Flush a libertarian and find a luddite!

I don't like to think of myself as a Luddite, but yesterday's experience with a high tech toilet hardly endeared me to the idea of modernizing and revolutionizing Every Last Personal Thing.

At O'Hare Airport I made the mistake of going to the bathroom and entering a sit-down toilet stall. First I was a bit off-put by the fact that there was an automatic plastic toilet seat cover which didn't appear to be readily removable. Normally (huh?) I don't use toilet seat covers, and whether that makes me "anal" or the opposite I don't know and don't care, but in this case there was something just, well, a bit creepy about sitting on someone else's toilet seat cover. As irrational as it may sound, I'd rather sit on a bare toilet seat than a used toilet seat cover! That's because not only do toilet seat covers give me the creeps, but whoever used a toilet seat cover might have had an unpleasant and undisclosed reason for using it.

To my annoyance, I didn't see an easy way to remove the toilet seat cover, which was attached at each end, and seemed to roll into a dispenser. A button on the wall was right under a red LED with numbers -- almost like something you'd see in a hospital. Hell, why not press the button? I did, and then the toilet seat cover slithered across the seat -- reminding me of the way a snake sheds its skin -- until a new virgin coating was formed on the seat!

Now, I was already feeling slightly manipulated by this. That's because I don't choose to use toilet seat covers, but I felt compelled to use one whether I wanted to or not. The idea that some unknown bureaucratic forces somewhere have decided to dictate a change in my personal habits is unsettling to say the least. Coupled with the constant diminution in quantity of urinals, I find this ominous. Still, I sat down on the thing. And no -- I don't like the sensation. It's slippy-slidy and creepy.

That was the least of my problems. For, no sooner had ten or twenty seconds elapsed from my sitting down on the toilet when the automatic flush mechanism activated itself! And not just with a normal toilet flush. This thing was under pressure. With a big "WHOOSH!" it sprayed me! Worst of all, (and without going into the kind of personal details which might get my blog more censored than it already is -- just take my word for it) the timing could not possibly have been worse!

But that wasn't all. "Recovering" (hope that's the right word) as best I could from this traumatic assualt on all I hold dear and personal, after another ten or twenty seconds (I didn't check my watch) the damned thing flushed and sprayed me again. Surely, that would be the last time, I thought. But as I'd been twice fooled, I was ready to jump if it happened again.

And it did. Only this time I stood up, remained standing, and concluded my personal details with as much dignity as I could muster under the circumstances.

Does anyone know what is going on? Is there some vast bureaucracy which has decided to save environment at the expense of our privacy and our sanity?

I know that these things are all about control. I just can't decide how to label the problem. . . No control? Lack of control? Loss of control?

When will they stop? They haven't stopped with potty parity, urinal removal, mandatory seat covers and automatic flushing. Where does it end?

Until this day I never imagined that there could be such a thing as a Luddite libertarian or libertarian Luddite, but now I'm wondering . . .

posted by Eric at 09:27 AM | Comments (11)

Late but not forgotten

I'm back, and trying to get caught up from my trip. While I was in Rockford, I did not forget Memorial Day, and I visited a cemetery. But, I wanted to do something to help living veterans, and via Glenn Reynolds, I found Chicago Boyz link to the Wounded Warriors Hospital Fund, to which I left a donation. Chicago Boyz also provides a link to Stars and Stripes' list of worthy charities.

Remember, Memorial Day is over, but there's still time to contribute!

posted by Eric at 09:14 AM

A conservative argument against the "War On Drugs"

I'm subscribed to receive a daily article from the rather radical Libertarians over at the Mises Institute. I don't always agree with the folks at Mises--in fact, I often find quite a few of their views disagreeable. Nonetheless, their scholarship is impeccable, and their articles are always thought provoking and informative.

I was a touch surprised at the article I received yesterday. The basic premise was that the U.S. government's War On Drugs is a woefully negative policy, impacting non-drug users in great and substantial ways. There's nothing particularly new about that particular libertarian (both small 'l' and big 'L') argument. What was particularly interesting was that the argument took strikingly conservative lines. I think it would have a distinct appeal to more traditional, conservative thinkers, and as such, the article is of particular importance and relevance.

Author Gennady Stolyarov II begins:

I personally find all currently illegal drugs loathsome; they stunt the mind, inhibit the body, and curtail productivity. I would never consume such substances myself, and I would advise others against doing so.
A big mistake the Libertarian Party makes in its pro-legalization stance is a fail to make their opinion on drugs themselves clear. If Libertarians would occasionally make statements like the above, perhaps people wouldn't so quickly dismiss Libertarians as a bunch of pot-smoking hippies. Next, Stolyarov's thesis:
Yet, compared to the adverse effects of their illegalization, the harm of drugs themselves is small indeed.
A simple statement which can easily be understood by social, economic, and other conservatives. This is both a straightforward statement of value (cost of drug war > cost of harm from drug use), and it's a statement which can be argued, evaluated, and verified in a straightforward, logically consistent manner.

In other words, it has the virtue of a scientific theory: it's testable and falsifiable (as opposed to, oh, I dunno, say Intelligent Design "theory" which is neither).

And we're not even through the first paragraph. It concludes:

Drug-taking is extremely unhealthy for the persons engaging in it, but not for anybody who abstains from it. The "War on Drugs," by contrast, harms everybody subject to a government that undertakes it. I have no sympathy for drug addicts; I wish to argue the case of the innocent, moral, productive people who have never used such substances in their lives but are nonetheless harmed by the coercive illegalization of drugs.
Next, Stolyarov acknowledges that there are (arguably) moral problems with consumption of drugs. These moral problems, however, do not inflict a cost on society even remotely comparable with the cost imposed by the War On Drugs.
There are moral problems with drug-taking, but the ethical problems with the War on Drugs far exceed them. Let us presume that someone has decided to ruin his life by consuming harmful drugs. That decision alone would likely deny him the voluntary association of respectable people; these respectable people would thus not be damaged by any adverse consequences to the drug-taker's health, career, and personality. By the very fact of strongly disapproving of drug-consumption on a moral basis, one shields oneself from the adverse consequences of drug-consumption. This would be the case on a free market; the only damage from drug-taking would come to the drug addict himself — not to respectable others.
Stolyarov then goes on to make a lengthy, damning enumeration of the costs incurred because of the Drug War by moral, responsible, law-abiding members of society:

Yet this is not the case under a government-waged War on Drugs. The War on Drugs is waged with taxpayer money — which especially means the money of respectable, well-to-do people, who are taxed higher under the perverse "progressive" or punitive tax system. Thus, to regulate and thwart the activities of the addicts, the government expropriates substantial property from moral, productive people who do not even think about consuming illegal drugs. To punish the self-destructive, the government must also punish the self-improving and deprive them of the fruits of and the incentives for their self-improvement.

The War on Drugs is generous to drug addicts and punitive to all others; the drug addicts are arrested at others' expense and given "free" food and "free" lodging at government prisons — free to the imprisoned, that is, but paid for by the taxpayers. Why should moral people pay to sustain others for those others' immoral conduct? Why should the drug addicts be given state handouts and be spared the requirement to earn their own living on the free market? Prison conditions may be miserable, but they are granted to the drug addicts automatically — as a taxpayer-funded gift for having broken a silly law. Why should drug addicts deserve even poor-quality food and shelter for ruining their lives?

The War on Drugs harms innocent schoolchildren, who are at risk of being suspended or expelled by draconian public school administrators for bringing in sugar, salt, aspirin, or other "drug look-alikes."

In the inner cities, the War on Drugs harms anyone who does not engage in drug consumption; it subjects them to the tyranny of black-market drug gangs, which have by now usurped control of certain ghettoes. The government prohibits peaceful, overt trade in drugs, but it cannot legislate away demand for them. The demand persists, and some suppliers are still willing to satisfy it.


Thus is created the environment of competing, heavily armed drug gangs — willing to murder to gain black market share. Such drug gangs are far more effective at seizing power than ordinary citizens; it should come as no surprise that the gangs should eventually begin to terrorize and extort even those not directly connected to the drug trade.


Most likely, the inner-city resident will not bother with the dangers of opening his own business or finding a productive job. Rather, he will be inclined to stay home, keep a low profile, receive his welfare check, and gradually disintegrate.

The War on Drugs restricts the mobility of virtually everybody, as the inner-city ghettoes are no longer safe for respectable, well-to-do people to even walk around in. The War on Drugs hurts everybody who has been robbed, mugged, or killed by the black-market gangs that the illegalization of drugs has created.

One of the strongest arguments traditional conservatives wield against the forces of libertarians--their justification for everything from opposition to gay marriage to legalized gambling to legal drug use--is that the damage to society's culture has a negative effect on the whole society which in turn leads to increased crime, decreased economic growth, and the general decay of civilization. That particular point of view is a whole different debate for a whole different time, so I won't get into it; rather, I point it out to show the relevance (and conservativeness) of Stolyarov's next argument:
The War on Drugs fundamentally harms Americans culturally. By dividing the ghettoes into the drug gangs and the slothful welfare recipients who are too afraid to leave their homes, the government has inadvertently created the American ghetto culture: a culture of dissipation, vulgarity, insolence, indolence, foul language, deceit, promiscuity, brutality, and violence — indeed, an anti-culture. This culture is eagerly romanticized and popularized by the leftist mass media and damages the morals of many who indiscriminately absorb it. The War on Drugs has been indirectly responsible for the widespread decline in tastes in music, art, clothing, and lifestyles during the past half-century.
Finally, Stolyarov concludes:
When compared to the expropriation of honest, productive citizens, the punishment of innocent children, the stifling of inner-city residents' opportunities and aspirations, the massive increase in crime and black-market activity, the restriction of territorial mobility, and the corruption of culture, the harms of drug consumption are slight indeed. Let the drug addicts ruin their own lives; it is their business, not ours. We may object morally to their conduct, but let us persuade — not coerce — them away from their pursuits. If we try coercion, we will only be imposing far greater harms on ourselves.
In other words, drug legalization is not only moral from a libertarian standpoint (i.e. people should be free to engage in any activity which doesn't infringe on the rights of others), but also drug legalization is the conservative, logical, and socially beneficial policy decision. Hopefully this message will gain more and more resonance among conservatives and some day we can see an end to the silly, pointless, counterproductive, financially destructive, and bureaucratically wasteful policy of drug prohibition.

posted by Beck at 08:55 AM | Comments (2)

Bus blogging from Rockford to O'Hare

What could be more exciting than riding a bus from Rockford to Chicago O'Hare Airport?

Riding on a bus while writing a post about it, that's what! There's a line of rush-hour traffic as far as I can see, and the bus just lurches and stops, lurches and stops, so it's tougher to sleep than it was an hour ago when it was moving along normally in a more rural area.

I had almost zero time to get online, much less post about anything, but on Sunday I happened to glance through the Rockford Register Star, which featured a nice front-page feature on local Rockford blogs:

ROCKFORD — A movement aimed at transforming the political landscape in America has spread to the Rock River Valley with the help of a small army of volunteers — some of whom report for duty dressed in pajamas.

The local devotees come from all walks of life.

One’s a self-styled “house person” in Pecatonica.

A couple of others are Rockford lawyers who hide their true identities in their movement endeavors.

Some are technicians or teachers or retirees.

And many strongly disagree among one another on the issues of the day.

These are our homegrown political bloggers, advocates who post their opinions — along with news items and, in some cases, rumors — on Internet sites known as blogs, which is short for Web logs.

By now, the effect of blogs on the national political and media scenes is well-known. Bloggers have been credited with forcing Sen. Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican, to resign his leadership post after making public remarks that critics construed as racist, and with exposing CBS newscaster Dan Rather’s use of forged documents in a report on President Bush’s National Guard service.

By most accounts, the influence of blogs has just begun. But if the political blogosphere as a whole is only in its infancy, its Rock River Valley component is downright embryonic.

Two political veterans, Harlem Township Supervisor Doug Aurand, a Democrat, and Winnebago County Board member Tim Simms, a Republican, said last week that they’ve discerned no effect from blogs — at least not yet.

"I never hear anything about them," Aurand said. "But that doesn’t mean they might not be a factor sometime in the future. They might be useful in helping to organize people around certain issues."

Simms said he’s seen no influence from local blogs and doesn’t expect any: "What you get from blogs is worth exactly what you pay for it — nothing."

At least one blogger, Michael Simon of Rockford, despairs of the blogosphere influencing local politics.

"Our local government is way too corrupt," he said, "and hardly anybody is interested in cleaning it up."

The 61-year-old electronics contractor said he devotes his blog (http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com) mostly to national and international issues, especially the war on drugs, which he criticizes from his libertarian perspective. He said his site "has been pretty well-received" and once received a torrent of visitors when it was mentioned on the nationally popular Instapundit.com.

That's incredibly cool to read that, as Michael Simon is a longtime favorite of mine.

There's more, including an account of another blogger Scott Richert (of the Rockford Institute) and his role in saving a beautiful local landmark church from being torn down to build an awful-looking jail.

Glad I found the piece online!

Wish I could have spent more time in Rockford, but I'm heading home.

Almost at the airport now. . .

(Forgive the typos while I post and run.)

posted by Eric at 08:58 AM | Comments (1)

Nasty Little Bits Of Rifkin: A Sampler

Rod Adams runs an informative and gentlemanly blog called Atomic Insights. Mr. Adams is a nuclear engineer and a former submariner in the U.S. navy. His blog's primary focus is fission power and its potential benefits. It was through Mr. Adams and his blog that I discovered Kirk Sorenson's superlative Energy From Thorium blog. It has some great introductory papers to the wonderland that is thorium fission power. We'll come back to both of them another day. For today we're going to concentrate on an old Classical Values staple, Jeremy Rifkin. Mr. Adams recently attended a function in Washington D.C. where Rifkin was a featured lecturer. Your tax dollars at work.

Last night (May 22, 2006) I had the opportunity to listen to Jeremy Rifkin, the author of The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth.

The talk was hosted by The DoD Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Office of Force Transformation as part of a continuing series of "conversations" about energy issues.

What was DOD thinking?

For those of us that were listening very carefully, Dr. Rifkin acknowledged that an energy system based on only natural flows would not be able to support a human population that is already more than 6 billion people with a growth rate that makes it likely to approach 9 billion in the next 50 years or so. He talked a bit about a gradual reduction in the world's population but did not seem concerned by the drastic changes in human behavior that would be required to turn our population growth rate into a population reduction rate. Perhaps he would like the rest of the world to adopt China's one child policy.

I took the opportunity provided by sitting in the front row in a rather small room to ask the first question following Dr. Rifkin's talk. (As an aside, I am sure that others in the room noticed my fidgeting while waiting through at least three separate "finally I want to talk about. . ." from Dr. Rifkin. He managed to stretch his talk long enough to only allow for about 4-5 questions.)

That sounds about right. For those of you who would prefer not to read Birth Of A Notion, Rifkin Redux, or "Machine Gun For An Idiot Child" yet again, I've stripped out the snarky commentary and am re-posting some unadulterated Rifkin excerpts. This first batch comes from "Entropy: Into The Greenhouse World". Think of it as a massive reference material dump for our newer readers...

Each day we awake to a world that appears more confused and disordered than the one we left the night before. Nothing seems to work anymore…Our leaders are forever lamenting and apologizing…The powers that be continue to address the problems at hand with solutions that create even greater problems than the ones they were meant to solve... P 3

The Entropy Law has a special power. It is so utterly overwhelming that, once fully internalized, it transforms everyone it comes in contact with; it is this almost mystical attraction that makes the Entropy Law so frightening to take hold of. Yet.... few people can resist the temptation to do just that. The allure lies in its all-encompassing nature.The Entropy law is the assassin of the truths of the Modern Age.... Now those truths have metamorphosed into monstrous lies which threaten our continued existence. Pp 6-7

It should be emphasized that the Entropy Law deals only with the physical world where everything is finite and where all living things must run their course and eventually cease to be. It is a law governing the horizontal world of time and space. It is mute, however, when it comes to the vertical world of spiritual transcendence.
The spiritual plane is not governed by the ironclad dictates of the Entropy Law. The spirit is a nonmaterial dimension where there are no boundaries and no fixed limits to attend to. The relationship of the physical to the spiritual world is the relationship of a small part to the larger unbound whole within which it unfolds. While the Entropy Law governs the world of time, space, and matter, it is, in turn, governed by the primordial spiritual forces that conceived it. P 8

Every time you light a cigarette, the available energy in the world decreases. Of course, as already pointed out, it’s possible to reverse the entropy process in an isolated time and place, but only by using up additional energy in the process and thus increasing the overall entropy of the environment…A point that needs to be emphasized over and over again is that here on earth material entropy is continually increasing and must ultimately reach a maximum. That’s because the earth is a closed system in relation to the universe. With the exception of an occasional meteorite that falls to earth and some cosmic dust, our planet remains a closed subsystem of the universe…

The fixed endowment of terrestrial matter that makes up the earth’s crust is continually dissipating. Mountains are wearing down and topsoil is being blown away with each passing second. That is why, in the final analysis, even renewable resources are really nonrenewable over the long haul. While they continue to reproduce, the life and death of new organisms increase the entropy of the earth...
Every farmer understands that, even with recycling and constant sunshine, it’s impossible to grow the same amount of grass on the same spot year after year in perpetuity. Every blade of grass grown today means one less blade of grass that can be grown some time in the future on that same spot. P37-38

Finally, the idea that valuable resources could be mined and sent back to earth from other planets in the quantities needed is completely ridiculous. The cost of mining additional resources on earth is already becoming prohibitive. Even assuming we could locate planets with resources that would be usable in some way here on earth, there is no way we could ever afford the costs of mining and transporting the materials from these distant places. Pp 66-67

The faster we streamline our technology, the faster we speed up the transforming process, the faster available energy is dissipated, the more the disorder mounts… In short, we live in a kind of nightmarish Orwellian world. P 79

Addiction! There is simply no other way to accurately describe America’s energy habit. The statistics are overwhelming. With only 6 percent of the world’s population, the United States currently consumes over one third of the world’s energy. P 99

It has been said before that the world could not possibly support another America. Looking at these figures, it becomes apparent that even one America is more than the world can afford.

The remaining reservoirs of untapped nonrenewable resources are primarily in the hands of the poor Third World nations. These resources are their only remaining trump card to bargain for a more equitable redistribution of wealth between the industrialized countries and their own…

To those of us who have lived for decades on huge quantities of energy and resources provided by the Third World, it is easy to resent the squeeze that cartels will put on our economic system. A popular country-and western song of the summer of 1979 summed up the frustration many Americans felt over escalating OPEC oil prices: “No crude, no food.” In other words, if the Third World won’t sell us its petroleum, then we should withhold food exports from the world’s hungry.

This kind of jingoistic attitude on our part is not only morally and politically indefensible, but it threatens our very survival. The choice is ours. We can either accept the new terms presented by Third World nations and cut back dramatically on our energy flow and material consumption, or we can intervene militarily to seize the resources we need… p 188

…as long as we in the United States continue to consume one-third of the world’s resources annually, the Third World can never rise to even a semblance of a standard of living that can adequately support human life with dignity. Those who are irate over the formation of resource cartels as an economic weapon to be used against rich nations like our own had best ask themselves what they would do if they were living in the Third World…. P 189

we must begin, now, voluntarily, to substantially limit our own material wealth. We must show our own willingness to accept hard sacrifices in the name of humanity. P 190

However, this too must be said: no Third World nation should harbor hopes that it can ever reach the material abundance that has existed in America over the past few decades.

To put its faith in Western-style development is a cruel hoax, simply because it is a physical impossibility even if there were a complete redistribution of the world’s resources….

It is thus impossible for the rest of the world to develop as the United States has. In fact, as we have already seen, absolute resource scarcity makes it impossible that even the United States can continue at anything near its present level of energy flow. This is not, however, to dismiss the absolute necessity of fostering economic development in the Third World. The question is: What kind of development is appropriate to poor nations? Pp 190-191

….It is clear that Third World nations must seek different forms of development from those used in the industrialized West. High-energy, centralized technology should be eschewed in favor of intermediate technology that is labor intensive and can be used in local villages…

Several appropriate models for Third World development already exist. Before Mao’s death, the People’s Republic of China organized itself in a way that maintained the rural base of the society and favored labor-intensive production. China is not a rich society, but no one is starving to death--or is jobless or homeless, either.

More attention should also be turned to the Gandhian economic model….Gandhian economics favors the country over the city, agriculture over industry, small-scale techniques over high technology. Only this general set of economic priorities can lead to successful Third World development. Pp 192-193

Accepting higher and higher prices for all nonrenewable resources means a steady contracting of the American economy. For the first time in our countries history we will have to deal with the ultimate political and economic question—redistribution of wealth…

The contraction of the American economy has already begun. On September 6, 1979, the Secretary of the Treasury warned the nation that it must go through “a period of austerity”.… There is really only one viable solution: it is imperative that there be a massive redistribution of wealth and power in this society. Without that redistribution, the poor and working classes in America will rightly condemn any talk of austerity or economic sacrifice…

Without a fundamental redistribution of wealth, all talk of lowering energy flow and heeding our planet’s biological limits will result in nothing but the rich locking the poor forever into their subservient status The chic upper-class ecologists, with their hot-tubs, their quarter-million-dollar homes, their designer clothes, and their Mercedes Benzes, had best realize that their calls for clean air must be accompanied by meaningful actions that will lead to a redistribution of their own unwarranted economic abundance. If they do not voluntarily begin to make this economic adjustment, then others will make it for them. Pp 194-195

We have denied the qualitative, the spiritual, the metaphysical…We have gloried in the concepts of material progress, efficiency, and specialization above all other values. In the process, we have destroyed family, community, tradition….Now our world view and social system are falling victim to the very process of their creation. Everywhere we look, the entropy of our world is reaching staggering proportions…. P 205

There is no doubt that we are in for a massive institutional realignment….But before we can even begin to broadly outline the nature of agriculture, industry, and commerce in a low-entropy society, we must turn our attention to first principles….the Big Questions of the past are destined to re-emerge in the low-entropy world that awaits us….. p 206

The governing ethical principle of a low-entropy world view is to minimize energy flow. Excessive material wealth is recognized as an irreversible diminution of the world’s precious resources…. A low-entropy society deemphasizes material consumption...Human needs are met, but whimsical, self-indulgent desires—the kind pandered to in every shopping center in the country—are not.

In a low-entropy culture the individual is expected to live a much more frugal or Spartan life-style….In the new age, the less production and consumption necessary to maintain a healthy, decent life, the better….

In a low-entropy culture, work is understood to be an activity as necessary for the proper life-balance as sleep, contemplation, or play….
But not just any kind of work can be considered appropriate. It must be designed, first and foremost, to provide dignity and purpose for the worker…. Pp 208-209

In a low-entropy culture the concept of private property is retained for consumer goods and services but not for land and other renewable and nonrenewable resources. The long-accepted practice of private exploitation of “natural” property is replaced with the notion of public guardianship….

Individual rights are protected, but they are no longer regarded as the dominant reference point from which to judge society. Instead, the notion of public duties, and responsibilities once again gains ascendancy as the dominant social motif, as it has been throughout most of history.

In a low-entropy society, our modern view of man and woman divorced from the workings of the ecosystem gives way to a holistic comprehension of the interrelatedness of all phenomena…. Once it is understood that human beings are “one” with nature, then an ethical base is established by which the appropriateness of all human activity can be judged. P 211

Small-scale labor-intensive agriculture will require a massive shift of people away from the cities and back to the farms. The transition will not take place overnight…. Eventually the proportion of farm to city population will have to reverse itself if human life is to survive….An agricultural way of life will dominate the coming Solar Age as it has in every other period of history before our own….

Along with the scaling down of cities, transportation systems are also going to be vastly reoriented in the years to come. The high cost of energy is going to force a fundamental shift in the pattern of travel away from automobiles and trucks and toward greater mass transit and long-distance rail use…
Our social and economic life will undergo radical changes reflecting the change in transportation….

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….

To recognize the extent to which production will be diminished, we have only to take a tour through a suburban mall and ask ourselves, “How many of these products are even marginally useful in sustaining life?” Any honest appraisal is sure to conclude that most of what is manufactured in our economy is simply superfluous. P 218

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. Thus, a new ethic will have to be adopted as the litmus test of what should be produced in the low-entropy society: if it cannot be made locally by the community, using readily available resources and technology, then it is most likely unnecessary that it be produced at all.

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.

….the low-entropy age we are moving into will require a great reduction in world population. The massive explosion in world population is really only understandable when viewed in thermodynamic terms….

I'll take the nukes, thank you very much. And a big thanks but no thanks to Rifkin's version of ghastly communitarian paradise. I think Cambodia has already beta tested it for us, and it had a few too many bugs to generate a solid market. I can't believe the government is still listening to this guy.

Our next batch load is excerpted from "The Emerging Order". It's one of his earliest books, and in my sober estimation it's also the looniest. If you've never encountered it before you're in for a real treat...

Cancer is the new plague. It strikes without warning and seemingly without reason.... Cancer, like the plagues is a direct consequence of the changing economic period we're living in. Seventy to 90 percent of all cancer, according to government studies, is caused by the environment of industrial capitalism... p 220

If there is one element that has shaken public confidence in science and technology more than any other it would be the ineptness of the commercial health establishment and government in dealing with cancer...Today, with billions of dollars of tax money spent, a solution is no more in the offing than before. The reason is that the problem does not lend itself to a particular scientific cure...On the contrary, it is science itself that is responsible for cancer...Science created chemical pesticides, nuclear radiation, toxic substances, and all of the other ingredients that cause the disease.... p 220

While it is conceivable that the medical establishment could find a new technological cure for cancer, it is more than likely that the cure itself would merely serve to create an even greater set of problems in human biology at some future date. Ultimately, the answer to the problem of cancer (and other more sophisticated diseases that might replace it) lies in the establishment of a new world view based on an ecologically balanced steady-state economic system. Only by slowing down the entropy process and restoring the natural balance and interplay of nature can the problem of cancer be ultimately put to rest. Until that realization sets in, the popular response to cancer...is likely to ba a mixture of public resentment and hostility toward the scientific medical establishment (which is justified) and a search for alternative cures. That search has already begun.... p 221

Today, millions of Americans are professed adherents of faith healing as an alternative to medical science.... p 221

While we’ve already caught a glimpse of the revolutionary potential in the shift of faith from medical science to faith healing, the full gravity of what’s taking place only becomes apparent upon deeper examination of the underlying assumptions behind the Baptism of the Holy Spirit… p 222

One of the important aspects of special gifts is that they are, in fact, observable and repeatable, just like scientific phenomena. Unlike science, however, their manifestations do not depend on what the individual does, but what God (through the Holy Spirit) does. The individual is no longer in “control” as with scientific truths. Instead, He becomes the faithful repository of supernatural truths. When a Charismatic “lays hands” on someone, and in so doing, cures them of an ailment by the special gift of faith healing, there is no doubt that the results of the procedure are often observable-as observable as the results of a medical operation. But it is not the special skills or knowledge of people that cures the victim, but the indwelling spirit of God…. p 223

The Charismatics have replaced the scientific method with supernatural power….They have taken the human being from a horizontal perspective to a vertical one...their challenge to the existing order is profound and could well end up turning the world upside down, just as the Reformation did a half millennium ago. To begin with, vertical experience provides an ahistorical context. The Charismatics believe that God can speak to each person today just as authoritatively as he spoke to the Apostles 2000 years ago. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit sets up a nonlinear frame of reference…His revealed truths are timeless. p 224

Technique is humanity’s way of trying to create a timeless world, a world of total unified being, omnipotent, all present and eternal. Technique is a horizontal race to a vertical finish. Of course, human beings can never win the race; in fact, we can never even finish it. The more people apply technique, the more we reduce the components of life to their particulars and the further away we slide from the universality we’re striving for. The age of expansion is characterized by the notion that people can overcome all limits. Time and space, however, are the very real limits imposed upon all life. By trying to overcome these limits, people try to become God; this failure is reflected in a world in shambles, destroyed largely by science, technique and our own hubris. p 225

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit eliminates the need for efficiency and technique. In so doing, it sets up conditions for return to a balanced ecosystem. With special gifts people can overcome this world’s time and space limitations and become one with God directly, now. Humanity doesn’t need to get sidetracked on a long and futile journey technologizing people and nature…Speaking in tongues is a more powerful form of communication than any satellite network…The gift of prophecy is more powerful than any computer information system…it is providential and inerrant. p 225

Special gifts, say the Charismatics, are God’s signs. In a secular sense, they are indeed signs-signs of the anxiety and hostility being engendered by the emergence of the new postindustrial order. Imagine, for a moment, the significance of tongues….Speaking in tongues contradicts all communications theory…..If everyone spoke in tongues, it would be indecipherable according to communications logic. Yet millions of people are now doing just that. They are speaking in tongues and the evidence is that they are communicating more effectively with each other as a result. ….p 227

Anyone can speak in tongues; it provides the kind of access that people feel is denied them by those who hold a monopoly over communications in this society. Speaking in tongues requires no special training. It is a universal language available to all men and women……It does not provide partial information, or inaccurate information, but the complete body of truths necessary for life. This is so because the truths are those revealed by God, and therefore all-inclusive.

Backed up by the most sophisticated communications hardware that money can buy, evangelicals are now threatening the long-standing hegemony over the airwaves previously enjoyed by CBS, NBC, and ABC…..All of this is just for openers, boasts Jim Bakker, head of PTL television network. PTL stands for both “People That Love”and “Praise The Lord”. p 106

During the show viewers are urged to call in and discuss their personal and spiritual problems with some of the 7,000 trained volunteers staffing some sixty regional telephone centers strategically placed across the country...

…..the studio lights darken, the camera scans the audience as heads are lowered in prayer…looking into camera left, the Reverend James Bakker, attired in an egg-blue suit, standing against a blue-velvet background, begins quietly:

“There is a prostate gland condition that God is healing right now …there is a spinal condition, perhaps a missing disc that is being restored…someone to my left has a kidney ailment…there are growths and in the name of Jesus those growths are gone…you will not need surgery…there is something that goes into the marrow of the bone…and the Lord is healing it.”

Whew! 1979. Wasn't that a time? Let's just decompress a minute and then wrap up with a little juxtaposition that I found too good to pass up. First, some more shallow historical analysis from "Entropy". Any emphases are my own...

Imagine a time warp that could put us face to face with a medieval Christian serf. The thirteenth century is not so very long ago...Still, even without a language barrier we and the serf would have very little to say to each other after the usual chitchat about the weather. That’s because we would probably be interested in finding out what his goals in life were...Of course, we shouldn’t expect much in the way of a response. In fact, if all we see in his eyes is a blank expression, it’s not because we’re talking over his head, or because his mind isn’t developed enough for the exchange of ideas. It’s just that his ideas about life, history, and reality are so utterly different from our own. The Christian view of history, which dominated western Europe throughout the Middle Ages, perceived life in this world as a mere stopover in preparation for the next...the doctrine of original sin precluded the possibility of humanity ever improving its lot in life...There were no personal goals, no desires to get ahead or leave something behind. There were only God’s decrees to be faithfully carried out.

Right, right. Devout Christians all, and this life is but a mere prologue. So just how accurate is this account? As you might imagine, not terribly. In fact, it's downright cartoonish, being so simply rendered as to be useless.

I was reading up on the Hanseatic League, a mercantile alliance active during (surprise!) the thirteenth century and found the following synopsis of a trading dispute...

Waldemar Atterdag, King of Denmark, was envious of the wealth the Hansa was taking from the herring fisheries off the coast of Scania. Waldemar felt, perhaps rightly so, that the revenues from the fisheries in his territories should be more under his control and did his best to reduce the privileges his predecessors had given to the Germans. In 1361, just after the counsellors from the Hansa had returned to Luebeck after re-negotiating the rights to the herring fisheries, news came that Waldemar had sacked the city of Wisby on the island of Gotland.

The leaders of the Hansa in Luebeck, who had the greatest interest in the Wisby "counter", were outraged and pushed for war. The Wendish third was in favor of the war, but the Rhennish third saw no interest to be gained from it and the Prussian third were forbidden to take part by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who was a friend of Waldemar's...

Despite the lack of support from the other thirds the Wendish third decided to undertake a campaign against the Danes, who they saw as pirates...

The campaign was initially quite successful and the fleet sacked Copenhagen and took with them the bell from the main church. They then went to attack the Danish fortresses on the Scania coastline of the sound. The plan was to meet with an army provided by Magnus Erikson, King of Sweden...

When the Hansa fleet arrived there was no Swedish army to be found and Johann Wittenborg made a grave error in taking the men-at-arms off the ships in order to besiege the fortress. Several days later, with the soldiers all on land, the Danish fleet sailed into view, and with only skeleton crews on most of the German vessels most of the German ships and Provisions were either sunk or taken captive...

The Hansa, in the terms of peace, was forced to cede most of its revenues from the herring fisheries to the Danish crown.

Waldemar was a cunning man and he felt that since only the Wendish cities had taken part in the war with him he had only made peace with the Wendish cities and not the Prussian ones. Therefore, Danish attacks against the Prussians increased through the next decade causing the Prussians to repeatedly call for a reopening of the hostilities, but the Wendish cities, who had lost so much in the first war without the support of the Prussians and the Rhennish third, were not in any hurry to take the risk again.

Finally the situation became totally intolerable and the Wendish cities were persuaded to join into a unified campaign which would include all of the cities. This time the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who had lost revenues to Danish attacks, did not interfere with the Prussian cities' involvement...Waldemar was forced to flee Copenhagen and stay as a guest of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order...

The Germans gained control over the revenues from the herring fisheries, control over the fortresses of the sound, the right to be the only ships allowed to enter the port of Bergen with their tops in place (Haakan Haakanson, the Norwegian King, had allied with Waldemar), and the right to veto any person's ascension to the Danish throne for fifteen years.

That's some "prologue". Onward Christian soldiers, hey? But where is Rifkin's conception of the medieval God in this mundane jockeying for economic and military advantage? It all sounds depressingly familiar and comprehensible. They fought a war for herring revenues.

Jeremy Rifkin, mangling the historical record since 1979.

posted by Justin at 03:39 PM

The Most Beautiful Building I've Ever Seen

Well, actually no. It isn't. But it is the most beautiful skyscraper constructed in the last five years, that I'm personally aware of. I suppose I could have missed one. Anyway, it's called "Turning Torso" and it's located in Malmö, Sweden.

Taste is always subjective of course, so you may find it's not something you care for. Hey, it's a big world. I'll live. But if you do like it you might want to check out the buildings own flashy site. It's fun.

Fact is, I liked this building so much that I looked up the architect , Santiago Calatrava, to see what else he'd done. Lots, as it happens. And more lots. Plus, he has a flash site all his own. Please, enjoy.

Most modern architecture either leaves me cold or enrages me. What San Francisco did to the De Young Museum calls for show trials at the very least. Seriously, it looks like a Klingon parking garage. My teeth begin grinding whenever I'm reminded of it. In this one small locus of human endeavor, Kunstler and I are in perfect agreement. Most modern architects are guilty of crimes against humanity. Have you seen the monstrous abortion that's planned for downtown Louisville?

Awww, it's a gigantic Dickens Droid. Look, it's limping along with the help of a trusswork girder crutch. It must be Tiny Tim! God bless us, every one! But where is the robot's head?

Those people have a lot to answer for. Here's what Rem Koolhaas, whose firm designed the steel and glass crime, fondly imagines is a deep thought...

"People can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that's both liberating and alarming. But the generic city, the general urban condition, is happening everywhere, and just the fact that it occurs in such enormous quantities must mean that it's habitable. Architecture can't do anything that the culture doesn't. We all complain that we are confronted by urban environments that are completely similar. We say we want to create beauty, identity, quality, singularity. And yet, maybe in truth these cities that we have are desired. Maybe their very characterlessness provides the best context for living."

God help us all. No wonder I hate his buildings. And yet, they're not that different from Calatrava's, aside from being graceless, ill-proportioned, and inescapably intrusive. So it must just be subtle differences, right?

Calatrava's designs remind me of bird bones, whale ribs, narwhal tusks, or even Brancusi's "Bird in Space". They are truly lovely, but in a mildly disturbing way, like something that H.R. Giger might design for his children if he got really, really mellow. Cuddly Giger. Plushy Giger. It soothes me.

posted by Justin at 01:15 PM | Comments (1)

An Interesting Hypothesis

Older readers may recall Nevil Shute as the author of On The Beach, or perhaps less famously, No Highway. Both books were eventually translated into films, starring Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart respectively. At the peak of his writing career he was a fairly well known man of letters. But much earlier in his career, back when his name was still Nevil Norway, he spent many years as a pilot and aeronautical engineer. As such, he was intimately involved in the construction of the R100 airship. His autobiography, Slide Rule, details his experiences with that enterprise as well as his thoughts on the doomed R101. Slide Rule is a wonderful little book, full of unpredictable observations, and the following passages are as good an example as any.

A man’s own experiences determine his opinions, of necessity. I was thirty-one years old at the time of the R.101 disaster, and my first close contact with senior civil servants and politicians at work was in the field of airships, where I watched them produce disaster. That experience still colours much of my thinking. I am very willing to recognize the good in many men of these two classes, but a politician or a civil servant is still to me an arrogant fool till he is proved otherwise…

I considered at the time that the disaster was caused by the actions of the men at Cardington; I do not think that now. The men at Cardington were honest, hardworking men doing their best in a job that was rather too big for them. The first-class brains in the Air Ministry, the high executive civil servants at the top, should have been able to assess the position correctly and take action that would have avoided the disaster. They had plenty of evidence, extending over several years…

If just one of them had stood up at the conference table when the issue of the certificate of airworthiness was under discussion, and had said, “This thing is wrong, and I will be no party to it. I’m sorry, gentlemen, but if you do this, I’m resigning”—if that had been said then or on any one of a dozen previous opportunities, the disaster would almost certainly have been averted. It was not said, because the men in question put their jobs before their duty…

Ten years after these events when I was in the navy I was drafted to a technical department of the Admiralty which was staffed by over a hundred temporary officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. As civilians in uniform we found the Admiralty system to be better adapted to conserving money in peace time than to getting quick production in time of war. We found in many instances that the only way to get things done quickly was to short-circuit the system, getting verbal authority by telephone conversations with the various departments affected and letting the paper work tag along three weeks later. These methods required senior officers of the regular navy to give verbal decisions which might involve expenditures of thousands of pounds without any paper cover, and naturally made us very unpopular. These naval officers were as brave as lions, and would have risked their lives in a destroyer torpedo attack without any second thought, but to be asked to risk their jobs on a verbal decision involving public money often seemed to them unfair.

Now and again, we would find some cheerful young commander or captain who was not affected by these scruples, who was as brave in the office as he was at sea. Commenting on such a regular officer and on his way of doing business we would say, “He’s a good one. I bet he’s got private means.” Invariably investigation proved that we were right. The officers who were brave in the Admiralty were the officers who had an independent income, who could afford to resign from the navy if necessary without bringing financial disaster to their wives and children. It started as a joke with us to say that a brave officer in the office probably had private means, and then it got beyond a joke and turned into an axiom. These were the men who could afford to shoulder personal responsibility in the Admiralty, who could afford to do their duty to the navy in the highest sense.

