Why white people are annoying

A black student at Haverford College explains.


UPDATE: An answer, of sorts.

(Glad I don't have to go to college these days.)

posted by Eric at 10:31 PM | Comments (3)

sights, rites and colors

In the old days, when people thought of May Day, they didn't think of Communism, or International Workers Day (or even massive immigration protests).

In simpler times, lovely young maidens would dance around the Maypole.

"They ... set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians."

-- Governor William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation

The Puritans in England didn't like Maypoles either, so they were banned under Cromwell (although, interestingly, they were restored along with the monarchy).

According to Wikipedia, the history is very ancient:

Maypole dancing is a traditional form of folk dance from western Europe, especially England, Sweden and Germany. Dancers dance in a circle each holding a coloured ribbon attached to a central pole, known as the maypole. By the movements of the dancers the ribbons are intertwined and plaited either on to the pole itself or into a web around the pole. The dancers may then retrace their steps exactly in order to unravel the ribbons.

Maypole dancing is extremely ancient and is thought to have Germanic pagan fertility symbolism. It is traditionally performed in the spring around the festival of May Day, but in Sweden it is during the midsummer festivities.

More here, including the connection to the Roman Festival of Flora (although it appears that the British erected Maypoles before the Roman invasion of 43 AD). The Festival of Flora (Floralia, later Ludi Florales) was traditionally celebrated from April 28 to May 3. (It seems Governor Bradford knew a little bit about ancient history.)

Anyway, I was privileged to attend a Maypole Dance this morning, and I'll share a couple of pictures in the hope of honoring the true spirit of May Day.

The dancers begin by winding the ribbons (accomplished by dancing in different directions around the Maypole):


As the ribbons wind around the pole, they become woven into a distinctive pattern at the top:


The weaving complete, the maidens above are dancing around the pole.

Being that this is Floralia, the blog post wouldn't be complete without some Spring flowers. The color of these tulips pleased me:


While Coco didn't attend the festivities, she has colorful eyes, and I managed to illuminate her irises with the camera flash:


She's a "bi-eyed" dog, which means that she has one blue and one brown eye. As you can see, the two retinas have different colors too.

In humans the condition is known as heterochromia. Alexander the Great had heterochromia. So does David Bowie.

No, I don't make this stuff up. Coloring the truth is redundant.

posted by Eric at 09:23 PM | Comments (7)

petrodollars at work?

I'm suffering from a serious time crunch, and I won't have time for writing until much later in the day.

I did find an interesting piece from the Washington Post which may shed some light on a serious error in logic committed by many Americans -- that Shia Islam is "radical" and Wahhabi Islam is "moderate." This took form over many years in response to problems which both countries had with Iran. The Saudis' interest in promoting Wahhabism and the Americans' interest in easy answers (i.e. "our enemy is radical; our ally is moderate") led to a collusion of convenience.

In the United States, Saudi Arabia's infrastructure of preachers and money started as a bulwark against the spread into American mosques of radical Shiism, which surged after Khomeini deposed the shah of Iran.

"Many countries in the West asked Saudi Arabia to get involved in these [Islamic] centers because at that time Saudi Arabia was considered moderate," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal said in an interview in March. The Americans "felt comfortable with the presence of the Saudis," he said.

Backed by Saudi money, this presence grew rapidly.

Without getting into how the Saudis got their money, there was a price to be paid for this American "comfort."

It isn't comfortable any more.

Considering the demise of the American melting pot in favor of multiculturalism, Saudi religious hegemony has grown and grown (metastasized is a better word):

Scholars of Islam find it difficult to precisely assess the impact of 40 years of Saudi missionary work on the United States' multi-ethnic Muslim community -- estimated at 6 million to 7 million. But survey data are suggestive.

The most comprehensive study, a survey of the 1,200 U.S. mosques undertaken in 2000 by four Muslim organizations, found that 2 million Muslims were "associated" with a mosque and that 70 percent of mosque leaders were generally favorable toward fundamentalist teachings, while 21 percent followed the stricter Wahhabi practices. The survey also found that the segregation of women for prayers was spreading, from half of the mosques in 1994 to two-thirds six years later.

John L. Esposito, a religion scholar at Georgetown University, said the Saudi theological efforts have resulted in "the export of a very exclusive brand of Islam into the Muslim community in the United States" that "tends to make them more isolationist in the society in which they live."

What that means is that Muslim immigrants to the United States are likely to find themselves converted to the Wahhabist ideology. (In many cases with American taxpayer support.)

It's a complex issue, and I wish I had more time.

But I am running very late.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Blogging demands posts. Posts demand thought. Thought demands time.

(I'm afraid it's a serious conflict without any hope of resolution. If I'm lucky I'll have time for a "throwaway post" later . . .)

posted by Eric at 08:28 AM | Comments (2)

Music for nerds? Or disgruntled deans?

This video is hilarious.

It's described by the Washington Post:

Just check out the music video created by Columbia Business School students lampooning their dean's disappointment at not being chosen to succeed Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman.
But no description can do it justice. It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

But these dry nerdy things aren't supposed to be funny!

(I guess that's the whole idea.)

posted by Eric at 12:50 PM | Comments (1)

Buchanan for President? (Well, not really . . .)

Mickey Kaus notes the dire importance of immigration as an election issue. According to a new poll, a hypothetical candidate promising "to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority" . . .

. . . beats the generic "Republican" nominee by 9 points-- 30 to 21--and runs practically even with the generic "Democratic" nominee (who gets 31%). The border-centric third-party candidacy actually takes more votes from the Democratic side than the Republican side!. But it draws heavily from both parties, and as heavily from "moderates" as from "conservatives."
While I tend to be a bit dark in my outlook, once the dust settles I see the primary beneficiary as being someone Michelle Malkin (way back in 2004) called "Hillary Rodham Buchanan":
I myself would never vote for Hillary. But the Republican establishment takes for granted at its peril the significant number of party faithful who may be sorely tempted to do so if the Bush betrayal at the border continues.

Hillary Rodham Buchanan? Don't laugh. She could be the GOP's worst nightmare in '08.

That she will be, especially if she can present herself as a commonsense centrist with a solid plan to close the border (something a huge majority supports).

I know it sounds counterintuitive, but I think the Republican calls for ever more draconian legislation might help her. The more to the right the GOP's hardline drifts, the less likely the possibility of any change in the status quo, and the more the "center" is shifted to the right. When the center shifts right, Hillary shifts right. And Hillary on the right places Republicans on the far right. (Except, of course, the lamer and lamer ducks, who won't be worth shooting.)

What would really ensure a Democratic victory in '08 would be the emergence of a hard right third party candidate. He'd never win, but Hillary would.

Thus, I think a Hillary Buchanan strategy (slightly altered from Michelle's original version) is beautiful.

(Now, how to get Soros to toss $20 million in the right direction . . .)

MORE: But what about the huge upcoming demos, and the backlash factor?

"It's intimidation when a million people march down main streets in our major cities under the Mexican flag," said Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman volunteer border patrol group. "This will backfire," he said.

Some Latinos have also expressed concerns that the boycott and marches could stir up anti-immigrant sentiment.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese, an outspoken champion of immigrant rights, has lobbied against a walkout. "Go to work, go to school, and then join thousands of us at a major rally afterward," Mahony said.

And Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has long fought for immigrant rights, has said he expects protesters to be "lawful and respectful" and children to stay in school.

In Washington on Thursday, immigrant-rights activists brushed off talk of a backlash.

"This is going to be really big. We're going to have millions of people," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, director of the Latino Movement USA. "We are not concerned at all. We believe it's possible for Congress to get the message that the time to act is now."

It's not so much the backlash next week that matters, but the perception -- the resonance -- of the backlash in the Fall.

How the backlash is managed and spun will be of utmost importance.

(Right now, I'm wondering whether the plan is to get the right wing to go absolutely ape. Who benefits the most from a civil war in the Republican Party?)

MORE: Buchanan2008.com is coming soon. Buchanan08.com is for sale.

UPDATE: My thanks to Pajamas Media for the link!

posted by Eric at 09:33 AM | Comments (1)

The best defense is a good chicken hawk!

Just before yesterday's Saudi-based DOS attack, Captain Ed announced the formation (along with Frank J. and Derek Brigham) of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, and Derek designed this incredibly cool logo to go with it:


Baldilocks and others have signed on. Count me in.

More from Captain Ed:

First of all, the term "fighting keyboardist" describes our efforts pretty well, and we think the pseudo-military terminology is pretty danged amusing. Derek himself designed the logo.

And why the chicken hawk? When we looked into it, it turns out that the chicken hawk is a pretty impressive predator. It's the largest of its family. This species vigorously defends its territory, getting even more aggressive when the conditions get harshest. It adapts to all climates. Most impressively, it feeds on chickens, mice, and rats.

Make of that what you will.

I'd add that there's a family of chicken hawks (as Ed's link notes, they're known as Red- Tailed hawks) nesting in my yard, and I enjoy watching them. (I don't like loaded terms, so I'll avoid speaking of "chickenhawk family values" and I definitely won't say "let us prey.")

I'll try to get some photos of my raptor friends.

UPDATE: Captain Ed thinks there will be more DOS attacks, but remains loyal to Hosting Matters:

We've come under attack all day here at the Hosting Matters community, apparently by Saudis who have issues with free speech. Michelle Malkin has some of the background at her site, if you can access it. The only thing I know is that the folks at Hosting Matters have treated me very well, and I'm not going to burn my friends when they're getting attacked.
I couldn't agree more. I have been delighted with Hosting Matters and the level of professionalism and support they provide. If they (and my blog) are attacked again, I will simply post at the Classical Values backup site.

(It goes without saying that the best way for bloggers to combat any ideologically motivated attackers is to combat their underlying ideology.)

posted by Eric at 08:30 AM | Comments (2)

More than a theory?

At the risk of stating the obvious, this country wasn't founded as a land of submission, and the First Amendment wasn't intended as a theory never to be put into practice. (Unlike the Stalin Constitution [link from Patrick Crozier at Samizdata] which recited that "freedom of speech" is "guaranteed by law.")

I've often marveled, though, over the contrast between the theory and practice of free speech. As we all know, the right to sound off and criticize what we don't like is part of our birthright. When the target of the criticism is government conduct, why, the First Amendment is paramount.

That's the theory. Put it into practice and you might find that what we call "the government" consists not of an impartial and fair body of neutral parties steeped in the culture of the founding fathers, but people. Often powerful, politically motivated activists with biases and axes to grind. Like most people, they don't take kindly to criticism, but unlike most people, they have the power of the state behind them. (And the trusty but rusty First Amendment is the only restraint on their power.)

A blogger in Maine, one Lance Dutson is learning first hand about the difference between First Amendment theory and First Amendment practice. He's being sued for exercising his First Amendment rights:

MBA Member Lance Dutson who blogs at Maine Web Report was recently served with a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Maine. The lawsuit alleges copyright infringement and defamation for reporting and commentary written and published by Dutson on his blog.

"This case is nothing more than an attempt by a deep-pocketed litigant to bully a blogger for criticizing state officials and state contractors"", said MBA President Robert Cox. "We have successfully defended MBA members in nine previous cases and I don¹t expect the outcome here to be be any different."

Dutson went public this morning with news of the lawsuit and provided key links here including his account of the events leading up to the lawsuit and the complaint served on Dutson by the local sheriff at his home in Maine. Dutson has vowed to fight.

"The idea that criticism of the state government can be defamatory is absurd", said Dutson, "This attempt to bludgeon critics of the state government is not going to work."

Through it's legal defense initiative, the MBA provides member bloggers with "first line" legal defense, pro bono advice on how best to respond to legal threats related to the member's blog.

Here's Lance Dutson's account:
Warren Kremer Paino Advertising has filed a 3 count multi-million dollar federal lawsuit against me for the reporting I’ve done in this blog. They are claiming defamation, libel, and copyright infringement.

Getting the sheriff to deliver the suit to me, in front of my kids and neighbors, is the latest freaked-out situation this Office of Tourism has put me in. I have to say this has disrupted the Dutson household a bit, that’s what happens when someone files a crushing lawsuit that, if successful, would utterly destroy my life.

So here I am, one man against the state and its contractors, put in the position of shutting up or being pounded by their deep pockets and a wild misconception of what the court system is supposed to be used for. One person who has exposed a cavalcade of incompetence and who has to choose to allow it, or face an onslaught of personal attack and legal action.

This is crap, total crap and I’m not going to fold, not at this point. They’ve already screwed with me and my family so much, and I will not be bullied into discontinuing my work here. This state agency is wasting money, telling stories, and paying subcontractors who seem more focused on spending their time and money bludgeoning critics with legal threats and lawsuits rather than working to promote Maine tourism.

The problem here is that the First Amendment notwithstanding, intimidation works as a tactic. The idea, I think, is that if bloggers are attacked and picked off piecemeal, each one who caves (or folds) will be an object lesson to the rest. Of course, that's traditional intimidation theory. Blogging seems to have changed that by adding a new defense strategy along the lines of "an attack on one is an attack on all":
....the days of traditional techniques of intimidation are numbered. That's because any attempt at intimidation will immediately be widely reported, and, as an attack on one becomes an attack on all, suddenly the attacker will not be a bully facing one lone victim, but hundreds, maybe thousands of victims -- all turning the tables and defending themselves at once. It would be as if a mugger selected a victim in a crowded city and everyone suddenly leaped into action to help.

To add insult to the bully's injury, a documented attack on a blogger tends to produce what every blogger wants: hits and traffic.

Thus, the bully who tries to intimidate a blogger ends up helping the very thing he intended to harm!

No wonder fear societies hate bloggers. It just isn't fair, being afraid of the people who are supposed to fear you!

Of course, this is America. We aren't supposed to be living in a "fear society." Our founding principles are based not on submission, but on its exact opposite. That's why the founders fought a revolution.


I know this all should be obvious, but sometimes it helps to remember the obvious. That's why we used to have Civics classes. (Link via Positive Liberty.)

posted by Eric at 07:16 AM | Comments (2)

More shocking local news

Well, not that local.

But I am amazed -- yes, shocked -- to see that in neighboring New Jersey, consideration is being given to allowing citizens personal freedom on a magnitude I'd never have believed attainable in that state:

TRENTON - Motorists in New Jersey could soon be introduced to a foreign concept: pumping their own gas.

Gov. Corzine said yesterday that he would push for a trial run of self-serve gas in New Jersey, the only state besides Oregon that bans drivers from pumping fuel.

No way! Are they serious? Don't they realize how dangerous pumping gas can be?

Sure, the idea is to save money, because if the stations aren't required to pump the gas, they'll save on labor costs -- to the tune of a nickel a gallon. I'm a libertarian, but I have to say -- allowing people to pump their own gasoline? That's a pretty radical idea. Aren't they putting profit ahead of safety?

Fortunately, the reckless move is being opposed:

....opponents - including AAA New Jersey and the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association - said it could put thousands of station workers out of jobs, increase insurance costs, and burden the disabled and senior citizens while benefiting oil companies that might keep the savings.
Is this a sign of the times, perhaps? A new lowering of standards?
Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Bergen), who has been trying to legalize self-serve gas for more than two decades, said Corzine's support gave the cause credibility.

"There is no reasonable excuse for us to be out of sync with the rest of the world - and in the rest of the world, you can pump your own gas," he said.

"Liberty" can be carried too far.

UPDATE: Life imitates satire. (Or is that the other way around?) As it turns out, New Jersey drivers don't want the right to pump their own gas.

Gov. Corzine's push for self-serve gas sparked outrage yesterday as New Jersey motorists reacted to the notion they might have to pump their own gas.

New Jerseyans sent a flood of angry e-mails to the governor and staged a sedentary uprising at area gas stations as they sat in their cars and waited for attendants to fill their tanks.

Never mind that New Jersey, with the exception of Oregon, is the last state to prohibit self-service gas pumping.

Many shuddered at the thought of having to get out of their vehicles in the rain, the snow, or the scorching heat, just to refuel.

"Gas would have to be at least 20 cents cheaper before I would want to get out of my car," said Chris Rose, 30, of Pennsauken, as he leaned back and watched the attendant unscrew his gas-tank cap at Mac's Amoco station on Route 73 in Maple Shade.

It's part of New Jersey, um, "culture":
Customs die hard in New Jersey, especially one based on a 57-year-old law that requires the luxury of full service at the pump.

"It's intrinsic to New Jersey's culture," said Ryan Doan, an editor at Weird N.J., a magazine that touts bizarre icons and legends in the Garden State.

"People are just worried about this new experience, like, 'Whoa, I don't know how to pump gas and I don't want to,' " said Jon'a Meyer, a Rutgers University-Camden professor who studies human behavior.

As if to reinforce that sentiment, Corzine's office yesterday was deluged with negative comments.

As of 3:30 p.m., the office had received 413 calls, 410 of which were opposed to the idea of self-service gas, according to press secretary Anthony Coley. The office had also received 508 e-mail messages through its Web site; 497 of them were opposed.

Of course, people who don't like something tend to be the only ones to complain.

(I usually keep my mouth shut until I hear other people complain. Then I'm often inclined to complain -- about the complainers. In this case, I was only pretending to complain. How I hate reality-based satire!)

posted by Eric at 09:44 PM

Local reporting wastes time and shoe leather!

What do you do when the Saudis [more properly, computers in Saudi Arabia] shut down your blog?

I dunno. It occurs to me that maybe I should retaliate. But how would I do such a thing? Not buy gasoline? Nah, that wouldn't work. Gasoline is fungible, which means it comes from all sorts of countries -- Saudi Arabia being only a small percent. Besides, if I buy from companies known not to buy Mideast oil, I end up funding Hugo Chavez. (That's a hell of a way to punish the Saudis.)

Instead of retaliation, how about doing some basic reporting? There's a Saudi madrassa in my neighborhood which has recently applied for a permit to expand. Here's what they want to do:

Appeal No. 3975
Applicant: Foundation for Islamic Education
Property: 1860 W Montgomery Avenue, Villanova, PA 19085
R 1 Residence District
Election District #6
The Foundation for Islamic Education seeks a special exception under §155-11 S(4), §155-11 S(1)(e) and/or 155-11 X to expand its existing religious and educational institution use for the following:
· A licensed Elementary School for grades pre-K through 8 with 93 students and 13 faculty/staff personnel, with a future enrollment up to 130 students.
· A 6-week summer camp program for up to 25 children, ages 4-12.
· Increase the number of retreats permitted to 10 per year with no more than 2 per month.
· Increase the Friday Juma Prayer session to allow up to 150 attendees.
· Increase Sunday School classes to allow up to 160 students.
· Increase various Holiday attendance to allow up to 400 attendees.
· Increase staff residence to allow the 6 current individuals/families to remain and allow accommodations for a security guard, gardener, maintenance supervisor, VAHS principal, Islamic Arabic teacher, and provide two guest rooms for lecturers.
The Foundation also requests that if it is determined that any additional parking spaces are required that the Zoning Hearing Board waive up to 50% of the required spaces as permitted under §155-95 AA(4) and/or grant a special exception under §155-95.1 to hold the additional parking spaces in reserve.
Maybe I should go check out the paperwork.

I think I might as well put on a suit and go down to my local planning department.

Hey, if they won't let me blog [whoever "they" may be], I might as well do something!

Besides, according to Tom Maguire, the MSM complains that bloggers do too much sitting around, and they need to rely on shoe leather.

The problem is, I hate bureaucracy.

UPDATE: I just returned, having wasted an hour to discover that no one can find the file, and that the person responsible won't be in until next week. Why am I not surprised?

I guess that's what they mean by the term "shoe leather." To be a "real" reporter means spending a lot of time running around for nothing. Chasing down Google leads on the Internet would probably be more productive.

On the Internet, for example, you can find out stuff you'd never learn about from a bureaucrat, because, assuming you asked questions, (as Howard Kurtz would have us do), the bureaucrats would most likely not know. And if they did know, they probably wouldn't tell you.

If you ask the Internet, on the other hand, it will generally tell you whatever is there.

And when you find something, if you save it on your hard drive, it will always be there -- even if the links expire.

Like this story:

A Home in America

Displaced for decades, ethnic minority Turks settle in the Philadelphia area. The language is daunting, the regulations burdensome, but finally they're making a home in this country.


Some live in dormitories on the grounds of an Islamic center tucked along the Main Line, and a few live amid the farmhouses of Lancaster. But many more are close to Russian canteens in the strip malls of the city's Northeast.

The "Islamic center tucked in along the Main Line" would be the very Foundation for Islamic Education now seeking the zoning change. (Here's a peek inside their dormitories.)

As the website proudly proclaims, it's run by the American Open University. It's probably worth noting that the Washington DC area director of American Open University was deported and the Fairfax madrassa raided last year.

It occurred to me that the least I could do would be to take a look at their local zoning file. That, it seems to me, is what any decent reporter would do anyway. Even though I'm not a "real" reporter, I just have this funny feeling (dare I call it a "reporter's hunch"?) that if I didn't look at the file, no "real" reporter would.

The problem is, they haven't let me see the file. That creates a feeling of (ugh!) responsibility.

Not sure I like this "reporter" stuff at all . . .

MORE: What's pasted below consists of old links which I found in 2004, along with some of my usual gratuitous unprofessional commentary.

AND MORE: Men's News Daily has a writeup of the DOS attack titled "Conservative Blogs Suffer Cyber Attack Originating in Saudi Arabia." Little Green Footballs, Captain Ed, and Power Line (and of course yours truly) were among those affected.

AND MORE (4/29/06): Michelle Malkin discusses the attack in more detail, and lists many more blogs which were affected. Adds Michelle,

We are all affected by cyberterrorist tactics, wherever they may originate.
We should all be concerned about the ideological motive too.

Continue reading "Local reporting wastes time and shoe leather!"

posted by Eric at 03:01 PM | Comments (2)

No fair! no peaking!

DDOS attack at Host Matters (which Glenn Reynolds says originates from Saudi Arabia); hope this goes through, and please forgive any errors I haven't caught! (BTW, there is a Classical Values backup site, which I rarely use....)

Anyway, I'm more than skeptical about peak oil theory, and I appreciate Justin's recent post on the subject.

In fact I'm even skeptical about oil theory. Back in 2004, I wondered whether fossil fuel is in fact that, and I linked to the work of Nikolai Alexandrovich Kudryavtsev -- "who first enunciated in 19511 what has become the modern Russian-Ukrainian theory of deep, abiotic petroleum origins. After Kudryavtsev, all the rest followed."

All the rest includes a recent book by James Corsi and Craig Smith which apparently ruffled a few feathers in the scientific oil community.

Anyway, I don't have time to get into detail here, and I don't know enough about the field. I cannot state with confidence that I know that "fossil fuel" is a Big Lie promoted by Big Oil and Big Environmentalism. I will say that these two huge interests could be expected to find common ground propping up the fossil fuel theory.

Is "fossil fuel" a theory?

Or is it fact?

What got my attention were the ad hominem attacks directed at the American authors. Their book explores the Russian/Ukrainian theory, but the criticism of them seems to be based largely on Corsi's Swift Boat background.

Staniford's column is titled "The Swiftboating of Peak Oil," an allusion to Corsi's co-authorship of "Unfit for Command," the New York Times No. 1 best-seller during the 2004 presidential campaign that challenged Sen. John Kerry's claims about his Navy swiftboat service in Vietnam.

Staniford said Corsi "can perhaps be forgiven for his … allegiance to the abiotic theory which has roughly zero support amongst working exploration geologists. … But what on earth are the editors of Rigzone thinking?"

Secondly, Staniford writes, "given Dr Corsi's recent history of involvement with well-funded extreme right-wing causes, are we seeing the start of a comparable campaign against peak oil?"

Surely the scientific community can come up with a better rebuttal than that.

Fark.com has an interesting discussion of the theory, which doesn't convince me one way or the other, but the simple logic of one commenter appealed to my sense of logical pathos:

If oil comes from fossils, how many fossils does it take to create a big huge oil field that supplies billions of barrels of crude, and how did all those fossils get in that one place? Really... I want to know.. because it just doesn't seem logical.
I want to know too.

But I don't. Highly compressed swampland over millions of years, perhaps?

And might both theories possibly be right?

Verifying the abiotic oil theory by taking an inside peek might take a journey to the center of the earth.

We can't get there from here.

UPDATE: More on the DDOS attack (via an email from Rand Simberg to Glenn Reynolds):

Rand Simberg emails, correctly, that originating in Saudi Arabia doesn't actually mean that the perpetrators are Saudis -- just the computers they've hijacked. True enough.
For all we know, the computers could have been hijacked by angry gay activists. Or irate Christian fundamentalists. CIA agents working for Michael Moore.

No way to know. And no way to retaliate.

posted by Eric at 09:13 AM | Comments (5)

Opens today -- but not in your city!
...the film has been banned in parts of South America because it depicts revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in a negative light.

--Film Stew

Despite my earlier enthusiasm over what was described as today's "opening" of the Andy Garcia's "The Lost City," I now find myself perplexed and puzzled to see that it isn't opening in the Philadelphia area -- not now nor at any time in the forseeable future.

I'm writing this post on the opening day in the hope that frustrated movie goers (and maybe bloggers) might lend a hand. I agree with J.B. Spins that bloggers need to get behind it:

The Lost City opens in New York (and White Plains), Los Angles and Miami on the 28th, rolling out to additional cities in succeeding weeks. It is well worth looking for. Since it takes on Hollywood sacred cows, like Che and Castro, this film will need word of mouth support. The film critics of the antique media won’t help. The blogosphere needs to get behind it.
It's a shame so few people can see the film (frankly I find it infuriating) but Babalu Blog's review is probably the next best thing.

It's remarkable that this film was made, but that fact alone is not going to guarantee distribution. Here's the list of theaters from distributor Magnolia Pictures's web site:

Encino, CA: Town Center 5
Hollywood, CA: ArcLight Hollywood 15
Irvine, CA: University Town Center 6 Cinemas
South Pasadena, CA: Rialto Theatre
West Los Angeles, CA: Westside Pavilion Cinemas
Aventura, FL: Aventura Mall 24 Theatres
Miami, FL: Palace 18
Miami, FL: Dolphin Cinema 19
Miami, FL: LeJeune Cinemas VI
Miami Beach, FL: South Beach 18
Miami Lakes, FL: Miami Lakes 17
South Miami, FL: Sunset Place 24 Theatres
Montclair, NJ: Clairidge Cinemas
Union City, NJ: Summit Quadplex
New York, NY: Sunshine Cinema
New York, NY: Empire 25 Theaters
New York, NY: Coliseum Theatre
White Plains, NY: Clearview Cinema 100 Twin

Dallas, TX: USA Film Festival

Berkeley, CA: Shattuck Cinemas
San Francisco, CA: Embarcadero Center Cinema
Cambridge, MA: Kendall Square Cinema

Washington, DC: E Street Cinema
Chicago, IL: Landmark's Century Centre Cinema
Highland Park, IL: Renaissance Place
Edina, MN: Edina 4

San Diego, CA: Hillcrest Cinemas
Tampa, FL: Tampa Theatre
University City, MO: Tivoli Theatre
Dallas, TX: Inwood Theatre

Honolulu, HI: Doris Duke Theatre

Indianapolis, IN: Keystone Art Cinema 7
Bloomfield Hills, MI: Maple Art Theatre
Charlotte, NC: Ballantyne Village 5
Austin, TX: Dobie Theatre

Atlanta, GA: Midtown Art Cinemas 8
Houston, TX: River Oaks Theatre

I called Magnolia at (212) 924-6701 to ask about Philadelphia, and all they'd let me do was leave a message in someone's box. (The email address is publicity@magpictures.com)

Parenthetically, I should note that while it shocked me to see the right wing boycottliberalism.com announce a boycott of the film (it's still there, under "New Boycotts"), that view does not seem to typify the right wing. Here's WorldNetDaily:

Poetic, dramatic and at times incredibly moving, "The Lost City" not only is a loving tribute to Havana and Cuban art and music, it is also a loving tribute to liberty, democracy and capitalism. Castro's regime is clearly portrayed as an evil dictatorship.
Castro and Guevara portrayed as evil?

No wonder it faces an uphill battle.

Lest anyone think that only WorldNetDaily takes notice of Hollywood's peculiarly pro-Communist slant, here's the New York Sun:

Perhaps it's because of vestigial bitterness over McCarthyism, but Hollywood has produced appallingly few anti-communist films. By some estimates, 100 million people have died at the hands of communist governments - by now it might seem that there are a few stories to be told about the dangers of an ideology other than fascism.

At the moment, Steven Soderbergh and Benicio Del Toro are currently working on the second Che Guevara biopic in just the past few years, so it seems doubtful that many in Hollywood are troubled by romanticizing a man who was directly responsible for the execution of thousands of innocents.

The apex of absurdity came last year when Carlos Santana performed the theme from the other recent Che flick, "The Motorcyle Diaries," at the Academy Awards. He performed the song wearing a crucifix over one of the ubiquitous Che T-shirts, an act that prompted Cuban jazz great Paquito D'Rivera to write a letter to El Nuevo Herald castigating Mr. Santana, translated in a New Republic article last year: "One of those Cubans [at La Cabana, a prison in Cuba run by Guevara] was my cousin Bebo, who was imprisoned there precisely for being a Christian. He recounts to me with infinite bitterness how he could hear from his cell in the early hours of dawn the executions, without trial or process of law, of the many who died shouting, 'Long live Christ the King!'"

Given this context, it's hugely gratifying to see a film such as "The Lost City" that deals honestly with the full horrors of the Cuban revolution. Sadly, actor Andy Garcia's fine directorial debut, which rightfully frames the Cuban descent into communism as a tragedy, may disappear in a climate where Hollywood's cultural commissars are trying to make a hero out of Che Guevara. This is despite some expert staging and an impeccable pedigree.

That, I think, goes to the real underlying story of why Hollywood might feel threatened by the film. Because "The Lost City" threatens to lay bare the evil of Hollywood's enchantment with the monstrous Che Guevara, it represents more than an exposé of Guevara, Castro, or Communism. It's a (tacit) exposé of Hollywood.

Such things aren't supposed to be shown in theaters.

posted by Eric at 08:24 AM | Comments (2)

"Rush Limbaugh drove them to it!"

Speaking of "eliminationist rhetoric," I expect vocal conservatives who support closing the border and immigration enforcement (and who are often angry in their pronouncements) to be blamed for this:


Two white teenagers severely beat and sodomized a 16-year-old Hispanic boy who they believed had tried to kiss a 12-year-old white girl at a party, authorities said.

The attackers forced the boy out of the Saturday night house party, beat him and sodomized him with a metal pipe, shouting epithets "associated with being Hispanic," said Lt. John Martin with the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

They then poured bleach over the boy, apparently to destroy DNA evidence and left him for dead, authorities said. He wasn't discovered until Sunday, 12 hours after the attack.

The victim, who was not identified, suffered severe internal injuries and remained in critical condition Thursday.

"It's more than likely the boy won't live," Harris County prosecutor Mike Trent said.

Keith Robert Turner, 17, and David Henry Tuck, 18, are charged with aggravated sexual assault, investigators said. Prosecutors are considering whether to attach hate-crime charges, but unless the victim dies, the possible penalty would be the same. If the boy dies and it is ruled a hate crime, Tuck could face the death penalty, authorities said. Turner would be too young to face execution.

At the risk of restating the obvious for the umpteenth time, the people who commit crimes are the ones responsible for them.

Not people who are said to create a "climate." The logical folly of blaming person A's opinions for the actions of person B strikes me as too absurd to require extended comment. Charlton Heston was no more responsible for the Columbine killings than was the "Goth Movement." Or black trenchcoats. But the "climate" illogic is recycled again and again.

The problem is that emotion is highly effective as a political tool. Without knowing it, the stupid racist scumbags who tortured that poor immigrant kid nearly to death have given more leverage to the illegal immigrants' cause than a hundred demonstrations with a million in attendance at each would have done.


But who ever said politics was the art of the logical?

posted by Eric at 05:15 PM | Comments (5)

When I was a kid, there were real numbers . . .

Despite my hatred of the slide rule, one of my fondest memories of the slide rule period was that there tended to be "statistics" ("official numbers" if you will) which scientists as well as lay people could consult.

The "unemployment rate" is officially estimated to range between 4% and 6%. (The current figure, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 4.7%.) But this site claims it is actually a whopping 23%.

