, carefully shielded from "pricks." (Well, usually, but not always....)

    I hate to always look on the dark side, but as activists grow more sophisticated, this may change.

    For now, jury system remains a loophole allowing temporary bravery.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Speaking of "protective bubbles," I almost forgot about anonymous blogging. Now why would I forget something like that? These days, even vulnerable people can say whatever the hell they want without having to worry about the bravery issue.

    (And for the very very nervous, secret voting is still allowed, but I'm getting off topic....)

    posted by Eric at 10:12 AM

    Existing laws don't "work"! New laws are needed!

    I'm confused about what seems to be a recurrent pattern in this country. When there are laws against something, and these laws are not enforced, instead of enforcing the existing laws, there's always a demand for new laws.

    Tougher laws.

    It's as if there's some magical belief system that the tougher the law is, the stronger it is, and the more likely that human conduct will be deterred. Enforcement of existing laws never seems to enter anyone's mind.

    The point here is not whether I happen to agree with the laws. It's just a recurrent pattern. The drug laws started as a tax measure in 1914, and ever since, they have become ever more draconian. Examples aren't really needed, although the latest trend (now that they've run out of drugs to make illegal) is to criminalize precursor ingredients. So Americans are no longer allowed to buy cold medicine over the counter -- all because it might be used to manufacture illegal drugs. What's next? Glassware which might be used to cook drugs?

    It has always been illegal to cross the border into the United States without documentation, and without going through the proper protocols. Yet for many decades, there has been a de facto open border policy with Mexico, which has allowed millions of illegal immigrants. The laws are there, but people act as if there aren't any laws. Instead of going after the existing non-citizen law breakers (who are, after all, the ones who broke the law), Congress proposes dramatically toughening penalties against American citizens who hire them. Doesn't this put the cart before the horse?

    The pattern seems to be pass laws, ignore them, wait until the problem is huge, then pass draconian laws, plus new laws against conduct which resulted from the previous climate of non-enforcement.

    It has long been illegal for felons to buy or possess guns, and to buy, sell, or transfer a gun to a felon. But felons buy guns all the time illegally. Which means that we need a crackdown on what? On perfectly legal purchases of guns by ordinary citizens.

    Add to this the trend of sending in SWAT teams to perform routine law enforcement, and it's fair to wonder whether the goal is to create a police state.

    I hate police states -- and I'm just wondering whether neglecting to enforce the law is one of the precursor ingredients.

    MORE: I'll be gone most of the day.

    posted by Eric at 07:24 AM | Comments (2)

    Dashes with ashes

    I don't normally write posts about sports, but it's not every day that a sports fan spreads his mother's ashes on the 50 yard line during a professional football game:

    Charlotte Noteboom, 70, a sports fanatic and lifelong Eagles fan, died of emphysema in January 2005, just days before the Eagles won the NFC championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.

    "She was the kind of lady who watched SportsCenter every night and Monday Night Football every week," [her son Christopher] Noteboom said.

    Even after moving to the Southwest, the family followed the Eagles.

    The tribute to Mom was set for the Nov. 27 Eagles-Packers game.

    Noteboom's two sisters and brother-in-law were there; his uncle was unable to make it at the last minute. By halftime, Noteboom had made his way to an end zone. Seeing a break in security, he leaped onto the field carrying a plastic bag with his mother's cremated remains.

    "I twisted my ankle when I jumped," said Noteboom, a tall, rangy businessman in jeans and cowboy boots. "The first 40 yards were a blur."

    Security downed him at midfield, but not before he had accomplished his goal. The Eagles went on to win, 19-14. Noteboom went with police.

    "I was hoping not to get arrested," he said. "It wasn't like I was out there trying to hurt anyone."

    Eagles spokeswoman Bonnie Grant said: "We maintain the position that anyone who runs onto the field will be arrested."

    The team had no comment on the outcome of the case, she added.

    Aside from the early media hoopla, and the expense of traveling to Philadelphia for court dates, the case hasn't had much impact on the father of two.

    "I own a biker bar," he said. "My clients are there every day anyway, but it gave them something to talk about."

    He said he had no regrets. I guess they had to do something, so they're making him perform "community service."

    As I'm sure readers expect dark humor, I feel forced to observe that a lot of Eagles fans would die for an opportunity like this.

    posted by Eric at 06:35 PM

    Paleonihilistic anticivilizationism? Anticivilizationist Paleonihilism? (Nah, strike all that!)

    Steven Malcolm Anderson where are you when I need you?

    I say this not to grieve Steven (although I have and still am), but because despite my deep and abiding cynicism, I just can't stay ahead of the constantly shifting political spectrumology.

    Let me back up. I still remember the good old "normal" days. When it was liberal versus conservative. Yeah, and now we have NeoCon, PaleoCon, HomoCon, Libertarian, libertarian, NeoLibertarian, NeoLiberal, Communist, Socialist -- and all Schisms Thereof -- and the usual Anarchist, Marxist, Communitarian, and please forgive my omissions, but I can't add fast enough.

    Yes, last week there was "Cultural Marxism."

    And now there's "crunchy conservatism." (Please dear God, don't make me be that!)

    What happens is that the more new issues, new realities, and new enemies with new tactics and ideologies arise, the old ideologies, old "isms" just plain no longer work.

    I think Steven might agree that the spectrums, they are a changin'. . .

    I'm feeling old right now. Because I remember thinking how cool it was to discover a new, three dimensional political spectrum based not on left versus right, Communism versus Economic Freedom, or any of that old outmoded stuff, but along the lines of totalitarianism versus anarchism. (Most people fall somewhere between libertarianism and authoritarianism.)

    It's become painfully clear to me that yesterday's "new" formulation is outmoded.

    Years ago, one of my Marxist professors said, "we have no argument with the [mostly American] pie. Our argument is that it's not being divided fairly." That used to be standard leftist fare, and it always took for granted industrialization and continued human development. What they wanted was to obtain power by any means necessary, so they could do a better job with "the pie."

