Wal-Mart is anti-family, hates Christians, and loves dangerous sex!

Via Glenn Reynolds, McQ at QandO looks at the phenomenon called "Wal-Mart Derangement Syndrome" (WMDS) and finds himself in agreement with Jonah Goldberg:

So its a new twist on the old mantra that businesses Wal Mart's job is to provide good pay and benefits to its workers. Not to profit through the delivery of the lowest cost goods available to its customer base. Not to keep to its business model. Not to compete. Deliver pay and benefits at a level acceptable to the Democrats. And while they're at it they need to let their suppliers charge more so they too can do the same for their workers.

And, as has been pointed out ad nauseum to these folks, who are the losers?

Those 127 million shoppers, many if not most of them low income shoppers who now see their buying power shrink.

That is why Jonah Goldberg thinks it's all silly and stupid and can't understand the Democrats continued insistence that Wal Mart is an institution which needs to be singled out and taught a lesson. Frankly, I agree with him.

I agree with him too, but I think it would be a a mistake to conclude that WMDS is exclusively a left wing phenomenon.

Again, I get email. The same J. Matt Barber who emailed me about the Minneapolis Police Department also emailed me about Wal-Mart. He's hopping mad, and not because Wal-Mart oppresses their employees by paying them twice minimum wage. Nor because they want to build stores on land which was once home to a rare subspecies of gnat. He's upset because Wal-Mart is catering to anti-family homos:

Matt Barber, Corporate Outreach Director for Americans for Truth, expressed his disappointment with Wal-Mart today for further capitulating to the powerful homosexual lobby by recently partnering with the “National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce,” an extremely influential homosexual organization steadfastly devoted to furthering the ‘gay’ agenda within corporate America.

“It’s a real shame, and I think people who value traditional marriage and the Biblical model of human sexuality should sit up and take notice of Wal-Mart’s recent support of radical pro-homosexual, anti-Christian groups and policies that seek to destroy the time-honored institutions of marriage and family, and further aim to silence proponents of traditional family values,” said Barber.

(Same post here.)

What radical anti-Christian groups? The NGLCC? Or are there others? And how is Wal-Mart out to destroy families and silence people who disagree? Barber does not say.

While understandably flying under the radar, Wal-Mart’s British subsidiary recently introduced a “gay wedding” line of products, and Wal-Mart corporate has inexplicably re-defined “family” in its corporate policies to include sexual partners of the same gender. It has also added employees who choose to engage in dangerous homosexual behaviors to its anti-discrimination policies.
Aside from Wal-Mart's propensity to sell things to willing buyers, I suspect that what that means is that the company has decided to include domestic partner benefits (although I see no link to a source). As to not discriminating against employees who "choose to engage in dangerous homosexual behaviors," how does Barber know about the details of Wal-Mart employees' behaviors and how dangerous they are? I mean, has he some undisclosed source, deep on the inside? Has he installed cameras somewhere? Or does he just deem all "homosexual behaviors" to be "dangerous"? He does not say, but I'd hate to think he's including lesbian sex as dangerous behavior, because lesbian couples have the safest track record this side of celibacy.

There's more. Wal-Mart's partnership with the NGLCC means discrimination against everyone else:

“Of course nobody advocates harassment of anyone in the workplace for anything,” said Barber; “but my concern is that Wal-Mart’s recent company policy officially endorsing and promoting the homosexual lifestyle, now discriminates against employees who happen to believe, as Judeo/Christian tradition holds, that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that homosexual behavior is both immoral and unhealthy. What if Wal-Mart decided to hold a “gay-day” like other companies have done? Would pro-family employees then be fired for ‘discrimination’ if they refused to participate because it violated their sincerely held religious beliefs?”
What Wal-Mart did was announce a "diversity" partnership with the NGLCC. Whether you like "workplace diversity" for homosexuals or not, is that really "anti-family"? Is it really discrimination against those who disagree with the policy or disapprove of homosexuals?

Or might it be that Wal-Mart's "discrimination" consists of holding a different opinion than J. Matt Barber?

Frankly, such a "standard" for discrimination reminds me of the Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton discrimination standard.

I guess where it comes to Wal-Mart, birds of a feather flock together!

MORE: QandO's McQ has more on the "right wing" (assuming that's what this is) attacks on Wal-Mart. I this remark just about sums it up:

It's a department store folks, get a freakin' grip.
But isn't that asking a lot?

posted by Eric at 07:14 PM | Comments (4)



Your views are more protected than mine?

After my earlier post, I'm not quite sure whether I can tell the difference between religious-based satire and satire-based religion, but I'll try.

I'm not sure how I manage to get on these mailing lists, but an outfit called "Americans for Truth" -- describing itself as "a public policy organization devoted solely to countering the homosexual activist agenda" -- emailed me about the Minneapolis Police Department's suspension of police psychological screener Michael Campion. The AFT calls the MPD's action "blatant, illegal discrimination and anti-Christian bigotry–one which should send shivers down the spine of every person of faith." (Matt Barber has posted the same argument at The Conservative Voice.)

From what I've read in the AFT account and news accounts like this, it appears Dr. Campion was suspended after questions were raised about whether his membership on the board of the Illinois Family Institute -- a group run by well-known antigay activist Peter LaBarbera -- might have introduced bias into his psychological screening of police applicants. La Barbera, by the way, runs an Alan Keyes type of outfit which among other things denounces gay-friendly Republican candidates as "anti family," and common sense would suggest (to me, at least) that someone on the board of his organization might very well not believe homosexuals should be employed as police officers.

But I can't state that for a fact, and the point is not whether I agree with the IFI, or Peter La Barbera, or post author J. Matt Barber. These are hot-button political issues, and it is possible to agree or disagree on them just as it is possible to agree or disagree on a lot of things.

Do I expect the IFI to offer me a job on its board? No. Would I expect them to fire me if I managed to inveigle myself into their organization? Um, yes! (Doh!)

What concerns me is to see religion invoked not only to shield political beliefs and biases, but in such a way as to imply that disagreeing with a particular Christian is to disagree with all Christians. (Or "every person of faith.")

Let's look at Barber's argument:

“What was Campion’s crime? It seems that three years ago, he was a board member with the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a Christian organization which advocates traditional family values,” said Barber, who himself was fired by Allstate Insurance Company last year after writing an online article critical of homosexuality.

“This official government action by the Minneapolis Police Department is a transparent and egregious violation of Dr. Campion’s First Amendment rights to both freedom of association and religion,” Barber said.

I previously discussed Barber's firing infra, as I didn't see what his religion has to do with Allstate's actions:
There is just as much right to hold antigay views as there is to hold racist views or anti-Semitic views. Whether one bases one's claims on the Bible is irrelevant. If the Boy Scouts have the right to refuse to accept homosexual members, then wouldn't a gay group have just as much right to refuse anti-homosexual members? Does a Jew hater who thinks Hitler was right have a right to work for a Jew? If he claimed justification for his views under the Koran, why would that make any difference?
But according to Barber, if someone opposes homosexuality for religious reasons, then that view should qualify for special religious-based protection, and any discrimination against him would constitute religious discrimination.

Those holding the opposite view, however, would not be entitled to protection against discrimination. This gives an advantage to whatever side of an argument is able to invoke religion, and I don't see how it is to be squared with logic or simple fairness. I think it's a warmed over version of "free speech for me, but not for thee."

Interestingly, Barber's argument that religion affords special protection offers no succor to atheists who might dislike homosexuality. They could be fired. Yet I suppose that homosexual Christians like the Rainbow Baptists might be able to claim that because it was their view that Jesus accepted them, any intolerance of them would also constitute religious persecution. (More here on the disagreement-as-persecution quandary.)

Let's take another issue -- abortion. If a pharmacy discovered that one of its employees refused to dispense RU-486 for religious reasons, why should that employee have superior rights to someone who thought the morning after pill was simply evil because it destroyed human life? (Yes, secular opposition to abortion exists.)

The same would apply to the invocation of race. Suppose I owned a company and didn't want people with views I considered kooky working for me. Suppose I considered the idea of reparations for slavery to be a kooky idea, and I fired an employee who believed in that idea. If he were black, would that constitute racial discrimination? I don't see how.

This is getting a bit old. But at the risk of repeating myself, I don't think anyone's religious views breathe special status into the opinions held by that person, or his actions.

Otherwise Muslim anti-Semitism would be more protected than "ordinary" anti-Semitism.

Hmmm....

(Maybe religion can also be used as a sword.)


UPDATE: In an article he wrote for the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (JASA), Dr. Campion takes the position that homosexuality is a treatable disorder, that homosexuals are hedonists who confuse lust for love, and that stable homosexual relationships are the exception rather than the rule:

The third basic factor is the fact that homosexuality satisfies man's basic nature of selfishness. The homosexual basically confuses lust with love and uses the homosexual relationship in most cases to satisfy his own sexual desires. Because of this there is no need to develop long-term relationships that require day-today submission and a general selflessness in giving to another person. There are, however, rare occurrences where stable relationships have developed, but this is by far the exception rather than the rule.
While this compleletly contradicts what I saw and experienced for many years, the point here is not to debate Dr. Campion, but to ask whether or not a city which disagrees with his views should be forced to retain him because of a claim that they are religious views. If Dr. Campion thinks homosexuals are selfish hedonists who do not enjoy stable relationships, that would seem to beg the question of whether he believes they should serve as police officers. (A question highly relevant to his position as a psychological screener.)

Again, I don't see what religion has to do with it.

posted by Eric at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)



But lesbian pork is not halal!

In his recent post on California Assembly Bill 1441 (which would add "sexual orientation" to the long list of categories against which government funded groups may not discriminate) Clayton Cramer analogizes to pork-eating:

I think there's at least an arguable case that this law, by imposing a standard that is contrary to the religious beliefs of individuals and organizations, is contrary to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religious worship.

For example, let's say that Mississippi passed a law that prohibited use of state funds by any organization that discriminated against pork-eating. The grounds might be that pork is a perfectly safe food, and such discrimination is irrational and contrary to the best economic interests of Mississippi's pork industry. You know that the ACLU would file suit in a flash, claiming that this pork-eater anti-discrimination law, by depriving Jewish or Muslim organizations of an equal shot at applying for Mississippi grants, was a violation of the freedom of religious worship. You could even make a case (quite a bit weaker of a case), that this was a violation of the establishment clause as well, because it put organizations that don't discriminate against pork-eaters at an unfair advantage.

This may be a Catch 22 situation, because the law already prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion (it reads "race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, or disability").

Here's the full text:

11135. (a) No person in the State of California shall, on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, or disability, be unlawfully denied full and equal access to the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under, any program or activity that is conducted, operated, or administered by the state or by any state agency, is funded directly by the state, or receives any financial assistance from the state. Notwithstanding Section 11000, this section applies to the California State University.

Unless I am reading the statute incorrectly, wouldn't it already constitute discrimination on the basis of religion to refuse to hire a pork-eater if the objection was religious in nature? And wouldn't it also be religious discrimination for a pork-eating employer to demand that his employees eat pork?

Not so fast! What if the pork-refraining employer also claim that his religion entitled him to discriminate? Is discrimination on the basis of religion permitted if it is based on religion? I don't see how, unless the law is self-canceling.

Thus under current law (even though it is silent on pork) non-pork eaters would not be allowed to discriminate against pork eaters for religious reasons. However, since there is no special protection in the law for pork-eaters, such people might still be discriminated against for non-religious reasons. An example would be a radical vegan employer who refused to hire them because of his moral opposition to meat eating. No protected categories are involved; hence the discrimination would be allowed.

If we move from pork to sexuality, even without the additional category, any organization which refused to hire the "sexual orientation" people (whoever they may be; the law does not say) on religious grounds would be discriminating on the basis of religion -- as would any employer who demanded that his employees be of one sexual orientation or another.

As I see the addition, it encumbers non-religious organizations only. Previously, discrimination based on "sexual-orientation" would have been permitted so long as that was not done for religious reasons.

Unless, of course, imposing a religious test on employees came under an exception or exemption.

Attempting to analyze this stuff is crazy-making, but I'm trying anyway. What gets really crazy is that the statute makes it illegal for an organization to exclude anyone from a "program or activity." Might that mean that ham could not be served lest people be excluded from eating it? What about communion wine and wafers? Aren't they only supposed to be served only to baptized and confirmed practitioners of the religions that serve them? Aren't the others already being excluded? And isn't that discrimination on the basis of religion?

I have to admit, I'm having ongoing conceptual difficulty with the "sexual orientation" phraseology. Not only is it ill-defined, but I'm not certain exactly how and when discrimination is supposed to occur. Clearly, it is not discrimination against anyone to maintain that adultery, homosexuality, or polygamy are "sinful," because that is a belief and a religious opinion. Discrimination would involve not hiring someone, firing someone, or not allowing him to enter a church. Considering the omniscient nature of sin, I'm not entirely sure how the individual religions are supposed to practice discrimination against particular sinners, but let's assume they have some solid religious basis for it. Wouldn't that be analogous to Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, which upheld the right of private organizations to discriminate? But again, I don't see how religions get around the Catch 22 prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion, unless there is an inherent religious exception. If there is, the addition of "sexual orientation" might be as meaningless as the word "religion" itself. Are Muslims allowed to discriminate against Jews and Christians and vice versa? If they are, then the word "religion" does not mean what it says. So why would "sexual orientation" have any more meaning than "religion"?

I guess we're lucky not to be living in the days when sexual orientation was religion, or religion could be sexual orientation. (Or are phallic cults still alive?)

Cramer also touches on veganism:

Not all of those organizations that get this unfair advantage are religiously based, of course. The ACLU, for example, has no problem with pork-eaters. It is also true that there are non-religious organizations on the other side that would be similarly injured, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Still, would there be any serious question as to the effect (and likely intent) of such a law?
As it happens, vegans have already demanded protected status in California in a closely watched case.

It's tough to say where this is all headed. I think there are too many categories already, and I'm amazed there hasn't been complete legal chaos. If AB 1441 passes, animal rights organizations will not be allowed to run ad saying things like "Lesbian meat eaters need not apply." But could they say "Veiled meat eaters need not apply?"

Only if their reasons were religious?

(Or is that not if?)


posted by Eric at 08:51 AM | Comments (2)




atheists with desperate souls

Via Glenn Reynolds, I was quite taken with Belmont Club Richard Fernandez's analysis of the role of religion in war:

In those dark days faith, like freedom was sometimes just another name for nothing left to lose. And yet it was not altogether meaningless: it made the margin between victory and defeat.

But perhaps the West, cushioned by its material wealth, has altogether too much to lose for it to care about faith or freedom any more. Mark Steyn, currently touring Australia on a speaking tour, asks whether the West can rouse itself from ennui just long enough to feel the knife at its throat. And the horrifying thing is that Steyn on the hustings swings his lamp and cheerfully calls out for company in a dark, unanswering cultural night made all the more tenebrous by the bright Antipodean sunshine. What Deity, race or tribe might we still raise against the horde of Basiji?

My own guess is that neither Israel nor the West at large can long resist radical Islam without some sustaining faith of its own, a faith it will not find unless it makes up its mind to look for it. Men will fight on for as long as there is something left to fight for and not otherwise. Despair comes when we are finally convinced that even our hopes are futile.

Such sustaining faith need not take the form of conventional religion. Unconventional religions will work, as will deeply held belief systems of any sort. But to hold something deeply there has to be something to hold.

This is a point that the most calculating and cynical of atheists have recognized. I can't think of a better example than Joseph Stalin's literal resurrection of the Russian Orthodox Church he had sworn to destroy, and which he had nearly destroyed:

Continuous persecution in the 1930s resulted in its near-extinction: by 1939, active parishes numbered in the low hundreds (down from 54,000 in 1917)
But Russia in the 1940s, on the verge of losing everything to Nazi Germany, was in the midst of "times that try men's souls." All the more difficult for soulless Stalin and his equally soulless top Bolsheviks to face, for what can be worse the trying of a soul you don't believe in?

Things couldn't have been bleaker. Atheist that he was, Stalin recognized that Communism couldn't possibly provide a sustaining faith for most ordinary Russians. He knew that unless he saw to it that God was solidly on their side, Russia would lose the war.

And so the cynical, evil, godless Stalin held a meeting with the church hierarchs, and opened the churches:

...the Nazis’ obsession with the plan to wipe out this country as a nation turned the world war into a patriotic one. So it was natural that in a bid to overpower the enemy the nation turned to their imperial tradition and to Russian history. The Orthodoxy was the Russian man’s main spiritual basis. Stalin just couldn’t fail to realize this, so it is small wonder that he sought assistance from the Church during that dangerous period of time in this country’s history.

20,000 churches were opened during the war years. In spring 1942 Soviet Government allowed Easter celebrations for the first time in many years. On September 4th 1943 Stalin invited the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Kremlin to discuss the need for reviving religious life in the USSR and the speedy election of a Patriarch.

There's even a book titled "Stalin's Holy War."

Of course, Stalin's situation was utterly desperate, as was Russia's.

Avoiding despair during desperate times will try anyone's soul.

You don't even have to have one.

MORE: Already I see that a commenter thinks I advocate embracing religious fanaticism. Actually, I was making a historical point. But to each his own.

I should endeavor to be more open to misinterpretation.

posted by Eric at 05:46 PM | Comments (6)



hair is not a feminist issue!

According to the Daily Mail, British women spend nearly two years of their lives on their hair:

The average British woman spends an astonishing £36,903.75 on her hair in a lifetime, according to new research.

She will spend the equivalent of just under two YEARS of her life washing, styling, cutting, colouring, crimping and straightening her locks in salons or at home.

Two years? I doubt I've spent anywhere near that amount of time on my hair. The less hair I have, the less time I spend on it, and I often wish I didn't have any, as it's a complete nuisance getting it cut, but even more of a nuisance if I don't. There's no way to avoid having a haircut eat up an hour of time, and I haven't yet reached the point where I have so little hair that I could easily cut it myself.

But as to total time I've spent compared to British women, let's see how "pussified" I am.

As a boy I'd get frequent short haircuts, and as I reached my teens and twenties the intervals between haircuts lengthened substantially -- as did my hair. But I soon tired of long hair and eventually went back to short hair and frequent (more or less monthly) haircuts. I think it's safe to estimate a lifetime average of one hour a month devoted to hair, which would cover not only the time spent on haircuts, but the time spent washing, drying, combing my hair (which I've never enjoyed screwing around with or styling). My haircuts started when I was around two, which means I've spent around fifty times 12 hours on my hair. That's 600 hours -- a total of 25 days. Even if I live another 50 years and don't go completely bald (both extremely unlikely eventualities), on my death I will have spent less than two months on my hair.

That's two months versus two years!

The British numbers sound incredible by comparison. Do women really spend 12 hours per month working on their hair? Nearly half an hour a day? If I had to do that, I'd find it needlessly cruel and oppressive.

However, it is unfair to generalize about other men based on my personal experience. And isn't it sexist to single out women? I mean, look at how much time John Edwards spends on his hair.

Sigh.

For me, what really eats time is not hair but traffic. I shudder to think how much time the average person spends in traffic, but I'm sure it dwarfs the time spent on hair by British women (or even men with important hair).

posted by Eric at 03:21 PM | Comments (3)



"Redneck-in-chief" puts nation's youth at risk!

According to Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal, President Bush is a bad role model for black youth:

For many young black males living in the nation's urban centers, macho means maintaining an image, no matter what the cost.

For some of the men cut off from life's promises, it's a self-made image. In their world, demonstrating sensitivity and emotion is frowned upon. Speaking proper English, a sign of weakness. Going to school, not cool.

It's about adopting what sociologists refer to as the "cool-pose culture," a rigid lifestyle that focuses on the latest clothes and shoes, sexual conquests, hip-hop music, and which, above all, demands the respect of peers.

The cool pose may be an enormous moneymaker in pop culture, admired and even copied by white youth, but it's leading to the slaughter of black youth. African Americans are killing each other at nine times the rate of white youth, often over beefs stemming from nothing more than a perceived slight.

"If you back down, you're a punk," says Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal, who lays out a new, less burdensome model of black masculinity in his book New Black Man. "To negotiate is to be weak. Everything has to be a confrontation."

The message is reinforced widely - from the words and imagery of hip-hop, to the reproachful taunting in sports, even from the White House, Neal tells me.

"Say what you want about [White House] policies, one of Bush's successes was getting across the message that a real man never wavers. You attack first; attack before they attack you. So it's coming from the top."

Hmmm...

(Is the professor really praising Bush for "successes"? Can such things be?)

Let's try to be logical for a moment. Whether you like him or not, is President Bush really responsible for the hiphop, gangster-rap, macho culture among young black urban males? Didn't that same culture exist under President Clinton?

Thomas Sowell wrote a book about this phenomenon titled "Black Rednecks and White Liberals." As Sowell sees it, the young urban black macho males of today are the inheritors of specific cultural attributes:

Sowell begins by tracing the origins of black ghetto culture all the way back to the British Isles from which white American Southerners immigrated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These particular immigrants, from the socially turbulent regions of the northern borderlands of England and the highlands of Scotland, brought with them a set of pre-existing attitudes, values and behavioral patterns which, as Sowell points out, had nothing to do with the already existing American institution of slavery. These pre-existing attitudes formed the basis of a “redneck” or “cracker” culture, a culture consisting of “an aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, improvidence, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship,… and a style of religious oratory marked by strident rhetoric, unbridled emotions, and flamboyant imagery.” This was passed down to the white Southern descendants of these northern English and Scottish immigrants, and would soon become the cultural heritage of many Southern blacks.

Sowell points out that although most Southern blacks and whites moved away from the redneck culture over the generations given its destructively counterproductive effects, it survives today among poorest and least educated ghetto blacks and, since the 1960s, has been revered by today’s white liberal elite.

More here.

The entertainment industry loves redneck culture (whether the black or the white versions) in all of its manifestations, because it sells. Whether it took the form of the clueless but loveable Clampetts in "The Beverly Hillbillies," malevolent crackers in "Deliverance, or the gangster rap hype being marketed today, Americans are captivated and entertained by redneck culture.

If Sowell's theory is right, I think we can expect the redneck culture to spread once again from urban blacks to northern white youth. (In many ways, I think it already has.)

But what explains the American fascination with redneck culture?

Might there be natural instincts at work? What if the idea of having "real men" as some sort of standard is a basic ecological niche which will be filled by one group or another? Kim du Toit wrote a bracing, eye opening essay about the pussification of the American male, and much of what he said rings true. (Whether anti-pussification resistence should be permissible only among urban black males is at least debatable, but don't ask me! I don't write the "rules.")

Some men will not be pussified, and resistance to pussification sells. The cultural ramifications of this are poorly understood, and I think the implications are profound.

It strikes me as a bit unfair to blame Bush.

(Even if he isn't a pussy.)

posted by Eric at 11:54 AM | Comments (3)



Eradicating dangerous aliens from San Francisco!