I'm using the above as an extreme example, by way of illustration. But what are we to make of increasingly vast divergences in what used to be considered factual data?

While most conservatives today would accept the government's 4.7% unemployment figure, an ever larger number think the government's immigration statistics are wrong, and they offer their own.

  • A year ago, the conservative Newsmax cited a Pew Study claiming there were 10 million illegal aliens.
  • This year, Pew claims there are 12 million.
  • The anti-illegal-immigrant Numbers USA still seems to maintain that there are 8 to 11 million.
  • But a Barron's study cited by Michelle Malkin and many others claims there are 20 million.
  • As of this writing, The American Resistance claims that there are 28,472,970 illegal aliens in this country. Proprietor D.A. King writes elsewhere that the government numbers are not to be trusted:
    I think it obvious that many of the patriots involved with immigration reform realize the commonly stated illegal aliens statistics are low. Why we are stuck to 8-12 million as our figure for illegal aliens is hard for me to understand. Perhaps this column will generate the necessary debate to bring the real figures to the front.

    The official estimate of the illegal alien population has been regularly increased, last time in December 2003, by Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, in a softening up action before the White House dropped its amnesty bomb. The “8 -12 million” range replaced an already outdated 2000 census figure of 6-7 million [one that was later corrected to 8 million.]

    Almost immediately after the 2000 figures were released, at least one major immigration reform organization, issued its own calculation showing the absurdity of the census report. [2000 Census Shows that Illegal Alien Population Much Larger than Estimated by INS, FAIR press release, Feb 6,2001]

    In the post-Census era, some observers offered thirteen million illegals as a realistic figure.

    But that number did not catch on.

    I am not alone in the suspicion that various federal agencies are misleading trusting American citizens.

    We have allowed a government that permits the assault on our sovereignty to measure and report the level of damage that it, itself, is causing.

    If we continue that to be passive, we will pay the price for not resisting.

    Mr. King offers a strong and passionate argument, but as to the hard numbers, there's more surmise than facts.
  • It should be pointed out that Mr. King's 28 million figure makes WorldNetDaily appear almost "moderate" on this "issue."
  • Issue it is; the numbers themselves are no longer statistics, but are themselves issues to be debated. Makes it rather tougher and tougher to have anything resembling a reasonable discussion.

    As I point all of this out, I should remind readers that I am not someone who trusts or accepts government figures at their face value. Or pronouncements of "experts." I am a skeptic, and I am ever more skeptical over time, because experts themselves -- even government experts -- are biased. In my view, the most insidious kind of bias is the concealed variety which masquerades as "objectivity."

    Even "scientific objectivity." Global Warming is a perfect example of this. Many of the shrill claims made in the name of "science" have turned out to be exaggerated, and have been advanced by scientists whose minds are made up and who conceal any data which might encourage skepticism -- to the point where scientists with dissenting views are actually banned from their conferences. (In the days of the slide rule, I was taught at UC Berkeley's Department of Paleontology that we were still in the Ice Age, and that a period of global cooling was setting in, so not only have I been distrustful of the more recent turnaround, I suspect a bait-and-switch operation.)

    How many homosexuals are there in the United States? Gay activists claim as high as 10%, while their opponents claim as low as 1%. (Typical numbers debate here.)

    But my point is not to argue the merits of Global Warming, immigration, homosexuality, or unemployment. What bothers me is the disappearance of real, unbiased statistics in favor of shrill, ever-more-partisan ones.

    Statistics, in my view, are rapidly becoming opinions.

    I miss the good old days when they were facts.

    But what if I was duped as a young person?

    Maybe statistics weren't facts even then.

    (Now that I think about it, I remember Rachel Carson. Paul Ehrlich. And other promoters of "scientific truth" . . .)

    While I could easily write a goofy satire about the now meaningless nature of numbers and statistics, there is a serious side to the problem. (Yes, "not knowing" is a problem.) I suspect that especially when coupled with existing information overload, the blurring of the line between fact and opinion by politically-contaminated numbers fosters a mental condition known as cognitive dissonance.

    . . .the perception of incompatibility between two cognitions, which can be defined as any element of knowledge, attitude, emotion, belief or value, or a goal, plan, or interest. The theory of cognitive dissonance holds that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions. Experiments have attempted to quantify this hypothetical drive.
    Because we are taught that statistics -- hard numbers -- are things we can all agree upon, we become disturbed when the statistics become arguments, because after all, they are not supposed to be arguments, but data. Hence, in our brains, this triggers a "does not compute" cycle which is deeply disturbing. Rather than succumb to burnout, the natural human tendency, in my view, is simply to choose sides. But this is itself less than satisfying to anyone who really wants to be honest, and I think it can lead to great stress, and it might be responsible for much of the anger that occurs when people get into arguments over "facts." In logic, if there are competing statistics, neither set of which can be satisfactorily proven, then there is no factual basis upon which to have a rational argument. This means necessarily that the arguments will be based on emotion, as data -- once facts -- are now emotional. (This is tricky, of course, because it is also possible that a given statistic is correct, and that the person opposing it might be citing statistics that are entirely wrong. But the existence of increasingly biased statistics gives unreasonable people the green light to advance ever more fantastic statistics on the one hand, and to deny opposing statistics on the other.)

    I know that the idea of "emotional statistics" sounds like a contradiction, but that is the nature of cognitive dissonance.

    The father of cognitive dissonance argues that the problem can be resolved by adding missing information:

    When confronted with two belief cognitions that contradict each other, Festinger suggests the dissonance can be resolved by finding and adding a third piece of information relevant to the two beliefs.
    What if the missing third piece of information is the fact that the statistics causing the cognitive dissonance are not facts, but arguments?

    Wouldn't that at least relieve stress?

    Maybe so. But might it also lead to post-modernist/deconstructionist-style nihilism?

    Don't ask me, for I am not objective in these matters. I refuse to become a nihilist, a decon, or a pomo, because I am a proud, out-of-the-closet cynic who believes that there is such a thing as truth (elusive though it so often is).

    Cynicism is my way of being an optimist.

    (An internal caveat, though, is that my dark side is often tempted by emotionally satisfying numbers.)

    posted by Eric at 07:48 AM | Comments (7)

    Signs of the times

    I enjoy strange and unusual signs, and I try to photograph them if a camera is handy. Frankly, the signs in California are better photographic subjects than the ones on the East Coast, and I don't know why. I'd hate to say that California is a "more interesting" place, because that might insult East Coasters (who might see it as an accusation that the East is more boring), and some Californians might be touchy about being called "interesting."

    So I don't know what I should say. Maybe I should try to let the signs speak for themselves. (That's what signs are for!)

    The first one is about Bush.


    Considering that it was on a telephone pole in LA, I think it's most likely critical of Bush. But then again, the way some young people think these days, it might be someone's way of saying that Bush is cool! In a Goth-ish sort of way. But let's suppose the sign is meant as an insult. Is it necessarily coming from the left? With the "666" business, can we be certain? Couldn't it be some sort of right-wing paranoid conspiracy message implying that Bush is connected to the Bilberberger/Trilateral Commission/New World Order, and is flooding the country with illegal aliens under direct orders from the heroin-dealers who run the Vatican? How are we to know for sure? Without seeing one on a car bumper, there's no owner to ask. I have friends who are both for and against Bush, and I don't think any of them would put the above on their cars.


    Come to think of it, maybe I do know someone who'd put it on his car bumper. It would go very well with the "Anarchists for Bush" bumpersticker so lovingly designed by Dennis.

    So there! (Dennis, sorry I forgot to unpeel it for you.)

    The next one shows that there's no keeping down the American entrepreneur spirit.


    Nor is there any need to spell out everything in detail for the customers. The 99 cent pupusas are enough. And besides, who the hell would expect the vendor of 99 cent pupusas to have the money to replace missing letters? All the information you really have to have is right there. I'm not picky about these things, and I simply don't think it's fair to hold a restaura t to the same standards as a blog.

    Which means that despite the mysterious way the sign hints at English, I'll also give the next shopowner a pass:


    If you are unconfortable buying courtains there, you can go somewhere else.

    The next sign warmed my heart, as I have always believed in ethical drug laws.


    Seriously, would you trust anyone who sold unethical drugs?

    Last but not least, a sign of what might be called "End Times." Some anonymous writer does not like the park benches they've installed at the Albany Waterfront park.


    I don't know whether that's a philosophical reflection on the inevitable fate of young urban professionals (a fate we all share, of course), but I suspect it is more along the lines of a wish, if not a command. As such, it's probably what Dave Neiwert condemns as "eliminationist rhetoric."

    I agree that wishing people dead just isn't nice.

    Small confort that is.

    Because sooner or later, it's courtains for all!

    posted by Eric at 05:42 PM | Comments (3)

    Nested Idiocies Hatch Futile Plot

    Zoolander replicant Andrew Keen strives to prolong his fifteen minutes. Eastern European sophistication is called upon...

    Now the politics of the Great Seduction is truly out of the bag. In a provocative piece in In These Times, cultural iconoclast Slavoj Zizek gets to the political heart of the digital matter. Zizek explains why post French revolutionary political categories of left wing and right wing don’t work anymore. The reason, Zizek explains, is that the digital revolution has changed the moral and economic language of politics. The old left/right divide now is digital versus analog.

    Yeah. Right. So who is this Zizek cobber, and why should we listen to him?

    Slavoj Zizek is a professor at the Institute for Sociology, Ljubljana and at the European Graduate School EGS who uses popular culture to explain the theory of Jacques Lacan and the theory of Jacques Lacan to explain politics and popular culture...

    He was analysed by Jacques Alain Miller, Jacques Lacan's son in law, and is probably the most successful and prolific post-Lacanian having published over fifty books including translations into a dozen languages.

    He is a leftist and, aside from Lacan he was strongly influenced by Marx, Hegel and Schelling...

    He is an effective purveyor of Lacanian mischief, and, as a follower of the French "liberator" of Freud, Zizek's Lacan is almost exclusively transcribed in mesmerizing language games or intellectual parables.

    That he has an encyclopedic grasp of political, philosophical, literary, artistic, cinematic, and pop cultural currents — and that he has no qualms about throwing all of them into the stockpot of his imagination — is the prime reason he has dazzled his peers and confounded his critics for over ten years...

    He is interested in discerning the Lacanian Real amid the propaganda of systems. In appropriating "Lenin" he is also looking for the moment when Lenin realized that politics could one day be dissolved for a technocratic and agronomic utopia, "the [pure] management of things". That Lenin failed is immaterial, since Zizek is extracting the signifier "Lenin" from the historical continuum...

    Even when performed before a riotously approving audience, wanking remains wanking. Quotable quote, please?

    In a proper revolutionary breakthrough, the utopian future is neither simply fully realized, present, nor simply evoked as a distant promise which justified present violence -it is rather as if, in a unique suspension of temporality, in the short-circuit between the present and the future, we are — as if by Grace — for a brief time allowed to act AS IF the utopian future is (not yet fully here, but) already at hand, just there to be grabbed.

    My. That was all one sentence.

    Revolution is not experienced as a present hardship we have to endure for the happiness and freedom of the future generations, but as the present hardship over which this future happiness and freedom already cast their shadow — in it, we already are free while fighting for freedom, we already are happy while fighting for happiness, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

    I bet he's thigh deep in coed plenitude.

    Revolution is not a Merleau-Pontian wager, an act suspended in the futur anterieur, to be legitimized or delegitimized by the long term outcome of the present acts; it is as it were its own ontological proof, an immediate index of its own truth."

    Damn. They're like nested Russian dolls, each level more pretentiously vacuous than the last. This is considered impressive? Admirable? It's revolution without victory! Simply redefine your terms!

    Such mesmerizing wordplay seems spot on perfect for a man like Andrew Keen, who could say the following line with no apparent trace of irony...

    If people aren’t able to censor their worst instincts, then they need to be censored by others wiser and more disciplined than themselves.

    If revolution can be an immediate index of its own truth, then much becomes clear. For instance, given the Bill of Rights, I have long been curious as to how exactly Mr. Keen proposes to accomplish his well intended censorship. What concrete steps does he advocate?

    In brief, none. He's all hat and no cattle. For all his talk of a war on digital literacy, he comes to the battlefield unarmed.

    Perhaps he intends to talk his way to victory? It would be in character. Perhaps he hopes to persuade us to censor ourselves? Well. You all know what that means.

    His sole and greatest weapon is his tongue.

    I just put an ugly picture in my head.

    posted by Justin at 03:21 PM | Comments (2)

    Jane Jacobs Has Left Us

    She will be sorely missed.

    If any of our alleged "cultural critics" could be said to have any value at all, then Jane Jacobs would surely exemplify the best of that small subset. I don't have a single unkind thing to say about her. The woman had a marvelous way of looking at things, a slightly skewed approach to life that generated truly useful insights. I would happily read anything she wrote.

    Here's an introduction to her, courtesy of 2 Blowhards. Contrary to the author's modest protestations, I found it neither half-assed nor scattershot. For what it is, it's just right...

    When the post-war years came along, America went into pave-the-country-over hyperdrive. Sorry to say this about the Greatest Generation -- all due honor paid to them, of course -- but: What in God's name were they thinking of?...

    I'm not entirely sure of my judgment in the matter, but I suspect that urban renewal may have been a self-inflicted American disaster on a par with the Vietnam War...

    These sad and horrifying developments brought out the best in Jane Jacobs. While the experts (and their propagandists) grew ever more drunk on their do-gooding, egomanical, sci-fi visions, Jacobs went out and looked at what was actually happening.

    I hate grandiose theorists. I truly do. Humble empiricists are far more useful, and much easier to be around as well. Back to the blowhards...

    If any one thing characterizes Jacobs' work -- and I'm not sure any one thing does, but I'm gonna try anyway -- it's her aversion to theory and dogmatism. Take it case-by-case; be skeptical of general rules. Government usually screws things up and makes life more of a burden then it needs to be, but some of what it does seems to help.

    Her perpetual-amateur stance and her anything-but-systematic, anti-deterministic approach has opened her to criticism. Some portray her as naive, and god knows that her books about economics especially are very quirky. But I'm a sunny sort of guy, and I love her work. Why not appreciate her for her very real contributions?

    Amen, brother. Amen.

    My own introduction to Jane Jacobs' work came via Systems of Survival, so I was at first quite unaware of her contribution to urban design "theory" and the battle over urban renewal.

    It was a modest and pleasant little book, thought-provoking, chock full of odd little facts and pleasing anecdotes. Did you know that Kalahari bushmen had a homicide rate comparable to inner city Detroit's? I didn't know that. Eskimos too, by god. You get into a hot quarrel with a hunting buddy and then, oops, you spear him. Simple, no? The anthropologists were all very disappointed. Appalled even. Farewell naive preconceptions!

    Amusingly, the blowhards link to an interview with her from back in 2000, conducted by none other than James Howard Kunstler. Try spotting the incipient madness.

    JHK: Well the million flowers are now blooming mostly in China. I don’t know about you—every product I pick up is made in China. I’m not against the Chinese.

    Except when their commerce raiders attack our western coast.

    But it makes you wonder how long we go on having an advanced civilization without making anything anymore. Can we?

    JJ: I don’t think so.

    JHK: It seems to me that what we are doing is we are buying a lot of stuff from other people by basically running up tremendous unprecedented amounts of debt. That can only go on so long.

    JJ: But you know we aren’t complete dolts in all of this. For example, we don’t manufacture our own computers. They are made mostly in Taiwan but they aren’t designed in Taiwan.

    JHK: We hand them a set of blueprints and they make the stuff for them.

    JJ: There are still an awful lot of intelligent, clever constructive Americans and they are still doing clever constructive things. Is it more necessary to be able to design computers or is more necessary to be able to manufacture computers. I think that it is necessary to do both. I think it is fatal to specialize. And all kinds of things show us that and that the more diverse we are in what we can do the better. But I don’t think that you can dispose of the constructive and inventive things that America is doing—and say oh we aren’t doing anything anymore and we are living off of what the poor Chinese do. It is more complicated than that. There is the example of Detroit which you noticed yourself was once a very prosperous and diverse city. And look what happened when it just specialized on automobiles. Look at Manchester when it specialized in those dark satanic mills, when it specialized in textiles. It was supposed to be the city of the future.

    JHK: We have an awful lot of places in America that don’t specialize in anything anymore and don’t produce anything in particular anymore.

    JJ: Well that’s better than specializing.

    JHK: I am thinking about the region where I live which is a kind of a mini rust-belt of upstate New York—one town after another where the economy has completely vanished. There is no more Utica, New York, really. There is no more Amsterdam, New York, or Glen’s Falls or Hudson Falls. They are gone. And I am wondering, is the rest of America going to be like that.

    JJ: Never underestimate the power of a city to regenerate.

    JHK: Well that’s fair enough.

    JJ: And things everywhere are not as bad as you are picturing.

    JHK: Oh, I am Mr. Gloom and Doom..

    JJ: For instance Portland—lots of constructive things are happening in Portland.

    JHK: I’d say Portland is in pretty good shape compared to lots of other American cities—but it ain’t France.

    JJ: No, it ain’t. But there are lots of things about America that are better in their own way than France.

    Today is a sad day.

    posted by Justin at 12:59 PM | Comments (3)

    Allergic RINOitis makes me sneeze inside the tent

    Glenn Reynolds links to a really good post by a man calling himself "GoldwaterRepublican."

    I agree with almost everything he says, and here's an excerpt:

    When someone asks me why I am a Republican, I say I am a Republican because I believe in free trade, fiscal responsibility, personal freedom, individual responsibility, and state's rights. The person asking the question will usually begin a diatribe about how the Republican Party in recent years has not necessarily advanced the above-mentioned values. While I do not agree that the current Republican leadership has wholesale sold out the ideals that are the fabric of our party, I cannot disagree with the basic assessment that our leaders have tossed aside some of our values.

    I think the two biggest areas where Republicans have sold out traditional Republican values are fiscal responsibility and state's rights. Government spending and the national debt are up significantly under the Bush administration. We have increased entitlement programs, i.e. Medicare and refuse to get serious about cutting government waste. While I continue to support Bush's tax cuts, he and other Republicans must get serious about balancing a budget and cutting government waste if they want their economic policies to work and come across to the public as being fiscally responsible.

    In regards to state's rights, I know many on here will disagree with me, but this is an important value, even in regards to moral questions. I am pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, however, I acknowledge that there is no constitutional right to either of them. It is my opinion that our founding ancestors thought that states legislators should decide these types of issues. In addition, I think states are better able to handle these types of issues and federal debates on the issues are a waste of resources and time.

    There's more, of course, including a good discussion of the Republican Big Tent idea. Although I have qualms about gay marriage because I dislike introducing family court jurisdiction into the lives of people who'd be unable to opt out, I don't see it as a federal issue. But my personal thoughts about gay marriage are a minor point. What interests me the most is the way we all tend to allow definitions and characterizations by other people to affect what we think.

    I too am a fan of Goldwater conservatism. The problem is, I think the word "conservative" has been hijacked by so many for so long on both sides of the spectrum that it no longer has no meaning. As I argued in an earlier post, Barry Goldwater would be called a liberal by many who claim to be conservative today. But the word "liberal" is also devoid of meaning. The two words are alternately used as insults to scold or as compliments to entice, depending on who is trying to establish hegemony, and have little to do with an individual's philosophy. Quite the opposite; the labels are chiefly intended to stifle individual thought. (I've struggled over the definitions for a long time . . .) But classical liberalism is dead. So, it appears, is genuine conservatism.

    That's why I called myself a "Goldwater liberal." (As well as a RINO in name only. . .) But I'll also plead guilty -- right now -- to being a Goldwater conservative.

    As long as the labels don't get in the way of what I think, I'll just have to label and let label.

    posted by Eric at 08:52 AM | Comments (1)

    Disappearing news item?

    Newsstands in Philadelphia have been disappearing in the middle of the night. It seems a man who didn't own them hired a crane to just yank them off the sidewalk and move them to corners where he felt like operating newsstands:

    A man hired a crane to uproot six newsstands Sunday that were not his and transport them to six other corners where he had applied for permits but had not received approval to do business, said a stunned city official yesterday.

    "That's stealing," said Licenses & Inspections Commissioner Robert D. Solvibile. "I believe he knew exactly what he was doing. And now he'll have to pay the price."

    While the police major-crimes unit investigated the bizarre heist, Solvibile wondered yesterday what possessed Ofatai King, aka John King, aka Fatai O. King, to make the surreal snatch.

    "I went to Catholic school," Solvibile said, "where this would be considered a mortal sin. I would have had to confess to the priest."

    Having to confess to a priest? Isn't that cruel and unusual punishment?

    No word from the accused stand-snatcher, and while the story is funny, I'm sure it wasn't funny for the newsstand owners (described as "new immigrants, who own newsstands but speak little or no English") who showed up at work to find their businesses physically gone. That ought to make new immigrants think twice about the meaning of "land of opportunity."

    What's remarkable about this is that (if the reports are correct) the suspect had enough chutzpah to actually apply for newsstand permits at the six locations to which the stands were moved. As well as 36 other locations:

    Solvibile showed the Daily News 42 newsstand-license applications that King filed on April 1, including ones for the six corners where the shanghaied stands were dumped.

    None of those applications has been approved, he said. So, King has no permission to do business at any of the 42 corners.

    He certainly had no permission, Solvibile said, to uproot someone else's business - candy, magazines and all - and slam it down halfway across the city.

    According to another story, he claims the city gave him permission:
    Police tracked down the man who hired the crane. He apparently claims Licenses and Inspections okayed him to do this. Not true, says L & I.

    “At this point no approvals have been given to Mr. King to have a newsstand anywhere.”

    I very much doubt they did.

    Although I guess he might have asked when he could move "existing newsstands" to the new locations.

    I have no idea whether it's the same man, but the Small Business Tax and Management web site has a report about newsstand deductions involving someone with the same name:

    Fatai O. and Mary King (T.C. Memo. 1999- 293) ... claimed a deduction for amounts paid to lottery winners at their newsstand. The Court found that checks they represented as paid to those winners showed no evidence of that. Moreover, their testimony was less than convincing. In another issue, the Court found that records purportedly showing repair expenses appeared to be altered.
    It will probably all be called a "misunderstanding." Anyway, at this point, no one seems to have been charged with any crime, and of course all suspects are innocent until proven guilty.

    (I just hope no one figures out a way to snatch blogs in the middle of the night.)

    posted by Eric at 07:46 AM

    Can't wait for this!

    I just stumbled onto a new film I'm surprised was ever made, and which I can't wait to see.

    It's The Lost City, directed by and starring Andy Garcia:

    Set in Havana, Cuba, during the 50's, a club owner is caught in the turbulent transition from the oppressive regime of Batista to the Marxist government of Fidel Castro. Castro's regime ultimately leads the club owner to flee to New York.
    Dustin Hoffman plays Meyer Lansky (brilliant choice), and Bill Murray plays a character called "the writer."

    But I'm late to the game. "The Lost City" has already been winning the highest praise in the blogosphere, from Roger L. Simon, Michelle Malkin, and Babalu Blog (who wrote a great review back in October).

    According to imdb, the film has already been banned in the predictable places:

    Movie star Andy Garcia's controversial new movie The Lost City has been banned in parts of South America because it depicts romantic revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara in a terrible light. The Ocean's Twelve star spent years trying to get the project made, only for film festival bosses and cinema chains to shun the movie because it tells the truth about the Marxist guerilla leader and the Cubans slayed as he fought to revolutionize the country and hand Fidel Castro leadership. Garcia, who wrote, directed and stars in the film, says, "There have been festivals that wouldn't show it. That will continue to happen from people who don't want to see the image of Che be tarnished and from people who support the Castro regime. He still has a lot of supporters out there. Some people think Castro is a savior, that he looks out for the kids and the poor. It's a bunch of hogwash. In the 45 years since Castro came to power, Cuba has been in the top three countries for human rights abuses for 43 of those years. People turn a blind eye to his atrocities."
    A blind eye?

    While that's certainly true for many people, certain Hollywood producers have had their eyes wide open. Like Robert Redford, producer of the Che-idolizing Motorcycle Diaries -- who "took the film to Cuba for a special screening in the presence of Guevara's friend and comrade, Fidel Castro."

    When I think of turning a blind eye, I think of people who remained silent while awful things were done. The eyes of Redford and the Hollywood lefties who funded the Motorcycle Diaries were about as blind as those of Leni Riefenstahl.

    What surprises me is that Andy Garcia's film was ever made at all -- much less in Hollywood. (Interview with Garcia here.)

    Might there be hope?

    I haven't seen any major MSM reviews of this film, but it's supposed to open on Friday. Considering how quickly movies vanish around here, I'd better hurry.

    (Maybe I can recycle my T-shirt design . . .)

    MORE: Amazingly, I see that "The Lost City" has been listed under "New Boycotts of the Week" at BoycottLiberalism.com (a well-known ideological conservative site).

    Can anyone explain to me how minds like that work?

    posted by Eric at 12:00 AM | Comments (1)

    Not in North America

    I almost forgot about last week's visit to Bolinas. A charming Northern California town where just about everyone over 50 has taken too much acid, and where the teenage kids are pretty wild too, Bolinas isn't on the North American continent, but on the Pacific Plate.

    Here's a NASA aerial photo of the place:


    The fault is obvious, isn't it? (The white dot indicates the location of the town.)

    I dearly love Bolinas, as it is leaderless, followerless, and just naturally, charmingly crazy.

    Here's a flute player on the beach:


    Another beach scene:


    And finally, a letter I found tacked to a wall, warning us about digital technology, and, um, other stuff:


    Well, who says you have to live in North America?

    posted by Eric at 07:44 PM

    The changing morality of numbers
    Don't know what a slide rule is for

    -- Sam Cooke, 1960

    I know it will seem a bit self-indulgent to write a second post about a post I just wrote, but forgive me, because this is therapy; not blogging.

    I just can't remember any time in the past year when the act of writing and publishing single blog post has so lifted my spirits as it did yesterday.

    Because I try to separate my logical from my emotional side, I need to examine why I found it so emotionally rewarding to write about something I always found emotionally unrewarding in the extreme. (Perhaps there's an inherent emotional reward in attacking the emotionally unrewarding.)

    There's something very gratifying about letting go of the past. This, um, thing -- the so despicable slide rule -- a seemingly irrelevant detail from my life, mired as it was in forgotten detritus of American culture, has plagued me for most of my life, as my inability (failure?) to learn how to use it was one of those pivotal events which steered me into law school.

    For me, the slide rule is literal and symbolic.

    It is human morality, on a sliding scale. The slide rule is proof that there is such a thing as cultural and moral relativism.

    Slide rule morality?

    Not quite as insane as it looks.

    First, consider it as a cultural artifact:

    Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the slide rule was the symbol of the engineer's profession (in the same way that the stethoscope symbolized the medical profession). As an anecdote it can be mentioned that German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun brought two 1930s vintage Nestler slide rules with him when he moved to the U.S. after World War II to work on the American space program. Throughout his life he never used any other pocket calculating devices; slide rules obviously served him perfectly well for making quick estimates of rocket design parameters and other figures. Pickett brand slide rules were the standard in the Apollo program; Pickett's slide rules of the era often included a NASA or Apollo logo to promote the fact. A Pickett N600-MES (6 inch, magnifying cursor, "Eye-Saver" yellow) was standard equipment on all Apollo flights.

    Some engineering students and engineers carried ten-inch slide rules in belt holsters, and even into the late 1960s this was a common sight on some campuses. Students also might keep a ten-or twenty-inch rule for precision work at home or the office while carrying a five-inch pocket slide rule around with them.

    Now, while the original reason the slide rule came into use is that it allowed calculations to be performed more quickly does not fully explain why it became one of the trappings of culture.

    The slide rule required reason and understanding, and learning to use it well took ordinary mathematics into another plain. In effect, learning to use a slide rule required relearning math, or at least learning to think about it in another, new way. It was thus a cultural stepping stone, a true rite of passage. It is not exaggeration to say that it separated the men from the boys.

    Much as I hate it, I must recognize that the slide rule had an elegance all its own, something that has been largely forgotten along with its demise. Common sense was built into the slide rule. Without the former, the latter was impossible to use. Even today, this is something button pushers forget at their peril:

    A slide rule tends to moderate the fallacy of "false precision" and significance. The typical precision available to a user of a slide rule is about three places of accuracy. This is in good correspondence with most data available for input to engineering formulas (such as the strength of materials, accurate to two or three places of precision, with a great amount—typically 1.5 or greater—of safety factor as an additional multiplier for error, variations in construction skill, and variability of materials). There's an old saying in engineering, "if you care about the third significant digit of tensile strength, you are already in trouble." When a modern pocket calculator is used, the precision may be displayed to seven to ten places of accuracy while in reality, the results can never be of greater precision than the input data available.
    The way American geeks thought about numbers was irreversibly changed. It's amazing that there wasn't more resistance than there was to getting rid of it.

    Nonetheless, the cultural icon remained on display in certain circles:

    Computers also changed the nature of calculation. With slide rules, there was a great emphasis on working the algebra to get expressions into the most computable form. Small terms were approximated or dropped. Fortran allowed complicated formulas simply to be typed in from textbooks. Numerical integration was often easier than trying to find closed form solutions. More difficult problems could be solved. The young engineer asking for computer time to solve a problem that could have been done by a few swipes on the slide rule became a humorous cliché. Many computer centers had a framed slide rule hung on a wall with the note "In case of emergency, break glass."
    Asking for computer time? Few would understand such a thing today. Fewer still would understand the slide rule in a glass case. (But what if the Ten Commandments were placed in a glass case with a similar sign at, say, a local police station? Would the satire work the same way? Or am I not allowed to pose such questions?)

    Notwithstanding its obvious virtues, there really is no rational argument which can be made for bringing the slide rule back.

    Culture was changed.

    Was morality changed too? Or is there no such thing as morality in numbers? (Oddly enough, the calculator represents the triumph of absolutism over the slide rule's inherent relativity, but that's a supremely relative irony that I'm afraid only Steven Malcolm Anderson would appreciate, God bless him....)

    Emotionally, I think it's a good thing for me to let the slide rule go.

    UPDATE: As Glenn Reynolds notes, people continue to grumble about the ways in which digital technology has changed the nature of human thought:

    We need to listen to the expert warnings about the potential impact of digital communication on how people think and learn
    Is it time to break the glass on the slide rule cases yet?

    (If we have to move in reverse, I'd prefer the abacus!)

    posted by Eric at 07:30 AM | Comments (4)

    which party is in favor of big government?

    If you didn't like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, get ready. A Republican bill sponsored by -- guess who -- James Sensenbrenner, would (if the reports are correct) criminalize even fair use, and transform the DMCA into the most draconian copyright legislation in United States history.

    Some highlights from the proposed legislation (which has the backing of the Bush administration) include a toughening of the DMCA which would make attempting to infringe on copyright illegal. In addition, no one would be allowed to "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" hardware or software that could be used to circumvent copy-protection mechanisms. That's an expansion on the DMCA's current language, which prohibits the distribution of tools such as DeCSS that can be used to bypass copy-protection schemes.

    That's not all. Criminal enforcement of copyright violations will be extended to cover works not registered with the US Copyright Office at the time of the violation. Also, asset forfeiture will be used as a weapon against those infringing on copyright. That PC you use to rip a copy of The Empire Strikes Back to your hard drive could be confiscated and either destroyed or sold at government auction. Other criminal penalties for infringement would be toughened, including up to 10 years in prison for posting copyrighted material online if its value exceeds US$1,000.

    That's just a short list—there is reportedly more objectionable stuff in 24-page draft of the bill. (We called Rep. Sensenbrenner's office in an attempt to obtain a copy of the draft legislation, but have not yet received one.) Update: a draft of the bill (PDF) is now available.

    It's disturbing that this business-friendly legislation has the backing of the administration while the consumer-friendly Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act sponsored by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) has remained bottled up in subcommittee for most of its existence. As currently written, the Intellectual Property Protection Act would tilt the balance even more heavily in the favor of content producers at the expense of American consumers.

    If, as Sensenbrenner thinks, even attempted copyright infringement should be punishable by ten years in prison, what about attempts to defeat such legislation? Shouldn't that also be a crime?

    There's more here:

    The 24-page bill is a far-reaching medley of different proposals cobbled together. One would, for instance, create a new federal crime of just trying to commit copyright infringement. Such willful attempts at piracy, even if they fail, could be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

    ...But one of the more controversial sections may be the changes to the DMCA. Under current law, Section 1201 of the law generally prohibits distributing or trafficking in any software or hardware that can be used to bypass copy-protection devices. (That section already has been used against a Princeton computer science professor, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov and a toner cartridge remanufacturer.)