    Ever since the September 11 attacks, there has been a recurrent frustrating theme voiced on the right (and sometimes on the left; as in this refreshing example). On the right, this typically takes the form of questions along the lines of "How can socialists and Communists support Islamofascists?" The inconsistency is very frustrating, and it's caused many on the right to accuse the left of hypocrisy or simple anti-Americanism. While there may be some truth to the idea that anti-Americanism accounts for leftist support for out-and-out fascists, I think an additional, growing element is being left out. And I don't know whether it's reasonable to call it "left wing."

    Not long after I found out about Steven's death, I wrote a post about anarcho-primitivism, -- yet another "ism" said to belong on the left. To call it "anti-American" is to state the obvious, but it's far, far more than that. It is anti-European. Anti-Enlightenment. Anti-Communist. It's even anti-Renaisssance, and arguably it is also anti-Medieval, because its proponents seek to wipe out human progress. They seek to roll back the human evolutionary clock tens of thousands of years -- all the way back to prehistoric times.

    The proponents of this theory are quite honest about their goals, and they call it "Anti-Civilization":


    In recent times, the anti-civilization perspective has gained an increasing currency within the anarchist movement, as more and more folks have woken up to the fact that capitalism is not the be-all-and-end-all of problems we have on this planet right now, but actually just the latest in a long line of forms that this culture has taken on its inexorable course to oblivion. More and more people are questioning the very core of this culture, with critiques of, for instance: domestication, colonialism, patriarchy, anthropocentrism, science, technology, industrialism, symbolic culture, agriculture; and more and more people are moving beyond single-issue activism and starting to put their energies into actively trying to bring down civilization before the very earth we live on is rendered uninhabitable.

    Elsewhere, the activists call themselves "species traitors":
    Our reality has been defined by the work of specialists. The world around us has been charted, mapped, dissected, labeled, and caged. The goal being to remove humans from the community of life around us: to become the gods that we created. The totality exists by classifying and giving values, embodying a complete rejection of our wild, full selves.

    By being species traitors, we are rejecting the scientific, rational world that the domesticators have laid before us. We realize that becoming a full human can only come when it is done within the context of the ‘other’. We are defined by what we are not, but this is not the separation that the scientists cling to. Understanding what we are not entails understanding that we are a part of this world, not above it. The civilized mentality has come through contorting this relationship with the world. Our intent is a complete rejection of that manipulative world view.

    Being a traitor to this scientific, categorized world view is a rejection of the anthropocentric worldview. It is a realization of our place among the ‘other’. It is not an anti-human view, but recognition of what it means to be human. It is an understanding that our being comes from the Earth, not from science.

    Wikipedia has an entry here.

    While it's tough to call it a movement led by what would call "leaders" in the conventional sense, here are three (wiki-clickable) examples of what I'd call famous anticivilizationists:

    Kaczyinski.jpg Zerzan.jpg Volkert.jpg

    It's not the famous clash of civilizations we've heard about; it's collapse that's the goal here. Anything that aids in the collapse of civilization is good, which means that Islamofascist barbarism and savagery should and must be embraced by anarcho-primitivists. (Which it is.)

    Blogger Baron Bodissey has more background on the anarcho-primitivists, in a compelling essay called "Visualize Industrial Collapse":

    To achieve their ideal society, to create their heaven on earth, four billion people will have to die. Who do you think those people will be? And who do you think will get to choose who goes, and who gets to stay? Somehow, I don’t think the Anarcho-primitivists and the Greens and the Gaia-worshipping feminists are going to volunteer to lay down their lives for the good of the Collective.

    You’re on a bus with nine other people. Look around you: eight people have to die. Who will they be? The guy with the ponytail and the “Think Globally, Act Locally” T-shirt and his girlfriend with the flowered mumu? They don’t think they’ll be the ones to go. No, it will be you and all the other bozos on that bus.

    When the time comes, when the Untelevised Revolution finally seizes the levers of power, it will be the Central Committee of the Anarcho-Green People’s Coalition that makes the decisions. The workers and bureaucrats and truck drivers and school children won’t just lie down in the streets to die. No, it will be Pol Pot all over again, only done righteously this time.

    NOTE: the post name -- "VISUALIZE INDUSTRIAL COLLAPSE" -- comes from an increasingly popular bumpersticker.

    Obviously, the argument here is not over dividing the pie. It's with the pie. This philosophy pits civilization against anti-civilization, and it's not as simple as nihilism versus somethingism, because bad and as decadent as nihilism is, it's still a philosophy which is a product of civilization.

    The anti-civilizationists will naturally support any "ism" which opposes civilization, so naturally they support Islamofascism, which, being medieval, is a step back. Only hundreds of years back perhaps, but in their view, it's a step in the right direction.

    It's very frustrating to analyze this and create a spectrum, because the three dimensions are already taken. Maybe it's the civilizational spectrum versus the total darkness of paleonihilism, of uncivilization. Hell they've already labeled themselves as anti-civilizationists and species traitors, so why bother with a new label?

    What, then, should "civilizationists" do? There's been a growing consensus lately that tolerance does not include tolerating intolerance.

    Should civilization tolerate anti-civilization?

    Now we come to the hard part. Whether civilization should "tolerate" its declared enemy and antithesis is a simplistic question. That's because, if we posit a spectrum, that does little to identify the point at which a person crosses over the thin and permeable veneer to become what we might call an "enemy" of civilization. The problem is compounded by defining what might be at the other "end" of this new spectrum. Is liberalism more "civilized" than conservatism? I'd like to think that classical liberalism (the thing I claim I want to "restore") might be more civilized than paleoconservatism. But even that would be hotly debated by the paleocons. Various humans might disagree over whether homosexuality is more civilized than barbarous, or vice versa. (And who are we talking about? Oscar Wilde, the Emperor Hadrian, or SA chief Ernst Rohm?) And would we put authoritarians and totalitarians in the middle somewhere? I'm not sure I'm at all comfortable with Benito Mussolini as a "moderate" in any spectrum. Are libertarians more against civilization than socialists? (That's a scary thought, but if we set up this spectrum, where are the "sides"?)