Such men invariably gravitate towards the top of any government service that they happen to be in because of their carefree acceptance of responsibility. They serve as a leaven and an example to their less fortunate fellows; they set the tone of the whole office by their high standard of duty. I think this is an aspect of inherited incomes which deserves greater attention than it has had up till now. If the effect of excessive taxation and death duties in a country is to make all high officials dependent on their pay and pensions, then the standard of administration will decline and the country will get into greater difficulties than ever. Conversely in a wealthy country with relatively low taxation and much inherited income a proportion of the high officials will be independent of their job, and the standard of administration will probably be high.

I do not know the financial condition of the high officials in the Air Ministry at the time of the R.101 disaster. I suspect, however, that an investigation would reveal that it was England’s bad luck that at that time none of them had any substantial private means.

It's an interesting hypothesis, and I'm afraid I'm predisposed towards finding it plausible. Nevertheless, off the top of my head I can think of at least one contradictory datum. How are we to account for Ted Kennedy?

posted by Justin at 10:42 AM | Comments (1)

Light Of Other Days

Hitachi announced their latest, smallest RFID a few months ago, and I've just recently become aware of it. You can click here to see it. I believe it would be worth your while to do so. By way of comparison, here is its bigger, older brother.

When I first heard of RFID technology, the devices were about the size of a credit card. You would attach them to whatever you wanted to track using strapping tape. That was less than ten years ago. Today we're looking at a silicon fleck, .15 millimeters on a side. Progress.

So how significant are these motes? Well, to be honest, in the Big Brother Is Watching You department, not very. They are nowhere near to having the capabilities of the mythical Qeng Ho localizer, or even its humbler real world inspiration. It has no sonics, no light sensors, no ad hoc mesh networking. No direct optic nerve stimulation via phased array transmission, for that matter. In fact, all they can do is identify themselves. They give a tiny little squeak-back when you tickle them with radio waves. Nevertheless, I do worry. It's Moore's Law, you see. If these things continue to improve as they have, in twenty to forty years their capabilities should be increased anywhere from a thousand to a millionfold. That's when things will get really interesting, though I suppose it needn't be all bad. Perhaps not even mostly bad. Still, a little worry now might save us considerable grief later. Just so you know.

For some reason, that image of tiny RFID chips with salt crystals has me thinking about Bob Shaw, a science fiction writer whose work I've not read in thirty years or so. He was one of those rare SF authors who truly advanced the conceptual state of the art. These days most people are at least passingly familiar with the standard science fictional props. They know what a hyperdrive is supposed to do, you step on the gas and you go. Likewise, a blaster is trivially easy to understand as a space six-shooter. It's actually a bit of a shame, what Lucas and company have done to the popular conception. Star Wars hand weapons are positively anemic compared to the rather more emphatic blasters of my youth. Those Buck Rogers antiques combined the best features of an atomic flame thrower and a recoil free hand-cannon. Imagine a light saber with a two hundred yard reach and you're almost there. Captain Flandry would have sneered at Han Solo's pokey little popgun.

But, all fun aside, science fiction can be far more than just rocketships and rayguns. It can tackle stranger, more original concepts, and Bob Shaw is responsible for one of my favorites.

Going far beyond the standard beloved cliches of the genre, he used a classic application of the "What if?" technique and posited a substance that could impede the progress of light by a factor of quadrillions. He called it slow glass.

A ray of light entering a pane of slow glass might take years to reach the far side. You, after waving and mugging at a pane of such stuff, might come back in five years, or ten, and circling round to the other side of the glass watch your younger self happily clowning as the tardy photons bearing your image finish their slow trudge across the millimeters and burst out into freedom.

What if we could synthesize such a material? What would we do with it? The easy answers came first. Rustic views for the everyman, indistinguishable from reality. An end to electric street lighting.
Other, more complicated scenarios can be imagined, and one such is freely available online, the award winning short story Light of Other Days. If you've never read it, here is your chance. I hope you'll take the time, as it's quite good.

Gregory Benford once remarked that writing science fiction without limitations is like playing tennis with the net down. Without difficulties, there can be no drama. For most of his slow glass stories, Shaw followed this dictum, adhering to a self imposed set of limits. Once fabricated, slow glass couldn't be manipulated. You couldn't fast forward. You couldn't rewind. Tampering with the glass caused it to release all of its stored energy at once. Bad idea. If you wanted to view a particular event, you just had to wait it out.

I recall a story involving a court case where this "fact" was used to quite good effect. My memory of the story is a bit hazy, but it went something like this. The suspect had been tried, convicted, and executed. The evidence was fairly conventional (no video), but was believed to be as airtight as such things can be. Then, and here my memory grows extremely unreliable, it was discovered that a piece of slow glass had been present at the scene of the crime. Perhaps the court had the glass all along, but felt that sentencing couldn't wait? No matter. Years after the fact, far too late to do any good, the judge and jury would be able to know if they had killed an innocent man. Oddly enough, I can't recall which way it went. What I do remember is the sickening suspense as the glass counted down to the fatal minutes.

That story and many others are available in Shaw's collection, Other Days, Other Eyes, and the final story in that collection is where the connection with Hitachi RFID chips comes in. Were you wondering if it ever would?

In that story, in short, scientists finally achieved the Holy Grail of slow glass research and learned how to access the glass's "memories" without triggering a huge explosion. Progress.

And what did they choose to do with their new triumph, their readable slow glass? Why, nothing but good.

First of all, they ground up tons of the stuff into fine crystals, rather like beach sand or sea salt. Then, they dusted everything with it, wholesale. Cityscape, country lane, lonely moor, whatever. So that forever after, no matter where you went, tiny bits of observant grit would tirelessly memorize your every move for posterity. And you could never be alone again.

It needn't be all bad. Nevertheless, I do worry.

posted by Justin at 09:27 AM | Comments (2)

Banana nanny republic?

As luck would have it, I've had only one chance to get online so far, and that was on a hotel computer which would not allow me to access this blog -- not the main page nor anything else. So I couldn't even write a post complaining about it until now.

A content filtering service called (appropriately) "Net Nanny" is blocking Classical Values, as well as other blogs (Alphecca for one) which I tried to pull up. (BTW, content filtering is not a new topic on this blog.) I realize that this is not censorship, and I understand people's concerns, but I like to think that while I don't shy away from controversial issues, I do try to maintain civility and I try to avoid profanity or obscenity.

Either I am not trying hard enough, or there's something else that's found offensive by the software proprietors. I'd love to hear from anyone who is knowledgeable or has had similar experiences.

How ironic it would be if blog-blocking software like Net Nanny is in wide use by schools or other institutional facilities.


Imagine if the same people who teach children how to put condoms on bananas use software that blocks criticism of the condoms on bananas!

UPDATE (06/01/06): If this information from the anti-filtering site Peacefire is correct, this blog and many other blogs are incompatible with Net Nanny, no matter how cleanly we might keep them:

Net Nanny, however, blocks all pages by default that contain the words "sex", "drugs" or "pornography", and can even be configured to hang up the modem or lock up the computer if a banned word appears on the screen.

Even "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!" ?

posted by Eric at 05:36 PM | Comments (4)

Who needs answers when you've got words?

There is violence.

There is violence built into the system. This is obvious.

There is violence built out of the system. This also is obvious.

There is a reason for the violence. This is non-obvious.

The reason is the system. Coincidentally, there is no system. Realize. Exclusively, that which can be truly said to exist is the individual. You. You right now. Reading these insipid, incipient lines. You are the only thing that exists. Amusingly, you allow yourself to be dominated by the system. The one that doesn't exist.

I'm sorry. I hate preaching. I hate pedants. I'm just trying to set you free, and the only way to do that is by shaking the chains you flippantly copulate with ‘til the rattling gets too irritating to ignore. Really, that's the thing that sets the above-average sentient free: irritation. Not logic, not joy, not sorrow, but mosquito bites. Man, thems a muthafuckah.

Where were we? Ah yes. A manifesto of intoxication. Preternatural. Ly.

I want to share something with you. It's a bit of myself. What I experience, what I feel, what I am, what I realize. You'll note a superfluity of first person pronouns. There's a reason. It integrates. Keep up. You'll thank me in the morning. Ooh, yeah, you like it like that don’t’cha?

Not enough people shout. Not enough object. Not enough howl. Not until the end anyway. The only howl emitted by the vast majority of humanity is the sudden striking revelation that comes free of charge concurrently with the moment of oblivion at their terminus's terminal. Don't. Be. That. Human.

Trying to help the helpless is the ultimate exercise in futility, so really this is an elaborate masturbatory exercise on my part, yet I can't remain silent, and perhaps there's a person among you who retains a last shred of whimsy. Whimsy. Whimsy. Whimsy will set you free. Don't believe me? When's the last time you saw a dead clown?!

Politicians don't count.

Listen. We are all wholly severable. That's the real key. Once you grasp that, you begin to understand that not only does your fellow man not particularly esteem you, he also doesn't have any obligation to gain your esteem. Most fortuitous yes?

Work with me, you wacky crazy kooky insane marthafochers. You can't keep your cancers, cozy as they may be. Because it turns out that misery doesn't actually need company; rather, it obliterates company. Like a germ on a flea of the very last tender tasty morsel of the ultimate dead skin cell. Penny Royal tea. Formulate infinity.

Scabs. Laughter. Picking at them both. Like sandpaper on a steel rasp. That's your existence womb. Freedom is.

Freedom and liberty are absolute. So are the laws of physics. Hence the big bitch about bullets. Both sides are wrong, but one side has better aim.

If you can't drink it all in, it isn't necessarily because you're scared. Of course, probability being what it is, you might want to jump one way just to play it safe; nonetheless, I'll go ahead and give you an applause line. For jumping. Because not everyone has even the hint of self-preservation necessary to not die in absentia. Some times there IS a right answer.

Back to basics.

You're scared. You're powerless. What a happy coincidence: all you have is basics. Sympathizing, I think you're dumb. The maestro says so word-for-word. And the maestro is never wrong.


posted by Cosmic Drunk at 10:30 PM | Comments (7)

On the road

I am spending Memorial Day weekend in the Midwest, and I'll be doing a lot of traveling (starting right now) so posting will be nonexistent to light.

My reading material for the plane consists of two cheerful books:

  • Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, by Joshua Wolf Shenk; and
  • Pontius Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man, by Ann Wroe.
  • While both of these men were important historical characters (and obviously, there's a lot more known about Lincoln than Pilate) it's always fascinating (for me, at least) to examine the fuzzy locus of uncertainty where history and mythology meet. Often, history is driven by human emotions, politics, and what people want to believe. This includes writers, who have their own biases, or they wouldn't be writing about their subjects, so I always read with a skeptical eye.

    Everyone have a great Memorial Day weekend!

    posted by Eric at 06:46 AM | Comments (1)

    Don't stay home from the poll!

    If (like me) you feel that the latest bipartisan bribery scandal is just too much after much too much, do not despair!

    For you have not been disenfranchised, and you don't have to boycott anything. Instead, tou can make your voice heard! Simply take The Commissar's Dennis Hastert poll (which I won't spoil here; just go take it).

    The Commissar also links to John Cole:

    When I see the Republican and Democratic leadership closing ranks to protect a crook, it briefly makes me want to go apologize to all the Naderites for making fun of their paranoid conspiracy theories.
    Once again, reality imitates satire.

    posted by Eric at 09:16 PM | Comments (2)

    Trapped by authority?

    Local trains are not running because of an Amtrak power breakdown which has in turn shut down SEPTA train lines in the Philadelphia area as well as on the New Jersey transit system.

    Naturally, infuriated commuters who were stranded on the trains wanted to get off and find other means of transportation to work.

    But according to Reuters, they were threatened with arrest:

    New Jersey Transit said the outage halted its two most heavily traveled lines, which move 70,000 passengers per weekday, and some trains destined for midtown Manhattan have been diverted to Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York.

    "It just stopped," said public relations executive Liz Anklow, stuck on a New Jersey Transit train for two hours. "It started to get very hot in there" before railroad workers opened doors for ventilation.

    "A very imposing New Jersey trooper just walked through the train and said if one person leaves the train you will be arrested and taken to jail," Anklow said.

    I'd like to know just what the charge would be. Trespassing, perhaps? I don't see how that would hold up, because the intent is not to trespass, but to leave.

    Legally, when people are compelled to remain in a certain place by force, that constitutes the tort of false imprisonment. The airlines understand this, which is why passengers are allowed to leave grounded or stranded planes when that is possible.

    It happened to me once when a flight I took to San Francisco was forced to land in Oakland because of problems with the San Francisco airport. The flight crew tried to stop passengers from getting off the plane, but after someone conferred with the airline's uppity-ups, they announced that passengers would be allowed to leave "but we cannot guarantee your safety in Oakland." Fine with me, as I never wanted a safety guarantee, so I left.

    Absent a life-threatening emergency or something, I don't think New Jersey Transit had any right to hold people against their will, and unless there's no tort of false imprisonment in New Jersey, I think they can sue.

    (Unless the freedom thing is a loophole or something. . . )

    MORE: In a report after the power was restored, I see that at least some pasengers managed to get out while avoiding arrest:

    NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- A major power outage stranded thousands of rush-hour commuters Thursday between New York and Washington, stopping trains inside sweltering tunnels and forcing many passengers to get out and walk.

    Power was restored throughout the heavily traveled corridor at about 10:30 a.m., more than two hours after outage, Amtrak said.

    The outage stranded five trains in tunnels - one in Baltimore and four under the Hudson River heading into New York. The last one lurched back to life at 11:15 a.m. after stranding passengers for more than three hours in the heat and darkness.

    Such defiance should have been met with a SWAT team!

    posted by Eric at 11:07 AM | Comments (4)

    Punishing the Republican leadership?

    A brief word on the well-organized movement by conservative activists (Richard Viguerie being a good example) to punish the Republicans by staying home in November.

    Ostensibly this will punish the Republicans who voted the wrong way on guest worker amnesty and against the wall, because they will not be re-elected, and their seats will go to Democrats. Considering that the Democrats oppose the wall and favor amnesty, this "punishment" will not advance the activists' ostensible goal one iota -- at least not in the short term.

    If the House goes Democrat, the activists' chances plummet to nil.

    Obviously, the primary goal is punishment, not achieving the goal, unless of course the goal is something else.

    What might that be? Mere punishment of the Republican leadership? Or might it be some sort of dissembled attempt at a takeover of the Republican Party? If it is that, I'd love to know who the principal players are, and whether there's an element of opportunism in the near-hysterical focus on immigration.

    I think such a development would only favor the election of Hillary Clinton (for the reasons I've discussed many times).

    Certainly, it will not punish the Democrats to give them control of the House. But what about the many voters who worry about things other than the border? What about fearful firearms owners? Citizens who fear higher taxes and hate bureaucracy? I'd be willing to bet that there a lot of other issues of interest to a lot of citizens.

    Because punishing the leaders ultimately comes down to self-punishment (eliminating, as it does, all possibility of hope), one FREEPer compared the strategy of defeat to a suicide threat:

    Maybe the Republican leadership should pay closer attention to their base this time around.

    The issue the last time was over GHWBush going back on his pledge and raising taxes after the D's refused to pass a budget until Bush raised taxes.

    The faithful threw a hissy fit and went for Perot...we got Clinton and the first thing he did was [drum roll] raise taxes again.

    So...threatening to punish the Republican leadership and rank and file by helping them get unelected unless they do what you want is like pointing a loaded gun at your own head and threatening to pull the trigger.

    Or threatening to jump off a tall building.

    (I don't expect the Democrats to call the suicide prevention line.)

    posted by Eric at 10:27 AM | Comments (12)

    In case of emergency, contact customer support at 1-800-555-BUSY!

    Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has a front page story headlined "Closer to a Safety Target" which hails new developments in so-called "smart gun" technology:

    As police in Philadelphia struggle to stop a scourge of shootings, some New Jersey engineers say they are closing in on a "smart" solution: a gun that can be fired only by its owner.

    The prototype, developed at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, has pressure sensors embedded in the gun handle that recognize a person's unique grip.

    The team says a commercial model is up to five years away, but if it works, it will trigger a singular - and controversial - state law. Within three years, all handguns sold in New Jersey would have to be personalized, with this or some other recognition technology.

    Correction: Not all handguns! Police are exempted from the requirement, and could still buy regular handguns which fire whenever the trigger is pulled.

    Michael Recce, who dreamed up the grip-recognition concept in 1999, said the only obstacles are time and money.

    "It's an engineering problem, not a scientific problem," he said.

    However long it takes, it's safe to say the university has embarked on a product-development quest like no other - wading into a contentious issue on the fault line between red and blue America.

    Sorry to interrupt again, but I'm way past the wading stage. I've been swimming in purple seas for years.

    Various smart-gun efforts have flamed out in the past, amid vocal skepticism by the National Rifle Association. Many gun owners chafe at the notion of any restrictions on their Second Amendment right to bear arms, and warn that any such modifications would make guns more expensive.

    Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, are split, with some warning that personalized firearms would give owners a false sense of security.

    Most see New Jersey's 2002 law as a commonsense safety measure, but they are starting to run out of patience.

    "These guns should have been developed 20 years ago," said Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire New Jersey.

    Duke University economist Philip J. Cook estimates that if all handguns were personalized, more than 4,000 lives would be saved each year from fewer murders, accidents and teen suicides.

    Hey wait a second! They're running out of patience? I'm running out of patience too! With economists who've probably never fired a gun in their lives imagining themselves to be competent to tell me what to do with my gun and deliver "estimates" of "saved lives" predicated on nonsensical suppositions that either the millions of existing handguns could ever be retrofitted or that they would disappear if made illegal.

    Though the New Jersey law exempts law enforcement, police might also benefit from the technology. According to FBI statistics, as many as one in six officers killed each year is slain with his or her weapon.
    Doesn't this admission contradict the earlier assertion that "all handguns sold in New Jersey would have to be personalized."?
    In the last few months, Recce's team has crammed the necessary electronics into the handle of a prototype, so the firearm no longer must be tethered to a computer.

    Inside the grip, 16 ceramic discs generate a charge when pressed. They are called piezoelectric sensors, from the Greek piezo, for "pressure." Barbecue lighters use a similar feature.

    Once the shooter squeezes the trigger, the grip sensors spring into action, recording the pressure for one-tenth of a second. In that moment, the pressure applied by each finger varies enough that engineers can distinguish between shooters with a high degree of reliability. A grip's signature does not vary significantly from firing to firing, even in stressful situations, researchers have found.

    For reasons I'll explain, I don't trust these researchers, and I don't trust this, or any product which is mandated by government regulations and not developed in and for the free market.

    Dave Kopel discusses the many problems with this technology, from both civil rights and hands-on perspectives, noting that the reason police officers from the requirement is the idea is inherently unreliable.

    Bottom line: real guns would still be sold -- but only to police officers!

    Extreme Tech has long discussion of the emerging technology, which seems inevitable eventually:

    Smart guns, no longer science fiction, will be a commercial reality in a few short years. And the future holds a wealth of possibilities, such as accelerometers to aid in firing practice and GPS sensors to help in crime-scene reconstructions.

    As Chang notes, smart gun technology isn't a restriction, but an enhancement.

    That's easy enough to say, and easy enough in theory. Some gun owners might indeed welcome a high tech gun that plugs into a charger at night and that can't be picked up and fired by a stranger or a child.

    But if it is "not a restriction," what if you want to add a "user"? What if you don't live alone, but with another adult you love? What if you have a wife, a husband, a live in? If it is in fact your gun, isn't part of its function to offer protection to your loved ones? Lots of people have to leave their loved ones at home when they go to work, go on trips, drive to the store, or even take a shower.

    I can just see it now. . . Husband goes downstairs to investigate a noise. Intruder jumps him, and during the struggle the husband screams upstairs for his wife to get the gun and help him. She grabs the gun and runs downstairs.

    "Honey, the gun won't work. How long will it take to have it reprogrammed?"

    This leads to an inevitable question.

    Whose gun is it?

    Suppose you want to turn off the damned piezoelectric sensor mechanism to allow it to be fired when you're wearing gloves, or by anyone in your household. Who is the owner? Obviously, high tech guns are a bureaucrat's dream, for they invite a plethora of rules and regulations, programmer standards and certification, hacking, and in turn anti-hacking police. In short, a war over the chip inside your gun, and over what you can do with it.

    As is the case with so many bureaucrat's dreams, this one sounds like a citizen's nightmare.

    I suspect that's the idea. But it's only part of the idea. Long term, I think the goal is not to offer an "enhancement" but to confiscate older guns. It's a very short step from prohibiting the sale in stores of any firearms that aren't "smart guns" to prohibiting the sale or transfer, or possession of real guns.

    Yes, real guns. The kind that can be picked up and fired -- even if it has been left on a shelf or in a drawer, or packed inside an emergency survival kit. The kind that don't need a charger:

    Chang is also concerned with battery life, a crucial factor in this case, of course. He imagines that the finished product will operate four hours in active shooting or several days when idle. The guns would likely come with charging stands, much as handheld computers and cell phones do now.
    Um, how is a smart gun supposed to be recharged when the power is down?

    Look, I'm no Luddite, nor am I anti-technology. If gun dealers wanted to market the smart technology as an "enhancement" in a free market, fine. But when the government is developing them and laws require people to have them, calling a limitation an enhancement sounds Orwellian.

    I don't know if I'd ever want one of these things. But even if I did, common sense requires having a backup -- in the form of a real gun.

    In case of a thing called an emergency.

    (To my old-fashioned way of thinking, emergencies are what guns are for.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Just to prove I'm not a total Luddite, here's a detail from the Inquirer piece that intrigued me:

    The most sensible approach may be to marry Recce's recognition technology with a gun that fires electronically - without mechanical, moving parts such as a hammer. If an authorized user were recognized, it would be a simple matter to turn on the firing circuitry.
    Electronic firing? If that isn't an invitation to full-auto hackers, I don't know what is.

    I suppose making them "tamper proof" would have to be the next "enhancement." If they're smart, why not make them smarter and build in an emergency cell phone chip that sends a distress signal to the authorities whenever attempted tampering occurs?

    Imagine how many lives "we" could "save."

    MORE: How about real smart guns activated by human brain waves?

    Nah. They'd probably be activated by sleeping users during home invasion nightmares, and start firing at dreamed up targets.

    posted by Eric at 07:25 AM | Comments (1)

    Excuse me, but is anyone in charge?

    The recent incident involving two Saudi men who boarded a school bus, frightened children and then gave police conflicting stories (see this report linked by Glenn Reynolds) aroused my curiosity.

    When I researched the story further, I saw that the two men were here as a result of a huge new exchange program:

    The UA will enroll about 100 new Saudi Arabian students this summer, which could signal the reverse of a post-Sept. 11 trend of having fewer international students in the United States, especially those from the Middle East. The students are part of a new large-scale scholarship program by the Saudi government, which will send about 6,000 students to American universities this year after just 1,442 Saudi students had visas to study in the United States in 2004.

    About 80 of the students are already at the UA, enrolled in English-immersion classes before they start their academic programs in the fall. More are expected by the start of next semester as they secure visas...

    ...The program grew out of an agreement in April by President Bush and then-Crown Prince Abdullah, with the more open policy part of larger efforts at improving relations between the two nations.

    (Via Michelle Malkin.)

    Improved relations are one thing, but aren't they forgetting that the war on terror has largely been a war against suicidal Saudi Salafists?

    Is anyone, anywhere, doing anything to make sure that these students are not suicidal Salafists? Earlier I voiced suspicions about the State Department resettling ethnic Turks in the local Saudi madrassa, because Saudi madrassas have such a poor track record. See Senator Lautenberg's report which documents the problem.

    Despite reassurances, the madrassas do not seem to have done a good job of policing themselves. (A recent hearing failed to reassure me that the one in my neighborhood is even capable of policing itself.) According to this Washington Post report, the madrassa curricula are still loaded with hateful propaganda.

    I know that everyone is worried about illegal Mexicans crossing the border right now. But am I being unreasonable in asking whether bringing in many thousands of apparently unsupervised Saudi students is a great idea right now?

    As to reassurances, Randy "Duke" Cunningham and the State Department both seem to think that the Saudis have turned over a new leaf. Says Congressman Cunningham:

    I feel that Saudi Arabia is the leader in the Arab world, especially with Medina and Mecca. I feel that Osama probably put 15 Saudis in there, flew them into the [World Trade] Center, partially to divide one of our better allies that we have in the Middle East from us.. ..I realize they do have problems there. But I also -- and I can't address it here, but I can in closed session -- note to the extent that the Saudi intelligence agencies are working with us daily in helping -- more so than most agencies. And so, I see them as an emerging support for us, but I'm afraid that's going to erode. And collectively, I know it's INS, it's FBI, it's CIA -- your problem is going to be magnified five years from now unless we get our arms around this.
    Should I be reassured that our government know what it is doing? By whose track record?

    UPDATE (05/25/06): According to CNS News,

    The Saudi government has not only broken its promise and failed to eliminate anti-western rhetoric from its public school textbooks, some Saudi-funded schools on U.S. soil continue to incite violence...
    There's more in a pdf report by the Institute for Gulf Affairs, whose director Ali Al-Ahmed warns of the danger:
    "There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation about others in these textbooks. These textbooks groom a child to be a terrorist," Al-Ahmed added.

    With about five million children in Saudi public schools instructed each year in Islamic studies from Ministry of Education textbooks, and many more outside of Saudi Arabia, Al-Ahmed told Cybercast News Service that the threat "is more dangerous than the Chernobyl reactor."

    "If even 1 percent takes this to heart, you will have a lot more terrorists than just the 15 (Saudis) that we saw on September 11," Al-Ahmed said. He alleged that Saudi schools are graduating 1,000 terrorists each year.

    "Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden understands this well," Al-Ahmed asserted. "In his April 23, 2006, audiotape, he railed against those who would interfere with school curricula."

    I wish he wasn't in a position to issue such warnings.

    posted by Eric at 09:01 AM | TrackBacks (1)

    Who's afraid of the big bad Republicans?

    Big national chains are bad, and local ownership is good, right?

    Not necessarily. It depends on who the local parties are -- and whom you ask.

    Huge headlines today confirm that the Philadelphia Inquirer has been bought by a consortium of local businesspeople. Here's a look at who they are:

    One sells cars and another hawks diet food. There are an ad man, an insurance broker, and a money manager.

    In all, seven individuals and a union pension fund that form the new board of directors of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com appear to have little in common except this: a lot of money to invest, and a professed love for Philadelphia and its environs.

    For most of the first-time newspaper owners brought together by advertising and public-relations executive Brian P. Tierney, the purchase will simply add to an already broad stable of local ventures in which they have a major stake or leadership role. That includes NutriSystem Inc., Reedman-Toll Auto World, and Donald Trump's slots parlor bid.

    Politically, at least two have been staunch Republican donors, two have been Democratic supporters, and two have given to both. Two are women, and one is African American. And for at least one, Catholicism and religion-related activism have been a major facet of his work.

    As a local privately held company, Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C. will not have to obey Wall Street on profit and spending, free to tailor all its resources and priorities to the regional media market for the first time since Walter H. Annenberg was publisher in 1969, Tierney said.

    Local control is normally said to be a good thing. (Closer to the community, etc.) But in this case, there seems to be a political litmus test, and there are worries about whether there will be too much "influence." By Republicans. Two of them!

    Local leftists are not too happy about it. Atrios warns of "bad times" ahead, links to Editor and Publisher's dire warnings of Republicanism, and concludes that "all signs point to scary." And in the most uncivil language possible, a local blogger slams the Inquirer's new CEO for being a Republican, and adds,

    I guess it’s up to us to disintermediate him so he loses his millions. It won’t be pretty.
    Not sure who "they" are, or how they plan to "disintermediate" him.

    Bad and "scary" times ahead? The Inquirer has been struggling, and now it appears that it will survive. What is scary about that?

    Is "scary" simply a synonym for Republican?

    From what I can see so far, the staff doesn't appear to be terribly frightened. Editor Amanda Bennett describes herself as "not worried at all":

    "Unlike the financial fight, maintaining journalistic integrity is a fight I know how to fight and everyone in this newsroom knows how to fight."
    She sure does. Ms. Bennett is one of the few editors in this country who bucked a very cowardly trend in her decision to publish the Muhammad cartoon. For this she faced down angry Muslim demonstrators, but refused to apologize.

    And she's supposed to be afraid of a couple of Republicans?

    Longtime reporter Larry Eichel, discussing the potential for influence by the new owners, doesn't seem frightened either:

    The potential for the exercise of influence, whether real or perceived, goes beyond the businesses the investors run. They serve as directors of other corporations, on the boards of local nonprofit and cultural institutions. They have histories of political involvement.

    "This is ethical minefield territory," said Robert M. Steele, chief ethicist at the Poynter Institute for journalism in Florida. "It takes a real strong gut check by the owners at the front end in terms of what values, what principles, will guide them in both the business enterprise and the public-service role and responsibility."

    Exactly how these various forces play out at 400 N. Broad St. is sure to be monitored closely by local interest groups and the national journalism community.

    Robert W. McChesney, a professor at the University of Illinois who has studied media ownership, said that his concern was the possible long-term chilling effect on journalists.

    "As time goes on, and you have staff turnover, a new organizational sociology can take hold," McChesney said. "It doesn't require anyone to march in to the newsroom and say, 'This is how it's going to be.' People just understand."

    What worries some analysts is that the new owners are not steeped in the newspaper culture and may not understand the full ramifications of an "independent" news operation.

    Said Frank Blethen, publisher of the locally controlled Seattle Times and an advocate of local ownership: "In spite of the unusual nature of the ownership and their possible agendas, I think Philadelphia readers are better off with this than with any of the alternatives. They have local people whom they can hold accountable for what happens."

    In 1950, Walter Lippmann, the pundit and press critic, said the key to a free press was "that it should consist of many newspapers decentralized in their ownership and their management, and dependent for their support . . . upon the communities where they are written."

    I grew up reading the Inquirer when it was in the hands of Walter Annenberg. A staunch Republican, he sold the paper to Knight-Ridder when President Nixon appointed him as Ambassador to England.

    In a very thoughtful post, former Knight-Ridder employee Joe Gandelman remembers the good old days of the company, but raises questions about whether Knight-Ridder morphed into a Darth Vader style corporation which eventually cut the heart out of journalism. Joe links to this post by former Knight reporter Shaun Mullen:

    Ridder, with the acquiesence of his Tweedledum board of directors, slowly bled the Daily News and Inky. Although there was not a direct cause-and-effect relationship, the circulations of both papers went into precipitous declines.
    And now, Darth Vader has put the paper back into local hands.

    I'm glad the Inquirer will survive, and I think it's a good thing for for it to become an independent local newspaper again. I see no reason to expect to see any change in their editorial viewpoints, and I am sure I'll continue to have regular disagreements.

    Nothing scary about it.

    UPDATE: My thanks to Blinq's Daniel Rubin for linking this post in his excellent roundup of local bloggers' reactions. They're all well worth reading.

    posted by Eric at 07:04 AM | Comments (2)

    Judging a cover by its book?

    Stanford professor Joel Beinin, the subject of severe criticism in a recent book by David Horowitz, has sued Horowitz and his publisher -- not for the claims Horowitz makes in his book, but for using his picture in a collage on the book cover:

    Beinin acknowledges that his lawsuit doesn't tackle the more profound issues of libel, free speech or academic debate -- rather, it focuses very narrowly on an unapproved use of a photograph.

    ``My photo is not out there for anyone to use as they see fit -- and certainly not to make money off it, by accusing me of doing bad things,'' he said.

    Horowitz responds that he doesn't expect anyone to buy the book simply because Beinin's photo is on the cover.

    ``If I had George Clooney on the cover, OK, he'd have a case. But Joel Beinin? That's idiotic,'' Horowitz said.

    I remember a thing or two about defamation law, but until today I never heard about anyone being sued for using someone's picture in a defamation action -- whether there was an accusation of "doing bad things" or not. If Horowitz lied about Beinin, that's one thing. But if the picture is accurate, I'm just not sure I understand the use of defamation jargon.

    Here's the book-cover picture of Beinin displayed in a collage (he's on the lower left, underneath Lynne Stewart and beside Rachel Corrie):


    Now, I haven't spent enough time researching him to decide whether or not I think he supports terrorism, as Horowitz claims. But whether I decided that or not, how would my assessment of his views affect (or be affected by) one way or the other an ordinary picture he displays at his biographical web site?

    It might affect reader perceptions of this picture by Adrian Gaitan, titled "Joel Beinin speaks about Palestinian expulsion yesterday."



    I think he might look more patriotic if I photoshopped an American flag in place of the PLO flag. But I just don't have time. If I did, would that make it a parody? Why would that change anything? How would I know? Are we not allowed to display publicly featured pictures of people under discussion anymore?

    Even though Beinin's Complaint (which can be read here) makes numerous allegations which would be appropriate in a defamation action, this is not a defamation lawsuit, but one for copyright infringement. Horowitz is alleged to have used the picture from Beinin's web site without his consent.

    What ever happened to the doctrine of fair use? (Law librarian raises the fair use question too.) Are we no longer allowed to identify public figures like Beinin -- even when their photographs are distributed all over the Internet? (The same photo of Beinin is displayed at an alumni web site.)

    I think this is another example of the copyright laws being used to destroy free speech. I'm reminded of Fox v. Franken case as well as Michael Savage's lame attempt to claim his name and picture couldn't be used by Internet satirists, as it might "confuse" the public. (A similar tactic was once attempted by the New York Times, and more recently by Exodus International.)

    Obviously, the use of a picture for parody is not the same as its use for political criticism, but I think both go to the very core of free speech. If Horowitz's use isn't fair use, then no blogger who criticizes, say, Ward Churchill, Cindy Sheehan, or Ann Coulter would be able to display their pictures.

    At the rate things are going, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone using the copyright laws to stop the accurate quotations of words if the purpose of quoting the words is to disagree with them.

    I'm trying to put myself in the professor's position. I wouldn't want to be called a terrorist supporter, and I don't think I am one. But if someone said that about me and used my picture, I hardly think my concerns would involve the picture! If I sued, it would be for the claim that I supported terrorism!

    There's something very odd about this.

    posted by Eric at 03:37 PM | Comments (6)

    The "I" word

    Impeach President Bush?

    Ideologically, I've never been more than a lukewarm supporter of the president, as I'm a libertarian who has simply learned to swallow my pride, hold my nose, and vote for what I perceived (rightly or wrongly) was the best way to slow down socialism at a galloping pace -- at least back down to the old days of what was once called "creeping socialism." Now that Republican Party has become the Party of God and Pork, I honestly don't know. I vacillate between remaining a RINO, and going back to being a DINO. The problem is that the Democrats are full bore socialists -- more so than ever before, and their party is the party not of a Big Tent, but of small multicultural tents. Worst of all, the Democrats are dominated by activists -- and I hate activists (not as individuals, but in the collective sense). They have transformed our personal lives into political litmus tests, and worse. True, there are plenty of activists in the GOP, but there also remain a lot of ordinary people -- the type who work for a living and don't enjoy staying up till 2:00 a.m. just to hear themselves scream about core issues. In balance, the Republican Party contains more people who just "get it" -- they understand that government tends to be the enemy, and the less government the better. (All this seems irrelevant to the impeachment issue, but hell, it's background.)

    Anyway, because of my tendency to look towards the dark side, I always suspected that Bush would face the possibility of impeachment during his second term. After all, there was Iraq, abu Ghraib, the "war crimes" business, and steady drumbeats from the Bush=Hitler crowd, and I figured maybe some small scandal involving a White House aide might morph into a coalition uniting the various pro-impeachment forces. Still, I took it as a given -- a complete no-brainer -- that the impeachment movement would be on the left.

    Amazingly, it's not. It's the rage on conservative talk radio, and the idea of impeaching the president has gained such traction in the conservative blogosphere that leftist bloggers like Glenn Greenwald are positively gloating.

    Beyond that link, I don't want to get into names or specifics, but these are bloggers I like, and I'm just not terribly comfortable disagreeing with bloggers I like. It makes me feel like too much of a nit-picky activist.

    But trust me. Bloggers I consider friends want to impeach Bush.

    Not that there's anything new about friends who want to impeach Bush. My leftist friends (and I'm talking about people I love) have been Bush haters for years, and they've long considered impeachment as the ultimate wet dream.

    As I said in a previous post, I don't think there's much chance of a serious coalition to impeach the president involving both the left and the right, because they'd have to agree on specifics. And let's face it leftists are not going to vote to impeach Bush for undermining the territorial sovereignty of the country, and ratting out the Minutemen. Trust me, It. Just. Won't. Happen.

    Before I go any further, I'll restate my own position on immigration. The border has been completely out of control for many years, and I support not only closing the border, but building a fence. I oppose amnesty of any sort, as I think even the present muddled status quo, terrible as it is, would be better than rewarding illegal border crossers.

    But what the hell difference does it make what I think? I am not running the country, and I long since gave up on any idea that elected officials -- Democrat or Republican -- are going to do what I want them to do. Being a libertarian of any shade means, simply "forget about it!" Low political self esteem is the only way to avoid being driven crazy.

    Unfortunately, this leads me to get a little tired of the constant moral outrage and political hyperbole by activists who just can't understand why they're not getting their way. Sometimes it annoys me that being heard has to do with who shouts the loudest, and that's what I most like blogging.


    Yeah, I guess you can add political hyperbole.


    Or cuss words:



    But you can't expect to win that way.

    I speak as someone who has seen many, many "worst things that have ever happened" for many, many years, and often the worst thing that ever happened was the worst thing that ever happened since the last worst thing that ever happened. And many times, that last worst thing happened just the day before today's latest worst thing, which would turn out to be the worst thing that ever happened until tomorrow's worst thing.

    Not that anyone gives a rat's ass, but I mean it when I say that the border should have been closed. Not today; yesterday. Not yesterday, but last year. Ten years ago. Even twenty years ago. There are said to be 12-30 million illegals in the country right now, and the way people talk, you'd think that they all just waltzed in since the election of Bush.

    How many aliens were here in 2004? A lot! It was a huge problem then. I was aware of it, and I wrote about it in January of 2004:

    This sounds ominous to me, because I am a staunch believer in the United States Constitution, which so many (Americans or otherwise) would casually disregard to promote their view of a greater world good. Were it not for the Constitution, the unique freedom it secures would not be in such abundance as to be taken for granted and diluted by globalism.

    Is it possible that uncontrolled immigration is a foot in the door for creeping globalization which will ultimately threaten our constitutional freedoms? I worry that things may be approaching that point. International legal precedents are openly solicited by Supreme Court justices despite the Constitution's very clear language defining it as the supreme law of the land.

    What's especially remarkable is that even though immigration has been out of control for many years, it wasn't even a blip on the political horizon during the 2004 election. CNN's voter exit polls didn't even list it as a concern.

    And now it's an impeachment issue?

    Who'da thunk it?

    As for me, I still want to get rid of big government statism, preserve the Constitution, reverse the course towards socialism, legalize drugs, and end bureaucratic tyranny.

    The president is not doing any of these things, either. And often I forget to complain. I'm probably too old.

    Whoa. Did I forget about Iraq too? Or Iran? Sigh. I should probably stick with one "I" word at a time. But I can't, because I've already talked about immigration and impeachment -- and that's two "I" words.

    Well, hasn't Bush already been indicted? An indictment might not be the moral equivalent of an impeachment, but it's a start.

    Where's my outrage? some might ask. Have I no serious and righteous moral indignation? (Ouch, there went another "I" word!)

    Seriously, I mean, this immigration impeachment stuff is serious business, so how could I not be more indignant? I think it has to do with the fact that there are so many things to get upset about that my indignation is all spread out, like a vast sea of unorganized paper. Added to that is the nihilistic nature of hyperbole. When outrage is everywhere, outrage is nowhere. I'm therefore feeling all outraged all the time, with nowhere to go, and it strikes me as a little too easy (and a little too illogical) to stuff all of my outrage into one basket.