In what's probably a sign of the times in which we live, authorities in tolerant San Francisco are planning a major crackdown, with the goal of eradicating foreign invaders:

SAN FRANCISCO - In an effort to preserve San Francisco’s natural habitat, The City approved a plan Monday that would cut down thousands of non-native trees along hillsides and parks.

Under the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan, a road map to guide The City’s efforts to revive San Francisco’s natural habitat, thousands of eucalyptus trees, shrubs and other non-native plant species would be cut down from 1,100 acres across 29 parks that are part of The City’s natural areas program. The plan calls for replanting native trees in some parks.

Not everyone is happy about the idea. Here's The Examiner's Ken Garcia:
I am all for protecting native habitat, and eucalyptus trees were probably not the best choice when much of The City’s forests were planted a century ago, given their encroachment tendencies with other plants and trees and grasses. But it should be pointed out that there are considerably more plant species here today than there were when all of those horrible non-native types arrived, and they’ve managed to survive without NAP’s heavy-handed intervention.

And that would be the only way to describe the group’s style to date, highlighted by the destruction of groves of trees around The City because they were allegedly interfering with the precious native plants the program is dedicated to protect. Indeed, at least one person in NAP’s core group of volunteers has been arrested more than once for cutting down trees without a permit — even in San Francisco you can’t give license to every sand-dune savior who wants to whack down trees they refer to as “alien species.”

What next? Will alien lovers like Garcia be defending the "rights" of a squalid clump of smelly alien trees to continue their environmentally perverted occupancy over that once pristine sand dune area now euphemistically called "Stern Grove"?

Unfortunately, many San Franciscans imagine the pests to be beautiful, and the Eucalyptus trees have been growing there (and all over California) for many, many years. Since at least 1871:

The gold fever came in 1850 and affected the farming life and production of the early settlers, but only for a few years. The elder George Greene was not only a farmer but a miner, and he caught the fever. He continued intermittently as a prospector all his life. He also was one of the first oil men in California, commencing his activities in 1865.

In about 1871 young George Greene conceived the idea of planting their property with eucalyptus trees. The first eucalyptus seeds had been sent here from Australia by Bishop William Taylor. Greene’s father consented to this plan, and George carried it out, Later he further developed their land by planting "Holland grass" on the sand dunes to prevent their shifting with the wind.

In what was obviously selfish and short-sighted thinking, this greedy fat cat thought that the importing cheap, fast-growing trees and planting in a grove would be more attractive than what the biased article calls "a great deal of underbrush where wild cattle, rabbits, and coyotes roamed."

Greene's error was compounded when the subsequent owner donated the blighted grove to the city, because the unthinkingly sentimental, aesthetic-minded citizens of San Francisco turned it into a place for open air concerts:

[Mrs. Sigmund Stern] turned it over to the people of San Francisco as a recreation site, deeding it in perpetuity to the city with the express provision that it would forever be used only for recreational purposes.

For this it had obvious advantages – shelter from prevailing winds and fog, unspoiled nature in close proximity to the heart of an expanding city.

The Grove Is Nature’s Music Box

Some additional possibilities soon became apparent. It was Nature’s music box. The terrain, with the help of the accidental sounding board created by the tall eucalyptus massed down the slopes, provided unusual acoustics. William Gladstone Merchant was the architect consulted on the development of the area as a playground and open-air concert place. A pavilion was designed and built. The Trocadero was re-conditioned and today stands virtually unchanged from the days when it was the famous roadhouse. Even the hand-painted wash bowls have been retained to this day.

On June 4, 1932, the city gratefully accepted the gift and the childish trebles of a playground chorus gave the first test to a musical center that now ranks among the world’s finest.

From that day’s inaugural stemmed a steady growth of the city’s musical reputation. For the first time San Francisco, the cultural heart of the Pacific Coast, had an outdoor center to vie in service to the people with Chicago’s Ravinia Park, St. Louis’s Forest Park and Hollywood’s Bowl.

Even the supposedly enlighted music critics (an educated lot, who ought to know better) have gone so far as to praise the unholy invasive stench of these South Pacific aliens:
But the Summer Music Festival is the biggest attraction and as one music critic put it — accurately if lightly — the programs “are the only ones given hereabouts that can smell as good as they sound, thanks to the action of sunlight on wet eucalyptus trees.”
Enough of that!

It might have taken them some time, but San Francisco is finally showing some sense.

Here here!

URGENT CAVEAT: Please bear in mind that it's sometimes tough to distinguish real life from satire in San Francisco.

Readers looking for in-depth, real-life satire should read about San Francisco's "Natural Areas Program." Going after alien trees is only a start toward the utopian dream of "restoring" Stern Grove to its original sand dune status (by stealth, with the clever introduction of "Trojan turtles") and ultimately kicking San Franciscans out of their parks.

Alien trees are bad enough, but humans are the ultimate alien species.

(None dare call any of this speciesism.)

posted by Eric at 09:25 AM | Comments (2)



Retaliatory driving?

I'm a little confused about recent events in the kindly, tolerant San Francisco Bay Area.

Last night I read that a Fremont man named Omeed Aziz Popal drove his SUV on a murderous rampage, killing one and wounding 14.

Today I read that the driver was a devout but apparently stressed out Muslim who attended the Abu Bakr Siddiq Mosque in Hayward.

Because I live near a Saudi madrassa, I thought I should check it out to see what sort of stuff they preach there, and the first article I stumbled onto was a writeup of an eerily similar driving incident -- at the very same mosque:

HAYWARD — A 77-year-old man plowed his car into a group of people gathered outside a local mosque after a Friday afternoon prayer service, injuring 11, police said.

Four of the people hit in the parking lot of the Abu Bakr Siddiq Mosque, 29414 Mission Blvd., in south Hayward were taken to a local hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, said Hayward Police Sgt. Corey Quinn.

Seven others, who were not seriously injured, told police that they would seek their own medical care, Quinn said, adding that the driver was not injured.

Members of the mosque are mostly of Afghan descent, which created a sense of fear that the incident might have been intentionally directed at those from the Middle East. But Quinn said police are ruling that the incident was accidental, although it remains under investigation.

That article is dated August 12. Might this be retaliation?

(I'm sure the blogosphere is all over this by now, but I thought I'd post this anyway...)

MORE: Glenn Reynolds has a roundup of reactions to the hit-and-run spree.

UPDATE: Gateway Pundit and Michelle Malkin explore the incident's proximity to the San Francisco Jewish Center, and Pajamas Media has a roundup of blogosphere reactions.

(I'm not finding out much more about the earlier Hayward mosque incident. It appears to have been an accident in which an elderly physician hit the gas pedal instead of the accelerator. But does that mean the mosque congregation necessarily saw it that way?)

MORE: According to this account, three people had broken legs, and the congregation was described as fearful:

Members of the mosque are mostly of Afghan descent, which created a sense of fear that the incident might have been intentionally directed at those from the Middle East. But Quinn said police are ruling that the incident was accidental, although it remains under investigation.

The San Jose Mercury News account mentions "fears of a hate crime":

Because the members of the Abu Bakr Siddiq Mosque mostly belong to the Afghan community, reports of the incident initially sparked fears of a hate crime, but Sgt. Corey Quinn said police are investigating the incident as an accident.
Whether the August 11 incident factored into the suspect's thinking is of course pure speculation, and maintaining skepticism until the facts are in is always the best policy. (Reading the minds of suspects based on news accounts is a risky business. Who knows what may have entered into this crackpot's mind?)

UPDATE: According to this KTVU video, a witness claimed the suspect referred to himself as "a terrorist."

That's what they call an admission.

UPDATE (08/31/06): The DC Examiner has an excellent analysis of what is being called "Sudden Jihadist Syndrome":

....Muslims who follow the most extreme jihadist advocates of hatred for Jews, Christians, Israel, America and Western civilization, unexpectedly acting on what they have been taught, including the rationalizations for mass murder.

[...]

This meme of Mr. Nice Guy Muslim Neighbor suddenly exploding in a murderous assault upon innocent Americans or other Westerners — often in locales one would never consider likely killing grounds — is becoming all too familiar.

[...]

Considering that U.S. border and immigration controls have been almost laughably ineffective for years, we ought not be surprised to find we have many Sudden Jihadist Syndrome time bombs walking among us.

Outside of San Francisco, this latest incident seems to have barely been reported. There was nothing in the print version of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but this bared down version of the AP story does appear online.

I'm wondering about something. Considering the human penchant for monkey-see-monkey-do behavior, might non-reporting tend to decrease the incidence of SJS? Is there any way to know?

posted by Eric at 08:31 AM




great flood of historic nostalgia

Here's a famous photograph which received much attention for many years:


37flood.jpg


While it was (and probably still is) widely seen as a poignant illustration of the social injustice that lies at the root of America, it depicts victims of a 1937 flood in Louisville.

The juxtaposition of black flood victims with a PR billboard showing affluent white people was an amazing photo opportunity, for a very talented photographer -- Life Magazine's Margaret Bourke-White. That's because there was really no logical or causal connection between the National Manufacturers Association's PR campaign and the Louisville flood. The connections are emotional ones, made in the viewer's mind.

Not that there's any denying the terrible racism of the 1930s or the lower standard of living for black people. The irony is that the billboard did not prove it; it only seemed to prove it.

The people standing in line for flood relief might as well have been starving as a result of the depression. Their plight might just as well have been caused by the refusal of affluent whites to share their wealth.

Imagine, manipulating people's emotions by showing them pictures of flood victims!

People must have been really gullible in those days...

posted by Eric at 12:29 PM | Comments (5)



The halves and half-nots (and other risk-free dangers)

In a fit of hurried grocery shopping yesterday, I carelessly grabbed a container of what I thought said "Half and Half" for my morning coffee. Unfortunately, I missed reading the words "Fat Free." No excuse; it wasn't even fine print. Worse, I didn't see the "Fat Free" part until I had opened the container and poured some into my coffee.

Yeccch!

Food critic though I am not, in my unprofessional opinion, this swill tastes for the world as if it's half non-fat milk and half non-dairy creamer. (Probably that's exactly what it more or less is.)

I thought about the language. "Half and Half" is not a brand name, as there are innumerable brands of "Half and Half." It is supposed to be a standardized dairy product consisting of half cream and half milk. The FDA has a specific legal definition of what is legally called "half-and-half":

PART 131--MILK AND CREAM--Table of Contents

Subpart B--Requirements for Specific Standardized Milk and Cream

Sec. 131.180 Half-and-half.

(a) Description. Half-and-half is the food consisting of a mixture of milk and cream which contains not less than 10.5 percent but less than 18 percent milkfat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized.

(b) Optional ingredients. The following safe and suitable optional ingredients may be used:

(1) Emulsifiers.

(2) Stabilizers.

(3) Nutritive sweeteners.

(4) Characterizing flavoring ingredients (with or without coloring)
as follows:

(i) Fruit and fruit juice (including concentrated fruit and fruit
juice).

(ii) Natural and artificial food flavoring. (Emphasis added.)

Huh? I looked again on the label, and I saw that there is zero fat.

Here's the label:

Halfwhat.jpg

I have no problem with the marketing of any product, except that I don't see how they get around the FDA's definition of "half and half."

(Nor am I the first blogger to wonder about this.)

Hmmmm....

Might it be the hyphens? The FDA uses them, while the product I bought does not. They'd probably say that because they never stated it was half cream and half milk, that they're not misrepresenting anything.

But half of what and half of what?

They can probably say it is half milk, because the definitions of milk include low-fat, non-fat and other varieties. But there is no FDA definition of "cream" other than those which specify that it must contain fat.

Sec. 131.150 defines "heavy cream" as "cream which contains not less than
36 percent milkfat, while Sec. 131.155 defined "light cream" as "cream which contains not less than 18 percent but less than 30 percent milkfat."

Which means that even if they are allowed to escape the FDA's hyphenated definition by removing the hyphens, that only makes it "hyphen free half and half." There's still the plain meaning of the words. What do they mean?

Clearly, there is no possibility that the product is half cream. Is it half non-dairy creamer? Shouldn't they say so?

Not being a vegan, I don't have to address the highly volatile issue of whether "non-dairy" creamers are in fact non-dairy. But a site on the non-dairy=dairy warpath was kind enough to describe the mysterious product that my fat free half and half container labels "Carrageenan": "a thickener derived from a red seaweed commonly called Irish Moss."

Carrageenan is used as a thickener (which probably means that the stuff would be watery without it) and here's a site which doesn't seem to like it:

Carrageenan is a commonly used food additive that is extracted from red seaweed by using powerful alkali solvents. These solvents would remove the tissues and skin from your hands as readily as would any acid.

Carrageenan is a thickening agent. It's the vegetarian equivalent of casein, the same protein that is isolated from milk and used to thicken foods. Casein is also used to produce paints, and is the glue used to hold a label to a bottle of beer. Carrageenan is the magic ingredient used to de-ice frozen airplanes sitting on tarmacs during winter storms.

Sounds thickening to me, but it still doesn't tell me much about the totality of what's in the non-milk half of the alleged "half and half." Are they required to say? Or has "Half and Half" simply been degraded by the industry without the say-so of Uncle Sam's language police?

I think what is going on here is a literal war of words, with the industry trying to insinuate and weasel its way out of government requirements. Is this product even half milk and half something else? Frankly, I doubt it. There's no assurance on the label that it's half anything.

What concerns me is the plain meaning of English. Unless I am wrong, "Half and Half" is being reduced to a meaningless expression (analogous to the old "5 and 10" stores) which not only doesn't mean half milk and half cream, it doesn't mean half of anything.

If half is not half, what's next? Will whole not be whole?

(I don't want to look.)

If this doesn't make sense, I'm sorry. I'm trying to make half sense, and I'm not even sure whether I'm halving trouble.

MORE: Looking again at the above label, I notice more smoke and mirrors by the listing of the word "MILK" followed by an asterisk which indicates that this alleged "MILK" adds "a trivial amount of fat." But I thought milk had fat!

What about the 0% on the label? Does the word "zero" now exclude any "trivial amount"? Why? Have mathematicians been consulted?

I'm wondering. Can they do this with trivial amounts of Mercury, lead or asbestos? Why not? If zero excludes trivial amounts, and words like "half" are reduced to being trivial, then why can't all dangers be reduced to zero by such word reductionism?

(I think I should go on record as being one hundred percent in favor of half zero tolerance and half zero intolerance, provided the amounts are trivial.)

Will someone please tell me whether "zero" is more or less than "trivial"?

AFTERTHOUGHT: I think this post is a classic example of what can go wrong when logic is applied to things which are not logical. It's obvious that words like "half" and "zero" literally mean half or zero in the logical (or mathematical) sense. In industry terms, "half" is not half, and "zero" is not zero. That's because being "too" literal about these things would probably threaten the economic fabric of society or something.

But what about mercury?

Is there zero relativism?

posted by Eric at 07:43 AM | Comments (7)




bulldoggish bride blogging

Coco is in heat right now, which is a bit of a nuisance, but it will all pass relatively quickly.

However, she is taking a keen interest in other dogs, and she seems to have developed a bit of a crush on Bonnie Wren's bulldog, "Mojo."

Coco likes Mojo's style, because not only does he outperform airport security in preventing dangerous intruders, but he's become an expert at home remodeling:


baseboard5.jpg


However, I should point out that Coco is a bit jealous of Clara.

As to whether their pups would have any future, arguably they would. Both Coco and Mojo are listed bulldog breeds, and I think a svelte and slim female pit bull might provide just the right combination of genes to please a lot of people. The Olde English Bulldog was arrived at by crisscrossing the related breeds, with the goal of restoring the original bulldog to a healthier, more robust state.

Various genetic crosses have been used in carefully and thoughtfully planned breeding programs to obtain this goal. The foundation of most of today's Olde English Bulldogges can be traced to English Bulldog, American Bulldog, APBT and Mastiff.

These dogs were used very selectively in various combinations to obtain the desired physical and mental traits of the original Olde English Bulldogge. The result has been a good looking Bulldogge of great athletic ability that is much healthier and physically fit without most or all of the problems that plague today's modern English Bulldogs. The goal of all Olde English Bulldogge breeders should be to produce genetically healthier Bulldogges that are free breathers, free breeders, and free whelpers.

The pups would be registerable, but it would take enormous persistence and diligence to come up with a line consistently meeting the Olde English Bulldog standard, and this is just Coco's crush, not a serious proposal for an arranged marriage.

Interestingly, "Mojococo" and "Cocomojo" have both been spoken for as names, with the latter being considerably more popular than the former.

Uh oh! I better not let Coco see this picture of Mojo, lest her hopes for bulldog breeding be dashed!

But love is another matter. Coco loves her friends for who they are, and it need not be physical. As regular readers may remember, she has an ongoing platonic relationship with Tristan the Shih-Tzu. (That it's platonic is probably good. For starters, what would you call a cross between a pit bull and a Shih-tzu? And the breeds are not related at all. Do I really need to spend my time building a better "bull shiht"?)

I doubt there's much of moral lesson for Coco here, as she's already learned from Tristan that not all males are available, or even physically interested.

(But Coco is in heat, so I'll try to break it to her as gently as I can.)

posted by Eric at 04:30 PM | Comments (4)



Half as wide?

In blogging, I've found that the best way to make a fool of myself is to write blog posts about things outside of my areas of familiarity or expertise. Hence my reluctance to get into extensive tactical or strategic analyses of the war against terrorism.

That said, here I go anyway. I know next to nothing about aviation, but I've been wondering, with all the double and triple redundant controls which are supposed to govern these things, how on earth a plane could manage to find itself on the wrong runway, after spending 32 minutes in conversation with flight traffic control, just before the crash:

``The last communication was the takeoff clearance,'' said Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is participating in the inquiry along with the safety board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

If the news reports are to be believed, the mistake should have been obvious to the pilot, because not only was the incorrect runway only half the length of the proper runway (which caused the crash), it's also said to be only half as wide:

The width of the runways also is markedly different. The longer runway is 150 feet wide; the shorter one is 75 feet.
These days, I'm disinclined to believe anything I read, so (via a thorough report from a Lexington blog), I found myself directed to a satellite map of the airport. Here's the relevant portion of the picture (the crash site is circled):

lexsatellite_2.jpg

I might be missing something, but the shorter runway does not appear to be half the width of the longer runway. The two appear to be identical in width. In fact, if you go to the satellite map and zoom in, the shorter runway appears a hair wider.

Reports also state that the larger runway had been repaved just a week before the crash, and I find myself wondering whether someone -- somewhere -- might be in a bit of a hurry to point the finger at the pilot, even though this is a shared responsibility.

Then there's this recent report:

Lexington's airport director says a repaving project a week before the fatal Comair crash altered the taxi route commercial planes take to get to the main runway, The Associated Press reports.
I don't know much about aviation, but when what I can see with my naked eyes contradicts an important element of a news report, I wonder why.

It strikes me that no pilot would want to be on the wrong runway, that pilots would tend to follow instructions issued by the local people on the ground, and that over a course of 32 minutes of conversation the normal assumption would be that they'd have gotten the correct information out to the pilot, and it would have been confirmed.

So unless we assume reporters are simply making up facts here (possible but doubtful), who told the reporters that the shorter runway is half as wide as the wider runway if it isn't?

(I hope they aren't the same people involved with local air traffic control.)

UPDATE: Commenter Mark noticed that the runways are painted differently, with the shorter lane having a narrower lane painted in the middle. If runway width is defined by painted width and not actual width, that would explain the reports, although I don't know whether the paint in the center of the lane would indicate to the pilot that the lane is too short.

Something about this incident makes no sense to me. I don't see how a pilot could have made such a horrendous error on his own.

posted by Eric at 01:24 PM | Comments (8)



Anarcho-anachronistic art appreciation

During my long absence yesterday, I visited the Neue Gallery in New York, where for the first time I saw Gustav Klimt's breathtaking portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.


klimt_bloch-bauer1.jpg


The public clearly loves it, and reviews have been predictably mixed. Here's the slightly snarky New York Magazine:

3. Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Viennese, may or may not have been Klimt’s lover, which is part of the picture’s beguiling mystery. She was certainly his muse. The painting is an altarpiece for the romantic imagination. Klimt worked on it for three years, embedding Adele in a softly undulating and hypnotic cloud—a melting halo of gold. Her expression is languid, her dress full of fluttering eyes. She kept the painting in her private sitting room.

4. Klimt was inspired by the glorious Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, Italy, where the gold and jewels flicker in an otherworldly light. At the Neue Galerie, Adele Bloch-Bauer I is well placed in an imposing and handsome room. But the flat and even light, while ideal for many other paintings, deadens the imaginative shimmer of Klimt’s gold. It may take some time before the museum’s curators get just the right sort of glimmer.

The New York Sun was much snarkier, denouncing the painting as "a celebration of the wealth of bourgeoisie -- a kind of Hail Mary pass from the modern world to the old."

Notwithstanding any of these criticisms, I love the work. I think it's a beautiful thing, naively decadent in a good way, reflecting Klimt's absinthe-laced Art Nouveau times. More than one art critic has noticed an underlying defiance of spirit (which might be missed by those who dismiss the apparent foppish estheticism):

the portraits, with their timeless aspect, may be perceived as defying fate. Sleep, Hope (a pregnant woman surrounded by baleful faces) and Death are subjects no less characteristic than the Kiss. Yet life's seductions are still more potent in the vicinity of death, and Klimt's works, although they do not explicitly speak of impending doom, constitute a sort of testament in which the desires and anxieties of an age, its aspiration to happiness and to eternity, receive definitive expression.
As to Neue's display, I thought it was perfect; my only problem was that the room was crowded, but this was a Sunday.

The gallery paid $135 million for the painting, the highest price ever paid for any painting. While of enormous interest to art historians, it's simultaneously of great interest to Holocaust historians and legal scholars:

Adele Bloch-Bauer had indicated in her will that Klimt's paintings should be donated to the Austrian State Gallery.[4] She died in 1925 from meningitis. When the Nazis took over Austria, her widowed husband had to flee to Switzerland. His property, including the Klimt paintings, was confiscated. In his 1945 testament, Bauer-Bloch designated his nephew and nieces, including Maria Altmann, as the inheritors of his estate.[5]

As Bloch-Bauer's pictures had remained in Austria, the government took the position that the testament of Adele Bloch-Bauer had determined that these pictures were to stay there. After a protracted court battle in the United States and in Austria (see Republic of Austria v. Altmann), binding arbitration by the Austrian court established in 2006 that Maria Altmann was the rightful owner of this and four other paintings by Klimt.[6] The decision was received in Austria with dismay. After the pictures were sent to America, they were on display in Los Angeles in 2006 before the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was sold to Lauder.

The entire Supreme Court opinion is here, and it's complicated, because while the moral issue was quite clear (Nazis stole the painting from the family) the legal issue involved the retroactive application of the Federal Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA).