    So, at the risk of simplifying the simplistic (and to ease reader eye strain), I'll conclude -- tentatively -- that anticivilizationists don't belong anywhere in the spectrum at all. They're just not there, and I wish they weren't anywhere.

    Besides, Steven isn't there to put them there.

    MORE: From an interview with John Zerzan:

    Leftism is going the way of the dodo, though there are still some remnants around.
    Should I see that as optimistic or pessimistic? I don't know anymore.

    See the problem?

    posted by Eric at 12:00 PM | Comments (5)

    Unscrambling history's final unsolution

    I love it!

    Linking to Hugh Hewitt's interview with Christopher Hitchens, Glenn Reynolds called Francis ("History-Has-Ended") Fukuyama an "insoluble problem."

    Well, history has ended, hasn't it?

    Nothing left to solve or dissolve.

    All that remains is nostalgia (as Hitchens says, "a secret academic wish to be living in "normal" times once more.")

    I don't want to sound self-centered, but I feel left out of Fukuyama's insoluble solution. Might that be because I spent too much of my life living in dissolute times? Is it possible to have nostalgia for "normal times" that never were?

    (Never mind. I probably don't want to know.)

    posted by Eric at 09:19 AM

    Getting tough with the sudafedayeen, Part II

    I'm feeling safer already.

    The Patriot Act has just passed overwhelmingly, which means that all patriotic Americans will now have to show ID in order to buy cold medicine:

    The U.S. Senate voted 89-10 to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act today and the bill includes provisions, co-authored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, that will put certain cold medications behind the drugstore counter.

    The Talent-Feinstein Combat Meth Act restricts access to products that contain ingredients used in producing methamphetamine. Those include cold medications with pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanoline.

    "This is a major victory. It is the biggest breakthrough in combating the nationwide spread of methamphetamines in over a decade. All across the country cold medicines with pseudoephedrine will be placed behind the counter. But the fight is not over. This bill will not make the epidemic go away overnight, but it is still an important step,'' Feinstein said.


    It's too little, too late, I'm afraid. But it's only fair to concede that this is Monday morning quarterback thinking. It's all too easy to look at today's sudafed problem with the wisdom we've gained since 9/11.

    We have learned so much! I'll never forget when those towers fell on 9/11. It was all because we let down our guard. In the pre-9/11 era of innocence, sold everywhere, right under our stuffed noses, were the precursors. Ruthless and savage killers with strange names. Like "pseudoephedrine." "Ephedrine." "Phenylpropanoline." Just thinking of it gives me goose bumps.

    How could we have been so insufferably naive?

    But will this bill be enough? I wonder. Not to, um, toot my own horn, but I was one of the first in the blogosphere to endorse this crackdown, and call for a Precursor Ingredient Czar:

    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.

    Again, while we're obviously safer now, can we really be sure that enough is being done?

    AFTERTHOUGHT: By engaging in satire I do not mean to trivialize the Patriot Act. How could I? Feinstein and company have already shown that no satire can possibly compete with what passes for real life.

    MORE: My thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer's blog, Blinq (aka Daniel Rubin) for linking this post!

    posted by Eric at 09:50 PM | Comments (4)

    Critical denial has nothing to do with rivers in Egypt . . .

    Critical pedagogy:

    a teaching approach which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate. In other words, it is a theory and practice of helping students achieve critical consciousness. In this tradition the teacher works to lead students to question ideologies and practices considered oppressive (including those at school), and encourage liberatory collective and individual responses to the actual conditions of their own lives.

    The student often begins as a member of the group or process (including religion, national identity, cultural norms, or expected roles) they are critically studying. After they reach the point of revelation where they begin to view their society as deeply flawed, the next behavior encouraged is sharing this knowledge with the attempt to change the oppressive nature of the society.

    Colorado schoolteacher Jay Bennish, now in the news for comparing Bush to Hitler, actually does much more. He's the critical pedagogue's critical pedagogue. If you listen to this tape (via LGF), you'll hear him ranting about Israel and the United States being terrorist states, the evils of capitalism, Bill Clinton's slaughter of thousands in the Sudan which led to 9/11, etc.

    I listened to the whole tape, and he sounds nuttier than a fruitcake (despite the cute appearance in the CBS picture).


    While Bennish's views are protected by the First Amendment, I think that's a pretty lame way to analyze this. (After all, Nazis have free speech too.) The man is supposed to be teaching geography! But instead, he's delivering rantings that sound for the world like Ward Churchill on speed -- with his voice raised several octaves higher.

    Now that he's been suspended, the kids have rallied to his defense. That's understandable (if molested kids can fall in love with pedophiles, I see no reason why kids can't fall even more in love with critical pedagogues), but it doesn't mean that what he does should be called teaching.

    If I had a kid there, I'd sue to get my property taxes back.

    Listening to the tape makes me glad I don't have children.

    (For now, I'll cling to my denial, and I'll content myself by hoping this tape is an aberration, and that most teachers are normal people who try to be objective and fair and stick to the subject material.)

    MORE: With their principal's approval, students in New Jersey are trying President Bush for "war crimes."

    (I prefer the old-fashioned "enemy of the people" designation.)

    UPDATE (03/03/06):Via Maggie's Farm, Michelle Malkin has more on Bennish (he's planning a lawsuit), and Ian Schwartz has the video of student Sean Allen's appearance on Hannity and Colmes last night.

    I love this idea that there's a "First Amendment right" to teach whatever crazed ideas might pop into a teacher's head.


    Next the ACLU will be championing the First Amendment right to "teach" that the earth is only 10,000 years old.

    Well, aren't there two sides to every point of view?

    posted by Eric at 03:37 PM | Comments (11)

    Imagine an army of Mohammads. . .
    Easy if you try. . .

    Taking things literally is one of my favorite (and most annoying) pastimes.