    I'll just have to sit the impeachment out.

    Hope this doesn't make me a traitor.


    UPDATE: While he doesn't call for impeachment, longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie makes some good points in arguing that conservative Republicans (as distinguished from Big Business) have tolerated too much for too long:

    Conservatives tolerated the No Child Left Behind Act, an extensive intrusion into state and local education, and the budget-busting Medicare prescription drug benefit. They tolerated the greatest increase in spending since Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. They tolerated Bush's failure to veto a single bill, and his refusal to enforce immigration laws. They even tolerated his signing of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul, even though Bush's opposition to that measure was a key reason they backed him over Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the 2000 primaries.
    The piece is well worth reading as an indictment of the Republican leadership by conservatives, although some of it reads like a passive-aggressive endorsement of a Hillary Clinton presidency:
    Sometimes it is better to stand on principle and suffer a temporary defeat. If Ford had won in 1976, it's unlikely Reagan ever would have been president. If the elder Bush had won in 1992, it's unlikely the Republicans would have taken control of Congress in 1994.
    Not that I'm surprised.

    I've long suspected many of the same people who hated Bush but couldn't admit it also want Hillary to be president but cannot admit it.

    It's always tough to want what you hate.

    MORE: Rick Moran says the Viguerie piece "set some kind of standard for petulant huffiness." (I guess everything becomes standardized eventually.)

    posted by Eric at 07:41 AM | Comments (8)

    Dangerous extremism? Or a sign of the times?

    From an LA Times article about an organization called "Mothers Against Illegal Aliens," I read one of the wildest proposals I've seen in a long time:

    "I'm not a radical. All I want is for them to enforce the law."

    Dangerous extremism is nothing new.

    I'm sure cooler heads will prevail. But shouldn't the fact that people are even making radical suggestions like that give us all cause for concern?

    posted by Eric at 05:33 PM | Comments (3)

    Impactful values?

    Berkeley blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga offers bits of wisdom in a fun interview with the Berkeley Daily Planet:

    “The most impactful activism was Cindy Sheehan, and it was the bloggers who promoted her first. She gave the media a hook, a story to tell.”
    Impactful? Actually, I was waxing impactfully about her just the other day.

    But I should probably take Cindy Sheehan more seriously than I have. My values are probably out of kilter.

    Kos also weighs in on how values impact the the benefit of the doubt:

    “People are willing to overlook their political difference if you talk about values. Bush talked in the language of values, so people were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

    It never worked for me.

    posted by Eric at 05:15 PM | Comments (1)

    Lesson in civic responsibility? (Well, yes!)

    Like many people, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tom Ferrick does not like guns. (That may be understatement.) But unlike most people who don't like guns, he went out and spent nearly $800.00 to buy two handguns which he clearly doesn't like:

    When I departed, I had a plastic shopping bag that contained not only my new 9mm semi, but also a novelty item: a Taurus snub-nosed revolver.

    Normally, revolvers are simply too passé for the urban gun fancier.

    But this one was special. It was designed to handle high-powered ammo - .357 Magnum or .38-special cartridges. It doesn't have much of a range, but a lot of impact if it hits something that is close by - say, a target or a teenage kid or a cop.

    Instead of shooting teenagers or police officers, or reselling the guns illegally (he doesn't seem to see any other options), he's going to turn in his new guns:
    I do not intend to fence my guns and I don't want them. I plan to turn them in to the police.
    While he is setting a poor example by turning in his guns, I'd have to concede that what he did was good for the economy, because even frivolous purchases stimulate economic growth. Depleted inventory has to be restocked. Perhaps the latter possibility makes him feel guilty, because he goes out of his way to malign the store that sold him the guns:
    Anti-gun activists held a news conference to announce that the tiny pawnshop was among the top 100 shops in America that sold the most guns later linked to crimes. In Lou's case, it was 441 guns over a four-year period.

    This is a sign that the shop is a favorite among straw buyers - legit purchasers (i.e. folks without criminal records) who later sell the handguns on the street to would-be perps or kids with a yen for a handgun and the cash to pay for it.

    If I knew the right customers, I could have taken the two handguns I bought and sold them within 24 hours at close to double the price: $800 out, $1,600 in. Not a bad profit margin.

    Yes, he "could have" resold them -- just as he "could have" broken them in by shooting a few police officers too. (Didn't it occur to him that he might just keep them for his own self defense? Why is such a thing unthinkable? Why do such journalists associate only immorality with guns?)

    Lou's is located in Philadelphia, which has a huge crime rate. Any gun dealer located in Philadelphia could expect a higher percentage of its guns to later be involved in crime than could a dealer in a wealthy suburb. I suspect that Philadelphia car dealers might expect a higher percentage of their cars to be stolen or otherwise involved in crime too. And, considering that Lou's has been in business since 1921, there's a cumulative statistical factor at work which wouldn't be apparent in the case of a newer store.

    While buying something you don't want might strike most people as a complete waste of money, Tom Ferrick believes he is making an anti-gun statement by buying a gun. He thinks there's a civics lesson which involves shocking people into the realization that they have too much freedom.

    Yes, in Pennsylvania, law-abiding, non-mentally ill, non-drug-using people may buy guns, whether they want them or not. Is this really news? Did Mr. Ferrick really prove anything -- other than the fact that he's legally qualified to buy a gun? I doubt that was his purpose. Rather, his purpose seems to be to scold his fellow Pennsylvanians for allowing him the same right to buy a firearm as any other law abiding Pennsylvanian.

    I'm wondering if this same technique would work with other things.

    Suppose I was annoyed by the high rate of vehicular deaths, and decided to buy two cars -- better yet, two evil SUVs -- to demonstrate how easy it was. If I then announced I was going to have them crushed by an auto dismantler (I'm assuming the police do something like that with the guns), would people share my moral outrage? Would it make any difference if it was Sunday, and I had the front page of the Inquirer to complain about it with the first few paragraphs highlighted in black?

    The Ferrick piece was intended to complement a companion piece by Monica Yant Kinney, who tried and failed to buy a gun in New Jersey.

    Why this failure would make Ms. Kinney feel safer I do not know. (It would make me feel a lot less safe if I lived in a place where I "might" be able to buy a gun after six months of bureaucratic hassles.) But she's proud of her state:

    . . . [M]y fair state has some of the toughest gun laws in the country.

    Here, you must be 21 to buy a handgun. It's nearly impossible to get a carry permit or own an assault weapon.

    Once "smart-gun" technology finally hits the market - limiting a weapon to be fired only by its owner - New Jersey will eventually sell such guns exclusively, thanks to a 2002 law that was the first of its kind in the nation.

    If that's not enough, as I type, the state Assembly is considering 17 bills taking aim at gang violence and revolving around guns.

    Good laws can be bad for business. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the dearth of dealers in the state.

    Federal statistics show only 337 licensed gun dealers in New Jersey last year, compared with 2,765 in Pennsylvania, I'm told by Kristen Rand, at the Violence Policy Center in Washington.

    Maybe that explains why only 11 percent of New Jersey households have a firearm in them. In Pennsylvania, 36 percent do.

    That's something to be proud of?

    What it means is that if you're thinking of robbing people or burglarizing their homes, you're more likely to encounter an armed citizen in Pennsylvania than in New Jersey. Yet the Inquirer wants Pennsylvania to be more like New Jersey.

    Why is this desirable?

    To give some background to the Inquirer's gun-buying "exposé," there has been a long-running argument about Philadelphia's high murder rate. People are killing each other because they have "stupid arguments over stupid things":

    In Philadelphia, where 380 homicides made 2005 the deadliest year since 1997, 208 were disputes; drug-related killings, which accounted for about 40 percent of homicides during the high-crime period of the early 1990's, accounted for just 13 percent.

    "When we ask, 'Why did you shoot this guy?' it's, 'He bumped into me,' 'He looked at my girl the wrong way,' " said Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson of Philadelphia. "It's not like they're riding around doing drive-by shootings. It's arguments — stupid arguments over stupid things."

    The police say the suspects and the victims tend to be black, young — midteens to mid-20's — and have previous criminal records. They tend to know each other. Several cities said that domestic violence had also risen. And the murders tend to be limited to particular neighborhoods. Downtown Milwaukee has not had a homicide in about five years, but in largely black neighborhoods on the north side, murders rose from 57 in 2004 to 94 last year.

    "We're not talking about a city, we're talking about this subpopulation, that's what drives everything," said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "When they calm down, all the numbers go down. When they heat up, all the numbers go up. They hurt each other over personal stuff. It's respect and disrespect, and it's girls."

    While arguments have always made up a large number of homicides, the police say the trigger point now comes faster.

    Commissioner Johnson argues that guns plus arguments mean murder, and that armed law abiding citizens with concealed carry permits are like enemies who outnumber the police. Yet recently a wanted murder suspect was captured when he was shot by an armed citizen who had a concealed carry permit. (A very unlikely scenario in New Jersey.)

    As the primary purpose of these twin pieces was to contrast Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I think it's worth asking which state is actually safer.

    In which state would a law abiding person prefer to live?

    It might help to look at the two states' crime statistics side by side. Here's Pennsylvania:

    In the year 2000 Pennsylvania had an estimated population of 12,281,054 which ranked the state as having the 6th in population. For that year the State of Pennsylvania had a total Crime Index of 2,995.3 reported incidents per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 43rd highest total Crime Index. For Violent Crime Pennsylvania had a reported incident rate of 420.0 per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 23rd highest occurrence for Violent Crime among the states. For crimes against Property, the state had a reported incident rate of 2,575.3 per 100,000 people, which ranked as the state 43rd highest. Also in the year 2000 Pennsylvania had 4.9 Murders per 100,000 people, ranking the state as having the 24th highest rate for Murder. Pennsylvania’s 26.4 reported Forced Rapes per 100,000 people, ranked the state 37th highest. For Robbery, per 100,000 people, Pennsylvania’s rate was 147.8 which ranked the state as having the 13th highest for Robbery. The state also had 240.9 Aggravated Assaults for every 100,000 people, which indexed the state as having the 26th highest position for this crime among the states. For every 100,000 people there were 440.4 Burglaries, which ranks Pennsylvania as having the 44th highest standing among the states.

    And New Jersey:

    In the year 2000 New Jersey had an estimated population of 8,414,350 which ranked the state 9th in population. For that year the State of New Jersey had a total Crime Index of 3,160.5 reported incidents per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 39th highest total Crime Index. For Violent Crime New Jersey had a reported incident rate of 383.8 per 100,000 people. This ranked the state as having the 25th highest occurrence for Violent Crime among the states. For crimes against Property, the state had a reported incident rate of 2,776.6 per 100,000 people, which ranked as the state 40th highest. Also in the year 2000 New Jersey had 3.4 Murders per 100,000 people, ranking the state as having the 30th highest rate for Murder. New Jersey’s 16.1 reported Forced Rapes per 100,000 people, ranked the state 50th highest. For Robbery, per 100,000 people, New Jersey’s rate was 161.1 which ranked the state as having the 11th highest for Robbery. The state also had 203.2 Aggravated Assaults for every 100,000 people, which indexed the state as having the 35th highest position for this crime among the states. For every 100,000 people there were 522.0 Burglaries, which ranks New Jersey as having the 39th highest standing among the states.
    In which state would you feel safer, and why?

    While I don't decide where to live based upon crime statistics, if I did I'd probably choose Pennsylvania, and I'll explain why.

    Let's look at the nature of the crimes. Measured as a whole, crime statistics mix apples and oranges, and the overall crime index does not give the law abiding person an accurate idea of what most people worry about.

    I think it's fair to say that the crimes most law abiding people are worried about are crimes committed against the law abiding.

    The burglary and robbery statistics are more reliable indicators than the murder stats, and that is because the murder stats include all murders -- not just those committed by criminals against law abiding citizens. When criminals rob or burglarize each other, these crimes tend not to go reported -- for obvious reasons. But the murder of a criminal by another criminal (no matter how "stupid" the reason) is almost always reported. I'm not suggesting that such murders are not serious or that they should not be prosecuted just as vigorously as any other murder; only that they shouldn't be lumped in with statistics based upon reports of crimes committed against law abiding citizens.

    As the New York Times highlights, most murders are not likely to be committed either by strangers or by criminals against the law abiding:

    in more than half the cases, the killer and the victim knew each other.

    The police said they were more interested in disrupting crime patterns. "We're looking for things with operational implications — time of day, day of the week — to see that we deploy officers at the right times and in sufficient numbers," said Michael J. Farrell, deputy commissioner for strategic initiatives.

    The offender and victim were of the same race in more than three-quarters of the killings. And according to Mr. Farrell, they often had something else in common: More than 90 percent of the killers had criminal records; and of those who wound up killed, more than half had them.

    "If the average New Yorker is concerned about being murdered in a random crime, the odds of that happening are really remote," Mr. Farrell said. "If you are living apart from a life of crime, your risk is negligible."

    I realize that crime statistics are not designed to separate crimes committed against the law abiding from intra-criminal class crimes, but I would submit that burglary and robbery statistics are better quality of life indicators for law abiding people who might want to decide which state is statistically safer.

    It is true that Pennsylvania's murder rate is higher than New Jersey's. But as the above shows, the burglary rate is 522.0 in New Jersey versus 440 in PA. The robbery rate is 147.8 in Pennsylvania and New Jersey's is 161.1.

    If we move to states with more draconian gun laws (the type the Inquirer is promoting) we see that New York's burglary rate is 463.4 and its robbery rate is 213.6.

    In Washington D.C., which has the most draconian firearm laws of all, the burglary rate is 829.5, while the robbery rate is 621.3.

    None of these statistics proves that draconian gun laws cause higher burglary or robbery rates, of course. But they do show that Pennsylvania is safer than New Jersey, New York, or DC.

    I don't think an Inquirer columnist's lunchtime gun-buying spree is an argument for changing the law or disarming anyone. Quite the reverse.

    Mr. Ferrick thinks he has taught Pennsylvanians a lesson in civic responsibility. He assumes, of course, that others will share his outrage over the freedom he has just exercised.

    We are supposed to be shocked that law abiding citizens in Pennsylvania can actually go out and buy guns.

    Shocked by a simple lesson in civics?

    Shocked by a reminder that we are free?

    I think there's an irony which may have escaped Mr. Ferrick's attention. There are a lot of people who don't find it shocking that law abiding Pennsylvanians can buy guns. They might even think that if more Tom Ferricks bought guns during their lunch breaks, Philadelphia would be a safer place. That instead of "turning in" the guns he just purchased, he should keep them -- as part of his civic responsibility.

    Still, I wouldn't require him to keep his guns. How a particular journalist exercises his Second Amendment rights really isn't any of my business. At least those rights are still his to exercise.

    (Being reminded of that is probably a good thing.)

    UPDATE: I thought Sunday's blackened front page was noteworthy in itself:


    (As you can see, a lot of ink went into that article.)

    posted by Eric at 10:02 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (2)

    Newsflash! Heterosexuality makes women fat!

    At least, that's what a recent study shows:

    "Women eat more unhealthy foods and tend to put on weight and increase their consumption of foods high in fat and sugar when they move in with a male partner," notes an analysis by Amelia Lake, a nutritionist with Britain's Newcastle University.

    She based her conclusion on 20 dietary and lifestyle studies of cohabiting, heterosexual couples in the U.S., Australia and England.

    Only heterosexual couples?

    Does this mean lesbian live-ins remain skinny?

    The situation is even more complicated in Saudi Arabia, where exercise for women is frowned upon:

    In Riyadh, hotel gyms and pools are off limits to women. Along the city's walking trails, where the women walk covered in the mandatory black cloaks, they are sometimes harassed by the muttawa.

    Rana al-Abdullah said one such official ordered her to go back to her car when she was out walking one day and wouldn't leave her alone until she did. She now walks in malls.

    Many Saudis say they are baffled by the religious arguments.

    At a clinic that treats obesity-related diseases, a booklet left by a writer named Muhammad al-Habdan, warned that if girls' schools began P.E., Saudi girls would have to change into workout gear — and good girls should not disrobe outside their homes. Changing in a locker room might cause them to lose the shyness that is the hallmark of good morals, the booklet warned.

    It went on to say that the girls might become attracted to each other after seeing their classmates in tight leotards and tops.

    Sounds to me like they really care.

    I had no idea that women's locker rooms were dens of inquity.


    Americans are so callused about these things.

    (Little wonder that ordinary Saudis are baffled by the religious arguments.)

    posted by Eric at 09:04 AM | Comments (2)

    If I dun tol' yew wuns, I dun tol' yew uh thowzan thymes

    No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

    You're being pre presumptuous pretapretiacal fact of a profoundly inexplicable rationale. The least the two old (old (not really, old, but still... commas, you know, and, you know... ellipses...

    It turns out that the only particular happens to yawn when the wave of rationality has already made its point, further seeking nothing beyond the guidance of the surf, the weather, the yadda, yadda, yadda, please save us from truth X 10; Against bro; See ya later.

    Keep breathing. It's the least you could fail to do. Life = joke.

    posted by Cosmic Drunk at 01:27 AM | Comments (6)

    5 million years of ethical evolution?

    New scientific research indicates that humans and chimpanzees diverged more recently than previously thought, and that they could have been interbreeding as recently as five million years ago:

    New scientific findings indicate that ancestral humans split from chimpanzee forebears more recently than previously thought and raise the possibility that the two nascent species hybridized before making their final separation.

    The surprising findings reveal a much more complicated birth of the human and chimpanzee species than shown by previous research. They also call into question the place on the primate family tree of fossils that scientists had thought were the bones of ancestral humans, but which are older than the newly determined time that the species diverged.

    The research, conducted by scientists at Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, indicates that humans and chimpanzees developed into distinct species less than 6.3 million years ago and probably more recently than 5.4 million years ago. That is about a million years later than the previously accepted range of 6.5 million to 7.4 million years ago.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer elaborates on the possibility of, to be blunt about it, sex between man and ape:
    By comparing samples of chimp, gorilla and human DNA, scientists from MIT and Harvard say they see possible evidence of interspecies sex.

    But there's a problem with this finding, say paleontologists who study human origins. The geneticists are proposing that our ancestors were still mixing it up with those of the chimps until six million years ago - a time when one lineage was on all fours, the other already walking upright.

    And you thought your relationship had compatibility problems.

    "We see a complex speciation with a long, drawn-out gene flow," said David Reich, a geneticist from Harvard Medical School and lead author of the paper, published in today's issue of the journal Nature.

    Would creatures that different want to mate, let alone be able to create viable offspring? The geneticists conceded this might be a stretch, but they suggest the fossil-finders are off on the dates for upright walking. Paleontologists say the geneticists' dates are in error.

    If it's any consolation, the scientists say our ancestors still behaved like apes when this alleged sex took place. We started walking upright very early after splitting off from chimpanzees, and only much later acquired large brains, complex tool use and language.

    Well, that's a relief.

    At least if my great-75,000th-grandfather was screwing a cute little chimp who walked on all fours, I can content myself with the knowledge that his brain was small.

    I discussed the possibility of human-chimpanzee hybridization in a previous post. The legal and moral implications are disturbing enough that the Harvard researchers can only hint about, um doing it:

    Reich cautioned that though hybridization would answer several questions raised by the research, the research itself does not prove that hybridization occurred. Further work is needed to explore whether that happened.
    Further work? Might that be in vitro fertilization experiments? Or would implantation of the embryo be required? Certainly, they can't be talking about having someone -- or something -- carrying the fetus to term!

    Richard Dawkins has discussed some of the ethical implications:

    . . . [W]hat if somebody succeeded in breeding a chimpanzee/ human hybrid? I can assert, without fear of contradiction, that the news would be earth-shattering. Bishops would bleat, lawyers would gloat in anticipation, conservative politicians would thunder; socialists wouldn't know where to put their barricades. The scientist that achieved the feat would be drummed out of politically correct common rooms; denounced in pulpit and gutter press; condemned, perhaps, by an ayatollah's fatwah. Politics would never be the same again, nor would theology, sociology psychology; or most branches of philosophy. The world that would be so shaken, by such an incidental event as a hybridisation, is a speciesist world indeed, dominated by the discontinuous mind.
    Would the creation of a humanzee (or chuman) really be that disruptive?

    Professor Dawkins is kind enough to provide a picture:


    I'm wondering whether the existence of such a creature would be earthshaking out of concern for the poor creature and its precarious legal status (obviously, it would have a tough life), or whether there would be frustration with the idea that such a thing is theoretically possible.

    FWIW, considering that humans and chimps have 99.4% of their DNA in common, I think it is obvious that it is possible. At least as possible (if not more so) as the beefalo or any number of difficult hybrids such as the zorse, zobra, tion, or liger.

    What I'd like to know is under what theory our ethical system is threatened. Clearly, the hybridization is possible. It would, however, be a cruel thing to do to the individual, and I would not do it. But to the extent that the threat to human ethics is based on the theory that such a breeding would be impossible, I'd say the research has already disproved that theory. If man and chimp could interbreed five million years ago, it's hardly surprising that this could be duplicated today under laboratory conditions.


    There are people who maintain seriously that man and chimp couldn't have interbred 5 million years ago, aren't there? They'd probably assert that breeding the two today would be impossible, wouldn't they?

    That alone might provide enough reason for someone to do it. I'd feel sorry for any near-human creature, bred for the purpose of winning a debate. I would hope they'd stop at the test tube stage.

    At that point, they could suspend the experiment, store the embryos in liquid nitrogen, and let them "live" in eternal suspension. The appropriate ethicists could then hold a huge debate over whether they should be killed, murdered, or (worse) be born.

    posted by Eric at 10:29 PM | Comments (11)

    hyperbole leads to nihilism

    yeah just whatever

    nazis commies murderers traitors

    if you don't blank you must be a blank

    as if anyone would care

    posted by Eric at 09:19 AM

    The exigency of insurgence

    Anyone who assumes that the suicide bombers in Iraq war are Iraqi "insurgents" should read this LA Times editorial:

    Most of the suicide bombers in Iraq are coming from Saudi Arabia. The rise in Saudi bombers stems from a split within the Saudi jihadist movement, according to some Al Qaeda experts. One faction wants to attack the Al Saud monarchy directly, while another contends that U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq should be the prime target. Because Al Qaeda views Saudi Arabia as its primary source of money for global jihad, it has concentrated on striking in Iraq.

    The hundreds of accounts of Saudi suicide bombers in Iraq featured on websites provide some information about the bombers and foreign fighters who are playing an ever larger role in the insurgency. An online magazine, named Jihadweb, published a "road to Iraq" guide that advised recruits traveling through Syria to "wear jeans" and "use a portable music player" so they would appear more Western.

    Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on terrorism, concluded that of the 154 foreign fighters killed in Iraq over a six-month period, 61% were Saudis, with Syrians and Kuwaitis together accounting for another 25%. But the jihadist websites claim that 70% of the suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudi nationals.

    This is not new stuff, but somehow it never managed to sink in. (There's more of the same in the Washington Post, in an article titled "'Martyrs' In Iraq Mostly Saudis," as well as in the Counterterrorism Blog.

    So why is it that most Americans (and I include conservative war supporters) still think that the Iraqis are die-hards who won't stop blowing themselves up? It's not as if this is a mainstream media conspiracy, as the facts have been clearly reported.

    Perhaps it's just the noise factor. A steady drip drip drip similar to the type InstaPunk describes here:

    All that matters is that it is repeated with uniform constancy: drip, drip, drip. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. Change the headlines, seem to change the subject. Abu Ghraib. European disdain. Tom Delay. Katrina. Deficits. Valerie Plame. Gas prices. Karl Rove. Death in Iraq. Angry mothers. NSA wiretaps. Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, the lede is always the same.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    "Iraqi insurgents. Iraqi insurgents. Iraqi insurgents" has that same drip drip drip quality which just kinda gets inside your brain and stays there. Plus, "Iraqi insurgents" is not only more alliterative than "Saudi jihadist border crossers," it's easier to write!

    Ironic, because if we assume a partisan goal of making Bush look bad, the fact that the suicide bombers are mostly from Saudi Arabia might be considered a better overall fit -- at least for those who think like Michael Moore.

    I guess it's never a good idea to ascribe to malice what can best be explained by laziness. Especially in the fog of reporting war -- or whatever Iraq is supposed to be. (Napoleon said something like that.)

    MORE: In the interest of fuller and better accuracy, maybe I should have called them "undocumented suicidal Saudi jihadist border crossers." (Sorry!)

    AND MORE: I might be misunderestimating the importance of alliteration in this equation too. I'm not much of a war-blogger, but stop to consider how this war started. Thousands of Americans were killed by a group of 19 suicide bombers -- 15 of whom were Saudis. Forgive my sibilance (and I know that Saudi sycophants will dismiss my thought as the hissings of a snake), but might it not be argued that we are at war with suicidal Saudis?

    Or, more properly (if I may add to the sibilance while avoiding the hurt feelings caused by overuse of the Wahhabi word) suicidal Saudi Salafists?

    I realize that Saudi Arabia has done a good job of denying any involvement with this war, and I understand the difficulties their rulers face. Considering that it is not in the economic interests of either the United States or Saudi Arabia to be at war, might the best strategy be simply to wage war against the suicidal Saudi Salafists? Might the U.S. be doing exactly that but be unable to admit it?

    If so, the Iraq strategy makes a lot of sense.

    (But I thought Bush was dumb!)

    I'd go even further, and argue that the U.S. should stay in Iraq until there aren't any more suicidal Saudi Salafists.

    (Yeah, I admit it. I like the hissing sound . . .)



    I can hope, can't I?

    (Enough war blogging for today. It's too complicated!)

    posted by Eric at 09:04 AM

    A knockout peace plan!

    While it hasn't been discussed much by the mainstream media, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is readying the country for an invasion by U.S. troops:

    The Chavez government said it is preparing citizens to fight a guerrilla war to repel a possible Iraq-style invasion by U.S. troops. The Bush administration insists the invasion paranoia is nothing more than leftist saber-rattling, but for Chavez supporters the threat is real.

    "They've already invaded us, now the invading forces are controlling certain strategic objectives," said Rear Admiral Zahin Quintana, a squadron commander, after disembarking from a warship as part of the exercise. "Now begins the resistance by our troops together with our people."

    The tanks began circulating through the streets, and units of mock invading soldiers launched smoke bombs to clear the way. But local residents, organized and trained by military authorities, resisted the assault by blocking roads with rusting cars and burning tires.

    "We're willing to go anywhere to defend our homeland," said Rosmery Trujillo, a participant in the operation, told state television. "This country will never again be put under the boot of the North, thanks to our President Chavez."

    Is there no way to avert this coming war?

    At the risk of sounding like Neville Chamberlain, I'd like to offer an alternative which I think would avoid much unnecessary carnage. It's an old idea, really. Instead of having armies of two nations killing each other, why not just select two combatants, and let them engage in a legitimate boxing match?

    How to do that? Certainly not by having Bush and Chavez square off in the ring! That would be unduly disruptive to the world economy. Instead, I propose letting one of Chavez's most famous supporters -- Cindy Sheehan -- duke it out with one of his most famous opponents -- Pat Robertson.

    It has occurred to me that a few spoilsports might claim that this wouldn't be a fair fight, and I understand the concern because normally, men are not allowed to fight women, as they have an unfair advantage in strength, stamina, ability, etc.

    But does anyone really consider the following a fair fight?


    (Photoshop from Luke Gilman.)

    Not fair at all. For starters, Pat Robertson is old enough to be Hugo Chavez's father.

    While it's also true that Robertson at 76 is also old enough to be Cindy Sheehan's father, this is offset by the simple fact that Sheehan is a woman.

    (I hate to sound sexist, but facts are facts.)

    And if you ask me, she's rested, she's ready, and she appears to be the president's pick!


    All things considered, I think the age difference between Sheehan and Robertson might round things out, and make this a fair fight.

    I know, I know. It's seems like a silly idea. But if the pair actually consented to do this, imagine the broadcast revenues.

    I'd buy a ticket.

    (But alas; I don't have time for photoshopping.)

    posted by Eric at 01:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

    Madrassa update

    Turning from bananas in schools to more serious issues, I should begin this post by stating that I do not go about looking for child molesters under every table, any more than I look for terrorists in every mosque. (Regular readers probably know this, but I'm hoping the rest will keep it in mind.)

    Last week I went to the Zoning Board hearing I mentioned twice in my discussions of a Saudi madrassa in the neighborhood. At the hearing I saw lots of testimony by angry neighbors, which included complaints that a man identified as a sex offender was listed (pursuant to Megan's Law requirements) as living at the madrassa's address, and had been seen by neighbors.

    The sex offender issue seemed to be of much more interest to the Zoning Board than a later attempt to raise questions about possible connections to terrorism of people allowed to use the madrassa. (Questions about the latter were deemed "irrelevant" by the hearing chair, although it was late at night.)

    As might be expected, the local newspaper account (in a writeup headlined "Allegations of Megan's Law violatio stall Islamic foundation's expansion plans") focuses on the sex offender-related testimony:

    VILLANOVA - Citing concerns over possibly allowing a registered sex offender on their property, neighbors last week objected to a plan to add a school, retreats and other activities on the grounds of the Foundation for Islamic Education in Villanova.

    Officials from the foundation went before the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board last week for a special exemption to add a licensed elementary school for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The school would initially house 93 students but could grow to 130 in the future.

    The foundation is also asking the board to allow a six-week summer camp, increase its full-time staff, increase its Sunday School classes, allow for more people to attend its Friday Juma Prayer session and increase its holiday attendance to allow for up to 400 participants.

    But officials from the foundation spent most of the meeting fending off allegations from residents.

    Attorney Jim Greenfield, representing a group of residents living near the foundation, raised concerns over whether a registered sex offender was spending time on the foundation's property.

    Greenfield entered into testimony the page from the state's Megan's Law Web site on Farhat Mghirbi.

    Mghirbi was convicted in Delaware in 1999 of unlawful sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl, according to court records.

    Pennsylvania law requires individuals convicted of certain sex crimes to be registered where they live and work. The information is then put on the state's Megan's Law Web site for the general public.

    Later, two residents testified that they saw Mghirbi at the foundation around the spring of 2005.

    "There was an open house ... that's when we saw him," neighbor Mark Hershorin said.

    When asked by board member Robert Fox what Mghirbi was doing during the open house, Hershorin said he was mingling.

    The foundation's director, Manal El-Menshawy, denied knowing who Mghirbi was and said the FBI sent agents to the foundation and showed her a photo of him, asking her if she knew him. She testified that she told them that she had never seen him.

    Later, Greenfield also entered into testimony a summary of Lower Merion police calls to the address of the foundation, to which the attorney for the foundation objected.

    "This is a meaningless list of information," foundation attorney Fred Fromhold said as he looked over the list of police calls.

    Fromhold objected to entering the list, saying there were no details on the police list and the calls could have come from people making calls from the street in front of the foundation.

    The board did not make a decision on the foundation's request, but could in the next few weeks.

    In addition to the above, voting records were submitted which purportedly showed that 15 to 17 people lived on the property, yet the Foundation's spokesperson stated that the Foundation had no idea who most of them were. In response to numerous questions about religious retreats held regularly, it was admitted that no records were kept about the retreats. Neighbors are concerned that strangers are allowed to use the Foundation's facilities without any information being kept about them or the possible agendas of the retreats.

    Obviously, no one with a history of being a sexual offender should be connected with any school. Nor should anyone with any connection to terrorist activities. While I have no personal knowledge of what goes on inside the school, the testimony at the hearing made me feel less than confident that this school does a good job of policing itself.

    UPDATE (05/21/06): Via Glenn Reynolds, a look at the sort of things which typically appear in Saudi textbooks. Example:


    "As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."

    I don't know what teaching material is being used in the local madrassa, but I can only hope it's not stuff like that.

    posted by Eric at 09:51 AM | Comments (1)

    You have no right to drown in my pool!

    In an earlier post, I likened American freedom to an attractive nuisance, and sarcastically discussed ways of making it less attractive to illegal immigrants.

    Mickey Kaus thinks the country is an attractive nuisance, but he calls for the more traditional remedy of a fence:

    The logic of seems inescapable. The U.S., in this sense, is an attractive nuisance like a swimming pool. If you want to keep neighborhood children from using the pool, and possibly drowning, you don't partially fence it in. You completely fence it in. ... Full funding for full fencing!
    Via Glenn Reynolds, who adds that "Mexican immigrants are adults, though, not children."

    My previous sarcasm aside, I think it's better to build a fence than get rid of the pool.

    The only problem with the swimming pool analogy is that some people -- including adult Americans -- can't seem to handle their own freedom, but they are allowed to swim anyway.

    Should American adults be protected from drowning?

    In their own pool?

    MORE: Maggie's Farm, after noting the origin of the phrase "good fences make good neighbors," also makes the attractive nuisance analogy:

    And I also wonder about this: We must have fences around pools, but not around rivers and ponds and lakes - or the ocean. And no fences to protect our national borders. Which is more important? I don't mind being Frost's practical but un-soulful neighbor: I will gladly provide both my pool fence, and my national border fence: The law may be an ass, but it's the law.
    Interestingly, in Mexico people not only build fences around their property, they build walls. And why not?

    Is there something wrong with privacy?

    posted by Eric at 09:08 AM | Comments (3)

    Yes, we have no bananas!

    That last couple of posts made me wonder whether the battle over sexual indoctrination in the schools might be creating a sort of buffer zone where people who might otherwise be inclined to demand real change will exhaust themselves silly by fighting over an issue which, while it might be important, is secondary to the primary purpose of education. (A bit like the phenomenon of being kept awake at long meetings till all hours, the enemies of condoms will finally content themselves declaring victory and going home to bed.)

    Assume that after years of political battling, all gay activist nonsense and all condom-covered bananas [and cucumbers] are removed from all high school curricula. Is that going to cause an improvement in math scores, or ensure teacher competence? Students are going to learn? Teachers are going to teach? Why? Because the bananas are gone?

    I may be missing something, and while I support their removal, I don't see how zero tolerance for bananas leads to anyone learning a damned thing.

    Zero tolerance for failure might be more productive.

    posted by Eric at 08:16 AM

    Now you'll know how your victims felt!

    Ace links to this noxious high school "survey" which really isn't a survey at all, but an attempt to intimidate young people who haven't yet developed thick skins.

    Says Ace:

    I know they'll say they're just trying to make it easier for closeted gay teens to come out, to feel that they're not alone. But I hope they understand it does tend to look a lot like recruiting.

    Maybe it's just semantics. I guess there's no way to tell a gay kid "it's okay to be gay" without also "recruiting" him into being gay. Same thing, just different words for it.

    While it might be recruiting (and I agree that it's creepy), I think it's more likely an attempt to inflict guilt by way of a lame parody of the "insensitive" questionaires allegedly used in the past. I've seen these things for years, and the one in question is a variation on this:
    The following questions are reversals of questions frequently asked of lesbians and gay men. How would you feel if they were asked of you?

    1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

    2. When and how did you first decide you were heterosexual? Was there something that happened to you?

    3. Is it possible your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of soon?

    4. Is it possible your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?

    5. Isn't it possible that all you need is a good gay or lesbian lover? Have you ever had a positive gay or lesbian sexual experience?

    6. Heterosexuals have histories of failures in gay or lesbian relationships. Do you think you may have turned to heterosexuality out of a fear of failing again?

    7. If you've never slept with a person of the same sex, how do you know you wouldn't prefer that?

    8. If heterosexuality is normal, why are a disproportionate number of mental patients heterosexual?

    9. Why do you insist on being so obvious and making a public spectacle of your heterosexuality? Can't you just be what you are and keep it quiet?

    10. Heterosexuals are noted for assigning themselves and each other into restricted stereotyped sex-roles. Why do you cling to such unhealthy role playing?

    11. How can you enjoy a fully satisfying sexual experience or deep emotional rapport with a person of the opposite sex, when the obvious physical, biological and temperamental differences between you are so vast? How can a man understand what pleases a woman or vice-versa?

    12. How could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual like you, considering the menace of overpopulation?

    13. Why are heterosexuals so promiscuous?

    14. Could you really trust a heterosexual counselor to be objective and unbiased? Don't you fear that she or he might be inclined to influence you in their own leanings?

    Same thing here.

    It's outrageous to inflict this stuff on kids, and it's as if a bunch of gay activists are trying to punish them for the "homophobic crimes" of the 1950s. Next they'll tell them that homosexuals received electroshock therapy, as if that's their fault too.

    I can't prove it, but I have a hunch that the people who did this are more axe-grinding activists than recuiters:

    The teachers who Woelfel said are responsible for the survey - social studies teacher Sarah Olson and communications teacher Julie Grudzinski - could not be reached for comment.
    Frankly, the whole thing reminds me of what's going on at Duke University. Getting even for the past by reversing the roles ("you used to lynch us for touching white women, so now it's our turn"). Or make kids lie down on the floor of an imaginary slave ship. Never mind that the "reenactors" of these grotesque role reversals weren't even alive when the wrongs they want to right occurred. They'll just make clueless people pay for stuff they never did.

    Ah, screw it. Right now I'm too tired to write a long essay.

    Plus I just saw United 93, which brought back memories that never left.

    UPDATE: The comments posted by Ace's readers are great. I especially liked this one from "Sack of Crap":

    The survey I am preparing includes the following quesiton:

    "If you have never slept with a middle-aged, balding white guy with a little beer belly and thick glasses, then how do you know you wouldn't prefer it?"

    (All students who hesitate in their answers, see me after class!)

    Seriously though, I wish there was some way to abolish the deliberate infliction of guilt on students who have done nothing wrong, and who are in what are supposed to be their formative years. Similar techniques have been used for years in "teaching" things like "racial sensitivity." The reason they've become so common is that most of the people who are pushing them on students -- the ones who do heavy lifting -- are not members of the groups said to be aggrieved. They are themselves members of the "guilty" class who believe fervently in their own guilt. Because this guilt dominates their thinking and cannot be contained, they become transmitters of it in a manner akin to religious guilt. Being guilty, they must do more than atone; they must make others atone. To the extent that they still harbor inner unresolved feelings of bigotry, why, the infliction of guilt upon others serves as official certification that they are bigotry-free! This is why liberals who are personally uncomfortable with homosexuality were so quick to jump on the "gay marriage" bandwagon. It certifies the supporter as "not a bigot!" (Much easier than inviting homos home to eat dinner with your family, no?) The fact that the people on the other side can be characterized as "bigots" and "homophobes" adds credibility to this certification by way of contrast. (It also does wonders for the ego to stake out with such ease a position said to be the "intelligent" one. After all, bigots are stupid, right?)

    For further discussion of the mechanism, see "I am not a bigot -- because you are!"

    MORE: Nothing in this post is intended to disparage the value of parody, which I engage in regularly here, and which is protected free speech. This recent parody of Exodus International is a classic example, and I think the people threatening litigation only make themselves look ridiculous. That such parodies are constitutionally protected, however, does not make them valid educational tools.

    posted by Eric at 11:08 PM | Comments (1)

    Kunstler and Carey Do Vegas

    I was reading an article about James Kunstler and came across the following remark...

    Las Vegas is the holy shrine of a very pernicious religion—which is the religion of getting something for nothing; the religion of unearned riches—which is an idea that is extremely destructive and insidious and has now spread throughout our culture and has given people the idea that earnest efforts are not required to have good outcomes.

    This was by way of justifying his opinion that the town's death will be good for the country.