Kennedy, Rehnquist, and Thomas filed a lengthy (IMO persuasive) dissent, and I'm not entirely sure the court reached the right result in the majority opinion. I say this despite the fact that I am delighted that the family got the painting, and that it is now in New York and not Austria. I consider the Austrian government's conduct to have been a shameful ratification of the Nazi theft. The problem is, the damned sovereign immunity laws allowed them to get away with it at the time -- a grievous wrong, if a legal one. Morally speaking, Austria did not deserve the painting. A legal technicality -- a loophole, if you will -- permitted them to get away with it.

Yet the law is built on technicalities, and I'm always concerned when I see retroactive application of any law, even in the most morally egregious situations. If conduct is heinous enough, there seems to be a consensus that laws should be bent.

Whether that's a good idea poses an entirely new moral question. Lots of people think that in cases of things like the Holocaust, or crimes against children, principles like retroactivity should be disregarded. I'd rather see extralegal conduct committed in the name of morality than see legal principles disregarded. The adbduction of Eichmann is a good example. I support Israel's moral right to do that, just as I would have supported their moral right to send a special op team into Austria to seize the stolen Klimt paintings notwithstanding Austria's technical legal rights.

That would make me anarchistic, as well as anachronistic. (But appreciative.)

posted by Eric at 09:57 AM | Comments (1)




The easiest choice is no choice!

Today is so stormy that Yahoo weather is actually predicting possible tornadoes:

HAIL AND VERY HEAVY RAINFALL. A COLD FRONT THAT PASSED TO OUR SOUTH WILL RETURN TODAY AS A WARM FRONT. THE AIR AHEAD OF IT WILL BE STABLE...BUT BEHIND IT INCREASINGLY UNSTABLE. SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS ARE EXPECTED TO FORM ALONG THE BOUNDARY AND DEVELOP INTO SOME VERY STRONG STORMS. DAMAGING WINDS...HAIL...TORRENTIAL RAINS AND EVEN THE POSSIBILITY OF A TORNADO COULD VERY WELL HAPPEN THIS AFTERNOON AND EVENING.
Obviously, the best thing to do would be to stay at home.

But I'm going to spend the day driving through New Jersey.

Whether I should stay or go reminds me of this little captured scene from Friday:


paralysis.jpg


The bright side of the above picture is that there's no need to move.

(I'll return later, possibly today...)

posted by Eric at 08:21 AM




Fear of man? Really?

Via Justin, both Coco and I were quite fascinated by the story about "psycho killer" raccoons:

OLYMPIA, Washington - A fierce group of raccoons has killed 10 cats, attacked a small dog and bitten at least one pet owner who had to get rabies shots, residents of Olympia say.

Some have taken to carrying pepper spray to ward off the masked marauders and the woman who was bitten now carries an iron pipe when she goes outside at night.

"It's a new breed," said Tamara Keeton, who with Kari Hall started a raccoon watch after an emotional neighborhood meeting drew 40 people. "They're urban raccoons, and they're not afraid."

Tony Benjamins, whose family lost two cats, said he got a big dog — a German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix — to keep the raccoons away.

Wildlife monitors seem to be in a huddle over how to keep the peace:
The attacks, all within a three-block area near the Garfield Nature Trail in Olympia, are highly unusual, said Sean O. Carrell, a problem wildlife coordinator with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, adding that trappers may be summoned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove problem animals.

"I've never heard a report of 10 cats being killed. It's something were going to have to monitor," Carrell said.

Meanwhile, residents have hired Tom Brown, a nuisance wildlife control operator from Rochester, Washington, to set traps, but in six weeks he has caught only one raccoon. He and Carrell said raccoons teach their young — and each other — to avoid traps.

Brown said he had seen packs of raccoons this big but none so into killing.

"They are in command up there," he said.

That sounds like a pretty scary situation. "Urban raccoons" are "not afraid" and apparently are "in command"?

I'm wondering why isn't this happening in rural areas. Might it relate to the phenomenon increasingly called "victim disarmament" (via Glenn Reynolds) -- aka "gun control"?

I'd be willing to bet that the raccoons wouldn't be acting this way in a rural area, because they know they wouldn't get away with it.

If this sounds fantastic, consider that raccoons are highly intelligent animals -- considered more intelligent than cats, and if accounts like this are true, they're certainly smart enough to understand the danger of guns:

Stories about the raccoon's "intelligence" or problem solving ability are based in truth, and many farmers tell you how a raccoon learned to open a chicken-coop door or similar closure.

Sparky, our pet raccoon, craved raw eggs. Once when Thedie, my stepfather, gave Sparky a raw egg after introducing him to a new pen, the animal exhibited what appeared to be intelligence. The new pen had a chicken wire bottom raised about 6 inches above ground level. Sparky held the egg pointed-end upright, bit around it, pried off the excised portion, and began to lap out the raw egg. The egg tilted over, however, and it spilled through the wire to the ground. That had not been a problem in his former, solid, wood-floored pen.

Given another egg, Sparky took it directly to his food bowl, and we never saw him lose another egg through the wire. Was it intelligence or problem solving or just happenstance? In intelligence tests using food as the reward, raccoons took just 800 trials to achieve 75% success on a problem while cats required 7,000 trials to reach the same success rate.

John Lawson in his account of his early travels through Carolina wrote that the raccoon fished by dipping its tail into a stream. When a crab or crayfish clamped onto the "bait" the raccoon was said to withdraw its tail with the attached crustacean. The chances are good that Lawson heard the story from Indians and simply passed it on as a personal observation.

They're smart enough to enjoy getting loaded:
Lawson also wrote that the raccoon was particularly fond of fermented or "rotted" fruit, and that account is true. Sparky proved his taste for alcohol when he climbed onto the shelf created by 2, side-by-side, 5-gallon jugs of fermenting grape wine. He was running free in the kitchen/dining room as mother cooked dinner, and he had gotten quiet. When Sparky became quiet, it was time to investigate.

Mother found him perched on the jugs, dipping one hand down as far as it would go into a jug from which he had removed the cheesecloth cover. His fingers extended about halfway into the bubbling mixture, and he would pull out his hand, lick off the wine, and then reach for more. Mother called me to see what Sparky was doing, and I poured out a saucer full for him. Have you ever seen a raccoon with a "buzz"? We laughed at his antics until our stomachs hurt.

Another account of raccoon smarts:

The intelligence and dexterity of a raccoon is such that it can pick an avocado from a tree, aim, and throw it at a barking dog. Door knobs that can be turned -- without locks -- are no obstacle for a raccoon to open.
Lots more examples here, including picked locks, opened and pilfered refrigerators, etc.

I think any animal smart enough to unlock a door is certainly smart enough to figure out whether their victims (or their owners) are capable of an armed response.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether wild animals are losing their fear of man. I think it's obvious that they are, at least in cities.

I mean, what's to fear?

At a number of official websites like these there's all kinds of advice about "what to do" about problem raccoons, and much of it involves highly complex strategies involving specialized animal repellant products, and the use of psychology.

According to the Ohio State link, "densities of raccoons can be twenty times higher in urban areas than in rural environments."

Twenty times higher? Can anything be done? Why is it that so many animals were once afraid of man, and now they're able to terrorize them?

Was it always this way?

Perhaps city people can find the answer by studying history.

In that regard, I found an interesting reference work which might be of some value, and I humbly present it to my readers in the hope that no stone might be left unturned in the search for solutions.


raccques.gif


Coco wants a copy!

cococloseup.jpg

(I like it when I don't have to photoshop stuff.)

MORE: In their search for solutions, perhaps the city folks could start a new fashion trend when they visit City Hall with their demands....

CrockettHatB.jpg

(Coonskin caps used to be popular when I was a little kid. As seen on TV!)

posted by Eric at 03:56 PM | Comments (2)




At least he didn't use the "P" word!

Another never-ending source of amazement for me is the nature of some of the lawsuits that manage to get filed in court. Via an email, I see that a litigious Pennsylvania woman has recently sued a boy for making the meow sound at her:

JEANNETTE, Pa. (Aug. 23) - Meow. A district judge has been asked to decide whether that word is a harmless taunt or grounds for misdemeanor harassment. Jeannette police charged a 14-year-old boy for "meowing" whenever he sees his neighbor, 78-year-old Alexandria Carasia.

The boy's family and Carasia do not get along. The boy's mother said the family got rid of their cat after Carasia complained to police that it used her flower garden as a litter box.

The boy testified Tuesday that he only meowed at the woman twice. Carasia testified, "Every time he sees me, he meows."

Well, ain't that the cat's meow?

The boy's defense attorney says the suit never should have been filed, and while he's right, since when does being right matter?

The problem is, anything can now be considered offensive, on any number of grounds.

I wouldn't want to try oinking at people with certain religious, um, sensibilities.

And hog-calling on an airplane might really create trouble.

Personally, I think if all humor were made illegal, we'd have a funnier world.

posted by Eric at 11:20 AM | Comments (6)



No time for global thinking

I'm busy entertaining an out of town visitor for the next few days, and while I'll try to find time to write posts, one of the disadvantages to writing this sort of blog is that most of my posts require relatively larger chunks of time than posts like this one, and I'm having a time shortage right now. I'll try to post when I can, but in case anyone wonders why there's not more here, I'll be doing a lot of running around.

I haven't yet found a reliable way to write blog posts while driving and/or entertaining. Sometimes I wish this activity didn't require such concentration.

Hence I don't have time to focus on important issues, such as the impact of Pluto's demotion on astrology:

Astrologers believe that the positions of the moon, sun and stars affect human affairs and that people born under the 12 signs of the Zodiac tend to pick up qualities of the planets associated with those signs. Some astrologers, including leaders of the American Federation of Astrologers and the Astrological Association of Great Britain, are standing firmly by Pluto. They say they will continue to regard the icy orb as a full-blown planet with a powerful pull on our psyche, despite the astronomers' decision.

"Whether he's a planet, an asteroid, or a radioactive matzo ball, Pluto has proven himself worthy of a permanent place in all horoscopes," says Shelley Ackerman, columnist for the spirituality Web site Beliefnet.com. Ms. Ackerman criticized the IAU for not including astrologers in its decision.

I'll go one further. I think the Pluto decision was so important that it should have been left entirely up to astrologers!

No wonder things are so screwed up in the world today.

And anyone who's a Scorpio (or even influenced by one) should be especially worried:

Others warned that Scorpios -- people born between Oct. 23 and Nov. 21 -- should be especially cautious in the coming days because the sign is closely associated with Pluto.

"Scorpios can be extremely explosive, and very direct, and this could be the trigger that makes them explode," says Milton Black, an Australian astrologer who claims to have more than 580,000 clients. Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, take note. All three are Scorpios.

Laura, Hillary, and Condi?

Ye immortal gods! I'm shocked. I mean, my moon is in Scorpio! This could have a profound impact on the lunar side of my self esteem!

And aren't we supposed to be living in a democracy, where these things are democratically decided?

Considering the old FDR rule that there are no coincidences in politics, isn't it obvious that the astronomers are trying to mess with the election process?

Wish I had more time for detailed analysis.

(I should be thinking globally, not Plutonically. I haven't even had time to speculate about Pluto's impact on Mercury!)

MORE: Astrologers and Scorpios are not the only ones worried. This affects textbook publishers, Wikipedia, and important cultural icons.

pluto.jpg
posted by Eric at 10:31 AM | Comments (3)



Putting my mouth where my mercury is

I'm getting a bit sick of reading about the alleged "risks" of mercury:

Leila Varella's son Darius, 9, no longer munches tuna sandwiches for lunch. His mother now regrets the slabs of shark she tossed onto the grill.

Two years ago, amid national concern about mercury in seafood, they plucked strands of hair to be tested in a national survey of mercury levels in the U.S. population by the environmental group Greenpeace.

Darius' level was slightly high, so Varella nixed the fish.

"Mercury," said Varella, of Philadelphia, "is not something he needs."

It's not something anyone needs. It can interfere with fetal brain development. At high enough levels, it can cause other health problems in children and adults.

As evidence of its harm mounts, regulators and public-health officials have sought stricter controls, especially on the biggest source: coal-fired power plants.

Although the federal Environmental Protection Agency instituted new restrictions on plants in 2005, New Jersey recently trumped them by passing more stringent rules, and Pennsylvania is on the brink of doing likewise.

The industry opposes the Pennsylvania proposal, which calls for a 90 percent reduction in emissions by 2015, while the public has supported it in a record number of comments.

Greenpeace? A record number of comments?

Is no one interested in actual evidence?

I should be, because my mouth is full of the stuff. But the available hard science doesn't seem to think that's dangerous:

Children who got "silver" dental fillings containing mercury amalgam showed no neuropsychological or neurobehavioral differences compared with kids who got fillings of a polymer composite, say two new studies out Wednesday.

The studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association try to resolve a heated debate over amalgam fillings, but groups that believe mercury in amalgam is harmful disputed the findings and the ethics of testing them on children.

No large, randomized trials had previously been done to address the possible affects of mercury ingested from mercury amalgam dental fillings. A known potent neurotoxin, mercury is believed by some to pose a danger as minute amounts of it enter the body through the mouth.

Mercury amalgam has been used in dentistry for 150 years. Fillings made from it are 40% to 50% mercury. For over a century amalgam was believed to be inert, but about 25 years ago researchers discovered that amalgam fillings emit small amounts of mercury vapor.

(See also Quackwatch.) Small amounts? How might these amounts compare mathematically to the emissions from coal-fired plants?

Mercury, of course, is a natural element; not man-made. In ground coal it is measured in parts per billion, and overall US mercury emissions from coal are a small fraction of the worldwide total (half of which are natural emissions:

World wide mercury emissions are estimated at 5,000 to 5,500 tons/year with natural emissions half the worldwide total depending on volcanic activity. The US generates 117 tons/year (40 tons/yr from power plants).

Volcanic emissions are unpredictable but average around 700 tons/yr worldwide. There are over 5,000 surface and submarine volcanoes in the world with over 50 eruptions each month that can cause worldwide emissions to spike in any single year.

With respect to natural emissions in the U.S.: Roaming Mountain Wyoming researchers established that mercury emanating from a clay hillside were over 250 times as high as background levels away from geothermal areas. The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab issued a report in 2004 that Yellowstone Park could emit as much mercury as all of Wyoming's eight coal burning power plants. Illinois researchers have demonstrated that coal fired power generation could account for only a fraction of the mercury in the soil, indicating that most of the mercury in the soil was present before coal was used for generating electricity.

I think the EPA should close Yellowstone Park ASAP!

They also ought to issue a cease and desist order against me, for my teeth are loaded with mercury -- at levels far above that occurring in ground coal.

Why, I'm so loaded with mercury that it's unsafe to cremate me! Seriously, the people who are worried about burning coal should read this!

Additionally cremation of those with amalgam fillings adds to air emissions and deposition onto land and lakes. A study in Switzerland found that in that small country, cremation released over 65 kilograms of mercury per year as emissions, often exceeding site air mercury standards(9), while another Swiss study found mercury levels during cremation of a person with amalgam fillings as high as 200 micrograms per cubic meter (considerably higher than U.S. mercury standards). The amount of mercury in the mouth of a person with fillings was on average 2.5 grams, enough to contaminate 5 ten acre lakes to the extent there would be dangerous levels in fish(2). A Japanese study estimated mercury emissions from a small crematorium there as 26 grams per day(10). A study in Sweden found significant occupational and environmental exposures at crematoria, and since the requirement to install selenium filters mercury emission levels in crematoria have been reduced 85%(11). A study of assessing hair mercury in a group of staff at some of the 238 British crematoriums found that the groups hair mercury were significantly greater than that of controls(12).
Reading that is enough to burn me up!

Me and my mouth! I never imagined my mouth was more hazardous than coal.

In Maine, legislators have proposed yanking the fillings from corpses before cremation.

Getting through the hysteria to any actual science is like pulling teeth.

I'm wondering...

Maybe this is a law school exam question, but if the hysteria over mercury were to make me grind my teeth, which in turn made me emit numerous parts per trillion, wouldn't that mean that the hysteria would a contributory cause of the pollution?

MORE: These days a lot of false or unsubstantiated claims are made, and bloggers are often accused of less than full disclosure. While purely personal details about me are irrelevant to most of the things I discuss, in this instance I have made a claim based on such personal details. Because of the well-established principle that details should be verified in order to be trusted, I'm all too glad to oblige, and provide photographic proof that what I say is true:

mercuryhazard.jpg

That's only my lower jaw; the uppers are similar.

UPDATE (08/26/06): There's benzene in soft drinks! But the levels are apparently not as dangerous as drinking tap water. Nevertheless, that didn't stop a massive lawsuit:

District of Columbia Superior Court judge Mary Terrell dismissed that case Friday morning.

BellyWashers are juice drinks that come in reusable bottles featuring Spiderman, Hello Kitty, Scooby Doo and other well-known characters.

Crockett, the Coke spokesman, said Vault Zero is safe.

"There is no supporting documentation to prove how these lawyers conducted these tests," he said. "Their own press release indicates that they have abused the product with heat prior to testing.

FDA officials say there is no safety concern and that levels are still relatively low compared with other sources of exposure to benzene.

The soft drink industry agrees and says the amount of soft drinks people consume is much less than the amount of tap water they are exposed to.

Maybe if I drink enough Coke it'll loosen some of my mercury fillings!

posted by Eric at 08:51 AM | Comments (8)




Getting specific about random hate

I've never been a fan of hate crime legislation, because I think that crime is crime, and an attack by one person on another person is inherently heinous. If the fact that the victim belonged to a particular group was a motivating factor, that might make the attack especially heinous and depraved, and it is a factor which should be taken into account at sentencing. However, I don't think the victim's membership in a group or class should make an attack a special crime beyond the actual crime, as this invites all sorts of legal mischief, as well as endless demands for the inclusion of new groups into the special hate crime categories.

The latest group under consideration? The homeless:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tara Cole, who had been living on the streets of Nashville for more than three years, spent her last night alive sleeping on a boat ramp along the Cumberland River.

She was killed in the early hours of Aug. 11, when two unknown males pushed her into the river, according to witnesses. Other homeless people couldn't save her.

"She was one person, but it terrorized the whole homeless population," said Howard Allen, a homeless man who has helped organize a nightly vigil for Cole.

Authorities said the fatal attack was unprovoked, and homeless advocates say such violence is on the rise across the nation. Often the attackers are teenagers or young adults who are more affluent than their victims, experts say.

These "experts" also blame video games:
The increase in violence may be loosely linked to the increasing popularity of so-called "Bumfights" videos and imitation videos which show homeless people fighting one another and performing dangerous stunts, he said.

Four producers of the "Bumfights" videos pleaded guilty in June 2003 to charges of conspiracy to stage an illegal fight for their videos.

And a 20-year-old man in Los Angeles has been convicted for beating two homeless men with a baseball bat in August 2005 after watching a "Bumfights" video.

Internet site Bumfights.com, which sells the videos, says their purpose is to call attention to poverty and violence. "Please do not miss the point of these videos! Educate yourself. Help those who are less fortunate. Spread love not hate," the Web site says.

Not all heed the warning. The Web site includes one viewer commenting, "Let the idiots kill each other for my amusement."

No one responded to an Associated Press e-mail to Bumfights.com seeking comment for this story.

In cases where the perpetrator of attacks on homeless people is known, 76 percent are people 25 or younger, Stoops said. About 80 percent of attackers are white, he said.

"This might give an immature or drunk or high young adult encouragement to attack homeless people," Stoops said. "Were they to do this to any other minority group, there would be a national outcry."

What is a "minority group"? What is "homeless," and how is membership in this "group" to be defined? As to the "perpetrators of attacks on homeless people," I find myself wondering whether that definition includes attacks on homeless people by other homeless people. Might these "experts" be using a dishonest definition?

I don't know why, but if the above report -- and this NPR report -- are any indication, the race of the assailants seems to be of more interest than the race of the victims, and seems related to the push for adding a new "minority" to the already encumbered roll:

Police described the assailants as a group of young white males and say they used baseball bats and sticks to beat homeless men sleeping in three separate locations. The brutality of the attacks -- one of which was captured on surveillance video -- has stunned the city, which has recently won praise for its treatment of the homeless. The incidents have also renewed calls to make attacks against the homeless a hate crime under federal law.
While it should go without saying that an unprovoked attack -- by anyone -- on a total stranger for his status of living in the street (or being inebriated) is an outrage, I'm wondering just how federal laws might arrive at a legal definition of homeless minority group status for hate crime purposes. Many of the people we assume are homeless are not in fact homeless; they're just spending most of their time on the street and have poor hygiene, suffer from mental illness, or are visibly intoxicated. Would the law create a special group based purely on economic status? Or on the lack of a legal address? Or the status of being unwashed or intoxicated? If a landlord evicts a filthy drunken tenant for not paying his rent, why should that fact make an attack on him a more serious crime than it would have been the day before the sheriff put him out on the street?

I'm sorry, but legal minority group status for "the homeless" does not make sense.

I've seen some very nasty, very dangerous-looking, aggressive panhandlers. Some of them have been known to go berserk and kill people who have done absolutely nothing to them. Why shouldn't their unprovoked attacks on the non-homeless also be hate crimes? Should it be a worse crime to attack someone who had just asked you for money than for him to attack you for not giving him money?

Is there an economic test for hate here? If a criminal happens to have more money than his victim, why does that indicate hate?

Why are we assuming that hate is even involved in these attacks? Suppose the teens who set upon the guy lying in the street in Fort Lauderdale were looking for kicks, and decided to club an anonymous "bum" nearly to death simply because they thought they could get away with it. I think people who would do something like that are severely sociopathic, and I think they deserve lengthy prison terms, but does it matter whether they "hated" an anonymous bum they had never met? Isn't it entirely possible that they didn't hate him at all? That they treated him the same way they might have treated some poor stray dog? I'm not sure "hate" is the right word for such behavior.

Would it be less "hateful" if the same group of kids deliberately singled out a well-dressed businessman for attack? Why? Suppose that in addition to administering a near-fatal clubbing, they took his wallet. Does that make the crime "better"? Less "hateful"? I think you could argue it was at least as hateful, and certainly it was more purposeful. Or does hate have to have more of a random element? But what is random? Isn't there an element of randomness in selecting any stranger as a victim? Had he not just happened to be there, he wouldn't have been selected, but I'm having conceptual difficulties with the idea that simply targeting the next person to come around the corner is any less or any more hateful than targeting the next "easy mark" to come around the corner. Most criminals, of course, select their victims based on the likelihood of a successful attack. In order to do this, criminals utilize a mental process which can only be called discrimination. Don't hate crime laws simply discriminate further, by making a judgment that some victims are better than other victims?

I'm against hate crime legislation, but I think that if we are going to have it, we have to be fair. And the only way I can see to be fair is to give randomness the same minority status as any other victim category. That's because crime victims can be divided into two groups: those who were attacked for a reason, and those who were attacked at random. Aren't random attacks generally seen as worse? I mean, if you're going to be hit over the head with a baseball bat, wouldn't you rather have it happen for a reason than because your attacker was simply lying in wait for the next person to come around the corner? And if this happened, wouldn't it have been because the criminal, by deliberately committing his crime at random, singled you out as a random person?