    So, after briefly getting ahead of myself with the literal implications of the title, I read Yankee Muse's post -- "An Army of Mohammads" (via Glenn Reynolds), and I found myself in full agreement with his points:

    The same technological advances [discussed in An Army of Davids] also allow individual terrorists and groups of terrorists to survive and engage in violent activities against large nations.
    We are at the beginning of an ongoing generational conflict that will continue so long as even a handful of dedicated nutcases want to destroy the West and its institutions.
    Much as it pains me to admit to occasional feelings of optimism, I'd like to point out that the same technological advances which make literally possible the creation of an army of enemy Mohammads also make possible the creation of an army of friendly Mohammads.

    Cloning the prophet is an old idea, which I've discussed for years. I'd hate to be forced to claim credit for being the first to think about it, as I have no way of knowing what other thoughts might run through the billions of brains also thinking thoughts in the world.

    But there's plenty of his genetic material lying around (at least, there's a hair and a tooth), and I see no reason why some covert op guys couldn't theoretically do a break-in at the Topkapi Palace, pilfer a few cells, and store them somewhere for safekeeping.* While the technology isn't yet there to clone a whole man from hair and beard samples (itself a debatable proposition), is the idea really that much more of a stretch than "Jurassic Park"? And wasn't Jurassic Park a multimillion dollar movie?

    Please. It doesn't take too much imagination, does it? Why, the idea is so obvious it's probably already been done. I realize that there may be squeamishness in certain religious circles, but it's not as if I'm proposing creating life in order to destroy it, because my theory is that the Mohammad clones (twins, really), being raised in the free West, would be delighted to grow up in anticipation of their task of defending freedom against tyranny. It might not even be necessary to tell them about their genetic origins. That could await the Day of Reckoning, "Boys from Brazil" style.

    Oh, I guess I forgot about that whole hereditary Caliph deal. What -- do I have to always look on the Sunni side of life?

    What the hell, just spread the prophets around a little....

    * They could always do a "switch" operation -- you know, a hair for a hair, a tooth for a tooth. And hell, even if they won't, um, go there, it might make a nice Turkish flick.

    posted by Eric at 11:24 AM | Comments (6)

    The relative values of exploitation and entertainment
    (Or "Passionate nihilism for pinheads")

    I don't know why, but I dreamed about pinheads last night. Anyone who has seen the 1932 Todd Browning film "Freaks" knows that they're cute and charming, and, well, they're just not like most of us. That's why people used to pay money to watch them perform, and it's why the movie "Freaks" continues to be watched by millions of people.

    Is it an inherently evil thing to be "used" as human entertainment?

    What is exploitation?

    I have no idea. But I thought I'd use the charming star of "Freaks" -- the pinhead "Schlitzie" -- as a starting point. He was said to have been exploited:

    He was exploited in the films he appeared in because he didn't have mental capacity to know any different.
    Of course, that's a debatable topic:
    Part of that ambivalence must be due to the sideshow's history of displaying oddities like Schlitze the pinhead. Schlitze was microcephalic, a condition that left her with a tiny head, tiny brain and the mental capacity of a small child. While Schlitze became one of the most celebrated sideshow performers (and was immortalized in Todd Browning's classic film Freaks) it's impossible to escape the whiff of her having been taken advantage of. But that's the paradox of the sideshow: Were performers like Schlitze exploited or were they given a far more exciting and varied life than they would have had in a hospital or home?

    What is exploitation?

    I think it's worth examining the life story of Schlitzie

    : Finally I don't know how or why this came about but they were given to Pete Kortes. He was the owner of some very big sideshows. Pete kept Athelia and gave Schlitzie to George Kortes and his wife. They worked with Pete.

    Just as a side note, Schlitzie is best remember for here appearance in Tod Browning's 1932 movie Freaks which has now become a cult classic film.

    Now I want to jump ahead to nineteen sixty with the E.K. Hernandez Circus in Hawaii. This was the first time I ever met Schlitzie. I had seen her before that time but this was the first time I ever worked with her. As I remember I think Mrs. Kortes had passed away and George still had Schlitzie and we worked on the circus at the same time. That was on the Sam Alexander Sideshow. They were working for him at the time and so was I. They had already been with Sam for quite awhile before I got to meet her.

    I don't remember the year George Kortes passed away. He had a daughter that lived in Los Angles she didn't have the facilities to take care of Schlitzie or the desire to do so. She didn't know what to do with Schlitzie and she had never been in the business. His daughter took Schlitzie to the Los Angles County Hospital and told them “here she is, you need to take care of her” then she left her there.

    Fortunately a sword swallower by the name of Bill Bunks was working at the hospital, this would have been in the winter time off season. Bill just happened to see Schlitzie sitting in one of the hospital's waiting rooms. So Bill tried to talk with her but Schlitzie didn't communicate very well which made it impossible for him to carry on a conversation with her. He went to the folks that worked at the hospital and ask them why Schlitzie was there by herself? They told him what had happened, he immediately went to the phone and called Sam Alexander. Sam came right over to the hospital and explained the situation to the hospital administration. They told him the first thing they had to do was to find out her mental capacity so they ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Schlitzie. The state psychiatrist said when he heard the story, that normally he would have ordered Schlitzie to be put in an institution. "If we institutionalize Schlitzie it would be less than six months and she would be dead from a broken heart." His concern was that if she was away from the show people and the attention of the public she wouldn't be happy. So the state of California made Schlitzie a ward of Sam Alexander.

    More on Schlitzie -- plus a picture of him in his old age -- here. If Schlitzie's removal from the circus triggered depression, what does that suggest about exploitation?

    I didn't know it when I started writing this post, but Schlitzie has a cult following. Available for sale are plastic models of Schlitzie.


    And Schlitzie hats.


    Hey, I'm feeling really exploitative today. Plus I want to focus on entertainment. So here's the most famous picture of Schlitzie:


    The caption is what interests me the most: "Unidentified pinhead with movie stars Rochelle Hudson and Chester Morris."

    Rochelle Hudson? I've heard of Rock, but I didn't know there was a Rochelle. As it turns out, she appeared in many films and TV episodes (her most famous role seems to have been Natalie Wood's mother in "Rebel Without A Cause.") The "Hudson" isn't a Hollywood name either; she's a "direct descendant of famed explorer Henry Hudson, who discovered the Hudson River and Hudson Bay." (There's a minimal Wikipedia entry too, but nothing on Schlitzie! Be the first in your block....)