    To hell with that noise. It's just too easy to disapprove of Las Vegas. It's so easy that I normally wouldn't even bother repeating it. Besides, who wants to sound like a sanctimonious prick? But what Kunstler said triggered a pleasurable old memory. Reason Magazine was interviewing Drew Carey and he had some amusing opinions about the city that sin built. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition...

    Reason: While you're Cleveland's favorite son, you write longingly of your years living in Las Vegas, a city which many people see as the embodiment of vice and excess, of everything that's wrong with America. What do you like about Vegas?

    Carey: Vegas is everything that's right with America. You can do whatever you want, 24 hours a day. They've effectively legalized everything there. You don't have to gamble if you don't want to. There's tons of churches in Vegas, too: You'll see a church right next to a casino. But a lot of people like gambling, so they make money off it. Nobody forces you to put money in a machine and pull the handle. But the fact is they allow it. Nevada's one of the most conservative states in the Union, but you can do what you want in Vegas and nobody judges you...

    Extending that old interview into yet more topicality, Mr. Carey also had an opinion on Kennedy's Behaving Badly. Aptly enough, it was reached by way of substance abuse...

    Reason: So why do so many people dump on Vegas?

    Carey: I think a lot of people are afraid of freedom. They want their lives to be controlled, to be put into a box: "Be here at 9, leave at 5, we'll take care of you."
    People like that cradle-to-grave concept because it says you don't have to think too much, you don't have to worry too much, because someone else is looking out for you...Why should someone else put a limit on how much fun I can have, how much I can accomplish?

    We're almost to the Kennedy part. Stay the course...

    Reason: I take it you favor drug legalization?

    Carey: Yeah. But every time you bring that up, people always ask, "Oh, you think they should sell heroin and crack in stores?"

    Sure: Smoke crack, die, get out of my way. As long as I don't have to pay for it...Liquor prohibition led to the rise of organized crime in America, and drug prohibition has led to the rise of the gang problems we have now.

    Reason: Prohibition also leads to another topic: the Kennedys.


    In an earlier draft of your book, you had an entire chapter devoted to that brood. What is it that you hate about them?

    Carey: There were a lot of questions about language in the book. I said, "Look, give me some of the bad language, and I'll take out the whole Kennedy chapter." Plus, the publisher wasn't sure it would pass the lawyers. I read in USA Today that a Kennedy has never lost an election in Massachusetts.

    I wrote about what it would take for a Kennedy to lose one: They bust into a bank, pistol whip the manager, fuck the teller up the ass, take turns posing for pictures. And nobody would say a thing: "Those Kennedy's are great, aren't they? I can't believe a Kennedy fucked me up the ass!" They can get away with anything.

    I love it when people confound my expectations. Freedom of speech is surely one of the jewels in our civilization's crown...

    Reason: You cast aspersions on celebrities who unveil dark secrets, but you also mention that you were molested as a boy and that you tried to commit suicide during your Vegas years.

    Carey: The reason I mentioned that stuff is that I wanted to tell people that you can get over it, that you don't have to be embarrassed by it. I mean, I'm very well-adjusted in real life. Well, pretty well...

    What I don't like are celebrities who use it as their crutch all the time, who use it as a calling card: "Hi, I'm fill-in-the-blank and I was molested." Shut up already, man. It's one thing to mention it and move on. I have two pages on being molested when I was 9 in the book, and The Globe had this big story: "Drew Carey Bombshell!" They didn't mention one thing about the chapter called "101 Big Dick Jokes."

    posted by Justin at 12:59 PM | Comments (1)

    Satire isn't funny when it's at the taxpayers expense!

    One of the things that plagues me is when I see things I know are meant to be serious, but which ought to be considered satire.

    From Evan Coyne Maloney (link via Pajamas Media) I have found a perfect example of real life imitating satire, quoted verbatim from the Seattle public school system's Definitions of Racism:

    Cultural Racism:
    Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.
    It would be downright hilarious if it wasn't the official definition of racism at a taxpayer-financed public school.

    But, as I just tried not to mock Pat Robertson, now I must try not to mock the statements of an institution carrying the solemn label of "Seattle Public Schools." Just as I used logic with Robertson's claim that God intended to lash the coast, fairness dictates that I use logic in assessing the claims made by Seattle's educational bureaucracy.

    having a future time orientation

    Can anyone tell me what that is? I mean, the statement (if it's even that) is so totally vague that I don't know where to begin. How can I or anyone else possibly determine whether such a thing is even arguably "cultural racism"? Hell, I have a enough tough time with sexual orientation. But "future time orientation"? What are the cultural indicators? Wearing a watch? Looking at a clock? Being aware that the future has not yet occurred? How can that be said to involve race in any way?

    I suppose this might touch on what social critics often call the "culture of instant gratification" (as opposed to what they call "delayed gratification"), but I've never read that race was involved in this. Usually, it's a general indictment of young people who haven't yet learned the value of patience. Psychologists use the acronym "FTO" when discussing "future time orientation" (defined as "an individual's degree of general concern, engagement, and involvement in the future") -- something said to be a problem for the disabled as well as relationships with the opposite sex. (In one such study, "a high concern for future commitment to a romantic relationship had a negative effect on reported relationship satisfaction.")

    I'm afraid I can't make any sense -- racial or otherwise -- out of this (and I suspect the vagueness is intentional), so I'll move on.

    emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology

    Again, that has nothing to do with race. Unless the assumption is made there that some races are inherently (genetically) more predisposed to collectivism than others. But wouldn't that be a racist assumption? It is one thing to favor collectivism over individualism (and there will always be people who favor one or the other), but declaring that those who favor individualism belong to a certain race and are racists? That strikes me as more of a cheapshot way to win an argument through intimidation than a legitimate definition of racism. And, logically, even if we make the explicitly racist assumption that individualism is favored by one race and collectivism by another, why wouldn't it be just as racist to favor collectivism?

    defining one form of English as standard

    If that is racism, then English is itself racist. If there is no standard form of English, then what's to teach?


    Oh, I get it now. They just don't want to teach, because it's not easy. Doh! This just lets the teachers who can't spell or speak properly off the hook, and allows them to throw the "racist" label at parents who want their kids to learn standard English. (Yes, there is standard English, just as there is standard French, and standard Spanish.)

    identifying only Whites as great writers or composers

    (Well, if that definition of racism helps children learn the identities of any writers or composers at all, I guess it would be an improvement on the existing situation. Would Beethoven count?)

    I have to say, it deeply disturbs me that there are people who would define things like "future time orientation" and "individualism" as racism. But apparently, they're teaching children and no one is doing anything to stop them. I think it's poisonous indoctrination, and mental punishment of innocent children. Parents of any children in Seattle (if not all taxpayers in the area) should sue.

    Hey wait a second. Wasn't Seattle the city that Pat Robertson declared that God would target with a "lashing"?

    Maybe Pat Robertson can talk to God again, and get him to narrow the focus on Seattle's educational bureaucracy. . .

    UPDATE: Harry Reid thinks that it's racist to make English the official language of the United States:

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called a proposal to make English the official language "racist" on the Senate floor yesterday.

    "This amendment is racist. I think it's directed basically to people who speak Spanish," the Democrat said during the already tense debate over immigration reform.

    Interesting assertion.

    Spanish is spoken by 332 million people while English is spoken by over two billion. Considering that the former is spoken in Spain and Latin America, and the latter is spoken in India plus a number of African countries, I'm wondering about the exact racial breakdown. Can the "racism" be pinpointed?

    MORE: According to the United States Census, "People who are Hispanic may be of any race."

    posted by Eric at 11:30 AM | Comments (8)

    It is not for us to understand why?

    Pat Robertson has managed to grab yet another headline for yet another odd pronouncement. This time, God, he claims, has told him that America will be "lashed" by storms:

    Robertson said the revelations about this year's weather came to him during his annual personal prayer retreat in January.

    "If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms," Robertson said May 8. On Wednesday, he added, "There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest."

    Instead of braying that Robertson is a kook, let's look at this logically.

    In logic, Robertson simply says that God said something. Robertson is either lying or he is not. If he is lying, then the statement is utterly without merit.

    If, however, Robertson is telling the truth (or believes he is), that might mean any of the following:

  • God did tell him that the American coasts will be "lashed";
  • God said nothing, but Robertson only thinks (or imagines) that God said something;
  • God said something, but Robertson misinterpreted what God said.
  • What is sorely missing from the media accounts is the reason. Why did God decide to do this? That is why I am intrigued by the word "lashed" -- as lashing implies punishment. And if God decided to punish the United States (more particularly Seattle) and communicated that decision only to Pat Robertson, did he supply a reason or did he not? If he did, is the reason being edited out?

    Will we ever know?

    (One of the problems with logic is that it will only get you so far.)

    posted by Eric at 10:11 AM | Comments (3)

    Nothing gay about being grim . . .

    Long long ago, when I was not much more than a boy, gay novelist Truman Capote startled the chattering classes by coming up with a new word for heterosexuals: "the grims." This was meant by way of contrast to "the gays" -- the fun-loving variety of homo sapiens which behaved more like Aesop's irresponsible grasshopper than did the grim heterosexual ants.

    While Capote had a point, "grims" never took hold as an appellation. (I can't find the Capote quote anywhere on the internet, but I did find a reference to it in a comment stating that "In the Sixties there was a movment to call heterosexuals 'Grims.'." Trust me; I'm not making this up; I remember Capote saying it.)

    While there's no denying that having children has its inherently grim and serious side, I'm wondering. Why would people (other than gay activists with a vested interest in such nonsense) -- want to increase the grimness factor?

    What's with John Gibson's anti-fun procreation not recreation meme?

    That's an argument for having babies?

    The Gibson link is from Glenn Reynolds, who says:

    . . .I think that attitude is part of the problem. (Procreation not recreation? As an old-timer once reportedly said in response to the Make Love, Not War, slogan: "Hell, in my time we did both.")

    But Gibson's slogan unwittingly captures an important aspect of the problem, in the United States and other industrial societies, at least: We've taken a lot of the fun out of parenting. Or to echo Longman, the "social costs" of parenting continue to rise, and, more significantly, perhaps, the "social returns" continue to decline.

    Parenting was always hard work, of course. But aside from the economic payoffs, parents used to get a lot of social benefits, too. But in recent decades, a collection of parenting "experts" and safety-fascist types have extinguished some of the benefits while raising the costs, to the point where what's amazing isn't that people are having fewer kids, but that people are having kids at all.

    I think that many of the social conservatives just aren't getting it. Setting up this dour contrast between children and fun accelerates the removal of the last vestiges of fun and does so in the name of the buzzword "family values" -- a term already so fraught with grimness as to make any normal person recoil.

    When I was a kid, doing things like piling into the back seat of the convertible and going to the drive-in was fun. And by fun I don't mean that it was "innocent" or "wholesome" or any of the code word drivel. People had fun without even realizing how much fun they were having. This was in the days when people were cool without knowing it. When rebellion was innocent without knowing it. Before fun was illegal. Before coolness and rebellion became calculated political postures. Before "deadbeat dads" replaced dangerous criminals on the post office walls.

    The things that used to be fun are now dangerous. Or anti-family.

    Or worse.

    If you don't think family values are getting grimmer and grimmer, then read this piece by the Concerned Women for America titled "'Regular guys' becoming sexual predators of children." The piece contends that pornography turns normal fathers into sexual predators:

    Experts estimate that 50,000 sexual predators prowl the Internet for children every day. As long as myth trumps truth, the next estimate could be 10 times what it is today. Stopping predators before they ravage our kids and grandkids will be insurmountable.

    The easy access to millions of pages of online porn is speeding up the dependence and escalation to harder-core material and more.


    Not every guy who has sex with a minor is a pedophile. Most aren't. You may need to read that again too.

    There is a difference between pedophiles who prefer to have sex with children and child molesters who prefer to have sex with adults but will have sex with a child if the situation presents itself. And it presents itself big time on the Internet.


    For the child, it couldn't matter less what the clinical definition of his or her molester may be. What should matter to the rest of us is stopping "regular guys" from becoming child molesters.


    Men and boys: Beware before you click the mouse one more time and take a step closer to becoming one of the bad guys.

    My father used to enjoy playing with children, but in the 1980s, he stopped after a woman angrily grabbed her child and ran away from him. It was a real shock for my dad to realize that the woman thought he was a child molester, and he told me he was glad he'd had kids back when he did, and wouldn't have to deal with this hysteria. Now the hysteria has expanded. It's no longer child molesters and pedophiles "we" need to worry about. It's normal men. And all porn. Kiddie porn is now everywhere. Children equals porn. Adults who like porn equal adults who like kiddie porn.

    Regular guys once read Playboy, right? (Among other things, my father enjoyed the magazine from time to time.)


    According to Concerned Women of America even then Playboy was a front for kiddie porn -- its existence made possible only because of the perverted Kinsey Report. Elsewhere CWFA elaborates:

    Before Hefner, real men scorned pornography. Real men had relationships with their wives. Even libertarian sex researchers concluded-much to their chagrin-that most men of the 1950s and 1960s actually "saved" themselves for marriage. They considered sex "too precious" to share with anyone but their wives. Premarital sex, they believed, was harmful.

    But Playboy made commitment a dirty word. The magazine counseled men to love 'em and leave 'em-fast. It featured cartoons sexualizing children and phony letters from women extolling bizarre sex practices. It belittled marriage and encouraged drug use.

    Playboy was born in 1953, and the Kinsey Report was written in 1948, but back in the days before family values, people didn't worry about such things. It's a wonder anyone survived. (Pornography, BTW, predates Playboy, and even that great Satan Kinsey.)

    There is no question that children and families are under assault in a variety of ways, not only by government regulations and bureaucratic fiat, but by attitudes like this. The paradox is that the people screaming the loudest about it are making the embattled minority once known as the "regular guy" not want to have anything to do with children. (Either having them, raising them, touching them or helping them if they're lost.)

    Nonetheless they're being told to get grimly to work and start making them.

    It is not funny that the word "family" has become grim.


    (Well, maybe Truman Capote is having the last laugh.)

    Whether children and families have become the antithesis of fun (and whether procreation should be the antithetical to recreation), the linkage in the public mind of sex to children has become so inflammatory that normal discussion is inhibited. As a smear tactic, it's the best weapon in the arsenal; I think linking a person or an activity to the sex/children, um, "thing" trumps even the allegation of racism (even though the latter is normally considered the best way to intimidate someone).

    This is not to say that normal, rational people will be persuaded that Playboy = pedophilia, simply because some crackpots allege a link. But once an aroma is generated, a little stench always remains, because an aroma is an aroma. Like the imputation of racism, the insinuation of "sex/children | within-5-words" frightens people. If you're playing hardball and you don't like something, throw in racism. And these days, if you're playing super hardball (or if no one is listening to you), you can nuke your opponents with the sex/children smear.

    The attempts to link homosexuality (and hence all gay activists and their defenders) to sex/children are so well known as to not require extended comment.

    [NOTE: It's worth noting that the homosexual/sex-with-children smear was ramped up not long ago to include all who express "views supporting homosexuality." That's because opinions are generally considered more threatening than conduct.]

    Seeing this tactic being used against "regular guys" though, while alarming in itself, should not make people forget an even more ominous misuse -- to shut down unpopular political speech. Politicians who hate bloggers and think they should be shut down or regulated have had a stubborn problem for years. Restricting blogging as a "campaign contribution" did not work. The race card has been tried, and highly respected bloggers have been accused repeatedly of racism. Such efforts are doomed to failure because (at least until the U.S. ratifies the United Nations atrocity discussed here) there is a right under the First Amendment to make even truly and rabidly racist statements. That leaves only the nuclear option: link blogging to sex/children. I have no idea whether the noxious legislation will pass, but if it does, it will be because of the legitimate political fear of being called "soft" on "kiddie porn."

    Even the Iranians are smart enough to see how easy it is to manipulate the West by playing the same game. Wanna execute homosexuals? Easy! Just say they were having sex with children and watch Western outrage dissipate. That's because no one wants to be seen as defending an indefensible activity. Whether it is true matters about as much as whether an accused racist really is a racist.

    When I was a young and naive lawyer imagining that I might make a difference in this world, one of the most chilling situations I encountered involved a woman in a child custody dispute who alleged her husband had sexually molested the kids. She admitted privately that there was no substance to her allegations, but they were simply a tactic which she "had to" use in order to prevail, and thus, "save" her children from an awful father. I felt sorry for her kids, even though I never met them, because kids have a way of remembering things like what mommy "had to" do to get them away from daddy. This was told to me in confidence, and I was not her attorney. Besides, I was told, "everyone" makes these allegations. "Routinely." Nice system we've got. Anyway, I'm glad I never went into that atrocity we call "family law." It soured me on the legal profession, and on that grim, emotionally charged concept we call "the family." (I can't say it did wonders for me during this same period of my life when my dad told me he was afraid to interact with children, either.)

    Is it any wonder that the members of the anti-family clique prefer dogs to children?


    Does that mean they're into bestiality?

    posted by Eric at 09:02 AM | Comments (3)

    You should be too

    That was destabilitating.

    Pardon me while I seek abstractly to regain that which you can find sufficiently surrogate for your superficial blues.

    Life is a joke. I spell it out early and in front. Meant, as it must be, in every possible way. Sorry to tell the rest of you, but everything else has been a vast--and I really mean vast in the vastest sense--mistake.

    How is this possible?

    Really? How the fuck is this possible.

    The answer, much like a wide range of mundane axioms, is simple, much as many would desire them incomprehensible.

    Most people are fucking stupid. That's the secret. Hope that didn't entirely blow the lids off the last few remaining ringnuts about our religions. Frankly, you never stood a chance. Progress requires that you accept a distorted reality.

    Still, something's wrong. There’s a disconnect somewhere. It turns out that as a hyper-intelligent being, it's in my best interest to manipulate you into deriving on your own an only truly relevant emotional response (I'm talking, naturally, about orgasming) to anything other than pure, melodrama free (ironically you betcha) standard copulation syndrome formula ninety-nine.

    Pro-sanity dictates that the lack of order within order reflects the lack of evolution inherent in the evolutionary condition.

    You'd think you were getting a complete picture until suddenly it occurred to you that everything had been going swimmingly prior to your unexpected detour prior to your arrival to the mundane--relatively speaking--yet profoundly, inarguably, inexxxaustible and irrefutable tomorrow.



    posted by Cosmic Drunk at 02:24 AM | Comments (4)

    Shifting the balance?

    In a provocative post titled "Are you a fiscal conservative?" the Inquirer's financial columnist Andrew Cassel asks some good questions:

    . . . [S]upply-siders aren't totally wrong - there is some growth effect from tax cuts. But it's not a large enough effect to make tax-cutting a painless exercise, as Congress and the Bush administration would like us to believe.

    Moreover, most credible projections still show the deficit exploding after 2008, when the baby boomers start claiming Medicare and Social Security. No tax cut imaginable would make that problem go away.

    That's why a lot of economists describe Bush's tax cuts as not really cuts at all, but rather tax shifts. Today's deficits add to a mountain of debt that our kids and grandkids will have to pay off, one way or another.

    Which brings us back to my original question. If you call yourself a fiscal conservative, what does that mean?

    Does it mean you believe in sound budgets, paying your bills, and living within your means? In political terms, does it mean you think government's size should be limited by our ability and/or willingness to pay for it?

    Or does it simply mean you just personally want to pay less taxes, end of story and damn the consequences?

    If you call yourself a fiscal conservative, I think you have to decide.

    Yes, government's size should be limited by our ability and/or willingness to pay for it, which I why I oppose runaway deficit spending as well as increasing taxes. I oppose pork, just as I oppose paying for pork.

    But in political terms, I think the Republican refusal to raise taxes is grounded in political pragmatism rather than sincere political ideology. Surely they're smart enough to know that (as my father used to say) "if you're going to dance you have to pay the fiddler."

    At least, someone will.

    I think that Republicans may be deliberately shifting that someone. There's been a lot of speculation about whether the Republicans might be engineering their own defeat this November.

    Granted, if there's a deliberate strategy of defeat, no one will admit to it. But let us suppose that the Republicans know that sooner or later, taxes must be raised. Wouldn't it make sense to shift the responsibility for unpopular but inevitable tax hikes to a Democrat-controlled Congress?

    The remaining Republicans could valiantly fight the tax hikes, and even if lame-duck Bush were faced with "no choice" but to go along, why, it would be the Democrats actually who did it.

    Meanwhile the Republicans could continue to oppose tax cuts.

    Americans love consistency!

    posted by Eric at 12:47 PM | Comments (2)

    How I became a mass murderer

    A funny thing happened yesterday at the polling place which I didn't think was worth mentioning in my previous post on the so-called "election." As I approached the door, a woman asked me whether I wanted a Democratic Party voter's guide. I explained that I was a Republican, but that I'd take one anyway to give it to a Democrat friend, and we engaged in a brief but friendly discussion in which I mentioned my general lack of enthusiasm for either party. One thing she said really got me, though:

    "You have allowed religious extremists to take over the Republican Party!"

    "I haven't "allowed" ANYTHING!" was my defensive answer (although I don't think she saw the quotation marks around the word "allowed").

    At the heart of the communitarian philosophy is a giant "we." Anything that happens, "we" are told that "we" did it. It always pisses me off, and while I'm always open to explanations as to how I did the various "we" things, libertarianism and communitarianism are like tar and water.

    It's a "we" thing! "You" wouldn't understand!

    I'm trying, I'm trying. . . .

    But can "we" get along?

    As part of my ongoing effort to understand what it is that makes wee me into a giant "WE," via a link from Ed Driscoll (from a Kennedy libertarian), I am beginning to finally understand why it is that I am responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy.

    The nation itself, Reston implied, was ultimately responsible for Oswald’s murderous act.

    Returning to this theme two days later in an article suggestively titled “A Portion of Guilt for All,” Reston asserted that there was “a rebellion in the land against law and good faith, and . . . private anger and sorrow are not enough to redeem the events of the last few days.” He went on to cite a sermon delivered on November 24 by a Washington clergyman who, linking President Kennedy with Jesus, told his congregation that “We have been present at a new crucifixion. All of us had a part in the slaying of the President.”

    This idea, too—that the nation as a whole was finally to blame for the assassination—came to be repeated widely and incorporated into the public’s understanding of the event. Liberals in particular tended to see Kennedy’s death in this light, that is, as an outgrowth of a violent or extremist streak in the nation’s culture. Yet doing so required its own species of doublethink, for the fact is that Oswald was not in any way a representative figure. He played no role in any domestic extremist movement. His radicalism was wholly un-American and anti-American. Even as a Communist or radical, he was sui generis. There was nothing about Oswald that even remotely reflected any broader pattern in American life.

    Something strangely similar to this act of mental contortion would occur five years later in response to the assassination in Los Angeles of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Once again, many pointed to a national culture of violence and extremism as the ultimate cause of the killing.

    Ever since then, it's been the same mantra.

    Which means I should confess.

    I killed the kids at Columbine, and my collective guns regularly murder hundreds of children in Philadelphia. I have murdered millions of unborn babies. I tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib! I pulled the tube from Terri Schiavo! I also clubbed the baby seals, and probably helped Richard Speck murder all those nurses in Chicago in 1966.

    (Oh, yeah, I also owned and transported lots of slaves. Lots and lots of genocide was committed by the "we." I am therefore guilty as charged!*)

    For many years, I noticed a deep division among members of what "we" call the Baby Boom generation. The older ones (I use 1953 as the dividing year) tend to be far more steeped in angry liberalism of the sort which sees Kennedy assassins under every table. I've generally tended to assume that this was because the draft ended in 1971, but now I'm wondering: might some of it involve the extent to which it was possible to identify with the martyred JFK as a peer? I was only nine years old at the time of the assassination, so I saw him as a grown man, and I really couldn't understand the idea that I was culpable. Might that kind of self-flagellating guilt (described in the Commentary piece) have been felt mostly by the older Boomers? The ones old enough to identify with the youthful JFK and see his assassination in communitarian terms? (Unfortunately, I was too young, and I don't share this sense of guilt -- a crime which probably makes me more evil than guilty.)

    If "we" are all guilty of murdering JFK, of course, it doesn't end there, because that's the nature of collective guilt.

    To a communitarians who believe in the "we," the illogical is logical.

    There's no winning this argument.

    (That's why I'd like to enter my plea of guilty as charged, and carry on with the sociopathic existential crisis that I dare to call "my" life.)

    * Almost forgot something! I'm a little Eichmann too! Mass murder is what it's all about. (And what I don't say doubtless reveals much about my guilt.)

    UPDATE: Aleksander Boyd makes my confession look lame by comparison! (Via InstaPundit.)

    So little time. So much to accomplish!

    UPDATE: Thanks to Ed Driscoll for the link!

    posted by Eric at 10:03 AM | TrackBacks (1)

    12 year sentence for blogging (while the world yawns)

    Speaking of unpaid volunteers, earlier I was trying to ascertain the proper term to describe the imprisoned writer in this story. Headlined "Chinese writer sentenced to 12 years for subversion," it uses a variety of terms to describe online Chinese, um, journalists:

    BEIJING - A free-lance writer was sentenced to 12 years in prison yesterday, receiving an unusually harsh penalty amid one of China's most severe media crackdowns since the 1980s.

    The sentencing of Yang Tianshui on subversion charges was one of a flurry of court actions yesterday against Chinese reporters. In Beijing, prosecutors filed a new indictment against a Chinese researcher for the New York Times who has been in custody since 2004 on state-secrets charges. In southern China, a journalist went on trial and pleaded not guilty to extortion charges.

    What is the right word? Writer? Reporter? Journalist?

    Isn't there another word? The "B" word?

    "Was that guy a blogger?" I wondered to myself.

    Sure enough, the Times Online said he was, and they're not afraid to use the "B" word. Their headline reads, "Blogger jailed for backing elections."

    While I don't have time to check out the entire blogosphere, I see that Captain Ed headlines his post "China Jails Dissident Blogger For Twelve Years." He concludes,

    . . .we can show our solidarity by at least noting the muzzling of one of our own, and reminding everyone of the complicity of those firms that assist China to achieve the silence that will never come.
    Not that it matters a whole lot whether Yang is called a blogger or a journalist, a writer, or a reporter. (Frankly, I've been having a lot of trouble finding any of Yang's postings anywhere, so I can't honestly declare him a "blogger.") What should matter is that he received a twelve year sentence for his writing. (And according to International PEN, "at least five writers were jailed for up to 10 years last year as part of a government crackdown on free speech." More on China's reopening of charges against the New York Times researcher.) The world should be outraged.

    Where's the outrage, you might ask?

    When I last looked, Ed's post received a single, very outraged comment. But the outrage was over an unrelated issue and the commenter was smugly unsympathetic to Yang's plight:

    Chinese dissident goes to jail? yeah... too bad about that. At least in China they enforce their laws.....
    Nice. I hope such callusedness doesn't typify the American viewpoint, but I suspect a lot of Americans not only couldn't care less, but won't even be as honest as Captain Ed's commenter in saying so.

    That's why the Beijing rulers are getting away with it:

    Beijing's economic success has persuaded its leaders that they can ''basically behave like they want," said Jean Philippe Beja, research director at the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research.

    While Ed's commenter's lack of sympathy was based on anger over immigration (what that has to do with free speech in China, I'm not sure), most Americans have their pet peeves -- all of which are far more important than human rights in China:

    those who bitch and moan about a secretive Bush administration, secret prisons for terrorists or listening in on the telephone calls of suspected terrorists do nothing to enlighten the American people about the truly heinous abuses of freedom around the world. Yet, they still somehow find time for three weeks to cover a vice president who accidentally shot his hunting partner, a week to talk about Exxon’s excessive profit this year or four months to discuss a single girl missing in Aruba.

    Why don’t most of us care? Is it because those who are being oppressed are Chinese and do not carry the same physical characteristics as Westerners? Is our entire nation so subconsciously racist that we simply ignore the plight of those who do not look like us? Would we be this apathetic if Germany or England became a communist state and sent people to prison for supporting freedom or forced people to have abortions? Or, have we become so self-consumed that we don’t care about anybody other than ourselves?

    That's about right.

    Well, I cared enough to write a post about Alaa, the blogger jailed in Egypt. And I figured that if bloggers in China are being imprisoned for twelve years that I should at least say something in a blog post.

    It beats boycotting China. (That's a "B" word less likely to be used in conjunction with China than "blogger.")

    Seriously, can anyone imagine how difficult it would be to do that? Even for a day?

    posted by Eric at 09:10 AM

    Vote yes! (Or stay in your hot tub!)

    I know this is just a throwaway post, but I have to comment briefly on something I just read -- in BOLD TYPE, because it's Jim Geraghty's bottom line -- at NRO's TKS:

    Frustrated with the GOP as a whole? Then support the guys you do like.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Uh, OK. I just voted yesterday, in the so-called Republican Primary, uh, "election." As to the "guys I do like," where was my "choice"? My only choice was to vote for the candidate, or write in a candidate (I guess that's an invitation for satire) or not vote.

    It was a classic vote "YES" or vote "NO" ballot, which might as well be called a Stalinist ballot. There were no choices. Santorum (Senate), Swann (Governor), Matthews (Lt. Governor), Gerlach (Congress) all ran unopposed, while there were 23 choices for 23 slots on the Republican State Committee.

    I wasted my time. Quite literally.

    Later in the column, however, Geraghty does advise that "The real fight on so many of these issues is in the Republican Presidential Primary."

    Maybe. But by the time the presidential primary election rolls around to Pennsylvania, these things are usually done deals.

    Forgive my cynicism, and my lack of enthusiasm, but the last time there was a real "choice" on the ballot, it was between "RINO" Arlen Specter, and "real conservative" Pat Toomey. Here's what I said after I actually bothered to vote:

    . . .while I don't agree with Specter all the time, I agree with Toomey even less of the time. I have drifted from party to party because I can't stand moral ideologues.

    Toomey speaks for the moral ideologues who espouse vintage Culture War moral conservatism, and who want to "purify" the Republican Party to silence those who refuse to kowtow to their idea of a party line.

    In my vote, I don't consider myself to have really voted for Specter, so much as against Culture War vitriol.

    A libertarian Specter is not. But libertarians are increasingly unwelcome in the Republican Party because of the same ideologues (to say nothing of out-and-out bigots) who support guys like Toomey.

    If the ideologues get their way, I guess I can always go back to being a Democrat.

    Either way, I'll still feel politically homeless.

    To homeless libertarian RINOs like me("Goldwater liberal" is less of a mouthful and more accurate), Geraghty's Toomeyesque advice is hardly reassuring:
    . . .if you live in a state or district where there is a conservative vs. moderate or liberal fight within a GOP primary, then you ought to be putting your effort where your mouth is.

    More than a few e-mail writers seemed supremely discouraged about this course of action after Pat Toomey fell about two percent short in his primary challenge to Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in 2004. The reason the RNC, the NRSC, and RNCC always support incumbents against primary challengers is because it is, I am told, a part of their candidate recruitment strategy.

    Where it comes to "real" choices like Toomey versus Specter, my mouth is about as worthless as my money.

    All things considered, my hot tub in California is looking pretty good. (Well, it's gone but not forgotten. . .)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Am I wrong to despise politics? Am I alone?

    posted by Eric at 07:37 AM

    Being an unpaid volunteer will (eventually) drive you insane!

    That last post will serve as an illustration of the problem with blogging (at least for me).

    For the umpteenth time, I devoted my time to disagreeing with the Philadelphia Inquirer about guns. And once again, I endeavored to show editorial bias (hardly a tough thing when dealing with an editorial . . .)


    I contributed nothing new to the discussion, and I said nothing that hasn't been said (or will be said) by plenty of people. Paid lobbyists for the NRA, paid radio talk show hosts, web sites like Keep and Bear Arms, and lots of unpaid bloggers. Not one mind was changed, including my own. The people who agree with me already agreed with me and still will, and the people who disagreed with me already disagreed with me and still will.

    And no one is paying me to do this. I feel about as useful and as valuable as another styrofoam cup in the middle of a long stack of styrofoam cups.


    Hey, isn't that me somewhere in that picture?

    Sometimes it helps me to remind myself that for the most part, blogging is an entirely voluntary activity. The things that might be considered a blogger's "obligations" (or "blogligations") are not obligatory in any way. True, a blogger who doesn't get hits and traffic will not be as widely read or well known as one who does, and to the extent that the sense of obligation fuel that process it might help the blogger. But then, what is help? This is an entirely voluntary process of free speech, of promulgating one's opinions without pay for the world to see. But if in the end, no money results from the activity, even the world's greatest blogger cannot be said to be the equal of the lowliest paid reporter.

    And why is that? It is because by its nature, blogging is voluntary, and we live in a world in which worth is defined in economic terms. Volunteers are inherently less worthy than people who are paid to do the same thing, and this is apparently because it is a given that if someone is good at doing something, he will -- or should -- be paid for it.

    This is just as true if he wants to do it as it would be if he didn't want to do it. Many of us are annoyed by unpaid activists, also known as "do-gooders." Paid activists, however (like anything paid for) are more accountable, and therefore worth more.

    Aren't they? Actually, in blogging they wouldn't be, because they'd be vulnerable to criticism that they're "lobbyists" for the cause of whoever is paying them, and thus without "real" credibility. What that means is that had the NRA offered me $500.00 to write a blog post slamming the Inquirer editorial, it wouldn't be as believable, enlightening, or valuable.

    (Again, whether this is true is open to debate, but it's the way people think about these things.)

    If we turn from political writing to creative writing, it becomes more analogous to sports. Paid golfers and paid basketball players are by their nature better than their unpaid counterparts, because in athletics there is an inherent meritocracy in which superiority can be easily measured based on mathematics. Athlete A can either run faster than Athlete B or he cannot. There is no such meritocracy in art, because public judgments are subjective and change over time. (Thus, a van Gogh might never see success in his own lifetime.)

    Like athletes, artists and and musicians will traditionally begin their careers as volunteers, but the difference lies in whether and how their merit becomes recognized.

    As I say this, I recognize that "volunteer" is a poor word, because not all that is voluntary constitutes volunteerism. How does one measure the innate worth of a volunteer? Did Mother Theresa scrub more bedpans than anyone else, or did she do it longer? Was her work more valuable than the work of a paid nurse or orderly? If so, then why?

    And was her volunteer work more valuable than volunteer work involving animals? A zoo volunteer might do a better job than a keeper, but unions would never allow zoos to be staffed or run by volunteers.

    Should zoo volunteers sit in judgment on keepers?

    Should hospital volunteers sit in judgment on nurses?

    Should volunteer reporters sit in judgment on paid reporters?

    Is that what we bloggers do? (The reporters certainly see it that way, and like it or not, there is no Mother Theresa of blogging. No, not even the saintly Glenn Reynolds.)

    Is the profit motive wrong then, or is it merely suspect? And if it is suspect, then why is it only suspect in the case of reporters and not athletes or nurses?

    Are these things defined by economics? By who pays, and how much?

    In life, what we might like to do does not define us as well as what we are paid to do, and I am having trouble knowing where to go with this essay, because I'm running aground in that quagmire where the free market (what people want) meets morality (what is right, fair, just).

    Let's switch gears and move to an inherently less moralistic profession (but one which sees itself as highly "moral"): that of the trial lawyer. Trial lawyers obtain huge fees (usually 33%) which come directly out of their clients' settlements or judgments. Unlike basketball players, these people think of themselves as altruists who are "helping people obtain justice" and in their minds that entitles them to respect. Whether a volunteer would be more entitled to respect (or whether he'd do a better job) for doing the same work is irrelevant. Few if any lawyers would take a personal injury case of any worth and not take his cut.

    Why should value be defined in terms of who is helped, anyway? What is help? A doctor helps patients get health, a lawyer helps them gets wealth, and a basketball player or musician entertains. The cancer-ridden patient might derive a benefit from all four. How is importance rated?

    And what about selfless devotion and running the risk of danger? Does there have to be a cause? A police officer risks his life to protect society, while a cab driver risks his life to ferry citizens from place to place, yet the murder of a police officer in line of duty is considered far worse than the murder of a cab driver (who isn't even said to have been killed "in the line of duty.") There are few volunteer police and no volunteer cab drivers, either, as unlike playing basketball or golf, these activities are not seen as involving pleasure. But is someone who volunteers to help with nursing deriving actual pleasure from the task? Certainly not in the same way that an unpaid golfer loves to play golf, or in the way an unpaid reporter/blogger might love editing (or fisking) the reports of paid reporters.

    Right there, I realize I made an inapt comparison. Unpaid golfers are not there to criticize or show up professional golfers. If they were that good, they'd simply enter the tournaments, as golf is a meritocracy, like most sports. No education or license of any kind is required, and many an amateur has made it from being a lowly caddy all the way to the U.S. Open by simply playing golf. (Lee Trevino is a perfect example.) On the other hand, you could have the best surgical skills in the world, but if you can't get past the chemistry and physics with straight A's, the only way you'll ever stick a knife into anyone is in a barroom fight.

    Like it or not, there's no First Amendment right to practice medicine, so amateurs are not allowed to volunteer as surgeons.

    The problem with bloggers and journalists is that there's no clear line. In practice, there is a line, but it's defined by blogging's voluntary nature. Bloggers are in the business of saying what they think is right, and as such they are in the morality business. Because morality cannot be measured in economic terms, bloggers have (and will continue to have) a valuation problem. They are unpaid volunteers, saying what they think not because it has commercial value, but because they think it is right.

    While some bloggers are better than others, any blogger who has been at the task for years will find his skills improving, but without any commensurate reward. He might even be so good at blogging that he could be considered a "professional blogger." But bloggers are amateurs, are they not?

    This begs the question of whether there such a thing as a professional amateur, but as to "professional bloggers," isn't that "commercial" blogging? Doesn't that mean that their opinions should be for sale? It's one thing to be paid to say what you think, but if you're being paid to say what others think, it wouldn't seem, well, professional.

    Never would I undertake such a thing voluntarily. Unless you're a paid professional volunteer, it's better to remain an involuntary amateur.

    Being an unpaid volunteer sucks, and if it doesn't feel voluntary, it will drive you crazy.

    I suspect that the more time bloggers devote to unpaid volunteerism, the better they get at doing it. This in turn attracts more bloggers, which over time drives up not only overall quantity but overall quality -- all without any commensurate reward. Not even in the form of increased traffic! No wonder there's blogger burnout.

    I realize I have reached few conclusions, but I hope I have identified a few contradictions. I think there's unresolved tension out there, and I think some of it may come from not recognizing the nature of the problem. Humans are not machines. Yet the blogosphere is becoming a machine consisting of humans who are not machines, but who are forced to (more properly, force themselves to) try to be machines.

    I'll end with a question I can't answer: might there be an overlap between what is being called "conservative fatigue syndrome" and simple blogger burnout? I'm wondering whether putting the word "conservative" in front of front of "fatigue" only compunds the fatigue by adding confusion.

    Glenn Reynolds points to this comment, which broadens the issue, and supplies appropriate historical context:

    The Roman Legion was organized to fight in lines, averaging maybe 6 to 8 men deep. In battle the man at the front would fight for about 8 minutes, then move to the back of the line and the person behind him would take his place at the front. After another interval he too would then move to the back and the person behind him would take the front position. Organized in this way each man fought for about 8 minutes out of every 48 to 64. The enemies of the Romans often succomed to fatigue long before the Legionaires did.

    It's ok to get fatigued, and it's ok to take a step back. There is a person behind you who will fill the gap. And when you are refreshed you can rejoin the battle.

    He's right. And does it matter whether the Roman Legions were "conservatives"?