    It's about time we cracked down on remanufactured toner cartridges! They are often used by terrorists, and in the wrong hands, why, they can be almost as deadly as sudafed!

    Here here!

    Smith's measure would expand those civil and criminal restrictions. Instead of merely targeting distribution, the new language says nobody may "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" such anticircumvention tools if they may be redistributed to someone else.

    "It's one degree more likely that mere communication about the means of accomplishing a hack would be subject to penalties," said Peter Jaszi, who teaches copyright law at American University and is critical of attempts to expand it.

    Unless I am reading this latest DMCA deal incorrectly, it seems pretty clear that the Republicans want copyright laws more draconian than the existing DMCA, while the Democrats (at least Boucher) favor at least fair use.


    At times like this, I'm not even sure I'm comfortable being a RINO. (I guess I called myself a "Goldwater liberal" just in the nick of time!)

    But maybe I'm being hysterical. Perhaps I should take a broader view of these things. After all, my dog Coco has been known to assert her rights under the DCMA. . .

    posted by Eric at 10:47 PM | Comments (2)

    sliding scale hatred

    Hatred of the item below can be a life altering experience.


    Does anyone still hate slide rules?

    I could only find a couple of people on the Internet who do.

    Commenting on Sci Fi writer Jerry Pournelle, this BBS commenter said:

    If you can't do math, you'd hate slide rules. I was good in math - and still hated slide rules. Then calculators came onto the market in mass - after I'd already graduated from college.

    Slide rule hatred was also expressed at this Mac-related site:

    In 1960 (high school for me) we marveled at tiny $100 transistor radios and IBM Selectric electric typewriters, no small personal computers or calculators (we still used and hated sliderules).
    But that's about it. No one else seems to hate slide rules.

    Except me, of course. I hate them with an all-consuming passion. (I'm deadly serious; this is an emotional post to write.)

    I never liked math, but I could do all the calculations necessary to get by at Algebra and even Calculus. It was in Chemistry where I met my Waterloo -- in the form of the hated slide rule. I don't know whether the exams have the same kinds of problems today, but I can tell you that I only passed high school chemistry because of an agreement with the teacher. (And even then with a "D" grade.) This was because I had a complete and total mental block with the damned slide rule. I was a slide rule idiot and I never could figure out exactly how to use it.

    And "exactly" isn't exactly the right word, because there's nothing exact about a slide rule. It uses logarithmic scales to give you a pretty close approximation of the answer. In analog form, not in digital form. You have to use your head to come up with the actual numbers of the answers (and, for that matter, the numerators and denominators). Infuriating. I couldn't learn how to even slide the silly slide or the cursed cursor thingie or where, and I just hated it. I mean really, really hated it.

    Knowing the formulas and how to do the problem was not enough in chemistry. It was simply impossible -- and I do mean impossible -- to perform multiplication and long division and get the answers in the amount of time allotted for the exams. I know this, because multiplication and long division were all I could do, and I felt like a total fool. A complete loser.

    So scratch Chemistry. And Physics. And any hope of ever becoming a doctor.

    At least, so I thought until 1974. I was thinking about quitting college because all was not going well, when it occurred to me that I might just switch gears and give the hard sciences another try. By then electronic calculators were all the rage, so I bought one, and enrolled in freshman chemistry. This time, I knew it would be a snap, because I really didn't have any problem with the equations or the theory; my only problem was that I hadn't had time to perform the calculations.

    Time. That's what it's all about. In fact, the slide rule was invented in 1625 for that very reason. Once the calculator came along, the anachronistic slide rule was as doomed as the horse drawn carriage.

    What scientist in his right mind would ever use a slide rule when a calculator was available?

    As it turned out, UC Berkeley's Chemistry professor, that's who!

    On the very first day of class (this was the summer of 1974), I showed up all eager and enthusiastic for my "second chance" -- this time assisted by new technology. My hopes were dashed by a grim announcement, made in the first five minutes.

    "After thinking it over, we have decided not to allow calculators," he said. To add insult to injury, he claimed that even though he preferred slide rules, he had nothing against calculators, but that they "discriminate" against "low income students."

    True in a way. In those days, a slide rule cost $6.00 and my calculator had cost $49.95. But the books cost a lot too, and I saw no reason why they couldn't allow both. I was so disgusted that I dropped the course. I also dropped out of college for three years.

    I know this will sound hard to believe, but there used to be a sort of nerdy slide rule "cult" which regarded proficiency with that awful instrument as an integral rite of passage on the road to becoming "a real scientist." They wore them on their hips in a manner evocative of the way detectives carry guns.

    Not so today's wimpy scientists. Many of them wouldn't know what to do with a slide rule unless they sat down with one and read the manual.

    I suspect that there are a lot of people today who would have hated slide rules as I did (and still do), but they don't even know it.

    You don't know how lucky you are.

    But I've never been one to try to impose my standards on other people and I don't believe in being judgmental. I realize that there are a number of retroheads and nostalgia freaks who might want to play with an actual slide rule, but who don't happen to have one lying around. (I might find the thought a little sickening, and maybe even repugnant, but those are just my hangups, as I don't believe repugnance involves wisdom.)

    I know I'm really sticking my neck out here, but in the interest of fairness and out of respect for lifestyle differences, I simply will not allow myself to be blinded by my admitted hatred. And bigotry.

    It's time to bury the hatchet.

    So, with that in mind, and in the interest of continued advancement of human knowledge, I've decide to let bygones be bygones.

    And therefore, I hereby link to a genuine Java Interactive Slide rule which anyone can use.

    Go ahead!

    (I'm so damned tolerant that I won't even tell people what they can do with it.)

    posted by Eric at 06:12 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Be a blogger! Or just act like one!

    While I was at UCLA last week, I stumbled onto an event I was unable to attend -- "THE BLOGGERS PROJECT."

    In keeping with my well-documented journalistic shortcomings, my reportorial coverage of the event sucked, and all I have is this lame picture of myself holding the advertisement:


    How might a blogger review such a momentous and portentous event without being there?


    UCLA's web site doesn't have much, but the LA Times Calendarlive.com describes it this way:

    Read a bunch of blogs. Copy. Paste. Act.

    That, in a nutshell, was the classroom assignment UCLA professor Mel Shapiro gave to students in his Advanced Graduate Acting course last fall. The fruits of those efforts have evolved into "The Bloggers Project," an experimental theater piece based on real weblogs that began taking final shape a few nights ago at the school's Freud Playhouse.

    Read a bunch of blogs? Check.

    Copy? Check.

    Paste? Check.


    Now that I can't do, because I am not an actor. But do actors make better bloggers? If they do, then all hope for the blogosphere is lost.

    If the LA Times piece is right, the actors seem have improved on the actual blog content. Here's a sort of blog-by-blog blow-by-blow:

    Shapiro, a congenially rumpled veteran director who collaborated with playwright John Guare ("The House of Blue Leaves") and Sammy Davis Jr. before joining UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television faculty in 1990, started paying attention to bloggers during the John Kerry Swift Boat controversy. He decided to steer his acting students toward Internet-based rants, hoping they would translate the swarm of online info-pinion into fiery performances.

    "I got fascinated with these bloggers who were doing investigative reporting with this incredible passion and wondered if there was a way of putting this kind of thing on stage," Shapiro says. "I kept saying to the actors, 'It doesn't make any difference what political side you're on, but you should get involved in what the arguments are on these issues. What about this war in Iraq?' I was trying to provoke them into an involvement with these things, and then the project started to develop from there."

    To prime his actors for the show's overtly political material, Shapiro first urged them to create faux blogs for historical figures. Beyond the informational nuggets mined online, the blogosphere's raw spontaneity rubbed off on some of the performers.

    When actor Allman began Googling Gacy to research his piece on the Illinois murderer, he related easily to the Web's unfiltered spew. "Traditional scripts," he noted, "are written and rewritten and tested and changed before audiences so they're very concrete and formulaic. Blogs come directly from the blogger's mind. You find spelling mistakes and run-on sentences and incomplete thoughts, which I think is accurate about how quick and choppy people think and communicate in this MTV age."

    Yeah I know what allman means about spellings and runs on senstences and everything but i sure hope this cat read my pieace on gaycy it was way cooll with a pictire of roslaind carter the first lady!

    Whoa! Am I getting the hand of this blog acting stuff OK?

    This is fun!

    Maybe I should try acting like a blogger more of the time!

    There's more:

    For her three-minute televised sex blog, Nicole Reding turned to Washingtonienne, Washington, D.C., intern Jessica Cutler's online diary detailing her affairs with Beltway big shots. "Jessica said in an interview that there is really no difference between her blog and writing down one's conquests on the bathroom wall," says Reding. "Blogs are sort of the Shakespeare soliloquy of the modern day, except penned by much inferior writers. The possibilities for characterization are endless."

    The actors' solo spots lead up to "Homer in Cyberspace," which re-imagines the first four chapters of "The Iliad" as a metaphor for the Iraq War. Massive video projections, programmed with video game software by UCLA's Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance REMAP group, portray Athena and Hera as goddesses dishing dirt about the Trojan War. On the ground, live actors debate dubious reporting from the field.

    Wow! Cool! That's like Classical stuff! Just like my blog! Maybe I can act out Homer while debating dubious reporting!

    You know. Ancient wisdom and all. . .

    Shapiro wrote the piece, he said, because "I've been fascinated with the way the administration — any administration — sends out disinformation and mixed signals. This was also so much the core of 'The Iliad' in that the gods kept screwing up the mortals and lying to each other, and then waging a war for ridiculous reasons. Because, Helen of Troy was stolen. It just seemed very apt."

    "Project" culminates in an ensemble performance featuring excerpts from "Just Another Soldier," blogged by an American G.I. stationed in Iraq. The soldier's first-person reportage is juxtaposed with readings from riverbendblog.blogspot.com, posted by an Iraqi woman and published in book form as "Baghdad Burning."

    Sounds like it conveys the appearance of fair and balanced acting-like-blogging.

    But hell, what would I know? I'm not an actor. As it is, I'm having a tough enough time acting like a blogger who's forced to act like a reporter, much less an actor who's forced to act like a blogger who's forced to act like a reporter.

    (The whole thing is a tough act to follow.)

    posted by Eric at 02:28 PM | Comments (2)

    Deadlier drugs -- but legal ones!

    According to a new study, inhalant abuse among young people is a serious problem:

    . . .one in five teenagers admits abusing household inhalants, like gas and glue, to get high. The president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America says the most worrisome finding in the 2005 report is the decline in the risk attitudes among young people.

    Steve Pasierb says a lot of teens don't understand that huffing can kill or cause brain damage. He says 64-percent of teens agree that inhalants can kill. That's down 19-percent from 2001. And he says there's a nine percent drop in the number of teens who agree that inhalants cause brain damage.

    Pasierb says the report should be a wake up call to parents. He says too few parents believe their teens are at risk.

    What I like about the campaign against inhalants is its emphasis on education. There's no attempt to prohibit the substances, despite the fact that they're everywhere:
    These products are accessible to everyone, inexpensive, and subject to abuse by an unusually diverse range of people, including very young children, young adults in assorted occupations, and homeless adolescents and adults. This complex mix of substances and abusers, the technical difficulties of developing animal models that replicate human patterns of abuse, and ethical limitations on studying such toxic substances in humans have confounded attempts to clarify the addictive and toxic effects of inhalants and develop appropriate prevention and treatment interventions.

    In spite of these challenges, there is some good news in the United States in that annual levels of inhalant abuse have declined since 1995, according to MTF. To what can we attribute this reduction? Research indicates that if young people believe they can suffer serious harm from abusing any substance, they are less likely to do so. Schoolchildren's perceptions of inhalants' risks began to increase between 1995 and 1996, and the downward trend in use began the following year.

    The campaign against these legal drugs (which is what inhalants are) seems destined to remain an educational effort.

    I can support that.

    If only drugs like heroin and cocaine were treated like paint thinner . . .

    But what if the illegal drugs like heroin are less dangerous than the legal ones like paint thinner? Are there moral implications?

    posted by Eric at 12:22 PM

    HELP! I'm a victim of blogging!

    One of the driving forces behind the latest push for Internet censorship seems to be a former live webcam performer (aka a "camwhore") named Justin Berry, who made quite a bit of money charging clients to watch him do things in front of his web cam.

    Now that Berry (with lots of MSM hype) claims he's reformed, the former live performer still performs live as a new kind of celebrity -- a sort of moralistic scold condemning his former life and demanding that the government crack down on the evil Internet which seduced him. (Internet "seduction" is a familiar theme these days, I'm afraid . . .)

    While my ultimate worry is that such a crackdown might lead to every web site (possibly including this blog) having to carry some sort of government seal of approval, I'd like to stick to the more narrow issue of what it is that constitutes a victim.

    Like it or not, being a victim -- especially a high-profile victim -- can be a very rewarding experience. Americans have plenty of empathy, and these things sell newspapers and drive network ratings. So, if someone is able to cast himself as a victim in such a way as to elicit strong public appeal, he can pretty much write his own ticket. Whether the victim really is a victim is secondary.

    The recent hoopla over the still-anonymous "escort" who claims she was raped by Duke University's La Crosse team is a good example of this. We still don't know whether the crime even took place, but because of the nature of the media hype, the woman will always be able to claim that she was a victim. (Of rich people, or sex, or hype, or something.) And no matter what happens, there will of course be a book deal, an Oprah appearance, the rest of it.

    I know I haven't been put in charge of these things, but it just goes against my sense of individual responsibility to allow someone to claim he was a victim of others when he deliberately engaged in the conduct said to constitute victim status. If I drink too much, it is not the responsibility of the Seagram distillery, and if I run in front of an SUV, it is not the fault of General Motors. Similarly, if Justin Berry deliberately sold images of himself, that is not the fault of the Internet for being there any more than it would be the fault of Nikon if he sold glossy photographs of himself on the street.

    This in no way excuses the conduct of people who violated the law by buying his pictures. They committed crimes -- just as in a drug transaction, both the dealer and the user are legally culpable. I just can't see any of them as victims, because (absent a showing of compulsion) they are doers, participants, actors, not innocent bystanders.

    A webcam does not invade my home unless someone else installs it surreptitiously and does not tell me. Therefore, in logic I cannot be a victim of it, any more than I can be a victim of my own gun. Or my own blog.

    Or can I?

    To play Devil's Advocate, am I missing something here?

    Or is this another example of the hopeless split between communitarian and libertarian thinking?

    posted by Eric at 07:40 AM | Comments (6)

    Mystery spy penetrates Philadelphia suburbs?

    There's a saying that "all politics is local," but it never ceases to amaze me the way national issues can literally reach out and touch things in my own backyard.

    Since returning from California, I've tried to keep up with the Mary McCarthy CIA leak story (one of the big stories of the weekend according to Glenn Reynolds and knowledgable bloggers like Belmont Club and Tom Maguire.)

    Here's NRO's Andy McCarthy:

    There is no mention by the Post -- none -- that Mary McCarthy is a big Kerry campaign and Democratic Party contributor.

    How can the WPost justify reporting one friend's mere impression that McCarthy is not biased and that it is very difficult even for those who know her well to understand why she would leak sensitive information, and yet not report the objective fact that -- after a meteoric professional rise in intelligence circles during a Democratic administration -- McCarthy, while a government official on a government salary, gave at least $7700 of her own money in a single year to Democratic political campaigns?

    Given the Post's delicate posture in this case -- having been the recipient of at least one highly sensitive leak on a subject about which it chose to publish a story damaging to national security -- you would think they might perceive a special obligation to play it down the middle here. But apparently not.

    What is this woman? A leaker or a campaign contributor?

    Not that I keep track of national issues as I should, but frankly, it surprised me to see that the spy in the center of all this national action actually took the time to contribute money to the campaign of [Philadelphia suburban] Congressman Curt Weldon's opponent, one Joe Sestak:

    The senior intelligence analyst who was fired Thursday by the CIA is a supporter of Democratic congressional candidate Joseph Sestak, which U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon’s campaign charged is further evidence that the former Navy admiral cannot be trusted on national security issues.

    Mary McCarthy was dismissed for leaking classified information about the CIA’s secret overseas prisons to The Washington Post, several media organizations reported Saturday.

    Sestak, who served as director for defense policy on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, received two donations from McCarthy last month totaling $350. McCarthy also contributed $2,000 to Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

    Weldon’s campaign reiterated that Sestak accepted contributions from former Clinton National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger and former CIA Director John Deutch -- both of whom have admitted to mishandling classified information.

    "‘Where will this end?" asked Weldon campaign spokesman Michael Puppio. "Sestak and the Clinton people are attempting to infect Delaware County with these scandals."

    As to McCarthy's motive for contributing to Weldon's opponent, it may be personal. Weldon's campaign suspects that McCarthy was out to discredit his book, Countdown to Terror (which involved the Able Danger allegations):
    Weldon officials also suspect McCarthy leaked information to the media last year in an attempt to debunk the congressman’s book, "Countdown to Terror," which is highly critical of the CIA. Weldon plans to call for a FBI investigation "to see what national security information she leaked and who she leaked it to," Puppio said.
    In his discussion of McCarthy's other contributions, Tom Maguire called them an "Impenetrable Mystery."

    Not that I'm penetrating any mysteries here, but why the hell is this Mary McCarthy messing around with elections in the Philadelphia suburbs? Why does she want to defeat Curt Weldon?

    Might it just be the Able Danger investigation? Or might this be evidence that she's a rogue operative?


    (You'd think the Democrats would lay low in these matters.)

    posted by Eric at 09:49 PM | Comments (2)

    too nice for words?

    Longtime blogger Jonathan V. Last (who once seemed to like blogging) seems to be on an anti-blogging kick, as evidenced by his editorial blast -- titled Blog Humbug! -- in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Among other things, I found it a little disturbing to see Last praise censorship advocate Andrew Keen's anti-blogging broadside as a "substantive critique."

    What fascinates me about this is not so much that a longtime blogger would attack his medium. (Frankly, I hate blogging much of the time -- simple burnout being a primary reason.) It's the mechanics of how. For Last, this involves the way he defines blogging:

    the biggest evil of blogs is that first flaw, blogging's original sin: the discounting of news-gathering in favor of news analysis. Bloggers are forever telling us how easy journalism is, yet very few of them have ever really practiced it. Sure, they may have written opinion pieces that compare favorably to the work of Molly Ivins or Ann Coulter, but opinion writing is a tiny - and let's be honest, inconsequential - corner of the journalism world. Real journalism - the practice of adding to the store of public knowledge by reporting news - is a difficult, thankless, and often unpleasant task. Bloggers want no part of it. Everyone wants E.J. Dionne's job; no one wants to be Michael Dobbs.
    Well, that's fair enough (in my case, that is). I never wanted to be a news reporter, and I never will. How that's a criticism of me (or blogging) I am not sure. Perhaps there are bloggers who want to be reporters or who claim that they've replaced them, but I make no such claim. I don't want to interview anyone or report anything, and I don't claim or pretend to be fair in my analyses. My opinions are simply my opinions, although I do try to be logical and I also try to distinguish opinion from fact.

    As to "news analysis," does that really "discount" news? I fail to see how. Last does not explain. As it happens, I want more fact-based news and less editorial or emotional news, so my criticism of news stories I dislike is largely related to that. But debunking or discounting emotion does not discount the gathering of facts. And isn't "news" supposed to involve the gathering and reporting of facts? I can't speak for other bloggers, but I have never been opposed to such a thing, and I honestly do not understand Last's criticism.

    Then there's his criticism of blogs for bad writing:

    the blog does not value well-crafted writing. Except for Mark Steyn and James Lileks, it's hard to pick out even three beautiful writers from the millions of bloggers.

    Again, the fault here lies with the medium: Being a good writer helps a blogger about as much as a good singing voice helps a broadcast anchor.

    Take out these two essentials - news-gathering and prose style - and what are you left with? A medium that values speed, volume, and vehemence. While none of these traits is antithetical to good journalism, none of them is particularly conducive to it, either. (Emphasis added.)

    My writing style does not compare with Steyn or Lileks (or even James Wolcott, whose style I admire) and I never claimed it did. I can't be the judge of whether I'm guilty of bad writing, and I've noticed that whether or not people like a particular post has nothing to do with whether I liked it or how long it took me to write it. Quite coincidentally, I commented on this earlier:
    I don't mean to whine here -- even though I am -- but there's something about the finishing and posting of a long essay which ought to be enjoyable, in the way accomplishments are said to be enjoyable. But any sense of accomplishment is quickly ruined by the certainty of knowing that it's "just another blog post," and if I don't get something up in another couple of hours, the blog will be as dead as a doornail. Because of the medium, a long post attempting to analyze mistaken assumptions I might feel were made during Christianity's infancy in the Roman empire is -- like it or not -- the "moral equivalent" of a one-liner throwaway sarcastic aside involving Mick Jagger or Paris Hilton. It's tough, but that's the medium. Sometimes, it disturbs me to stop and consider that no normal person would blog daily essays for a period of years. But then, is there any rule that I have to be my own shrink?
    In this medium, you just suck it up and move on. Or quit blogging.

    It is certainly possible that by Jonathan Last's stated blogospheric standards (speed, volume, and vehemence), I am indeed in the wrong medium. First of all, I lack the necessary speed ("four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year"). Loser that I am, sometimes I'll spend an entire day laboring over one lousy post.

    As to volume, well, that depends on interpretation. My posts are voluminous enough because they are long, but is that what he means by the word "volume"? Might he mean quantity, as in number of posts? Or might he mean volume in decibel terms? (Actually, that would be metaphoric, as the written word is not literally loud, EVEN IF YOU FEEL COMPELLED TO SHOUT!)

    Last but not least (sorry; didn't mean it that way!), insufficient vehemence may also be a legitimate criticism of this blog. Justin (who knows me better than most people) has accused me of being "too nice," and it may be true.

    Anyway, this Jonathan Last sure knows how to hurt a blogger's feelings. I may be a failure as a blogger precisely because I don't do those things Last says are necessary features of blogging. My bad, I guess.

    But what if I opted for speed, volume, and vehemence?

    I'd still be bad, wouldn't I?

    And I'd still lose, because I'd probably never be able to really put that ugly nice past behind me.

    Obviously, the nice thing to do is to shut up.

    (I won't even bother with an old cliche. Was that nice or what?)

    MORE: I neglected to mention that Jonathan V. Last is also the online editor of the Weekly Standard.

    My apologies. Important and relevant details (like, say, a leading blogger's status as a law professor) should never be omitted. (I meant no such disrespect.)

    posted by Eric at 01:29 PM | Comments (1)

    Original natural law

    Yesterday I celebrated Earth Day by complaining about airport parking and recovering from jet lag. (Fortunately, Justin remembered.)

    But now, late as I am, I still want to share a couple of vital post-Earth Day thoughts which seem to have escaped coverage.

    One is that yesterday was not just Happy Earth Day, it was Happy Birthday! To Comrade Lenin!

    Coincidence or not, Earth Day began not merely on Lenin's birthday, but on the very day which was celebrated as the saintly demigod's 100th birthday!

    Why can't that simple fact be reported as it should be? Is Earth Day trying to undermine or overshadow a more important historical occasion?

    This blog will never allow such blatant historical revisionism by Western capitalists! So, in honor of the true spirit of traditional April 22 values, I humbly and solemnly present this celebratory reminder of the founding date's original, um, nature:


    One last underreported Earth Day item.

    Senator Gaylord Nelson, considered the official founder of Earth Day, thought uncontrolled immigration was bad for the environment:

    Nelson also saw containment of immigration as an important part of his environmentalist mission. In his words: "But in this country, it’s phony to say ‘I’m for the environment but not for limiting immigration'. It’s just a fact that we can’t take all the people who want to come here. And you don’t have to be a racist to realize that."
    That sort of talk would be considered divisive today.

    (But at least it wouldn't be speciesism.)

    MORE: Here's Sean Hackbarth on the solemn Lenin/Earth occasion:

    Think of 04.22 as a day for watermelons. You know, those who are green on the outside and red on the inside.
    Well, I read that Lenin's corpse is getting moldy.

    posted by Eric at 11:39 AM

    Out mobbing the mobbers?

    This piece on mobbing (via Glenn Reynolds) has not done much to renew my faith in the human brain:

    When a mobbing occurs, that spirit of openness gets strangled by groupthink, bent on someone's elimination.

    The Law of Group Polarization, formulated by Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, says that a bunch of people who agree with each other on some point will, given the chance to get together and talk, come away agreeing more strenuously on a more extreme point. If this tendency has a curdling effect on intellectual debates, it can have a downright menacing effect when the point of agreement is that a particular colleague is a repugnant nutjob.

    Calling some departmental mess a mobbing does not imply that the victim is wholly innocent, Mr. Westhues says. But it does imply that the campaign against the target has probably been based on fuzzy and unspecific charges, that it has proceeded with a degree of secrecy, that its timing has been hasty, that its rhetoric has been overheated and overwrought, and that it has been backed by an eerie unanimity.

    "One of the most painful experiences in my life," Mr. Westhues says, "has been to go to dismissal hearings where everybody is sitting around a table as if they were embodiments of pure reason." What's really going on in many of those settings, he thinks, is just brutish behavior ratified by procedure.

    "What we've got to do is cultivate an academic culture that is aware of the tendencies in us, of the herd instincts inside of us," he says. "We have a tendency, especially us pompous academics, to think we're above all that."

    With his mobbing research, Mr. Westhues joins a tradition of thinkers who present an account of some deep-seated impulse as a plea for pluralism and restraint. And while he says it is possible to take mobbing seriously without believing we all have those herd instincts, that belief helps.

    "I have a friend who says that there's only two kinds of people in the world," Mr. Westhues says, "those who believe that there's original sin and those who don't."

    "I think probably mobbing research as a whole is more on the side of the original-sin folks," he says.

    While Westhues' work has focused on academia-related workplace mobbing (something I've seen before), I think the phenomenon is a common human trait which tends to surface everywhere -- particularly in politics. What complicates mobbing in a political setting is the tendency of two "sides" to line up against each other, often in response to each other. Add to this the paradoxical American love of the "underdog," and politics devolves into a very strange (and very fickle) game of vying for victim status.

    When mobbing occurs in politics, the process is usually initiated by activists who hurl ad hominem attacks which would be called bullying in a workplace setting, but which are considered part and parcel of the normal political arena.

    If the target is a real bastard, this sort of mobbing can work, and the voters will ratify the attacks by voting against the vilified target. But what can also happen is that the activists forget that voters aren't activists, but normal Americans with a wholesome love of the underdog -- and a hatred for bullying. So instead of creating a monster or a demon, the mobbing can create victim status.

    And in politics, victim equals backlash.

    While it is too early to tell how it will go over with Pennsylvania voters in November, the vilification of Senator Rick Santorum has already reached such a fever pitch that it's made the front page of today's (Sunday) Inquirer:

    To fans, Santorum is a moral champion. To many on the left, however, he epitomizes intolerance and inspires contempt. For example, there are tens of thousands of references to "santorum and anal" on Google, including the lewd definition - which is the first thing that pops up when you search "santorum." And blogs are filled with brutal language about the senator. "He's garbage wrapped in skin," someone named Dethspud posted on the Drudge Retort this week, one of the few insults suitable for newspaper publication.

    "The mythology is starting to build so that at a certain point Santorum isn't Santorum anymore - he's a token, or a type," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and a scholar of political communication.

    "Santorum lives in a world that doesn't have grays in it," Jamieson said. "It brings out a kind of hostility on one end and a loyalty on the other."

    The interplay of those emotions is likely to influence Santorum's reelection fight this fall, already targeted by both parties as the top Senate race.

    Only a few political figures outside the White House have generated such strong feelings in modern times, analysts say. Among them: former Sen. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.). In another league, but the same vein: Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who led a hunt for Communist infiltrators in the 1950s, giving his name to the hysteria of an age.

    Strong feelings invite hysteria, too.

    In addition to the effort to use Santorum's name to define certain sex acts, there's a group called Philadelphians Against Santorum which is sponsoring a Rick Santorum lookalike contest. And recently, a local gym was targeted for a boycott because its owner supported Santorum.

    In activist circles, the name "Santorum" seems to have become a synonym for eeevil and dirty:

    Polls, so far, show Santorum trailing his likely Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., and give the incumbent low job-approval ratings.

    But poll numbers don't adequately convey the vehemence of some Santorum opponents.

    "When I actually hear his name, I think of 'sanctimonious,' " said Hannah Miller, 30, a Democratic activist in Philadelphia. "It's one thing to hate all these [conservative] bastards in Texas, but Santorum's in Pennsylvania! He's like this dirty thing that should have stayed in the South, but he floated up here and invaded. This is personal."

    Pollster Berwood Yost said Santorum appeared to face an uphill fight now, but the race would "have a life of its own" because of the high stakes and the millions both sides will spend.

    "Liberals and Democrats in general are so strongly against the current administration that they are much more likely to be energized," said Yost, director of the Keystone Poll at Franklin and Marshall College. "The key to the election this year is going to be whether conservatives come out to vote." (Emphasis added.)

    I'm not sure that conservative voter turnout is the only key to the election. But let's assume it is. If Santorum is behind in the polls, do maniacal personal attacks really make sense as strategy?

    I can't think of a better way to increase conservative turnout. And if the attacks get so loud as to be out of all proportion to the reality of Rick Santorum (who voiced sentiments shared by a sizeable minority of voters), ordinary non-activist voters might be shocked to be reminded -- notwithstanding their short memories -- that Santorum is surprisingly soft-spoken.

    Worst of all, Rick Santorum refused last summer to fire a gay aide. (The original Knight-Ridder story survives at Free Republic.) A picture of the gay aide (who is also black) appears here. Even more ominously, the gay Advocate.com reported that "Santorum's praise for his gay aide didn't dim the ardor of the senator's conservative supporters." (More here.)

    Fortunately for Santorum's aide, he wasn't outed in the heat of the election, although it might have fascinated voters to see a gay black man (or should that be "black gay" man?) "mobbed" in the name of gay rights.

    Political mobbers are probably too smart to do such a thing this summer.

    (As for me, I've never been a fan of Rick Santorum, but I'm a bleeding heart where it comes to victims of any mob.)

    posted by Eric at 10:46 AM | Comments (2)

    gas so lean

    I didn't think much of it when I saw the headline 'Pumps go dry at some gas stations...' posted on the Drudge Report. Little did I know it was on the electronic edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    I left for Bethesda, MD the same day and to my consternation passed by gas station after gas station, some with signs posted on each pump which read 'NO GAS,' and one with its pumps blocked in by a tow truck.

    I thought it was the seventies, and I wondered if we'd actually make it to Bethesda.

    The last station before I-476 (the Blue Route) didn't seem affected, so we gassed up and were on our way. On the return trip last night, the pumps at the Maryland House rest area were out of everything but regular, which was fine by me. But when I saw those little signs again I thought we were out of luck.


    posted by Dennis at 07:59 AM | Comments (1)

    H.G. Wells And The Betamax

    An excerpt from When the Sleeper Wakes, first published in 1899. Emphases are mine...

    He observed one entire side of the outer room was set with rows of peculiar double cylinders inscribed with green lettering on white that harmonized With the decorative scheme of the room, and in the centre of this side projected a little apparatus about a yard square and having a white smooth face to the room. A chair faced this. He had a transitory idea that these cylinders might be books, or a modern substitute for books, but at first it did not seem so.

    The lettering on the cylinders puzzled him. At first sight it seemed like Russian. Then he noticed a suggestion of mutilated English about certain of the words.

    "oi Man huwdbi Kin"

    forced itself on him as "The Man who would be King." "Phonetic spelling," he said. He remembered reading a story with that title, then he recalled the story vividly, one of the best stories in the world. But this thing before him was not a book as he understood it. He puzzled out the titles of two adjacent cylinders. 'The Heart of Darkness,' he had never heard of before nor 'The Madonna of the Future'--no doubt if they were indeed stories, they were by post Victorian authors.

    He puzzled over this peculiar cylinder for some time and replaced it. Then he turned to the square apparatus and examined that. He opened a sort of lid and found one of the double cylinders within, and on the upper edge a little stud like the stud of an electric bell. He pressed this and a rapid clicking began and ceased. He became aware of voices and music, and noticed a play of colour on the smooth front face. He suddenly realised what this might be, and stepped back to regard it.