What better way of assigning people to a group than at random?

posted by Eric at 08:28 AM | Comments (3)



The Fourth Amendment is an unclosed loophole

While it always irritates me to read about police officers shooting dogs during routine raids, stories like this tend to restore my faith:

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The city of San Jose agreed to pay nearly $800,000 to the Hells Angels motorcycle club to settle claims police needlessly killed three dogs during raids on club members' homes.

Ninety officers participated in the raids on the club's San Jose headquarters and nine members' homes following a 1997 killing at a strip club.

Steve Tausan, a bouncer and Hells Angels member, was later acquitted of murder and none of the bikers whose homes were targeted was ever charged.

In a lawsuit, the club claimed the dogs were killed after police refused to give owners and caretakers a chance to secure the animals.

"We sincerely hope the city will engage in changes to its policy and training to make sure that this doesn't happen again," said Karen Snell, one of the club's lawyers, after the settlement was announced Tuesday.

San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle said the city was forced to settle because an appeals court ruled shooting the dogs violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

What that story does not point out is the city's contention that police officers have an inherent right to shoot dogs when executing search warrants:
During the raids police shot three dogs belonging to club members which club attorney Karen Snell argued was an unconstitutional taking of property because police knew the dogs were at the raid locations and took no steps to restrain or capture them.

“They were beloved pets. They were very, very close to the families and the families were devastated,” Snell said earlier this year when Santa Clara County paid $990,000 to settle the lawsuit.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court as both San Jose and the county argued that they should not be liable because their officers were serving properly executed search warrants during the raids. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, in effect ruling for the Hells Angels, in December 2005. (Emphasis added.)

If the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the city's contention, then a search warrant against property would become a death warrant for animals unfortunate enough to live there.

I often worry that freedom in this country is ultimately headed in the same direction as China.

It helps to see a reminder that we're not living in China yet.

I'm still haunted by the warning from General Tommy Franks:

“It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world – it may be in the United States of America – that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps, very, very important.”
Of course, few people worry about what happens to bikers' dogs in raids.

They forget that (whether because of bureaucratic error or abuse of power) their homes and their dogs might be next.

Fortunately, there are still remedies.

Why do so many people seem so anxious to get rid of them?

posted by Eric at 08:21 AM | Comments (1)



Help me sell my epod on ibay!

Well, there is such a device as an epod, and there is such a place as ibay, so I suppose it could happen (especially if you're running MacWindows.)

Really, the way words and even parts of words are being gobbled up by the copyright and trademark laws is astounding. And (now that Apple is unleashing its pod police) downright annoying:

If this tale were a summer horror movie, it might be called When Apple Lawyers Attack. Or perhaps The Pod Patrol.

Apple Computer Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., beloved by designers, graphic artists, and other creative types for its anti-Establishment mythos, has been going after entrepreneurs for their use of the word pod in their businesses.

Indeed, Apple has applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the word pod as a trademark, in addition to the proper noun iPod, which it already owns.

Medford small-business woman Terry Wilson discovered this when a letter made its way to her last month from the San Francisco offices of Townsend Townsend & Crew L.L.P.

From her Web site, Terryfic.com, Wilson markets a line of decorative, patterned laptop protectors that she calls Tightpods. She offers the handcrafted Spandex covers in more than 70 tones and patterns, including Gold Lamé, Tiger, Snake and Tropical Hibiscus.

Apple makes the iPod digital music player, which has been a sales and cultural phenomenon since shortly after its introduction in 2001.

Wilson, who has been making her computer covers for about a year, settled on the name Tightpod because the covers fit snugly, and they protect their contents, like a pod. Also, the word pod, she noted, has entered the popular vernacular to be identified with things hip and modern.

"When I filed for trademark protection ... a couple weeks ago," she said in an interview, "I got a cease-and-desist order."

The order from Apple reads in part: "The TIGHTPOD mark will inevitably cause consumer confusion as to the source of the products, and dilute Apple's famous IPOD mark."

Does the word "pod" need tightening by Apple's Pod fascists? Last week I was really into pods, because I was on a cruise ship that served them. In addition to the notorious and omnipresent pea pods, I ate gastropods (commonly called escargots), and even pelecypods (also known as clams and mussels).

I would have taken pictures to prove my claim, but alas! The dining room was dark that the picture would have been a blur. And my camera lacked a tripod! Hell, I didn't even have a unipod (a device also known as a monopod.)

Slashdot has also covered the pod police uproar, noting a vending machine device called "Profit Pod" and an older instrument called the "Bass Pod," but no one seems to have asked the Podiatrists' lobby to weigh in.

And what about the Pod People?

While I don't want to succumb to podophobia, at the same time I don't think this should involve podophilia. I think podophiles and podophobes alike might gain a new understanding of the problem if they look at the root cause of the problem -- which is the root word "pod" itself. (Copyrights are not copyroots.)

I blame the Greeks, not the Geeks.

posted by Eric at 06:47 AM | Comments (5)




Unless you agree with me, you are intolerant!

In a post about Arianna Huffington, Dr. Helen shares a wonderful tidbit of wisdom:

A couple of commenters have claimed that I do not allow dissenting views or that I am equally as intolerant to dissenting views as Huffington is. Huh? You are posting your opinion here freely on my blog and then accusing me of being intolerant of other points of view? That makes no sense.
Well, it makes a lot of sense if you think disagreeing with someone's opinion constitutes "intolerance."

Of course, under the logic of the above rule, those with dissenting views are themselves intolerant of whatever it is from which they dissent.

But let's not let logic get in the way of understanding!

posted by Eric at 07:05 PM | Comments (5)



Opportunity knocks (but only if you hurry!)

A lot of people are fussing about Event Data Recorders (known as EDRs), and the NHTSA is now going to require auto manufacturers to disclose whether they've been installed.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has passed a regulation requiring car makers to inform customers when their car has been equipped with an Event Data Recorder, the agency said Monday.

EDRs, similar to "black boxes" used in commercial airliners, record data about what a car is doing in the moments just before and after a crash. They do not record the voices of occupants but they do record things like speed, steering wheel movement, how hard the brakes are being pressed and the actual movement of the car itself.

About 64 percent of model year 2005 cars were equipped with EDRs, according to NHTSA. Some manufacturers already include information about the EDR in the owners manual, but not all, said Rae Tyson, a spokesman for NHTSA.

"If you have a new vehicle, chances are it's got one," he said.

Data from the recorders is used by law enforcement and attorneys to recreate events directly leading up to an accident. Data is also used by car companies to research how cars and drivers perform in actual crashes.

Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data, which can be used as evidence in court cases, is being collected without the knowledge of vehicle owners and drivers.

The devices are virtually impossible to disable because their functioning is so tightly integrated with vehicle safety systems such as airbags and anti-lock brakes.

Impossible to disable?

I wonder if they asked the geeks who've managed to hack their way past almost every security system yet invented by man.

Right now, there's nothing illegal about disabling Big Brother's EDRs (assuming you can find someone who knows how). USA Today editorialized that if it's in your car, it's yours:

Since EDRs are becoming standard equipment, the device and its data should belong to car buyers, just as they own the muffler or tires.
Lofty words, and I agree.

But I see (via the NSCL's web site) that already in New York, Assembly Bill 6093 "makes tampering with, disabling, or removal of such device a misdemeanor."

Hurry up geeks!

Before they close the loophole!

(My instincts tell me that they wouldn't be making it illegal to do something which is in fact "impossible.")

UPDATE: In addition to the concerns I've expressed, there are also Fifth Amendment issues:

....there are concerns the information may be used to harass some drivers or encroach consumer privacy rights.

"It won't be long before someone says you can't have access to my event data recorder because it is a violation of my Fifth Amendment rights," said Michael Khoury, a lawyer with Southfield law firm Raymond & Prokop.

MORE: Eric Peters warns that the devices will soon be tied to GPS devices, and that there's an unholy alliance between the government and insurance companies:

The automakers are just as eager to keep tabs on us as the government -- in part to keep the lawyers who have been so successfully digging into their deep pockets at bay. EDRs would provide irrefutable evidence of high-speed driving, for example -- or make it impossible for a person injured in a crash to deny he wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Insurance companies will launch "safety" campaigns urging that "we use available technology" to identify "unsafe" drivers -- and who will be able to argue against that? Everyone knows that speeding is against the law -- and if you aren't breaking the law, what have you got to worry about?

It's all for our own good.

Not for my own good. I'm not planning to buy a new car anytime soon.

posted by Eric at 06:30 PM | Comments (7)



Poseidon's passion under the bridge

On the way to Bermuda, I passed under the Delaware Memorial Bridge -- the "the world's longest twin suspension bridge."

As photo opportunities go, the bridge was hard to resist.


DelMemorBrdge.jpg


A couple of days after going under the bridge, I found myself inside the ruins of an unfinished Bermuda church:

Work began on the church in 1874, but ended when the church was beset by financial difficulties and a schism in the Anglican congregation.
Anglican schisms? I thought that was a new idea...

From the looks of the photo, I'm behaving like a Rasputin ne'er-do-well -- while the church splits into pieces:


Churchruin.jpg


But looks can be deceptive. Obviously, that church need not worry about today's schism, as the fact that it was never completed moots the issue of same sex marriages being performed there.

I took the next couple of pictures in a very old, very spooky cemetery which overlooks the Atlantic ocean.


Bermudacem2.jpg


Bermudacem3.jpg


Signs of voodoo, maybe Santeria (or perhaps some form of animism?) were present. A dead chicken appeared to have been killed ritually, in apparent alignment with a bizarre statue of a headless chicken placed atop one wall of the cemetery, and a pair of shoes on the opposite wall. I don't understand the significance (if any) of these items, but there I was.


Later I took this picture of a passion flower blooming at night:


passionaflor.jpg


I was told they open only once. According to Wikipedia the passion flower not only has psychoactive properties, but an interesting symbology:

"Passion" does not refer to love, but to the Passion of Christ on the cross. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries discovered this flower and adopted its unique physical structures as symbols of Crucifixion. For example: the 72 radial filaments (or corona) represent the Crown of Thorns. The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles. The top 3 stigma represent the 3 nails and the lower 5 anthers represent the 5 wounds. The flower has been given names related to this symbolism throughout Europe since that time. In Spain, it is known as Espina de Cristo (Christ's Thorn). In Germany it was once known as Muttergottes-Schuzchen (Mother-of-God's Star).
The Apostles? The Crown of Thorns? Sheesh! I didn't see any of those things in the flower, and it didn't occur to me to count the radial filaments, the petals, the sepals, the stigma, or the anthers.

Anthers? I have only questhions!


But speaking of wildlife and passion, here's a picture of wild, passionate life aboard the ship!


movement.jpg


Just looking at that makes my anther feel stigmatized! (But isn't it better to be stigmatized than politicized?)

Anyway, I made it back in one piece. Considering that the trip was accomplished entirely by ship, I'm glad that while in Bermuda I paid homage to Poseidon, known Homerically as the savior of ships.

BermudaPoseidon.jpg

Obviously, I can't claim that this accounts for the calm seas which accompanied the ship, but can anyone say that it hurt?

Poseidon, one of the most powerful gods, did not behave in what would today be considered a godly manner:

He had many love affairs and fathered numerous children. Poseidon once married a Nereid, Amphitrite, and produced Triton who was half-human and half-fish. He also impregnated the Gorgon Medusa to conceive Chrysaor and Pegasus, the flying horse. The rape of Aethra by Poseidon resulted in the birth of Theseus; and he turned Caeneus into a man, at her request, after raping her. Another rape involved Amymone when she tried to escape from a satyr and Poseidon saved her. Other offspring of Poseidon include: Eumolpus, the Giant Sinis, Polyphemus, Orion, King Amycus, Proteus, Agenor and Belus from Europa, Pelias, and the King of Egypt, Busiris.
Impregnating Medusa? Reading stuff like that makes me wonder whether there's a connection between the ancients and the fact that even today, ships are referred to in the feminine gender:
....when we refer to a ship as a she, we are assigning to it a gender, and, incidentally, the same gender the Romans assigned, feminine.
But not the Russians, the Germans, or the French.

Nor the very influential Lloyds of London, which has neutered ship gender in an obvious bow to political correctness.

Does every last goddamned thing in this world have to become political?

While none of this is new, it's probably worth pointing out that various offended people have decried "sexist" ship gender at Wikipedia, but there's a more interesting debate here.

However, here's a feminist classical scholar who disagrees with the stultifying grammatical view of conventional feminism:

A feminist note on the gender of ships: Because of the living qualities of ships, I like to refer to a ship as "she" rather than "it." While some may compare a vessel to a woman because of the supposedly capricious nature of both (although there seems nothing wrong with an occasional playful moment), I think that this view overlooks other qualities. Ships, like women, are beautiful, swift, intelligent, and powerful. I am glad to acclaim them as my sisters!
I don't think Poseidon would mind.

posted by Eric at 08:32 AM | Comments (7)




Twin "twofer" strategy?

This is interesting:

Dario Ringach, an associate neurobiology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, decided this month to give up his research on primates because of pressure put on him, his neighborhood, and his family by the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, which seeks to stop research that harms animals.

Anti-animal research groups are trumpeting Ringach’s move as a victory, while some researchers are worried that it could embolden such groups to use more extreme tactics. . . .

Colleagues suggested that Ringach, who did not return e-mails seeking comment, was spooked by an attack on a colleague. In June, the Animal Liberation Front took credit for trying to put a Molotov cocktail on the doorstep of Lynn Fairbanks, another UCLA researcher who does experimentation on animals. The explosive was accidentally placed on the doorstep of Fairbanks’s elderly neighbor’s house, and did not detonate.

Via Glenn Reynolds, who quite properly opines that "if people were doing this to animal-rights activists, it would be called fascism."

I think that the tactic of threatening children (which I've posted about infra), while nothing new to animal rights activists, works as a "twofer." That's because it simultaneously accomplishes both of the following:

  • 1. It intimidates the intended audience (all animal researchers, and especially other researchers who might so much as think about doing animal research); and
  • 2. It advances the nihilistic ideology that there is no moral distinction between humans and animals.
  • The latter fires up the troops, and frightens everyone else.

    These observations are not new for me, and I'm sure others have made them too. But the reason I decided to write this post was that the other day I had the occasion to talk to a genetics researcher who works in the United States but who comes from another country, and closely follows what goes on in his field worldwide. He told me that the animal research work is constantly, relentlessly, being shifted to China. (You know... "Outsourcing.")

    In an amazing coincidence, the outsourcing of animal research to China is also a "twofer":

  • 1. In China, the concept of animal rights is a laugh (even more of a laugh than human rights, which is also a laugh). This means animal research facilities are not subject to policing or inspections as they are in the West.
  • 2. Chinese researchers are meticulous and hard-working, and cost a fraction of their American counterparts.
  • So, as a result of the fascistic activist tactics, animal rights research is farmed out to a basically fascist country, where animals suffer more, and where the research can be conducted inexpensively without any real ethical limitations.

    While it was news to me to hear about the outsourcing of animal research, it occurs to me that the animal rights activists have to be savvy enough to know about it, so I have to assume it's all part of some "think-globally," grand international animal rights strategy.

    I mean, surely they're planning to travel to China and stage huge demonstrations, vandalize research facilities, and threaten the children of the Chinese researchers, right?

    Such idealism and bravery are touching.

    UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post! Welcome all.

    In an update, Glenn quotes Jim Bennett on China's own form of nihilism:

    ...in its own way China also upholds the principle that there is no ethical difference between human and animals.
    I think that's true, and it means the animal rights activists and the Chinese have more in common than might usually be believed.

    ADDITIONAL NOTE ON "OUTSOURCING": Please bear in mind that the word "outsourcing" was my choice of phraseology and not that of the researcher I spoke with. I'm neither an economist nor a scientific researcher, and I used the word pretty much the way I'd use it in casual conversation, but looking further this morning, I see that within this context it could very well be taken to imply a deliberate decision taken by American companies, whereas what the researcher described was more along the lines of the deliberate entry into the research market by the Chinese. Work done there, but not specifically for American companies, might not fit the formal definition of "outsourcing." Regarding scientific research, Wikipedia describes outsourcing thusly:

    This is treated as a niche sector in outsourcing. The research processes are outsourced in full or in parts. Whether it is research in nanotechnology or research in genetics, the process is viable for outsourcing. Generally larger research projects are cut into various sub projects or tasks. The outsourcing is then carried out based on the viability and competitiveness of the outsourcing destinations. Thus exploiting the competitiveness available at various parts of the world into a single large project. The research process outsourcing (RPO) is also known as Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), as it calls for the application of specialized knowledge of a high level. The KPO typically involves a component of Analysis Proves Outsourcing (APO) and Research Process Outsourcing (RPO). General Electric is one of the pioneers in RPO.
    Again, I am not an economist, and I hope I didn't mangle the term.

    However, even though I am not a scientific researcher, what the scientist told me is confirmed by news reports like this:

    GLADYS Hammond was a kindly woman who lived in the English county of Staffordshire. When she died seven years ago, her family buried her in a quiet village churchyard, a fitting resting place for this elderly, unassuming woman. But then in October this year, her remains were dug up and stolen. Why?

    Because her daughter was married to a man who owned a share in a farm that bred guinea pigs for medical research.

    The fate of Gladys Hammond is playing right into the hands of China and Singapore in their push to develop biotechnology sectors.

    The incident was the trump card in a campaign of abuse and intimidation by animal rights extremists. For six years, the family that ran the farm and those connected to them had been subjected to death threats, hate mail, malicious phone calls, hoax bombs and arson attacks. Suppliers were similarly targeted: one was hit by a brick thrown through a window and endured an anonymous campaign that he was a paedophile.

    But the theft of Gladys Hammond's remains was the last straw. After 30 years of breeding guinea pigs, the family decided to stop.

    It has been estimated that 10-15 per cent of the costs of drug discovery in the US and Britain goes towards animal testing — the total cost of bringing a new drug to the market can be more than $US1 billion ($A1.3 billion). Harassment of animal testing laboratories, the scientists associated with them and the businesses that breed animals for research has significantly added to costs. How to get around this problem? Increasingly, outsourcing to Asia will be the answer. Asia's authoritarian governments that clamp down on troublesome pressure groups and muzzle inquisitive media, and Asia's cost competitiveness, will all prove a big attraction.

    China already supplies most of the world's primates for animal testing and a monkey used in China in pre-clinical testing costs about one fifth of the $US5000 that US researchers typically must pay for a monkey sourced within their country.

    US firm Bridge Pharmaceuticals (which was spun-off from the Stanford Research Institute in 2004) opened an animal-testing joint venture, Vital Bridge Zhongguancun Drug Development Laboratory, last month in Beijing's Zhongguancun Life Sciences Park. The facility is the first US Food and Drug Administration and Chinese State Food and Drug Administration compliant preclinical laboratory in China. The laboratory will act as a contract animal testing facility on behalf of client firms such as drug and cosmetic companies.

    There's more, and I think it fits the definition of "outsourcing" -- to a "T."

    So maybe I was right in calling it that. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so quick to back away from my use of the word in the comment I left last night. (Should I retract my, um, "retraction"?)

    I also find it fascinating to read in that last article about desecration of the dead as yet another tactic in the animal rights arsenal. Considering that animal rights activists scream bloody murder (literally) when humans desecrate pigs, it's probably another argument from moralistic nihilism.

    posted by Eric at 04:42 PM | Comments (11)



    Selective literalism? Or literal selectivity?

    Speaking of loopholes, Reverend Tim LaBouf doesn't think there are any which allow women to teach men, so he fired an 81-year-old female Sunday school teacher:

    Watertown First Baptist Church Pastor Tim LaBouf, also a city council member in Watertown, N.Y., said women could fulfill any role or responsibility they wanted to -- outside the church.

    "My belief is that the qualifications for both men and women teaching spiritual matters in a church setting end at the church door, period," LaBouf said in a statement on the church Web site (http://www.nnyinfo.com/firstbaptist).

    LaBouf and the church board fired Mary Lambert, 81, earlier this month in a letter that cited the scriptural qualifications for Sunday School teachers, Lambert said.

    "They quote First Timothy Two, 11-14: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she must be silent," Lambert said, reading from the letter.

    Coco ought to be glad female dogs aren't forbidden by the Bible to have authority, because bitches are known to be bossy to males. And the male dogs simply put up with it, unlike Reverend LaBouf! (Tell that to "Coco LeBoeuf." Yes, I'm afraid that's one of her pet names. Seriously.)

    But I really should leave animal morality to animals and stick to humans. I wasn't sure whether the passage from Timothy meant women should only be barred from teaching Sunday School, or whether they shouldn't be allowed to teach anything, so I went to Reverend LaBouf's web site, where he defends the decision and quotes from the Board's decision that "the scriptural rules concerning women teaching men in a church setting was only a small aspect of that decision."

    Only a small aspect? Of what? Of other aspects? I thought I should look at the entire quote from 1 Timothy 2:9-15

    9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (KJV)
    Shamefacedness? No gold? No braids? No pearls?

    Why that sounds almost like Communism! Or other mean religions.

    Aside from selectively picking and choosing (which would allow the above to be simply ignored at will), aren't there any loopholes anywhere?

    Well, I guess there's always the option of arguing over the proper context.

    Or maybe not taking the Bible too literally.

    (By definition, though, that's not an option for literalists.)

    posted by Eric at 12:39 PM | Comments (5)



    Hell as a loophole
    "Everything about man is deception and falsehood."
    So concludes Francisco de Quevedo in his "Visions," one of which (from the following print series by Salvador Dali) has been staring me in the face for years.


    DALI_Quevedo_Visions.jpg


    I like Dali and I bought print "C" (shown on the upper right) on ebay years ago, but the seller knew nothing about the subject material or title, which I only discovered today.

    As to the book which inspired Dali, while the original is alleged to be heavily censored, Quevedo's "Visions" has been described as "a brilliant and bitterly satiric account, after Dante and Lucan, of the inhabitants of hell."

    In writing "The Vision of Judgment" (considered his "finest finished poem"), Lord Byron used the name of "QUEVEDO REDIVIVUS." (Byron offers a reminder that Hell is paved with good intentions. Catch 22?)

    Historically, artists -- especially those from censored or uptight times or backgrounds -- have loved Hell. That's because in Hell all conventional boundaries disappear, and artistic license is virtually unlimited. Relativism is evil, and of course evil is relative. Yet because evil is presumed to be everywhere in Hell, there are no limits. Even presumably "good" men can be placed in Hell and properly belong there. Because religious scolds threaten all of us with Hell, and we are all sinners, no one is immune. Therefore, people can generally be placed in Hell with impunity -- especially in artistic "visions."

    Sending people to Hell cloaks an unsafe political attack with the safer mantle of religion.