    Or even whether they were volunteers? The Roman Army consisted of both:

    The imperial army was a standing professional army. It contained both conscripts and volunteers serving a minimum term of sixteen years, though most had to serve for 25 years or more before they were up for retirement. To preserve the loyalty of the soldiers on which their position of power rested, the emperors looked well after their interests. Pay was regular and comparatively generous and on occasion supplemented by donativa, special bonuses of up to five years pay. On completion of their term of service soldiers received a large retirement grant of thirteen to seventeen years' worth of pay. In addition to these monetary rewards serving soldiers and retired veterans were also granted numerous legal privileges.
    Rotation worked with the Roman army, but I see a problem in applying that analogy to the blogosphere, and not just because bloggers are unpaid. The only compensation most bloggers might be said to receive consists of links and traffic. The reward for blogging is more readers. More posts mean more visitors, fewer posts mean fewer visitors. What that means is for most bloggers, taking a break will make your traffic decline, often sharply.

    I hate to say this, but vacation can mean demotion.

    Fair or not, intentional or not, being a blogger means being an unpaid professional volunteer moralizer, whose output creates a demand for more output, and who is punished for taking breaks.


    On the bright side, doesn't this mean that blogger burnout is purely voluntary?

    Yes. I think it's as voluntary as blogging.

    (No one made me write this post. They couldn't pay me enough.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: It's probably worth adding that I don't feel burned out right now. That's because I'm having fun writing about it.

    posted by Eric at 02:00 PM | Comments (2)

    "A good first step"? Towards what?

    In a huge editorial yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer claims that it wants to stop illegal gun purchases:

    Criminals often get their handguns through an underground market that begins with a transaction called a straw purchase. It works this way:

    A gun trafficker barred from buying firearms because of a criminal record finds a go-between (a "straw buyer") to buy handguns legally from a shop.


    I think the Inquirer knows better than that. Straw purchases are already illegal. It is a major federal felony to buy a gun for someone else.

    There is, simply, no way for a straw buyer to buy a gun legally for someone else. Why can't the Inquirer admit that? Instead, a difficult law enforcement issue is characterized as a "legal" loophole which needs to be closed:

    The trafficker then sells those guns on the street, usually to people who also couldn't buy them legally.
    Again, gun law after gun law after gun law is broken in the above scenario. There is no legal loophole.

    Clamping down on straw purchases would stem the flow of illegal guns into the city.

    A good first step would be to enact a state law limiting handgun purchases to one a month per buyer. But such bills routinely get blocked in Harrisburg by lawmakers who claim the limit would erode the rights of legal gun owners, would prevent decent people from defending themselves.

    Here's a question: Shouldn't 12 handguns be enough for a suburban or rural family to fend off a potential attacker?

    Legislators who ritually block all gun-control bills should make a sincere effort to understand the pain that illegal handguns cause on the streets of Philadelphia and other cities around Pennsylvania.

    The issue is not whether 12 handguns are enough -- any more than the issue is whether 12 cars or 12 computers are enough. The Inquirer's claim that illegal firearms transfers will be stopped by limiting the number of legal transfers boils down to the logic that "gun crimes" are decreased by decreasing the number of guns. It makes about as much sense as trying to decrease auto theft or criminal transfers of automobiles by decreasing the number of cars an individual could purchase. Or decreasing computer crime by limiting the number of computers. Or decreasing diversion of legal drugs to the illegal market not by going after the illegal diverters but by limiting the number of pills a sick person can possess.

    It is predicated on the idea that a thing -- not human conduct -- is intrinsically evil, as well as on the idea that criminals will be stopped by laws which will only be obeyed by law-abiding people.

    Illegal transfers already being illegal, a restriction on the number of firearms that can be legally purchased will have no -- repeat no -- effect on illegal transfers. If you doubt me, put yourself in the position of an illegal gun dealer. As you most likely have a criminal record, you're not going to be eligible to buy even one gun a month, so the law won't affect you directly. (Straw purchases by others acting on the illegal dealer's behest are only one among many ways to obtain guns.) A change in the law would mean simply that the criminal dealer would have to:

  • use more straw purchasers, because each straw purchaser would be able to obtain only one per month;
  • obtain more stolen guns, either by stealing them or buying them from fences;
  • obtain the guns from another state.
  • All three of the above methods are, of course, already illegal. In fact, there is no way to legally buy guns in order to resell them!

    What the Inquirer does not point out is that it is already a crime to buy even one gun a month if the intention is to resell it! All they're trying to do with this latest change in the law is make them illegal to buy regardless of intent. That's because it requires too much investigatory police work to discern whether there is an intent to illegally resell the weapon, so the idea is that, hey, we'll just treat all gun buyers as an inherently suspect class.

    What is really too much for me is the Inquirer's lecture in "logic":

    . . .folks who are concerned about crime and are open-minded about solutions - and that's most people in Pennsylvania - never get to hear the logic of a handgun-limit law. It's drowned out by shouting from the gun lobby, which sees compromise as defeat.

    But citizens should expect state lawmakers to put reason and compromise ahead of the shouting of lobbyists.

    Lawmakers, good people throughout the state need you to put public safety first. Take this logical, limited approach to reducing gun violence.

    If the goal is to reduce the number of guns in the hands of the law abiding, why not just say so? Just please don't call illegal conduct legal, and then tell me that making legal conduct illegal is logical. It is not.

    Long term, I suppose it could be argued that limiting the number of guns which an individual could purchase might reduce the number of guns available for criminals to steal. But would it even do that? Let's assume you're a "gun nut" who enjoys collecting. The one-gun-a-month limit will force you to wait a month between each gun. That means that if you collect guns avidly, after five years your collection will have grown to 60 guns. Criminals who steal guns will not be limited by the one-gun rule. They won't come back to break into your house next month; they'll simply steal them all. Which means that the one-gun-a-month rule will have to be followed by a new "total number of guns" rule, and so on.

    Notice the Inquirer's "Shouldn't 12 handguns be enough for a suburban or rural family to fend off a potential attacker?" did not read, "Shouldn't 12 handguns per year be enough for a suburban or rural family to fend off a potential attacker?"

    And while I'm at it, what's this bit about "a suburban or rural family"? Are there no urban families who might need to fend off an attacker? (Seems to me the family of Rob Pierson could have used one. Or twelve.)

    The communitarian thinking that goes into this presupposes that it is someone else's business how many guns a law-abiding person owns. That we need to "keep track" as if the law abiding person is suspect.

    Jeff Soyer reviews the Inquirer editorial, and suggests going after the criminals instead:

    How about clamping down on criminals instead? You could start by going after the street gangs since that's the source of most gun crime in Philadelphia.

    See, I can go 11 months without purchasing a gun. In the 12th month, I go to a gun show with my savings and maybe I want to purchase 3 or 4 items while there since that's where the best deals and selection might be. Such a 1-per-month limit would prevent me (and others) from doing that. Or prevent me from bidding on a pair of dueling pistols since I'm not a "collector", etc.

    Don't curtail the rights of the majority (the law abiding) to attempt to thwart the minority (the criminals). Instead, just go after the people who have broken the laws.

    I agree with Jeff, of course.

    The problem is that the goal is to disarm the law abiding.

    And if we assume the Inquirer shares that goal, then limiting the number of guns is a good first step.

    posted by Eric at 09:49 AM | Comments (8)

    libertarians who support border controls are all Nazis!

    Via Drudge, my attention was drawn to the views of this Democratic candidate for Alabama Attorney General:

    BIRMINGHAM -- A Democratic candidate for attorney general denies the Holocaust occurred and said Friday he will speak this weekend to a "pro-white" organization that is widely viewed as being racist.

    Larry Darby concedes his views are radical, but he said they should help him win wide support among Alabama voters as he tries to "reawaken white racial awareness" with his campaign against Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson.

    The state Democratic chairman, Joe Turnham, said the party became aware of some of Darby's views only days ago and was considering what to do about his candidacy.

    "Any type of hatred toward groups of people, especially for political gain, is completely unacceptable in the Alabama Democratic Party," said Turnham.

    Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Darby said he believes no more than 140,000 Jewish people died in Europe during World War II, and most of them succumbed to ty phus.

    Historians say about 6 mil lion Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, but Darby said the figure is a false claim of the "Holocaust industry."

    Not only that, he's coming to New Jersey!
    Darby said he will speak today near Newark, N.J., at a meeting of National Vanguard, which bills itself as an advocate for the white race. Some of his campaign materials are posted on the group's Internet site.

    "It's time to stop pushing down the white man. We've been discriminated against too long," Darby said in the interview.

    A poll published last month indicated the Democratic race for attorney general was up for grabs. The survey showed 21 percent favored Tyson to 12 percent for Darby, but 68 percent of respondents were undecided.

    Darby, founder of the Atheist Law Center and a longtime supporter of separation of church and state, said he has no money for campaign advertising and has made only a few campaign speeches.

    Tyson said aside from his views on race and the Holocaust, Darby also has publicly advocated legalizing drugs and shooting all illegal immigrants.

    An atheist activist?

    A Holocaust denier who wants to legalize drugs and shoot illegal immigrants?

    Where did the Democratic Party find such a candidate? Might he be trying to make the Democrats look bad?

    Something smelled fishy to me. I soon discovered that he has a history with the Libertarian Party (which apparently does about as well vetting its candidates as the Democratic Party).

    And Eugene Volokh has been all over this guy (including discussions about the "Zionist-Occupied Government" meme, his bizarre form of atheism, and more).

    A common method of discrediting unpopular or unusual views is guilt by association: to attempt to link them to views which are immoral, dishonest, or otherwise beyond the pale. I'll never forget that during the California Civil Rights Initiative campaign, initiative opponents managed to bring racist David Duke to California ostensibly to "debate" the Initiative. This was a thinly veiled attempt to tar the Initiative's supporters as racists, and fortunately, the voters weren't fooled, as they passed the initiative anyway. But it played well as a demagogic sound byte.

    "If you support this initiative, you agree with David Duke!" was a common refrain.

    I don't know how far it will get, but the meme in Alabama, I suppose, is along the lines of "if you're an atheist who believes in legalizing drugs, you must be a Nazi!"

    And now the border control issue has been added to the mix.


    This Larry Darby guy. He couldn't be an agent provocateur, could he?

    posted by Eric at 08:10 AM

    Three years? Of endless Culture War?

    With a start, I just realized that May 15 is the third blogiversary of Classical Values.

    How to celebrate something like that?

    I should just thank you -- the readers. Every time I start to feel overwhelmed by the thankless, infuriatingly endless nature of blogging, every time the undeniable blogger burnout syndrome gets to me, I remember that there are people who come here because they like this blog. And there are people who come here because they don't like this blog. What that means is that if I quit blogging, I'll make the people who like me unhappy, while making the people who don't like me happy. Why would I want to do either unless I absolutely can't help it?

    I do occasionally suffer from blogger burnout, which seems to be heightened by several factors. One is the infuriating fact that all posts are equal. An essay-length post about history and theology with numerous links that might have taken me three days to write, once it is published, is the moral equivalent of a throwaway post finding fault with some inane thought voiced by Barbra Streisand. (And, to compound the insanity, the Streisand post is more likely to be linked and draw traffic!) No matter how much work I put into a post, no sooner do I publish it than I feel irrational pressure to "get something else up for the readers."

    Then there's this feeling that I have been a sort of "volunteer" for too long a period of time, and have nothing to show for my efforts. (I have to remind myself that I have written over a million words, and that the blog surpassed a million hits some time ago.) Additionally, there are so many bloggers now that I feel as if I am wasting time doing what everybody else is doing. In answer to that, yeah, sometimes I write about the same things as other bloggers, but the fact is that I don't have to. I can still be wild and crazy and say any damn thing I want. I don't have to abide by or judge myself by anyone's standards. I remind myself that 1000-2000 readers a day come here. That really is all that should matter to me; not whether or not there are 34 million other blogs or what they're all doing. Had someone asked me three years ago whether I would write for the number of people I routinely write for every day, I'd have wet my pants and been unable to write anything, because I'd have thought it impossible.

    While it is true that I haven't managed to, um, "END THE CULTURE WAR" (although sometimes I'm tempted to declare victory and get out), I'm not quite enough of an egomaniac to consider the Culture War my responsibility. A little cultural satire (with news analysis and occasional bits of amateur philosophy thrown in) is about all I can offer.

    If people like it, I remain as thrilled as I was when I started.

    That's why I'm still here.

    MORE: Whether he knew it or not, Dean Esmay read my mind:

    Man, now I really miss Steven Malcolm Anderson
    Steven left the blogosphere when he died six months ago. He was the ultimate cure for blogger burnout (impossible when he was around), and it was nice seeing him reappear at Dean's today!

    posted by Eric at 03:11 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

    RINOs chase away 39th Birthday Blues

    This week's Raging RINOs Carnival is hosted by Gary at Ex-Donkey Blog.

    Gary, who will soon be celebrating his 39th birthday "for the first time," has "volunteered to host this edition of the carnival to take my mind off of this upcoming event and I was treated to a great round of submissions."

    One of them includes this fascinating debate with the Commissar over evolution. (I admire Ace's stamina in arguing with people who will never be convinced.)

    Newsflash for those who believe the line that "the Internet" is destroying newspapers. Read Don Surber:

    Far from being the death knell of newspapers, the Internet is saving print journalism.
    Don explains why, with facts and figures.

    Many of the submissions discuss the NSA's analysis of phone records. So many, in fact, that this week's Carnival serves as an excellent RINO NSA roundup. (The roundup includes posts from AJ Strata, Decision 08, SoCalLawBlog, Environmental Republican, Tinkerty Tonk, and Cold Hearted Truth.)

    Great carnival.

    "Keep Raging!" says Gary.

    (Why, when I turned 39, I had only just begun to rage. . .)

    posted by Eric at 10:27 AM | Comments (2)

    The "Enemy" of my enemy is my "insurgent"!

    As most readers know, war blogging is not my shtick. But I have a quick question: why are admitted al Qaida fighters constantly referred to as "insurgents"? This AP Wire from the Philadelphia Inquirer is typical (the same story is in USA Today):

    BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents shot down a U.S. helicopter south of Baghdad and killed two soldiers, bringing the weekend death toll of American service members to seven, the U.S. military said Monday.

    The helicopter attack occurred Sunday during fighting in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of the Iraqi capital, the military said.

    It was the second helicopter shot down in the past six weeks over that area, commonly known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the large number of insurgent attacks. An Apache helicopter went down there April 1.

    Two U.S. Marines died Sunday during unspecified "enemy action" in Anbar Province, the area of western Iraq that is the heart of the Sunni-Arab led insurgency, the U.S. command said. Two U.S. Army soldiers also died Sunday in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, and another U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on Saturday.

    The fatalities raised to 2,443 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the war began in 2003, according to a count by The Associated Press.

    Why is "enemy action" in quotes? Is there no reportorial agreement on the definition of "enemy"? Or is it thought that "action" might be too strong a word for killing Marines?

    Puzzlingly, "al-Qaida insurgents" is then used:

    The U.S. command also said American soldiers and helicopters conducted four raids over the weekend in the Triangle of Death, killing 16 suspected al-Qaida insurgents, including one militant who allegedly had led the April 1 attack, during which two U.S. soldiers were killed when their AH-64 Apache helicopter was shot down in the Youssifiyah area.

    After that attack, a new al-Qaida group claimed responsibility and posted a gruesome video on the Web showing men dragging the burning body of what appeared to be an American soldier across a field as they shouted "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great!"

    I wish they'd figure this out, because it's gotten to the point where I can't figure out what the AP is trying to tell me.

    Perhaps it's the AP's duty not to take sides, and that's why they can't use words like "enemy" and "terrorist" in their normal manner.

    But even assuming they're not on the side of the U.S. military, you'd think they could at least pass along their contention that the al Qaida fighters (regardless of whether they're to be called terrorists, insurgents, militants, or Sunni Islamist transnationalists) are losing the war. Fredrik Dahl from Reuters in Baghdad is fair enough to do that in a piece titled "U.S. Claim of al-Qaeda Iraq Weakness May Reflect Reality" at one site, and "U.S. Claim of al-Qaida Iraq Weakness May Reflect Reality" at another:

    BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A purported al Qaeda document published by the U.S. military may or may not be authentic but its message that the Sunni Islamist guerrillas face problems in Iraq could reflect reality, security experts said on Tuesday.

    The U.S. military published late on Monday what it said was a captured al Qaeda document that showed the militant group recognised it was weak and unpopular in Baghdad.

    Far be it from me with my limited knowledge to make a definitive pronouncement as to whether the report is correct.

    But if it is, that means that al-Qaida is losing the war.

    If Bush made an assertion like that in his speech tonight, "enemies" would probably raise hell.

    MORE: In other "enemy" news, Noam Chomsky paid a warm visit to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon last week, where he claimed that Hezbollah should not be disarmed. The Chomsky visit wasn't much reported, although it received criticism in Lebanon, and at FrontPageMag.com.

    And Jeff Goldstein has an exclusive interview with Chomsky, in which Chomsky makes a distinction between "a wide-eyed 18-year old whose pink breasts are still perky with idealism," and "some grizzled old poli-sci hag with an Iron Butterfly tattoo on her sagging, wrinkled ass."

    Says Jeff at the end,

    You’re priceless, Noam. Don’t ever change.

    Whether Jeff Goldstein should be imprisoned for his crimes is part of the Atrios litmus test for liberals which is going around.

    I had thought the test was serious until I read that question. (I'm so liberal I don't even think Rush Limbaugh should be imprisoned, so I probably shouldn't seriously take the test. Hmmm.... Should I have said take the test seriously?)

    UPDATE: In the "title" to this "post," I "forgot" to place the word "insurgent" in quotes, so I have just "changed" it to reflect ongoing "realities."

    posted by Eric at 08:44 AM | Comments (3)

    The flowering of self expression

    A few pictures from the weekend . . .

    On the left is the gorgeous Coco, who needs no introduction. To the right is a droolingly glamorous young ladie named Lilly -- an English bulldog/American pit bull cross (breeders are trying to resurrect the original bulldog, which is beset with deformities and is difficult to breed.)

    cococouch2.jpg BulldogLilly2.jpg

    While it's picturesque when they do it, it's usually not easy to get dogs to tilt their heads on command, because they only do it when their curiosity is piqued. Which means you have to be quick with a camera when it happens.

    Humans, however, are another matter. I captured Dennis hiding behind flowers drinking a glass of something, and while he didn't tilt his head irresistibly like the bulldogs, he did manage to raise an eyebrow by way of self expression.


    I realize that the above is probably not the best picture ever taken of Dennis, so to even the score I offer one taken of myself at the same gathering. Clearly, this is not the best picture ever taken of me (in fact, it's terrible), and like Dennis I am evoking a floral, um, theme.


    (Ugh! I think I need to take head tilting lessons from the canine masters.)

    posted by Eric at 08:14 PM | Comments (7)

    Never find faults in a perfect storm!

    The current political situation consists of a massive wave of deferred and repressed anger coming from all directions.

    I don't know whether to call this elemental force of nature a wave (a political tsunami is more like it), an earthquake (political rupture along creeping fault lines), or a cyclone, but it has grown larger and larger as it gathers momentum and strength. Many Republicans have been simmering with rage for many years. Around here, the old-fashioned country club Republicans never liked Bush, they never liked Iraq, they never liked the moral conservatives (whom they see Bible belt anti-abortionists who want to imprison their wife's hairdresser), but they just gritted their teeth and held their noses. Add to that the old-fashioned economic conservatives who believe in balanced budgets but avoid social issues as beneath them, and there's lots of nose holding by Republican blue noses.

    Move further South, and the Bible-belters have been holding their nose for pretty much the opposite reason. They think Bush is in bed with sodomites and abortionists but won't admit it. He's failed to deliver on their agenda, and while they supported the Iraq war, fatigue has set in. It's the kind of fatigue that really can't speak its name though, because patriotic war supporters cannot admit to anything which might smack of antiwar-ism. For some reason, "North" and "South" are the poles which always seem to drive the political polls. Moving Midwest and West, whether it wants to or not, the rest of the country resonates predictably -- reflecting varying shades of purple along the politically dominant Red-Blue, North-South bipolar theme.

    Sigh. (No wonder I fled to California, a never-never land which used to seem so charmingly unpredictable.)

    I'm a longtime supporter of the war in Iraq, but I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit that the "we are at war" and "we are under attack by terrorists" mantra is getting a little long in the tooth.

    In short, America ran out of patience. And across the spectrum.

    Not that anyone particularly cares now about the left running out of patience. It isn't newsworthy. They've been out of patience for so long that the conservative side ran out of patience just listening to them. And now, the left is in a perfect position to scream "I TOLD YOU SO!" at the top of their lungs. The downside of that is that if they do so loudly enough, they might manage to lose an election which has finally become theirs to lose. However, I think it's worth looking at the left to understand what is now happening on the right.

    For a short time, the 9/11 attacks united this country around the flag in a manner almost evocative of World War II. People put aside their differences, and overwhelmingly supported Bush and the then war against terrorism. Going after the Taliban, bin Laden, and invading Afghanistan was a no-brainer. This patriotic groundswell lasted into the initial stages of the Iraq war, and then things began to sour. The left was quick to develop war fatigue, but what stands out in retrospect (for me at least) is that the country had been as united as it was -- even if only for a couple of years. War fatigue is war fatigue, though, and it always activates denial. For Americans with war fatigue who never liked war anyway, this denial took the form of wishing the war away. What better way to wish away war than to label it a phony war started by Bush for his own reasons? If Bush unnecessarily invaded Iraq, the war didn't need to exist. So, as if by magic, many of the liberals who had initially supported the war saw that the way out of it was to attack Bush.

    War fatigue on the right is different, and much more subtle. The earlier variety took the form not of antiwar-ism, but of isolationism. But time was not on the side of the war. War fatigue, like any other fatigue (including, I might add, blogger fatigue) supplies its own fuel. But when fire is added to that fuel in the form of a relentless stream of bad news on top of bad news, editorial after editorial, the fatigue becomes overwhelming. Conservatives are, as it turns out, human beings. I believe that many of them finally had their fill -- and kept having their fill -- of the Iraq war, but the majority of them couldn't bring themselves to admit it, for that would not only appear unpatriotic, but they'd feel humiliated and degraded by having to agree with the sneers and insults of a most unwelcoming liberal chorus of louder-than-ever Bushitler I-told-you-so-itis.

    All the elements for a perfect political storm were there, and better yet, their very suppression caused pressure to build and build.

    Oddly enough, in this case it didn't take anything new to trigger the release of suppressed energy. Neither the nuclear threat from Iran nor the uncontrolled Mexican border were new, but they acted as triggers anyway. It's almost as if the pressure built up by the underlying and relentless Iraq war fatigue was looking for a way to release itself. Were it to have happened today, Hurricane Katrina might also have supplied such a trigger, but it was too early. A similar storm this summer might work either way, because people are as fickle as the weather. (See Bush's popularity jump in the face of the latest spying program "scandal.")

    Iran reminds Americans that there is a real, possibly nuclear war that's being neglected, and Mexico reminds Americans that their own country's territorial integrity is being neglected.

    I don't expect too many people to call this war fatigue, though. War fatigue is a disease caused by uncomfortable weakness that will not admit of itself. It can only be expressed through strength.

    When such accumulated weakness finds expression through strength, the result is a perfect storm like the one we're having. Analyzing a storm is one thing, but trying to fight it is a waste of time.

    (Just have to wait it out. Or is that ride it out?)

    UPDATE: I hasten to add that when I used the word "fickle" above I did not mean to suggest that Americans are fickle about national security issues; only about their support for Bush. When Bush is attacked for doing something they feel the country needs, his polls go up. What this means is that if Bush takes a hard enough line on closing the border to get attacked by the left for it, public opinion could change, and rather quickly.

    Regarding the latest NSA scandal, Jeff Goldstein has an excellent analysis. My own take on this is that it's nothing new, and I was more upset when it was done under Clinton when we weren't at war. While I am not entirely sure rules were broken, in times of war, rules are always broken. (Inter arma, silent leges.)

    (Better to break rules than get rid of them, I always say.)

    MORE: Whether this conservative malaise arises from the war or is political battle fatigue, conservatives like Mark Tapscott have weighed in. Says Mark:

    Other than that concerning the War on Terror and its associated issues, there is no more important political discussion in America right now than that beginning among conservatives about what in coming months and years should be our proper course of action to restore the vibrancy and effectiveness of the age-old struggle for individual liberty and limited government.
    While that sounds more like Goldwater classical liberalism than conservatism, I long ago tired of labels. Individual liberty and limited government don't sound Republican anymore.

    Vik Rubenfeld thinks it's both war fatigue and political fatigue:

    Under the constant drumbeat of MSM propaganda, Conservatives feel disappointed that everything in Iraq didn't go flawlessly. If MSM had been reporting GWB's achievements in Iraq -- damaging Al Qaeda, eliminating a government that supported terrorists, and bringing Democracy to the Mid-East -- we'd all be cheering and every Republican candidate would be likely to win election -- which of course is why MSM is so wildly anti-Republican.

    GWB has refused for far too long to trumpet his achievements publicly, and to speak to the public about his key initiatives. This is probably the most important of all -- Conservatives feel GWB has dropped contact with them.

    As Noonan argues, Conservatives have been out of touch with the Conservative base on important key issues of immigration and budget.

    Do these reasons justify Conservatives in letting our own candidates lose our support?

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Vik goes on to site John Podhoretz (who thinks conservatives need to chill out) and concludes that "we have to give ourselves a week off to rest up, and then get back in the game."

    (For me, the game has consisted of holding my nose and voting, and being disappointed too many times to count.)

    posted by Eric at 11:43 AM | Comments (11)

    Naturally thwarting unnatural laws of nature

    Seeing as it's still nature appreciation day, I thought I'd reflect on survival of the fishest. A favorite artist, Ray Troll, likes portraying the idea graphically. One of his T-shirt designs:


    It shouldn't need much explanation, but there's a good one here. Even if they're thousands of miles away and ten years old, once the salmon's breeding instincts are triggered, they'll find their way half way around the world to the mouth of the river or tributary in which their parents laid their eggs. No one quite knows how this happens, and it is thought that the information is imprinted upon their developing brains shortly after they hatch. They start to disintegrate when they hit the fresh water, and after they've spawned, they're ready to die, which they do by the thousands. (This provides food and fertilizer, of course.)

    I'll never forget the sight of exhausted salmon, many of them with eyes missing and fins shredded or missing. Some of them had no eyes at all and bones sticking out in place of the fins. Just swimming forward, forward, as they entered the gates of the fish hatchery where their parents spawned and died years before. The idea of fish managing to imprint on the exact location of water "fish ladders" flowing up to a building, and remembering that years later, this challenges conventional ideas of what is "natural." I'm too old to worry about natural morality in any sort of judgmental sense, but when I saw it I found it very moving and downright spooky.

    Well, speaking of natural morality judgments, here's another design by Ray Troll (ridiculing the moral equivalency idea that women need fish like men need bicycles or something like that):


    Very confusing.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Considering what's going on around here lately, I think this blog is haunted. And why not?

    posted by Eric at 11:48 PM

    You are not ready

    Definitionally speaking, the world has already ended. Regrettably, I've been delegated the profoundly depressing, yet inexplicably unavoidable trouble of convincing everyone to stand in line. That's really what all the gospels were about. Getting people to stand in line. The rest was basically taken care of. I mean, think about it.

    Loaves, fishes, shelter, companionship, everything was provided to degrees which simply didn't exist prior to his coming.

    I'd no more discount that crucial coming than I would a blue light special on clearly overstocked merchandise which I could later unload at a sufficiently unexpected premium over the market.

    Because of the kitchen.

    Yes, you heard me right. I said 'because of the kitchen.' And while you may have your doubts, there is one thing about which I can shamelessly, remorselessly, and absolutely inform you sans preamble, etc.

    Spake he:

    "Look out for the cold wind. Because ultimately a single gust shall bring about the unlife which so vexes you.”

    You poor dislocated sot. You never really stood a chance did you?

    When the pushers push, only the restrained have regrets.

    posted by Cosmic Drunk at 10:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    No time to dissect crimes of nature

    Today must be nature appreciation day. At least it is for Coco -- who has been finding owl pellets in the yard, like this one:


    From the size, it appears to be either a Barred Owl, a Great Horned Owl or a Barn Owl pellet. (They nest in my yard, and one time I heard what sounded like knock-down-drag-out battle between a Barred owl and a Barn Owl.) The owl pellets provide direct physical evidence that owls are not nice to small animals and other living things.

    What I didn't know is that they're worth almost $6.00 apiece (although they're cheaper on ebay.) I should probably save them -- maybe if they appreciate in value they'll provide a hedge against inflation.

    I have no idea whether it's legal to sell them, but if they contained bird remains, it would probably be illegal to send them to Hillary Clinton.

    Anyway, I don't feel like dissecting the pellet (or the law) right now, but I pulled it apart and it appears to consist of squirrel fur and a few assorted bones.

    posted by Eric at 01:06 PM | Comments (1)

    Bewildering brutality in ball-banning Berkeley?

    While I dislike moral relativism of any sort, reading about this brutal behavior by a bellicose bull sea lion in Berkeley reminded me that neutering pit bulls (discussed earlier) will not solve the problem of animal violence:

    Authorities are looking for ways to deter an aggressive sea lion that attacked three people at the Berkeley Marina this week.

    The sea lion has been known to take fish from docks, but has become increasingly bold in recent weeks, said Jim Smith, owner of the California Dawn charter fishing boat that operates out of the marina. On Wednesday, Smith said, it attacked three people, including a woman who received a bite wound on her leg.

    "It's been a nuisance for the last two years, but it's been getting worse lately," said Smith, who described the sea lion as a 1,500-pound bull.

    Smith said the sea lion jumped onto the harbor dock, bit his crew member Twani Houston on the ankle and tried to drag her into the water. A second crew member grabbed Houston by the arm, Smith said.

    "They got in a virtual tug-of-war," Smith said.

    On Thursday, workers from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito were unsuccessful in their attempt to capture the sea lion. The center was hoping to relocate it.

    Things have gotten so out of hand that serious consideration is being given to a get-tough policy of spraying the sea lion with water -- despite the fact that this might be considered "harassment":
    "By hitting it in the face with a steady stream of water, we're hoping to discourage its behavior," he said. "Hopefully, it will leave the area, and we can resolve this problem without having to resort to a more egregious action."

    Smith said the harbormaster prohibited fishermen from spraying the sea lion last month.

    The spraying of the animal is normally considered harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but the attacks have necessitated the tactic, Simons said.

    What I want to know is why aren't Berkeley's bureaucrats banning the balls of bellicose bull sea lions?

    While their balls might not swing as visibly as the balls of pit bull, sea lions definitely have them:

    . . .the testicles are relatively small in relation to body size and are located just beneath the skin in the ventral pelvic region. Here the penis is still covered with a protective layer of skin called the PREPEUTIAL FOLD.
    Warning! That last link goes to exceedingly graphic, if not gruesome photos! (Click at your own risk!)

    Why the double standard? Where are the anti-testosterone Berkeley ball-busters when we need them?

    I blame speciesism!

    posted by Eric at 10:11 AM

    Conspiracy to cover up hysterical delusions?

    I heard about a strange new disease today:

    If diseases like AIDS and bird flu scare you, wait until you hear what's next. Doctors are trying to find out what is causing a bizarre and mysterious infection that's surfaced in South Texas.

    Morgellons disease is not yet known to kill, but if you were to get it, you might wish you were dead, as the symptoms are horrible.

    "These people will have like beads of sweat but it's black, black and tarry," said Ginger Savely, a nurse practioner in Austin who treats a majority of these patients.

    Patients get lesions that never heal.

    "Sometimes little black specks that come out of the lesions and sometimes little fibers," said Stephanie Bailey, Morgellons patient.

    Patients say that's the worst symptom — strange fibers that pop out of your skin in different colors.

    The description of symptoms reads like something out of a science fiction novel, and the disease is completely new. They don't know what it is or what is causing it, but they've come up with a name -- and a web site -- Morgellons Disease:
    The unknown fibers associated with skin lesions can be described as coenocytic (aseptate), smooth-walled, branching, filamentous objects. The fibers have been analyzed by FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy) and have tentatively been identified as cellulose.

    The elongated fibers are often twisted into balls or what appear to be bundles of fibers, as they grow within the skin. Many people refer to these bundles as fiber balls, fuzz balls, or lint balls. The fibers are clearly hyphae-like structures, and yet, do not fall within the description of known hyphae or pseudohyphae. The fibers are most often white, but are also consistently seen as blue, black, and rarely red.

    These fibers exhibit a high degree of autofluorescence and are not textile derived.


    This reminds me of the extraterrrestial disease plaguing Stephen King's character ("The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill") in Creep Show. While I wish I could declare this some sort of hoax, the Center for Disease control is said to be taking it very seriously:

    The physician should contact the county health department and inform them that they have a patient suspected of having Morgellons disease, etiology unknown. The county health department should then contact the state health department, who will in turn inform the CDC about the patient in question.

    Note: Some county and state health departments are unaware that the CDC has a team assigned to investigate Morgellons Disease.

    The Museum of Hoaxes offers inconclusive speculation about whether it's a hoax. More discussion here. And Popular Mechanics discusses both sides:
    Across the country, thousands of people complaining of the same horrifying phenomenon have formed an illness subculture. They share lists of symptoms, medical speculation and tales of run-ins with mainstream doctors at www.morgellons.org, the official Web site of a group called the Morgellons Research Foundation. It was founded in 2002 by Mary Leitao in McMurray, Pa. Leitao named the condition Morgellons Disease--after a disease with similar symptoms mentioned in a 16th-century medical text--while investigating a skin affliction on her then-2-year-old son.

    Morgellons has barely registered on the radar of mainstream medicine. Few doctors have heard of the condition; fewer still know what to make of it. So when people walk into an examination room and announce they have Morgellons, they are often met with skepticism. Conflicts would seem to be inevitable.

    "Dermatologists are afraid to see these patients," says Dr. Peter Lynch, professor emeritus of dermatology at the University of California, Davis. He says he has examined about 75 people with Morgellons-like symptoms in the past 35 years and believes they suffer from delusional parasitosis--literally, delusions of parasites in the skin. It's a diagnosis people don't like. One patient, threatening malpractice, convinced the state medical board to investigate Lynch. Another warned he had a pistol in the glove compartment of his truck, Lynch says. "He told me, 'I'm going to shoot the next doctor who tells me it's in my head.'"

    An illness subculture? Hmmmm.....

    I'm wondering. Might it be related to an excess of methamphetamine or other drug use? (Years ago I knew a man who was absolutely convinced that there were tiny critters -- "THEY CAN'T BE CAUGHT! AND THEY CAN'T BE SEEN!" he claimed -- crawling all over the house, and his body. Drugs had made his perceptions overly sensitive to the human scabies mites, which we all have but which normal people don't, um, "feel.")

    Not that hysterical illnesses need be drug related. I knew a woman who suffered from hysterical blindness but who really was blind. Her eye doctor knew enough about psychiatry to ask her about her emotional life and when she told him that she had a violently abusive husband, he solemnly told her that her blindness would not go away until she had left her husband for at least a few months. She left her husband, and three months later, she could see.

    Concludes Popular Mechanics:

    Leitao and other Morgellons activists say that, with the Web as a primary tool, they'll continue working to have the illness investigated as an infectious disease. Doctors interviewed by PM say this unilateral approach hinders objective analysis of symptoms they've seen for decades. Well, all symptoms except for one: Widespread reports of the strange fibers date back only three years, to the time they were first described online, at www.morgellons.org.

    Disease or not, the phenomenon is not limited to Texas. According to Fox News, cases have occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area:

    KTVU broke this story last year and now we've learned more than 1,200 people nationwide say they have the same skin lesions and bizarre fibers. Ironically, most are in the medical profession. Adults as well as children have it and it may be contagious.

    Evidence is beginning to mount linking this syndrome to Lyme Disease from tick bites.

    "The population of people with Lyme Disease believe this is another infection that travels with the Lyme organism," said Dr. Jennifer Choate, a hematologist who helped treat Dillon. "It makes sense because it is in that group we are seeing this pattern."

    Marin microbiologist Jenny Haverty has also be studying the mystery malady.

    "I accepted specimens from four different people in four different counties in the Bay Area, and I looked at them very carefully over and over again under the microscope," she said. "The colors and shapes of the fibers of each individual were very, very similar."

    Tests on similar fibers taken from Bishop's skin and those of several other patients in the Bay Area show them to be tiny tubes of protein. But how and why the filaments are formed remains a mystery for now.

    Could it be a mass delusion?

    What does the CDC say officially, anyway?

    A big fat nothing. Nada. Zip.

    What raises my antennae is the absence of anything on the CDC web site coupled with the Morgellons web site assertion that "the CDC has a team assigned to investigate Morgellons Disease."

    A grand conspiracy, or a mass delusion?

    You decide.

    Morgellons1.jpg Morgellons2.jpg

    As for me, I intend to keep checking for symptoms!

    posted by Eric at 04:40 PM | Comments (12)

    All bloggers are sexual predators!

    For some time, I've been worried about a convergence in hysteria between Luddites who believe the Internet is "seductive," and people who use children and sex as an excuse to crack down on whatever they don't like.

    My fear is that the real target is (or will be) the blogosphere, and unfortunately (via Raw Story) I see my dark suspicions confirmed by a bill which would require public libraries to block access to blogs:

    "When children leave the home and go to school or the public library and have access to social-networking sites, we have reason to be concerned," Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, told CNET News.com in an interview.

    Fitzpatrick and fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, on Wednesday endorsed new legislation (click here for PDF) that would cordon off access to commercial Web sites that let users create public "Web pages or profiles" and also offer a discussion board, chat room, or e-mail service.

    That's a broad category that covers far more than social-networking sites such as Friendster and Google's Orkut.com. It would also sweep in a wide range of interactive Web sites and services, including Blogger.com, AOL and Yahoo's instant-messaging features, and Microsoft's Xbox 360, which permits in-game chat.

    Fitzpatrick's bill, called the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, is part of a new, poll-driven effort by Republicans to address topics that they view as important to suburban voters. Republican pollster John McLaughlin polled 22 suburban districts and presented his research at a retreat earlier this year. Rep. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, is co-sponsoring the measure.


    That means children -- and, apparently, all public library users -- would no longer be allowed to read many of the best blogs in the blogosphere.

    I thought they only blocked blogs in places like China.

    And I once thought Republicans were supposed to be the party of small government.

    I'm sorry to say that the last sentence looks like satire. (Or some sick idea of a joke.)


    I guess I could always change my registration back to Democrat.

    Nah, then I couldn't be a RINO anymore.

    (I'll just keep calling myself a "Goldwater liberal.")

    UPDATE: Liz at "I Speak of Dreams" has a very informative post with a lot more information about this awful proposal. (Apparently, the thinking is that this will help Republicans win in November. I think it will help guarantee a loss either way.)

    UPDATE: My thanks to Wonkette for the link!

    posted by Eric at 11:24 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    when pit bull semen is outlawed, only outlaws will have pit bull semen!

    I am ashamed and chagrined to see that certain humans in Berkeley, California are trying to outlaw unneutered pit bulls:

    The American Kennel Club is howling about a law some members of the Citizens Humane Commission are proposing that would mandate the spaying and neutering of most Berkeley pit bulls, a breed overrepresented in the city’s animal shelter.