    On the flat surface was now a little picture, very vividly coloured, and in this picture were figures that moved. Not only did they move, but they were conversing in clear small voices. It was exactly like reality viewed through an inverted opera glass and heard through a long tube. His interest was seized at once by the situation, which presented a man pacing up and down and vociferating angry things to a pretty but petulant woman. Both were in the picturesque costume that seemed so strange to Graham. "I have worked," said the man, "but what have you been doing?"

    "Ah!" said Graham. He forgot everything else, and sat down in the chair. Within five minutes he heard himself named, heard "when the Sleeper wakes," used jestingly as a proverb for remote postponement, and passed himself by, a thing remote and incredible. But in a little while he knew those two people like intimate friends.

    At last the miniature drama came to an end, and the square face of the apparatus was blank again...

    He went back to the apparatus in the other room, and had soon puzzled out the method of replacing the cylinders by others. As he did so, it came into his mind that it must be these little appliances had fixed the language so that it was still clear and understand- able after two hundred years. The haphazard cylinders he substituted displayed a musical fantasia. At first it was beautiful, and then it was sensuous.

    Uh oh.

    He presently recognized what appeared to him to be an altered version of the story of Tannhauser. The music was unfamiliar. But the rendering was realistic, and with a contemporary unfamiliarity. Tannhauser did not go to a Venusberg, but to a Pleasure City.

    Double uh oh.

    What was a Pleasure City? A dream, surely, the fancy of a fantastic, voluptuous writer.

    He became interested, curious. The story developed with a flavour of strangely twisted sentimentality. Suddenly he did not like it. He liked it less as it proceeded.

    And why is that?

    He had a revulsion of feeling. These were no pictures, no idealisations, but photographed realities. He wanted no more of the twenty-second century Venusberg. He forgot the part played by the model in nineteenth century art, and gave way to an archaic indignation.

    Ah. It's one of those movies.

    He rose, angry and half ashamed at himself for witnessing this thing even in solitude. He pulled forward the apparatus, and with some violence sought for a means of stopping its action...
    posted by Justin at 11:43 AM | Comments (2)

    A Good Day To Recycle

    Cause it's Earth Day again. Where did the time go?

    Without further ado, here's last years Earth Day post, exhumed and propped up, all green and stinking.

    "By...[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s."

    Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the "Great Die-Off."

    Ah, the classics! Time cannot wither nor custom stale, eh? But since I don't want to take the slightest risk that any of you are going to go away feeling shorted, here's something just a little bit fresher. It's an email interview with James Kunstler, courtesy of Mark Maynard.

    Here's my very favorite part...

    Mark Maynard: I can appreciate your pessimism, and, generally speaking, I share it, but do you think that yours is a message that will motivate people to change their behaviors? Are you so convinced that efforts to stop what is coming will be futile that you don’t feel as though we should even try? Might it not be better to offer a chance for success, rally people together, and go out swinging?

    James Kunstler: I resent the hell out of being labeled a "pessimist." In my writings, I offer a comprehensive view of how we can respond intelligently to these new circumstances. That's neither pessimistic nor cynical. So fuck you.

    Sometimes life can be beautiful.

    Shell E&P says it is ahead of schedule to restart production from its Mars TLP [Tension Leg Platform], which is the largest producing platform in the Gulf of Mexico that was affected by Hurricane Katrina, representing about 5% of current GoM daily production...

    Shell expects to complete construction activities necessary to restart production at Mars by the end of April...Mars production is expected to be restored to pre-Katrina rates by the end of June.

    Moving right along, here's some hopeful news from the wilds of Oregon...

    Chemical engineering researchers at Oregon State University have developed a tiny chemical reactor for manufacturing biodiesel that is so efficient, fast and portable it could enable farmers to produce a cleaner-burning diesel substitute on their farms using seed crops they grow on their own land...

    The microreactor...consists of a series of parallel channels, each smaller than a human hair, through which vegetable oil and alcohol are pumped simultaneously. At such a small scale the chemical reaction that converts the oil into biodiesel is almost instant.

    Although the amount of biodiesel produced from a single microreactor is a trickle, the reactors can be connected and stacked in banks to dramatically increase production. "By stacking many of these microreactors in parallel, a device the size of a small suitcase could produce enough biodiesel to power several farms, or produce hundreds of thousands of gallons per year," Jovanovic said.

    Isn't that nice? Of course, it's still highly speculative technology. Best we don't get our hopes up, hey? So how about this, instead?

    Professor Alan Goldman and his Rutgers team in collaboration with researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a way to convert carbon sources, such as coal, to diesel fuel.

    Goldman explained that the breakthrough technology employs a pair of catalytic chemical reactions that operate in tandem, one of which captured the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry...

    The work grew out of a National Science Foundation-funded research consortium, the Center for the Activation and Transformation of Strong Bonds, based at the University of Washington.

    Fischer-Tropsch yields a wide distribution of molecular weight hydrocarbon products but without any way to control the desired mix. The low-weight and the high-weight Fischer-Tropsch products are useful – the light as gas and the medium-heavy as diesel fuel, Goldman explained.

    “The problem – the greatest inefficiency of the process – is that you also wind up with a substantial quantity of medium-weight products that are not useful and you are stuck with them,” Goldman said. “What we are now able to do with our new catalysts is something no one else has done before. We take all these undesirable medium-weight substances and convert them to the useful higher- and lower-weight products.”

    One word, Ben. Catalysts.

    Have a happy Earth Day, everyone. Go for a drive in the country. Take someone you care about. And watch out for pirates!

    posted by Justin at 10:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

    "Don't sweat the small stuff . . ."

    I hate it when petty and mundane details (what we often call "little things") dictate the quality of life, but sometimes the "little things" crowd out the bigger things to an extent that they can no longer be ignored. When that happens to me, then I feel that I have no alternative but to write a blog post about a topic I'd love nothing more than to ignore.

    I speak of a "little thing" called parking. In particular, Philadelphia Airport parking. It's a horrible, out-of-control situation. And while it is a "little thing," it's one of those little things which might make regular travelers think twice about living in or visiting Philadelphia.

    I only live about 40 minutes from the airport, so last Thursday (April 16) I left home two and a half hours before flight time. I figured I'd park, take the bus to the terminal, and all would be well. All fine and good, except when I got there, the long-term parking lot had a sign saying "lot full," and a sullen guard was standing there making drivers leave. There was a ton of traffic, but I slowly circled back around the airport. I soon discovered to my horror that the only parking lot which had any spaces left was the short term parking lot -- at $38.00 per day! (Long-term is $9.00 per day.) Not wanting to pay more for parking than I had paid for my airfare, I decided to get back on I-95 and drive to one of the competing private lots. Easier said than done. I-95 South was a parking lot itself, but after a twenty minute drive, I found myself on Essington Avenue, home to several of the gargantuan private lots.

    Every single one of the private lots was full. Worse, no one working at them had any idea where I might park, simply telling me that there wasn't any parking anywhere!

    As time was rapidly being eaten away, this was turning into a nightmare. I tried at least three private lots, and all had the same story. Driving back to the airport, it began to be clear to me that if I didn't want to shell out $38.00 a day I would miss my plane. There was not enough time to drive home and call a cab, and even if I paid their extortionate rates I'd still miss my plane.

    It occurred to me that I might be able to throw myself on the mercy of the guard at the long-term lot. Or maybe offer him a bribe, or yell at him. Or anything. So I drove back. To my utter amazement, someone drove out of the lot, and the "lot full" sign was switched off. I drove in, parked, and then got on the bus. As the bus left the lot, the "lot full" sign was on again. (And, as it turned out, my plane was three hours late, but I had no way of knowing.)

    OK, a one-time fluke I could forget. But yesterday, my plane landed at 3:10 p.m., and when I walked with my bags over to the "courtesy" bus stop, I had no reason to anticipate yet another parking problem -- a lack of buses to the parking lot!

    These buses are supposed to run every ten minutes, but instead of seeing them, for more than twenty minutes I was treated to a steady stream of prompt and courteous buses -- all operated by the private (non-Philadelphia Airport) parking lots. Not only do they stop, but they actually load passengers' bags! And the drivers are polite! One of them asked helpfully whether "we" (yes, a crowd had gathered) were waiting for the long-term lot bus, and warned us that they "might not stop."

    This ominous remark proved true when finally, the much-awaited bus appeared. But it was full! And the crowd was yelling for it to stop, but the asshole driver kept on going, right past us, full steam ahead. By now it was after four, and I was considering getting a cab to get to the lot. But it occurred to me to walk back to another terminal, so that I could get on the bus before it filled to capacity, I walked back -- two terminals worth, and by then another bus appeared, which did stop. It was completely full by the time it reached my original baggage claim area, but it did stop, allowing the poor passengers to cram themselves on. When the bus reached the lot, I once again saw the familiar "lot full" sign on the gate.

    When I finally reached my car, I was one minute into another full day, so instead of $72.00 I had to pay a full $81.00.

    As I drove out, the "lot full" sign was still there. (There were lines of cars leaving, and spaces were available, but tell that to their computers...)

    This is of course a little thing.

    A little thing amounting to little more than the quality of life around here.

    Sure, next time I travel I can take a cab. Or drive to BWI. But if I owned a company considering locating in Philadelphia, this would be one of those little things that might make me think seriously about whether Philadelphia was a desirable place to live.

    (The fact that Philadelphia has the worst public transportation system in any city I've seen doesn't help much either.)

    I should be glad to be back, but I already miss California again. Nothing beats the Bay Area's choice of airports, all of which have freely accessible parking, freeway systems which work, and BART -- a modern public transportation which works.

    Philadelphia Airport parking is a nightmarish government boondoggle. Avoid it if you can.

    (If I could only figure out how . . .)

    posted by Eric at 09:20 AM | Comments (4)

    Light 'm up, 'cuz we're going down

    The latest article posted over at the Mises Institute makes a point about recent smoking bans which I've been making for a long time. People yammer about all sorts of different aspects of the smoking debate, yet they somehow never manage to get around to discussing business owners. If I own a bar, it should be up to me and only me what is or isn't allowed inside of my own privately owned property. If people don't like my rules, they're free to drink somewhere else or open their own bar.

    Rather than go on a long rant, though, I'm just going to excerpt liberally from the Mises article.

    While I sympathize with [some whining woman who helped push the NJ smoke ban] and the other employees regarding their health problems, the flaw with her complaint is that she and the other casino employees were not forced to breathe in second-hand smoke. People voluntarily chose to work in those environments and they knew the benefits and the costs when they made the decision to work in the casinos (and if they did not, they could have quit their job soon after they started).

    The only two parties that seem to get mentioned in many of these cases are the smokers and the non-smokers. The former argue that it is their right to smoke and the latter argue that it is their right to have clean air. Who seems to be forgotten are the business owners! This misuse of the word "public" is the main cause.

    When I ask my friends or students if the government should have the right to tell me whether or not I can smoke a cigar in my own home, they unanimously tell me "No!" But isn't my home where other people come to eat, drink, talk, or watch television a "public" place? Yet, the same people who concede that my home is private property conveniently do not see the connection between my home and my restaurant (or other establishment). Why? Because they say my restaurant is a public place, established for the benefit of my patrons. I hate to disappoint them, but my business is for my benefit. Sure, I understand that I need many loyal customers who love to spend money at my establishment in order to have a thriving business. However, what people and legislators must realize is that my restaurant, bar, or casino is my private property just like my home is my private property.


    The bottom line is that if you are a smoker, you do not have a right to smoke in my house nor in my place of business. If you want to smoke at a restaurant, bar, strip club, or casino, open your own. If you can't, stay home.

    And if you are a nonsmoker, you do not have a right to a smoke-free environment in my house or in my place of business. If you want a smoke-free restaurant, bar, strip club, or casino, then open up your own darn place. If you can't, then stay home.

    When people drop their arrogant and self-righteous attitude and realize that it is not a right to work for somebody else or that it is not a right to enter into somebody else's establishment, and when people learn the difference between the words "public" and "private," then maybe the incredible waste of time and taxpayer dollars that go toward smoking legislation will stop. Maybe then the government will stop interfering with property rights and start protecting them.

    Not that this argument carries any weight with politicians. Unfortunately, it suffers from two fatal flaws: it is rational, which is known to cause allergic reactions in politicians, and it assumes that "property rights" are actually recognized and respected by the government.

    posted by Beck at 11:45 AM

    Fossilized perspective

    Along the San Francisco waterfront, looking at Cupid's bow:


    (A shame to be leaving, just as I was returning.)

    posted by Eric at 12:04 AM | Comments (3)

    Undefined Meta

    Indisputably, I disagree.

    Your mileage may vary.
    You're mile age May very.
    You are millage Mayberry.

    Obviously you (as defined by the relevant, irrelevant, irrefutable, and irredeemable authorities, entities, and establishments) lack perspective.

    The alternative is inconceivable. In other words, you cannot divide by zero, but only because of personal problems. Work it out for yourself.

    Update: Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.
    --Philip K. Dick

    posted by Beck at 02:14 AM | Comments (4)

    Inside of the outside world perspective

    As the lack of spare time on this trip is unlike anything I've seen, this is the first opportunity I've had to get on line. I'm sitting here at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center in Pasadena, on a lovely Spring day. More time on the road than in Berkeley, last night in Los Angeles, and the night before in San Luis Obispo. Pictures will have to wait as I don't have the camera cord with me. The battery in this laptop is only good for an hour or so.

    I can't remember the last time I had so little idea what's going on in the blogosphere or the "outside world," and while it wasn't my intention to take a break from blogging, I probably needed one, as I have no sense of proportion once I get started. Many a day has been spent entirely online glued in front of the screen. And didn't I just used the expression "outside world" to describe that process? Maybe I'm now in the outside world.

    Well, some world or another . . . I can't have all of them at the same time.

    I guess because I am trying to check in with the blog means the blog must be the inside world, not the outside world.


    I'd hate to think perspective was relative, because people are always telling me I need it!

    No time to worry about existential crises, though. I should be back to "normal" by this weekend . . .

    ONE LAST THING: I know I said photos would have to wait, but as it happens, this place has a live web cam, and I just downloaded this image.


    I'm sitting on the upstairs porch overlooking the pool. No idea whather I'm visible in the web cam photo, but I'm definitely there (wearing a dark blue polo shirt.)

    Looking closely, I really can't see myself. I am in the left hand section of the upper porch to the left of the circular medallion above.

    Oh well. It's the best I can do without a camera! (Obviously, the outside world is looking in.)

    posted by Eric at 04:27 PM | Comments (4)

    Mark Your Calendars
    The Symbolic Systems Program is pleased to host the Singularity Summit at Stanford University, a rare gathering of thinkers to explore the rising impact of science and technology on society. The summit has been organized to further the understanding of a controversial idea – the singularity scenario.

    This looks too good to miss. Pity I live so far from it.

    Just check out their scheduled speakers...

    They're going to have Douglas Hofstadter! There was a time when half the people I knew were trying to read Gödel, Escher, Bach. It was the Guns, Germs, and Steel of its day, albeit denser and chewier.

    Some of the other speakers don't look too shabby either. I've always enjoyed Christine Peterson's work, enough to use excerpts from it here at Classical Values. Or what about Sebastian Thrun, the roboticist? Oh yeah, and Ray Kurzweil will be there too. Should you decide to go, you could decide for yourself whether he's a gifted visionary or whatever.

    The date? May 13th. The place? Memorial Auditorium, Stanford University. The admission fee? None. It's free, free, free (Opportunity costs not included).

    All you need do is make a reservation.

    posted by Justin at 02:34 PM | Comments (1)

    A Desultory Swipe

    In 1970, Paul Ehrlich said this...

    I'm scared. I have a 14 year old daughter whom I love very much. I know a lot of young people, and their world is being destroyed. My world is being destroyed. I'm 37 and I'd kind of like to live to be 67 in a reasonably pleasant world, and not die in some kind of holocaust in the next decade.

    And so he did. But while doing so, back in 1974 he said this...

    There are, indeed, "hard times a-coming." Even if there is no final boom and bust, the economic world of the near future will be a very different place from that of today...

    The vast diversity of businesses that manufacture and distribute the goods of our "cowboy" economy will have largely disappeared.

    Most of the Japanese firms that today shower us with electronic gadgets will have gone defunct as Japan's situation deteriorates, and the higher costs of necessities will have so reduced demand for television sets, radios, tape decks, and the like that few new firms will have entered the market.

    Similarly, a wide array of non-essentials, from convenience foods to recreational vehicles, will have largely vanished...

    Probably before 1985, a general recognition of the changed economic status of the nation will lead to a stock-market collapse even more severe than the one that preceded the onset of the depression of the 1930s....it is very likely that before the end of the century the stock market, as we know it, will disappear as a factor in the lives of individuals...

    The most unnecessary, wasteful, and antisocial activities-such as the packaging and bottling industries, some kinds of weapons, aircraft, cheap plastic products, etc.-are likely to be eliminated either in a conventional depression or the real energy crunch.

    In 1980, Jeremy Rifkin said this...

    Because of escalating energy and resource costs, industry will reverse its historical trend and convert back from energy- and capital-intensive production modes to labor-intensive ones...

    Agriculture, which will no longer be able to continue its mechanized farming techniques, will also become far more labor intensive...

    The production that does continue should take place within certain guidelines in keeping with the low-entropy paradigm...Of course, adhering to these guidelines will necessarily mean that certain items will become impossible to produce.

    A Boeing 747, for instance, simply cannot be manufactured by a small company employing several hundred individuals...if it cannot be made locally by the community...then it is most likely unnecessary that it be produced at all.

    My mom once knit me an MRI machine. But it didn't work so good...

    Many industries will not be able to withstand the transition to a low energy flow. Unable to adapt to the new economic environment, the automotive, aerospace, petrochemical, and other industries will slide into extinction.

    In 2005, James Kunstler said this...

    America today has a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of...if we don't refurbish our rail system, then there may be no long-range travel or transport of goods at all a few decades from now. The commercial aviation industry, already on its knees financially, is likely to vanish.

    And predicted the following tribulations...

    famine; war; epidemics of deadly disease; governments releasing viruses into their own populations to cull the weak...a return to local, even pre-industrial, economies; and...Asian pirates plundering California...

    William Stanton agreed with him...

    ...the vast majority of the general public assumes that what the future holds is “more of the same”. They argue...that the expertise inherited by post-fossil-fuel scientists and engineers will allow a smooth transition into a new kind of energy-rich world...

    Such a view is untenable...almost all materials essential to modern civilization will be orders of magnitude more costly, and scarce, when they have to be produced using renewable energy...

    In 2150, for example, a wind turbine constructed of steel, concrete and plastic may not be able to generate, during its lifetime, as much renewable energy as would have been used up in creating it...

    Vast engineering projects such as constructing the first Airbus A380 airliner, using only renewable energy from start to finish, would be unthinkable (to say nothing of flying the plane without oil!).

    Nobody likes airplanes anymore. But don't abandon hope just yet.

    It's now possible to convert coal into jet fuel. Now, how about that...

    A synthetic jet fuel comparable to Jet A or military JP 8, but derived from at least 50% bituminous coal, has successfully powered a helicopter jet engine, according to a Penn State fuel scientist.

    The fuel has superior resistance to decomposition at high temperature, and it designed to be stable at 480°C or 900°F (hence the designation JP-900). Penn State originally began the research in the search for a very thermally stable fuel for the next generation of high-performance aircraft...

    "Because the fuel is 50% derived from coal, it could reduce our use of imported petroleum for this purpose by half. We have shown in tests that the mix can go to at least 75% coal."

    Harold Schobert, Penn State professor of fuel science and director of the Energy Institute

    The process can be carried out in existing refineries with some retrofitting and small amounts of the leftover components will feed into various portions of the petroleum stream. The lighter portions will go to the pool of chemicals that make gasoline and the heavier ones go to the diesel or fuel oil streams.

    Combustion tests showed that JP 900 meets or exceeds almost all specification for JP8 and Jet A...

    The coal-based fuel is lower in aromatics—such compounds as benzene and toluene—than conventional jet fuels and is almost sulfur free. From an energy point of view, JP 900 produces almost exactly the same BTU as JP8.

    Not only does JP 900 meet most of the specification for JP8, but it also has the high flash point required of JP5, naval jet fuel and the thermal stability of JP 7, a high performance fuel.

    We're saved! If there's one thing this country has got plenty of, it's coal. Boy, are those Asian pirates going to be surprised.

    Death from above! Unleash the Raptors!

    posted by Justin at 12:19 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Follow-Up to Comedy Central's South Park Censorship

    I contacted Comedy Central about their decision to censor South Park through their website. While I don't have enough time right now to provide any real commentary or analysis, I thought I'd at least share what I sent to them, and the response I received.

    First, here is what I sent to Comedy Central:

    I'm extremely disappointed that you caved to the very tactics
    which the recent South Park episode so bravely and astutely railed
    against by censoring out the image of Mohammed. You were presented with
    a chance to do something extremely principled and to defend the very
    freedoms of expression which make so much of Comedy Central's
    programming viable. I don't think it would be unfair to say that less
    than 10% of your programming would be acceptable to the very extremists
    you caved to. Small concessions today cannot help but lead to far more
    substantial ramifications in the future. As the episode itself points
    out, every interest group on the planet will now b encouraged to attempt
    to pressure you to self censor anything which they find offensive. I am
    extremely disappointed and discouraged by the cowardly decision made by
    Comedy Central.
    Here is their response, presented without commentary.
    Dear Viewer,

    Thank you for your correspondence regarding the "South Park" episodes
    entitled "Cartoon Wars." We appreciate your concerns about censorship
    and the destructive influence of outside groups on the media,
    entertainment industry and particularly Comedy Central.

    To reiterate, as satirists, we believe that it is our First Amendment
    right to poke fun at any and all people, groups, organizations and
    religions and we will continue to defend that right. Our goal is to
    make people laugh and perhaps, if we're lucky, even make them think in
    the process.

    Comedy Central's belief in the First Amendment has not wavered, despite
    our decision not to air an image of Muhammad. Our decision was made not
    to mute the voices of Trey and Matt or because we value one religion
    over any other. This decision was based solely on concern for public
    safety in light of recent world events.

    With the power of freedom of speech and expression also comes the
    obligation to use that power in a responsible way. Much as we wish it
    weren't the case, times have changed and, as witnessed by the intense
    and deadly reaction to the publication of the Danish cartoons, decisions
    cannot be made in a vacuum without considering what impact they may have
    on innocent individuals around the globe.

    It was with this in mind we decided not to air the image of Muhammad, a
    decision similar to that made by virtually every single media outlet
    across the country earlier this year when they each determined that it
    was not prudent or in the interest of safety to reproduce the
    controversial Danish cartoons. Injuries occurred and lives were lost in
    the riots set off by the original publication of these cartoons. The
    American media made a decision then, as we did now, not to put the
    safety and well being of the public at risk, here or abroad.

    As a viewer of "South Park," you know that over the course of ten
    seasons and almost 150 episodes the series has addressed all types of
    sensitive, hot-button issues, religious and political, and has done so
    with Comedy Central's full support in every instance, including this
    one. "Cartoon Wars" contained a very important message, one that Trey
    and Matt felt strongly about, as did we at the network, which is why we
    gave them carte blanche in every facet but one: we would not broadcast a
    portrayal of Muhammad.

    In that regard, did we censor the show? Yes, we did. But if you hold
    Comedy Central's 15-year track record up against any other network out
    there, you'll find that we afford our talent the most creative freedom
    and provide a nurturing atmosphere that challenges them to be bold and
    daring and places them in a position to constantly break barriers and
    push the envelope. The result has been some of the most provocative
    television ever produced.

    We would like nothing more than to be able to look back at this in a few
    years and think that perhaps we overreacted. Unfortunately, to have
    made a different decision and to look back and see that we completely
    underestimated the damage that resulted was a risk we were not willing
    to take.

    Our pledge to you, our loyal viewers, is that Comedy Central will
    continue to produce and provide the best comedy available and we will
    continue to push it right to the edge, using and defending the First
    Amendment in the most responsible way we know how.

    Comedy Central Viewer Services

    Tell you what, since I don't have the time to give Comedy Central's response the criticism and analysis it deserves, I'll provide you, the reader, with a challenge: pick apart Comedy Central's email yourself in the comments. Now get to it!

    posted by Beck at 02:40 PM | Comments (23)

    Connecting barely

    Here's some computer annoyance news for geeks. I decided to purchase some pay-as-you-go dialup time, only to discover that I was unable to connect with my cheap PCI modem, or with my better USR Sportster external modem. The external would give me a "no dial tone" while the internal would get me online, then abruptly stop as soon as a connection was established. The "sent" and "received" lights would be off, and the numbers would never go above 300. So I bought a new PCI modem, and the same thing happened. Connection, then nothing. Finally it occurred to me that there might be a conflict with the motherboard's online NIC card (which I don't need anyway), so I went into the BIOS, disabled it, and now everything's working.

    Which means I don't have to drive myself crazy and go blind using the hapless laptop which can't charge the battery anymore. (It was a good laptop, but the motherboard's connection to the charger plug died, and only way to use it is to take the battery out and charge it on a charger, which is a major pain, because I can't use the laptop while the battery is charging.)

    This Bamnet temporary connection is much faster than the laptop's aircard, and I think I can recommend it for travelers.

    But nothing beats the fast DSL connection at home. I wish they'd sell temporary DSL or cable!

    (One of these days, technology will catch up ordinary human needs.)

    posted by Eric at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

    Hurried (and wet) Easter Greetings from Berkeley!

    I'm glad to be back in Berkeley, but I have had zero time for blogging. I've only been online twice in the past three days to check email. Now that I have a few minutes, precious time is wasted with the incredibly slow connection speeds which always plague me on the road. (If only there were some way to buy fast Internet on a temporary basis....)

    But I uploaded a couple of pictures of my favorite park, which is still there.



    That was on Friday.

    Today is Easter, and it is raining ferociously. A hell of thing for anyone expected to rise and shine.

    But Happy Easter to all!

    posted by Eric at 08:10 AM | Comments (4)

    For lack of original content, links were posted

    When two bloggers of ill repute both spontaneously decide to post on the subject of Thomas Jefferson, I take notice. Why, you ask? That's just what I do.

    Ace (not his real name), posting at, get this, Ace of Spades HQ (not a real HQ), has a few comments related to a memorable quote of Jefferson's.

    The quote:

    I have sworn on the honor of God, eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

    The comments:

    I had no desire to gratuitously insult Islam until I was instructed by its clerics/mob bosses that I must not do so, on pain of death. Now I am compelled to.

    The New Caliphate begins first in the minds of those they would conquer, and I think a lot of us are allowing them to colonize our minds by imposing foreign laws over our beliefs and words.

    Next up, blogger Dorkafork (actually his real name), posting at INDC Journal (an actual journal), has a less succinct, yet more entertaining, message straight from Jefferson himself.
    A sample:

    Look, much as I would like all Americans to defend freedom, in certain situations it is perfectly understandable for Americans to not risk their necks for it. Not everyone can show that much courage. It is true that I risked all of my property and my life in the Revolutionary War, when we fought one of the most powerful empires in existence. But look at what employees of Comedy Central could face. They could receive a nasty e-mail. Or worse, people in third world countries on the other side of the Earth could burn down an embassy.
    And what is it that inspires multiple simultaneous Jefferson references?

    South Park on Comedy Central. Naturally.

    Now if you'll pardon me, I need to run off and resupply my stock of commas.

    posted by Beck at 01:45 PM | Comments (1)

    On the road

    I'll be traveling today, and for the next week I'll be busy and on the road -- which means blogging will be spotty. This isn't a vacation from blogging, but I won't be able to write posts in my usual manner. (In fact, I'll be lucky if I manage to sneak in just a few quickie posts.) If I'm lucky, Dennis and Justin will fill in. (Maybe even John Beck, if he's recovered from the last time . . .)

    Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all!

    posted by Eric at 01:04 PM

    Buttf-cking gun rights with "batfags"?

    Attention gay readers, and gun nuts!

    I just heard about a new term -- "batfags" (already at 651 Google hits) -- which is being used as a slur against the notorious BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Enforcement) agency.

    Here's a libertarian blogger using the term in its typical manner.

    I wonder what my blogfather (and the blogosphere's leading gay gun nut, Jeff Soyer) thinks about the term . . .

    Actually, I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I don't mind insulting the BATF, and if referring to them as "fags" insults them, well fine. And I also hate the politically correct crowd which would tell people what language to use, and what to call people. However, what is pejorative language, and where is the line drawn between this and politically correct thought police, language enforcement?

    I'm wondering whether this is just an attempt at humor, or whether there might be an intention to create -- or further -- a division between homosexuals and Second Amendment supporters. (Not that there is one in terms of logic, but people have a wont to think in emotional and stereotypical terms.)

    So, much as I support the right to deprecate the BATFE with the "batfag" expression, I have a question for the people doing it: would tacking pejorative words like "niggers" or "kikes" onto another unpopular federal law enforcement agency be seen as equally acceptable?

    If not, why not?

    I realize this sounds sarcastic, but I'm honestly trying to be logical. (If only the two didn't so often seem synonymous.)

    Obviously, this is all just an exercise in name calling.

    But who is being called names?

    And why?

    posted by Eric at 10:49 AM | Comments (5)

    Old Gray Lady for Hire

    Tim Spalding, a prolific web presence who has helped to make a lot of material related to classical literature and history available on the web (and much more), runs one of my favorite sites on the internet, LibraryThing. It's a great site for cataloguing and keeping track of your books (I have over a thousand, and I'm nowhere near the top). It's fun, useful, affordable (free up to 200 books, $25 unlimited for life), it's easy to use, connected to the Library of Congress and dozens of major libraries around the world. There's also a great community of users.

    Now why would I post this free advertisement?

    Because Tim has recently voiced his frustration over lack of media coverage at his LibraryThing blog.

    The issue is deeper than simply a lack of coverage. It touches upon a fundamental problem with the way news is created. Tim was spurred on this time (he's seen it before) by a glowing story in the New York Times of a site which functions similarly (swapping rather than cataloguing) but that has had no real success:

    It seems so terribly unfair. Press should follow success, not create it. LibraryThing's traffic currently outranks booksellers Biblio and Booksense, all trading sites except Peerflix (eg., PaperbackSwap, Lendmonkey, FrugalReader, Bookins, SwapandSave, etc.), Amazon's AllConsuming, the much-heralded Basecamp.com, and on and on. And yet LibraryThing's press coverage has been largely restricted to The Christian Science Monitor's electronic edition and a piece in my home-town paper. Everything has been on word-of-mouth alone.

    I know. The answer is to get funding and to hire a PR firm. Forgive me for being idealistic, but it shouldn't have to be that way.

    While some may see this as sour grapes, check the chart on Tim's post, and consider how often pre-packaged PR is passed off as news (slick video productions on the local news broadcast, press releases with a verb tense altered here and there in the local paper).

    I understand his frustration, and I honestly enjoy his product, but most importantly I think he's right about the way media hype works.

    I guess we can always have recourse to 'new media' hype.

    posted by Dennis at 10:18 AM | Comments (2)

    "We don't need your stinking freedom!"

    I know that smoking doesn't have much to do with immigration, but that last post reminded me that in Mexico, they don't much care about things like banning smoking. People smoke in public places like bars and restaurants, and if you don't like it, just go away. (A little like avoiding walking into holes in the sidewalk. No one gives a rat's ass if you fall in and die, because the philosophy is that you should have been more careful.)

    But let me play the Devil's Advocate here. While the right to smoke is only a minor component of freedom (and I don't think Mexicans particularly care about it to allow it to deter themn from coming here), it occurred to me that I may have overlooked an upside to the continued passing of laws restricting American freedom. Not as many people will want to move here, and that'll be at least a partial solution to our immigration woes.

    Make the United States less attractive, and people will stay home!

    As strategy, it sounds simple enough. I know the devil is always in the details, but it seems to me that as a general rule, the less freedom we have, the less likely the U.S. will be seen as such a great place. As it is, the United States has an unfortunate reputation worldwide for its legendarily copious amounts of freedom.

    Clearly, Americans are much too obsessed with freedom and have too much of it. Shouldn't it be obvious to everyone that our excess of freedom is a major reason why all these people are pouring across the borders?