    It's easy to understand why a 16th Century satirist would see Hell as the best possible value. For a satirist like Quevedo (with innumerable powerful enemies in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition) there was no bigger bang for the buck than this kind of Hell:

    A parade of the famous, the infamous, and commoners -- whole professional groupings, from innkeepers to poets -- get judged, each approaching it in their own fashion (what a sight the philosophers made, "chopping logic to fashion their syllogisms about salvation"). It's a quick roll-call, but almost each line delivers the targets: "There followed three or four rich Genoese, seeking salvation along with banking concessions." And their fates are also all appropriate -- so the whole gaggle of poets that is sent along with Orpheus back down into the Underworld, "to try whether, as an experiment, they could all emerge again." A nice scene has Judas, Mahommed, and Martin Luther together, each claiming to be the true Christ-betrayer Judas, much to the real one's chagrin.
    Hell has something for everybody!

    I'm so glad to own my own private part.

    But this is a public blog, and considering the times in which we live, I think Quevedo's quotation of Mohammad "defending his faith" might be of interest to modern readers:

    Let it simply be said that I wished my disciples sufficient ill to deprive them of glory in the life hereafter, and pork and wine skins while on Earth. And in the end I decreed that my doctrines should not be defended by reason (for there is none to be found in either obeying or advocating them) so committing them instead into the hands of armed night I set my followers off upon lives of unending din and clamour.
    Personally, I find such din and clamor to be very dull. Deadly dull.

    No wonder I'm looking for loopholes.

    posted by Eric at 09:17 AM




    "Stiff" sentencing guidelines?

    Via an email I received while I was away, here's a news item which falls into the man-bites-dog category:

    BRISTOW, Okla. (Aug. 8) - Former Oklahoma judge Donald Thompson was sent to prison for four years Friday for exposing himself by using a sexual device while presiding over jury trials.
    The sentencing judge thought the allegations were too bizarre to have been made up:
    McCall, who usually sits on the bench in Comanche County, said he did not believe the accusations against Thompson were fabricated, as Thompson had claimed.

    "People who are out to get a judge find an opponent. They don't concoct a story, especially one this bizarre," McCall said.

    [...]

    Thompson served as a state legislator and spent almost 23 years on the bench before he retired in 2004. His former court reporter, Lisa Foster, testified at his trial that she saw Thompson expose himself during trials at least 15 times between 2001 and 2003. Prosecutors said he used a device known as a penis pump during four trials between 2002 and 2003.

    Thompson, a married father of three grown children, testified that the penis pump was given to him as a joke by a longtime hunting and fishing buddy.

    "It wasn't something I was hiding," he said.

    He said he may have absentmindedly squeezed the pump's handle during court cases but never used it to masturbate.

    Absentminded or not, I didn't know you could get four years for penis pump squeezing.

    The judge is filing an appeal, but will he claim the law is an ass?

    UPDATE (08/24/06): Speaking of penis pumps, a Turkish man is in trouble for lying about one by saying it was a bomb:

    Madin Azad Amin was stopped by officials on Aug. 16 after guards found an object in his baggage that resembled a grenade, prosecutors said.

    When officers asked him to identify it, Amin said it was a bomb, said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Lorraine Scaduto.

    He later told officials he'd lied about the item because his mother was nearby and he didn't want her to hear that it was part of a penis pump, Scaduto said.

    Amin is looking at three years in prison.

    Looks like penis pumps are becoming a threat to national security!

    posted by Eric at 10:31 AM | Comments (1)



    RINOs refuse to follow the herd

    This week's RINO Sightings Carnival is hosted by Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway.

    My thanks to Doug for including Dennis's swimmingly good post.

    A couple of posts especially caught my attention.

    Stephen Littau offers an excellent argument against routine deployment of SWAT teams to serve routine search warrants, especially the use of murderous state violence against people whose non-violent crimes harm only themselves:

    Selling or using drugs in or of itself is not a violent act which requires violent force. Violent force should only be used when one citizen is endangering the life, liberty, or property of a non-consenting other citizen. Even when force is required it should only be proportional to the threat against a non-consenting other citizen’s life, liberty, or property.

    The war on drugs is not worth one more terrified family, one more wrongful imprisonment, or one more innocent life. So much of this misery could be avoided altogether if we as citizens and policy makers realized the human cost of the war on drugs and realized it was time to bring it to an end. So you don’t like drugs? Good, I don’t either! However deadly drugs are, they are nowhere near as dangerous as government actions to prevent their use. Whenever citizens can be regarded as collateral damage it is time to look and see if the cost of life is worth the price. From my perspective, we have already paid too heavy of a price. I tend to believe at least some 292 families would agree.

    This steady erosion of the freedom which was once our birthright is a national disgrace. I know I've complained about this to the point that it must be tedious, but I think that from a purely moral perspective, the "war" on drugs is a grotesque national evil. Imprisoning people for the crime of self harm makes about as much sense as locking up the obese. The fact that military-style SWAT teams are being routinely deployed to hunt down these unfortunate losers only compounds the problem. People who thought the WACO and Ruby Ridge incidents were isolated should think again, as miniature versions are happening in every city every day. I'm sorry that all I can do is sit and write another blog post lamenting the sorry state of American freedom.

    The problem is, the "Drug War" is supported by both parties, and it generates enormous wealth for Third World entrepreneurs and governments. The sheer numbers are mind-boggling, but relegalizing drugs in the United States would cause such a chaotic reduction in prices that governments (especially those run by drug criminals) could fall. For whatever reason, the collective decision is that it's less disruptive of the status quo to simply continue to wage war on American losers -- at the expense of American freedom. I don't know what it would take to change this situation.

    Don Surber has an amusing update on the story of the picture of Jesus which caused such commotion in a West Virginia school. The picture has been stolen -- and now the ACLU can't decide whether to drop the lawsuit against it.

    Hmmm...

    Perhaps someone will phone in an anonymous tip that the stolen picture is being held for ransom. Then the authorities can send in a SWAT team, and maybe even the Hostage Rescue Team. That way, the ACLU could fight to defend Jesus against Gestapo tactics and improve their image.

    There are more posts, of course -- so go read the Carnival.

    posted by Eric at 09:06 AM | Comments (2)




    Diving back (and divers moral issues)

    I'm finally back, which means that if I am going to continue to blog I need to get caught up with (yechh!) politics. In all honesty, leaving the country and spending a week away politics does not make it more attractive upon return. It's a paradox, as it is my distrust of political manipulation which fuels much of this blog. As long as I am in the middle of it, it's not so bad (it can even be fun), but returning to it is very grim.

    Dennis has spoiled me in my absence by writing daily posts! He's done such a great job that I almost feel like taking another week off.

    Might it be possible to just take another week off from politics yet still write posts in this blog?

    That's a pretty tall order for me, but I'll give it a try...

    I went SCUBA diving and snorkeling, and saw all kinds of beautiful fish and coral. That would seem to be a non-political subject. Yet, increasingly, divers are being politically scolded with heavy-handed mantras like these:

    More harm is done to the ocean’s ecology by divers than by anything else.
    Really? And how is that? Putting on a mask and snorkel or a tank and then swimming around does harm to the ecology?

    How? The site explains:

    Coral reefs are beautiful and fragile systems. Despite repeated warnings, divers continue to touch coral and cause it to die. Many places in the world are rejecting requests by tourists to dive in the area because of the damage sustained to the environment. Do not be part of the problem, but rather be part of the solution by doing your part to protect the environment.
    I'm not into touching coral (and I don't know why anyone would want to), but unless someone hacked at it with a knife or a hammer, I'm wondering whether touching would actually make it die. There are plenty of repeated claims that touching kills coral, but I can't find a scientific study. I'd think that maybe the weighted nets hauled through coral reefs by commercial trawlers might just be a bit harder on the reef systems than the occasional human touching, though, and I wonder whether divers do as much damage as they're said to. During my dive I didn't touch anything, and I'm hard pressed to understand how I might have damaged "the ecology."

    But if touching coral is a problem, someone in the enforcement industry really ought to do something about the parrotfish! Everywhere I dived, I saw these large fish chomping away on coral. Not only that, I heard them!

    CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!

    These fish have incredibly strong beaks that bite into the coral, then grind it up and swallow it. For me to do the same type of damage, I'd have to take a pair of channel lock pliers or electrical nippers underwater, and and spend my dive shaving off pieces of coral. And I'm only in the water for less than an hour because the air runs out. They're in the water chomping on coral all day every day.

    Sheesh. See how quickly even something as non-political as diving can be politicized? [I think this means that despite my attempt, I have already failed to avoid politics.]

    At least the parrotfish are fish, and they need not worry about environmental politics. Nor do they need to worry about sexual politics, despite the fact that for them, things like sex changes and role reversals are routine:

    Parrotfish can and will undergo sex changes when necessary. There is a multitude of options in their world. They are born both male and female, but males can become females and vice versa when population densities are low and breeding males or females are in short supply. Some species live in a harem structure, with one male to a few females. If something happens to the male, oftentimes the dominant female will become a male and breed with the rest of the females. If another male moves in, that fish may again become female.

    With at least one species -- the redband parrotfish -- all males are derived from born females through sex reversal. When a female of a spawning group becomes a male, it will wander until it finds an unprotected group of females to create its own harem.

    Added to this androgyny are the complicated pattern and color changes that each species undergoes at different stages in growth and in conjunction with its gender changes.

    (Via Hope's Place's discussion of parrotfish rainbow symbology.)

    These transsexual, er, polysexual (er, would that be "pollysexual" for parrot?) fish are down there mutilating the coral to their hearts' content, while humans get the moral lectures.

    Here's a picture of the rainbow eco warrior that does its thing and gets off scot-free:


    parrotfish2.jpg


    I didn't have an underwater camera, but here are some beautiful Bermuda shells I spotted quite close to the sea:


    shellsbermuda.jpg

    (BTW, shell collecting is bad for the environment too!)

    And here's a not-as-naughty nautical scene:


    propeller.jpg

    Anchors are bad for coral too, and I don't even want to speculate about how the propeller might have gotten itself broken. Bermuda is surrounded by hundreds of wrecks, which I'm sure did great damage to the environment. But now they're part of the environment.

    Imagine, becoming part of what you damage.... Being a wreck must be tough.

    (I guess I'd rather visit one than be one.)

    posted by Eric at 11:40 AM




    Racism or observation?

    When does observation become racism? Browsing around some websites, I happened across video of someone named Tramm Hudson running for political office somewhere who is now being vilified across the internet for making supposedly racist remarks: he said that in his experience blacks weren't 'the greatest swimmers or may not even know how to swim.'

    I've heard other servicemen make similar statements with reference to swimming in boot camp. Is it racist if it's based on observation? Hudson didn't give a reason, but what he hinted at was lack of experience. If for whatever cultural or socio-economic reasons blacks are less likely to have learned to swim, is it racist to say that many blacks may not know how to swim?

    I did some Google searches for phrases like 'blacks don't know how to swim' and 'blacks can't swim' and the results revealed two things: (1) that racist organizations absolutely do use and promote the idea, offering the ugliest kinds of reasoning to explain it, and (2) that many other people are concerned with the question as a legitimate social phenomenon that has nothing to do with questions of racial superiority, but with opportunities and the effects of stereotypes.

    For example, Maritza Correia, the first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic swim team (born in 1981!), says (according to a CNN transcript) that swimming is an expensive sport and that inner city kids don't have access to the facilities. That sounds logical. As do a number of other things mentioned there, such as the effects of segregation, when blacks would have been forbidden to swim with whites.

    When I was a kid I lived in an apartment complex in the city with a very diverse population including many familes that had recently emigrated from Russia and India. We had a large pool open to all residents, and it was conspicuous that members of each group within the community used the pool except blacks. I often heard then that black people didn't like to swim. I never thought much about it after that. Now it seems entirely likely that social forces over several decades led to that state of affairs.

    Twenty years ago I never saw one of my black neighbors in the pool, and today I can say by personal observation that this has changed completely. Am I a racist for stating what my neighbors didn't do twenty years ago, but do today?

    I don't think so, and I'm supported by the U.S. Olympic Committee, Howard University (cited in the CNN transcript above), and several concerned activists who see the origins of the lack of interest and experience in swimming going back to the period of slavery in America. Consider this (and read the rest):

    Stay out of the water.

    That's the message about swimming that many African-Americans have heard for generations ? from slave owners, from segregationists, even from their own parents.

    The price they pay can be counted in deaths.

    Black children drown 2.3 times more often than their white peers, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among 10- to 14-year-olds, black children drown at five times the rate of white children.

    "A lot of African-Americans can't just hop over to a friend's house with a pool and go swimming in the afternoon," said Dr. Jeanine Downie, a black dermatologist in Montclair who grew up swimming and life guarding in Teaneck.

    "It's not just a matter of recreation, it's a matter of life and death," she said.

    As awareness of the "swimming gap" has spread, swim clubs are reaching out to minorities.

    Now let's return to Tramm Hudson. Where is the racism in what he said? I can look back twenty years and see a sea of white faces in the swimming pool, doubtless the result of many social and economic factors. But when was Hudson commanding troops and conducting a river exercise? And when was he a child in Alabama, observing that black didn't know how to swim? Certainly more than twenty years ago. Is it reasonable to assume that his observations were accurate? Did he offer racist reasons for what he observed?

    The snippet of the video being circulated seems to be part of a description of a unit that worked together as a team to complete a goal despite the limitations of some members, without ever expressing those limitations as anything but a lack of experience.

    It's a shame when political opportunists use easily combustible issues like racism where they don't exist.

    THE QUOTE TRANSCRIBED: Tramm Hudson:

    '... training down there. I was commander of an infantry comapny, and we were practicing crossing a river. And, you know, an infantry company, 140 some odd soldiers, what have you, a large number were black. I grew up in Alabama, and I understand--I know this from my own experience--that blacks are not the greatest swimmers or may not even know how to swim. But when we were crossing this river, we wanted to make sure that every soldier either could swim, or if they couldn't, we ....'

    Not racist by any stretch of the imagination.

    posted by Dennis at 12:50 PM | Comments (16)



    Cartoon

    Due to Eric's vacation and my own isolation from the outside world (I'm trapped by various things academic) I thought I'd post some sketches I made a while back for a cartoon I never completed because of time constraints and quality concerns. At the time I didn't think the drawings were very good, and I didn't have time to improve upon them, but in retrospect it doesn't seem all that bad, and I still think the subject a funny one. So without further ado, Vladimir Putin explains Tummygate:

    tummygate.jpg

    posted by Dennis at 12:21 PM | Comments (1)




    Greetings from Bermuda

    Today is the first time I've had a chance to get online. (Well sort of.) I have a slight Internet connection which may last for another few minutes.

    So I'll try to upload a photo I took yesterday, showing a view from the parapets of the fort adjoining the Bermuda Dockyards. (If it goes through it will be a miracle.)

    No miracle today! The photo will have to wait!


    UPDATE (08/20/06): Now that I'm home, here's the photo I found impossible to upload in Bermuda:

    FortWall.jpg
    posted by Eric at 08:25 AM




    the anti-democratic party

    I can't be Eric in his absence, so I apologize for those accustomed to detailed, well-researched essays on the culture war. All I can offer at the moment is a few thoughts, and one that's been bugging me for awhile is the demonization of Joe Lieberman.

    My best friend has always voted Democrat but has become increasingly radicalized in recent years. Sometime after September 11th he saw a Muslim on a street corner preaching anti-American propaganda. He became incensed, something I didn't really understand, and visibly showed his anger to the man. He found a police officer and harangued him to arrest the Muslim, growing more incensed that the officer didn't do anything.

    I've never had a problem with enemies who exercise their rights in the open. I relate it to criminalizing racism. If shop owners, for example, were allowed to be racist, they'd quickly lose their businesses. That, or the racist character of whole towns would become clear. As it stands, you may be lining the pockets of someone who thinks you less than human because the law tells him to smile and keep quiet.

    Repressing it doesn't make it go away. It just makes it harder to see.

    So if a militant Islamist wants to stand on a street corner, I'm glad -- I know where he stands. When he smiles in passing and secretly wants to see the end of my way of life, I'm a naive fool.

    This same friend now forgets that incident and ascribes that kind of reaction to theocratic Republican fascists. He's told me three times about a mutual acquaintance who was harrassed by an ex-Marine because of anti-war slogans on his car, in order to illustrate that kind of mentality. How quickly we forget.

    He loves Howard Dean for having the courage to stand up to those lying Republicans, and listens to AirAmerica religiously.

    And now, with as much anger as he showed to that Muslim on the street, he hates Joe Lieberman. The bitterness when he told me this was disturbing. How dare he run as an independent? He's dividing his party! That's not what a real Democrat would do! He's not even a Democrat! He's really a Republican!

    He was incensed by the notion that Lieberman would run after losing a primary. That's what primaries are for!

    Which seems to me exceedingly un-democratic.

    The anger clearly arises from the fact that my friend and others who drink at the trough of Howard Dean know that Joe will win because the majority of people in Connecticut want Joe to represent them. These people are blinded by party allegiance. All they can see is that their narrow definition of a Democratic candidate won the primary and that Connecticut trends Democratic.

    But don't the voters deserve the Senator they want, and not simply one narrowly selected in a primary thanks to the coordinated efforts of the most radical elements of the party. They say turnout was higher than normal for a primary, and I had expected that considering the way radicals turned the primary into a battle for the soul of the party.

    People like my friend feel that Joe Lieberman is robbing them of their hard fought victory, that he is somehow stealing the votes of moderate Democrats who otherwise would have to vote the party line and support the national agenda.

    Though I prefer not talking politics with friends I asked my friend that wasn't the prerogative of Connecticut voters, to elect Lieberman if they want to.

    He said that they don't want to. His own party rejected him! That's what primaries are for!

    The elitism is thick. The Party knows best, not the individual voters. And even if Lieberman is a better representative for all voters in Connecticut, he's evidently not the kind of Democrat that we want. It's not about representation any more: it's about pitching ideological battles regardless of state or congressional district: these aren't senators and representatives, but pawns in game of chess.

    What matters is that we have more men of the right shade.

    FOLLOW-UP: Commenter William Corbin (Billy? Is that you?) makes a claim:

    You talk about one person. One single, person. So this is how all Democrats feel or think? ... But your implication is that this is a Democratic error in thinking--silencing people.

    This is a common error, confusing one's own misreading with another's implication. In fact, what I talked about was one person who's representative of a faction of radical Democrats. Clearly the implication was that at least half of the Democrats who turned out to the polls were not part of this faction.

    posted by Dennis at 10:15 AM | Comments (9)




    Hu-go, boy!

    castro-n-friends.jpg

    That ought to quiet the naysayers.

    posted by Dennis at 05:53 PM | Comments (5)




    Hi-Fidelity

    Fidel Castro is alive and doing quite well. Well enough even to read the paper in his favorite casual wear:

    castro-paper.jpg

    Cuban printing, not to mention photography, is truly remarkable. The text is so crisp it almost looks like it should have one of those disclaimers they always have in print ads and TV commercials, 'simulated image.'

    He even had a cheering visit from his old pal Jimmy Carter, who flew in for a game of catch:

    carter-castro.jpg

    There he is again, in his favorite duds. Castro, active as ever.

    Here he was later in the day, on the pitcher's mound. He whiffed Carter on three straight pitches:

    castro-pitching.jpg

    The more I think about it, though, Fidel's beard is darker than it's been in years. Cuban medicine does it again!

    posted by Dennis at 10:06 AM | Comments (5)




    Gone fishing!

    Yeah, I'm taking a week off. A vacation is long overdue, and not only do I think I deserve a break, I think I need one, which is not exactly the same thing. But it's nice to have such a convergence.

    I might be able to check in from time to time, but I can't promise anything, other than I will return next Saturday.

    Hey, wait a second! Did I just say I was going fishing?

    Look how dangerous that can be:

    An angler was almost killed when a giant bill fish leapt from the sea, speared his chest and knocked him off his boat in a freak accident at the weekend.

    Ian Card, from Somerset, was impaled by the blue marlin and forced overboard during an international sports fishing tournament on Saturday morning.

    His father Alan, skipper of the commercial fishing vessel Challenger, watched as the struggling creature – estimated to weigh about 800lb and measuring 14ft in length – flew through the air and struck the 32-year-old, who was acting as mate, just below his collarbone with its sword-like bill.

    "The fish was airborne going across the full width of the boat and my son was standing up about eight feet from the stern," said Mr. Card. "It impaled him with its bill, a bill of about two-and-a-half or three feet long. All in one motion the fish flew across the cockpit and took him out of the boat. He landed about 15ft away. The fish was on top of him. He was underwater and he had his arms wrapped round the fish and the fish was pushing him under.

    "I lost sight of him for a few seconds. As a father looking at a son that's just been impaled it's quite an experience. That's a sight I'll never forget. I knew there was no good going to come out of it."
    He said his son emerged alone surrounded by a pool of blood some 50ft behind the boat. "He put his hand up to his chest and his fingers disappeared," said Mr. Card, 58. "He had a wound in his chest about as big as your fist."

    Family friend Dennis Benevides helped Mr. Card pull his still-conscious 260lb son onto the boat. Meanwhile, angler Leslie Spanswick's line remained attached to the game fish.

    "Once we got Ian up, I cut the fish loose," said Mr. Card. "My main concern was not the tournament." He said Mr. Benevides wrapped a towel around the wound while he radioed to base to ensure paramedics were waiting at Robinson's Marina for the boat.

    It got to shore some 40 minutes later from the accident spot about 15 miles south of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, Southampton.

    Ian was rushed to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and operated on that afternoon by Dr. Christian Wilmsmeier. The surgeon said last night that if the bill had pierced him a few centimetres to the left or right it would have severed a major vessel in his neck and could have killed him.

    "He was very lucky," said the doctor, who arrived on the Island from Bielefeld, Germany, less than three weeks ago. "It was a very serious injury. I was very surprised that a fish can make such an injury. In my home town in Germany it's far away from the sea and normally I do not operate on such injuries. I was impressed by the dangerousness of such a fish."

    He said the main aim of the operation was to clean the wound out because of the high risk of infection. Ian was in a stable condition at the hospital last night.

    My theory is that the marlin probably heard some environmentalist say "spear fisherman," and took it too literally.

    How nice it would be if I could take things in a more figurative manner! (Literally, of course.)

    While I'm fishing, perhaps some of the co-bloggers will take up some of the slack in the line . . . The idea being to keep readers hooked, while I'm off.

    (Off the hook, of course . . .)

    moray-copy.jpg

    Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll be able to catch up with the "morays" of a different school.

    posted by Eric at 09:00 AM | Comments (5)




    Exclusive podcast direct from the war!

    Of all the bloggers who might be sent to cover the Mideast War, if I could pick just whose trust and experience are second to none, I couldn't possibly come up with anyone better than Michael J. Totten.

    Well, it just so happens that he's literally right on the Israeli-Lebanon border right now, podcasting from the border town of Metulla, Israel. Pajamas Media's exciting new multimedia site Politics Central is featuring his first exclusive report which can be streamed at Politics Central.