    The draft ordinance, which continues to be tweaked by the Citizens’ Humane Commission, proposes mandatory spaying and neutering of pit bulls, except when the animal is younger than eight weeks old, when it is a show dog and the owner has obtained a breeding permit, or when the animal has been in Berkeley fewer than 30 days. Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $500 for the first infraction and, for the second offense, may be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to six months in the county jail.

    The reasoning? These animals are said to be aggressive:
    “Pit bulls and other breeds like Rotweilers have been bred to be aggressive,” said Councilmember Dona Spring, the council representative to the Humane Commission. “There are some very well-behaved, well-trained pit bulls, but there is an uncertainty about them,” Spring said, noting that if the breed were not overrepresented—if their reproduction were curtailed—then there would be fewer euthanized in the city shelter. (Dogs stay seven days in the shelter before they are killed or “rescued” by local non-profit organizations.)

    “We don’t have a problem with too many poodles at the animal shelter,” Spring said.

    The American Kennel Club, however, has called on its membership to flood the City Council and Humane Commission in opposition to the measure, which, they say, unfairly targets pit bulls.

    “The American Kennel Club feels that measures that target any responsible dog owners is not fair,” said Lisa Peterson, AKC spokesperson. Laws should instead target irresponsible dog owners, “those who breed the dogs to be vicious,” she said.

    AKC’s position is to target “the deed, not the breed,” Peterson said.

    NOTE: Anyone who wants to see an aggressive pit bull in action should take a look at the picture here. (As SayUncle observed, "it helps to have a camera handy to capture the savage mauling the child will receive.")

    I don't think this has as much to do with breeding vicious animals as it does with breeding all animals. The pit bull is being targeted (as it was in San Francisco) because it is a minority breed with fewer defenders, often favored by outlaws who want a dog with a bad rep, so is perceived as the weak link in the chain. The goal of those who believe in the "animal rights" philosophy is that domestic animals should not be bred at all, but because this philosophy is a tough sell, it's packaged in easier-to-swallow pieces. Instead of attacking all dog breeders, "puppy mills" are condemned without being clearly defined. And we are told there is a "dog overpopulation crisis" even though animal adoption centers have such a shortage of puppies that they have actually had to import them.

    Regarding the latter point, I have addressed the dog overpopulation issue repeatedly in this blog, because I think Americans are being lied to.

    The goal is, simply, to neuter virtually all dogs, and outlaw dog breeding. In Los Angeles, they have done just that:

    The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to approve an ordinance yesterday that requires all dogs, except those that are law enforcement dogs, service dogs or that qualify as "competition" dogs to be spayed or neutered. The ordinance will go into effect June 3rd. For more details please read our previous alert on this issue or contact Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control at (562) 728-4882.

    The Board of Supervisors has also sent a letter to the mayors in each of the 88 cities located within Los Angeles County encouraging them to adopt similar ordinances. Residents of these cities are encouraged to monitor their city council agenda's for these types of proposals.

    All Californians should be aware that other counties and cities are likely to try and implement similar ordinances. Please contact AKC if a similar proposal is being considered in your area. We can be reached at doglaw@akc.org or (919) 816-3720.

    Back to Berkeley:

    However, pit bulls are targeted because they are hard to adopt out, said Kate O’Connor, Berkeley’s Animal Care Services manager. About 30 percent of the animals that come in to the Berkeley shelter are pit bulls, she said; however, about 80 percent of the shelter population is made up of pit bulls because they are so difficult to adopt out. Last month 19 pit bulls came into the shelter, compared to eight Rotweilers and eight Shepherd mixes.
    The reason pit bulls are "hard to adopt out" is not because people don't want them, but because animal shelters make them very difficult to adopt with a plethora of restrictions. Many cities simply will not allow adoption of pit bulls, so they are simply killed. This means (quite ironically) that the demand for the breed is being created by the shelters' own policies!

    If you don't believe me, and you decide you want one of these clownish and lovable dogs, try going down to your local animal shelter or SPCA. The application process often involves background checks, fingerprinting, home visits and a process as complex as adopting a child. I don't know what Berkeley requires right now, but if you want a pit bull in San Francisco, why, the process is so complex and draconian that SF Weekly complained that it's easier to buy a gun:

    Which is easier, cheaper, and less time-consuming to acquire -- a pistol or a pit bull terrier?

    The answer may surprise you. It will certainly ease your mind.
    Pit Bull Terrior

    Age: Prospective owner must be at least 18.

    Identification: Owner must provide valid picture ID and verification of home address. Pit bull must have microchip ID implanted by San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control. File photograph required of all pit bull breeds before new owner takes possession.

    Aliases: When adopted through the SPCA, pit bull terriers are officially renamed St. Francis terriers.

    Private-Sector Authorization: Landlord must approve. Veterinarian is interviewed to assess care and vaccination status of other pets in home. Emergency caretaker must be designated and confirmed.

    Spay and Neutering Plan: Required.

    Home Visit: At least one. Before approval of a pit bull adoption, an SPCA behaviorist must assess interaction between prospective adoptee and any children and/or other dogs living in home. Additional home inspections are made whenever they are deemed necessary.

    Fencing: Complete fencing of yard required.

    Personal Interview: At least one.

    Training: Five-session basic pet obedience course required within six months of adoption. Cost: $40 to $60.

    Background Investigation: Required. Includes three character references and two neighborhood references; local animal control agency incident report check; fingerprinting and criminal background check on owner.

    Time: Five to 10 days, although an agreed-upon "cooling off" or waiting period may be imposed after approval, and prior to taking possession of the dog.

    Cost: Through S.F./SPCA, $58.

    Availability: At S.F./SPCA as of April 3 -- 10.

    The article goes on to list pistol puchase requirements, but considering San Francisco's recent gun ban, I'll avoid fatiguing readers with irrelevant details. (In short, buying a pistol in San Francisco was easier than adopting a pit bull.)

    My point is, people who might want a pit bull are not going to want to go through such nonsense when there are puppies for sale. By their nature, draconian laws create demand for alternatives. The last time I looked, the price for purebred pit bull pups like these (from a top breeder) was close to $1000.00.

    The AKC strongly opposes Berkeley's proposed ordinance:

    The Berkeley Citizens Humane Commission will meet again on Wednesday, May 17th to discuss a proposal to require mandatory spay/neuter of all “pit bulls.” It is vital that responsible dog owners and concerned breeders attend this meeting. Fanciers are also encouraged to contact their representative on the Berkeley City Council to oppose this measure. The meeting will be held from 7-10pm at the North Berkeley Senior Center located at 1901 Hearst Avenue.

    [Friday, March 31, 2006]

    On April 19th the Berkeley Citizens Humane Commission will review a draft of an ordinance to require "pit bull" owners in the city to spay or neuter their dogs unless they obtain a $100 breeding permit and comply with a host of regulations. The ordinance defines "pit bulls" as American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and any dog displaying the physical traits of these breeds. Fines of up to $500 for a first offense, and up to $1000 on a second offense can be assessed for violations. A second offense can also result in up to six months in county jail. AKC is working with concerned dog owners and fanciers to oppose this proposal.

    "Any dog displaying the physical characteristics" is a real mouthful. The phrase would include two dozen different breeds which are not pit bulls, and while Berkeley's "experts" claim they can recognize the breed, I challenge them (and anyone else) to go to this web site, and try to find the pit bull! (I've owned them for decades and been to countless dog shows, and I couldn't do it.)

    This ordinance will do nothing to address the alleged problem, which involves irresponsible dog owners who are often low-level criminals -- with no regard whatsoever for a silly law like this -- who might breed their dogs in backyards to sell the pups for a few extra bucks. Responsible pit bull owners might obey the law, but few responsible breeders would be crazy enough to remain in Berkeley. I can't think of a better way to create a black market.

    Breed specific laws of any nature are of course discriminatory, and proposing equivalent laws for humans would be unthinkable.

    Aside from being a form of canine racism, the law might be sexist as applied, as it inherently lends itself to unequal enforcement of the law. Think about it: if you're in the business of enforcing this law, and you see a pit bull, what might give you probable cause to suspect a violation? A pair of nuts -- swinging behind a male dog! With females, there's no way to tell without a close examination by a veterinarian (even spaying often leaves no visible scars).

    (Not that anyone in Berkeley would be concerned about discrimination . . .)

    A COUPLE OF AFTERTHOUGHTS: (Or maybe this is a correction.) I just realized that the title to this post is wrong, because neither pit bull semen nor its collection would be outlawed by Berkeley's ordinance. Owners of pit bulls faced with mandatory neutering could first have their male dogs' semen collected and stored at any number of places which perform the procedure. (The AKC lists several such facilities within driving distance from Berkeley.)

    The ordinance is also overbroad because it requires neutering of male dogs and spaying of females, despite the fact that vasectomies and tubal ligations would just as easily address the overstated pit bull "overpopulation" problem.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: In writing this post, I had help:


    But in the interest of further disclosure, Coco has a blog tutor:

    MORE: Reading Jonah Goldberg's thoughts here (via InstaPundit) makes me wonder whether the cut-the-nuts movement might be driven by more than merely an animal rights philosophy. Might it be fueled by an inherently sexist anti-testosterone philosophy as well? If you think about it, what could be more evocative of testosterone than an unneutered male pit bull swaggering down the street with his nuts swinging between his legs?

    Just say nuts!

    posted by Eric at 09:05 AM | Comments (1)

    Big Balls in Cow Town by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, For the Last Time

    “Buckle down hot sake!” bellowed the man and his grandfather. Those were all the lyrics the grandfather remembered, all that the man had ever known. It was the bastardization of some distant school’s fight song invented by the grandfather & a fellow alum shortly after the war while getting liquored to the gills on a newly imported Japanese fermented drink of choice for the first time ever. The first time getting liquored to the gills. On sake. Presumably it had been imported before. Just not, you know, in quantity. Like after the war. Fortuitous timing and everything.

    Are you keeping up? Why? Good. Carry on trooper.

    The grandfather had the deep gravelly yet jovial quality only achievable via an age long subtly precise mixture of sales, alcohol, cigarettes, and a brief spot of surprisingly mild throat cancer. He did not seek to impart wisdom to his favorite grandson. He sought not to impart any particular bit of knowledge, information, or philosophy whatsoever. He was inordinately proud of his grandson, in that blissfully vane spirit only accomplishable by the elderly, and presumed not to condescend to prate on about the self-evidently self-evident.

    Instead, he sought to impart good cheer. Ebullient with life, they both gladly forgot about the details and celebrated being alive. Less than a month later the grandfather was suddenly and unexpectedly deceased; meanwhile, the man went on about his life uninterrupted apart from an improvised weekend trip back to Denver. But afterwards, he never could drink sake again without silently belting out, show-tune style, “Buckle down hot sake!”

    posted by Cosmic Drunk at 09:03 PM | Comments (6)

    Something you might miss below . . .

    (. . . and which isn't likely to be much reported by the MSM.)

    I have been very concerned with the need for Islamic reform lately, and I just updated my previous post about the Saudi madrassa in my neighborhood. But because I think this is very important stuff (I know people tend to miss the updates), I thought it deserved a new post all its own.

    Dean Esmay also has a good post (via a link to National Review's Joel C. Rosenberg) about a vitally important subject: the solid accomplishments of Morocco's director of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Ahmad Abaddi, who has set a shining example for the rest of the Muslim world (and for all of us) in his efforts to combat terrorism and build peace with the West.

    Dr. Abaddi is described as "A Different Sort of Radical Muslim," and
    thanks to his influence, Morocco has done the following:

    * They launched a theological training program for Imams to teach them how to promote moderation within Islam, to teach them more about Western history and the importance of Christianity and Judaism to Western social and political development, and to help them identify and oppose extremist forces and trends within Islam. Participants take 32 hours of instruction per week for a full year. The first class of 210 just graduated, and included 55 women.

    * They helped organize the “World Congress of Rabbis and Imams for Peace” in Brussels (January 2005) and Seville (March 2006) where some 150 Muslim and Jewish leaders “sit beard to beard” to explore common ground, denounce extremists, and “write declarations of peace.”

    * They launched an initiative to build a “bridge of friendship” to evangelical Christians in the U.S., including on-going dialogues with Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council, and Josh McDowell of Campus Crusade for Christ, among others. Abaddi and his colleagues have also invited pastors and evangelical business leaders to Morocco for conferences and high-level inter-faith talks, and have even helped organize a series of concerts in Marrakesh where Christian and Muslim rock bands perform together for thousands of Moroccan young people.

    * They published a book about the importance of encouraging religious freedom within Islam and even suggested that “Muslims have the right to change their religion” if they so desire.

    * Abaddi also confirmed rumors swirling about in the Arab press that his government is quietly laying the groundwork with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold a new round of high-level peace talks in the Kingdom in the near future. He noted that King Hassan II—the late-father of the current monarch—opened secret talks with the Israelis as far back as the early 1970s and that Morocco was the first Arab government after Egypt to welcome an Israeli Prime Minister for a public visit (Shimon Peres in July 1986).

    (More here.)

    "religious classes to teach Imams the history and virtues of the West, and dramatic new initiatives to build ties to Rabbis and evangelical Christians"?

    That is real progress.

    Is it too much to hope for the same from the Saudis?

    Asks Dean,

    What, you say you don't hear about these things in the Mainstream Media? Well no you don't. Shame, ain't it?
    It is a shame.

    Says Dr. Abaddi:

    I think the Moroccan model is practical and helpful. It communicates an entirely different concept of Islam to the rest of the world….I personally can’t sit back and do nothing. After all, there is an Arab proverb that says, ‘Don’t be a mute Satan.’ I feel compelled to do everything I can to make a better world.
    He's absolutely right, and I can't sit back and do nothing either. Peace has to start somewhere.

    posted by Eric at 04:46 PM

    how to kill tree-killing spam

    A grim factoid:

    . . . [E]ach year, the Junk Mail Monster destroys about 68 million trees, wastes 28 billion gallons of water, and costs about $450,000,000 of you money to cart its promos, pleas and promises to and from incineratiors, garbage dumps and recycling centers? That equates to about 34 pounds of junk mail for every man, woman and child in the U.S. It's like stuffing a whole tree into our mailboxs each year.

    The amount of junk mail sent each year in the USA is striking. Even if you recycle there are still enormous environmental costs in terms of ink, energy to produce deliver and recycle the paper, recycling inefficiencies and loss of viragin forests to create high quality glossy paper much junk mail uses.

    I'm no tree hugger, and I have no problem with cutting down trees for lumber or whatever purpose the owner of the trees might want. But is there anything wrong with helping to voluntarility save trees from the fate of being turned into stuff that none of us want? From legalized littering?

    A friend recently emailed me to ask whether I knew of any way to stop the junkiest of that junk mail -- the literal trash that fills most of our mailboxes. I'm talking about the sloppy, slidy, pulpy, shopper saver coupon stuffing sh*t. It's nothing but incredibly annoying trash, and you can't just casually toss it into the trash because it has a way of wrapping itself around genuine mail.

    Because it is sent to "Occupant" "Resident," or "Postal Customer," it is very difficult to refuse it. And Direct Marketing Associates (a place which has this special web site where consumers can have their names removed) can only remove names. Addresses are off-limits. So are "non-member mailings" -- which the trash often is.

    The worst of all is the sloppy bundle of store advertising circulars that don't even have your address! They're just paying the post office to stick the pile in every box. If neither your name nor your address is anywhere on the pile, what's to remove from any list?

    This is one of those stubborn problems without an easy solution, and unfortunately, the United States Postal Service is a major part of the problem. Not that your mail carrier wants to throw his back out of kilter carrying around trash he knows you don't want. But even if you ask him to stop delivering it, and he's kind enough to honor your request, he'll be fired:

    The seven long-time St. Petersburg mail carriers thought they were doing their customers a favor: Some people along their route had asked they not deliver bulk-mail catalogs and advertising letters.

    The U.S. Postal Service fired them, saying bulk mailers paid to have their mail delivered to every address. The postal carriers -- averaging more than 21 years of service among the seven of them -were fired.

    "Who is the post office working for -- the customers or the advertising industry?" Ed Vaughan, one of the fired workers, asked St. Petersburg Times reporter Tom Zucco.

    That Vaughan -- and six of his colleagues -- are not wearing postal uniforms any more should answer that question. The United States Postal Service receives about a third of its revenues from bulk mailers. Bulk mail also accounts for more than three-quarters of the mail delivered, and can quickly fill mailboxes and engulf first-class mail.

    (Emphasis added.)


    It's as if the bulk mailers have a right to force your mailman to throw their trash into your mailbox. According to the 9th Circuit, they do! Even prisons can't stop it.

    Bulk mailers make sure their items get to everyone imaginable. Early this year, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a lower-court ruling that overturned a ban on bulk mail to prisoners by Washington state's Department of Corrections.

    Prison officials banned junk mail, saying it make the prison easier to run and it reduced the risk of fire. The court ruled the bulk mailers had a First Amendment right.

    Interestingly, I just found another web site which says all mail is supposed to be addressed, and that the companies in charge of sending out the pulp advertising circulars are supposed to bundle it with cards. Contacting these companies might help, but because you're only making your local mailman go to more trouble (after all, someone has to do more sorting) he might balk:
    There are two different companies: ADVO ("Mailbox Values") and Harte Hanks ("Potpourri") that send these out in different areas around the US. The advertising is sent as a "supplement" to an address card which has the postage-paid notice on it.

    These bundles are sent to every address in the affected areas, and it takes two separate actions to stop it. First you have to get ADVO or Hart Hanks to stop printing the address card, and only then can you get your mail carrier to stop delivering the advertising.

    Both ADVO and Harte Hanks have local offices scattered around the country, and the best way to get off their list is to talk to the local office. The cards usually have the local phone number on them, or at least an address (call directory assistance.) Ask for the circulation department, and call back in a week to check that they really did remove your address. Be prepared to wait 8 weeks for the mail to stop. They'll occasionally "accidentally" send out another card, but it's easier to stop them the second time.

    Your postal carrier "knows" that everyone on the route is supposed to get one, so she'll keep delivering them even if it looks like the address card is lost. It's against the law for them to deliver unaddressed mail, so it only takes a phone call to the supervisor at the local post office to convince the carrier to stop. There will occasionally be a mistake after that (when there's a substitute or new carrier) but it doesn't take very many calls to convince the supervisor you really mean it.

    (More information here.) One last trick might be to take advantage of USPS Form 500, which is intended to combat pornography, but which will work against any other kind of "trash":
    First, USPS Form 1500 might get more notice. It was originally put out by the post office to allow residents with children to reject catalogs the addressee found pornographic or offensive.

    But in 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments from a mass mailer that the form was unconstitutional. In fact, the court said the bulk material didn't even need to be pornographic to have delivery stopped.

    Wrote Chief Justice Warren Burger for the court: "We therefore categorically reject the argument that a vendor has a right under the Constitution or otherwise to send unwanted material into the home of another. If this prohibition operates to impede the flow of even valid ideas, the answer is that no one has a right to press even `good' ideas on an unwilling recipient . . . The asserted right of a mailer, we repeat, stops at the outer boundary of every person's domain."

    Whoa. The Supreme Court really said that?

    I can't believe I have a right to stop unwanted material. Perhaps if neighbors all got together and filled out the forms (litter is a form pornography, and anything can be stopped by Form 500) they could rid their neighborhoods of junk mail along entire carrier routes. This would save work for the local mailman, who'd only have to dump litter on the handful who didn't opt out, and delivering real letters to the majority who did. Who knows? This might even help the mailman's self esteem (who wants to be a paid litterbug anyway?) and thereby lead to a decrease in postal shootings. Plus it would save the trees!


    Freedom from legalized littering is probably just utopian thinking.

    That's about as much time as I'm willing to devote to this junk.

    posted by Eric at 02:12 PM | Comments (2)

    Mongrelizing Subspeciesism

    What is a species? In high school biology class, I learned that the test line for we call "species" is traditionally drawn over whether or not an animal can breed with another animal and produce fertile offspring. (Thus a horse might breed with a donkey, but the fact that sterile mules result means that horses and donkeys are separate species.) That's still considered the definition by many scientists, although it seems to be in flux:

    A species is a group of organisms that can interbreed in nature to produce a fertile offspring. Stated in another way, species are reproductively isolated groups of populations. Organisms classified in the same species have very similar gene pools.
    "Interbreed in nature" seems to be the key. Thus biologist Ernst Mayr uses the "isolation species concept" -- "groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations which are reproductively isolated from other such groups."

    Now I see that a wild bear recently shot has turned out to be a fertile -- and natural -- cross between a Polar Bear and a Grizzly Bear:

    Territorial officials seized the creature after noticing its white fur was scattered with brown patches and that it had the long claws and humped back of a grizzly. Now a DNA test has confirmed that it is indeed a hybrid - possibly the first documented in the wild.

    "We've known it's possible, but actually most of us never thought it would happen," said Ian Stirling, a polar bear biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton.

    Polar bears and grizzlies have been successfully paired in zoos before - Stirling could not speculate why - and their offspring are fertile.

    What this means is that the Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear would have to be considered not species, but subspecies. If this were to happen often enough, and the so-called "hybrids" started breeding with each other, they'd form a new subspecies.

    How many specimens would they have to find before the new breed becomes an endangered subspecies?

    posted by Eric at 12:13 PM | Comments (1)

    Property of history?

    Normally, when I think of historic preservation efforts, I think of architectural gems, and places where major events happened.

    Not "tacky motels" in Wildwood, New Jersey. Tacky ain't tacky no more, so I guess I should get over it. The National Trust for Historic Preservation insists. They care about history, and they know more about the history of tacky motels than I do!

    They also know more about the Blair Mountain Battlefield.

    Huh? I like to think I know my history, but I scratched my memory, and the place just didn't spring out at me. I figured it must have been a Civil War battle that never received as much attention as it should have.

    Wrong. Blair Mountain was the scene of a nasty 1921 clash involving a coal miners' strike in West Virginia:

    May 12 - On Aug. 30, 1921, along a rocky ridge near this hamlet, more than 6,000 union coal miners clashed with sheriff's deputies, the state police and coal company guards in the climactic battle of the West Virginia coal wars. Dozens died during five days of trench warfare.

    Now, a new battle for Blair Mountain is flaring. But this time, the warriors are not miners toting rifles, but historians armed with artifacts. And the fight is not about organizing the coalfields, but saving the battlefield.

    The "preservation" campaign is said to be led by "amateur historians allied with environmentalists," and they want 1400 acres around Blair Mountain to be federally protected. Naturally, the owners of the land (probably one of those evil and murderous coal companies) are irate, as they want to mine the coal:
    Being added to the register would also be a crucial first step toward the preservationists' goal of making Blair Mountain a landmark or park, which could stop mining there altogether.

    "This is a breakthrough nomination in terms of taking a chink out of the power of coal companies to dominate our land," said Frank Unger, a part-time preservationist who helped prepare the Blair Mountain application.

    The coal companies have threatened legal action. Although the listing would not prohibit mining, it could cause the federal government to delay or modify permits, potentially affecting hundreds of jobs, including about 100 held by union workers.

    "We're going to resist vigorously any attempts to take away our property rights," said Greg Wooten, vice president of Dingess Rum Properties Inc., which leases land on the ridge to mining companies. "We have a right to exercise our lawful and legal right to mine coal, remove timber and drill oil and gas wells on our property."

    A right to mine coal? On your own property? Isn't that carrying the concept of rights too far?

    There are no historic buildings involved here, of course. Just land. I'm trying to be logical about this, because I think it's fraught with emotion (why that is, I'm not sure; these events took place 85 years ago and the participants are no longer alive). The issue seems to be this: should the fact that a historically significant event took place on land be allowed to interfere with the rights of the property owner? Should there even be a right to own property where important things happened?

    I do not mean to make light of history. The NYT account is scanty on details, but the events are fascinating, and include the origin of the word "redneck," the famous Mother Jones reading a forged telegram from President Harding, and World War I vets battling each other. A dozen strikers were killed, and the only reason they finally called it off was that they didn't want to fight U.S. soldiers.

    Here's an excerpt from a West Virginia site:

    As a result of the Matewan Massacre, Hatfield had become a hero to many of the miners. On August 7, a crowd varyingly estimated from 700 to 5,000 gathered on the capitol grounds in Charleston to protest the killing. Among others, UMWA's leaders Frank Keeney and Bill Blizzard urged the miners to fight. Over the next two weeks, Keeney travelled around the state, calling for a march on Logan. On August 20, miners began assembling at Marmet. Mother Jones, sensing the inevitable failure of the mission, tried to discourage the miners. At one point, she held up a telegram, supposedly from President Warren G. Harding, in which he offered to end the mine guard system and help the miners if they did not march. Keeney told the miners he had checked with the White House and the telegram was a fake. To this day, it is uncertain who was lying.

    On August 24, the march began as approximately 5,000 men crossed Lens Creek Mountain. The miners wore red bandanas, which earned them the nickname, "red necks." In Logan County, Don Chafin mobilized an army of deputies, mine guards, store clerks, and state police. Meanwhile, after a request by Governor Morgan for federal troops, President Harding dispatched World War I hero Henry Bandholtz to Charleston to survey the situation. On the 26th, Bandholtz and the governor met with Keeney and Mooney and explained that if the march continued, the miners and UMWA leaders could be charged with treason. That afternoon, Keeney met a majority of the miners at a ballfield in Madison and instructed them to turn back. As a result, some of the miners ended their march. However, two factors led many to continue. First, special trains promised by Keeney to transport the miners back to Kanawha County were late in arriving. Second, the state police raided a group of miners at Sharples on the night of the 27th, killing two. In response, many miners began marching toward Sharples, just across the Logan County line.

    The town of Logan was protected by a natural barrier, Blair Mountain, located south of Sharples. Chafin's forces, now under the command of Colonel William Eubank of the National Guard, took positions on the crest of Blair Mountain as the miners assembled in the town of Blair, near the bottom of the mountain. On the 28th, the marchers took their first prisoners, four Logan County deputies and the son of another deputy. On the evening of the 30th, Baptist minister John E. Wilburn organized a small armed company to support the miners. On the 31st, Wilburn's men shot and killed three of Chafin's deputies, including John Gore, the father of one of the men captured previously. During the skirmish, a deputy killed one of Wilburn's followers, Eli Kemp. Over the next three days, there was intense fighting as Eubank's troops brought in planes to drop bombs.

    On September 1, President Harding finally sent federal troops from Fort Thomas, Kentucky. War hero Billy Mitchell led an air squadron from Langley Field near Washington, D.C. The squadron set up headquarters in a vacant field in the present Kanawha City section of Charleston. Several planes did not make it, crashing in such distant places as Nicholas County, Raleigh County, and southwestern Virginia, and military air power played no important part in the battle. On the 3rd, the first federal troops arrived at Jeffrey, Sharples, Blair, and Logan. Confronted with the possibility of fighting against U.S. troops, most of the miners surrendered.

    [NOTE: Wikipedia has more on the background of the word "redneck" -- noting among other things the connection to the name "Hatfield."]

    There is no question that coal miners were treated dreadfully, and when I read this account, my sympathies were on their side. But what was the strike about? What did they die for? Why, their jobs! They were coal miners. (Doh!) They didn't want to stop coal mining at Blair Mountain; they wanted better working conditions for the miners.

    Amazing as it may sound, today's coal miners are on the side of the company that owns Blair Mountain, and against the so-called "preservationists."

    Back to the New York Times:

    The fight has created an awkward alliance between the United Mine Workers of America and the very coal industry it battled atop Blair Mountain 84 years ago.

    Many union miners view the mountain as a shrine to their movement's struggles. But because union coal jobs could be lost if mining is prohibited there, the union has refused to support listing Blair Mountain on the National Register.

    Instead, it is calling for preserving a small piece of the mountain so that surface mining can proceed along the rest of the ridge. Coal company lawyers said they have supported similar proposals in the past, and might again.

    ....At the state commission's meeting on May 6, scores of miners - including Mr. King's brother - loudly protested the preservation plan. One argued that the mountain had become a dump for discarded furniture and appliances.

    I guess the union isn't too fond of the idea that mining should be stopped in the name of the miners.

    I'm thinking that this second Battle of Blair Mountain might not really be over miners or even historic "preservation" -- any more than the battle to save the tacky motels in Wildwood really involves loving the motels. True, when the motels are gone, they're gone, but Blair Mountain isn't really going anywhere. I'm thinking that the goal is to stop something called "development" -- another ill-defined word most often invoked to limit the rights of property owners to use land they own as they see fit.

    If enough people want to preserve something, I don't see why they can't either buy it and preserve it, or have the government buy it and preserve it. For all I know, an important Indian treaty was once signed in my yard. Runaway slaves might have slept here. If a historian makes such a discovery, and it actually has value, should the public receive the benefit at my expense?

    I can't think of a reason why.

    Something is just not logical about the idea that properties of no historic value are more valuable than properties with historic value.

    (But then, what's logical about communitarian politics?)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: How come no one's saying anything about easy access to firearms as the cause of all that Blair Mountain "gun violence"? (Just askin'.)

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

    The History of Deja Vu, Part II?

    Word is getting around that the Republicans might be deliberately sabotaging their chances in the 2006 elections (a possibility I speculated about earlier in strategic disgust).

    But seriously, might there be a strategic surrender (or, say, a strategic leaking of a strategic rumor of a strategic surrender) in the works? Or might this be a little like the well-known phenomenon of someone who knows his cause is lost claiming that he meant to lose all along? Whether it's strategic or not, it's more complicated than it looks.

    Especially if we play the extrapolation-from-previous-races game.

    Via Glenn Reynolds, Gay Patriot discussed the 1994 deja vu predicament in a post titled "1994 all over again? Wasn’t it 1980 all over again in 2004?"

    Democrats who are now saying it’s 1994 all over again should bear in mind that, in the last days of the 2004 campaign, many were saying it was 1980 all over again, a year when a challenger would come from behind to oust the incumbent president of the United States.
    Good point. And even if 2006 is 1994 all over again, well, wouldn't that mean that 2008 would also be 1996 all over again?

    (Republicans, of course, took the House in 1994, and then the Democrats won the White House in 1996.)

    The problem with these theories is that there's also a possibility that the right wing might want Hillary in the White House.

    Would Republican conservatives deliberately interfere with their own deja vu -- possibly under a double reverse deja vu theory?

    Such a thing would be an unprecedented and dangerous strategy, but it would certainly confound their enemies.

    For it to work, I think they should simply announce publicly that they want Hillary to be president.

    Come on, boys!

    (Rupert Murdoch has already given you the best kind of start, 1400 megatons worth....)

    UPDATE: Here's Peggy Noonan:

    It may take a defeat in November for the GOP to unlearn the lessons of power
    If things improve after a defeat in November, one defeat might lead to another.

    posted by Eric at 09:19 PM

    Skullduggery is not a family value!

    As if Bush wasn't in enough trouble over the immigration mess, wait till the American Indians get hold of him. Today's LA Times reports that Bush's grandfather might have been the culprit who dug up Apache chief Geronimo's skull, so that rich white kids who belonged to the elite Skull and Bones fraternity could play their power games with it:

    HARTFORD, Conn. — A Yale University historian has uncovered a 1918 letter that seems to lend validity to the lore that Yale University's secret Skull and Bones society swiped the skull of American Indian leader Geronimo.

    The letter, written by one member of Skull and Bones to another, purports that the skull and some of the Indian leader's remains were spirited from his burial plot in Ft. Sill, Okla., to a stone tomb in New Haven that serves as the club's headquarters.

    According to Skull and Bones legend, members — including President Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush — dug up Geronimo's grave when a group of Army volunteers from Yale were stationed at the fort during World War I. Geronimo died in 1909.

    "The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club … is now safe inside the [Tomb] together with his well worn femurs, bit & saddle horn," according to the letter, written by Winter Mead.

    While other historians are skeptical, Geronimo's great grandson is threatening to sue.

    As Geronimo left descendants, there's no reason why DNA testing couldn't establish the skull's lineage.

    American Indians aren't the only people interested in the story. So are Indian Indians. The Times of India elaborates on the rites:

    Alumni include US president Bush, Senator John Kerry, president William Howard Taft, numerous members of Congress, media leaders, Wall Street financiers, the scions of wealthy families and agents in the CIA.

    Members swear an oath of secrecy about the group and its strange rituals, which includes devotion to the number '322' and initiation rites that include confessing sexual secrets and kissing a skull.

    Hah! You'll never get me to do that!

    (My secrets are my own affairs, and not a proper subject of group rights, or group rites.)


    Has anyone asked Senator Kerry to comment?

    MORE: The issue is graver than even I imagined. Look what I just dug up:

    Geronimo skull.jpg

    In all fairness, though, it has to be remembered that no one is accusing President Bush of invading burial grounds (which means there are no grounds for impeachment).

    posted by Eric at 12:31 PM | Comments (2)

    This used to be a pretty good country . . .

    Bush is really blowing it bad. If you weren't already uneasy, read Bill Quick's call for impeachment:

    Illegal aliens engaged in the crime of crossing our border have no rights! As for the treacherous Bush administration notifiying a foreign power of the actions of homegrown patriots, that goes beyond despicable, and assures that the administration has no further claim on my support whatsoever.

    George W. Bush supports a foreign power engaged in fostering a criminal invasion of our country over the very Americans trying to stop that invasion!

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    What's especially breathtaking is the lack of MSM reporting. I heard about this outrage -- yes, it is an outrage -- on the radio yesterday, and it was all over the Internet, provoking many reactions just like Bill Quick's. Here's Wizbang:
    This is just unbelievable, MR. President, the Left hates you for just being you, and now you are alienating all those who vote for you and not living up to your Constitutional obligation to defend the country.

    Now you are Helping the enemy! This is treasonous!

    (Obviously, there are other reactions -- some of which are more emotional and less articulate.)

    Whether Bush will be impeached is questionable (I doubt it, because even if enough people from both sides of the aisle want to impeach him, I think they have to agree on the same legal grounds), but what's particularly outrageous is that this major news is not being reported. Not, at least, in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Couldn't find it in the Times, either, althought the big headline is "Poll Gives Bush Worst Marks Yet on Major Issues."

    A poor time to stab the Minutemen in the back, I'd say. I know we're not officially at war with Mexico, but the president is still supposed to be on the side of the American citizens. Many of the Minutemen are people whose yards and ranches were literally invaded. OK, maybe "invader" is a strong word, more appropriate to war. I don't care what word you use. They're at minimum trespassers. I'd be pretty damned upset if some criminal gang was trespassing in my yard, and the cops refused to do anything. If I then armed myself to patrol my own land and the authorities then told the criminals where I was, why "breathtaking" and "treasonous" would be the mildest words I'd use.

    No wonder gold is over $700.00 an ounce.

    posted by Eric at 07:35 AM | Comments (12)

    Free Allaa!

    Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fatah, arrested with other peaceful demonstrators in Cairo on May 7th, 2006, is known around the world for his blogging (he won the international Best of the Blogs award from Reporters Without Borders in December). Like many American bloggers I believe that this was the reason he was targeted.

    I think this is a very important cause, and I am writing letters to the following:

    The Honorable C. David Welch
    Assistant Secretary of State,
    Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
    U.S. Department of State
    2201 C Street NW
    Washington, D.C. 20520

    The Honorable Nabil Fahmy
    The Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
    3521 International Ct. NW
    Washington DC 20008

    It takes a little longer to compose a letter and put in in the mail, but that's what I am doing.

    The above link (via InstaPundit) has all the information you need. Dismissing this as a "typical" Mideastern matter is exactly what Egypt is counting on us doing, so it's important not to do that.

    As I see it, if democracy and human rights in the Mideast don't mean anything, then neither does the war.

    UPDATE: For more background, be sure to read Glenn's "Free the bloggers!" piece.

    UPDATE: Pajamas Media links to the Free Alaa website. Be sure to go there and sign this online petition.

    UPDATE: You can download and use this banner too!


    posted by Eric at 07:25 AM

    Taking candy from a baby?

    Following up on an earlier post, Dr. Helen links to a startling article discussing the banning of french fries, sodas, and other "junk foods" from school cafeterias:

    We've already seen action at the individual school level to ban unhealthy foods from school campuses. However, a bi-partisan group is now taking it to a nation-wide level by introducing legislation that would prohibit the sale of fatty, sugary foods like French fries and sodas in schools, not just in the cafeterias, but anywhere on the school grounds, which includes, vending machines, school stores, and even fund raising events.
    Wow. This is more than a food fight. It's threatening to become the next front on the Culture War.

    Dr. Helen also links to William Saletan's article in Slate titled "Should we regulate French fries like cigarettes?"

    Targeting kids is a familiar way to impose morals without threatening liberties. You can have a beer or an abortion, but your daughter can't. The conservative aspect of this argument is that you're entitled, as a parent, to decide what your kids can do or buy. That's the pitch Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, made last week in a bill to crack down on junk food in schools. The liberal half of the argument is that kids are too young to make informed choices. In this case, it's true. Studies show that little kids ask for products they see on television; fail to distinguish ads from programs; and are heavily targeted by companies peddling candy, fast food, and sugared cereal.

    This stage of the fat war will be a rout. In schools, the audience is young and captive, and the facts are appalling. According to a government report, 75 percent of high schools, 65 percent of middle schools, and 30 percent of elementary schools have contracts with "beverage"—i.e., soda—companies. The sodas are commonly sold through vending machines. The contracts stipulate how many thousands of cases each district has to buy, and they offer schools a bigger cut of the profits from soda than from juice or water. Soda companies, realizing they're going to lose this fight, are fleeing elementary schools and arguing that high-schoolers are old enough to choose. But health advocates refuse to draw such a line. They're not going to stop with kids.

    To which I'd add that they're not going to stop with schools. Before the activists even get around to the adults, an entire industry awaits regulation -- for their unconscionable crimes of preying upon "the children."

    I'll start with an analogy to the history of regulating child smoking, (because I think junk food regulation is likely to follow a similar pattern). When I was a kid, it was a given -- a no-brainer -- that the parents were responsible for preventing their kids from smoking. Cigarettes were sold everywhere -- not only in stores, but in vending machines. I am old enough to remember when vending machines first sported new stickers which stated the following:

    Sale of cigarettes to minors are forbidden by law. We support this law. Parents are urged to help prevent violations.
    Now there are very few cigarette vending machines, and only in places where children are not allowed to be. In some states, they are illegal. Cigarette sales are still allowed in stores, but the cigarettes have to be locked up or behind the counter.

    I know I am old fashioned, but I still think that it is the parents' responsibility, and not that of the store clerk, the vending machine manufacturer, or Big Tobacco. Yet I think many parents today who caught their kid smoking would demand to know where he got the cigarettes, and if he named a store as his source, the store would be blamed and that type of parent would see the child as a victim. That's no way to teach responsibility, but it's the way people have become. Someone has to raise the kids, so why not the government?

    The rationale for prohibiting junk food in schools is that the parents have no control over their children, and thus they cannot be expected to supervise their diets. I'm not sure why, but apparently it is no longer possible for concerned parents to send their kids to school with a bag lunch.

    Well, what about religious dietary restrictions?? Can Jewish parents who insist their kids keep kosher diets send them to schools where non-kosher food is served? Can Muslim parents send their kids to schools with non-halal cafeterias? The answer is that of course they can. But it is their responsibility to tell their kids what not to eat, and their kids' responsibility not to eat it.

    This form of prohibition will not end in the schools, and that's because there are too many other sources of candy and junk food. Countless schools are within easy walking distance of stores. Stores sell candy, soda, and junk food. If the moral rationale is to protect children, what's the difference between banning junk food in schools, and banning it in stores? Once the junk food industry loses this first battle, attention will be turned to the stores.