    The remedy should be equally obvious. And I don't mean closing the border, for that would do nothing to solve the primary problem.

    American freedom is attractive, but it's an attractive nuisance. And if history shows anything, it's that there's nothing permanent about attractiveness. (At least, it need not be a permanent condition.)

    So let's get to work!

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

    a childish state?

    Good news, from New Jersey? Is such a thing possible?

    Well, in a twisted sort of way (the way I like to look at the news), it is. New Jersey is one of those places where the democratic process is polluted by people who have a penchant for voting to get rid of their own rights, and the state makes me very nervous. Anyway, the state government (elected, of course, by these same voters) recently decided to ban smoking nearly everywhere. But stupidly, they exempted casinos and not restaurants.

    This means that my hero today is the New Jersey Restaurant Association! Who'd have ever known I could fall in love with a powerful lobby, but I have, because they've sued the state, and asked a court to overturn the smoking ban as unconstitutional. Much to my delight, the Bloomberg writeup mentions my favorite New Jersey restaurant, Lorenzo's:

    April 13 (Bloomberg) -- An anti-smoking law that New Jersey starts enforcing Saturday is causing tempers to rise at Lorenzo's, a Trenton landmark where politicians and the well- connected gather for cigars and steaks.

    A party of men stormed out last month after owner Armando Frallicciardi Jr. asked patrons to refrain from smoking on Friday and Saturday nights in anticipation of the new law.

    ``You're dealing with a lot of egos,'' says Frallicciardi, an occasional cigar smoker who says the ban will cost his 84-year- old restaurant $36,000 in annual revenue. ``Cigars are associated with power, and we've been a place where the powerful have gathered for years.''

    The New Jersey Restaurant Association, which represents about 1,200 owners of the state's 23,000 eating and drinking establishments, was part of a group that last month sued to overturn the ban. They argue that the state put them at a competitive disadvantage by exempting Atlantic City casinos from the law signed by former Governor Richard Codey in January.

    The lawsuit calls for an immediate injunction that would prevent the ban from going into effect April 15. A hearing on the request is scheduled for today in U.S. District Court in Trenton.

    I hope they win. I hate bureaucrats and I hate laws restricting business owners. If you don't like smoke-filled places like Lorenzo's (which I love even though I'm a non-smoker), you can go elsewhere.

    The problem is, non-smokers now outnumber smokers, and all too often people who don't do something are happy to get rid of their right to do what they don't do.

    I'm not. Just because I don't smoke does not mean I want to lose the right to smoke, any more than I'd want to lose any other right I fail exercise. The people behind the smoking ban won't stop there, either. The next target is the home, and (as I've pointed out before; hey, so has Dennis!) the Achilles heel is "the children." The latter must always be saved. From evil or something; don't ask me what, because I remember being a child, and it was anything but an innocent experience. (I can't remember an innocent child, but I'll never forget the lectures about how innocent they were.)

    Well, at least bars and casinos aren't frequented by children!

    Ah the good old days . . .


    Not that it's any of my business, but I'll stick my neck out here and venture that the kid above might be a bit too young to smoke. As a moral conservative, I'm inclined to go with H.L. Mencken:

    I never smoked a cigarette until I was nine.
    (Often attributed to W.C. Fields, who obviously had a similar view of personal morality.)

    posted by Eric at 08:48 AM | Comments (2)

    No video no peace!

    That's right! I said I had video, but my geekiness had never extended to the ability to stream Quicktime files until this afternoon, when I finally took the time to learn how.

    I don't know how many readers have Quicktime or how well this will work, but I have managed to edit and upload what I think are the two most interesting videos from Monday's Love Park immigration protest.

    The first one shows the two professional cheerleader types who were on the stage, leading the crowd in a chant of "NO JUSTICIA NO PAZ!"

    The slogan is Spanish for "NO JUSTICE NO PEACE!" -- a slogan often attributed to Al Sharpton, but which seems to have actually been invented in 1987 by deceased revolutionary leader Sonny Carson. It has since been adopted by various Marxists and Socialists, and I heard it screamed on many, many occasions when I served on the Berkeley Police Review Commission.

    Says one activist,

    Regarding message, “no justice, no peace,” is a sophisticated slogan, chanted by more than a few highly educated global justice and antiwar protesters (myself included) in recent years. It expresses an idealistic determination to disrupt the standard operating procedures of business as usual unless and until the social contract is honored by the powers that be. “The situation” is not “taken care of,” it insists, until fairness is established.
    What intrigues me is what on earth might have possessed a crowd of illegal aliens to come up with that slogan by themselves.

    The answer of course, is that they did not. The chanters are professionals.

    See for yourself.


    If the stream does not play, you can copy and paste (or try clicking) the following URL in your Quicktime browser:



    The guy on the right appears to be Cuban, but there's no way to know for sure.

    Later I got a nice video of the Korean drummers, who did a pretty good job.


    Again here's the URL:



    I'm not sure who coordinated the Korean drummers, but the fact that they were also present at the demonstrations in San Francisco, New York, and in an earlier demo in Costa Mesa, California means it was part of this national effort.

    The Korean drummers certainly get around; they've been at anti-WTO protests from Hong Kong to Cancun. Oh well, as the slogan and the album go, happiness is drumming! I just hope they're not drumming for socialism.

    There's more, but these two are the best.

    (Now I get to see whether this works.)

    UPDATE: Interesting. It displays and the controls work fine in Firefox, but not in Internet Explorer. Don't know why. (The URLs should work though.)

    MORE: Dennis comments that if you double click on the picture, the video will start, and he is right. Why the controls are only visible in Firefox (and why there's a big white band around the picture in IE) I don't know.

    AND MORE: If your computer is like mine and you're running IE, because I went to the trouble of embedding content, you'll likely get an annoying little "Click to run an Active X control on this web page" popup box. The reason is that Microsoft was sued for patent infringement by some company named Eolas which won a half a billion dollar judgment, and Microsoft wanted to stall paying. So they wrote a stupid workaround patch, which (as of last month) is being put into every Windows update.

    The upshot is that last month, and with very little fanfare, Microsoft started pushing out an update to Internet Explorer (IE6 on Windows XP SP2 as well as the forthcoming IE7) that doesn't infringe upon the Eolas patent. This update makes all pages that use EMBED and/or OBJECT code (read: any page that makes use of a plug-in/ActiveX object) require a click from the user to "activate" the content, after which it will work normally.

    Our computers are at war with their own innards.

    The result? They spray us with annoying digital diarrhea, like this:


    Thanks lawyers!

    AFTERTHOUGHT: My computer downloaded Microsoft's new "patch" in a so-called "security update" (a lie right there) after I had published this post. Which makes the title more clairvoyant than I imagined.

    UPDATE: Microsoft's bundling of litigation related non-security code in a "security update" has sparked a backlash.

    Well, there's always Firefox.

    AND MORE: This extreme annoyance is just starting to happen now, in millions of IE browsers all over the country!

    (I wouldn't want to be having to answer the telephones at Microsoft tomorrow...)

    MORE: The java script fix suggested here does not work as a correction, but I'm tired of screwing around, and I have to get ready for a trip. So I'm going to leave this alone for now and hope the Microsoft patch doesn't drive too many people crazy over night. Tomorrow, I plan to remove the embedded language, and interested people can download the videos in external players.

    UPDATE: The video object embeds are removed now. (My apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced.)

    posted by Eric at 02:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Bad logic opens the gateway to hell

    The stuff that passes for science these days is unbelievable.

    Here's a news report about a "study" which (so it is claimed) shows that violent video games make young men smoke marijuana!

    "Parents have been told the message that violent video games and violent media in general can influence the likelihood that their kids will be aggressive," Dr. Sonya S. Brady told Reuters Health. "What this study suggests is that they might increase any type of risk-taking behaviour."

    According to the report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, playing a violent game caused young men's blood pressure to increase, and appeared to have a greater effect on those that came from violent homes or communities. No matter what background each male had, the researchers found that playing a violent game made the young men in the study less cooperative and more competitive in completing tasks with another person.

    After playing one of the games, the males participating in the study were shown a scenario of a teacher telling his class that he suspects some students have cheated, but also that he is proud of those who did well. The teacher then asks a boy called Billy to stay behind after class so that he may speak with him. Participants were then asked to put themselves in Billy's position. When asked how likely it was that the teacher was going to accuse them of cheating, those participants who had been playing Grand Theft Auto were more likely think they would be accused.

    Wow. If that's science, I should apply for a government grant, because I think can prove that blogging can also raise blood pressure!

    Who knows, there might be an association between blogging and drinking. Or even pot-smoking!

    After I finished laughing out loud, I tried to find out more about the study's "conclusions":

    In the second report, Sonya S. Brady, a postdoctorate fellow in psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and a colleague tested the reaction of 100 college men, 18 to 21 years old, to two video games,Grand Theft Auto III or The Simpsons: Hit and Run.

    "When the men played the more violent video game, Grand Theft Auto, versus the less violent video game, The Simpsons: Hit and Run, they had greater increases in blood pressure, and those who played Grand Theft Auto had more negative emotions and hostile feelings," Brady said.

    In addition, those who played Grand Theft Auto had more permissive attitudes about alcohol and marijuana use, Brady said. "Video games cannot only influence aggression, but might also influence attitudes toward risk-taking behavior," she said.

    Elsewhere, the games are even called a "gateway drug!"
    New research conducted by Dr. Sonya Brady at the University of California, San Francisco and Professor Karen Matthews at the University of Pittsburgh, recently published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (April 2006), suggests that violent video games can be gateway drugs of sorts in that they can lead to "permissive attitudes toward violence, alcohol use, marijuana use, and sexual activity without condom use."
    At the risk of being redundant, CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION!!

    (The logical error is called post hoc ergo propter hoc.)

    Here's my ironclad scientific conclusion: the more I'm exposed to bad logic, the higher my blood pressure is raised, the more negative and hostile my feelings become, and the more permissive my attitudes about alcohol and marijuana use (to say nothing of heroin use) become!

    I suspect that this is a gateway which forces me to write blog posts, which are truly the gateway to utter ruin.

    Clearly, more studies are needed.

    So where's my gummint grant?

    posted by Eric at 11:32 AM | Comments (6)

    Blog post becomes a whale of a news story

    A few days ago, blogger Stefan Sharkansky noticed a major glitch in an online election which allowed people to vote for their favorites design for what would become Washington's State Quarter:

    Unfortunately, like all other Washington elections, this one is on the honor system and appears to be hijacked by those who do not follow the rules. Mrs. Gregoire's instructions say "Please only vote one time per person". But the system appears to allow people to vote as many times as they want to, or even run scripts that automatically vote repeatedly.
    Nice work!

    And now, Stefan's investigative blog journalism turned into such a big news story that I learned about it from my local CBS news site:

    Robotic computer programs stuffed the online ballot boxes in a contest for Washington's official state quarter design, forcing technicians to suspend voting.

    State officials overseeing the balloting realized something was fishy when the contest, launched last Thursday, swelled to more than 1 million votes over the weekend. They stopped Web-based voting Monday so technicians could retool it.

    The opinion poll reappeared Tuesday afternoon, but the earlier results and an up-to-the-minute vote tally were abandoned. Computer users attempting to cast a second vote were greeted with a message thanking them for their earlier participation.


    Stefan Sharkansky, a computer software consultant and conservative blogger, noted the online vote's susceptibility Sunday after getting tips from readers.

    The three quarter designs featured on the Web site are finalists to grace the back of Washington's official quarter, which the U.S. Mint expects to release next March.

    While I think KYW should have given Stefan a link at their web site, at least they acknowledged his role.

    For his part, Stefan remains modest, giving credit to a commenter:

    As I told Woodward, the real credit for discovering that the poll was being played goes to Jeff Boly, who reported this in the open comment thread on Saturday afternoon.
    What about the design? There seem to be three choices, one of which seems a bit silly:

    design1_poll.JPG design2_poll.JPG design3_poll.JPG

    What attracted Stefan's attention also attracted mine: the kookiest design -- a whale that looks for the world like a goofy airplane but is described as "A stylized American Indian-style drawing of a playful killer whale, spouting water and raising its tail flukes" -- was winning! As Stefan noted, the vote numbers were "increasing by more than 20 per second, strongly suggesting that one or more robots are stacking the vote."

    Robots stacking the vote for whales that look like goofy airplanes? What kind of democracy is that?

    Who would have such an interest in corrupting an online quarter election? I think we need to ask who benefits the most from a goofy coin design.

    Numismatists, perhaps? If the coin turned out to be a laughingstock, it might not see as much circulation, and might even be recalled.

    A quarter for your thoughts.

    posted by Eric at 09:36 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBacks (1)

    The "Republican base" was against Bush before they were for him!

    Recent events bring to mind a famous political maxim,

    "Never interfere with your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself."

    While I've often seen the quote attributed to Machiavelli, Sissy Willis (in a comment here) traced it to Napoleon, who first said it in war:

    never move when your enemy is destroying himself.
    (I'm sure similar thoughts were uttered by Machiavelli, though.)

    This is from the MSN biography of Lyndon B. Johnson:

    In retrospect, it seems clear that the election of Johnson over Goldwater was almost unavoidable. Even so, Johnson made heroic efforts to win by as wide a margin as possible. Leading Republicans were courted and some of them won over. By the end of the campaign only four major newspapers, the Chicago Tribune, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Los Angeles Times, and the Oakland Tribune supported Goldwater. Senator Humphrey’s whirlwind campaign portrayed Goldwater as an enemy of social legislation and as a trigger-happy militarist. Humphrey emphasized Goldwater’s votes against the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Johnson, meanwhile, campaigned as “President of All the People.” As the journalist Theodore White put it, “Never were Republicans denounced as such; the opposition was involved in its own civil war, and the president obeyed Napoleon’s maxim: ‘Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.’”

    The result was an enormous landslide.

    In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, political analyst Dick Polman is not interfering:
    If the Republicans had cracked down too much on illegal immigrants - as suggested by the House GOP - then they would have risked alienating the fastest-growing electorate in American politics, one that Karl Rove has been coveting for years. Illegal immigrants can't vote, of course, but legal Hispanic voters have already demonstrated, most notably in California, that they view GOP attacks on illegal immigrants as a blanket insult on their ethnicity.

    Yet if the Senate Republicans had managed to pass a program that would have paved a road to citizenship, they would have risked infuriating their core conservative followers - who have been agitating for the GOP to show some guts on border enforcement. In terms of short-term politics, it's probably just as well that the Senate's compromise bill collapsed Friday, because any plan that looks remotely like "amnesty" would be an invitation for the GOP conservative base to boycott the 2006 congressional elections.

    In other words, Republicans risked alienating either the voters they want to have in the future, or the voters they have right now. Hence their paralysis.

    But the problem now is that, by doing nothing, they risk alienating both groups.

    It's a sound political analysis, and I think it's very wise of Polman (a Democrat) not to offer advice to Democrats. (It's also nice of him not to gloat.)

    Far be it from me to offer advice to anyone. While I understand why some Republicans might see the need to run against an unpopular president, I do think it's a little unfair the way Bush is being pilloried for "betraying" his "base" on the immigration issue, because he's been entirely consistent all along. Whether you like it or not, there's nothing new about Bush's guest worker amnesty stuff.

    In conservative Republican circles, I've noticed that attacking the president from the right is usually considered a form of political orthodoxy, while attacking him from from the left is heresy, and will lead to an immediate accusation of RINO! Which means that if I defended the president's position on immigration, I'd probably be called a RINO.

    (Don't worry; I'm a RINO, but I disagree with amnesty idea. I think the present do-nothing system -- bad as it is -- remains better than legalizing people who came here illegally.)

    When the "Reconquista" meme insinuated itself into those demonstrations a few weeks ago, the Republicans almost had an opportunity to do nothing, but either the Democrats or the demonstrators were too smart, and the crass anti-Americanism was toned down.

    Both parties contributed to this problem, though. It's only because the Republicans are in power that they're stuck holding the bag.

    It's a classic no-win. And now that Newt Gingrich has made opposition to the Iraq war a viable option for Republican candidates, candidates from both parties will be able to run against lame-duck Bush.

    If I were a Democrat, I wouldn't interfere.

    UPDATE: According to this story, the Republican leadership is running away from most of the immigration proposals.

    Not that I blame them for running away. They are in a no-win.

    (But because they're the minority party, the Democrats are in a no-lose.)

    posted by Eric at 07:20 AM | TrackBacks (1)

    Ich bin ein moderate Muslim!

    In a great post called "Where Are the Muslim Moderates?," Cliff May describes the mechanism of Stalin's rule by fear:

    In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev addressed a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. For nearly four hours, he spoke about the unspeakable: the crimes of his predecessor, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

    Though listeners were warned not to reveal what was said, and the speech would not be published for 32 years, word leaked out. The most widely told story, probably apocryphal, had it that as Khrushchev was detailing the mass arrests, torture and executions carried out within the Gulag, someone in the audience shouted: "And what were you doing then?"

    "Who said that?" Khrushchev demanded. No one made a sound. "I want to know who said that!" he repeated, slamming a fist on the lectern. The audience was silent, trembling in fear. "That's right," Khrushchev said finally. "That's exactly what I was doing."

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I think that in the pre-blogosphere days, silence is what a lot of bloggers were doing. One of my theories is that blogging tends to attract shy people who are highly opinionated, but who were for various reasons intimidated into silence. I suspect that many of them will say stuff in writing that they might hesitate to say to someone's face.

    Sissy Willis reminded me of the Khruschchev silence in a comment yesterday, which linked to a post about fear societies:

    Fear societies are inevitably composed of three separate groups: True believers, dissidents and doublethinkers. True believers are those who believe in the ideology of the regime. Dissidents are those who disagree with that ideology and are prepared to say so openly. Doublethinkers are those who disagree with the ideology but who are scared to openly confront the regime. (Quoting Natan Sharansky.)
    Expanding on a post by David Kaspar's Medienkritik, Sissy identifies an additional group:
    ....those members of academia who go along with politically correct groupthink they may not agree with in order to protect their careers. Call it "Fear Society Lite." Sharansky's "mechanics of tyranny that sustain such a society" are at work in those lofty intellectual bubbles just as surely as they were in the old Soviet Union and are today in the Arab tyrannies. A repressive society is a repressive society, wherever it may fall on a continuum of brutality and thought control.
    What I think is the most important aspect of the blogosphere is that it destroys this mechanism. There is no requirement that any blogger be openly confrontative or engage in confrontation, and most importantly, there is no practical way to tyrannize bloggers.

    Thanks to the blogosphere, moderate Muslims in many countries (along with others similarly intimidated or shamed into silence) can now speak their peace without fear, because they can do so anonymously, and at any time.

    In the metaphorical sense, there's a little bit of moderate Muslim in all of us, and in fairness I'd have to include many of the courageous bloggers who'd never hesitate to say what they think online -- even in the most snarky manner possible. But at a work-related cocktail party, watch out! They're just as likely to stick to pleasantries and hide or change the subject when "uncomfortable" topics like politics or religion arise, or maybe just leave.

    Or like me, they'll never again attend political meetings where they might be insulted or shouted down (or simply worn out by windbag, keep-the-meeting-going-all-night strategies). I had enough of that stuff, and it's one of the reasons I blog. Sure, people can shout at me here, but I can't actually hear them, and I don't have to pay attention. It's all in writing. Plus, I'm not a big enough blogger to receive the thousands of hate emails that big bloggers inevitably get if they're doing their job. If the comments ever got really bad, I could turn them off, I suppose. But no matter how bad it might get, it it could never be the same as being shouted at and threatened in person. It's a major loophole, and I see no way those who specialize in intimidation can close it. (Well, a laughably lame attempt was made in New Jersey, but that doesn't really count.)

    The thing is, even if I were a complete coward (or someone with touchy employment issues), I could say exactly the same things in an anonymous blog, and there'd be no way for anyone to do anything.

    Of course, there's always the possibility of someone bringing up a blogger's blog in a social or public setting. That's another issue -- but if you're lucky enough to have someone find your blog and ask you about it, why, that's more of an honor, than it is intimidating. (And their reasons for searching it out and reading it are a more worthy topic than the blog itself.)

    Add to this the power-in-numbers phenomenon, and the days of traditional techniques of intimidation are numbered. That's because any attempt at intimidation will immediately be widely reported, and, as an attack on one becomes an attack on all, suddenly the attacker will not be a bully facing one lone victim, but hundreds, maybe thousands of victims -- all turning the tables and defending themselves at once. It would be as if a mugger selected a victim in a crowded city and everyone suddenly leaped into action to help.

    To add insult to the bully's injury, a documented attack on a blogger tends to produce what every blogger wants: hits and traffic.

    Thus, the bully who tries to intimidate a blogger ends up helping the very thing he intended to harm!

    No wonder fear societies hate bloggers. It just isn't fair, being afraid of the people who are supposed to fear you!

    posted by Eric at 03:14 PM | Comments (5)

    High Cost Surrender?

    What the hell is going on?

    Newt Gingrich attacks the war in Iraq, while Hillary Clinton attacks the American Dream??

    I hope this debate isn't intended to shape our "choices." But Newt and Hillary are philosophical leaders of their respective parties as well as historical opponents.

    When voters face two choices, they usually end up with a mix of both. What that means is that regardless of who wins the elections, we'll probably see a pullout from Iraq plus higher taxes.

    MORE: Oh, now I get it! Gingrich represents the Titanic.

    (So what does Hillary represent? The iceberg?)

    posted by Eric at 11:41 AM

    Love Park update

    The Love Park immigration demonstration I posted about yesterday was reported in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Philadelphia Managing Director Pedro Ramos told the crowd: "This is a city that welcomes immigrants. This is a city that appreciates immigrants. This community is much better, much stronger, with all of us in it."

    Yesterday's demonstrations followed a weekend of rallies in 10 states, intended to send a message to Congress about pending changes to immigration laws.

    Immigrants were brought together by a bill in Congress that would crack down on those in the country illegally, along with their employers and groups that help them, as well as authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the Mexican border.

    Those among the estimated 7,000 at the Philadelphia rally largely focused on their fear of and distaste for a Republican-backed bill in the House of Representatives that they said runs against the fiber of a nation built by immigrants.

    I saw Ramos speak, but it was tough to hear him over the din (the presence two competing sound systems added to the confusion), but I suspect that like other cities, Philadelphia is placing itself on record as unwilling to enforce immigration laws. I don't know how accurate the crowd estimate is, as I had no way of counting the people in the crowd. Love Park is not that large. But according to the CentreDaily, the 7,000 figure is a police estimate "based on the size of the park and the density of the crowd, according to Capt. Benjamin Naish, a department spokesman."

    What's amazing to me is that if we assume the police estimate was right, Philadelphia's demo might have been larger than Los Angeles!

    Here's Mickey Kaus:

    today's Los Angeles pro-immigrant demonstration--scheduled for 5:00 in the evening--was shockingly small. It filled an interesection and a little park in the Olvera St. section. That's about it. Anybody who says there were more than 12,000 people there is full of it! I'd say 5,000-8,000. ... The organizers certainly cut down on the backlash potential.
    Via Glenn Reynolds, who also provides links to a demonstration held not far from Philadelphia -- in nearby Newark, Delaware:
    ...a bust attendance-wise. But I'm still glad I went. This event stood out as a sharp contrast to the more spectacular protests elsewhere in the country. No yelling, chanting or megaphones, and the attendees with were all uniformly nice and well-behaved. Their message, however misguided I feel it to be, was free of the communist/socialist/Che/anarchist garbage seen at other events.
    That's probably because the commies and socialists (mostly "Yanquis") were all in Philly.

    But in Kansas, leftist political causes seemed to be at the top of the agenda:

    ....keynote speaker for the event, attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, bashed the war in Iraq, the Bush adminstration's handling of hurricane Katrina and even brought up the Wilson/Libby/Plamegate during his 10 minute speech.
    Considering the ethical standards of the Mexican government, I don't think too many illegals are worrying about Wilson/Libby/Plamegate.

    What stood out the most for me yesterday (and what I see confirmed by most of the reports from other cities) is the contrast between the Hispanic demonstrators and their white supporters. I don't mean to put down the white people because of their race (and this necessarily involves generalization), but they're just not helping the cause of the people they claim to support. They strike me as mostly career activists -- loud, shrill, uncouth, and unreasonable.

    (The kind of people whose 2004 pre-election activities in New York were so helpful to Karl Rove. . .)

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, there's this from James Lileks:

    If you want to see the Democrats crack down on illegals, convince a million illegals to demonstrate on the Fourth of July with pictures of George Washington, playing Irving Berlin tunes in the Mexicali style.
    They didn't go quite that far yesterday. But far enough that the lefties who were there just couldn't tone it down, even though they were supposed to.

    posted by Eric at 10:23 AM | Comments (2)

    Yanqui leftists back to Berkeley!

    Acting on a tip that International A.N.S.W.E.R. might be sponsoring a bigtime commie demo in Philadelphia, I found the organizers' web site, which in turn directed me to the local web site which coordinated the Philadelphia demo, held today by this organization at Love Park.

    I'm sorry to disappoint anyone, but I don't have anything nearly as dramatic as the attack on this blogger which Glenn Reynolds reported earlier.

    There's not much to report from Philadelphia by way of smashed cameras, or violence of any kind. The demonstrators were polite, they tried to appear as pro-American as they could (many shouts of "Viva America!") and, but for a few obnoxiously amusing white demonstrators, the entire thing was so tame as to be very commendably boring.

    A few interesting (if not inflammatory) signs were there -- mostly waved by the same Socialist Workers Party/Revolutionary Workers Party types who always show up at demonstrations. I expected more of them, and I was a little disappointed, because I took the train all the way downtown for no other reason than to attend the demonstration.

    The huge majority of people in the crowd were Mexicans and various Central Americans, and they behaved politely and for the most part carried and waved American flags, along with signs with a favorite American quotation from the Declaration of Independence.

    Typical example:


    Much as I hate to sound biased, the fact is, my photographs today seem to favor white yanqui leftists, even though they were in the minority. Perhaps this is because I'm homesick for Berkeley; who knows?

    Anyway, here's a very Berkeley-looking older couple who don't think any human is illegal:


    Meanwhile, a young white guy is (apparently) making the assertion that only aliens from other planets should have to face the immigration authorities when crossing U.S. borders:


    This young woman is definitely down with Bush:


    Here are some zealous revolutionary workers who are, like, zealously working for revolution:


    On the other hand, the Socialist Workers Party party members are zealously working for socialism! (Note the Arabic! Very cool. And very international.)


    In all fairness, however, I don't think too many members of the crowd were into socialismo. They know it didn't work all that well in Mexico, and who knows? it may be a reason why so many of them came here.

    Here's one guy who doesn't seems to feel that socialismo is the best way to run the economia!


    Si! Muerte a socialismo!


    This was Love Park, so the biggest sign, of course was the famous LOVE sign, a famous Philadelphia icon which once made it onto a US stamp:


    The smallest signs were these "DRIVE OUT THE BUSH REGIME" stickers, but again, they were preferred by whites only, and I didn't see one such sticker on any Hispanic demonstrator:


    Here's a sign with which I must take issue, though:


    First of all, it should say "the only people who"! The only people that is just wrong wrong wrong. Everybody makes grammatical errors (I do it all the time, and it's inevitable in blogging), but on a huge sign? Tacky! And INMIGRANTS? What the hell is an "inmigrant"? There's no such word. Two errors -- one grammatical and one (arguably) spelling -- on the same sign! And that's before I even had time to think about the sign-writer's central thesis (whether the Native Americans who crossed the Bering Strait were immigrants). I know it sounds harsh, but I'd have to give that sign an "F" grade.

    The next sign asks an interesting but premature legal question, unless the sign holder is a felon for other reasons. But if so, why ask the crowd?


    The next woman is making what she obviously feels is a very profound political statement about Senator Sensenbrenner's name not sounding "native":


    As to flags, while the vast majority were U.S. flags, there was plenty of overlapping like this (which might be said to be proper if the intent is to demonstrate friendship between the two countries):


    There were also some lone Mexican flags flying, like this one, shown advancing in the direction of City Hall:


    I'm afraid the way the next one is displayed violates all sense of flag etiquette, and does not reflect well on today's cause:


    Where did they get the flags? The American flags were mostly plastic, and handed out free. Here's how they looked, ready for the asking (even if they are lying next to commie literature):


    But if you wanted a Mexican or Central American flag, you had to buy one from one of the several vendors who sold them out of shopping carts:


    And no, they did NOT sell either Danish or Israeli flags! If I'd had some time to plan this thing, I'd have brought one (probably a Danish flag), because they kept talking about how all countries were in the world together and we're all part of this equality thing, etc.

    Sheesh. The stuff I forget.

    As to the fate of the plastic American flags, I hope this wasn't typical, but I didn't have to look hard to find it. Just glanced inside a trashcan:


    Despite the hoopla, that flag looked so forlorn sitting there that I actually felt sorry for it, and I brought it home. Who knows what might explain such crass jingoism on my part?

    After the demo, it was back to the burbs:


    I have some video, but I don't know whether anyone would want to stream it. I think this is enough uploading for today.

    All in all, the demonstrators made their point in a civil manner. I wasn't influenced one way or another in my thinking, as I remain opposed to the Sensenbrenner bill, and for closing the border.

    (But I'm not trying to join any movement. Just showing up at a demo makes me want to drink.)

    UPDATE: Here's one I missed of another sign expressing a profoundly illogical sentiment:


    That sign reminds me of the inability (unwillingness is more likely) of leftists to understand the distinction between "native" and "immigrant." People who understand the ordinary meaning of words know that the former means someone who was born in a particular country, while the latter means someone who moved there. Leftists, however, believe that "native" means other than being born in a place, and they think it involves race. They think that the word "immigrant" denotes not the immigration of a living person, but the previous immigration of that person's ancestors, or his group. They like to say "we are all immigrants," (except, somehow Indians and Mexicans) when they should say "we are all descended from immigrants." It's their form of ancestry-based, who's-been-here-longer snobbishness. Thus, people who were born in this country who are white are all said to be "immigrants." But not Mexicans or Indians, who are said to be "native." The latter have superior "rights" based on their ancestry.

    The above woman's assertion that "the border crossed them" is rank nonsense. The current border between the United States and Mexico dates from 1848 and the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. No one is alive today who was even arguably "crossed" by the border. People who were born in the portion which had previously been part of Mexico became citizens here, and people to the South remained Mexican citizens. People alive today were born in one country or the other. Not one of them was "crossed."


    But would a rational discussion with the above woman be of any value?

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see general similarities between the demonstration held here and the ones in Rochester, New York, and Dallas.

    AND MORE: Also from Glenn's link, here's Hog Haven, reporting from the protest in DC:

    “We Are All Immigrants”? How can you be an immigrant if you are born here?
    They're wearing the U.S. flag down there, which is definitely a form of not getting it. (Great collection of photos too!)

    And reading Byron York's post, it appears that International A.N.S.W.E.R. deliberately laid low. Or appeared to.

    MORE: I'm with Glenn. Annex Mexico. A free economy is obviously what they need or they wouldn't come here -- and if yanquis don't want to do our own dirty work, and no one wants to be bothered with the border, instead of Reconquista, let's just reGadsdenize.

    UPDATE (03/11/06): Thank you kindly, Glenn Reynolds for the link and the nice remarks. Welcome all!

    (¡Y bienvenidos a los Estados Perdidos Mexicanos!)

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, John at Power Line reports that International A.N.S.W.E.R.'s signs outnumbered all the other signs and banners in New York:

    Look at the sea of yellow and black, International A.N.S.W.E.R. signs. They vastly outnumber all other signs and banners. They are the dominant visual image of the New York demonstration. It is inconceivable that the Times' reporters could have failed to note the prominent role played by A.N.S.W.E.R. in running the demonstration, or the dominant role played by that group in equipping the protesters with signs. Yet the organization's role was not acknowledged by the Times, or, to my knowledge, by any other newspaper. Why? The Times' reporters were obviously aware of A.N.S.W.E.R.'s prominent involvement, and thirty seconds' worth of research would have disclosed the fact that the group is an unabashedly Communist organization. It wouldn't have taken much more than that to learn that A.N.S.W.E.R.'s National Coordinator has said that illegal immigration can be the "catalyst for a broader class struggle, even possibly a revolutionary struggle."
    I didn't see much visible evidence of an A.N.S.W.E.R. presence at the Philadelphia demonstration. I'm sure they were there (as other socialist groups were) but they probably laid low.

    posted by Eric at 03:14 PM | Comments (7)

    New idea for "self" publishing

    People who think librarians are boring might want to take a look at this:

    A 300-year-old book that appears to be bound in human skin has been found in northern England, police said Saturday.