    I just listened to the first one, and there will be more. As far as I'm concerned, having a favorite blogger over there covering the war is a lot more more exciting than listening to CNN's Anderson Cooper or Fox's Shepherd Smith. Plus there's the integrity factor. This is a blogger; one of our guys! It's quite a thrill.

    Seriously, if this doesn't show the power of the blogosphere, I don't know what does.

    Tune in, and keep listening!

    posted by Eric at 07:31 PM | Comments (1)



    Eurosoviet tactics?

    Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Belgian blogger Paul Belien (about whom I have posted before) has once again been visited by the police. He's holding firm:

    Apparently someone in Ghent has lodged a complaint against this website. I am not allowed to know who this person is, but I am requested to come to the police station to be interrogated. I told the officer that I refuse to justify my writings for anonymous complaints. “I am not living in the Soviet Union,” I told him (though I fear I am).

    As a matter of principle I will not go to the police station. I defend the freedom of the press, which implies the right of journalists not to be questioned by the authorities about articles and opinions that they write or edit. I told the officer that if the police wants to question me they will have to arrest me.

    Good for him! (Glenn provides a link where you can write to express disapproval.)

    This is another reminder that free speech is endangered, and that despite its designation as a "universal right," it mainly seems to be enjoyed in the United States. (Where, tragically, we take it for granted.)

    Mr. Belien's fear that the European Union is headed in the direction of Sovietization appears to be quite legitimate. In addition to his abuse by Belgian authorities, he cites former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who sees clear evidence that the European Union is modeled along Soviet lines:

    . . .the original idea was to have what they called a convergency, whereby the Soviet Union would mellow somewhat and become more social-democratic, while Western Europe would become social-democratic and socialist. Then there will be convergency. The structures have to fit each other. This is why the structures of the European Union were initially built with the purpose of fitting into the Soviet structure. This is why they are so similar in functioning and in structure.

    It is no accident that the European Parliament, for example, reminds me of the Supreme Soviet. It looks like the Supreme Soviet because it was designed like it. Similary, when you look at the European Commission it looks like the Politburo. I mean it does so exactly, except for the fact that the Commission now has 25 members and the Politburo usually had 13 or 15 members. Apart from that they are exactly the same, unaccountable to anyone, not directly elected by anyone at all. When you look into all this bizarre activity of the European Union with its 80,000 pages of regulations it looks like Gosplan. We used to have an organisation which was planning everything in the economy, to the last nut and bolt, five years in advance. Exactly the same thing is happening in the EU. When you look at the type of EU corruption, it is exactly the Soviet type of corruption, going from top to bottom rather than going from bottom to top.

    If you go through all the structures and features of this emerging European monster you will notice that it more and more resembles the Soviet Union. Of course, it is a milder version of the Soviet Union. Please, do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that it has a Gulag. It has no KGB – not yet – but I am very carefully watching such structures as Europol for example. That really worries me a lot because this organisation will probably have powers bigger than those of the KGB. They will have diplomatic immunity. Can you imagine a KGB with diplomatic immunity? They will have to police us on 32 kinds of crimes – two of which are particularly worrying, one is called racism, another is called xenophobia.

    As Bukovsky notes, small countries are constantly being badgered and bullied into joining -- by means of constantly recurring elections until at last their sovereignty has been voted away:
    Look at Denmark which voted against the Maastricht treaty twice. Look at Ireland [which voted against the Nice treaty]. Look at many other countries, they are under enormous pressure. It is almost blackmail. Switzerland was forced to vote five times in a referendum. All five times they have rejected it, but who knows what will happen the sixth time, the seventh time. It is always the same thing. It is a trick for idiots. The people have to vote in referendums until the people vote the way that is wanted. Then they have to stop voting. Why stop? Let us continue voting. The European Union is what Americans would call a shotgun marriage.
    This reminds me of the diametrically opposed Hobbesian versus Lockean views of "joining."

    (As to the Sovietization theory, this makes me want to read up on Angleton again.)

    There is a constant pattern of free speech being under relentless attack in Europe. Criminalizing impossible-to-define ideas like racism leads inexorably to criminalizing even more undefinable ideas. Like "Islamophobia":

    On 31 January 2006 the British House of Commons narrowly defeated – with just 283 votes against 282 – New Labour’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, intended to prohibit speech or artistic expressions deemed insulting by religious communities. This was a narrow yet historic victory for freedom of expression, as well as a victory for Parliament against a despotic-minded Government. Liberal-Democratic spokesman Evan Harris commented: “The Government just failed to understand that they can’t take liberties with freedom of expression.”

    On the occasion of the House of Commons vote, familiar maxims on liberty were aptly invoked in various debates, e.g. against the British Government’s plea that the bill was “necessary” to make multicultural coexistence possible (an argument invoked by governments across Europe to impose similar censorship laws). William Pitt the Younger was quoted:

    “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom; it is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

    In France and other European countries, the mere utterance of opinions critical of homosexuality is a crime:

    Stating that “homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity” and that “heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality” can cost you dearly in France. Exactly these opinions, expressed by the French politician Christian Vanneste last year, led to him being sentenced on Tuesday to payment of a heavy fine.

    A court in Lille [Rijsel in Dutch], in the French northern province of Flanders (adjacent to the Belgian Dutch-speaking region of Flanders), ruled that Mr Vanneste has to pay a fine of 3,000 euro plus 3,000 euro in damages to each of the three gay organisations that had taken him to court. The politician, a member of the French National Assembly for the governing UMP, also has to pay for the verdict to be published in the leftist Parisian newspaper Le Monde, the regional Lille daily La Voix du Nord, and the weekly magazine L’Express.

    Les Flamands Roses (The Pink Flemings), a gay activist group from the North of France, applauded the verdict, saying that freedom of speech does not allow “incitement to homophobic hatred.” Mr Vanneste had been taken to court because of what he had said in a recorded discussion with activists of the ‘Pink Flemings.’

    If I had to sit and listen to him, I could probably manage to get myself quite steamed over Vanneste's remarks. But the idea of making what he says a crime?

    That's a complete outrage. Unless, of course, you think Ann Coulter should be imprisoned for what she says.

    Don't laugh. In Europe, she would be.


    Under laws like this, not only are individuals subject to punishment for what is protected free speech in the United States, but entire political parties (like Belgium's Vlaams Blok) can be banned

    What caused this party to be banned? Advocacy of Nazism? Hardly. According to the London Telegraph, among the tracts was a leaflet against female circumcision, written by a Turkish woman:

    The lawsuit against the Vlaams Blok was brought by a rights watchdog controlled by the prime minister's office.

    The high court upheld an earlier ruling that party branches had violated race laws by distributing 16 leaflets in the late 1990s deemed to be incitement against immigrants. The party attacked the ruling as a breach of free speech since much of the material consisted of official statistics.

    One of the tracts, denouncing female circumcision in Islamic countries, was written by a Turkish-born woman member of the Vlaams Blok but the court ruled that the arguments were intended to foment anti-Muslim feeling.


    According to this web site, the text of the Belgian law being used against Paul Belian (confirmed here) would criminalize almost any opinion someone or some group found "offensive." I've cobbled together what is quoted as the 1981 law and the 2003 supplement:

    Punishment with imprisonment for one month to one year and a fine of fifty francs to one thousand francs or with either of these, is applied to:

    [...]

    2 whoever incites to discrimination, segregation, hatred or violence against a person, a society or the members thereof, on the grounds of his gender, so-called race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, sexual preference, marital status, birth, wealth, age, religion or philosophy, present or future state of health, handicap or physical characteristic of these members or some of them;

    3 whoever publicizes his intention to discrimination, hatred or violence against a person on the grounds of his gender, so-called race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, sexual preference, marital status, birth, wealth, age, religion or philosophy, present or future state of health, handicap or physical characteristic of these members or some of them;

    If we had such a law here (something many activists want), anyone who advocated selective profiling at airports could be arrested. If the "European Union" is considered a "nationality," I guess anyone who advocated ("incited") against that could be arrested. Ditto, advocacy against a religious Caliphate!

    Sometimes the whole world seems to be going insane.

    (I guess that means I'm not alone. Small comfort that!)

    posted by Eric at 08:23 AM | Comments (3)




    Islamic statists are stateless?

    Professor Keith Burgess-Jackson does not think President Bush should have used the term "Islamic fascist" to describe the Islamic enemy, and he would prefer the president use the term "Islamists." (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I'm not in the business of defending Bush, and while it may be true that he wasn't strictly accurate in his use of the term, common sense suggests he wasn't that far off.

    I don't like quibbling over terminology, and while I don't use the term "Islamic fascist," I regularly use the term "Islamofascist," because I think for a variety of reasons, it fits. (Once again, I'm neither an expert nor a war blogger, but I also see that Austin Bay has no problem describing the enemy as "fascist.")

    First of all, Saddam Hussein's Baathist Iraq was modeled on fascist lines, as is Baathist Syria. Baathism may not have originally been a religious movement, but under Saddam Hussein, that changed.

    The connection between right wing Muslims and fascism dates back at least as far as Palestinian Islamist leader Haj Amin al Husseini, shown here meeting with Adolf Hitler:

    Mufti_and_Hitler.jpg

    If that doesn't convince you, here's a picture of him reviewing Nazi SS troops:


    muftiss.jpg


    And with his own SS "Handschar" division:


    mufti_brigadefurher.jpg


    Nazism is not exactly fascism, of course. It might not be completely accurate to call such people "Islamic fascists," but it's close enough for me.

    The main reason Burgess-Jackson would exclude Islamists from the definition of fascism is because they're not statists:

    The reason it’s inappropriate to describe Islamists as fascists is simple: They’re not statists. To Muslims, including that subset of Muslims I call Islamists (see below), a state is at best a temporary thing, performing certain administrative, organizational, or ideological tasks. It has no independent significance, as it does in, say, the Christian tradition. (“Render unto Caesar” and all that.) Islamists aren’t trying to create a state in which all the parts work as one; their ultimate goal is a stateless world in which everyone worships Allah.
    But isn't that like saying that because the end goal of Communists was the "withering away of the state," that Communism wasn't statism?

    If the Iranian mullahcracy is any example, Islamic statism has certainly been alive and well since 1979. It might not follow the Mussolini Fascist Party platform, but in terms of restrictions on freedom, government control, lack of free speech and general repression, I think it's close enough to fascism of the small "f" variety. Once again, here's the dictionary definition:

    fascism n. 1. [often cap.] The principles of the Fascisti; also, the movement or government regime embodying those principles.

    2. Any program for setting up a centralized autocratic national regime with severely nationalistic policies, exercising regimentation of industry, commerce and finance, rigid censorship, and forcible suppression of opposition.

    Webster's New International Dictionary (Second Ed., 1958)

    That would apply to the state of Iran, to the state of Iraq, to the former Taliban state in Afghanistan, and any state the grand Mufti of Jerusalem (a man who should perhaps be called the father of Islamofascism) might have set up had his war against the Jews been successful.

    True, the Islamists who are waging war right now might not have all the trappings [or identical music] of fascism, but on the other hand, take a look at this picture:

    hezbollah.jpg

    That's Hezbollah, of course.

    I don't think it's a mistake to call them fascists -- even if they're just fascists of the small "f" variety.

    I'd prefer Bush use the expression "Islamofascists," but considering the overall historical context, and his well known tendency to misspeak occasionally, I honestly think he deserves a pass on this one.

    UPDATE: Also via Glenn Reynolds, Extreme Mortman has a huge photo display on the subject of Islamic fascists. Notes Mortman,

    For the President, that description is rare and recent.

    Search “Islamic fascists” at Whitehouse.gov and only three other instances pop up of the President saying it: May 25, June 14, and August 7, 2006.

    Under the circumstances, giving him a pass is the least we can do.

    I'm thinking that maybe I should upgrade the "pass" to something more along the lines of a "THANK YOU."

    UPDATE: Professor Burgess-Jackson has updated his post by offering the following syllogism:

    1. All fascists are statists (by which I mean people who assign intrinsic moral significance to the state).

    2. No Muslims are statists.

    Therefore,

    3. No Muslims are fascists.

    Therefore,

    4. The concept of an Islamic (Muslim) fascist is incoherent

    I think the syllogism fails because it is simply not true that "No Muslims are statists." That Iran and Saudi Arabia are Islamic states, run by Muslims who are by definition statists is a fact so obvious that I don't think it requires further debate.

    Here's Dean Esmay, in a comment to the Burgess-Jackson post:

    I've been calling it "islamic fascism" or "religious fascism" or just plain "fascism" for years, and strongly urging others to do the same. It is a perfectly appropriate term to describe the philosophy and brings with it a desperately needed moral clarity. This is why I am utterly delighted to see that the President has finally adopted it himself.

    American Heritage gives this as the second defintion of fascism:

    2) Oppressive, dictatorial control.

    Wiktionary gives this definition:

    fascism

    1. A political regime based on strong centralized government, suppressing through violence any criticism or opposition of the regime, and exalting nation, state, or religion above the individual
    2. A system of strong autocracy.

    That seems clear enough to me, whether it describes Sdaddam and Assad's more traditional, Nazilike fascism, or the "Islamic Republic of Iran" led by the theofascist dictator Ayatollah Khamenei, the Taliban's draconian rule of Afghanistan, and bin Laden's dreamed-of global caliphate.

    No, the original fascists were not strongly religious. But this is why adding "theo" or "Islamo" or whatever as a prefix adds clarity.

    The enemy today is fascism, just as it was in 1942. It's fascism with a new face but it's fascism still.

    Well said, Dean!

    UPDATE: Forgot to link the photos -- some of which came from this incredibly cool site -- which also features this all-time classic example of -- dare I say it? -- Islamic fascism!

    nazislam.jpg

    Heil Khalifah, baby!

    MORE: If there are no Islamic fascists, could someone please explain why Islamists would name their sons "Hitler"?

    Sentimental reasons, perhaps?

    But- but- but- "Der fuhrer never said baby!"

    (To which I say, "picky, picky, picky!")

    posted by Eric at 06:03 PM | Comments (9)



    Who will make terrorism go away?

    With as much coverage as there has been in the blogosphere about the disrupted plot to blow up as many as 20 planes and commit mass murder on an unprecedented scale, bigger than 9/11, there isn't much for me to add.

    But I'm still wondering about the emotional need people have to make terrorism go away -- what I likened yesterday to using the vote as a remote.

    Terrorism is not television, and it can't be turned off. The channels can't be changed. Will politicians who promise a nostaligic return to the good old days of ignoring or appeasing terrorism and treating it as a police problem be successful?

    Denial is very powerful, and I can't agree more with what Glenn Reynolds said in his earlier roundup:

    Some people have decided that the war on terror is passe.
    In a thinking process I can only describe as magical, they want to wish away reality. Blaming Bush -- or Blair -- and imagining that new leaders will make terrorism go away is part of this magical thinking.

    Bush will of course go away, because he is not headed for reelection. But what then? Terrorism isn't going anywhere.

    The channel can't be changed.

    The past may have seemed better, and I know that people are tired of the war against terrorism. Frankly, I am sick to death of writing about it in this blog, and I suspect many readers are equally sick of reading about it in yet another blog post.

    But being sick of something because it will not go away will not make it go away. Nor will pretending it isn't there, wishing it out of existence, blaming it on elected leaders who are trying to respond to it, or imagining that returning to a more peaceful past is possible.

    Imagining a return to a more peaceful past when we live in a very un-peaceful present is like watching reruns of old war protests in the face of a real war.

    Besides, there are two sides in this war: the terrorist side and the rest of us. The terrorist side targets the rest of us for doing things no more warlike than lining up at airports to get on planes. That goes to the nature of terrorism: the evil targeting of innocent people.

    If there's anything to protest, it strikes me that it would be terrorism. Not the people trying to stop the terrorists. It is one thing to criticize the Iraq War, but those who defend the terrorists and who actually call people like Bush and Blair "terrorists" seem to be missing a crucial distinction. Not only are they not going to make terrorism go away, I don't think the people who rely on their support (and whose ranks are filled with them) are going to make terrorism go away.

    This is not to say that the antiwar left consists entirely of people who defend terrorism and think Bush and Blair are terrorists. And of course, there is also an antiwar right, which believes isolationism (another old rerun) will solve the problem.

    Being "against war" right now is not the same as wishing the war on terrorism away. But both are good ways to lose.

    Lose the war, that is.

    Unfortunately, being against war seems to be a good way to win elections. At least it was a couple of days ago. I'm wondering whether this warning from Joseph Lieberman might have been intended for the long term:

    Mr Lieberman has warned voters that a slide to the anti-war left plays into the hands of the Republicans who are keen to split the party.

    "They are anxious to say the left wing is taking over, the anti-security wing," Mr Lieberman said last night.

    Right now, those in the "anti-security wing" are probably anxious to say they're not.

    But I don't doubt that they'd love to change the channel.

    UPDATE: Here's the anti-Iraq-War Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate:

    ...you can hardly read too much into Ned Lamont's defeat of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's Aug. 8 primary. This is a signal event that will have a huge and lasting negative impact on the Democratic Party. The result suggests that instead of capitalizing on the massive failures of the Bush administration, Democrats are poised to re-enact a version of the Vietnam-era drama that helped them lose five out six presidential elections between 1968 and the end of the Cold War.
    Weisberg says that regardless of what anyone thinks of Bush or Iraq, this points towards "perpetual Democratic defeat":
    The problem for the Democrats is that the anti-Lieberman insurgents go far beyond simply opposing Bush's faulty rationale for the war, his dishonest argumentation for it, and his incompetent execution of it. Many of them appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously. They see Iraq purely as a symptom of a cynical and politicized right-wing response to Sept. 11, as opposed to a tragic misstep in a bigger conflict. Substantively, this view indicates a fundamental misapprehension of the problem of terrorism. Politically, it points the way to perpetual Democratic defeat.
    I agree, of course. [With Weisberg's logic; not his view of Iraq.]

    I knew that the next election would be the Democrats' to lose, as I see the Republican Party as moribund and in disarray, with the unpopularity of the president and the war at all time highs.

    But really. Who could have imagined that the Democrats could be dumb enough to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

    Is there still time for them to stop listening to the antiwar left?

    We'll see.

    posted by Eric at 10:52 AM | Comments (5)



    Orchestra of shame?

    Music is weird, and writing about it is always troublesome. That's because musical taste varies, as do the personalities of musicians. With classical music, we don't think too much about the personalities of particular musicians, because most of the composers are long dead, and (assuming a competent orchestra) what they wrote is pretty much designed to sound the same way whenever it is performed. There are some exceptions to this, of course. Composers inevitably left their own personal stamp on their music, so there's no getting away from the emotionally stormy personality of Beethoven, the surreal intensity of Bela Bartok, etc. In the case of what we call "virtuoso" performers, even individual musicians matter. (I saw Itzhak Perlman not long ago, and trust me, no one else can do what he does.)

    But even with a virtuoso performer, how many people really care about his politics?

    In the case of popular music, it's vastly different. Fans tend to identify with the performers, and the performers (along with profit-driven music industry) tend to encourage this phenomenon. High school arguments over which musicians "rule" and which "suck" have been going on since I was in school, but I very much doubt the kids who study classical music do the same thing. ("Beethoven rules?" "Schubert sucks?" I don't think so.)

    So closely are popular music personalities tied to their music that even the identity of fans is a subject of discussion. (Thus, the Grateful Dead have been criticized for having Ann Coulter as a fan.)

    The Berkeley-based Green Day are about as anti-Bush as it's possible to be, and last month (prompted by Eugene Volokh's and Glenn Reynolds's posts), I suggested facetiously that their proper punishment would be for Ann Coulter to out herself as a fan of the band.

    But the questions persist, and because this sort of thing goes to the heart of what we call the Culture War, I don't want to leave any stone unturned. (Not even the Rolling Stones, who almost exactly one year ago were aswirl in controversy -- profitable controversy, of course -- over the "My Sweet NeoCon" song.)

    Why is it that so so many rock stars seem driven by Bush Derangement Syndrome?

    Dustbury's inimitable Charles Hill takes a hard look at this vexing question, and ventures that rock is rooted in rebellion, and creativity is rooted in anger:

    I'm inclined to give the premise as a whole a qualified thumbs up, at least in the rock realm, for the simple reason that rather a lot of rock is predicated on the notion of rebellion — against authority, against conformity, against [fill in name of unbearable cultural imperative] — and GWB seems to arouse levels of outrage more than sufficient to support this sort of thing. And some of us, I think, simply produce more interesting work when we're pissed off. (Note that this specification says nothing about whether we're justified in being pissed off; ultimately, this requires a longer historical perspective than the immediacy of popular music can reasonably allow.)
    I think he's absolutely right about the nature of rebellion, nonconformity, and especially about the way being pissed off can fuel creativity.

    Additionally, I think there's something else going on, and it is the very important dynamic of wealth. Successful rock musicians have wealth, whether they like it or not. In the rock business, success means megabucks. It means that regardless of the outrageous posture or attire, regardless of how close you might think you are to "your roots," once you're a rock star, you'll be in the world of limos, high-power managers, bodyguards, exclusive places to live with every luxury you might want, and everyone from recording industry officials to politicians, movie stars, media figures and fans, throwing themselves at your feet.

    Under these circumstances, for a rebellious rock star, anything other than hating Bush and the Republicans would be considered (dare I say it?) selling out! (It might be seen as emasculating, and rock stars are supposed to be big studs and all that... But for now I'm trying to avoid being a shrink.)

    Add to this the way people view wealth in this country. It is almost schizophrenic, and I've commented on it more times than I can remember. You'd think that in a free country with a "free market system" wealth would be a good thing. Certainly it is good in the sense that nearly everyone wants to have it.

    But the downside of wealth is its close association with shame.

    Wealth is bad. On that there is near-universal agreement. The rich are a favorite punching bag, and the wealthier a person is, the more he is assumed to be a member of a class which has some sort of a "duty" (noblesse oblige, if you will), to those said to be less fortunate than himself.

    What does "less fortunate" mean? Depending on the wealth of the person, it can mean nearly every citizen of the United States. We are all "less fortunate" than Bill Gates. But what is fortune?

    The word itself is of classical origin, and derives from Fortuna -- the Roman goddess of luck. The Roman diety morphed into various Christian concepts often known as "God's plan" and the Calvinist view (while rejecting the word "fortune" as based on chance) is to declare that wealth is bestowed by God on the deserving, and in return the wealthy have a duty to do good works.

    Now, it isn't the purpose of this essay to solve a complex definitional problem which has been aggravated by religious differences over the centuries, but I think it's fair to say the mere use of the word "fortune" in the context of wealth indicates that the moral status of wealth is far from settled. Jesus is often thought to have frowned on wealth, and this was something with which the Calivinists (and virtually all Christians) have had to grapple. Like it or not, Christianity has a long history of frowning on wealth, and it doesn't help much to consider that many people have always seen it as akin to winning the lottery. That's the essence of the word fortune.

    But let's stick with the lottery for a moment, because that's something all of us rock fans can understand.