    Then there's Chester Morris. Best known for his role as "Boston Blackie," he also appeared in a number of films (beginning in 1917) including "The Big House," and his last, "The Great White Hope." (Considering that Schlitzie co-starred with him in one of the Boston Blackie films, I'm also wondering whether the "unidentified pinhead" caption is misleading. Others have raised questions about journalistic integrity, but this is no place for that boring and humorless issue.)

    There are no Rochelle Hudson or Chester Morris hats or plastic models that I can find. As a disinterested culture observer with no particular axe to grind (except, obviously, in my unconscious mind, as I've already disclosed), I'd say that in terms of entertainment, the "unidentified pinhead" is sneaking up on them.

    In terms of Google, the two Hollywood stars are ahead of Schlitzie, but beaten by Zippy, America's most famous pinhead. But that's not fair! Because Zippy was inspired by Schlitzie (a fact the artist admits), yet the fictional character is stealing the latter's show! (Now that's real exploitation.....)

    This all begs the question of what is entertainment, and what is exploitation. If Schlitzie was exploited, why weren't Rochelle Hudson and Chester Morris?

    And who's being exploited now?

    Damn these pinhead terms! Merely looking at them has a way of inducing feelings of, like, total burnout!

    Eventually, nothing begins to makes sense. But that would be wrong. Because isn't nothing, like, um, nihilism?

    (I worry that being Schlitzie has distinct advantages....)

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

    Statistics have a disproportionate impact on freedom

    Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, and newspaper editorial boards all seem to be echoing the same meme: guns should be traced:

    The National Tracing Center database is an essential resource for law enforcement. Beyond enabling law enforcement to trace the history of a gun linked to a crime, it helps identify patterns of gun theft and trafficking. And that information can help local law enforcement — like the NYPD — in stopping illegal guns before they're used to commit crimes.

    For instance, if police report a stolen gun used in a crime in New York to the ATF, local law enforcement could learn where that gun was first sold, and whether other guns sold by the same dealer were used in other crimes in other states. This helps law enforcement identify sources of "crime guns" so that they can cut the supply off at the source.

    Yet the NYPD — along with every other branch of law enforcement in the nation — is being denied the information needed to get illegal guns off our streets: There is no requirement that stolen guns or guns used to commit crimes be reported to the National Tracing Center database.

    New York state has a law requiring New York law enforcement to report guns used in crimes to the federal database for tracing — but the vast majority of states have no such requirement.

    Wait a second! If a gun is stolen and then used in a crime, law enforcement should identify its "source" to stop further "supply"? Is this logical? Some criminal stole the gun, right? What on earth could any dealer or supplier have had to do with that?

    Are crackpot statisticians running amok in this country? And will someone please tell me what is a "crime gun"? Isn't any gun which is stolen by definition a "crime gun"?

    I get so exasperated by these undefined terms. "Affordable housing." "Family." "Anti-family interloper." When will people say what they mean?

    The Chuck and Hillary Show's theme is echoed in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

    Tracing also counts how many guns used in crimes came from which dealers. It also reveals what's known as "time-to-crime." That's the time elapsed between a gun's retail sale and the moment police retrieve it in connection with a crime.

    Put those last two items together, and you'd get a pretty clear picture of which dealers in a community have been fueling - unwittingly or not - the illegal gun traffic.

    Citizens need to be as informed as possible about the scope and shape of gun violence in their communities.

    They need to understand all the factors that contribute to bloodshed so they can decide which policies should be in place to protect public safety while honoring the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

    "All the factors" include, of course, the name of every previous owner of a firearm. Which means (if you ever buy a gun) your name. They'd like to publish your name in the paper (and maybe sue you) if some criminal steals your gun and uses it in a crime, or even if you were once in the chain of ownership.

    Back to Chuck and Hillary:

    Worse, an obscure provision (surreptitiously passed into law in 2003 via an appropriations bill with little note or debate) requires that much of this vital gun tracing information — information that could save lives — be kept secret from the public and off-limits to police officers as they track guns used to kill police officers like Officer Stewart.

    As a result, officers can only trace guns after they're used to commit a crime, and are shut off from information about other guns, sold by the same dealer and used in other crimes in other states.

    What I'd like to know is how a record of a previous legal purchase of a gun constitutes "information that could save lives," unless, of course, the firearms themselves are to blame, or the dealers that sell them. If the dealers are responsible for subsequent criminal conduct, of course, then in logic that means anyone who ever owned a gun is just as responsible for any future "conduct" by the gun.

    This makes about as much sense as holding car dealers responsible for "any car used in a crime." I haven't seen the stats, but I'd be willing to bet that a small percentage of car dealers sell the majority of cars which later turn up stolen, uninsured, used in innumerable hit-and-run or "drive-by" crimes.

    And I'll just bet that the majority of these car dealers are huge operations in large urban areas. The problem is that people don't see cars the way they see guns.

    "Let the light shine," concludes the Inquirer. If guns are the culprits, and if both the shooters and those they shoot are victims of the guns, then why isn't a further statistical breakdown being done?

    Don't we have an established legal doctrine in this country called "disproportionate impact"?

    Let's do as we are told and assume that both shooters and shootees are victims of gun crimes. What if these victims of gun crimes were shown to be disproportionately young, disproportionately lower income, and disproportionately minority? If we are going to run the world based on statistics, shouldn't gun dealers be prohibited from "supplying" guns to "high risk groups" based on statistics? I mean, if they are supplying a product which has a disproportionate impact, shouldn't they be held to the same standard as everyone else?

    This is supposed to be satire, but I hate it when satire resembles real life.