    The macabre discovery was made on a central street in Leeds, and officers said the ledger may have been dumped following a burglary.

    Detectives were trying to trace its rightful owner and believe it may have been taken from a dwelling in the area.

    Trying to trace the rightful owner? Of what? The book, or the skin?

    Much of the text is in French, and it was not uncommon around the time of the French Revolution for books to be covered in human skin.

    The practice, known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, was sometimes used in the 18th and 19th centuries when accounts of murder trials were bound in the killer's skin.

    Nothing new about flaying, and I guess bookbinding lends utilitariarian flair. Googling the term "anthropodermic bibliopegy," sure enough, I found a Wikipedia entry with an additional peek into the macabre:
    The rare book collection at the Langdell Law Library at Harvard University holds a book, Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae, a treaty of Spanish law. A faint inscription on the last page of the books states:
    * "The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my deare friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King btesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace." (The Wavuma are believed to be an African tribe from the region currently known as Zimbabwe.)
    Lest anyone imagine European horror over the practice, flaying alive was a popular there as well as in Africa. Here's a well-known painting which depicts the 15th Century flaying of a corrupt judge. (No idea whether they made him into books, but it might have been a good reminder for future jurists to keep in mind the next time they felt like throwing the book at someone....)

    (It's a little daunting to think about this, because I try to put a little bit of my, um, "self" into everything I write. But really!)

    posted by Eric at 10:25 AM | Comments (3)

    I tried to take Sunday off (except now it's back-to-school Monday!)

    On Sunday I was gonna write about the Marcionites, but I didn't have time.

    Just as well, as the word looks too much like "Mariconites." (A word that didn't need inventing; just misspelling.)

    But it's Monday now, and the Marionites seem to have faded from the scene and the screen. I enjoyed Dave Kopel's post (via InstaPundit) about the Book of Judas, but I had earlier read Donald Sensing's, and that had started me on another long winded, sure-to-get-out-of-hand, historical essay about the Marionites (articles about the Book of Judas here and here), but history took a yawn and the post will become one of my hundreds of unfinished, unpublished posts. . .

    Ancient texts are interesting, but because they don't control my life I can't get too worked up about them. (BTW, the inherent and growing incompatibility between blogging and essay writing drives me to distraction, and I see no solution to the problem. I don't mean to whine here -- even though I am -- but there's something about the finishing and posting of a long essay which ought to be enjoyable, in the way accomplishments are said to be enjoyable. But any sense of accomplishment is quickly ruined by the certainty of knowing that it's "just another blog post," and if I don't get something up in another couple of hours, the blog will be as dead as a doornail. Because of the medium, a long post attempting to analyze mistaken assumptions I might feel were made during Christianity's infancy in the Roman empire is -- like it or not -- the "moral equivalent" of a one-liner throwaway sarcastic aside involving Mick Jagger or Paris Hilton. It's tough, but that's the medium. Sometimes, it disturbs me to stop and consider that no normal person would blog daily essays for a period of years. But then, is there any rule that I have to be my own shrink?)

    In any case, I am still intrigued by Donald Sensing's who-knew-Jesus-best analysis:

    there were so many writings claiming Christian authenticity that documents of genuine apostolic origin were being squeezed out. Through a complex series of episcopal meetings, by the fourth century the Church decided that only Gospels of actual apostolic origin should be considered canonical. That meant that writings well known to the Church, such as the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), Gospel of Peter, First Letter of Clement, Letter of Barnabas, Apocalypse of Peter and Shepherd of Hermas, and now the so-called Judas gospel were excluded. They simply dated far too late to have apostolic authority. In the case of the Judas document (but not only it), they were works of imaginative fiction, novels basically, which could not form the basis of preserving the teachings of the apostles who had known Christ personally.
    He has another excellent post here, which looks at the question of whether Judas was a traitor, with both sides carefully considered. Whether the authors who made it into the Big Book that the Emperor Constantine ordered published knew Jesus personally has long fascinated me (frankly, a major stumbling block has been Paul the "apostle" who never met Jesus), but consensus over what went into the book was acheived long ago, and whether the Marionite and Gnostics should have been reviled as heretics, whether Jesus would have embraced them, whether there should have been a Pagan/Christian war -- these questions are all very interesting to me. But I don't think I am going to settle them in a blog post.

    What is it that makes something "interesting"? Is it the subject material itself, or is it the way it's presented?

    Because Monday will always have a back-to-school feel to it, I find it difficult to get myself interested in anything on Mondays. Like the Marionites. Yawn.

    I mean really! Just YAWN!

    But a debate between Ward Churchill and David Horowitz?? Now that's real Monday morning back-to-school stuff! Looking around for something to jumpstart my curiosity this morning, via Jeff Soyer I found Cam Edwards' fascinating account of precisely such a debate. While I wasn't there, it appears that Churchill is a more accomplished practitioner of a phenomenon called "working the room":

    Churchill has been doing this for years, talking to students in a classroom setting. He’s working the room very well. Horowitz, on the other hand, seems less engaged (or engaging). He’s got his facts down, he’s quietly passionate, but I’m having a hard time understanding the nuance of his position. Just a minute ago he said “I have no problem with professors expressing their opinion about a subject, as long as they’re not indoctrinating the students”. Part of the problem is as simple as turning up the volume on his microphone. He’s difficult to hear, whereas Churchill’s just booming out his responses.

    Jeff Harrell pointed out something that I didn’t catch from Ward Churchill: the statement, “There is no truth”. I think he meant to say “There is no truth that I am a Native American.”

    All in all, I was hoping for more fireworks. It was interesting in a C-SPAN sort of way, but I’m not much of a C-SPAN guy. While Horowitz won on points (for me anyway), Churchill held his own. He didn’t come off as moonbat crazy, he made a couple of interesting points, and probably partied like a rock star with the G-Dub students after the show was over.

    The reason he didn't come off as moonbat crazy because he was in a room populated mostly by conservatives. The event was sponsored by Young Americans Foundation, and as Cam says, there were approximately nine Churchill supporters in the room. Hardly the time or place to hurl "little Eichmanns" accusations.

    The fact is, Churchill spends more time lecturing than does Horowitz, and it obviously shows. Horowitz, on the other hand, spends a lot more time in front of hostile audiences, and I'm willing to bet he's a lot more accustomed to being shouted down, if not drowned completely out. "Working the room" is something he wouldn't have as much opportunity to do.

    In fact, I'd be willing to bet that if the tables were reversed, and this same debate had been sponsored by MoveOn.org (not to be confused with the more polite MoveOn.us), Horowitz would have been lucky if he still remained on the stage, much less in an audible fashion. That's because David Horowitz is one of the favorite demons of the left, and audiences of left-wing activists are simply not known for politeness to known right wing opponents. (I've previously posted about leftist audience responses to Horowitz, and to Malkin.)

    What this debate proved is that:

  • Ward Churchill is capable of being civil in front of a right wing audience;
  • Right wing audiences tend not to shout down even those left wing ideologues they consider the most morally repugnant.
  • This is something I have known for years. I'm a shy person, and not much of a hand at working the room. I found that even the most ideological of conservatives would listen patiently to me, even when they disagreed, while left wing activists would start to ratchet up the intimidating tactics at the very first sign of heresy.

    (And I am a heretic, by any standard, whether left, right, or "center" -- or political, religious, or sexual.)

    Ann Althouse and Sissy Willis have commented on this, as of course did Glenn Reynolds.

    Bottom line, according to Ann Althouse:

    bloggers on the right link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the left link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you're evil/stupid/crazy, and don't even seem to notice all the times you've written posts that take their side.
    To which a reader emailed:
    ...the Right is looking for converts and the Left is looking for heretics...
    Of course, they're all talking about the blogosphere, but is there a general tendency of conservatives towards politeness, and liberals towards rudeness?

    I mean, no one in his right mind (or left mind as the case may be) would think of Ward Churchill as a potential "convert" would they? So I don't think it's as simple as that. Otherwise, you'd expect rudeness to set in once it became clear that "conversion" was impossible.

    No, I think there's just something downright old-fashioned about civility. It's like that hold-the-door-open-for-a-lady business. Being well groomed and all that bullshit. (Bullshit I make a point of engaging in, I hasten to add....) It's not even necessarily political. Maybe politeness is more of a lifestyle thing, and maybe the politeness people are just sort of pushed over to the conservative side by default, because they feel more comfortable with people who are polite.

    The Churchill Horowitz audience phenomenon thing simply confirms my suspicion, and others' observations. So does this email from a Christian conservative to GayPatriot:

    Proofing this letter, I’m not sure I have communicated clearly what is in my heart and mind today. Hope you can read between the lines and gain a sense of what I am trying to communicate. Perhaps a recent comparison will serve to illuminate. As Cynthia Mckinney’s recent actions have reinforced many negative racial stereotypes, so you two serve to combat stereotyping of the gay community. You two are much more convincing advocates for the gay community than Queer Nation or Dykes on Bikes. And Bruce loves Brad Paisley! A country music fan. Who’d a thunk it? Another stereotype down the tubes.

    Appreciate your work. Your thoughts, arguments, and reasoning. You are helping to forge a bridge of greater understanding between the larger gay community and straight conservatives.

    Concludes Bruce:
    This email would never have been written to us by any Democrat or Gay Leftist. Nor would any Gay Secular Liberal have ever written such a compassionate and sincere note to a Christian.

    That alone speaks volumes about how far our community has to go.

    (Via Pajamas Media.)

    You could say that about the country.

    Shit. (It's already after nine in the morning on Monday, and I've accomplished nothing!)

    MORE: Thank you Sissy Willis for the link! (I think I'm heretical enough to go on record as opposed to politically correct cat blogging, and one of these days I should write a post about vegan cats!)

    posted by Eric at 09:16 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

    I can live without "Christianism" (And collusionism. . .)

    Andrew Sullivan (whom I critized earlier) makes a good point about the cooptation of the word "Christian":

    People who believe in the Gospels of Jesus Christ are Christians. People who use the Gospels of Jesus Christ for political gain, and for a political program of right or left, are Christianists. And Christianism, like many "isms", is an ideology that will corrupt faith and poison politics. It has already done both, under the auspices of this president and his acolytes. It is long past time that real Christians took their faith back from these political charlatans. One first step is to deny them the name that they have so artfully coopted. It starts with language. It always does.
    I think he's mostly right. The word "Christian" has more and more become a mainstream media (and Christian political conservative) synonym for a highly politicized version of fundamentalist Christianity. Who gave the left and the right such a monopoly to use that once neutral word?

    On the other hand, the word "Christianist" does have an inflammatory ring to it, because the similarity to "Islamist" implies a moral equivalency between the two.

    It has to be remembered that even the "Christianists" Sullivan condemns don't blow themselves up, they don't throw homos off buildings, they don't issue fatwas against cartoonists, or beat women, or stone people, or chop off hands and feet. Instead, more than anything else, people like Robertson and Falwell specialize in being annoying, making pretentious claims to political influence beyond what they have, and above all making money at it.

    What worries me the most is political reality. I know it sounds paranoid, but I think the sort of Christians Sullivan calls "Christianists" would probably do better in an out-of-power Republican Party than in an in-power Republican Party, and that some of them may be smart enough to realize it.

    Such a strategy -- minority victory through the majority's defeat -- invites collusion.


    But that's another very tedious and contentious topic. . .

    posted by Eric at 12:07 PM | Comments (3)

    Roots often lie within truth

    Almost anyone who has ever believed in Santa Claus (or the Easter Bunny, who's visiting millions of homes next week) can understand that part of what we call "growing up" is a process in which the lies of childhood (whether we call them fairy tales, fantasies, mythology) are either destroyed or put into their proper perspective.

    Santa Claus is a little crass, as few children ever really believe in him, any more than they believe in the tooth fairy. So it's tough to call the "realization" that Santa doesn't exist a traumatic experience. However, I must confess that there was one childhood myth which died an awfully hard death, and it may have never completely died: the national morality tale of George Washington and the cherry tree. That's because it wasn't presented to me as a Santa Claus tale, but as factual history, and an important lesson in morality.

    When I learned that there had been no cherry tree, and that the whole story of George with his little hatchet and "I cannot tell a lie, father!" was made up, I became indignant. A hell of a way to teach honesty, I thought. It bothered the hell out of me, and did much to instill a certain contempt for "hypocrisy" which took years to go away (and which may haunt me for the rest of my life). I mean really! Put yourself in my position as a child: if (I reasoned childishly) our national morality tale about the value of always telling the truth turns out to be a lie, what does that suggest about other things that might be a lie?

    Hell, I'm lucky I didn't grow up to be a full-scale Deconstructionist!

    I hate to say this, but what saved me was the realization as I grew older that it is possible for a story to be "false but accurate." No one imagines that a race was ever run between Aesop's imaginary turtle and the hare, any more than the ant and grasshopper have widely divergent, um, "value systems." It might not have been a good idea to graft George Washington into a myth, but there is nothing wrong with a boy admitting to his father that he did wrong.

    I've been thinking about George Washington and the cherry tree as I revisit the "Roots" saga on DVD. It was almost thirty years ago -- in 1977 to be exact -- that the country was captivated by this TV series, and I think it's fair to say that it played such an important role of shaping modern American race relations that it's part of our history.

    In terms of numbers of people affected and cultural "impact," Roots might even be in competition with George Washington's cherry tree.

    It's about as factual. (Author Alex Haley committed plagiarism, much of the story was factually untrue, Haley paid a $650,000 settlement which was covered up, his Pulitzer Prize was never revoked, the BBC reported all of this in a 1997 documentary never televised here, etc. . .)

    But the factual "Roots" is less interesting than the cultural "Roots."

    Roots is, was, and are, well, relative.

    At the risk of sounding dark and cynical, my favorite "Roots" memory has nothing to do with whether the story was fictionalized (which it was, but on the other hand, many events such as those portrayed in "Roots" did take place), but with an actual incident which happened to an acquaintance. A clueless gay American expatriate who'd been living in England for several years (and a man best described as a "queen") flew back to the States for a visit when "Roots" was in full swing. He'd heard nothing about the show, and was walking down the street in Oakland, California when he heard angry cries in his direction from the other side of the street, which he tried to ignore. Suddenly, a bottle whizzed a few inches past his head (barely missing him), and crashed on the sidewalk.

    He looked over, trying to figure out what was going on.

    "ROOTS, motherfucker!!" was yelled, as if that "fact" should have been obvious.

    While the angry young men in the crowd were black, and the expatriate queen was white, he didn't understand the racially motivated nature of the attack until much later, when he had a chance to relate it to his friends.

    He'd spent the day wondering how those black Americans had figured him out! His hair was dyed, and his roots were showing -- but only a little. He couldn't understand how they could have spotted such a detail all the way across the street, nor could he understand why they would be offended by another white boy with dyed hair (not an unusual phenomenon at the time).

    It's a funny story, but it does impart a lesson about the important role of television in this country. Ignore it at your peril.

    As television programs go, "Roots" was simply a masterpiece. Americans of all races were glued to their sets, and of course it was all considered gospel truth.

    And, like George Washington and the cherry tree, to a thoughtful person it really shouldn't matter whether much of it turned out to be plagiarized or made up. That there doesn't seem to have been a "Kunta Kinte" really isn't the point. Historically, slavery was evil, and terrible things were done. No reasonable person would deny this.

    Roots is interesting as nostalgia is interesting, but even more interesting as history. Not actual history in terms of the events in the series, but as American cultural history. Seen merely in the context of the history of television, "Roots" is historically unparalleled. The lead male white characters are almost a Who's Who in the history of popular television.

  • Bonanza's Lorne Greene, without a doubt America's most trusted and beloved Western series patriarch of all time, still sports his stern-but-fair ethos. But the more the character unfolds, the more he reveals a self-pitying alcoholic who finds himself with "no choice" but to abuse his slaves.
  • Sea Hunt's Lloyd Bridges -- still the hard-boiled realist, but a sneering, ex Confederate one, whose hard-boiled "reality" consists of exacting revenge by tormenting black people.
  • Possibly the most avuncular man in America -- beloved folksinger Burl Ives -- morphs into a crooked Southern Senator who cooks up the Ku Klux Klan so cleverly you almost expect him to sing a light-hearted song about it.
  • Ed Asner, star of Lou Grant (once the American epitome of trust) is now a slaveship captain whose chained and abused captives die by the dozens, and who ends up screwing young female slaves despite his fervent moral opposition to the idea.
  • Combat!'s stalwart sergeant Vic Morrow is still in combat -- but as an experienced battle-hardened overseer who whips Kunta Kinte nearly to death.
  • The Brady Bunch's Robert Reed plays a doctor you spend two episodes wanting desperately to like, but who in the end tears Kunta Kinte's daughter away from her parents and sells her to a horrid rapist played by the Rifleman's Chuck Connors (once a hard-bitten, hardscrabble cowboy but now a hard-bitten, hardscrabble, malignant drunken maniac).
  • To a man, the acting is superb, but what's creepy is that they all do too good a job of ensuring their well known (and much loved) former roles are right there! Each one still has his beloved television ethos, but we come to the sickening, inescapably horrifying realization that while they may look like their old selves, they are in fact despicable and depraved villains. Every one of these once-loved white American male family patriarchs is still there, but now exposed as decadent evil (the message being that the evil was there all along, throughout our racist history). After a while, this all-star parade of white evil after white evil makes it numbingly clear that white America was guilty, is guilty, and will always be guilty, guilty, guilty!

    It's with this deliberate, relentless infliction of guilt where I must take issue with "Roots." I don't think life or history is that simple. (Ditto the movie "Crash.")

    Nor do I believe in inherited sin. People living in the present are not responsible for the behavior of people who lived in the past. And I don't think it's productive to make people -- any people -- feel morally obligated to atone for their ancestors, any more than they should go back in time and emulate cultures they have never known and can never know.

    But "Roots" was intended a moral indictment -- not of white America past, but white America present. It's hard to ignore its timing (just after America's bicentennial), and snarky references to the American revolution (such as "I'm glad white folks are free!") make it quite clear that the timing was important. (Um, maybe the whole point.)

    For students of history and culture, it's well worth renting and seeing in its entirety.

    It really doesn't matter whether the story was true.

    Because the story has roots in our culture.

    (Now showing!)

    posted by Eric at 10:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    How dare we enjoy the drought!

    Here's Coco last Sunday -- smiling for a picture.


    (Posted on Saturday night after a cold and rainy day in the hope of a sunny Sunday.)

    posted by Eric at 12:15 AM | Comments (2)

    Speaking of "silence". . .

    Silence can be a very valuable commodity:

    The New York Post is cooperating with a federal investigation into whether a longtime contributor for the Page Six gossip column — the avidly read daily log of wrongdoing, double-dealing and sexual indiscretions by celebrities both minor and major — tried to extort money from a California billionaire, according to a spokesman for the newspaper.

    Several people involved in the investigation said the reporter, Jared Paul Stern, had been captured on a video recording demanding a $100,000 payment and a monthly stipend of $10,000 from Ronald W. Burkle in return for keeping negative information about him out of the paper. Mr. Stern was suspended Thursday pending the outcome of the investigation, and could be dismissed, according to Howard Rubenstein, the spokesman.

    The best part of the story is the reporter's punchline:
    "We know how to destroy people," Mr. Stern said, according to a person reading a transcript of the meeting. "It's what we do. We do it without creating liability. That's our specialty."
    Well, they pay farmers not to grow wheat, don't they?

    MORE: My sarcasm aside, Jeff Jarvis takes a seriously look at the above, and sees it as evidence of "the last growl of the unbridled power of the press." (Via Ed Driscoll.)

    It is the last growl, of course. Pretty soon the silence of the press will be of no more value than its noise.

    Plus it'd be pure hell to have to pay the blogosphere not to blog about something.

    Try to imagine the cost!

    posted by Eric at 03:49 PM

    All narratives are created equal!

    One of the looniest political conspiracy theories I have read to date involves a long tale about Abraham Lincoln being a secret Jew, a Rothschild, that his wife was addicted to narcotics provided by her Confederate drug dealer John Wilkes Booth, that she, not he, was the assassin, and lots more. The "evidence" was all tucked away, and was discovered recently. Where it is, and why historians haven't recognized its validity, who knows?

    during a search of some old property records and will in a small courthouse in central North Carolina, Alex Christopher the author of "Pandora's Box", found the will of one A.A. Springs in an old will book dated around 1840. Upon reading the will he was shocked and amazed at the secret it disclosed. But the fact is that wills, even though classified as public records the same as property and corporation records, are rarely combed through as he was doing. These documents can hold dark secrets hidden from public view and never uncovered because few research these old records.

    Thus secrets are hidden in public view so that when accused of concealing the records, bureaucracy can reply "It was on public record in plan view for any and all to find."

    "It" is not provided anywhere, of course.

    Here's the "true" account of the assassination:

    When Booth actually opened the door to the darkened room where Abe and Mary were sitting, he went into a panic and shock. Abe was asleep with his head on Mary's left shoulder and the First Lady had her head turned toward the left looking at the door. . . When she was sure the man who opened the door was Booth, she turned and looked at the President to be sure the pistol she was pointing would explode beneath the lower left earlobe of her husband. Before Mary pulled the trigger, John Wilkes Booth, drug supplier to the First Lady, realized he was the patsy in all this mess. But he did not know if he was only Mary's patsy or also a chump for the Rothschild family. Were the men hiding around the back door of Ford's Theater there to help Booth with the kidnaping or to point the false finger at the 'innocent' Booth? Booth was not about to run into the hallway or down the backstairs to find out the answer to that question. The only escape route was to jump the balcony and crash onto the stage during the performance. That night, Booth gave a literal interpretation of the theatrical phrase 'brake a leg' as he fractured one of his during his leaping act from 'lethally looney Mary' and the men lurking around the back entrance of Ford's Theater.
    The original plan was to kidnap Lincoln, but the motivation? International bankers (who else?) were angered by Lincoln's secret plan to make America independent of the Rothschilds!
    Lincoln was seriously considering one major movement or event that would galvanize his fellow Northern and Southern patriot countrymen into cutting loose the United States of America from the dictatorial grip of the Hapsbergs bloodline and banking control in Europe. At this time the Rothschilds were trying to take control of the entire world monetary system, and also trying to get a foot-hold in America and find a way around the British, Virginia Company, and French Bourbon family that were gaining influence over this country with government help . . .

    Lincoln found himself in real hot water, because the 48 families that formed the Virginia Company covenant, were all of the Holy Grail Bloodline. This country was to be an extension of the dominion of the royal families of Europe. The royalty of Europe is Hapsburg, no matter what their name. The royal family of England is one such example.

    It's very amusing, and I'd like to think of it as satire, but I don't think the authors intended it that way. Doubtless they would claim that "conventional" history is being unfair to their "side."

    What that means is that I shouldn't have called this "one of the looniest political conspiracy theories I have read to date."

    It was very judgmental of me, and I apologize.

    How should I atone?

    Perhaps by looking at another contested piece of history, and treating it fairly so as to set an example for all of us?

    Let me try . . .

    As it happens, at the same site I found a link to a seemingly incredible assertion. If true, this would provide us with important piece of Stalin history which has been covered up so successfully that even I (someone who has read more books on Stalin than I care to remember) had never read even a hint about it.

    This blockbuster of a claim is that Stalin's grandson is now serving in the United States Senate!

    Soviet dictator Josef Stalin reportedly had an illegitimate son. The offspring, Stalin's illegitimate grandson reportedly is U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. His father was also a U.S. Senator who was censured by the U.S. Senate as a result of a scandal. A close associate of Chris Dodd in the past often visited Moscow and Siberia reportedly as part of the "U.S. State Department".
    Now, why didn't any of the numerous books I've read about Stalin tell me that? Is it possible that I might have been duped?

    Again, I can only offer my apologies, but by way of explanation, my hopelessly old-fashioned view of history is based upon my kneejerk tendency to regard the metanarrative as historically normative (something we now know must be avoided in favor of a "multiplicity of theoretical standpoints").

    The explosive new Stalin revelations come from a man named Sherman Skolnick, who is pictured on this stamp:


    Skolnick, a well known conspiracy theorist, promulgates many other fascinating and entertaining stories, such as this exciting 9/11 theory including stuff I'd never read before linking Timothy McVeigh and Clinton White House aide Vincent Foster.

    But I'm more interested in Stalin than in McVeigh or Foster, and I think history is too.

    Is there any way to confirm the story? I saw not one substantiating piece of information. No link going anywhere.

    What that means is that unless Senator Dodd comes forth to confirm or deny his lineage, we'll have to decide this purely based on photographic evidence. Far be it from me -- a lowly blogger -- to render pronouncements on such an important question. I think it might be better to simply lay out the evidence and let readers decide. (After all, this is a democracy!)

    So I'll start with the official portraits:

    DoddOP.jpg stalinOP3.jpg

    And a couple of semi-profiles:

    DoddSP.jpg stalinSP.JPG

    Well, there's a general similarity in hairlines, shape of nose and earlobes, but is that enough to convince a physical anthropologist?

    Who knows?

    I don't think political opinions are hereditary, so it probably wouldn't be helpful to look for similarities in such things as positions on such issues as gun control or the role of the state in various matters.

    What about comparisons based on physical behavior? While the evidence is scanty, I did find evidence that both men did (er. one still does, assuming the photographs are to be believed) a particular thing with their hands which we call "clapping" (also known as "applauding"):

    DoddClaps.jpg Stalinapplauds.jpg

    Is that definitive evidence?

    You decide!

    I know my opinion doesn't count for much, but for what it's worth, I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that more proof is needed before we declare Lincoln was shot by his wife in a Rothschild conspiracy, or that Senator Dodd is Stalin's grandson. But I remind readers to take what I say with a grain of salt, because I favor the biased and old-fashioned "metanarrative" approach.

    No offense, of course, to those who think otherwise. (But all theories and narratives being of equal value, don't we have to present both sides of every issue?)

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

    Original sinful silence, heard here first!

    I really like Andrew Sullivan, and I've been reading him for years -- long before I started blogging.

    But he can be so unfair! Especially when he complains not about what Glenn Reynolds says, but what Andrew Sullivan says Glenn DOESN'T say. (Not the first time, either.)

    I think it's like, totally unfair that Glenn Reynolds got so much attention for not saying anything about Tom DeLay's departure, while I got no credit at all for not saying anything.

    This is all the more egregious because I really didn't say anything. Not. One. Word.

    That's right.

    Classical Values fiddled, while Tom DeLay crashed and burned.

    Are there no standards? Doesn't anything matter anymore?

    I mean, normally I wouldn't have complained. Because after all, both Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds are big bloggers. Huge bloggers. In terms of traffic, I'm barely a blip on the screen compared to either one of them. I can't expect Andrew Sullivan to care about my commissions or my omissions. (And expecting Glenn to attack me for what I didn't say would be even more absurd.)

    But in this case the unfairness is compounded by the fact that once -- just this once -- I honestly feel that I was more deserving of Andrew Sullivan's attention than was Glenn Reynolds.

    That's because Glenn actually did comment about Tom DeLay's departure. Not just with another "Heh. Indeed." or an "I BLAME PORKBUSTERS." -- but with a serious discussion in the Guardian.

    Contrast that with my genuine, uninterrupted silence, and it becomes clear that according to elementary logic, I did a far, far better job of not saying anything about Tom DeLay than did Glenn Reynolds.

    Yet my silence is ignored, while Glenn gets all the credit for silence that not only was never his to begin with, but never could have been!

    My silence was not only louder, it was first!

    (What? Does being first no longer count?)

    On top of that, I said nothing when I should have said something, because I actually knew about Tom DeLay's decision! (That brings my silence to the willful and intentional level, and deserving of the strongest possible criticism.)

    Considering all these facts, Andrew Sullivan's continued silence about my silence is very puzzling indeed.

    Should I take it personally?

    While I hate to make excuses for my conduct, perhaps I could blame "too much drug-addled '60s nostalgia" and burned out brain cells. But I'm not shooting for anything like Sully's "Malkin award." Or even a nomination. (Besides, Michelle Malkin has been so kind to me that I'd feel more honored than insulted. And my omission deserves the latter, not the former.)

    UPDATE: My silence has finally gotten the attention it deserves! Thanks Glenn and welcome all!

    (Andrew Sullivan has the right to remain silent, of course . . .)

    posted by Eric at 02:00 PM | Comments (35)

    Outrageous problems demand outrageous solutions!
    The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.

    -- Milton Friedman

    To which I'd add, sometimes it's worse.

    While I'm looking at welfare statism, I want to address the Republican idea of "fixing" state-created problems by ever-more-draconian regulations which take away more freedom.

    I cannot think of a better example than the proposals for draconian sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens. In my view, what is being forgotten is the overarching role of government in creating the problem:

  • Government created the need for the illegal aliens with the welter of restrictions on business which makes hiring aliens the only way to approach what used to be considered an American birthright;
  • Government has mandated educational benefits and medical care for the aliens (schools are not permitted to refuse to educate them, while hospitals are not permitted to refuse to treat them);
  • Government allowed the aliens to cross the border in the first place (despite the fact that it was the government's function to keep them out).
  • Do the Republican legislators propose seriously closing the border? Do they propose un-doing the regulations which so hamper businesses as to make hiring aliens more attractive than hiring Americans? Do they propose un-doing the regulations which require schools to educate the children of illegal aliens, and hospitals to treat them at taxpayer's expense?

    No! Instead, under cover of the claim that the aliens "squeeze" the middle class by raising the tax burden (thus conflating the laws which do that with the people who take advantage of laws which shouldn't do that), Republicans turn around and propose blaming and going after employers. Expand the government's power and take away more freedom. To "solve" a problem created by government.

    The way they talk, you'd almost think the employers are responsible for the existing regulations which make it more and more impossible to run a business -- or for the laws requiring government to spend tax dollars on things to which the aliens have absolutely zero entitlement. Why, a paranoid conspiracy theorist might almost think this whole thing was deliberately engineered to enlarge the role of the state. (Aided, of course, by the latest outburst of manufactured outrage.)

    Not being a paranoid conspiracy theorist, I won't assert what could never be proven anyway.

    If there's one thing worse than government "solving" a problem, it's government solving a problem it created.

    Would we hire an incompetent doctor to correct problems created by his own malpractice?

    (Maybe -- but only if he told us how outraged we should be.)

    posted by Eric at 11:05 AM | Comments (2)

    Socialist moral authority is for . . . Republicans?

    That last post about health care forces me to ask a couple of philosophical questions about Republicans.

    It seems to be a given that Republicans devote inordinate amounts of time to policies which amount to tinkering with socialism in order to make it work.

    Let's face it; that's what this Hillary health care triangulation strategy is. Republicans are so resigned to socialism, so resigned to big government welfare statism that they're in a race to embrace it.

    When I see libertarians doing the same thing, I feel obligated to pose basic questions about what is going on, which is why I wrote the last post.

    Now, I'm not setting myself up to be a a morally sanctimonious libertarian scold here. Far from it. My libertarianism sucks. It's the "flexible standard" style of libertarianism, which many purists would call dishonest if not corrupt. (I'm for the war, for border enforcement, and I have even uttered statements unsympathetic to gay same-sex marriage.)

    So I understand the impulse to recognize reality.

    But what I think is being forgotten is that recognizing political reality is one thing; cooperating to "make socialism work" is another thing entirely. Socialism does not go away. It only grows, and the host of permanent entitlements and vast bureaucracy grows along with it. Once the Republicans commit themselves to helping socialism, they not only abandon their birthright, they abandon the American birthright. Seeing respected libertarians chiming in makes me think that the American socialist welfare state is irreversible, and that to oppose it is a hopeless exercise in futility.

    I think the Republicans ought to ask themselves what moral authority they can ever hope to achieve under such a scenario.

    Like most forms of moral authority, socialist moral authority can be expected to adhere to those possessed of, well, traditional (that word!) socialist moral authority. Who might they be? Those who claim to oppose socialism but say they'll make it work? By what right should people claiming to oppose socialism be trusted to make it work?


    Should I be assuming that Republicans are in fact still opposed to socialism?

    (I guess I should just cling to the hope that libertarians still are.)

    posted by Eric at 09:35 AM

    Insured to the last breath?