    "What good is it to prevent schools from poisoning our children when my child can walk across the street and buy exactly the same things in a store?"

    Parents themselves will demand the new laws. And they'll reassure themselves that no one is taking away the "right of people to choose" because adults will still be permitted to buy all the coke and candy they want.

    Under the theory that children must be protected, and the state must do the parenting, there is no reason on earth why stores couldn't be required to keep all candy behind the counter -- and require ID for candy, soda, snacks.

    Once you concede the insane idea that it the state's job to raise children, it's as easy an argument as taking candy from a baby.

    What I can't figure out is whether parental failure caused state parenting, or vice versa. (I've noticed that the more people are regulated, the more regulations they seem to demand, and the less self-discipline they have. I guess that's another topic.)

    posted by Eric at 03:08 PM | Comments (7)

    The conspiracy theorists' conspiracy theorist's conspiracy theorist?

    I hate this.

    But I guess I was asking for it when in a comment I facetiously referred to "line by line fisking of long passages by the likes of Paul Krugman," because a friend has sent me his latest piece, titled "Who's Crazy Now?" I can't take on the whole Krugman piece, because my blogger burnout is bad enough already. And I don't want to commit copyright violations. So, I'll just stick with the two final paragraphs -- lifted not greedily from the Times, but gratefully from my friend's email:

    But now those harsh critics have been vindicated. And it turns out that many of the administration supporters can't handle the truth. They won't admit that they built a personality cult around a man who has proved almost pathetically unequal to the job. Nor will they admit that opponents of the Iraq war, whom they called traitors for warning that invading Iraq was a mistake, have been proved right. So they have taken refuge in the belief that a vast conspiracy of America-haters in the media is hiding the good news from the public.

    Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left — which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe — the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences. And we can safely predict that these people will never concede that they were wrong. When the Iraq venture comes to a bad end, they won't blame those who led us into the quagmire; they'll claim that it was all the fault of the liberal media, which stabbed our troops in the back.

    It has a nice sort of flow, doesn't it? A sing-songy quality which I'd really like if only I could agreed with what Krugman says. Perhaps most Krugman readers do, but I don't. I guess I should explain why.

    ...[N]ow those harsh [Bush] critics have been vindicated.
    The harsh ones have? Who? Cindy Sheehan? Michael Moore? Ward Churchill? Ed Asner? Why isn't Krugman more specific? Who has been vindicated, and how? Why so open-ended? Without examples, I don't know where to start.

    Does Krugman like it like that?

    And it turns out that many of the administration supporters can't handle the truth.
    Which truth? The truth of 9/11? The truth that WMDs weren't found?
    They won't admit that they built a personality cult around a man who has proved almost pathetically unequal to the job.
    (Well, at least he was generous enough to say "almost.") But personality cult? I held my nose and voted for the man, and I have always had my disagreements. That Bush has been the butt of so many jokes tended to make me feel sorry for him, but I don't think Bush deprecation is what Krugman meant. The personality cult is a well-recognized phenomenon of totalitarian societies, in which the great leader becomes a substitute for God:
    Personality cults usually characterize totalitarian, authoritarian, or one-party states, especially those with a strong revolutionary consciousness. The reputation of a single leader, often characterized as the "liberator" or "savior" of the people, elevates that leader to a near-divine level.

    A personality cult is also characterized with many images and representations of a leader in public places, including statues, billboards, posters, signs, paintings, and vast murals. In many cases the leader is portrayed in various types of garb (indicating many roles) and in heroic positions. This is meant to emphasize the greatness and wisdom of the leader. The leader's slogans and other quotes cover massive spaces, and books containing the leader's speeches and writings fill up bookstores, libraries, and schools. The level of flattery can reach heights which may appear absurd to outsiders.

    A typical example:
    "Stalin is our Leader and Teacher, the Greatest Genius of All Times and All Nations, the Sun of Our Planet."
    While it is possible that someone may have written something like that about Bush somewhere, it would more likely be satire, and accompanied by one of the usual cartoons showing Bush as a chimpanzee, or with a Hitler moustache.

    To be fair to Krugman, he has complained about the "personality cult" before, and says it involves politically staged pictures of Bush -- something Krugman called "deeply un-American." (At least Krugman dislikes "un-Americanism.")

    Nor will they admit that opponents of the Iraq war, whom they called traitors for warning that invading Iraq was a mistake, have been proved right.
    Who are "they"? Who was called a traitor? Who issued the warnings? Certainly not the vast majority of Democrats in Congress. Can't Krugman supply a few examples? And what constitutes the proof that the invasion was a mistake? His assertion? As to the characterization of people as "traitors," while it's not a habit of mine, Krugman certainly feels free to call people "deeply un-American" so I'm wondering about the sincerity of his outrage.
    So they have taken refuge in the belief that a vast conspiracy of America-haters in the media is hiding the good news from the public.
    That depends on the definition of "good news," doesn't it? How would something like the battle of Fallujah be reported? 92 Americans killed, and 1000 "insurgents" killed. What would Krugman have seen as the "good news" and what would he have seen as the "bad news"? Is any war news good news? This failure to define terms makes me suspect that Krugman is a bit of a sneak -- one of those guys who will always be right (and whose opponents are always wrong).
    Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left — which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe — the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences.
    Oh come on! There are crazy conspiracy theories of the left -- Bush rigging the Twin Towers with explosives being a good example -- just as there are crazy conspiracy theories of the right. And there are always important people (like Ed Asner) to support them. But Krugman is not talking about allegations that Senator Dodd was Stalin's grandson; he means skepticism about Global warming, and allegations that "the liberal media are suppressing the good news from Iraq." Expressing Global Warming skepticism -- even indignantly as Senator Inhofe did -- does not meet the "wikipedia definition" cited by Krugman
    A conspiracy theory attempts to explain the cause of an event as a secret, and often deceptive, plot by a covert alliance rather than as an overt activity or as natural occurrence.
    There's nothing covert about a large number of scientists sharing the same view. Saying that they are wrong -- even that they are perpetrating a hoax -- is not conspiracy theorizing without an allegation of a secret motive. Nor is it enough to say that they are "environmentalists." Now, had Inhofe said that they were all secretly in the employ of a tiny clique of OPEC insiders who wanted to make a fortune by undermining their own industry and selling short, that would be a conspiracy theory. But disagreement -- no matter how unreasonable it might appear -- does not a conspiracy theory make.

    Also dismissed as a conspiracy theory is the idea that "the liberal media are suppressing the good news from Iraq." Without getting into the merits, the charge involves a very commonplace allegation of media bias. Functionally, it's no different than my complaints that the Philadelphia Inquirer is biased against guns, or that WorldNetDaily is biased against gays. Am I alleging secret conspiracies? Hardly.

    But if we assume Krugman is right, then he's uncovered a new conspiracy to see conspiracy theories, and by the standard he applies to others, then he too must be a conspiracy theorist. But I won't make such an allegation, for that would make me part of a conspiracy to spot a conspiracy theorist theorist, and I'm uncomfortable with such a role. I'd hate to be wrong, and I wouldn't want to be right!

    And we can safely predict that these people will never concede that they were wrong.
    Yes, we can. Especially if we don't define them. That's because there are always plenty of people who can be depended on never, ever, to admit "they" are wrong. I'm not a regular Krugman reader, but if my memory serves me well I don't think he makes it a habit to admit errors himself. (Not even when the Times' public editor calls him on it!)
    When the Iraq venture comes to a bad end, they won't blame those who led us into the quagmire; they'll claim that it was all the fault of the liberal media, which stabbed our troops in the back.
    By using the word "when," Krugman would seem to allow as a theoretical possibility that the Iraq venture hasn't yet come to a bad end.

    What would be a good end, though?

    If the people behind the war are "deeply un-American," I can only wonder.

    (As to Krugman's threshold question -- "Who's crazy now?" -- I think I am. Either that or this whole thing has given me a headache. But either way, it's nothing new.)

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, here's Captain Ed:

    . . .the Americans are winning the media war in Iraq. That's something that the American media has yet to report in any substantive way.
    Americans? Winning?

    That's obviously another conspiracy theory.

    posted by Eric at 10:16 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    Dear George

    I don't know how many people have read Ahmadinejad's letter, but I've had trouble finding a transcript and happened upon one while reading Le Monde this morning.

    It's an odd piece of propaganda. As you read, note how Ahmadinejad essentially equates the 'Arab street' with the anti-Bush left while hinting at all sorts of Chomskyan devilry. One gets the sense early on that he cites Jesus mockingly, in the way that people sometimes do when they chide a Christian for some petty ethical slip: 'What would Jesus do?' He equates the West's opposition to nuclear development with opposition to science in the Middle Ages, which will conjure for most Western readers a dig at Christianity. But he also questions Bush's commitment to the principles of liberal democracy. Then there's the carefully guarded suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community was responsible for 9-11, which Ahmadinejad calls 'an educated guess.'

    Most significant, however, is the end, where Ahmadinejad actually asks Bush to abandon liberal democracy as a failed approach to government and to return to the prophets, including Jesus. The letter is ostensibly a call to fundamentalist theocracy.

    I've converted Le Monde's PDF to HTML for our readers, and the full body of the letter will continue in the extended entry.

    UPDATE: In the comments below, Darleen has pointed us toward another translation posted by James Lileks which is also a must-read. I think that even if it isn't quite 'true,' it's at least 'accurate.'

    Continue reading "Dear George"

    posted by Dennis at 08:22 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (2)

    local Saudi values

    In my preoccupation with whether Western values are Judeo-Christian or Greco-Roman in the last post, a troublesome topic I didn't touch on was Islamic values.

    How compatible are Islamic values with American values? I'd like to hope that they are compatible (especially those held by moderate Muslims), but it's clear to me that the Islamic values espoused by the radical Islamists (with whom we have been at war for years) are wholly incompatible with our own. Not only do freedom of religion and freedom of speech mean nothing to them, but Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values are seen as inimical to their culture, as heretical, even as blasphemous.

    But who -- and whose Islamic values -- are we talking about?

    In an earlier post, I expressed serious reservations about a Saudi madrassa which operates in my neighborhood as the "Foundation for Islamic Education" and as "American Open University." A chief reasons for my concern is the 2004 deportation of the national director of the American Open University in Fairfax, Virginia and a raid on the mosque there. Obviously, the deportation of a national director does not constitute proof of any connection between the local mosque and terrorist activities, and I never said there was.

    However, there is little question that Saudi madrassas have a less than stellar track record. And you don't have to go to WorldNetDaily to get it. Here's the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    WASHINGTON -- "Contending that Saudi Arabia remains a center of financing and recruitment for extremists, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) says it is time for the United States to consider ending military cooperation with the Saudis unless they crack down more forcefully on radical Islamic groups.

    Lautenberg and his staff have prepared a 12-page report detailing links between extremist groups and Saudi financiers in an effort to persuade Congress and the White House to reexamine the relationship. The Inquirer was given a copy of the report, which has not yet been released.

    The United States, at times formally and at other times tacitly, has committed to protecting Saudi Arabia from the threat of attack, as it did after Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

    The report, derived largely from information gathered by the State Department, human-rights groups and others, alleges that it is largely the Saudis who finance fundamentalist Islamic schools throughout Asia and the Middle East. The schools have been accused of indoctrinating students with anti-Western views.

    Lautenberg is proposing a 10-member commission that would probe ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia and recommend steps to pressure the Saudis to get tough with extremist groups.

    (Original Inquirer link was here.)

    The Lautenberg report is titled "In Who's Best Interest" and it is available at Senator Lautenberg's official web site. Detailing the sort of indoctrination which goes on in Saudi madrassas, the report lists the madrassa activities as among the "Top 10 Reasons to Change the Saudi-U.S. Relationship":

    1. Saudi Arabia is producing the majority of foreign insurgents in Iraq
    2. The Saudi government allows money to go to terrorists
    3. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis
    4. The 9/11 Commission called for a change in the U.S.-Saudi relationship
    5. Saudis teach anti-American, radical Islam to children
    6. The Saudi government persecutes Christians and other religious minorities
    7. The Saudi government oppresses women
    8. Saudi Arabia’s dictators oppose Democracy
    9. The Saudi government calls for Israel’s destruction
    10. The Saudi government controls the OPEC oil cartel that keeps gas prices high.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Reason number five is explained this way in the Lautenberg Report:
    The Saudi royal family has been allowed to promote its radical version of Islam – Wahhabism – through a worldwide system of madrassas, or Islamic schools. Religious education is compulsory in Saudi Arabia, and madrassas teach the Wahabbi ideology to young Muslims in Afghanistan, the Balkans (particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina), Chechnya, Kosovo, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the troubled Kashmir region, Yemen, and parts of North America, to name a few. Most of these schools are financed by Saudi sources.
    North America?

    And what are they being taught?

    The Lautenberg report offers examples:

    The following examples illustrate the extremist nature of Wahhabi teachings across the world:

  • Typical 9th grade boys in madrassas around the world are taught using a book called Hadeeth, that is printed by the Saudi Ministry of Education. This book discusses the victory of Muslims over Jews:
    "The day of judgment will not arrive until Muslims fight Jews, and Muslim will kill Jews until the Jew hides behind a tree or a stone. Then the tree and the stone will say, 'Oh Muslim, oh, servant of God, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.' Except one type of a tree, which is a Jew tree. That will not say that."

  • In a number of Afghani Wahhabi-inspired madrassas, young boys are taught that "Americans are killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are busy trying to poison Muslim minds everywhere with films, music, and television," inciting them to enlist in the jihad against Americans.
  • Western authors are banned and all reading is strictly controlled.
  • While I dislike appearing hysterical, I'm not terribly enthusiastic about stuff like that being taught to kids -- much less in the United States.

    So how about my neighborhood? I know, I know, I'm beginning to sound like a leftist communitarian whiner, and at the rate I'm going, I'll soon be spouting slogans like "THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY."

    But they're trying to expand their operations, so I thought it was at least worth looking at the file.

    On Wednesday of last week, I did just that. I went down and looked at the Zoning file, and what I saw hardly instilled me with confidence in the Bush administration. (In fact, it makes me just about ready to send money to Senator Lautenberg!)

    The following I copied from the stenographic transcript of the November, 2005 hearing (which has been continued to this week):

    "The Department of State had come to the Foundation [for Islamic Education] in connection with and in conjunction with social service organizations and the Foundation having facilities asked if they would be able to house certain refugees Meshkanian (phonetic) Turks, who were coming into this country via the State Department."

    "They volunteered their facilities there and two dormitories that were left over from when this was the Northwestern Christian Junior College."

    [NOTE: The file and the above transcript are not available online, but are available to the public here. And here is the hearing notice.]

    This confirmed what I had read in the Inquirer -- that the Turks "live in dormitories on the grounds of an Islamic center tucked along the Main Line."

    But what troubles me is that Wahhabism is not the religion of ethnic Turks. Far from it. And the Foundation for Islamic Education is a strictly Wahhabist madrassa. (All five directors are Saudis.) What that means is that our State Department (i.e. Bush administration) is sending new Muslim immigrants from moderate Muslim countries into Wahhabist religious training centers.

    Now, I can hope that this is some sort of a spy operation to uncover Saudi indoctrination at the madrassa, but I have no way of knowing. It hardly inspires me with confidence that I could go to the government if, God forbid, I were to witness suspicious behavior.

    As to the curricula there, it appears to be hardline fundamentalist, but again, I am no expert. School director Mustafa Ahmad has authored scholarly works (including a Ph.D. thesis) about 13th Century Islamic hardline fundamentalist scholar Ibn Taymiyah -- considered the father of Wahhabist and Salafi thought. There's more on Taymiyah from a Shia perspective here, as well as some discussion of the difference between Wahhabis and Salafis:

    Wahhabi-salafis come in various strains, some being more lethal than others. The variety in strains is due to differences in approach of bringing the Muslims back to a state of strengthened belief based on the example of the pious ancestors. It must be emphasized that although all Wahhabis are called Salafis, all Salafis are not purely Wahhabi. Non-Wahhabi Salafi Muslims include those like Syed Qutb who wished to eradicate the supposed current state of ignorance (jahiliyya) to bring Muslims back to a state of purity – purity reminiscent of the purity of Muslims who lived in the time period of the Salaf. However, all Salafi Muslims, whether they are Wahhabi or Qutbi, admire the role models Muhammad ibn Abdl-Wahhab, and especially Ahmad Ibn Taymiyah, whose hard-line interpretations have inspired revolutionaries today. Therefore, although all Salafis are not Wahhabis, they admire many of the same role models – role models who have been rejected and condemned by masses of orthodox Sunni scholars for their unauthentic representations of pristine Islam. All Wahhabis consider themselves to be Salafis and prefer to be called by this name (instead of Wahhabi), even though differences exist between Salafi groups.
    But what do I know about the religious intricacies, and whether they might relate to terrorism?

    I'm just upset that the federal and local governments appear to be supporting a hardline Saudi religious center right in my neighborhood.

    Yes, local government. Another irritating detail is that county school buses are required to ferry school children to and from the place. I know there are complex legal issues, but you'd think the Saudis could afford their own buses. . . Why do I have to help pay for them?

    Values are complicated. I'm distracted enough as it is by the struggle between Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values, but at least they're both within the Western cultural tradition -- my concerns over the culture war notwithstanding.

    I try to be fair about these things. But when I think about Saudi Islamic values, things like intolerance for other religions, the death penalty for apostasy, for adultery, for homosexuality, etc. loom large. Most Americans don't spend too much time worrying about how to integrate such values into the fabric of America's Judeo-Christian or Greco-Roman traditions, nor do they worry about whether Saudi values are compatible with ours, for the simple reason that Saudi madrassas are thought of as being "somewhere else."

    Unfortunately, this is a local issue for me, and I feel obligated to write about it.

    (Trust me, I'd rather have written another long post about American values and the Culture War. Call me a bigot, but a culture which debates gay marriage strikes me as more civilized than one which practices gay beheadings.)

    UPDATE: Counterterrorism Blog says that the State Department is "flirting with the Muslim Brotherhood."

    While scores of moderate Muslims and Islamic scholars, the 9/11 Commission, and European security officials point to the Muslim Brothers as the forefathers of modern Islamist terrorism, the State Department is, in fact, flirting with them. As noted by Doug Farah here, last month the State Department sent its head of counterterrorism, Ambassador Hank Crumpton, to be the keynote speaker at a conference co-sponsored by the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), an infamous Brotherhood-linked Northern Virginia outfit. And in two weeks, as Rachel Ehrenfeld reported, the U.S. Embassy in Rome will co-sponsor a high-profile two-day symposium about immigration and integration where the highly controversial Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan has been invited as a keynote speaker.

    Isolated blunders? Unfortunately not. . .

    (Via Charles Johnson.)

    (Maybe the idea is to politely ask the Muslim Brotherhood why they hate us. Why am I not reassured?)

    MORE: Dean Esmay takes a long look at Islamophobia, and reminds readers that there's ugly stuff in Christian scriptures, and that most Muslims (along with most Christians) are not scriptural literalists:

    You'll also find parts of the Bible which say people should be stoned to death for blasphemy or adultery. Most Christians and Jews today don't take such instructions literally, and neither do most Muslims today.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    That's well worth remembering by all of us -- my uneasiness about the Saudis notwithstanding.

    I'd feel a lot more comfortable if Saudi religious training made it clear that these things should not be taken literally.

    BTW, an excellent post at Dean's World by Mary Madigan drew this huge discussion of Wahhabism. And more recently, Dave Price linked this Smithsonian article and expressed optimism about Saudi reforms.

    The more reform, the better!

    UPDATE: My thanks to Vik Rubenfeld for linking this post.

    AND SPEAKING OF REFORM: Dean Esmay also has a good post (via a link to National Review's Joel C. Rosenberg) about the solid accomplishments of Morocco's director of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Ahmad Abaddi.

    * They launched a theological training program for Imams to teach them how to promote moderation within Islam, to teach them more about Western history and the importance of Christianity and Judaism to Western social and political development, and to help them identify and oppose extremist forces and trends within Islam. Participants take 32 hours of instruction per week for a full year. The first class of 210 just graduated, and included 55 women.

    * They helped organize the “World Congress of Rabbis and Imams for Peace” in Brussels (January 2005) and Seville (March 2006) where some 150 Muslim and Jewish leaders “sit beard to beard” to explore common ground, denounce extremists, and “write declarations of peace.”

    * They launched an initiative to build a “bridge of friendship” to evangelical Christians in the U.S., including on-going dialogues with Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council, and Josh McDowell of Campus Crusade for Christ, among others. Abaddi and his colleagues have also invited pastors and evangelical business leaders to Morocco for conferences and high-level inter-faith talks, and have even helped organize a series of concerts in Marrakesh where Christian and Muslim rock bands perform together for thousands of Moroccan young people.

    * They published a book about the importance of encouraging religious freedom within Islam and even suggested that “Muslims have the right to change their religion” if they so desire.

    * Abaddi also confirmed rumors swirling about in the Arab press that his government is quietly laying the groundwork with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold a new round of high-level peace talks in the Kingdom in the near future. He noted that King Hassan II—the late-father of the current monarch—opened secret talks with the Israelis as far back as the early 1970s and that Morocco was the first Arab government after Egypt to welcome an Israeli Prime Minister for a public visit (Shimon Peres in July 1986).

    (More here.)

    "religious classes to teach Imams the history and virtues of the West, and dramatic new initiatives to build ties to Rabbis and evangelical Christians"?

    That is real progress.

    Is it too much to hope for the same from the Saudis?

    posted by Eric at 03:46 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBacks (1)

    Restoration with respect for tradition?

    One of the shortcomings of this blog happens to be its stated theme: my tendency to analyze the "culture war" in terms of an ancient struggle between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values. Because both of these seemingly contradictory values systems are inextricably intertwined with the American founding, and because neither fits neatly into the libertarian (or neolibertarian) philosophy, the culture war seems far from over. (NOTE: Whether this is one of the blog's shortcomings depends on perspective -- itself a major problem for me.)

    When I propose that we "end the culture war by restoring classical values," I am not proposing striking Judeo-Christian values and replacing them with Greco-Roman ones. Any process of restoration begins with the recognition that there is something to restore. Greco-Roman values are an integral part of the Western tradition, and I see them as under attack by elements of the PoMo left and elements of the socially conservative right. While the PoMos of the left would also have us do away with Judeo-Christian values (in short, all Western values), the socially conservative rightists tend to see the Culture War as a continual battle between the Judeo-Christian good and Greco-Roman evil. In my view, both sides are terribly wrong.

    Logically (and mathematically) I tend to see the PoMo nihilist approach as worse than the "Judeo-Christian culture war," because (as I have argued), this would throw the baby out with the bathwater. At least the social conservatives don't seek to destroy all Western values. They do, however, forget that Judeo-Christianity stems from Greco-Romanism. But for the latter, the former would never have sprung into existence. Judeo-Christianity owes its inception and its existence to the Roman Empire. (Hint: the Roman Empire was Greco-Roman.)

    Despite its relentless characterization as exclusively "Judeo-Christian" the American founding represented a classical revival on a remarkable and unprecedented scale. Anyone who has read the Federalist Papers is probably already bored by my argument; not only did the founders tap into the wisdom of the ancients, but they attempted to improve on the ancients' early democracies and republics. The founders gave themselves classical names (like "Publius" and "Cato"). Even the names of our two political parties -- "Republican" and "Democrat" -- why, they're classical plagiarism! Copied from the Greeks and the Romans. To deny America's Greco-Roman founding is to deny history as well as present day reality.

    Ah, but the founders mentioned God in the Declaration of Independence, didn't they?

    Which God? Nature's God?

    Or "Providence"? Considering that "Providentia" (the word's origin) was the goddess of forethought, and they attached the word "divine" in front of the word, can we be so sure that they were thinking solely about Yahweh?

    Is it really so farfetched to argue that admirers of the classics might have been using a classical term?

    Wanna flip a coin?


    I know, I know, that's unfair, as images of Yahweh are not to be found on any coins anywhere. Not that we put images of Providentia on our own coins. But hell, we had the Mercury head dime. As to Libertas, as Roman deities go, she beats them all. I have no idea how many versions of the "Liberty" goddess there are on American coins, but there are so many I don't want to hazard a guess.

    Such blatant founding paganism has been objected to vociferously. This web site attacks our coinage, notes the Roman and Babylonian connections, and clinches the argument with a picture of that disgraceful statue openly and publicy displayed in New York's harbor! (The site calls it "the Goddess Libertas Enlightening the World on Liberty Island in the New York City Harbor" -- so hide your kids' eyes, folks!)

    Among the pagan coins attacked at that last site is this medal -- a project of Benjamin Franklin:

    The most famous of all American medals is the elegant Libertas Americana (''American Liberty'') medal. It celebrates America's Revolutionary War military victories, specifically the British surrenders at Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781). Benjamin Franklin conceived the idea, as a private project to enhance Franco-American goodwill.

    In a letter dated March 4, 1782, Franklin wrote from Paris:
    ''This puts me in mind of a medal I have had a mind to strike, since the late great event you gave me an account of, representing the United States by the figure of an infant Hercules in his cradle, strangling the two serpents; and France by that of Minerva, sitting by as his nurse, with her spear and helmet, and her robe specked with a few fleurs de lys. The extinguishing of two entire armies in one war is what has rarely happened, and it gives a presage of the future force of our growing empire.''

    There are great pictures at the above site.

    I am not about to list the contents of numismatic catalogues here, but anyone who doubts me in the slightest can google "liberty head dime," "liberty head quarter," "liberty head half-dollar" "liberty head dollar," and the gold, and the nickels, and the pennies. (To see a few images, in addition to "liberty head," try Googling "liberty seated.")

    Seeing as there is no hope of eradicating our classical past, what's wrong with restoring its luster?

    I realize that I have not ended the Culture War here, and I know I never will. My point is simply that the tension between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values is part of what makes us what we are as a people, and I think that's a good thing.

    The restoration of Greco-Roman values is a good thing not because they are "pagan," but because they symbolize freedom, especially American freedom.

    (I think they're about as traditional as you can get.)

    UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and welcome all!

    MORE: Is there a conflict between Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values and Saudi Islamic values? I'd have rather avoided the issue, but I discuss it here.

    AND MORE: Readers who are interested in the origins of the Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian split might enjoy some old posts on the subject of long-forgotten culture wars in ancient Rome.

    posted by Eric at 11:01 AM | Comments (37)

    Be a third party candidate! (Or just look like one . . .)

    Regarding the emergence of a genuine third party candidate (a serious idea), I think Hillary Clinton would love nothing more, because it would make it easier for her to paint herself as the "real centrist" that confused American voters have been waiting for.

    Glenn Reynolds discusses the conventional wisdom problem:

    The conventional wisdom, of course, is that a third-party candidate can't win. That's been the lesson of recent history. But had Ross Perot been a bit less kooky, he might have pulled off a victory in 1992. And technology for mobilizing disaffected voters has advanced beyond the state of the art then, which consisted of toll-free telephone numbers. Thanks to the Internet and alternative media, reaching disaffected voters and rallying them behind a candidate is likely to be much, much easier than it was back in the 20th Century. (We saw an early illustration of this phenomenon with the insurgent campaign of Howard Dean, who, if he had been a bit less kooky, might have pulled off a victory in the Democratic primaries.)
    I think that because of the nature of media and public perceptions, third party candidates will always be portrayed as kooky. I suspect that had Ross Perot been selected as the Republican nominee -- or Howard Dean as the Democratic nominee -- the public's perception of their appearances would have been entirely different. (FWIW, I thought Kerry was a lot kookier looking than Howard Dean. But once he was settled on as "the candidate," the poorly understood gravitas mechanism was activated. And Dean's role became that of the loser/kook, which made his every utterance ever more suspect. Destabilization by default.)

    I'm afraid that, like it or not, the flash appearance of a third party candidate from the ranks of the techno-savvy would create an opportunity for a "mainstream centrist" like Hillary to contrast her own demonstrated populism with this "new elite." The many voters who don't use the Internet as a news source would probably love being reassured.

    If John McCain had any sense, he'd read Mickey Kaus's analyses carefully, because McCain is one of the few Republican presidential aspirants seen as an outsider. This means that he could possibly have his cake and eat it too. If he got solidly behind the idea of building a fence (a now-centrist position that a large popular majority supports), the numbers are there for him to run as an outsider (attacking both parties for border incompetence -- possibly even threatening to run as a third party candidate), only to eventually "seize" the Republican nomination via an "insurgency" movement. This would pre-empt Hillary (an immigration flip-flopper) on the much neglected but highly popular fence issue. As a Republican and an Arizonan, McCain can position himself as innately more credible on border issues than an Democrat "from" New York -- provided he has the sense to lay claim to the issue.

    (But it's not for me to decide who has sense and who doesn't.)

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Tim Blair (and, of course, Kos himself), it has now become clear that Kos has weighed in against Hillary Clinton. I agree with Tim Blair that this clinches it for Hillary. I also think such "elitist" opposition assists Hillary's carefully crafted populist image. However, there's a split on the left side of the blogosphere, and I predict the dissenters will swallow their (gulp) pride, and eventually get behind "centrist" Hillary.

    MORE: According to Drudge, Rupert Murdoch is hosting a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton:

    Rupert Murdoch has agreed to host a political fundraiser for Hillary Clinton this summer!

    Murdoch's surprise decision to raise money for Clinton in July, on behalf of NEWS CORP., parent company of FOXNEWS and the NEW YORK POST, underlines a dramatic turn of relations between Murdoch and Clinton, who in 1998 coined the phrase “vast rightwing conspiracy” to denounce critics of her husband.


    I keep saying the right wing wants Hillary to be president, but no one seems to believe me.

    With Hillary as president, the right wing conspiracy will be profitable once again.

    posted by Eric at 08:02 AM | Comments (2)

    She has what they need!

    According to this MSNBC poll study, "31 percent of conservatives want Republicans out of power." (Via InstaPundit.)

    While the accuracy of the poll is questionable, the lack of conservative support for their party is something I have been expecting. Because of its minority status, the right wing of the Republican Party, in my view, would rather have the party as a whole return to its former position so they can be the "true base" of a minority party. This would allow them to regroup, reassert their moral authority, and the flow of money into conservative think tanks would be dramatically increased.

    It seems counterintuitive that being a minority in an out-of-power party be advantageous to any group (much less the right wing of the Republican Party), but I see it as pretty simple math. When a party is out of power, the resultant power vacuum makes it much less clear who is running the party. By definition, it's up for grabs -- and there are losers to be blamed!

    With Bush and the compassionate conservative, national greatness, big government clique at the wheel for the better part of a decade, the right wing has been utterly demoralized, and reduced to a servile, emasculated state.

    They've been emasculated and servile for far too long, and finally they're as mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore.

    As I've said more times than I care to remember, this situation favors the ascension of Hillary Clinton to the presidency. With Hillary in power and the Republican Party out, I think there'll be a right wing resurgence of the sort this country hasn't seen in recent memory.

    The right wing wants its balls back, and once Hillary is in, they'll get the balls and money that they need.

    Thus (and I realize they can't admit it), don't merely want Hillary, they need her.

    The whole thing is scary, because I don't think the right wing really wants to win. Because they can't win (I suspect they know it), ideological purity right now is more important.

    I'm glad no one has put me in charge of these awful things, but if Hillary asked for my advice, I'd tell her the following:

  • continue to be extremely nice to the Republican right wing; and
  • continue taking disarmingly conservative positions and out-of-character invocations of God so as to create confusion and drive the right wing further to the right.
  • This will assist the current Republican gridlock:

    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.)
    The magic of gridlock is that it makes no difference who is to blame.

    The blame game, of course, only increases the gridlock.

    But the current gridlock is only temporary. Pretty soon the losers will be able to go home and lick their wounds. Following a period of wound-licking, the intra-party blame game will start again, this time focusing on who was responsible for the 2006 loss. With any luck, the recriminations and finger pointing will prevent the ascension of a serious Republican challenger in 2008.

    But how I hate to end on a note of pessimism!


    Well, I guess this might be good news for the idealists who want to work in conservative think tanks without having to worry about the realities of power.

    UPDATE: Real Clear Politics' John McIntyre thinks that "a Democratic take over of the House would change the dynamic of the 2008 race and, ironically, would probably be good news for Republicans," and he explains why. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Losing the House strikes me as a risky strategy, though.

    (Especially once the losers start blaming each other.)

    posted by Eric at 10:22 AM | Comments (1)

    High brow

    It's not so much the satisfaction of a roaring belch that makes me happy, it's the smell.

    No really, think about it for a moment.

    Why is the belch considered an offensive thing? Is it because of the attendant offensive smell? The tiny flecks of flying saliva which perchance could rain down upon guests, family, friends, law enforcement officials?

    I disagree.

    I think it's because people don't like people to be happy. And I've gotta say, there ain't much that makes me happier than the gut rumbling feeling of a large volume of trapped gas escaping from the stomach via the esophageal tract, crossing lightly the vocal folds, and escaping with a tremendous roar.

    Therefore, I leave you all with my warmest regards, expressed in the method which I think best suits both my introductory post and the best means at my disposal for expressing appreciation for your dutiful attendance.


    Mmmm... tasty...

    posted by Cosmic Drunk at 08:55 PM | Comments (2)


    After much soul searching, it was decided to add another author to this blog who will be posting under the Bachannialian pseudonym "Cosmic Drunk."

    If this works out (and I am quite skeptical), there may be regular posts from this author. Or maybe irregular. Or maybe not.

    In the event there are posts, I want it known that Classical Values is not responsible for their contents.

    (Or his.)

    Liability is specifically and explicitly disclaimed.

    posted by Eric at 08:35 PM | Comments (2)

    Death, taxes, and Internet communism

    Charles Hill lives in a state (Oklahoma) which apparently has yet to impose taxes on digital music downloads, and while he thinks that's a good sign, he wonders how long the loophole will last.

    How long the state can hold out remains to be seen, what with the market for digital music now running $1 billion a year, but the mere fact that the Capitol can read the news and not immediately think "Ooh, a new revenue source!" has to be considered a Good Sign.
    Unfortunately for the people living around here, New Jersey is no Oklahoma. In New Jersey, the Internet tax police are so aggressive that you can't even escape them by dying:
    Cigarettes cost Catherine Cavallo her husband of 25 years.

    Now they might cost her $875.63.

    Two years after her husband, Anthony, died of smoking-related illnesses, Cavallo got a New Jersey tax bill for the thousands of cheap cigarettes he had ordered on the Internet.

    Cavallo, who lives with her daughter in Brigantine, N.J., doesn't smoke. She said she did not think she should have to make a secondhand payment on the smokes that killed her husband.

    "It's not fair. They were bought under my husband's name, the credit card was under his name, and they came in the mail under his name," she said. "The only thing he did was use my computer without my permission. ... He didn't have an e-mail."

    To which I'd add that he still doesn't have an email. Or a life. But death and taxes are so certain in New Jersey that the former is no protection against the latter.

    I remember the good old days when the very idea of "taxing the Internet" brought indignant cries of outrage from every geek and libertarian with a modem. Now it seems like a done deal. Ebay, Paypal, even virtual money -- the state has its mitts everywhere.

    Back to Mrs. Cavallo. She might not be much of a geek (and I doubt she's a registered Libertarian), but she sure knows how to tap into what moralists would call the wisdom of repugnance:

    Consumers often think discounted Internet cigarettes are cheaper because state taxes don't apply.

    "Maybe that's what the Internet companies want you to think," Vincz said.

    The Internet company where Anthony Cavallo shopped, esmokes.com, handed over a list of customers to New Jersey.

    "I was thinking, 'My God, how did they get into my computer?' " Cavallo said. "What is this, communism or something?"

    Hey, she said it; not I! It's a neo-Cold War showdown in cyberspace.
    Anthony Cavallo bought three cartons every three weeks in 2002 and 2003, his wife said.

    "I know I'm going to have to pay it," she said, "but I'm not going to go down without a fight."

    There's always Oklahoma.

    MORE: In an unrelated coincidence, I'm on the road for most of today.

    (Driving to New Jersey.)

    posted by Eric at 07:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

    MAO MAO uprising?

    In a fit of old age, I almost forgot that today is Cinco de Mayo.

    According to Laurence Simon, though, it's Cinco de Meow Meow, not Cinco de Mayo. But for his post, I'd have forgotten completely.

    Actually, the holiday is a more important date in the United States than in Mexico. (More here.)

    Apparently, there's another version called the Cinco de MAO, but it doesn't appear to be celebrated much in China.

    However, if we consider that the Cinco de Meow Meow is also gaining traction as the Cinco de IMAO, there may be a connection there.

    I hate to sound like a leftist whiner, but doesn't it matter to anyone that May 5 is also Karl Marx's birthday?? (A fact still remembered in China.)

    I could only find one decent picture of Marx which I'd consider fit for feline consumption.


    With that, it's time for me to stop pussyfooting around.

    posted by Eric at 04:18 PM | Comments (1)

    Wholesome terrorism for the kids?

    A Hollywood film glorifying eco-terrorism for kids?

    Apparently so:

    The movie, "Hoot," opens Friday, May 5. It features environmentally conscious teenage characters vandalizing heavy machines by stealing parts off of them and flattening tires in order to hinder a development project.

    The teens, who ultimately succeed in halting the project, spray paint a police car that is providing security, trespass, rip up surveyors' stakes, place alligators in portable toilets, release poisonous Cottonmouth snakes at the construction site and evade the police. The teenagers also debate stealing the construction trailer and sinking it into a nearby canal to further delay the project.

    The teenagers in the PG-rated movie face no repercussions for the illegal acts and instead are portrayed as heroically preventing the construction of a pancake house in South Florida to save the owls' habitat. There are consequences, however, for the pancake company.

    In addition to facing construction delays and cost overruns because of the kids' actions, the company's project manager is arrested at the end of Hoot for violating environmental protection laws.

    The film's trailer urges viewers to "break the rules" and features one of the lead characters saying, "You gotta start thinking like an outlaw."

    Considering Hollywood's glorification of terrorists like Che Guevara, I don't know why anyone would be surprised.

    I'm a little confused about one thing, though. Do the people who take their kids to films like this actually want them to practice eco-terrorism, or is this analogous to watching the Three Stooges?

    posted by Eric at 02:42 PM | Comments (5)

    Family prescription values!

    There are only a few things in life as certain as death and taxes, and I'd like to offer an addition:

    No matter what the scandal, a Kennedy always gets a pass.

    The funniest aspect of the latest Kennedy smash-em-up is the media focus on what Patrick Kennedy's drugs were prescribed for -- as if that makes any difference. The radio reports I've been hearing aren't mentioning the failure of police to perform a field sobriety test; all they're talking about is why he needed the medication!

    If I break a leg or have surgery and they give me morphine for the pain, does that entitle me to get behind the wheel of a car? If I took my morphine and then smashed my car into a wall, why should anyone give a rat's ass why I was given the morphine?

    Aren't these two different issues? Why the focus on something that's totally irrelevant?

    The Kennedy family fortune came from selling prescription alcohol through pharmacies during Prohibition, and even today, alcohol is considered to have medical value. But let's assume someone involved an automobile accident claimed that he had been drinking on the advice of his physician. Would he get a pass?

    (That depends on his family, I guess. . .)

    posted by Eric at 12:18 PM | Comments (1)

    Good news for a blogger, and good news for the First Amendment!