    I also hate statistics. Here's another gun statistic we see bandied about all the time:

    Residents of homes where a gun is present are 5 times more likely to experience a suicide(The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 327, No. 7,August 13, 1992, pp. 467- 472. ) and 3 times more likely to experience a homicide(Vol. 329, No. 15, October 7, 1993, pp. 1084-1001. ) than residents of homes without guns.
    I don't need to waste time debunking the above (others have), as I believe in individuality, and I think it is inherently unfair to judge an individual by group statistics. Bad enough as it is to judge A according to the conduct of B, for the state to pass laws based on such judgments is positively Orwellian. (Pit bulls are disproportionately used in drug dealing and dogfighting, therefore they should be taken away and killed.)

    Years ago, I used to have regular arguments with a retired Berkeley school teacher. A very nice neighbor who was vehemently anti-gun, she held the all-too-common belief that guns possessed something close to what we'd call an evil animus -- which caused them to be a bad influence on their owners. She told me over and over again that sooner or later I would shoot myself or someone I loved. I finally told her that I had more respect for the Second Amendment than to be fodder for its opponents, and that therefore I had already decided that if I killed myself I would check into a motel and take a drug overdose (putting a plastic bag over my head before passing out to prevent failure), leaving a note apologizing to the staff but explaining that I didn't want my guns blamed. (Besides, it's less messy that way. A $100.00 tip accompanying the suicide note would cover the minimal cleanup involved.)

    Despairing of getting anywhere with me, my neighbor finally confessed that her problem really wasn't with educated middle class people owning guns; it was with "the poor." Urban minorities. People "on welfare." But she quickly admonished me that she was not talking about race, and that laws had to be fair. And the only way to be fair was to take away all guns, from everyone. The "educated classes," in her view, should "set an example."

    Sorry, but I consider that to be racist thinking, dissembled though it may be. It is based on the same statistics which gun control advocates want compiled so they can blame large urban gun dealers for the subsequent conduct of their guns.

    My neighbor endlessly cited statistics like the above, and of course, similar statistical thinking lies behind almost every social engineering scheme I've seen. Consider this tidbit from the Cato Institute's Jeffrey Synder on the racist history of gun control.

    While Northern states may have favored the discretionary licensing laws as a means of ensuring that Italians, Jews, labor agitators, or others with radical political beliefs did not obtain arms, Southern states favored such laws because the broad discretion permitted maneuvering room to deny permits to African-Americans. [10] The racist motivation for, and racist application of, such laws was noted in a 1941 court case involving Florida's old discretionary licensing system: "The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied. . . . [The] Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers and to thereby reduce the [number of] unlawful homicides . . . and to give the white citizens in sparsely settled areas a better feeling of security. . . . There has never been, within my knowledge, any effort to enforce the provisions of this statute as to white people, because it has been generally conceded to be in contravention of the Constitution and non-enforceable if contested.

    .... Watson v. Stone, 4 So.2d 700, 703 (1941) (Buford, J., concurring).

    Instead of blaming individuals, bigots once blamed race for gun crime.

    Today's social engineers blame guns.

    UPDATE (03/05/06): Clayton Cramer, of course, has done an enormous amount of work in documenting the link between racism and gun control (most notably "The Racist Roots of Gun Control"). Recently, he links to a couple of newer articles: "The Perfect Is The Enemy of the Good," (why demanding ideological perfection from political candidates is a good way to elect antigunners), and "Washington State's Open Carry Ban which offers an intriguing theory that Washington's Open Carry Ban may have been originally directed against the Black Panther Party. Both are well worth reading!

    posted by Eric at 06:54 AM | Comments (1)

    The losers are getting harder

    What is an "anti-family interloper"?

    People who are interested in the future of the Republican party might want to read this post, which uses the term to describe a growing threat to the Republican Party:

    In recent years, the conservative pro-life/pro-family base of the GOP has not only had to stand its ground against the Democratic Party, but now finds itself constantly having to fight off liberal, pro-abortion/anti-family interlopers within the Republican Party.

    These liberal “Republicans” really have more in common with the Democratic Party than they do with Republicans, yet they insist on trying to water down and infect the Republican Party Platform with their liberal social agenda. We truly are in the midst of a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

    OK, but what's an anti-family interloper? I've had problems before trying to figure out what it means to be against families, and my dictionary defines an interloper as "an unlawful intruder" or "trespasser," but I'd like something a bit more specific, because I don't quite understand exactly who is doing what. But the main thrust of the post seems to be an attack on gubernatoral hopeful Judy Baar Topinka (a Republican said to kowtow to gay activists), the promotion of her opponent Jim Oberwies, and the promotion of an anti-Topinka web site: spokesman Peter LaBarbera said he and other concerned citizens created the website “to get the truth about Judy Topinka's radical pro-‘gay’ activism out to the voters of Illinois. We know that most Republican voters in Illinois are still unaware of Topinka's liberal agenda, which includes helping hardened homosexual activists achieve their goal of using government power to force others to accept their lifestyle.

    “Every year, Judy celebrates homosexuality by marching in Chicago's debauched ‘gay pride’ parade, but she's not talking about that now that she's running for governor as a Republican. We just feel the people have a right to know when a politician who claims to be conservative is championing immoral and unhealthy behavior,” he said.

    So, as the gubernatorial primary heats up and heads into the final stretch, Illinois Republican voters have a choice to make. Do they want to continue to reward the failed “George Ryan” old guard by maintaining the status quo and electing Judy Baar Topinka, or do they intend to head in the new direction of party repair, and government reform?

    Hmmmm..... Perhaps "radical pro-‘gay’ activism" (the quotation marks are placed to suggest the word "gay" is not that) is what is meant by "anti-family." The problem with that theory is that elsewhere. Ms. Topinka says she's against gay marriage.

    If opposition to same sex marriage constitutes "radical pro-'gay' activism," what are the implications for the rest of us? I've repeatedly declared my opposition to same sex marriage; does this mean I'm now a radical pro-gay activist?

    I doubt it. But I do think that the tough-to-interpret term "anti-family" is increasingly used as a synonym for gay. Homosexual. (And maybe even mere friends of these moral deviants, like the treacherous Judy Baar Topinka.)

    Call me evil, but I can't leave the "hardened homosexual" reference alone. I know there are hardened people, and I'm sure that homosexuals count among their ranks, but how can this writer know that "homosexual activists" with a "goal of using government power to force others to accept their lifestyle" are "hardened"?