    Is a lottery winner considered to be more morally "pure" than a man who started a business with nothing but the sweat of his brow, and spent years tirelessly building it up? In many cases, yes. A lot of people would see a "little guy" who won $20 million playing the lottery as more "deserving" than Bill Gates, and they would think so even if the former was a good-for-nothing alcoholic gambler who had spent his family's milk money on his umpteenth lottery ticket which just happened to pay off.

    Who gets to decide the morality of these things?

    Is sudden, unearned wealth "better" than the hard-earned variety? If so, then why would inherited wealth be considered "worse"? Or is it worse?

    What makes the inherited wealth of Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Ned Lamont acceptable? Is it because they claim their goal is to help the "less fortunate"? Is fortune what it's all about? The luck of the draw?

    Last year Michael Barone wrote a brilliant piece about the trustfunder left (which Glenn linked and which I discussed infra), and Ned Lamont certainly falls into that category. (See Clayton Cramer's recent post.) I'd read about Lamont's status as a fourth generation trustfunder, and thus I was a bit taken aback when I read this remark:

    "A year ago I was at college campuses, but I was pulling fiber-optic cable through underground conduits," Lamont said during a recent college appearance. "I felt very strongly on some issues, and I was thinking about the fact that somebody should challenge Joe Lieberman. As you know, I wasn't necessarily thinking that it was going to be Ned Lamont.
    Surely, I thought, a man of Ned Lamont's means didn't need to be pulling cable through conduit. He must have been doing it because he enjoyed it, the way Ronald Reagan enjoyed splitting rails. But there's something about the way Lamont said it which reminded me of John Edwards' rather strained claim to be a member of the working class.

    Dare I call it shame?

    Is there some kind of unwritten rule that being on the left is a way of erasing the shame of wealth? Is that based on the ideas of Jesus Christ, Karl Marx, or both? I'm not sure it matters where it comes from, but eliminating shame does nothing to destroy the internal guilt, and the guilt seems to derive from the mere possession of wealth.

    Far be it from me to diagnose politicians. I was only trying to write about rock stars.

    And as we all know, politicians are not rock stars.

    (At least, they're not supposed to be...)

    Wealth is shameful, but there are ways of erasing the shame.

    Just follow the rules. If you're a rock star, it's OK to flaunt it and be a wildly dysfunctional brat, as long as you hate Bush. If you like the Republicans, better keep it in the closet, as such an admission would be a very bad career move.

    (The same principle probably holds true for Hollywood actors, many of whom feel additional guilt because of the certain knowledge that equally talented colleagues are still forced to work day jobs as waiters.)

    Beyond rock, I think the reason so much wealth is available as fuel for leftist politics lies in the gigantic chorus of well-orchestrated shame. It's near universal, it spans the centuries of much Western philosophical and theological thought, and it spans the American political spectrum. (Never mind that this shaming of wealth is totally illogical in a country said to be devoted to the principles of private property and economic freedom.)

    If only I were more into being a self-appointed, full-bore scold on behalf of Classical morality! Why, I might even express outrage that Fortuna was hijacked over the centuries by Jesus and Marx! That these modern posturers should simply throw some incense onto Fortuna's fire, and pray for more wealth!

    But I won't go there.

    It's easier to be a libertarian. And it's easier to oppose the shame-the-wealth chorus for logical reasons.

    (Of course, now I'm wondering whether wealth is more shameful than sex, but that's another topic.)

    posted by Eric at 09:58 AM | Comments (5)




    Section 111? Article 111? Number 111? But where?

    Earlier this week, a Canadian British antiwar activist journalist writing in the Observer cited "Iraq Penal Code Section 111" for the proposition that not only is there a religious honor killing exception to Iraq's laws against murder, but the killing homosexuals is considered honor killing. In trying to find the statute, I provided this link to the Iraqi Penal Code (which is being used in current criminal proceedings), as well as a link to another version in Arabic.

    Now, thanks to the invaluable Clayton Cramer, I'm closer to the answer to a seemingly unsolvable problem. Mr. Cramer has found a specific State Department reference to an "Article 111" added by Saddam Hussein in 1990, which deals with honor killings:

    Murder. In 1990, Saddam Hussein introduced Article 111 into the Iraqi Penal Code in a calculated effort to strengthen tribal support for his regime. This law exempts men who kill their female relatives in defense of their family's honor from prosecution and punishment. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women reported that more than 4,000 women have been victims of so-called "honor killings" since Article 111 went into effect. (UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, January 2002)
    It says nothing about religion (which it would not, as Saddam Hussein's regime was secular in nature), nor is it listed in any of the Penal Codes. Nowhere can anyone seem to find any actual text of this alleged "article."

    Mr. Cramer also cites this from the State Department:

    Article 1 of the Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 of 1969, however, mandates that criminal penalties can only be imposed by law. Thus, despite the Shari'a punishment for conversion, the Iraqi penal code does not import the Shari'a penalty, nor does it contain a similar penalty. The Law of Civil Affairs No. 65 of 1972 explicitly allows non-Muslims to convert to Islam.
    To make this analysis easier, I downloaded the Iraqi Penal Code and placed it online here. It begins with the following preamble:
    THIRD EDITION

    NO (111) 1969
    PENAL CODE

    In the name of the people
    The Presidency

    Based on the provisions of the fiftieth article of the temporary constitution and derived from the submissions. of the minister of Justice and what has been approved by the council of ministers and ratified by the Revolutionary Command Council.

    The Code attests the following:

    As can be seen, "No. 111" seems to be the title of the entire code, and not any particular section.

    That explains why I'm not seeing "Section 111" anywhere.

    But it still does not explain the unreferenced text.

    Stay tuned.

    UPDATE: In 2002, an "Article 111" allowing honor killing of women was described as "repealed."

    In another report the article is described as not repealed, and is actually quoted:

    So-called “honor killing,” the murder of a family member by a relative to protect the family’s reputation, often occurs in Iraq when a man is believed to be gay, according to the Human Rights Ministry.

    Article 111 of the Iraqi Penal Code exempts from prosecution and punishment men who kill other men or female relatives in defense of their family’s honor.

    “He who discovers his wife, one of his female relatives committing adultery or a male relative engaged in sodomy and kills, wounds or injures one of them, is exempted from any penalty,” the law states.

    Fifteen cases of honor killings have been reported in the past two years for crimes against homosexuals in the capital alone, according to a Baghdad-based lawyers’ association.

    Once again, where is this "article" to be found?

    MORE: Here's another version of "Article 111":

    In 1990, Article 111 was introduced into the Iraqi penal code; the decree reduced prison sentences from eight years to no more than six months for men who kill their female relatives and plead family “honor” as justification, thus reviving the practice of “honor killings,” which had been on a decline in Iraq.4

    MORE: It's probably worth pointing out that according to SodomyLaws.org, "sodomy" per se is not a criminal offense in Iraq:

    Homosexual behaviour between consenting adults is not an offence under Iraq's Penal Code. However homosexuality is taboo, and there is no visible support for lesbian and gay rights. (PB).

    Under Article 395 of the 1969 Penal Code, the age of consent to sodomy was set at 18. Where the minor is between 15 and 18 years old and does not resist the act, the adult may be punished with imprisonment of up to 7 years. Where the minor is 14 years or below, the punishment is a maximum of 10 years. (Schmitt and Sofer - "Sexuality and Eroticism among Males in Moslem Societies")’

    [This information predates the U.S. Invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. I have not found any information of changes in the law under the new governments. -Bob]

    AND MORE: In case anyone understands who Arabic might be able to help, I have uploaded the Arabic version of the Code of Criminal Procedure (PDF file).

    Regardless of whether there is or was a "Section 111," "Article 111" or "Number 111", or whether it has been repealed, by most accounts, it dates from 1990.

    What I fail utterly to see is how this alleged law (or the abominable behavior of certain Iraqis in killing women or homosexuals) can in any way be construed an argument against the Iraq War.

    If anything, it means the job is not over.

    MORE: It gets more and more muddled. A very confusing Wikipedia article cites not "Article 111," but a purported "Paragraph 111" (followed by a "citation needed" caveat), but also states that there has been a "reversal of the criminal code back to its original 1969 status." The 1969 code is the one claimed to be current by the U.S. Judge Advocate General Corps, and it is the one I have made available here. I've read through the code, and see no mention whatsoever of the section, article, and paragraph no one can find.

    My tentative conclusion is that without a citation, it does not exist. (Whether it ever existed other than in the minds of activists who claimed it did is a subject for debate.)

    In any event no such provision appears to be legally in effect.

    Unless the Observer's Jennifer Copestake can provide a definite link to the statute, I'm going to consider her claim that there is one to be unsubstantiated.

    (Quite coincidentally, there is [or might be -- if you can believe anything anymore] an "Article 111" in the IRAN Penal Code which prohibits sodomy.)

    posted by Eric at 05:14 PM | Comments (2)



    If you don't like the war, use your remote vote!

    Maggie's Farm sees the Lamont victory as a victory for Jihadist appeasement:

    ...what do the results say? 1. About half of CT Dems are really tired of Iraq on the news. 2. About half of CT Dems are fond of Lieberman, and/or see the war as a necessary evil. None of that is very surprising, but it is a bit sad to see so little party loyalty to one of their party's decent guys.

    One final thought: Many, I believe, are ready to throw Israel overboard if it will appease the Jihadists. In my opinion, anything you give these folks just makes them hungry for more.

    In that respect, the CT Dems are not that different from many Americans, who seem unable to distinguish real war from television. There is a perception that a war is something that can simply be can be switched off by voting, or that a new channel can be selected.

    It's as if people believe their vote is a TV remote.

    If you don't like Hezbollah, turn them off!

    If you find it unsettling that we are in a proxy war, switch channels!

    I guess if voting away reality is the same as using the remote to turn off a reality show, there might as well not be reality!

    I mean, it's almost as if there isn't, right?

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



    What about Bob? And weave? (And Hillary?)

    Will the Lieberman defeat help or hurt Hillary Clinton?

    Dick Morris (who knows her well) says it will definitely hurt her:

    "The big loser last night was Hillary Clinton," Morris said. "She has to go through the Democratic [presidential] primaries to win and it is an increasingly hostile place for someone who voted for the war and has not recanted."

    FrontPageMag's editor Ben Johnson describes her as embracing Lamont, and thinks she can count her her well-known leftist bona fides:

    Hillary is leading the embrace. Leftist blogs have reported HILLPAC will “cut a check” to Lamont ASAP.

    [...]

    Hillary is likely to hold on, in part because most Americans realize the Saul Alinsky disciple is much further Left than she is letting on. Joe Lieberman steadfastly stood for American victory, and as a result he became the first victim of the purges.

    On the left, Media Matters (run by Hillary's favorite "former conservative," the very housebroken David Brock) is such a hardline pro-Hillary Clinton outfit that they even have a special category -- "Attacks on Hillary Clinton" devoted to defending her. Their latest pro-Hillary broadside takes the form of an attack on Hardball Politics' Chris Matthews, simply because he recently contrasted her style with that of Senator Lieberman:
    Chris Matthews accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of having employed a "bob and weave" with her position on the Iraq war, contrasting her with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who Matthews said "hasn't cut and run."
    How dare Chris Matthews accuse Hillary of bobbing and weaving!

    How dare he!

    Well, at the risk of committing Chris Matthews style high treason (itself a bit perplexing), I think the best cut and run defense is a good bob and weave offense!

    Speaking of supposedly housebroken former conservatives, Media Matters singled out Andrew Sullivan for this treasonous outburst:

    Time columnist Andrew Sullivan asked, "Who is less authentic than Hillary? I mean, isn't she the least authentic person in America?"
    I like that! Maybe Sully isn't as housebroken as certain conservatives were assuming.

    (I hate it when names become verbs!)

    MORE: While it might not belong here (well, where does it "belong" anyway?), I want to second Andrew Sullivan's thoughts on Ann Coulter's latest outburst:

    Ann Coulter calls Al Gore "a total fag" on MSNBC. What do you think the impact would be if she called a public figure a "nigger" or a "kike"? So why the double standard?
    I've asked similar questions before.

    (Personally, I think the Hillary forces love nothing more than Republican practitioners of "kick-'em-out-of-the-tent" politics, as it makes bobbing and weaving easier. I mean, isn't it easier to be called a "fag lover" than to take a genuine position on same sex marriage?)

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, a delightful rant from heretic hunter Michael Moore. After first declaring Kerry and Edwards "not fit for the job" (for having supported the war even though they've recanted) Moore finds much heresy in Hillary. Nonetheless, he declares her "our first best hope for a woman to become president" and issues a stern warning:

    I'm here to tell you that you will never make it through the Democratic primaries unless you start now by strongly opposing the war.
    Coming from him, that sounds like an endorsement.

    posted by Eric at 09:28 AM | Comments (3)



    A Democratic "mandate"

    According to the conventional wisdom, the Democratic voters of Connecticut have spoken, and "they" have delivered a "strong message" to Senator Lieberman. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman declares Lieberman a "casualty of war," and sees his defeat as evidence of an antiwar "sea change taking place within his party," claiming Democrats "want leaders who will oppose the Iraq war" and that the antiwar position is "the majority position in America, among independents as well as Democrats."

    I think it is true that some people have in fact spoken. But who? How much can really be read into this 10,000 vote differential? How representative were the voters of their party, even in Connecticut?

    A look at the numbers:

    Lamont won with 52 percent of the vote, or 146,061, to 48 percent for Lieberman, with 136,042, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Turnout was projected at twice the norm for a primary.
    Yes, this was a high turnout -- nearly 40%.

    What that means is that in our democracy, 20% get to lead the rest of us, whether we like it or not. In California, a similar number would have stopped Arnold Schwarzenegger had there been a primary.

    Here's the Connecticut presidential vote in 2004:

    Democratic Kerry 857,488 54%

    Republican Bush 693,826 44%

    Petitioning Candidate Nader 12,969 1%

    Green Cobb 9,564 1%

    Libertarian Badnarik 3,367

    Concerned Citizens Peroutka 1,543

    I hate to say this, but from my math, it appears that around 1.5 million Connecticut voters end up being led by fewer than 150,000.

    That's a ten to one ratio. And in a "high turnout" election.

    Is it also worth pointing out that in 2000, Senator Lieberman won 813,265 votes -- more than Al Gore's 795,861?

    That depends on whether you're talking to an activist, I guess.

    Activists love to talk about the will of the minority as the will of the majority. It's their favorite fiction, their stock in trade. (Just ask them. Why, they're "the base!")

    Primaries enable activists.

    Which is why primaries -- like activists -- are a problem that won't go away.


    All I can say is... sigh.

    (If you don't like activists, you're undemocratic!)

    UPDATE: Clayton Cramer has little sympathy for Lieberman (but less for Lamont), and sees the Lieberman defeat as possibly good news for Republicans:

    ...if Lieberman runs as an independent, creating a three way race with the Republican--is it possible for the Republican to win the general election?

    I saw a Connecticut Republican interviewed last night, and she was saying that while Republican registration is only about 20% of the Connecticut electorate, Republicans have a base of about 37% of the votes. (I suspect that a lot of independents consistently vote Republican, and Republicans are better at turning out their voters.) Bush received 44% of the Connecticut vote in the 2004 election , so I don't find the 37% base implausible. If Lieberman and Lamong split the remaining 63% of the vote the way that they did in the primary, it could be a Republican victory. I can think of nothing more appropriate to do to the spoiled rich kid faction of the Democratic Party than for them to have defeated a liberal Democratic incumbent--and end up causing a Republican to get elected instead.

    posted by Eric at 08:03 AM | Comments (4)




    Reality is optional

    You're no better than blind if you can't trust your sense of sight. So what are you when you can't trust your sense of information? Presumably a medical term exists for one deprived of all sources of sensory input (including the lesser known senses such as echo-location, gyroscopic spatiality, and so on). To a "normal" person, our sense deprived subject would be but an organic food processor which, lacking support, would soon meet its timely demise. To the subject, well, he'd have some fun crawling around within his brain for a while, and that'd be that.

    Far too many sub-par philosophy texts start in much the same way. They often involve such constructs as the "evil-genius." Let's not go there.

    Digressions we shall have. Points we shall aspire to. Achievements we shall most likely lack. And by "we" I mean "fardels."

    We are moving informational. We are moving digital. And by "we" I mean "we." At some point in the surprisingly non-distant future, everything will be virtual.

    Now, facts and data have always been in the hands of the bean counter. Or the journalist. Let's rephrase. Facts are in the hands of the fabricator.

    A funny thing has begun to happen to facts in the past few years. They've been falsified at far greater rates, yet they've also been clarified at far greater rates. Think of it as an increase in the overall level of factual churn.

    The consequences have not been in line with what either the fact finders or the fact checkers would have presupposed. The consequence has been that everyone gets their own set of facts to pick and choose from. Reality has become a moldable construct open and available to the preferential assembly by each and every consumer. In a sense, it's the ultimate accomplishment of individualized customer service. It's also the ultimate in self-deception, but then, most people are already past masters of that art anyway.

    Where do we wind up in the future? Where do we go from here? There's lots of answers, all of them optional. One word of advice: beware of anyone who offers to sell you the truth.

    Coincidentally, beware of anyone who offers you the truth for free.

    Man cannot live on macadamia nuts alone. Seriously. You can trust me on this one. I've tried.

    Or to put it differently: life is not Wikipedia. But reality is.

    "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
    --Albert Einstein

    posted by Cosmic Drunk at 09:42 PM



    This is hilarious! Check it out!

    Baghdad Bob, look out! The Green Helmet Guy is definitely gaining on you!

    Via Pajamas Media, I see that he has his own blog.

    It's called "Green Helmet Guy" of course!

    Here he is, in New York:


    Ghelmet.jpg

    There are a lot more, of course, including a damning shot inexplicably left out of the Zapruder film! (Might have to reconvene the Warren Commission....)

    This really has potential.

    posted by Eric at 09:19 PM



    nuttin to root about!

    Drudge is reporting the earliest polls, and it appears that Lieberman lost.

    Connecticut // U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary
    29 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 3.88%
    Lamont, Ned Dem 6,814 59.77%
    Lieberman, Joe (i) Dem 4,586 40.23%
    This will complicate things for Hillary, I guess.

    Who know how it might play in the Fall?

    UPDATE: Different results here, which show Lamont slightly down:

    CT SEN: Lamont 56.2% | Lieberman 43.8% | 7.35% in
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Too early to tell, but it doesn't look good for Lieberman.

    UPDATE (09:42 p.m.): With over half the vote in, it's getting closer, but Lamont is still ahead:

    Connecticut // U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary

    404 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 54.01%BR> Lamont, Ned 74,396 52.13%
    Lieberman, Joe (i) 68,718 48.02%

    Is this a trend?

    Might it be counted on to continue?

    MORE (9:46 p.m.): At the Hotline, it looks even closer:

    CT SEN: Lamont 51.98% | Lieberman 48.02% | 54% in

    AND MORE (09:48): Drudge:

    Connecticut // U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary
    484 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 64.71%
    Lamont, Ned 89,814 51.60%
    Lieberman, Joe (i) 84,231 48.40%
    The "trend" (which it probably wasn't, as these are just numbers pouring in) seems to have leveled off.

    They're 5600 votes apart, and if the rural, outlying precincts are the last to come in. . . .

    Lieberman still might take it.

    Anyone wanna lay odds?

    MORE (9:53): It's ever so closer to being a race right now, although it's not a cliffhanger yet:

    Connecticut // U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary
    537 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 71.79%
    Lamont, Ned 100,425 51.61%
    Lieberman, Joe (i) 94,148 48.39%
    Ditto, Hotline:
    CT SEN: Lamont 51.61% | Lieberman 48.39% | 71.79% in

    MORE (10:03): Drudge has the flashing light up; headline says "LIEBERMAN ON THE BRINK:

    Connecticut // U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary
    575 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 76.87%
    Lamont, Ned 109,239 51.76%
    Lieberman, Joe (i) 101,818 48.24%
    On the brink of what? The 51/48 numbers haven't yet changed.

    MORE (10:10): Drudge reports nearly 80% of the precincts in, and no sign of any further closing of the gap:

    Connecticut // U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary
    575 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 79.95%
    Lamont, Ned 114,165 51.75%
    Lieberman, Joe (i) 106,428 48.24%

    MORE (10:13): Drudge now projects Lamont the winner:

    Connecticut // U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary
    608 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 81.28%
    Lamont, Ned 116,387 51.71% **Winner
    Lieberman, Joe (i) 108,683 48.29%
    Barring a last minute flood of conservative Democratic votes from rural areas, I think the gap is not going to close.

    MORE (10:18): Drudge Headline -- "LIEBERMAN LOSES DEM PRIMARY"

    There's nothing left to live blog at this point, so I'm signing off.

    BUT WAIT! Elsewhere, one of loser Cynthia McKinney's staffers grabbed a reporter after McKinney motioned the reporter over to her car. (I guess she didn't want to lose without a fight.)

    posted by Eric at 08:37 PM | Comments (2)



    Have a dog, lose your child!

    The stuff that happens in today's nanny state never ceases to amaze me. In San Francisco, a devoted mother lost her 6 year old son because her pit bull bit another dog on the ear:

    Valerie Louie's nightmare started the day her young son accidentally left their front door ajar last year.

    Two of her dogs -- pit bull mixes -- ran out, and one bit a small dog on the ear. San Francisco's animal control department deemed the animals "vicious and dangerous,'' and eventually they were banned from Louie's Richmond District home.

    But in a bizarre snowballing of events, Louie's son, Andrew, then 6, was removed from his home and placed in foster care where, allegedly, an older child engaged him in sexual behavior. Andrew eventually was permitted to move in with his aunt, but he has not returned to his home full time in eight months even though the dogs have been gone the whole time.

    The boy had never been bitten, harmed or even threatened by the family pets, although Louie admits she could have done more to supervise Andrew around the animals. Child Protective Services officials told Louie that they were taking the boy to a foster home because of the threat that Andrew could be hurt by the dogs.

    "My family was torn apart for purely speculative reasons,'' said Louie, 45, a registered nurse. "It is terrifying that city agencies can have so much power against a law-abiding, hardworking family. But the worst part of it all has been the time between my son and me that is forever lost.''

    Louie, who has filed a legal claim against the city, goes back to court today to argue that Andrew should be allowed to return home full time.

    It's a long story, but it seems quite clear that the child was never in any danger from the dog:
    Buoying her case is a court-appointed dog trainer who said he believes the dogs pose no untoward danger. A court-appointed psychologist has also strongly recommended that Andrew "be returned to his mother's care immediately. There is no threat to him at this point, and keeping these two separated can only be punitive.''
    The whole thing strikes me as pit bull hysteria compounded by bureaucracy run amok.

    Here's a picture of the killer dog and the boy who had to be "saved."

    DogBoy.jpg

    I'm glad I don't have kids.

    If I did, and Coco was seen chasing a squirrel, why, they'd just have to drag the kids away to foster "care."