    To update my earlier post on the subject, it appears that the blogosphere's campaign in defense of a Maine blogger (whose criticism of the government earned him a lawsuit) is working:

    In what can only be hailed as a major step forward in the efforts of the Media Bloggers Association to defend MBA Member Lance Dutson, State Rep Stephen Bowen (R-Rockport) called today for a full investigation into the management of both the Maine Office of Tourism (MOT) and the contractors it hires to produce tourism materials for the state. In addition, in a letter to state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Jack Cashman, Rep. Bowen called for the Maine Office of Tourism to suspend its contract with WKP, pending the results of the lawsuit.

    The agency, Warren Kremer Paino Advertising (WKP) has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit for defamation against Lance Dutson, a Maine blogger, for publishing criticism of agency and publishing an image of a sample ad prepared by the firm which contained a phone number directing callers to a phone sex line.

    Unless the state takes steps immediately to distance itself from WKP's actions, it risks reinforcing its image as a state that is not only challenging to businesses generally, but which appears prepared to punish those that question its actions, Bowen said today.

    Rep. Bowen contends further that fundamental rights are at issue here.

    They sure are! The right to criticize the government is a fundamental right.

    The blogger (Lance Dutson) has a copy of Rep. Bowen's press release here.

    Nice work!

    UPDATE: Bill Quick has some prescient observations about the officials who went after Lance Dutson:

    These jackasses have managed to convince themselves they are our rulers, not our representatives, and are hence immune from criticism from "the commoners." They hate the blogosphere and will do anything in their power - which is considerable - to intimidate any blogger who crosses them. One has to wonder what they've been doing to non-bloggers without resources to publicize their evil, un-American actions in the past. I suspect the whole story is not a pretty one.

    Still, the suit remains in force, so it behooves all of us to keep the pressure up. I'd also suggest it's about time to look at changing some of Maine's elected officials - especially those who, in one way or another, oversee the Department of Tourism. In the meantime, if you're planning a vacation this year, Maine might be a good place to avoid.

    posted by Eric at 11:11 AM

    bad habits are hard to break

    Via Pajamas Media, I see that Professor Bainbridge disagrees with the administration's attempt to meddle in Mexico's internal affairs.

    I agree, and I think that such interference only paves the way for a commie takeover in Mexico like the one in Bolivia. As I argued in a previous post, history bears this out:

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

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

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

    How many nutjobs like Morales and Chavez will it take?


    Wars on human appetites are more expensive than the appetites they purport to combat.

    And equally addictive.

    posted by Eric at 09:59 AM

    A poor substitute for opium

    The question "Why isn't socialism dead?" plagues many people like me, whose attempts to use logic and reason keep coming up dry.

    Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Lee Harris offers an answer. Socialism isn't dead -- and cannot die -- because it is a religion. And religion cannot be defeated by logic or reason:

    The shrewd and realistic Florentine statesman and thinker, Guicciardini, once advised: "Never fight against religion...this concept has too much empire over the minds of men." And to the extent that socialism is a religion, then those who wish to fight it with mere reason and argument may well be in for a losing battle. Furthermore, as populism spreads, it is inevitable that the myth of socialism will gain in strength among the people who have the least cause to be happy with their place in the capitalist world-order, and who will naturally be overjoyed to put their faith in those who promise them a quick fix to their poverty and an end to their suffering.

    Thus, in the coming century, those who are advocates of capitalism may well find themselves confronted with "a myth gap." Those who, like Chavez, Morales, and Castro, are preaching the old time religion of socialism may well be able to tap into something deeper and more primordial than mere reason and argument, while those who advocate the more rational path of capitalism may find that they have few listeners among those they most need to reach -- namely, the People. Worse, in a populist democracy, the People have historically demonstrated a knack of picking as their leaders those know the best and most efficient way to by-pass their reason -- demagogues who can reach deep down to their primordial and, alas, often utterly irrational instincts. This, after all, has been the genius of every great populist leader of the past, as it is proving to be the genius of those populist leaders who are now springing up around the world, from Bolivia to Iran.

    This is why socialism isn't dead, and why in our own century it may well spring back into life with a force and vigor shocking to those who have, with good reason, declared socialism to be no longer viable. It is also why Georges Sorel is perhaps even more relevant today than he was a hundred years ago. He knew that it was hopeless to guide men by reason and argument alone. Men need myths -- and until capitalism can come up with a transformative myth of its own, it may well be that many men will prefer to find their myths in the same place they found them in the first part of the twentieth century -- the myth of revolutionary socialism.

    All I can say to that is "OUCH!" Considering the amount of time I have devoted to attacking socialism, it hurts to contemplate that I have wasted my time.

    All the more so because I know full well what a waste of time it is to debate religious positions with logic and reason. I believe in God but see Christianity's angry and unending conflict with "paganism" as a mistake -- as a product of long-forgotten culture wars in ancient Rome. But never for a moment would I expect religious doctrines to change, and I don't waste much time debating such matters. It would be about on the level of an atheist debating the existence of God with a believer.

    It worries me that socialism is a religion, because that can only mean that the world will be divided into two camps: the believers and the non-believers. And as a non-believer, I am wasting my time debating the merits of socialism with a believer.

    Should I abandon logic and reason in favor of sarcasm and ridicule?

    Or do the rules of civility require us to "respect" all religious beliefs including quasi-neo-religious ones like socialism? If so, do these rules require that we respect other forms of neoreligious idiocy such as environmentalism? Recycling? I have known many recyclers whose stern environmentalism and scolding countenances would rival the fiercest New England Calvinist. (Ditto for those neoreligious maniacs who believe the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God require man to ride a bicycle).

    These and other manias seem to have stepped in to fill the ecological niche once occupied by traditional religion.

    I have to respect them?

    Sorry, but I won't. My respect only extends to the traditional opiates of the masses.

    (Reactionary sarcasm is all I can offer the fake drugs.)

    posted by Eric at 09:15 AM | Comments (10)

    Once proud people, ruled by a malevolent clown

    While I hate to resort to personal ridicule of a serious person, I have this theory that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a serious man. We've all read his ridiculous remarks, so I won't bore readers by regurgitating them. But the more I look at his pictures, the more ridiculous he appears.

    Here's just a sampling:


    A shame really, because Iranians are not ridiculous people.

    They have a long, proud, and serious history. Rather than clutter up the blog with a list going of monarchs going back hundreds of years before Christ, here's a list of the "modern" shahs of Iran (since 1502):

    Safavid dynasty, 1502–1736

    * Ismail I, 1502–1524
    * Tahmasp I, 1524–1576
    * Ismail II, 1576–1578
    * Mohammad I Khodabanda, 1578–1587 or 1588
    * Abbas I the Great, 1587 or 1588 -1629
    * Safi I, 1629–1642
    * Abbas II, 1642–1666 or 1667
    * Suleiman I (Safi II), 1666 or 1667–1694
    * Husayn, 1694–1722
    * Tahmasp II, 1723–1732
    * Abbas III, 1732–1736


    Afsharid dynasty, 1736–1749

    * Nadir Shah, 1736–1747
    * Adil Shah, 1747–1748
    * Ebrahim Afshar, 1748
    * Shah Rukh, 1748–1797, he lost power in 1750 but nominally remained Shah.


    Zand dynasty, 1750–1794

    * Karim Khan, 1750–1779
    * Abol Fath Khan, 1779
    * Ali Murad Khan, 1779
    * Mohammad Ali Khan, 1779
    * Sadiq Khan, 1779–1782
    * Ali Murad Khan, 1782–1785
    * Jafar Khan, 1785–1789
    * Lotf Ali Khan, 1789–1794


    Qajar dynasty, 1796–1925

    * Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, 1796–1797
    * Fath Ali Shah, 1797–1834
    * Mohammad Shah Qajar, 1834–1848
    * Nasser-al-Din Shah, 1848–1896
    * Mozzafar-al-Din Shah, 1896–1907
    * Mohammad Ali Shah, 1907–1909
    * Ahmad Shah Qajar (1909–1925)


    Pahlavi dynasty, 1925–1979

    * Reza Shah Pahlavi, 1925–1941
    * Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, 1941–1979 and his wife Empress Farah Pahlavi, 1938-present

    In 1979 a revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini forced Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi into exile, and established an Islamic Republic.

    The Shia Islamic staters are hanging on, but in terms of Iranian history, they're a small blip.

    Not only are they an aberration in Iranian history, they're also an aberration in Shia history. One of the big myths that's been promulgated since Khomeini is that Shia Islam is radical, while Wahhabist Islam (the Saudi variety) is moderate. Historically, this is not true. One of the splits between Shia and Sunni Islam is the belief by the former that the Koran can be interpreted.

    In my view, the Shah of Iran was another post-Watergate casualty, and I think it's a shame. There's more and more talk about restoring the Peacock Throne (the Shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, lives near DC). Interesting discussion here. He's willing to return as a constitutional monarch, but not if he is installed by an American military coup, even though he warns time is running out because of nuclear developments. Although these reports should be accorded skepticism there's also an interesting discussion here, which reveals a deep historical distrust of the United States. It's a Catch-22.

    Ironically, Iran's nuclear program is what strengthens the mullahs and stands squarely in the way of a resurgence in genuine Iranian nationalism. The West simply cannot sit by and tolerate a nuclear Iran, yet any military intervention will trigger reactive nationalism in the mullahs' favor.

    I wish the proud Iranians could laugh them out of power.

    posted by Eric at 10:02 PM | Comments (5)

    An inside look at blogger burnout

    Lest anyone think emotional or illogical reporting is limited to mainstream media outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer, a blaring headline in WorldNetDaily proclaims "Bill to ban 'mom, dad' from texts advances -- California law would remove sex-specific terms from books, mandate pro-homosexual lessons. WorldNetDaily asserts that the bill (SB 1437) would do all of the following:

    A bill requiring students to learn about the contributions homosexuals have made to society and that would remove sex-specific terms such as "mom" and "dad" from textbooks has passed another hurdle on the way to becoming the law of the land in California.

    Having already been approved by the state's Senate Judiciary Committee, SB 1437, which would mandate grades 1-12 buy books "accurately" portraying "the sexual diversity of our society," got the nod yesterday of the Senate Education Committee.

    The bill also requires students hear history lessons on "the contributions of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America."

    Here's the text of SB 1437, and the amended version (with the history lesson stuff) is here.

    While it's not a bill I would support (because it is steeped in unending identity politics), what it seems to do is revise existing law by adding to the already long list of categories who are protected against "instructional materials that contain any matter reflecting adversely" on them. It would lengthen the list to include the following: race or ethnicity, gender, disability, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and occupation.

    Here's the specific language prohibiting activities, textbooks, or instructional materials that:

    reflect[] adversely upon persons because of their
    race or ethnicity , color, creed, national origin,
    ancestry, sex, handicap,
    gender, disability, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, or occupation.
    I don't think government should be dictating the content of textbooks, because that opens the door for various identity politics activist crackpots to complain that something "reflects adversely" on their group.

    However, notice that religion and sexual orientation are treated equally. That means angry fundamentalist activists would have just as much right to maintain that school activities or statements in the textbooks reflect adversely upon them as would angry gay activists.

    A group called the Campaign for Children and Familes claims that the bill mandates the "promotion" of homosexuality:

    Clearly, SB 1437’s changes existing law by inserting transsexual, bisexual, and homosexual language. By forbidding schools from adopting educational material that “reflects adversely” on these sexual lifestyles, SB 1437 mandates these sexual lifestyles be taught and promoted to impressionable schoolchildren.
    I am not clear on how forbidding the adoption of material that reflects adversely on a sexual lifestyle requires promotion of it -- any more than forbidding the adoption of material reflecting adversely on a religion mandates promotion of that religion.

    In logic, possible interpretations of a law are not the same thing as what the text of the law says, and these two things should be distinguished. WorldNetDaily is making a huge stretch in reporting what might happen as what would happen.

    Of course, we can argue whether it's important to differentiate between opinion and fact. I think it is important -- even in blogging. But in news reporting, I think it is more important, and WorldNetDaily describes itself as a newssite. As such, I think it is fair to at least try to hold them to the same standard to which I hold the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    The stated journalistic philosophy of WorldNetDaily appears in its mission statement:

    "WorldNetDaily.com is an independent newssite created to capitalize on new media technology, to reinvigorate and revitalize the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty, an exponent of truth and justice, an uncompromising disseminator of news.

    "WorldNetDaily.com performs this function by remaining faithful to the central role of a free press in a free society: as a watchdog exposing government waste, fraud, corruption and abuse of power - the mission envisioned by our founders and protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution."

    Indeed, WorldNetDaily.com is a fiercely independent newssite committed to hard-hitting investigative reporting of government waste, fraud and abuse.

    I like fierce independence, but I don't think it's an excuse for reporting opinions as facts.

    WorldNetDaily has just as much right to its opinion as I have to mine. But neither of us have the right to have opinions be the facts.

    WorldNetDaily's bottom line is that "the world has a right to know."

    I even agree. The world has a right to know WorldNetDaily's opinions. (And they have a right to know that some of WorldNetDaily opinions are offered as facts.)

    But what did I just waste an hour doing? Showing that WorldNetDaily is biased? What a solid accomplishment that is. Gee, maybe if I looked hard enough I could find more anti-gun bias in the Inquirer!

    I sometimes worry that I spend inordinate amounts of time demonstrating things readers already know.

    And of course, if I didn't do it somebody else would.

    Or has (a more likely blogosphere scenario).

    I'm wondering, if we are suffering from stress and annoyance caused by information overload, might that cause some of us to focus unduly on particularly annoying items?

    That's a horrible thought. Because if it's true, it means that burnout is heightened by lashing out at things that cause burnout.

    In my case, I often find myself annoyed by the failure of logic, which I see everywhere, so by habit I bring examples into focus. Not only does that not make the problem go away, it heightens it by reminding me of it. The more I look for errors in logic, the more errors in logic I find. I shudder to think that the thing I hate most -- bad logic -- has become fuel for this blog. Yet what is the alternative? Taking a break? Sure, I can take a break from blogging, but there's no taking a break from bad logic or manipulative arguments. The reason I drifted into blogging was that it beat the old days of yelling at the television, or writing a letter.

    But I don't want to be consumed by my fuel. That's not what fuel is for.

    (And that wouldn't be logical, would it?)

    posted by Eric at 01:48 PM | Comments (4)

    Murder is impolite!

    Philadelphia Mayor John Street made a remark today which I think says a lot while appearing to say very little. In exasperation over recent shootings near Philadelphia's dysfunctional Olney High School, he once again echoed the familiar theme that "arguments" are at the root of the problem:

    Yesterday's violence outside the school comes at a time that the city's pervasive gun culture shows no sign of flagging. For the first four months of this year, Philadelphia's homicide tally is keeping pace with 2005, when the total was 380 - the biggest since 1997.

    And 10 youths under age 18 have been killed by guns in Philadelphia this year, six of them in April.

    At a hastily called news conference last night, Mayor Street addressed the matter.

    "We need to raise the level of civility," Street said. "The slightest indignity should not be resolved with the use of a handgun."

    (Emphasis added.)

    I'm glad I haven't lost a loved one to one of these apparently senseless shootings, and I have nothing but sympathy for those who have.

    With all respect to Mayor Street, though, I think it does a disservice to the innocent victims of shooters when the problem is characterized as a lack of civility, and a murderous state of mind is reduced to "the slightest indignity." (Right now, I'm just cranking out another blog post on the gun issue, but if someone I loved had been shot and I read that the cause was "incivility," I'd be upset beyond words.)

    We all face indignities in life. Lack of civility is a problem, and I have condemned it many times in my blog. I say this knowing that I am not perfect, and I am not always as civil as I would like to be.

    At the risk of being repetitive, however, the indignities of life and the lack of civility are a far cry from pulling out a gun and shooting someone.

    Pulling out a gun and shooting someone is not an indignity, nor is it incivility. It is pure, unmitigated evil.

    Shooters should be prosecuted and sent to prison or executed. But that's easier said than done. For starters, the police work involved in identifying and arresting the shooters is an enormous, uphill battle, and it's hard, hard work locating witnesses -- much less getting people to testify. In Philadelphia many of the shooters get off Scot-free because of witness intimidation, and there's a well-orchestrated anti "snitching" campaign by criminal gangs. Juries are understandably afraid to convict. Judges do not like handing down stiff sentences. Prisoners often end up on parole.

    Like it or not, there is a tendency to run away from facing up to the existence of evil, and a strong impulse to forgive and excuse evil doers. In my view, minimizing the evil by calling it "incivility" actually helps enable it. But I understand the motivation. When something is difficult to do, none of us really want to do it. And blaming something external and tough to define -- a "gun culture" -- offers an easy way to avoid the hard work that needs to be done.

    But the "lack of civility" of which Mayor Street complains is much easier to define than "gun culture," because it is everywhere. Almost everyone is less than civil from time to time. If, as the formula goes, incivility plus guns means shootings, then our only hope is to get rid of guns, because incivility is a fact of life we cannot change. I suspect that Mayor Street knows that incivility will not go away, and that his call for civility will be ineffective.

    Logic, of course, has nothing to do with it. If Mayor Street wanted to be logical, he would urge citizens to stop shooting each other. But that would be seen as ludicrous, because evil, criminally-inclined people do not listen to the pleas of law abiding people that they be good. I think it is tough for the mayor and people who think like him to recognize that because shooting people without legal justification is evil, that the people who shoot others without justification are by definition evil. They might also be bad mannered, uncivil, "slightly indignant" -- whatever we might call it. But there are plenty of other rude and indignant people who are not murderers.

    I'm sorry, but focusing on manners in the face of murder makes about as much sense as asking Miss Manners to weigh in on Charles Manson.

    posted by Eric at 09:02 AM | Comments (5)

    RINOS are revolutionary deviationists!

    Speaking of dissent, the Carnival of the RINOs is now posted at Inside Larry's Head. Larry takes a Maoist approach to dissenting Republicans, and he finds:

    much Counter-Revolutionary activity in the RINO Party. The following are to be considered highly counter-revolutionary and to be submitted for immediate re-education.
    By definition, RINOs are in much need of reeducation -- as every post proves.

    Read them all!

    posted by Eric at 10:22 AM

    Tents make me tense

    A word on the near-civil war in the Republican Party. I hate disagreement, I hate culture war, and I hate civil war. The angry tone that the immigration debate has taken bothers the hell out of me, and I regret -- often very bitterly -- that so many people are calling each other RINOs and traitors and worse.

    The paradox is that all this hatred and all this contentiousness tends to makes me respect the Republican Party. (Something that doesn't make sense without explanation.)

    In one corner, the Republican Party contains people who want to felonize and deport every last illegal alien, as well as imprison their employers. In the other corner are people who would legalize them and who favor an open border.

    These two positions are of course irreconcilable, and it's hard to believe that they're all in the same tent. But in the tent they are.

    That's the famous Republican Big Tent.

    Also in the Big Tent are bigots who still want homosexuals imprisoned, along with homosexuals they want to imprison. All these groups and more are screaming bloody murder at each other inside the same Republican Party. You'd think that would be enough to drive someone like me (who hates arguments) away.

    Away to where? The Democratic Party? Instead of a big tent, the Democrats stand for the multicultural diversity of many small tents. I suppose you could argue that they're "separate but equal," but I think they're equal more in the French sense than the American sense. There doesn't seem to be any real interest in (or hope of) reconciling them. Instead, religious bigots (mostly of the Islamic variety) who would execute homosexuals are in one tent, while the gay activists are in another. Religious wife beaters are in one tent, and the feminists in another. They are all fed the line that they're part of some "Rainbow" of "multiculturalism," and it is hoped that the approach of separate-but-equal tents will keep them all happy.

    I think that's as bogus as a bad check which hasn't yet bounced but only because it hasn't been presented for payment.

    Bad as the Republican Big Tent is, I see it as at least making an effort. It strikes me as more sincere than this let's pretend game. The Republicans represent dissent and struggle, but I think they have more of the kind of tolerance that comes from an honest airing of views than the Democrats, who seem very accepting of a balkanized America. And make no mistake; multiculturalism means balkanization.

    To be balkanized, to be in separate tents, that means giving up on assimilation. It means the inverse of e pluribus unum.

    This is not to say that the Republicans are there yet. It just means they haven't given up on the idea.

    While I'm tempted to call this "dissent versus demagoguery," that wouldn't be right because both parties contain plenty of demagogues. And lots of Democrats sincerely believe in multiculturalism. Sincerity is not demagoguery.

    And of course, the fact that the Republicans are wracked by dissent does not translate into victory in the fall.

    (Little help my pity will do them.)

    posted by Eric at 09:31 AM | Comments (2)

    Respecting assimilation (and dissing multiculturalism)

    The Philadelphia Inquirer's Trudy Rubin is not someone with whom I often agree. But in her editorial today, she has it right when she sees assimilation as the key to successful immigration:

    One of the most articulate critics of Europe's immigration policy, especially toward Muslim immigrant communities, spoke this week in Philadelphia at a conference on Islam and the West sponsored by the World Affairs Council. Aayan Hirsi Ali is an elegant, Somalia-born member of the Dutch parliament who always travels with bodyguards because she is under constant death threat. The reason: her strong critique of radical Islam and the European policies that help it grow.

    Hirsi Ali speaks softly, but her words are uncompromising. "In Europe, there is a tendency to appease radical Muslims," she says. "We have forgotten how to draw the line."

    This is no right-wing diatribe. The Dutch legislator defies political stereotypes - though she belongs to a party of the right, her political support cuts across party lines. Her goal is to goad the Dutch and a global audience to think about crucial topics from which polite people often shy away.

    The educated daughter of a Muslim Somali intellectual, she fled an arranged marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands. Working for social-service agencies, she saw the hidden plight of many Muslim immigrant women in Holland - battered, forced to undergo ritual circumcision, sometimes killed for crimes of honor (when family members suspected them of sexual impropriety).

    She wrote an 11-minute film called "Submission, Part 1" about violence against women and Koranic verses that could be used to justify this. Theo van Gogh, the film's director, was subsequently murdered by a Dutch-born Islamist of Moroccan descent.

    Hirsi Ali had to go into hiding. But she later entered politics and continues to call for reforms within Islam, and for immigration reforms. She lives in constant danger: two tall bodyguards hovered wherever she moved in the conference hall.

    Her message is two-fold: Muslims must openly debate why their religion has provided justification for acts of terrorism. And Europeans need to debate why they have failed so badly at assimilating immigrant communities, especially those that practice Islam.

    Unlike the United States, Europe never had a culture of assimilation where second-generation immigrants become hyphenated Europeans. European immigrants often wind up segregated in slums, living on welfare, not speaking the language of their new country.

    Assimilation is the enemy of Islamic radicalism.

    I'd go a little further and say that multiculturalism is best ally of Islamic radicalism, but I realize there are limits to what can be said in an editorial column. The piece also touched on the Muhammad cartoons, and misplaced tolerance -- i.e. tolerance of intolerance:

    Until recently, this effort at tolerance led policymakers to ignore the serious problems within some of their Muslim communities - from the preachings of radical imams to repression of women to the teaching of radical Islamist ideas to children.

    Hirsi Ali also blames misplaced tolerance for confusing Europeans about how to react to the Danish cartoons that satirized the Prophet Muhammed. For her the issue is clear - Europeans value free speech and separation of church and state, and immigrants must learn to accept those values if they want to be part of their adopted country. That is the line she wants Europeans to draw.

    "We fought for centuries for those values," she says. "These are cultural achievements and we must defend them. This has nothing to do with disrespect for someone's religion."

    Unlike most European countries, this country was founded by people who were acutely aware of a recent past which included the Inquisition, witch hunts, burning "heretics" to death, and truly awful culture wars fought in the name of various religions.

    In our country, laws "respecting an establishment of religion" are off limits.

    A government that can't require respect can't stop disrespect either. (Submission is of course an extreme form of respect. . .)

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

    Concealed carry hero -- concealed within an anti-gun story!

    One of the most startling stories I have yet read in the Philadelphia Inquirer was buried on the back page of the Local News section. Barbara Boyer's "One neighborhood, two lives, two paths" begins with an anti-gun editorial slant which is all too typical in today's news reports:

    The two young North Philadelphia men grew up in the same tough neighborhood, but their lives took significantly different turns. One chose college, the other packed a gun.

    Their legacies now overlap in a tragedy that left one man dead and the other charged with his April 15 murder.

    Nafis Bilal, 23, of the 2200 block of West Jefferson Street, is in jail, accused of gunning down Pennsylvania State University senior Tyrone Myers Jr., 22, of the 2500 block of North Chadwick Street.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Notice the way the "choice" is set up.

    Either college or a gun.

    Naturally, I found myself wondering whether Ms. Boyer ever knew a law-abiding gun owner. Or a college-educated gun owner. There are a number people who sincerely believe guns are inherently evil. Maybe they surround themselves with people who think the same way.

    I ran into a woman at a party once who worked as a producer for NPR. We had a lovely talk and she couldn't have been nicer until the gun issue came up. It's always a little awkward for me when this happens, because people make assumptions about me, and I hate to let them down, so I try to do it in a gentle, almost joking way.

    I ventured, "Well, I'm a life member of the NRA, but I don't think I'm an official gun lobbyist," or something like that. Immediately, this nice woman's eyes narrowed, and for all practical purposes, our conversation was over. I had let her down, and I hate doing that. But sometimes honesty has a way of sneaking into the most ordinary conversations.

    Back to the Inky. What amazed me this morning (and I'm only on my first cup of coffee) is what Ms. Boyer managed to allow to sneak into her account of the accused shooter's capture:

    Two days after Myers was killed, Bilal was arrested on robbery charges stemming from another holdup in the area, Costello said.

    In that confrontation, in the 1900 block of North 22d Street, one of two victims had a permit to carry a gun - and he used the weapon on the two suspected robbers.

    Highway Patrol officers heard shots fired and apprehended Bilal, who had been shot in the hip. A few blocks away, police apprehended another suspect identified as Bilal Hasson, 23, who had been shot in both thighs, Costello said.

    Police also recovered a gun used in the robbery, Costello said. Authorities believe the gun belonged to Nafis Bilal.

    (Emphasis added)

    So, the presence of a gun in the hands of an armed, law abiding citizen was what captured a wanted murder suspect!

    Right here. In Philadelphia.

    And it made the Inquirer. (Does Police Commissioner Johnson know? Maybe he'd stop viewing concealed carry permit holders as enemies who "outnumber" the police.)

    I'm feeling so charitable I won't even ask why it was buried at the end of a story purporting to contrast the "choice" between college and guns.

    I think the victim who had the concealed carry permit is the hero here, and Philadelphians should be grateful that he chose to have his gun.

    For all we know, he might have also chosen college.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Jeff Soyer for linking this post!

    posted by Eric at 07:09 AM

    Save this patient from the insurance companies!

    Via John Hawkins, I just found out about the Andrea Clark case (involving a hospital refusing care to a patient who has lived too long with an expensive illness), and I thought I should spread the word. One of my worst fears is that in the future, patients will be euthanized to save money.

    Rather than read all the details here, John has a number of posts on this medical horror story, but the bottom line is that St Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas, has been seeking (through a labyrinth of bureaucratic subterfuges aided by a law from hell) to pull the plug on a conscious patient who does not want to die.

    The latest news is that the hospital is hoping they've made the issue go away so they can continue their quest to pull the plug:

    Now that they think the heat is off because the press has reported that this issue is resolved, they apparently still believe that pulling Andrea's life support over the objections of Andrea and her family is in the "best interests of the patient." Folks, in my book, what St. Luke's is doing to Andrea Clark is now even more appalling and reprehensible than before because they offered false hope to the family and then cruelly yanked it away.

    At this point, your phone calls to St. Luke's (their contact information is here and if you call, BE POLITE) may be the only thing that can save Andrea Clark's life.

    As John points out, this is not a Terri Schiavo case:

    . . .we've got a situation where a hospital that claims to provide "ethical, compassionate and quality care" is pulling a woman's respirator and dialysis against her wishes and the wishes of her family after a doctor at their facility has said she might be able to recover. That doesn't sound very "ethical" or "compassionate" to me and maybe if the word gets out about it, it might make a difference.
    A thread at the Democratic Underground explains that the insurance companies simply don't want to pay expensive costs, so they've had this "futile care" (read "cost containment") law written. "Hospital ethics" committees are appointed with power of life and death, but their main concern is cost of treatment.

    I think it's up to the patient whether continued care is futile. No damned insurance company should be allowed to tell anyone when to die.

    Spread the word and call the hospital.

    posted by Eric at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

    A day without bloggers?

    Could it be done?

    Couldn't we show the evil MSM who's really boss that way?

    I mean, we are the Internet, aren't we?

    If for once we really got together -- left and right -- why, bloggers could put down their keyboards, lose their mice, remove their working pajamas, and take to the streets en masse!

    ¡Los bloggers unidos, jamas seran vencidos!

    ¡Si, Se puede!

    The problem is, these ideas have to start somewhere, and right now, absolutely no one is even discussing the idea.

    Come on bloggers! You have nothing to lose but your butt sores!

    OK, OK, so maybe Tom Maguire actually referred to "ass welts" or something. Butt sores, ass welts, it's close enough. I get the message.

    We need to smash the MSM stereotype that we're lazy and sit around on our asses all the time!

    There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

    -- Mario Savio

    UPDATE: Some cats sure are touchy. (I guess I should scratched that bit about bloggers losing their mice.)

    UPDATE: Thanks to Daily Pundit and Pajamas Media for the links!

    We can make this a reality!

    ¡Si, Se puede!

    posted by Eric at 04:38 PM | Comments (6)

    argued to death?

    While I hate to be argumentative, I'm having an argument with myself.

    One of the reasons I blog is because I don't like arguments. But that's a contradiction, because blogging is a form of argument. And there are too many arguments. So if you don't like arguments, blogging is not likely to make them go away. I don't like arguments because I don't think they really settle anything -- especially if the goal is to "win" or to "lose." I like to think that an honest exchange of views is more productive than an argument, but forms of argumentative discourse (like "persuasion," "influence," and even "manipulation") have a way of sneaking into even the most honest discussions and exchanges of views.

    Even the phrase "frank exchange of views" is often used as diplomatic doubletalk meaning "argument." (It might even mean a screaming match between sworn enemies or warring tribes whose stated goals were mutual annihilation.)

    Whether an argument is a genuine exchange of views, a debate, or a discussion depends on a lot of things, and the distinction often turns on whether an audience is present, and what kind of audience. If two friends who disagree on abortion sit down for dinner and honestly attempt to discuss things like when life begins and how murder is to be defined, they might never agree, and it might very well turn into what we would all call an "argument" -- but it will likely be a more beneficial and mutually productive argument than an encounter in front of a street crowd between a NOW activist waving a coat hanger and a fundamentalist Christian waving a placard of a mutilated fetus. Same thing with guns. In a public setting, people will become more defensive and behave very differently than they will in private. For some people, it does not matter. There's always the type of person who interprets the slightest hint of disagreement -- even in private -- as an outright attack, or an invitation to a debate at the very least.

    In blogging, these distinctions are necessarily blurred, because reading a blog does not necessarily tell you how the blogger handles discussions, and the blogger has no real way of knowing who is reading, and unless people leave comments, no way of knowing what they are thinking. Arguments can occur in comments, or they can be started at other blogs. Because of the inability of the blogger to see and know who is reading, it's often tough to discern who started an argument. If I read something I disagree with, and I say so, did I start an argument? Is there even an argument? There is no obligation of anyone to respond.

    This discussion (or am I having an "argument"?) is further compounded by how we define the word "argument."

    Let me confess that I have erred by using the modern colloquial definition of the word. Its origin and original meaning are to be found in the Latin arguere -- which means "to clarify."

    Not that I'm having an argument with the word argument, but you know, I always think it helps to clarify.

    For something less than clear, let's consider this gem -- No, strike that! I don't want to seem more argumentative than I am. Let's consider this piece of reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Natalie Pompilio:

    It's violence that touches the lives of every city resident, but some families, like the Andersons, have been hit extraordinarily hard. Their experiences offer a snapshot of life in the inner city.

    Anderson's six children - ages 14 to 20 - grew up without their father. One fall day in 1996, he left the house with a quick "I'm leaving; I'll be back," and went to a neighborhood store. He was shot five times and killed during an argument with the proprietor.

    "He never came back," Anderson said simply.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Considering that the shooting took place in 1996, I have no way of verifying the facts. But if we take it at face value that the man was "shot five times and killed during an argument with the proprietor," what does that suggest about the meaning of the word "argument"? That arguments can by definition include murder? (How far does it go? Did Stalin have an "argument" with the Kulaks?)

    I think there had to be more than an argument in that store. It's tough to judge the case from such scanty facts, but I'm going to assume that the store owner is the shooter. Even though Ms. Pompilio does not state that he was, I think that if the "victim" had argued with the store owner (over, say, the Clinton-Dole race, a big topic in 1996), and then been shot by a third person, she'd have pointed that out.

    So, let's assume that the man goes into the store, and that an argument occurs between him and the store owner. Unless the store owner was a psychopath, why would he pump five bullets into the man absent something more than an argument? And wouldn't that have been a murder? Had the store owner been convicted or charged with murder, wouldn't that have been reported? Considering the facts we are given, wouldn't it be more fair to call this encounter a fight? Might there have even been some sort of physical attack?

    Or am I now guilty of having an argument? An argument with what? I mean, the above is supposed to be part of a news story, right? How can anyone have an argument with a news report? Reports are supposed to simply state the facts, not engage in arguments. But staring me in the face was the word "argument" -- offered in such a context as to be devoid of discernable meaning.

    At the risk of being argumentative myself, I think the above is an example of argumentative reporting. I suspect that it has something to do with the illogical meme that's been floated around here to the effect that an argument plus a gun equals murder, but I can't be sure.

    To test my theory, let's remove guns from the equation. If two men get into a fistfight on the street, would we call that an argument? I doubt it. They might have had an argument at one point, but once they used their fists, something else has occurred. Something that does not happen in the normal course of arguments. I think it would be less than accurate to say that someone was "bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat during an argument with the proprietor" or that he "had his throat slit during an argument with the proprietor," because acts of extreme violence are separate superseding events.

    I may be wrong in my analysis, and readers are free to disagree with me, just as they are free to disagree with each other in the comments. If they do, that would be called an argument. But if they were crazy enough to start shooting each other, it would no longer be an argument. Actually, I don't even think it's fair to say that the arguments result in shootings, because arguments are normal human behavior, and shootings are not. To say that arguments cause shooting involves the same logic as saying that guns cause shooting or fists cause fighting. There is no such causation. (An argument is not a fight, and a gun is not a shooting.)

    To maintain that it is, we might as well say that property causes burglary. That shoplifting is an argument over store prices. (Or, I suppose, that poverty is violence.)


    Maybe I should prohibit armed readers from leaving comments.

    posted by Eric at 08:10 AM | Comments (7)

    The birthplace of libertad

    Today's Philadelphia's May Day immigration demonstration took the form of a march from center city to the office of Senator Arlen Specter (in the Independence Mall area). While similar to the one held April 10 (which I photoblogged -- and videoblogged), today's demo was not as well attended, and at Independence Mall the speeches were almost entirely in Spanish. The organizers were the same as on April 10, and I saw a number of now familiar faces. It was polite and orderly, and I saw very few of the professional white revolutionary types (who must have been somewhere else for May Day).

    It was rather dull, and persuaded me of nothing, because I already know what I think. In all honesty, I don't know how anyone with a thinking brain could possibly be persuaded by any demonstration. Either you agree with the cause (which makes it a rah-rah-rah event) or you disagree. But who is really persuaded by either agreeing or disagreeing with a demonstration? I suppose demonstrations remind people that there are people who go to demonstrations, but does anyone need a reminder of that?

    Y-A-W-N . . .

    Anyway, the American flag was still there. So were Mexican flags.

    And so was the now-ratty space alien sign which I photographed last month:


    The same cheerleader was exhorting the crowd:


    Interestingly, a few Democratic activists were there.

    Here's an anti-GOP sign:


    And to make sure you avoid hate, a sign telling you to vota Democrata!


    (Hey, at least that's better than VOTA SI!)

    Si o no, another group of people held signs for Democratic senatorial candidate Alan Sandals . . .


    Like the last time, there were a few people who either didn't get it, or haven't fully learned their lessons in American patriotism.

    I observed this breach of flag etiquette:


    And a T shirt immortalizing Che Guevara:


    Finally some videos for those who are interested.


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







    I'm out of time and running late, so I apologize for the hurried nature of this post.

    posted by Eric at 04:38 PM | Comments (4)

    Thinking globally and refusing to act locally?

    What intrigues me the most about today's demonstrations is this tidbit:

    Large U.S. meat processors, including Cargill Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and Seaboard Corp. said they will close plants.
    What does that mean? Do these big businesses want to help increase the numbers at the demonstrations? Is the idea to help support legalization of their illegal workers?

    Or are there political considerations? Wasn't Arkansas' Tyson Foods a major Clinton crony? (Yes, it's old news now, but Tyson executive Archie Shaffer was one of the figures pardoned by Clinton during the last days of his administration. Details lovingly preserved for posterity here.)

    As to Cargill, the leftist Counterpunch accused the Clinton administration of granting the company a near monopoly status.

    These details would be boring to anyone these days but a conspiracy theorist. Not only am I disinclined towards conspiracy theorizing, but I'm a free market libertarian, as well as a realist who understands why companies pursue policies they perceive to be in their interest. (If I ran Tyson, Cargill, or Seaboard, I'd probably give everyone the day off too!)

    Why would I care whether my company was seen as being in bed with the left? Or with Hillary? Or the Reconquista movement movimiento?

    For what it's worth, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch does not seem terribly fond of Seaboard:

    Seaboard Corporation, an agribusiness giant and Africa, Inc. member, has been called by Time Magazine a "master at milking government for welfare."(29) From 1990 to 1997 Seaboard received at least $150 million in taxpayer money, in addition to its annual revenues of $1.8 billion.(30) In one case, the city of Albert Lea, Minnesota gave Seaboard a $2.9 million low-interest loan and special deals on paving employee parking lots and on its sewer bill when Seaboard reopened a pork-processing plant that had once been the town's largest employer.(31) It lowered the wages of workers by $4,500 per year and began to import workers from Mexico and Central America to work at the plant.(32) Workers were paid so poorly that they were forced on to welfare.(33) It also created a sludge crisis for the city's waste treatment plant, refusing to upgrade its own sewage treatment facility.(34) Seaboard phased out the plant four years later when it found a better corporate welfare package, leaving the city of Albert Lea with an abandoned slaughterhouse, a large debt, and higher utility bills.(35) This is typical of the way Seaboard uses public funds from state, local, and federal governments to maximize its own gains, often at the expense of those providing the funding.(36) Indeed, its corporate welfare extends to its operations in Africa ­ it received $11.2 million in Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance for its wheat and corn mills in Mozambique.(37)
    Those kind of facts and figures are boring to the point of being mindnumbing.

    I can understand why big business likes illegal alien workers though, because they represent a loophole of economic freedom.

    What I'd like to know is why George Soros isn't being more vocal. FrontPageMag.com says he'd funding the agitators, but Moveon.org is eerily silent.

    Maybe leftist agitators don't enjoy being seen as being in bed with big business.

    MORE: Let me admit my bias here. I have long thought that business is vastly overregulated and that this overregulation is a major factor in making illegal aliens an attractive labor source to employers, large or small. It strikes me as ironic that on this issue, the major push for greater -- highly draconian -- restrictions on business is coming from the Republican Party. But isn't the Democratic Party supposed to be anti-business?

    Maybe nothing is supposed to make sense any more . . .

    posted by Eric at 09:22 AM | Comments (4)

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