    If in fact these activists need to use government power to force others into accepting them, I'd say they're weak and insecure people.

    The very opposite of "hardened."

    (Hey what is it with quotation marks today? I'm getting tired of them....)

    Time will tell whether the Conservative Voice people have their analysis right. But if they do, that means that homosexuality (aka anti-family interlopers, aka "hardened homosexual activists") is one of the most important issues in the Republican Party, and it will determine the party's future.

    I'm assuming they know that Bush got 25% of the gay vote.

    Do they want him to give it back?

    MORE: I haven't been following the Illinois governor's Republican primary race as I should. I notice that there are three candidates: Brady, Topinka (more here), and Oberweis. Topinka is said to be the front runner, and Brady is being called a Nader for not withdrawing from the race. (From a primary???)

    I think it's worth noting that Oberweis (along with the activists who attack Topinka and the "interlopers") were promoters of the candidacy of Alan Keyes, which went down in a crushing defeat.

    My theory is that consciously or unconsciously, they'd prefer a Hillary Clinton administration, and that all this fervent pushing for candidates certain to lose, while undoubtedly sincere in the ideological sense, may reflect a desire to regroup and position themselves as leaders of an out of power party. This makes sense, because if their party runs winning candidates, they'll remain forever marginalized, and forever out of power. (Better to lead losers than be led by winners.)

    I'm glad I'm not an activist or an insider, and I try not to think of myself as an interloper. But I went from being a Democrat In Name Only to a Republican In Name Only, so maybe I'm an outerloper.

    Far be it from someone like me to give Machiavellian advice to right wing social conservatives. (Fortunately, they'd never listen to me, so it's probably safe.) But if they paid me millions of dollars for advice and I was cynical enough to give it, I'd suggest that the policy of forcing a hardline social conservative loser onto the ticket is shortsighted. That's because, if the guy loses, their power and influence would wane even further than it has. No; what they need is for the Republicans to lose with a genuine liberal candidate. Someone as far to the left as it's possible for a Republican to be. A Chaffee type, perhaps. But of course, he'd have to actually lose. Obviously, they cannot support such a candidate directly. But they might look the other way at the right time, then undermine the campaign later. Either way, it would require a conscious decision to undermine their own party in order to take it over -- a little along the lines of destroying the village in order to save it. (Dear God, please don't let them hear about my Satanic Machiavellian victory plan for moral conservatives!)

    One more thought on the anti-Topinka website. People who call it "intolerant" or "anti-gay" are missing the point, as are those who see it as a manifestation of "moral conservatism." There are moral conservatives and then there are moral conservatives, but there's just something buffoonishly silly about showing scenes like this (showing Ms. Topinka committing heretical abominations at a Gay Parade), accompanied by ever-louder warnings and exclamations of outrage:


    I haven't watched the video, but I'm just wondering how much shock value it really has. I know that there are plenty of people who disapprove of gay marriage, and plenty of people who find the idea of homosexuality to be not only a turn-off, but even downright repulsive. But how persuasive is it in this day and age to demand that people become morally indignant over a gay parade?

    I think it's manufactured outrage at best, and a losing strategy at worst. This is not to say that there aren't people who don't feel like fainting over the idea of a man kissing a man or a man wearing (gasp!) a dress. But how common is the moral indignation, the outraged sense of decency?

    My point is that not all conservatives are morally outraged conservatives, nor does their lack of outrage mean they're against families or seeking to undermine the Republican Party. Some are South Park conservative types, and some are just plain old Americans with an all-American "F--k you!" attitude. They might think gay marriage is silly, they might even dare to laugh at the politically incorrect "fag jokes." But would they tremble in fear for the future of the nation because some web site has "exposed the truth" of a Republican woman who dared to be photographed with smiling young men who look like they might be their wives' hairdressers? I doubt it.

    I think they might even roll their eyes.

    AN UPDATE WHICH WANTS TO BE A FILM REVIEW: I watched the video (which can be streamed here or by clicking the picture above). There are men shown holding hands, a couple of men in dresses, a couple of women baring their breasts (all pixel-covered), and at one point there appear to be two men engaged in simulated sex on a float (but the "action" is so heavily covered with pixels that it's hard to tell what they're doing). At another point (oh, the humanity!) an obese man gently whisks his whip through the air while walking slowly behind another man. The same scenes of Ms. Topinka smiling and waving are repeated throughout the film -- as if to argue that it's "her" parade. (In these parades, politicians usually drive by in cars, smiling and waving.)

    Considering that Topinka is a Republican who doesn't support same sex marriage, what would really be a shocker would be to discover that she received anything more than token applause (by selected supporters) at the event.

    All in all, it's pretty lame. Definitely not a turn on.

    I'll say this for the film: the somber, funeral dirge-style music which is played throughout (the sort you'd find in a JFK assassination retro-documentary) adds an amusingly surreal quality.

    But hardened viewers -- the type who want real flesh and like their parades racy and raunchy -- are best advised to skip this one.

    (I recommend vintage Mardi Gras footage.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Nobody likes mealy-mouthed, promise-em-anything, business-as-usual politicians, of either party. And I'll say this for the angry Alan Keyes wing: they tell you where they stand. The problem for them (and, IMO, for the GOP), is that too many people just plain don't like their stand.

    But hey, the Daily Kos crowd is doing more than their share of dirty work for Karl Rove. I guess it's only fair that the right wing equivalent would do the same thing for Hillary. . .

    UPDATE (03/03/06): Via InstaPundit, David Bernstein reports that incumbent Democrat governor Blagojevich seeks to appoint to Illinois's hate crimes commission an "active Member of a racist, anti-gay, anti-Semitic organization." (Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.)

    (What can I say? I didn't mean to ignore the Democrats, but I just sort of assumed... You know....)

    posted by Eric at 02:55 PM | Comments (2)

    I can't relate to tyranny, because it isn't a relative thing

    This Manifesto is well worth linking and republishing in its entirety:


    Together facing the new totalitarianism

    After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

    We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.