    I'm feeling really old fashioned and out of it today. Picking up the Philadelphia Inquirer, I saw this story about a Republican governor whose latest triumph is a bill requiring everyone in his state to have mandatory, private health insurance -- something it seems only the kooky Cato Institute opposes:

    BOSTON - The most radical portion of Massachusetts' move toward universal health care - a requirement that all residents carry insurance - is giving indigestion to some who view it as a breathtaking expansion of government power.

    "This is the first time in the country's history where simply by virtue of living somewhere you are mandated to purchase a product," said Michael Tanner, of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

    Supporters of the idea, including Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, cite the mandate as a pillar of the health plan because it forces individuals to be responsible for their health care.

    Many conservatives are embracing the so-called individual mandate, but some liberals and unions are suspicious. They typically prefer assessments on employers, which the Massachusetts plan also includes.

    AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the mandate "unconscionable" and accused Massachusetts of taking "a page out of the Newt Gingrich playbook."

    Once my initial shock subsided a little, I began to see the move as a Republican attempt at Clintonian triangulation strategy. Head off Hillary at the pass by proposing a mandatory health insurance plan all their own.

    I'll refrain from making inflammatory remarks about how the German opposition in the early 1930s might have "triangulated" Hitler's antisemitism, because I think don't think it's helpful to analogize mandatory health insurance to Auschwitz. Why, for starters, most Americans' family doctors are not named Mengele! (Why, oh why, must I continue to be so goddamned nice?)

    But praeteritio Hitler triangulation aside, the Romney move is certainly Hillary triangulation, as noted by Shawn Macomber in the American Spectator:

    I do not expect Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to pull off an elaborate mask moments after signing a bill bringing universal health care to the Bay State, thereby revealing himself to be a certain senator from New York. (No, not Schumer.) In point of fact, during a lengthy chat with Romney for a profile that ran in the March edition of TAS, one of the first things the governor said when I broached the topic of health-care reform was, unequivocally, "I oppose the concept of Hillarycare," and then, "Republicans believe in health care, just like Democrats. We just believe the right approach is not a government takeover, but, instead, the application of free market principles."

    Nevertheless, when Joe Klein calls Romney's health-care plan "rather remarkable" and Ted Kennedy is asking to be on hand for the signing ceremony and Hillary Clinton herself is weighing in favorably (i.e. not sarcastically frowning or smirking) and the New York Times really, really loves the idea...Well, fiscal conservatives can perhaps be forgiven for instinctively reaching for come garlic bulbs and a flask of holy water.

    Doubtless, Romney's pursuit of an individual mandate system compelling those with the means (as determined by the government, which we all know has always been so in touch with ordinary peoples' lives) to purchase health insurance while simultaneously subsidizing the insurance costs of those individuals or families within a stone's throw of the federal poverty line is much preferable to a single-payer socialized health-care system freezing out competition and innovation. Actually, Reason's Ronald Bailey makes a persuasive argument in favor of the individual mandate system. The Heritage Foundation, Wall Street Journal and Investor's Business Daily have all made similar noises to one degree or another as well. Perhaps such a compromise is the only way to avoid a single-payer system disaster. It's politically smart, as well.

    Wait wait wait! Ron Bailey, the libertarian? A persuasive argument for government-mandated health care? Tell me it isn't so, and that the cite was mistaken.

    Alas. Ron Bailey did say it, over a year ago. To be fair to Bailey, he makes a very compelling argument that this would preserve the most economic freedom at the least expense, and the piece is a practical call to recognize reality. But here's a troubling assumption:

    Even some Republicans are suggesting that mandatory health insurance be required for at least some Americans. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) recently argued that it is unfair to expect taxpayers to pick up the health care tab for the third of Americans without health insurance who make incomes over $50,000. "I believe higher-income Americans today do have a societal and personal responsibility to cover in some way themselves and their children," the senator said in a speech at the National Press Club in July.
    Frist has an excellent point there. I agree 100% that it is unfair to expect taxpayers to pick up the health care tab for the third of Americans without health insurance who make incomes over $50,000.

    But how is that an argument for mandatory health insurance? Isn't it simply an argument against the taxpayers picking up the tab?

    I think the whole health care mess is so thoroughly riddled with communitarian assumptions based on existing government regulations and laws that it's tough to know where to even begin from a libertarian perspective.

    So, as my own quirky libertarianism comes from my own quirky individualist perspective, let me begin with me. I am self-employed, and I have the type of insurance Ron Bailey thinks should be mandatory -- "a basic high-deductible catastrophic health insurance policy from a private insurance company." If I get cancer or some loathsome fatal disease, I'll be covered, because I don't want to be wiped out financially.

    But why shouldn't I have the right not to insure myself? If I'm in the Bill Frist category, I don't think the taxpayers should be required to pay for the costs of my illness.

    I don't think the "taxpayers" should pick up my health care tab either way. (BTW, wouldn't all taxpayers ultimately be subsidizing any mandatory insurance?) If I have insurance, they won't, but if I don't have insurance why the hell should they have to pay for my health care any more than they should pay my heating or grocery bills? If I don't have heat or groceries, I will die, right? If I don't go to the doctor, I may or may not die, right? So, why isn't there at least as much of a taxpayer obligation to pay for my food and heat as for my health care? Arguably, there is more.

    What's wrong with Frist's thinking is that it's predicated on the assumption that there is or should be any obligation by the taxpayers to pay for any of these things in the first place.

    Suppose I stop paying for my health insurance. That would mean I'd simply have to pay for trips to the doctor out of my own pocket. So what the hell is wrong with that? If I had to be hospitalized, and it became expensive, I'd be liable to pay the bills. If I didn't pay them, the hospital could sue me and force me to pay. If my financial sources dried up because of my illness or something, I would continue to be liable and there would be judgments against me. I suppose I could file for bankruptcy (just as I could file for bankruptcy if I ran up huge gambling debts I couldn't pay), but unless I became a public charge, I don't see why the taxpayers should have anything to do with it. And if I became a penniless public charge, then I wouldn't be in Frist's middle class category, would I?

    I saw a lot of friends come down with AIDS. Some of them had health insurance, and some of them didn't. Ultimately, most of them ended up being public charges, and that's because the insurance would only cover so much, medicare eligibility would kick in, and they'd be taxpayer burdens. With a catastrophic illness like AIDS or cancer, huge bills can result from each hospitalization, and it can end up consuming the policy limits. I'm not sure how medicare eligibility works, but Frist's guy making $50,000 a year who gets a terminal illness isn't going to be employed for long (most likely his savings will soon be exhausted) and hospital social workers are usually in quite a hurry to make sure every last possible benefit is invoked.

    NOTE: I don't think we're talking about uninsured rich people here. A rich man without insurance ought to simply pay the entire cost of his medical care, and if the taxpayers have to foot the bill for his illness, something very major is wrong with the system, and calling for more government regulation begs the question.

    Under our quasi-welfare state, poor people are simply taken care of by the taxpayers. But how do we define poor? The middle class can be rendered poor because of disability or illness, and once they are poor they are poor. Is there an unstated assumption that because someone was once a productive member of society, he has no right to become poor?

    I mean, is it more evil to become poor than to be "born that way"? Illness isn't the only way to do that. And I'm not convinced that state-mandated insurance of any variety is the way to prevent it.

    In all honesty, I do think there is an assumption that self-employed people and small business owners are more evil than other people, because they are less regulated. Yet these people are the ones who take risks -- and I think even communitarians should recognize that they generally contribute more to society than those who don't take risks. Why shouldn't they -- of all people -- continue to be allowed to take risks? To not have health insurance is merely one of the risks they might take, and I have no problem with putting the onus on the risk taker -- to the same extent as any other citizen. If his health crashes, he'll have to pay. If he didn't have health insurance, he'll be wiped out. But aren't there a lot of other things that can wipe him out? Why single out health?

    According to the Inquirer, Governor Romney analogizes the situation to requiring auto insurance for drivers:

    Romney, a possible candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, has compared the individual mandate to car insurance, which the state requires for car owners. Massachusetts will also require everyone to have health insurance.

    According to [Cato Institute's] [Michael] Tanner, that's a false comparison.

    "Driving has always been seen as a privilege," he said. "This is making me buy a product simply by virtue of breathing."

    I agree, but that's where we seem to be headed. To communitarians, breathing is a societal venture. Everyone is responsible for everyone. And there should be no way to opt out.

    Breathing is a risky business. (Especially now that Hillary is running the Republican Party . . .)

    On the bright side, we'll all eventually breathe our last. Even if we don't have insurance.

    UPDATE: According to Newsmax, Hillary Clinton is singing the praises of the Romney health plan:

    In what could be a blow to Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations, two Democratic White House hopefuls have offered preliminary endorsements for his health care plan, which would force small businesses to offer health insurance to all uninsured employees.

    "To come up with a bipartisan plan in this polarized environment is commendable," Sen. Hillary Clinton told the Associated Press on Thursday.

    The Romney plan, which has already been passed by the Massachusetts legislature and is waiting the governor's signature, mimics in some ways Mrs. Clinton's own Hillarycare proposal, which crashed and burned in 1994 with disastrous political consequences.

    Such power! Imagine being able to destroy potential opponents merely by praising them!

    posted by Eric at 07:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    Cold blooded sex is not sex?

    In a disturbing post titled "Sodomy of Boys is A-OK," Dr. Helen expresses dismay over a prosecutorial decision that sodomizing young boys with broomsticks is not a sexual offense -- unless there is "evidence the defendants are homosexuals."

    In other words, whether sexual assaults are sex crimes depends on whether the perp belongs to a particular sexual identity category?

    In a comment, I asked,

    Suppose a group of gay men had done the same thing to girls. Would their homosexuality give them a similar pass?
    Apparently so.

    Except I don't think it would. One of the ironies here is that for years I have been told that rape is not about sex, but it involves things like "power" and "control."

    But I guess in the twisted world of PC thinking, such power and control issues only apply to interactions between males and females.

    Ironically, the presence of a sexual motivation could arguably be said to be a mitigating factor to the extent that it involved an irresistible impulse. An offender driven and motivated by his sex drive to do something like this could be said to be less deserving of punishment than someone who committed the same act in the absence of sexual desire. (In sexual cold blood, as it were.)

    If we analogize to murder, the rule has long been that cold blooded murders are the most malicious, and that the people who murder as a result of passion are less culpable.

    Why would child molesting be less culpable if done by an adult with no sexual interest in children? Suppose hypothetically that a man pulls down children's clothing and plays with their genitals, not to turn himself on but simply to upset the children (because, say, he wants to annoy their father). Does the latter crime become ordinary assault because of the lack of sexual interest?

    Something does not make sense to me.

    (As it usually doesn't . . .)

    MORE: The "lack of sexual interest" defense to sex crime charges might be interesting to raise as a legal defense. If a police officer can pose as a 14 year old girl to entrap child molesters, then why can't a suspect pose as a child molester in order to attract police officers?

    (Hmmm.... I know I'm behind the times, but police aside, is it legal for ordinary adult citizens to pose as 14 year olds?)

    CORRECTION: Researching the law, I see that in California (and probably other jurisdictions) sexual gratification in no way diminishes the nature of a sexual offense, but it is a necessary element of the crime:

    288. (a) Any person who willfully and lewdly commits any lewd or lascivious act, including any of the acts constituting other crimes provided for in Part 1, upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof, of a child who is under the age of 14 years, with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the child, is guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for three, six, or eight years.
    Which means that in California, sodomizing young boys with broomsticks for non-sexual purposes would not be as serious as it would be if there had been sexual gratification.

    If that's the law in Arizona, the DA's position would appear to be well-founded, like it or not.

    MORE: In addition to lewd conduct with a child, Section 289 (a) of the California Penal Code criminalizes sexual penetration, as follows:

    (i) Except as provided in Section 288, any person over the age of 21 years who participates in an act of sexual penetration with another person who is under 16 years of age shall be guilty of a felony.
    (j) Any person who participates in an act of sexual penetration with another person who is under 14 years of age and who is more than 10 years younger than he or she shall be punished by imprisonment in
    the state prison for three, six, or eight years.
    (k) As used in this section:
    (1) "Sexual penetration" is the act of causing the penetration,
    however slight, of the genital or anal opening of any person or
    causing another person to so penetrate the defendant's or another
    person's genital or anal opening for the purpose of sexual arousal,
    gratification, or abuse by any foreign object, substance, instrument,
    or device, or by any unknown object.
    (2) "Foreign object, substance, instrument, or device" shall
    include any part of the body, except a sexual organ.
    If there was actual penetration of a minor, California requires proof of arousal, gratification, or abuse.

    (I'm afraid whether the word "abuse" includes "hazing" is a question for the experts.)

    AND MORE: As far as I can determine, here are the relevant Arizona statutes:

    13-1401. Definitions

    In this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:


    2. "Sexual contact" means any direct or indirect touching, fondling or manipulating of any part of the genitals, anus or female breast by any part of the body or by any object or causing a person to engage in such contact.

    13-1404. Sexual abuse; classifications

    A. A person commits sexual abuse by intentionally or knowingly engaging in sexual contact with any person fifteen or more years of age without consent of that person or with any person who is under fifteen years of age if the sexual contact involves only the female breast.

    13-1410. Molestation of child; classification

    A. A person commits molestation of a child by intentionally or knowingly engaging in or causing a person to engage in sexual contact, except sexual contact with the female breast, with a child under fifteen years of age.

    Not a word about sexual gratification! Which means the sexual orientation of the perpetrators would probably be irrelevant.

    So the "correction" above would only apply in California (and even there, only to a 288 (a) charge of lewd and lascivious acts with a child).

    MORE (03/07/06): Looking over the updates, I see that I might not have made it clear that the Arizona prosecutor's analysis was wrong under Arizona law, and even under California law (except the statute prohibiting lewd acts with a child).

    Sexual gratification is not an element of the crime, and therefore, the sexual orientation of the perpetrator would be irrelevant.

    (In real life, however, prosecutors often examine the likelihood of conviction. But that's a practical as opposed to a legal issue.)

    posted by Eric at 11:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Undefended wars have consequences

    While I'm still a bit bothered by the fact that many Americans seem to be switching enemies in the middle of a war (or perhaps declaring wars on too many fronts), I want to attempt to detach from my emotions and look ahead. To the Fall.

    Will it be the Fall of the Republican Party? I don't know.

    The immigration issue (astutely described by Baldilocks as "suddenly inflammatory") is a hopeless political quagmire, and the problem will continue to get worse because political realities prevent consensus-based solutions such as closing the border. Instead, one faction proposes draconian measures which will never become law (even if passed, Bush won't sign), while the other wants to legalize millions of people in an amnesty which most Americans don't want.

    While this is happening (or not), the price of gas is going up, up, up -- apparently because of the political machinations of both parties. (The voters have no say in these matters, because environmental regulations have nothing to do with democracy, and are tightened regardless of which party is in power.)

    The Republicans are in power as the majority party in both houses, and the White House.

    If the voters are still upset by immigration this November, voting out the Republicans will make absolutely no difference. Likewise, if they're upset about the high price of gasoline, same deal; no difference.

    I think the election may turn on public perceptions over the war in Iraq. If the Democrats are smart, they will not run on an antiwar platform. That's because they'll get the hard core antiwar vote anyway (who never vote Republican). The voters who may tip the election in their favor are the fatigued, slightly squeamish voters. These people are tired of the war, but uneasy about voting for sign-wavers of any kind.

    Thus, the best strategy for Democrats (except those running in stridently left wing areas) is to simply shut up about the war. War and Democrats are a little like Republicans and gay rights (and certainly gay marriage). Because of resonance from years of noise, there's a certain built-in assumption that Dems tend to be anti-war, and Republicans tend to be anti-homo, so if a candidate says nothing about these issues, these assumptions alone will tend to get him the votes from the people who feel strongly about them, because they know the other side is "worse."

    However, Republican silence about the war will not play to their advantage in the same manner. It might be interpreted as uneasiness. If war-fatigued voters are not reassured by Republicans, if instead they perceive a deer-caught-in-the-headlights vulnerability, they may vote Democrat as a sort of "enough is enough" statement. Not really antiwar.

    (Just sort of like tired of the war kinda maybe.)

    The way things have been going lately, you almost wouldn't know there was a wartime election.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: While I didn't take them into account, it occurs to me that there may be Republicans who actually are sick of the war in Iraq. I don't think being sick of the war is a winning strategy, but what if it's not a strategy?

    Oh well. I'm not running for anything.

    posted by Eric at 08:41 AM | Comments (2)

    News that didn't matter, but seems to matter now

    I'm shocked. Just two days after I wrote a post about the difficulties of booting the Windows OS on a Mac, Apple Computer has released software to do just that. (I'd read that Apple was recalcitrant, but obviously that's not the case) The software is a free download called "Boot Camp":

    SAN JOSE, Calif. - Suddenly, the unthinkable: Macs, with Intel chips, running Windows.

    Apple Computer introduced a free download yesterday that lets people choose whether they want Apple's latest computers to act like Macs or Windows PCs each time they hit the on button.

    It is a major shift for a company that has long implored consumers to "Think Different" and shun mainstream computers based on Microsoft and Intel technology.

    The software, dubbed "Boot Camp," is Apple's latest attempt to woo customers from rival computer-makers. The Cupertino, Calif., company set the stage for the move last year, with the announcement that it would begin equipping computers with Intel chips instead of those from IBM.

    The process of outfitting a Mac to run Windows comes with hassles and costs. Consumers must spend about $200 for Windows XP Service Pack 2, and spend an hour or more installing it. Then, they must restart the Mac each time they want to switch between operating systems.

    Apple said Boot Camp was created in response to requests from Mac users, and potential Mac consumers.

    In response, Apple's stock seems to have shot up:
    Analysts predicted that Apple's new Windows option would lure some consumers who want a Mac but have hesitated because of a need to use Windows for work or to run a specific program. Wall Street endorsed the strategy as shares of Apple shot up nearly 10 percent. Apple's market capitalization grew to $51.9 billion - an increase of more than $5 billion - after yesterday's announcement.

    "It's very audacious of them. It is bound to increase Apple's market share," said Richard Doherty, an analyst with Envisioneering Group. "The whole blurring of the Mac and the PC is complete. It now raises the bar for manufacturers of not only notebooks, but the living room and desktop PCs."

    What's good for geeks is good for investors!

    ("Boot Camp" may be downloaded here.)

    DISCLAIMER: No one paid or influenced me in any way to write the previous post or this post, and I neither own a Mac nor any stock in Apple Computer. I know nothing about these things, and the post about dual and triple booting operating systems was just coincidence.

    (It would be interesting to install the Mac OS on a PC, though....)

    posted by Eric at 07:50 AM | Comments (2)

    "All enemies foreign and domestic"

    Here's an example of the sort of thing I tire of. . .

    In the course of a recent immigration debate, I heard a retired soldier recite part an oath he claimed required him to protect the country "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." The foreign enemies, he claimed, were the illegal immigrants, while the domestic enemies were American businessmen who hired them.

    While I think the man's point of view is unreasonable, it deserves examination, because I don't think he is alone.

    It is one thing to call illegal immigration a foreign invasion, because there have been instances of Mexican soldiers actually crossing the border. But it's far from being a hot war. President Bush regularly cavorts with the president of Mexico and wants good relations between the two countries. Congress has the power to declare war, and the President, as Commander in Chief of the U.S. military, is the one who would order any military response against Mexico. Neither he nor Congress are anywhere near doing that. If in fact the aliens are enemies, what does that make the president and the Congress? Traitors?

    Are the Constitution and its powers relevant?

    Let's take a look at the military oath the retired soldier cited. The enlisted version:

    "I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God." (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).
    The officer's version is somewhat different but the "I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic" part is identical.

    Who gets to decide whether and when illegal immigrants become enemies of the Constitution? The individual soldier?

    As to the Constitution's domestic enemies, I'm having a bit of trouble articulating any conceivable theory under which businessmen who hire illegal aliens might be considered to be attacking the Constitution. Even if we assume that they are violating the law and should go to jail, since when is crime an attack on the Constitution? If businessmen hiring aliens are enemies of the Constitution, then wouldn't bank robber Willie Sutton have also been an enemy of the Constitution?

    I think an arguable case can be made that nothing in the Constitution allows the federal government to regulate private businesses. Where is the enumerated power allowing the feds to tell a citizen whom he can and cannot hire? If those laws are unconstitutional, then arguably, the enemies of the Constitution would be those who passed and enforced the unconstitutional laws, and not those accused of breaking them. Under this analysis, who would be more of an enemy of the Constitution: a supporter of unconstitutional laws, or someone who violates them? (While my constitutional argument may be a stretch by today's standards, I don't think it's nearly as much of a stretch as that of the soldier.)

    I hate to sound like a condescending lawyerly type, but I'm wondering how carefully the soldier read his oath. Or the Constitution.

    posted by Eric at 01:22 PM | Comments (5)

    Andrew Keen: Five Months Of Stomach-Churning Aggravation

    Here's a little something from the pages of "The Great Seduction"...

    Rushing back to the Bay Area, now known as Silicon Valley, I founded a website called Audiocafe and, securing investment from Intel and SAP, built it into an early paragon of the online revolution.

    Um, about that word? Paragon? It strikes me as being ever so slightly off here.

    par·a·gon (pr-gn, -gn) noun.

    1. A model of excellence or perfection of a kind;
    a peerless example: a paragon of virtue.

    2. a. An unflawed diamond weighing at least 100 carats.
    b. A very large spherical pearl.

    3. Printing. A type size of 20 points.

    Well, for its investors and employees, AudioCafe.com certainly proved to be a pearl of great price...

    But Hamilton, 31, didn't strike it rich. Instead, she got five months of stomach-churning aggravation. After her first week, she got laid off. "So I packed up my desk and started to leave, and my CEO chased me out the door saying, 'Guess what? We just got more money," Hamilton recalls.

    The ups and downs continued--"I was laid off three times"--until the company, a high-end stereo equipment E-tailer named AudioCafe.com, finally folded in February [2000].

    Her options are totally worthless, of course--AudioCafe.com never got close to an initial public offering. And the company still owes her several weeks of pay...

    ...but somehow I don't think that's what he meant. Oh, well. You know what they say. "Foolish thoughts and slovenly language have always been bound up with each other."

    Here's a chipper little capsule CV from May of 2000. Before the dark time. Before the Empire.

    Andrew Keen, Founder and CEO, AudioCafe: Andrew Keen is a leading visionary in the audio business with almost ten years of experience as an entrepreneur, salesman and writer in the industry. Having single-handedly founded Audiocafe in 1997, Keen has driven the development of the site's content and business development.

    Wow. He was a CEO. Let's just check back with that former employee of his...

    Hamilton now plans a career as a professional photographer.

    And it looks like she may have succeeded. Good for her! I'm assuming, of course, that this is the same Ann Hamilton. I certainly hope it is. I love a happy ending...

    In retrospect, she says a big clue that something was amiss came on her very first day, when the company's CEO claimed he didn't have the money to buy her a cup of coffee.

    Ouch! So what did he do after the company crashed and burned? Well, here are his own modest words...

    I’ve played increasingly grown-up business roles at a various technology companies including Pulse 3D, Santa Cruz Networks, Jazziz Digital and Pure Depth, where I currently direct the company’s global strategic sales.

    He took a fall, got back up, and carried on with his life. Many of us had to, and as such things go, you might think he's made a good job of it. But clearly, it's taken a psychic toll on him. He's going all Burkean and censorious on us.

    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.

    Am I alone in thinking that there might just be a tad bit of projection going on here? My God. If only someone had been there for him...to save him...from himself. We all might have been spared the following clots of spin...

    In addition to being an aspiring Terry Gross, I am also a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and impresario. I founded Audiocafe.com in 1996 and built it into a cacophonous, generously funded digital media business....

    But not enough for coffee!

    Before my vertiginous adventures in Silicon Valley, I was a university professor. Born in North London, I attended London University and earned a First Class Honours degree in History. I was a British Council Scholar at the University of Sarajevo in Yugoslavia during the mid Eighties.

    I did my graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, where I was a fellow at the Macarthur funded Berkeley-Stanford Program on Soviet International Behaviour. I have lectured about politics, history and modern culture at a number of New England schools including Tufts, Northeastern and the University of Massachusetts.

    All of which should convince me to tug my forelock and keep my eyes firmly fixed on the ground in the presence of my intellectual betters. Perhaps another day.

    The following is taken from "Confessions of a Silicon Valley Thief".

    If you should care to read the original, feel free to just click on through. The following version is slightly altered and abridged. Compare and contrast, if the urge takes you...

    I’m not sure if I should call myself an entrepreneur, an impresario, a salesman, a visionary, a marketer or a just crazy fool in an even crazier world, I confess to my old friend Tessa Ross.

    I have to raise my voice. We are sharing an organic cherry pie at COCO 500...

    “Andrew, there has to be a single word, just one word, that summarizes what you’ve been doing in Silicon Valley all these years,” she says. The pie is finished now. All that is left are eight empty cherry stones...

    Remind me to avoid the cherry pie...

    A technology idealist, I suggest.

    “That’s two words.”

    If you ask my friend Rosebud or Larry and Sergei at Google, they would say I’ve failed. I haven’t made their billions, I admit. In fact, I’ve lost quite a lot.”

    “How much?”...

    Close to a hundred million, I tell her. Not counting the cents.

    Momentary silence while Tessa digests the number. “And that’s other people’s money?” she asks.

    Pretty much, I admit. Mainly venture capital. But also angel investment including Rosebud’s cash. And some of my own, too.

    Tessa is playing with the cherry stones in front of her. “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,”...With each word, she drags another cherry stone across the plate...“Rich man, poor man, beggar man,” she continues, raising her voice above the din of the COCO 500 lunchtime crowd. There is only one uncounted cherry stone left now.

    I'm having a Sinatra moment here. You know,"That's Life"? "I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a kiiiing..."

    Over the last twenty years, I’ve been everything in that nursery rhyme.

    I’ve tinkered with business models.

    I’ve tailored digital media business plans.

    I’ve soldiered in the trenches against traditional media.

    I’ve been a sailor in the high seas of digital piracy.

    I’ve been a rich man in theory and a poor man in fact.

    I’ve begged money from every venture capitalist in the Valley.

    If words actually have specific meanings, then I would have to say that tinker, tailor, soldier and sailor are being viciously abused here. More's the pity. One should always bear in mind that "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

    Ross fingers the final cherry stone. “Thief,” my old friend concludes...

    I feel myself coloring with a mixture of pleasure and shame. Tessa Ross has nailed me. It is the single word that joins all the dots and turns me into what I really am...

    And thus ends the tale of woe. Should such a frank confession garner redemption? Forgiveness? That's probably the hope.

    posted by Justin at 12:21 PM | Comments (4)

    death where is your beauty?

    Last night I attended a performance of Franz Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet. (Partial audio here.)

    Said to have been composed shortly after Schubert learned he had syphilis, this poignantly, beautifully morbid quartet is based on a morbidly beautiful dialogue:

    It is in the form of a dialogue between a young woman and Death, who promises her, "You shall sleep softly in my arms". The second movement of this quartet is a set of variations based on the theme from the song which is why it bears this title.
    The maiden resists death, of course. As the rest of us -- ultimate losers though we are -- must, should, and will resist:
    The scherzo is a grotesque dance of death, sharp and offbeat, with a gruff sort of allure. The finale is all coiled tension and bundled energy, culminating in a vertiginous acceleration to a breathless conclusion – we all know that the destiny of humanity ultimately is to lose the battle against mortality, but Schubert urges us (and himself, of course) to resist.
    Yeah! Death is for losers. People in denial!

    A traditional (Hans Baldung Grien) and a more modern (Egon Schiele) depiction:

    Death and the maiden.jpg scheileDeath.jpg

    People in "those" days (including Schiele, who died in the 1918 Influenza epidemic) were more accustomed to death than we are today, and of course many a beautiful young maiden met death. It was no less tragic simply because it was more commonplace.

    Schubert's life was of course tragic, and while he was obviously depressed, his music (certainly the piece I heard last night) seems to have fused brightness and gloom. Modern phrases like "manic depression" and "bipolar" immediately come to mind, and books like this have been written on Schubert and his struggle with what physicians now call "cyclothymic depression." (A quasi-functional variety of the illness.) Considering the syphilis, I'm inclined to agree with this reviewer:

    It appears that Schubert suffered from a form of manic depression, which was exacerbated when he contracted syphilis in 1822.
    But whether it was "manic depression" or not, Schubert seems to have achieved (musically, at least) a sort of synthesis, a hybridization, which makes clear that the man was capable of being in both the depressed state and the manic state at the same time.

    More on the dualistic nature:

    The poems Schubert chose to set in his more than 600 songs show a lifelong obsession with death, and -- as in so much Viennese art -- dark moods often lurk beneath the gaiety. The frequent wistfulness of his music, the laughing through tears, or crying with laughter, conspire to seduce us into believing we know something of the man.
    Laughing through tears and crying with laughter might sound contradictory to some, but it is emotionally possible. In my case, sharing the last moments of life with people I loved was enough.

    Just as Schubert's compositions explore oppositions and contrasts, some in his circle noted a "dual nature" in the man himself. They said he possessed "a black-winged demon of sorrow and melancholy" but was also a "hedonist" who indulged in "sensual living." Whether we call this mild manic depression, as has one recent biographer, Elizabeth Norman McKay, or use the Romantic label "melancholy," stark contrasts are found also in his most significant letters, which often juxtapose laments of "misery" with buoyant talk of friends, musical life, and composing.

    Here's a quote from Schubert reflecting on his mental state:

    In a word, I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who in sheer despair over this ever makes things worse and worse, instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have come to nothing, to whom the joy of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain, at best, whose enthusiasm (at least of the stimulating kind) for all things beautiful threatens to vanish, and ask yourself, is he not a miserable, unhappy being?—"My peace is gone, my heart is sore, I shall find it never and nevermore." I may well sing every day now, for each night, I go to bed hoping never to wake again, and each morning only tells me of yesterday's grief.
    Ditto, Abraham Lincoln:
    "I am now the most miserable man living," the 31-year-old Lincoln confessed. "Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not; To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better."
    It is not for me to judge whether humanity would have been better off if people like Lincoln, and Schubert (and Churchill, and Patton . .) had been cured.

    But I did enjoy the quartet.

    posted by Eric at 09:28 AM | Comments (2)

    Democracy: where the possible becomes impossible by definition

    I hate the immigration issue. I am sick to death of hearing about it, and I think a lot of people are. I hate it because it challenges my sense of libertarianism, and because it makes people emotional. And worst of all, it is incapable of solution.

    To add insult to injury, what I hate the most is having to consider that my central argument may be wrong.

    My central argument is that the country should simply regain control of its borders. (In lay terms, it's better to close the barn door than leave it open!) It seems painfully logical to me that if the problem is one of too many people having crossed the border illegally, that this should -- and must -- be stopped. People do not agree on either the principles or the details of such ideas as "guest worker" programs, or draconian crackdowns on employers or immigrants which would felonize tens of millions of people. But shutting off the flow by closing the border is the one very simple concept on which there is a huge national consensus. Without getting into what "should have" been done, shutting the border now is logical and the political consensus is there.

    Add to logic and consensus common sense. It makes no sense at all to argue about what to do with 12 million people who are already here (and shrilly call for crackdowns on American economic freedom) when millions more are still crossing unimpeded.

    While I hate having to admit I'm wrong as much as anyone, sometimes it helps to have someone point out the obvious, and the other night a friend simply told me that closing the border is physically impossible.


    That's a tough word to overcome. No amount of common sense, logic, or consensus will work.

    I can hope my friend is wrong, but now that I think it over, it occurs to me that there has not been one serious proposal to actually seal the border. Not even the draconian Sensenbrenner plan with its calls for beefed up enforcement does that.

    Might it be that the leaders of this country know something that I don't?

    In the context of terrorism, Tammy Bruce remarks on the irony of this grim but stubborn bit of conventional wisdom:

    Here [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] uses the fact that President Bush and the administration and the US Border Patrol insist constantly that closing the border is impossible. Of course, this isn't true--the Minuetmen and women have done so with overwhelming success, but you see how this absurd domestic position is so easily used by a maniac to undermine our efforts against terrorism. And he's right, if we supposedly can't close our border, why should we expect him to be able to close his?
    I'm inclined to think the answer is that "we" could -- if "we" wanted to.