    The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

    Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

    We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

    We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.

    We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism.

    12 signatures

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    Chahla Chafiq
    Caroline Fourest
    Bernard-Henri Lévy
    Irshad Manji
    Mehdi Mozaffari
    Maryam Namazie
    Taslima Nasreen
    Salman Rushdie
    Antoine Sfeir
    Philippe Val
    Ibn Warraq


    Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    Ayaan Hirsi Ali, from somilian origin, is member of Dutch parliement, member of the liberal party VVD. Writter of the film Submission which caused the assasination of Theo Van Gogh by an islamist in november 2004, she lives under police protection.

    Chahla Chafiq
    Chahla Chafiq, writer from iranian origin, exiled in France is a novelist and an essayist. She’s the author of "Le nouvel homme islamiste , la prison politique en Iran " (2002). She also wrote novels such as "Chemins et brouillard" (2005).

    Caroline Fourest
    Essayist, editor in chief of Prochoix (a review who defend liberties against dogmatic and integrist ideologies), author of several reference books on « laicité » and fanatism : Tirs Croisés : la laïcité à l’épreuve des intégrismes juif, chrétien et musulman (with Fiammetta Venner), Frère Tariq : discours, stratégie et méthode de Tariq Ramadan, et la Tentation obscurantiste (Grasset, 2005). She receieved the National prize of laicité in 2005.

    Bernard-Henri Lévy
    French philosoph, born in Algeria, engaged against all the XXth century « ism » (Fascism, antisemitism, totalitarism, terrorism), he is the author of La Barbarie à visage humain, L’Idéologie française, La Pureté dangereuse, and more recently American Vertigo.

    Irshad Manji
    Irshad Manji is a Fellow at Yale University and the internationally best-selling author of "The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith" (en francais: "Musulmane Mais Libre"). She speaks out for free expression based on the Koran itself. Née en Ouganda, elle a fui ce pays avec sa famille musulmane d’origine indienne à l’âge de quatre ans et vit maintenant au Canada, où ses émissions et ses livres connaissent un énorme succès.

    Mehdi Mozaffari
    Mehdi Mozaffari, professor from iranian origin and exiled in Denmark, is the author of several articles and books on islam and islamism such as : Authority in Islam: From Muhammad to Khomeini, Fatwa: Violence and Discourtesy and Glaobalization and Civilizations.

    Maryam Namazie
    Writer, TV International English producer; Director of the Worker-communist Party of Iran’s International Relations; and 2005 winner of the National Secular Society’s Secularist of the Year award.

    Taslima Nasreen
    Taslima Nasreen is born in Bangladesh. Doctor, her positions defending women and minorities brought her in trouble with a comittee of integrist called « Destroy Taslima » and to be persecuted as « apostate »

    Salman Rushdie
    Salman Rushdie is the author of nine novels, including Midnight’s Children, The Satanic Verses and, most recently, Shalimar the Clown. He has received many literary awards, including the Booker Prize, the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel, Germany’s Author of the Year Award, the European Union’s Aristeion Prize, the Budapest Grand Prize for Literature, the Premio Mantova, and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. He is a Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres, an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at M.I.T., and the president of PEN American Center. His books have been translated into over 40 languages.

    Philippe Val
    Director of publication of Charlie Hebdo (Leftwing french newspaper who have republished the cartoons on the prophet Muhammad by solidarity with the danish citizens targeted by islamists).

    Ibn Warraq
    Ibn Warraq , author notably of Why I am Not a Muslim ; Leaving Islam : Apostates Speak Out ; and The Origins of the Koran , is at present Research Fellow at a New York Institute conducting philological and historical research into the Origins of Islam and its Holy Book.

    Antoine Sfeir
    Born in Lebanon, christian, Antoine Sfeir choosed french nationality to live in an universalist and « laïc » (real secular) country. He is the director of Les cahiers de l’Orient and has published several reference books on islamism such as Les réseaux d’Allah (2001) et Liberté, égalité, Islam : la République face au communautarisme (2005).

    (Via InstaPundit.)

    Jeff Goldstein adds some thoughts of his own:

    Yes, I’m thrilled to see others engaging in the same type of argument, which points out the structural problems within the Islamic worldview itself and recognizes the need to counter this structural deficiencies with memetics of western liberalism—namely, the promotion of “universal” individual rights as a counter to pernicious group-based collectivist politicking.
    Those who believe in identity politics would do well to remember that feminism once condemned Islamist oppression of women in no uncertain terms. No more. Feminism has been forced into submission. A former feminist told me that she expects that gay rights will be next. (Actually, it's already happening. More here; related story here.)

    I guess multiculturalist relativism means hanging together separately.

    (Pardon my gallows humor.)

    posted by Eric at 09:09 AM | TrackBacks (3)

    "quotations" of the "day"

    I've long been skeptical about Watergate mythology. I've also long been amazed over how the MSM gets away with continuing to bask in their 1970s Watergate victory with a straight face -- despite the fact that an ever larger portion of the chorus was in diapers at the time. (Or not even born!)

    So, it's always nice to see this self-congratulatory cult (based on the strained idea of continued Woodward-and-Bernstein hero worship) lose a little of its luster. And it was a special treat to see the Watergate cult derided in terms like this:

    For a press corps so enamored with itself over what Booby and Bernstein did over 3 decade ago they seem to not be aware that just about all of the "evils" of the Nixon administration have in fact been repeated by the Bush administration.
    The critic is Atrios, and yeah, he's Bush-bashing as usual.

    But I just can't get over seeing quotation marks around the "evils" of the Nixon administration!



    Come to think of it, how did "Bush administration" slip through without any quotation marks around the word "admininstration"?

    And what does all this suggest about the "lesser" of the two "evils"?

    posted by Eric at 06:53 AM

    March 2011
    Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3 4 5
    6 7 8 9 10 11 12
    13 14 15 16 17 18 19
    20 21 22 23 24 25 26
    27 28 29 30 31    


    Search the Site


    Classics To Go

    Classical Values PDA Link


    Recent Entries


    Site Credits