    Impossible has to be seen not in terms of physical impossibility (I think there is enough concrete, steel, and personnel in the U.S.), but political impossibility. In near unanimous agreement, politicians recite the "impossible" meme over and over again to the point where most people believe it.

    The Economist argues that closing the border is impossible unless the illegal aliens are legalized:

    The reformers' most important ally, though, is common sense. America has spent millions of dollars trying to tighten up its borders only to see the situation get worse. It now relies on illegal workers to pick its vegetables and build its buildings. Closing the border is impossible without some sort of legalisation for the millions in the country; mass deportation would do irreparable harm both to America's economy and to its traditions as an immigrant-friendly nation.
    I disagree that closing the border is impossible without legalization of the 12 million. If the border is closed, the 12 million will still be here as they now are, and whatever existing relationships they have with various employers will not be changed. What to do about these 12 million, whether to launch a draconian crackdown on employers, whether to pursue a policy of benign neglect -- these are independent issues from closing the border.

    I have one question, and one question only. I want to know whether closing the border is impossible. If it is, then I am wasting my time.

    Perhaps we all are.

    Chuck Baldwin at WorldNetDaily (link) argues that closing the border would be impossible without killing:

    Closing the border is impossible unless you're willing to kill hundreds of Mexicans a day.
    I'm not quite sure about the logic of that, as I don't think it is necessary to shoot border crossers.

    Another bit of illogic from an anonymous commenter at TalkLeft:

    "sealing" the border is impossible. the southwestern part of the u.s. was taken from mexico, california by terroristic means. what goes around comes around. you want to "seal" the border, the prepare yourself for berlin wall II. are you nuts?

    stopping a tide of humanity acting largely out of noble motives is NOT a good bet for success. work on global capitalism, work on paying everyone everywhere a LIVING WAGE. we're talking about money, after all, a completely inanimate object which has NO intrinsic value. work on that, make a just world where profit and exploitation aren't seen as shrewd business practices.

    That's the "Reconquista" argument, which is not only a fringe idea, but has nothing to do with whether shutting the border is physically possible.

    Erecting a fence has been proposed, by a group called weneedafence.com. From a Fox News report:

    "What are people from Yemen and Syria and Iran doing in Mexico trying to enter the U.S. illegally? This is an issue that requires a wall," said Colin Hanna of Weneedafence.com. "We are absolutely not anti-Hispanic, we do not think the fence should be perceived as anti-Hispanic, or anti-Mexican, we are not anti-immigrant, we are pro-immigration, but we are pro- legal immigration."

    Hanna's group hopes to persuade Congress to take on the $8 billion project but aside from the cost, Hispanic activists claim that good neighbors build bridges, not fences, and that a fence will stigmatize people fighting for their shot at the American dream.

    "I think what we're doing is criminalizing work and criminalizing the need of families to be together," said Angela Sanbrano of the Central American Resource Center, an open-borders interest group.

    Years ago, the idea of a great wall on the southern border would have been dead on arrival in Congress, but times have changed. Polls now show that more than 80 percent of Americans like the idea, and it has bipartisan support. One House bill has bipartisan support but is nowhere near ready for passage by the entire Congress.

    If the 80 percent figure is correct, it certainly belies the idea that sealing the border is politically impossible.

    But how possible is a fence?

    Temple University law professor Jan C. Ting (assistant commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1990 to 1993) opined in the Philadelphia Inquirer that fences work:

    We know what works: a border fence. When illegals encounter an effective border fence, they are driven to unfenced sectors. Granted, sometimes this leads them into less hospitable territory, risking and sometimes losing their lives. The solution is to build a fence that can't be walked around, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) has proposed such a fence.

    Critics complain about the cost. But they ignore the costs of not building a fence, of having to hire ever more Border Patrol agents, deploy ever more technology, spend ever more on prosecution, incarceration, and medical care for illegal aliens, as well as public education for the children. As long as the border is open, the crisis will continue, and businesses that try to hire only legal workers will continue to be noncompetitive with those that hire illegals at lower wages. Four years after 9/11, it is ridiculous to worry about our subways and trains and ports and factories yet leave our borders wide open.

    Regarding cost, weneedafence.com argues it's the same as four B-2 bombers:
    The cost of a modern border security fence is in line with its national security priority: roughly the cost of 4 B-2 bombers.

  • A 2,000 mile state-of-the-art border fence has been estimated to cost between four and eight billion dollars. That is roughly equivalent to four B-2 bombers or Virginia class submarines.
  • Such a fence could be designed with up to two hundred legal crossing points to accommodate commerce, tourism and legitimate commuting. Although expensive in terms of initial outlay, in the long term it is both less expensive and more effective than any other solution currently being proposed.
  • "Impossible" doesn't strike me as the right word.

    The word comes up a lot in any discussion about closing the border, but I think most of the people who use it don't mean it in the literal sense of physical impossibility. A lot of people use the word "impossible" to dismiss an argument they dislike. Or else they mean politically impossible.

    Can something which is:

    - physically possible; and

    - supported by 80% of the voters in a "democracy";

    really and truly be politically impossible?

    Democracy sure is complicated in a republic.

    (Yeah, I know we're living in a republic, but in theory it's supposed to be a democracy. The problem is, there's no such thing as a "democratic republic." Hey don't look at me! That's how politics works.)

    posted by Eric at 06:50 AM | Comments (1)

    illegal victory!
    "The language, and who wins the framing of the language, likely will win the debate" on immigration legislation.

    -- Frank Sharry, National Immigration Forum

    Be that as it may, illegal aliens don't seem especially popular in Philadelphia. Not only does the Inquirer use the word "illegal" to refer to them ("undocumented" is simply not an accurate descriptor), but a poll by local CBS affiliate KYW reveals a high level of opposition to Bush's amnesty plan.

    Here are the poll results:

    The President wants to give 'guest worker' status to many current illegal aliens.

    Good idea

    Bad Idea

    Not Sure

    I'd say that the Inquirer is on pretty safe ground, both linguistically and politically. Whether they're called aliens or immigrants, to declare people who are here illegally to be "undocumented" creates a fiction, and does not address their illegal status. Besides, many of them have documents; they just don't have documents which give them the legal right to work.

    Is this a debate over language? While I don't like it when semantics get in the way of debate, it seems here that there is a genuine debate over whether the word "illegal" means "illegal."

    If it does not, then in logic that would mean that illegal isn't illegal, and the plain meaning of language is lost.

    Maybe that means Mr. Sharry is right.

    (A sobering thought in itself . . .)

    posted by Eric at 02:32 PM

    At least there's nothing personal about political Thais

    (Nothing personal to me, at least....)

    The recent election mess in Thailand has attracted American press attention:

    BANGKOK, Thailand - Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra claimed victory yesterday but acknowledged a strong protest vote in an election held after weeks of demonstrations demanding his resignation for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

    Thaksin offered to set up a committee to judge whether he should step down despite receiving 57 percent of the votes cast Sunday. Critics rejected the offer as insincere and called for more protests this week.

    With the opposition criticism, and likely legal tangles over technicalities of the balloting, Thailand looked destined to remain locked in a standoff.

    For more than two months, Thaksin's opponents have been holding growing demonstrations, drawing as many as 100,000 people, in their attempt to pressure him to leave office.

    Thai Day offers an analysis of the numbers (to the extent such a thing is possible).

    While appearing to offer his resignation, President Thaksin nonetheless claims he can govern successfully, and cites the Bush-Gore 2000 election in support:

    Speaking to the public for the first time since the election, Mr Thaksin repeatedly called for “unity”, respect for the rules of the game and cited the Bush-Gore dead heat in the 2000 US presidential race to back his argument that a nation deeply divided politically could still function. Citing the 16 million party-list votes in Thai Rak Thai’s favour compared to approximately 10 million abstention votes, he challenged his opponents to offer the electorate a satisfactory reason for him to step aside.
    “Tell me how the country would be better off without me (as Prime Minister),” Mr Thaksin said in an interview on Channel 11 last night. “There must be good reasons for me to stay or quit. The 16 million (who voted for Thai Rak Thai) should be told how the country will be reconciled if I step down.” Mr Thaksin, who vowed before the polls not to take the premiership again if his party received less than 50 per cent of the votes cast, last night insisted that he had won well above that mark.
    The race was a nasty one, in which the Texas-educated president was vilified for his friendship with George Bush and portrayed as Adolf Hitler (drawing protests from the Israeli embassy). If the report is accurate, politics in Thailand does not seem follow the American liberal-versus-conservative model:
    Anti-Thaksin forces are led by disgraced former Major-General Chamlong Srimuang and other checkered personalities.

    Through previous campaigns, Chamlong made abortion virtually illegal in Thailand, while portraying himself as celibate despite being married.

    Chamlong leads a puritanical, anti-alcohol "Dharma Army" of Buddhists, including children, officially cast out of Thailand's majority Buddhist mainstream because their Santi Asoke sect opposes the established Buddhist clergy.

    Chamlong, along with a coup-installed military dictator, were jointly scolded on nationwide TV in 1992 by Thailand's widely revered king, after Chamlong led a pro-democracy march in Bangkok to confront the military, which then shot dead more than 50 civilians.

    Protesters have also called for a boycott -- widely ignored -- of Singapore's products, to convince the Singapore government to renege on the Thaksin deal, which allows it to profit from Thailand's biggest mobile telephone company, plus a Bangkok TV station, and Thailand's iPSTAR satellite.

    Buddhist puritans and Bush-Hitler comparisons?

    Geez. Maybe American politics is easier on the nerves . . .

    Election observers claim that the voting was not secret because the booths were open and the ballots were designed so that it was possible to see how people voted.

    I suspect that there are probably people who'd abolish secret voting in this country if they could get away with it.

    After all, privacy has no more place in politics than it does in one's personal life. All politics being personal, and all personal things being political, why allow private voting?

    In non-Thai news, pro-gay, pro-choice Republican Judy Baar Topinka (subject of a previous post) won the Illinois Republican primary. But while the vote reveals a party which (in the primaries, at least) is starkly divided, I'm wondering whether Topinka might have been seen as the candidate who "shut up the loudest" (i.e. did the least ad hominizing):

    With 11,012 of 11,700 precincts counted, Topinka had 38 percent and Oberweis had 32 percent. State Sen. Bill Brady had 19 percent, Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz had about 11 percent and Internet journalist Martin was at less than 1 percent.

    On the Democratic side, Blagojevich captured 70 percent of the vote to Eisendrath's 30 percent with 11,012 of 11,700 precincts counted in unofficial returns.

    Redstate.org weighed in:
    #3. Pro-choice, pro-gay rights Judy Baar Topinka wins IL-GOV primary. Illinois is hardly a red state, but Baar Topinka's primary win is a reminder that pro-choice Republicans can and do win primaries -- and in a Midwestern state where Evangelicals are somewhat of a factor. And Baar Topinka won numerous counties outside Chicagoland, most notably quite a few that are geographically close to Iowa.
    Close, but not as close as the, um, Thai vote.

    Is there a way to make politics less personal? Without getting into the personal?

    posted by Eric at 09:40 AM

    News that matters not

    I am testing the ubuntu linux operating system.

    Rah rah rah!

    Yeah, so it worked. Big deal. Actually, the ubuntu CD booted up my computer just fine and configured everything automatically. It's a good, fast operating system.

    But I'm back with Windows now, because life without Windows sucks. I say this notwithstanding the prohibition in the Third Commandment of Herpetology professor Eric R. Pianka's Ten Commandments:

    "3. Thou Shalt NOT use an IBM PC."
    How are we to interpret this commandment? Is it intended as merely a prohibition on using any PC? Or is it a requirement that only a Mac may be used? Considering that the other commandments refer to Macs, I suspect the latter. But does using a Mac require using the Mac OS?

    What are the implications for counterculture types who might enjoy defying the genocidal professor and booting Linux on a Mac? Is there an implicit assumption that the world is divided into PCs and Macs, and, Linux being a PC OS, that such a thing would be impossible heresy?

    Actually it can be done. But you have to be a determined geek:

    Ubuntu Linux, Yellowdog Linux and Mac OS X, all on one PowerBook?

    In a bit of a break from business analysis, I thought it would be fun to post one of my more technical articles to re-establish my "geek cred", if you will. This article details the trials and tribulations of turning a perfectly good Apple PowerBook into a tri-boot system with Mac OS X, Yellow Dog Linux and Ubuntu Linux.

    There's a lot more, and it wouldn't be of interest to most of the readers here. Mac people tend to be very devoted to their Macs, so why would they want to go to all the trouble of repartitioning their hard drives in order to be able dual boot Linux alongside the Mac OS?

    However in case there is anyone who wants to experiment, the ubuntu people have a PowerPC live CD -- "for Apple Macintosh G3, G4, and G5 computers, including iBooks and PowerBooks." If you run the OS off the CD and you enjoy it, you can then give thought to repartitioning the hard drive and enjoy dual booting.

    And if you really want to test the limits of Professor Pianka's Third Commandment, you can now also run Windows on a Mac!

    Or multiboot Mac, Windows and Linux. (Another alternative here.)

    Apple is apparently doing its damnedest to make this physically impossible and there are legal issues, but it does appear that the Great Culture Wall between Macs and PCs has finally been breached.

    I wish politics was so easy.

    posted by Eric at 09:11 AM | Comments (3)

    RINOs rage at the status quo

    Jim at Right Thoughts (who had a lot of fun with Cynthia McKinney btw) does a great job of hosting this week's RINO Sightings Carnival.

    Jim begins by articulating his RINO manifesto:

    Some time ago, upon these great shores, a group of Republicans grew weary of the status quo. No longer content to blindly accept that which was thrust upon them by their chosen political party, these brave men and women took upon themselves the mantle of the free thinker, broke with the tradition of being led by color of state and took up with the tradition of being led by strength of character, argument and logic.

    These are their stories.

    The host has a witty writing style, and the posts are all good.

    Here are some that stood out:

  • This one by Don Surber made an evil thought run through my mind: if idolatry and graven images are prohibited by the Bible and the Koran, why is it OK to display pictures of Jesus but not pictures of Mohammad? And would the ACLU fight to allow both or take down both?
  • Decision '08 reports that Barack Obama is in trouble with the DailyKos ideological purists for supporting Senator Joe Lieberman (the latter is said to be "uncomfortably tolerant of the Bush administration.") If Obama could tell the party puritans to go take a hike, I think his popularity would soar.
  • Nick Schweitzer does not think "white privilege" exists. (According to the proponents of "whiteness theory," even raising such a question is prima facie proof of white racism.)
  • Dean Esmay has a very thoughtful post warning people not to generalize about Islam without doing their homework:
    If you want to help change a nasty part of the world, it helps to know who your real enemies are, and who your real friends are. Before you decide for sure, you should look closely.
    There's always a tendency (and it's always a mistake) to judge the majority because of a loud minority claiming the right to speak for the majority.
  • Good carnival. Read them all!

    posted by Eric at 02:23 PM

    Execution before trial?

    A relatively new film -- Sidney Lumet's "Find Me Guilty" ("based on the true story of Jack DiNorscio, a mobster who defended himself in court for what would be the longest mafia trial in U.S. history") -- opened at theaters nationwide on March 17. Not only does it look interesting, it's gotten good reviews. The local Courier Post's Chuck Darrow gave it a rave review:

    It's a shame Find Me Guilty came out so soon after this year's Academy Awards. History suggests that by the time the 2007 nominations are announced, Diesel's sparkling performance most likely will be forgotten.

    The movie is also an inspiration for those who believe old age and the diminishing of creative and intellectual powers are a matched set.

    Philadelphia native Lumet, whose jaw-dropping resume includes Twelve Angry Men, The Pawn Broker, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict and the criminally underrated Prince Of the City, is 81.

    But his direction is crisp and compelling, as is the script for which he receives top billing in the credits (he apparently wrote most of the non-courtroom scenes).

    Even at his advanced age, Lumet appears still to be pretty close to his professional peak.

    Finally, and maybe most importantly, the movie speaks to friendship and loyalty, aspects of the human condition that don't always get top billing.

    According to the film, DiNorscio was eager and willing to take the rap so 19 guys he'd known and loved as brothers all his life could remain free.

    His only motivation was his unshakable belief in the sacredness of such relationships.

    In an increasingly isolating world, that is a wonderful lesson to impart.

    Bottom line: Don't miss Find Me Guilty.

    I love Sidney Lumet, and The Pawnbroker may be my all-time favorite film. (Certainly it's in my top five.)

    So the bottom line is, I didn't want to miss Lumet's latest (especially considering the excellent reviews).

    Except I did miss it! Less than two weeks after its release, Find Me Guilty is gone. I've never seen a film vanish that quickly. The official website still shows it playing at numerous theaters in this area, but if you check further, you'll find it is nowhere in Pennsylvania. Nor New Jersey.

    Hmmmm.... A big film by a major director about the Mob? Not lasting two weeks in the director's home town? In the stomping grounds of the Sopranos?

    What could be the explanation?

    And why is it still playing in New York and Ohio?

    I'm wondering. Is it a coincidence that a lawsuit was filed in New Jersey last week?

    NEWARK, NJ, United States (UPI) -- Journalist Robert Rudolph filed suit in Newark, N.J., federal court Thursday claiming the film \'Find Me Guilty\' was illegally based on a book he wrote.

    Rudolph`s suit claims director Sidney Lumet`s film was a \'blatant and wholesale theft\' of his 1992 book, \'The Boys From New Jersey: How the Mob Beat the Feds.\'

    Rudolph, who spent more than 35 years at the Newark Star Ledger, wrote the book after covering the 1980`s racketeering trial of more than 20 alleged members of the Lucchese crime family. The trial, which lasted more than 20 months, resulted in the acquittals of all the defendants.

    Look, I don't like plagiarism any more than the next guy. But the case hasn't even gone to trial yet. Isn't the film innocent until proven guilty?

    Besides, plagiarism is one thing; my right to see a movie is another!

    And what about my constitutional right as a blogger to see the film so I can write a review of it?

    Obviously, I can't prove that the film was pulled because of the lawsuit, but something stinks.

    posted by Eric at 01:21 PM | Comments (1)

    Of monitors and men

    Drudge has linked to a story about a kooky professor named Eric R. Pianka, who believes that for the good of the planet, 90% of the world's human population should disappear:

    Though his statements are admittedly bold, he's not without abundant advocates. But what may set this revered biologist apart from other doomsday soothsayers is this: Humanity's collapse is a notion he embraces.

    Indeed, his words deal, very literally, on a life-and-death scale, yet he smiles and jokes candidly throughout the lecture. Disseminating a message many would call morbid, Pianka's warnings are centered upon awareness rather than fear.

    "This is really an exciting time," he said Friday amid warnings of apocalypse, destruction and disease. Only minutes earlier he declared, "Death. This is what awaits us all. Death." Reflecting on the so-called Ancient Chinese Curse, "May you live in interesting times," he wore, surprisingly, a smile.

    Hahaha! I see it now! Death is certainly interesting, and as someone who's watched dozens of my friends die, I'm probably ahead of the learning curve. (Pianka proudly features his own obituary at his web site.)

    Pianka will doubtless be vilified as a genocide advocate. That's as it should be, for even though he denies advocating direct action, he's clearly sympathetic to the idea.

    "Good terrorists would be taking [Ebola Roaston and Ebola Zaire] so that they had microbes they could let loose on the Earth that would kill 90 percent of people."
    While there's a lot of debate as to whether this man should be receiving the high academic honors he is receiving, it would be a mistake to write off his thinking as the work of a lone nut. Along with Ted Kaczynski and John Zerzan, he's just another in a fairly long line of such radical Luddite anarcho-primitivist thinkers. I've called them "anti-civilizationists" and it's obvious that their ranks are growing. Radical Islam is mild by comparison.

    Redstate's Nick Firenze is correct in seeing Pianka as a threat because of the likelihood that he'll inspire others:

    Hopefully, none of the students impressed by Dr. Pianka's ideas will try to act on those ideas.

    Pianka has stated that Ebola is an evolutionary step away from becoming a global pandemic.  He has also stated that Ebola is only an international plane flight away as well.  "Ebola does not discriminate, kills everyone and could spread to Europe and the the Americas by a single infected airplane passenger."

    I sincerely hope that someone is keeping tabs on Dr. Pianka's travel plans now and in the future.  And also the travel plans and itineraries of his many students.  And the plane flights and "vacations" of the many, many others who hear his doomsday talk and become convinced that the cure to the world's problems is the death of 9 out of every 10 people alive.

    Equally sobering is the thought that many of the biology students who study under Dr. Pianka will end up in jobs where they come in contact with lethal bacteria and viruses used in research.  Hopefully, none of them will have been so impressed by Dr. Pianka's arguments in favor of a worls "saved" from humans by global pandemic that they are tempted to help the process along.

    It doesn't take a Tom Clancyesque terrorist group to bring about this apocalyptic scenario.  All it takes is one true believer who hops a jet to Central Africa after seeing a CNN story about a new Ebola outbreak

    Just one true believer who "worships" Dr. Pianka's vision of death and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty and give his all for the "cause."

    Good point.

    It would be tough to find a better case for government surveillance.

    The bright side is that people like Pianka can be watched, as can their students. The ones who are fired, denied tenure, driven underground are probably the most likely suspects.

    Not that I have any problem with anyone's free speech. Pianka and those of similar bent have just as much right to advocate genocide as Nazis or anyone else. But common sense suggests that advocates of genocide bear watching. (Monitoring?)

    Pianka isn't too hard to spot. Here are a couple of lovely pictures from his web site:

    lizardman.gif Lizardman2.gif

    What a pity that this jerk has to be a herpetologist, of all things! I've been an amateur herpetologist for most of my life, and I love snakes and monitors.

    I think Pianka is giving reptile lovers a bad name!

    UPDATE: More of Pianka's remarks reported here by fellow scientist Forrest M. Mims III:

    I watched in amazement as a few hundred members of the Texas Academy of Science rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation to a speech that enthusiastically advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth's population by airborne Ebola.
    Concludes Mims:
    Let me now remove my reporter's hat for a moment and tell you what I think. We live in dangerous times. The national security of many countries is at risk. Science has become tainted by highly publicized cases of misconduct and fraud.

    Must now we worry that a Pianka-worshipping former student might someday become a professional biologist or physician with access to the most deadly strains of viruses and bacteria? I believe that airborne Ebola is unlikely to threaten the world outside of Central Africa. But scientists have regenerated the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed 50 million people. There is concern that small pox might someday return. And what other terrible plagues are waiting out there in the natural world to cross the species barrier and to which scientists will one day have access?

    Meanwhile, I still can't get out of my mind the pleasant spring day in Texas when a few hundred scientists of the Texas Academy of Science gave a standing ovation for a speaker who they heard advocate for the slow and torturous death of over five billion human beings.

    To those who might see racist overtones (because Ebola is "found only in Central Africa"), Pianka offers a reassurance that "Ebola does not discriminate, kills everyone and could spread to Europe and the the Americas."

    What a relief to know the man isn't a bigot!

    UPDATE: Pajamas Media has more links on the Pianka story.

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds looks at whether depression might be involved, and wonders whether cases like Pianka's receive disproportionate media attention.

    Given that academics' lives are generally pretty good, it's hard to see why academics should be more depressed. It's perhaps better to say that academics' negative statements get more media attention.
    That's because they're in a profession that tends to act as a sort of contagion. And when the contagion advocates contagion, well, that's bound to attract attention.

    What I'd like to know is whether Pianka is on the "right" or on the "left."

    I mean, I hate to see everything get politicized, but exactly where would killing 90% of humanity fit on the political spectrum anyway?

    UPDATE (03/06/06): Professor Pianka will be interviewed by the FBI, and he denies advocating genocide, and he may be right. Promulgating an idea or a philosophy is not the same thing as advocating its direct implementation, even if the one who promulgates in wants it to happen.

    But suppose instead of "people," he'd said "Jews":

    "Good terrorists would be taking [Ebola Roaston and Ebola Zaire] so that they had microbes they could let loose on the Earth that would kill 90 percent of Jews."
    Or substitute "Christians," "Negroes," or "homosexuals."

    Is humanity as a whole less worthy of protection than individual groups?

    posted by Eric at 08:17 AM | Comments (4)

    Bunch of lazy good-for-nothin's!

    Via Pajamas Media, I found this disturbing analysis of the relative value of white versus Mexican workers:

    ...the nursery said they pay more for a good Mexican than any white boy they ever had working for them.

    I can tell you from my own experience it’s true. I was never sued for workman’s comp by Mexicans (twice from white boys), I never had to discuss sick days with Mexicans (a constant battle with white boys) and I never had to push the Mexicans to finish an undone job with a little overtime (when it’s Miller Time for white boys they quit).

    I wish it weren’t so. I wish the work ethic among the white boys were equal to the Mexican labor force. It’s not in my experience.

    Somehow our weenie school system, video games, TV, draconian child labor laws and the hip hop culture has bred the work ethic out of our country. I fear for the white boy future. They don’t have one.

    Jose and hose B do.

    Mexicans 100 – White Boys 0

    I hate to cast aspersions on the quality of any worker's abilities or disabilities because of his race. But the fact is, the most common reason given for the hiring of illegal aliens is that they will work for less money. In the case above, the rate offered was $11.00 per hour for "hard manual labor" and while a lot of white workers wanted the work, the employer seems to have discriminated against them in favor of the non-white workers:
    Here’s what the nursery operator said: “Mostly we got calls from white boys. You know, pick-up drivin’ mullet wearing tattooed types. We used to hire them but they couldn’t finish a days work and never came back a second day. If they had to do actual work they complained all the time. Now we only hire Mexicans. We can tell who we will hire by their accent. If they speak English we don’t even discuss it. But we did get a couple who couldn’t speak a lick. They’ll be great.” Pure and simple reverse discrimination.
    As I remarked in a previous post, I don't think the issue is so much money as it is getting the job done. Even more importantly, employers want something that used to be taken for granted in this country -- an arms length transaction:
    Let's assume that the going wage for hacking out brambles and pulling up weeds is $15.00 per hour. If you hire an American, it's not an arms-length transaction. You have special duties to take care of his taxes and all that other fussy legal stuff. And what if he gets hurt and sues you? It isn't worth the risk, and the potential hassles are endless. The hourly rate is in my view a secondary, not a primary, factor.

    Seen this way, I think that illegal aliens represent something much more important and compelling than a source of "cheap labor." They're a glimpse of that American freedom which was once our birthright.

    In this country, there was a time when you could just agree with someone that in return for doing a certain thing, you'd pay him. And if he did the work, you could pay him, and that was that.

    That's the way it was when I was a kid, and with aliens, it's still that way.

    Under the present system, of course, they're considered to be "stealing jobs from U.S. citizens."

    But has anyone stopped to ask why there wasn't an "underground economy" in the days of American freedom?

    (It used to be a term generally reserved to describe private transactions in the Soviet Union.)

    Once again, I think this unacknowledged problem stems from the ever expanded definitions of "rights" as obligations and entitlements.

    Someone who thinks a job is an entitlement and that he has rights beyond the right to be paid when the work is done is unlikely to work as hard as someone who just wants to do the job and get paid.

    This argument touches on something which is deeply disturbing (to me, at least) -- whether privacy is or has become un-American. Frankly, I like the idea of people who respect privacy, and who come from cultures where's there's nothing wrong with putting a wall around your yard, and where it's your own damned business what goes on inside.

    But whether it's anti-American to value privacy is probably another topic, and I'm running late. . .

    posted by Eric at 11:13 AM | Comments (5)

    Confidential my ass!

    Here's an outrageous development which was just forwarded to me in an email -- it's urgency is obvious.

    The text I received reads as follows:

    Check out your driver's license ... on the Internet!!!

    Now you can see anyone's Driver's License on the Internet,
    including your own! I just searched for mine and there it
    was...picture and all! Thanks Homeland Security! Privacy,
    where is our right to it? I found mine on-line and had it
    removed you might want to check and do the same! Go to the
    website and check it out. Just enter your Name, City and State
    to see if yours is on file. After your license comes on the
    screen, click the box marked "Please Remove". This will remove
    it from public viewing, but not from law enforcement.


    Just enter your name, state, and city in the blanks, and it will search for your driver's license. Here's how the website describes itself:
    National Motor Vehicle License Bureau web site - offering a free searchable database of over 121 million U.S. driver's license photos and license information. Search using the box below.

    Under the Motor Vehicle Operator License Identification Act (MOLIA - enacted on July 9, 2005), all US states are required to digitally store a copy of every valid driver's license. License data must be made retrievable by The National Motor Vehicle License Bureau in order to form a consolidated and centralized database of U.S. driver's licenses. On August 3rd, 2005 Congress enacted an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act, providing public access to motor vehicle driver's information in an electronic format.

    I didn't know this was legal, and I don't know how on earth they're getting away with it.

    Continue reading "Confidential my ass!"

    posted by Eric at 08:51 PM | Comments (4)


    The following announcement may be of grave importance. Or not.

    Andrew Keen has a new blog portrait.

    I shall quite miss the old one. The vivacious, sinewy way that he twisted his neck, gone forever, down the memory hole. I'm the tiniest bit distraught. Luckily, his baleful "butchest man in the Royal Navy" come hither stare has carried over to the new look. "Eyes like a doll's eyes", indeed.

    Ah, but the lips! So very furiously pursed. Could one call such an expression a moue? Why, yes! But what does it signify? Grim fortitude? Defiance of the fates? Regret for lost millions? Who can say?

    Perhaps he is imitating le Hitchcock.

    Continue reading "Headshots!"

    posted by Justin at 11:42 AM | Comments (3)

    Enjoyed any nice weather yet?

    Beautiful Spring weather has finally arrived! As I agreed in an email exchange with Sean Kinsell, Spring is being very kind to Philly (as it is to Tokyo).

    But not so fast!

    Already, just as we try to enjoy the nice weather, moralistic overtones about "dry weather" (soon to be a "drought") are creeping into the news:

    For the first March in memory, the region's farms, ball fields and backyards are virtually mud-free. That's because nature has withheld an essential ingredient: water. Barring a downpour before midnight right atop the rain gauge at Philadelphia International Airport, this will officially be the driest March since 1966.

    The 0.91 inches measured since the beginning of the month is less than one-quarter of March's normal rainfall of 3.81 inches. It is even a half inch less than the average for Phoenix.

    The air also has been amazingly dry. On several days this month, afternoon humidity actually dropped into the teens, lower than typical March readings in Las Vegas and Yuma, Ariz.

    Geez, I had actually been enjoying the nice weather before I read that.

    Should I feel guilty? I'm not sure. I know that for at least the past six years, man has been responsible for nearly every irregularity in the weather, and it's all because that moron in the White House won't sign the Kyoto Accord.

    Fortunately, they're not calling it a drought "quite yet." As they say, they're holding off on the "D" word:

    While droughts around here appear with a regularity that SEPTA could envy, no one is using the "D" word quite yet.

    Still, the bone-dry conditions in New Jersey contributed to 511 minor fires that have charred 1,297 acres and prompted a statewide ban on open campfires. Pennsylvania has issued a fire "alert" warning but no statewide restrictions.

    Nature's demand for water could become a concern. The region's trees are about to turn into six million pumps drawing moisture from the ground to feed voracious leaves.

    If we don't get rain soon, an official "Drought" will have to be declared, and water rationing imposed. By the time the summer is in full swing, it will be time to analyze the crisis in terms of "Global Warming" and either blame Bush directly, or imply that he (and the rest of the anti-Kyoto clique) are to blame.

    The comparison of Philadelphia to Phoenix is not just an exercise in alliteration. Even in Phoenix, drought equals Global Warming:

    Jonathan Overpeck, who directs the university- and government-funded Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona, said current drought and weather disruptions signal what is to come over the next century. Twenty-five years ago, he said, scientists produced computer models of the drought that Arizona is now experiencing.

    "It's going to get warmer, we're going to have more people, and we're going to have more droughts more frequently and in harsher terms," Overpeck said. "We should be at the forefront of demanding action on global warming because we're at the forefront of the impacts of global warming. . . . In the West we're seeing what's happening now."

    And that was last year! The article goes on to point out that there are "dissenters" who "say it is impossible to attribute the recent drought and higher temperatures to global warming" but we know all about dissenters, don't we?

    In a previous post I remarked that "nowadays, mentioning bad weather can trigger a political diatribe."

    Maybe I should amend that to include nice weather.

    posted by Eric at 09:07 AM | Comments (3)

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