    Big Brother Sister knows best!

    posted by Eric at 04:25 PM | Comments (6)



    When unconfirmable facts disappear

    Wikipedia can be a useful tool (I often use it to provide background details involving largely uncontested historical matters), but when partisan allegations or activists are involved, beware!

    As an example, take a look at the huge difference between the current Wikipedia entry on George W. Bush, and the Google cached version.

    In particular, take note of this paragraph (from the cached version), which has now disappeared:

    In February 2004, Eric Boehlert in Salon magazine claimed that Bush's cessation of flying in April, 1972 and his subsequent refusal to take a physical exam came at the same time the Air Force announced its Medical Service Drug Abuse Testing Program, which was officially launched April 21. Boehlert said "according to Maj. Jeff Washburn, the chief of the National Guard's substance abuse program, a random drug-testing program was born out of that regulation and administered to guardsmen such as Bush. The random tests were unrelated to the scheduled annual physical exams, such as the one that Bush failed to take in 1972, a failure that resulted in his grounding." Boehlert remarks that the drug testing took years to implement, but "as of April 1972, Air National guardsmen knew random drug testing was going to be implemented". [7]
    Back in 2004, I devoted a good deal of time in attempting to verify the drug testing program, but I came up dry. (Boehlert, as I noted, provided no link to sources.)

    In despair, on July 27, 2004, I even called the Air Force. They looked and looked, but couldn't confirm the regulation. Finally I sent an email to the "Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) Program Manager, Air Force Medical Operations Agency" in Leesburg, Virginia, simply asking him to confirm the existence of the regulation. It was never answered.

    All I wanted to do was verify the existence of one single regulation -- Air Force Regulation 160-23. It's all over the Internet, but in a pattern which has become numbingly familiar, all the links go back to a single source -- Eric Boehlert's original piece in Salon.com.

    The fact that I couldn't find the regulation, of course, does not mean there was no such regulation. But what I'd like to know is what special skills do super sleuths like Boehlert have that enable them to unearth regulations that I couldn't find after diligent searches, which even the Air Force couldn't point me to, and which a retired colonel (Joseph Campenni) said did not exist?

    Blogging has its limits, and among them is the fact that it is impossible to disprove the existence of a fact that cannot be confirmed.

    But when unprovable facts disappear entirely, I worry that the Internet might be developing Alzheimers.

    I think this touches on the tension between "high trust" and "low trust" sources. In his discussion of Reutersgate linked by InstaPundit yesterday, Ed Driscoll quoted from a 2004 post by Glenn Reynolds about the essence of the distinction (between the traditionally "high trust" MSM, and the "low trust" blogosphere):

    The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.

    That's because, while arguments from authority are hard on the Internet, substantiating arguments is easy, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks. And, where things aren't linkable, you can post actual images. You can spell out your thinking, and you can back it up with lots of facts, which people then (thanks to Google, et al.) find it easy to check. And the links mean that you can do that without cluttering up your narrative too much, usually, something that's impossible on TV and nearly so in a newspaper.

    (This is actually a lot like the world lawyers live in -- nobody trusts us enough to take our word for, well, much of anything, so we back things up with lots of footnotes, citations, and exhibits. Legal citation systems are even like a primitive form of hypertext, really, one that's been around for six or eight hundred years. But I digress -- except that this perhaps explains why so many lawyers take naturally to blogging).

    I used to do appellate law, and if there's one thing I can say with confidence, it's that no attorney could get away with citing regulations that can't be verified or looked up.

    My dark side would have me point out that lawyers are, by their very nature, untrustworthy creatures, because they are partisan advocates. Hired guns, if you will. A bit like partisan political activists. When facts are contested, they not only don't take things on faith, it is their responsibility to their client to challenge them -- just as it is the duty of their opponent to prove them. The law, like the blogosphere, thus tends to be a "low trust" environment.

    Back to the Air Force regulation in question (and I think this is equally applicable to the discussion of Observer reporter Jennifer Copestake's citation of the Iraq Penal Code)...

    Who has the burden of proof in these matters? The "low trust" blogger, so impertinent as to question an unsupported citation? Or the "high trust" citation itself -- of a supposedly authoritative source which can't be confirmed?

    I'm not sure whether Salon.com fits into the "high trust" or the low trust category, nor do I know where Wikipedia fits in. But I do know that no blogger -- and no lawyer -- could get away with citing unverifiable statutes or regulations.

    Might it be time to revive the Reagan "trust but verify" doctrine?

    I think the burden of verification should be on whoever offers the "citation."

    (You know... It's a little thing called a "link.")


    AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm sorry to sound so cranky about all of this. Maybe it's because of my legal background, but it's hard to think of any better way to annoy a lawyer than throwing an unverifiable "law" in his face.

    There's an old expression among lawyers: "If you don't have the facts, argue the law, and if you don't have the law, argue the facts."

    Reduced to a similar expression, what I'm complaining about would read like this: "if you don't have the law, argue the law anyway!"

    Sorry, but it violates my low standards.

    Kindly show me the law, and I'll be glad to apologize.

    (Until then, I'm going to have to wonder whether people who cite unverifiable laws and regulations might deserve a lower trust ranking than even lawyers.)

    posted by Eric at 10:04 AM | Comments (8)



    Mission accomplished?

    If Jennifer Copestake the journalist is the same activist who did things like this, it worries me, and I hope she doesn't typify the MSM:

    The steel bars of the heavy-duty, black Magnum bicycle lock wrap around her throat almost delicately, and as the police siren wails in the distance, Jennifer Copestake smiles to herself. The cops are coming. She’s accomplished her mission.

    When Copestake and three other Carleton students locked themselves to the front gates of the British High Commission last March in Ottawa they were doing more than protesting the U.S.-led war in Iraq that was two days old. They were also continuing a long-standing Carleton tradition of political action through protest.

    "Not everyone can get elected,” says Copestake, a first-year political science student. “It’s important that people participate directly in the political process, and take part in any way they can.”

    Unless there are two student journalists with that name, the same Ms. Copestake now appears to be writing for the Observer, producing videos and accusing the Interior Ministry of a deliberate policy of arresting homosexuals, informing their families that they should be killed, following which their corpses turn up mutilated. She has also cited Section 111 of the Iraqi Penal Code -- a section I cannot locate anywhere (and which is contradicted by the only version of the code I could find) -- as specifically sanctioning murder in the name of religion:
    Homosexuality is seen as so immoral that it qualifies as an 'honour killing' to murder someone who is gay - and the perpetrator can escape punishment. Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out protections for murder when people are acting against Islam.
    Is there such a section in the Iraqi Penal Code? I can only find Ms. Copestake's assertion, and nothing more.

    As to the dead bodies and the Interior Ministry, there is a serious problem: dead bodies turn up all over Iraq, and the Interior Ministry is in chaos:

    One group entered a mobile phone shop, the other went to the next door office of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said. The gunmen rounded up 15 staff and customers from the shop and 11 from the chamber office and drove away with them, Mahmoud said.

    All the victims were believed to be Iraqis. The Iraqi-American Chamber is an independent organization not affiliated with the U.S. government, and maintains branches throughout Iraq and in Amman, Jordan.

    The Interior Ministry denied that the kidnappers were police — despite the uniforms — and blamed the attack on "terrorists," Iraqi state television reported.

    The raid occurred in the same neighborhood as the abduction two weeks ago of about 30 people, including the Iraqi National Olympic Committee chairman, during a meeting of sports officials.

    A few have been released; those still missing include the committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya. The gunmen who seized the sports officials also wore fatigues and used the same kind of four-wheeled drive vehicles as the kidnappers Monday.

    Also Monday, gunmen wearing fatigues blocked the car of a millionaire businessman in a Baghdad neighborhood and seized him and his two sons, leaving the man's car in the street, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majeed said.

    It was unclear whether the brazen operations were carried out by government police or paramilitary commandos, or sectarian militias or criminals wearing military fatigues, which are widely available in Baghdad markets.

    U.S. officials estimate an average of 30-40 people are kidnapped each day in Iraq, although the real figure may be higher because few families contact the police. Security officials believe most of the ransoms end up in the hands of insurgent and militia groups.

    It's clearly an awful situation which needs to be remedied before the U.S. can pull out. But if no one is in charge, it's rather tough to level accusations of official policy. What is needed is careful, level-headed reporting by journalists who have earned their positions of trust.

    The fact that it is next to impossible to determine who is doing what has already led to the replacement of one Interior Minister with repeated calls for another shakeup:

    The shootings, kidnappings, bombings and extortion have prompted a public outcry about the effectiveness of Iraq's U.S.-trained security forces, whose ranks are believed infiltrated by Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias and common criminals.

    That has led to calls in parliament for replacing Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, who was appointed last month in a bid to put leadership of the internal security forces into the hands of someone unconnected to militias or avowedly sectarian parties — a key U.S. demand.

    But Bolani, a Shiite and former aviation technician, had no background in security. Iraqi politicians complained that they were unable to find someone with a security background who was not linked to a sectarian party.

    On Monday, Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi confirmed that plans for a Cabinet reshuffle were in the works but he would not identify which ministries would be affected.

    Other Iraqi lawmakers said changes the Interior Ministry were difficult because the Americans would have to approve them. The lawmakers spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

    Far be it from me to accuse any journalist of bias. I'm not a journalist, and I'm not in Iraq, and hell, I'm not even a war blogger.

    But common sense suggests to me that a situation like this would be a gold mine for a biased journalist, because there'd be no way to check the facts behind any report. I certainly can't check them.

    And as we all know, a dead body is a dead body.

    (It's tough to tell who has what mission, much less whose mission is being accomplished. . . .)

    posted by Eric at 07:29 AM




    A bad sign -- if true

    I don't know how true this story is or whether it has been independently confirmed, but if it is true, Iraq is rapidly becoming like Iran in its treatment of gays.

    Homosexuality is seen as so immoral that it qualifies as an 'honour killing' to murder someone who is gay - and the perpetrator can escape punishment. Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out protections for murder when people are acting against Islam.

    'The government will do nothing to tackle this issue. It's really desperate when people get to the stage they're trading their children for money. They have no alternatives because there are no jobs,' Hili says.

    Graphic photos obtained from Baghdad sources too frightened to identify themselves as having known a gay man, and seen by the Observer, show other gay Iraqis who have been executed. One shows two men, suspected of having a relationship, blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs - guns at the ready behind their heads - awaiting execution. Another picture captured on a mobile phone shows a gay man being beaten to death. Yet another shows a corpse being dragged through the streets after his execution.

    One photograph is of the mutilated, burnt body of 38-year-old Karar Oda from Sadr City. He was kidnapped by the Badr Brigade in mid-June. They work with the Ministry of Interior and are the informal armed wing of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who make up the largest Shia bloc in the Iraq parliament. Oda's family were given an arrest warrant signed by the Ministry of Interior which said their son deserved to be arrested and killed for immorality as a homosexual. His body was found ten days later.

    (Via Pajamas Media.)

    The report goes on and on like that, and most of the incidents involve militia gangs. What concerns me is the arrest warrant signed by the Ministry of the Interior. Either the Iraqi government is issuing warrants saying that people should be arrested and killed for homosexuality or the story is false.

    Bruce at Gay Patriot:

    The boogeyman is not in the USA, it is a movement of Islamic fascists that want to conquer freedom and KILL YOU for being you.

    Of course, it is quite disturbing that these death squads are using Iraqi law to escape their systematic murders. But as Tom suggests, this is a good, if disturbing, look into the enemy we are fighting in World War III. No different than the treatment of gays in Iran and Taliban-run Afghanistan.

    And this gay left wing blog sees the murder of gays as "Your taxpayer dollars hard at work to build a better world."

    At this point, I'd like to know what the facts are. If the Badr Brigade and other militias are executing homosexuals, they are part of the Islamist enemy we're supposed to be fighting. But if "Section 111" sanctions these murders, and if the Interior Ministry is involved, then I'd be pretty upset to think that Americans helped install and support a government like that.

    Right Rainbow also links the story, as does Andrew Sullivan, who says, "We liberated a country for this?"

    I don't know whether "we" have in fact done that. As I said when Ayatollah Sistani's remarks were reported, this war is not over:

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

    I'd also like to know what is really going on. It's one thing for street gangs to murder gays; it's quite another for that to become government policy. The former indicates the war is not over; the latter is more indicative of mission failure, in the human rights department.

    As to Karar Oda, whose murder was said to have followed the Interior Ministry arrest warrant, there's a picture of his burned body here, with the following caption:

    Karar Oda ,mid 30s ,farmer, killed and burned in April 2006 .

    All the information we know about him which we have receive from one of his friends in AL nasyria Provence is Karar was killed and burned to death because he was having an affair with another man by the Badr militia.

    His city is one of the southern cities of Iraq dominates by the shia religious party supporters AL DAWA party.

    That entry is dated July 31, so I don't know where the Observer got the additional information. (Every Google hit on the name "Karar Oda" and "arrest warrant" links to the Observer, so Jennifer Copestake's Observer account appears to be the only source so far.)

    As to the author of the piece, Jennifer Copestake, I don't know whether she is the same person as this professional activist who went on trial in Canada in 2003:

    Jennifer Copestake, Chad Brazier, Polad Safari and Paul Smith, who will be defending themselves against charges of mischief, were arrested last year after attaching themselves with lock boxes to the parking gates of the High Commission, impeding access to the lot for 5 hours.

    "We were there to shut down the operations of the High Commission as the US and British forces began their assault on Baghdad." said spokesperson for the group, Jennifer Copestake. " We were part of a world-wide resistance that saw thousands of people use civil disobedience to 'stand in the way' of the illegal war on Iraq. One year later, after the lies and deceit have been exposed that lead Britain and the United States to attack Iraq, we remain convinced that our actions were not only justified, but necessary."

    The charges were later dropped. As of last year, Jennifer Copestake was a journalism student seeking to be an international reporter:
    Jennifer Copestake is currently studying in the Bachelor of Journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her professional ambition is to work as a foreign correspondent. Jennifer has already jump-started her career in global broadcasting by studying international new reporting for a semester at the City University of London, England.
    I don't know whether this is the same Jennifer Copestake as the activist student in journalism, but if so, I would hope that bias doesn't affect her reporting.

    Anyone who knows anything else, I'm all ears.

    Might there be some way to confirm an arrest warrant from the Iraqi Interior Ministry?

    UPDATE: I can find absolutely no confirmation of Jennifer Copestake's assertion that Section 111 of the Iraq Penal Code sanctions "honor killings" at all, much less whether murdering a homosexual is an honor killing. While the article states that "Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out protections for murder when people are acting against Islam," the only mentions of anything like this are references to the article.

    The apparently current Iraq Penal Code (from 1969, but it seems to have been updated) is available from the Army Judge Advocate General's office for download here. I downloaded it and read through all sections mentioning the word "murder." There is no mention whatsoever of honor killings, or religious exceptions for murder. An Arabic version of the updated code can be downloaded here, if anyone is interested.

    Unless there's a recent, totally revamped Penal Code, I'd say something doesn't look quite right.

    Perhaps someone in the JAG core could shed some light on this.

    MORE: The above (1969) Penal Code appears to have been in effect as recently as 2004. Here's Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch, in a letter dated September 24, 2004 to Prime Minister Allawi:

    6. Reliance on Iraqi Criminal Law

    Article 17(a) of the Statute provides that the IST will apply the general principles of criminal law contained in Iraqi criminal law as of 1968, the Iraq Criminal Code of 1969, and the Criminal Procedure Code of 1971, subject to the “provisions of this Statute and the rules made thereunder.”

    AND MORE: If you google "Section 111" and Iraq "Penal Code", virtually all hits go to the Observer's sentence that "Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out protections for murder when people are acting against Islam." But where is the section to be found?

    Will the missing Iraqi law will turn up somewhere?

    Or will this be a repeat of Capitol Hill Blue?

    MORE: Here's a recent example of the use of the Iraq Penal Code by an Iraqi Court in a criminal case:

    BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Central Criminal Court of Iraq convicted 22 security detainees for various crimes including illegal border crossing, coordinating deadly attacks and joining terrorist groups.

    In the first case, Coalition Forces apprehended Mohammed Khalaf Shakara for planning, coordinating and conducting deadly attacks and kidnappings in Mosul and Baghdad. The defendant would receive $50,000 to $100,000 a month from kidnapping operations in Baghdad. The defendant was charged with violating Article 194 of the Iraqi Penal Code for joining armed groups. The trial court found the defendant guilty of the charge and sentenced him to death.

    Article 194 checks out as being in the code provided at the above JAG link, and its text provides as follows:
    Paragraph 194 - Any person who organizes, directs or assumes command of an armed group that attacks any sector of the population or has, as its objective, the prevention of the rule of law, the invasion of territory or the appropriation by force of property belonging to the State or a group of people or who resists with the use of arms members of the public authorities is punishable by death. However, any person who joins such a group without participating in its formation or assuming control of it is punishable by life imprisonment or imprisonment for a term of years.
    Just for the record, here's the text of Section 111:
    Precautionary measures deprivation of rights

    1. Prevention from acting as guardian, executor or trustee

    Paragraph 111 - Prevention from acting as guardian, executor or trustee precludes the convicted party from exercising this authority over others unless it concerns life or property.

    I don't think that's it.

    posted by Eric at 08:07 PM | Comments (2)



    Danegerus RINOs!

    This week's Raging RINOs Carnival has been posted at DANEgerus.

    Host Dane Gunderson has a picture of an amazing model RINO, which is so good I'd reproduce it here (except I don't want to spoil your visit to the Carnival).

    As always, the posts are great.

    Go check it out!

    posted by Eric at 12:18 PM



    In the name of the common good

    Things like dogs, guns, pornography, and drugs go to the heart of the distinction between two philosophies which diverge generally (if crudely) into what we call "libertarianism" and "communitarianism." I've gone so far as to place the words in quotes and use the lower case "l" and lower case "c" because I think they represent tendencies in human thought rather than "isms" to be looked up and cited line and verse (say, by reference to Ayn Rand or Amitai Etzioni).

    Regular readers know that I fall on the libertarian side of this divide, but where it comes to things like national defense, I tend towards a communitarian view of self defense. (Nationalism is, to a certain extent, a communitarian concept, because there is a certain inescapable "we" once borders are set up and a constitutional government agreed upon.)

    However, I admit my abhorrence of communitarianism where it comes to policing the purely private lives of citizens. The notion that what A does in the privacy of his own property "affects us all," and should thus be regulated is something anathema to my free spirit, and (I think) anathema to the free traditions of this country. (I realize that many people do not see it that way, and that they will try to use government force to compel me to live the way they want me to live.)

    As I have said too many times to count, I think the "we" word is one of the most misused words in the English language.

    (Really, we use the we word far too much, and we ought to stop!)

    The "we" problem touches on one of my biggest problems with the communitarian philosophy -- precisely who is the "we"?

    Robert Moran touched on the problem in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer:

    As the city grapples with rising juvenile violence, Jackson-Burke, 41, says we must take personal responsibility and live with our choices. Ferguson made his choice and is now serving 15 to 30 years in prison.

    "Everyone has issues, some worse than others," Jackson-Burke, a single mother raising her family in Tacony, said after reading about Ferguson's troubled life in an Inquirer story last Sunday on juvenile violence and street culture. "It's all about how you deal with it."

    Her view reflects one side of a heated national debate about individual and collective responsibility, especially in the low-income black community, which is facing particularly high rates of violence.

    Bill Cosby struck a nerve when he argued that African Americans should not blame racism, but should, instead, take responsibility.

    "It's not what they're doing to us. It's what we're not doing," Cosby said in his controversial 2004 speech criticizing black parents and youth culture.

    However, other black leaders and scholars argue that racism and the failure of institutions such as inner-city schools are issues that cannot be ignored. (Emphasis added.)

    Using a communitarian analysis, who is the community? The black community? The "institutional" community? The taxpayers? The government? All of us? There is no clear delineation, and an enormous amount of time is spent debating the meaning of numerous unagreed-upon "we" topics. Multiculturalism, in my view (especially the view of the primacy of the "group") so complicates communitarian analysis as to make it seem almost anarchistic. Groupthink is bad enough, but when the fact of each group being defined by its own "identity" and its own "philosophy" is compounded by communitarian thinking applied to divergent groups, what happens when Group A (radical Islamists) declares war on Group B (gay activists, feminists, or Jews)?

    I realize that communitarianism cannot be called an official "movement," but to the extent there is one, to the extent that there are communitarian thinkers, they ought to be quite troubled by multiculturalism.

    No wonder they want gun control! As leading communitarian Amitai Etzioni argues, because gun control is for the greater good of society, it is unethical for liberal scholars (such as Harvard's Laurence Tribe and Duke's William Van Alstyne) to study or acknowledge the historical basis for the Second Amendment:

    However high the case goes, it has most certainly been affected by the arguments of the revisionist professors. For instance, Joyce Lee Malcolm of Bentley College is one of the most influential scholars to make the historical argument in favor of the individual right to bear arms. She asserts that an individual right to weapons can be traced back to the English Declaration of Rights of 1689. In his ruling on the case that reversed Emerson's indictment, Sam R. Cummings, judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, used Professor Malcolm's work as one of his sources.

    If one believes that privately held guns allow innocent citizens to protect themselves from criminals and are essential for keeping a nation free, one is sure to cheer that frame of reference. If one holds, as most studies do, that guns provide more danger than protection, and notes that other democratic societies greatly limit private gun ownership, one is naturally troubled by the threat that the new scholarship may help to overturn a strong and long-established endorsement of gun control laws by the Supreme Court.

    Communitarianism can be seen as a utilitarian form of social management which looks to the greatest good for the greatest number of people -- to which individual rights must be subordinated. Interestingly, Brannon Denning and Glenn Reynolds stood the communitarian position on its head in a very convincing argument that the Second Amendment's "well rgulated militia" language presents the "Communitarian Case for Compulsory Arms Bearing":
    It is possible that community might somehow be achieved through Habitat-for-Humanity style group projects, extensive discourse, and the creation of conditions necessary for "social justice."[171] As the community gets larger, however, and as the powers the "community" exercises are granted to bodies increasingly remote from those for whose benefit the powers are supposed to be exercised, our antennae ought to be set aquiver. The twentieth century surely has taught that more long term destruction has been committed in the name of the "community" than by "radical individualists." According to Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck, in this century, "the number of people killed by their own governments under authoritarian regimes is four times the number killed in all this century's wars combined."[172] As writer Hannah Arendt reminds us, "It was not out of a desire for freedom that people eventually demanded their share in government or admission to the political realm, but out of mistrust in those who held the power over their life and goods."[173] Advocates of Communitarianism, whose numbers (judging from the number of new books) seem to be growing, would do well to consider the logical implications of their newfound "third way" and consider whether their position on the Second Amendment dictates that the cartridge box be restored, along with the ballot box and the jury box, as a hallmark of civic responsibility and a vehicle for the transmission of civic virtue. If they are not willing to consider this implication of their thinking, perhaps we should not take them very seriously in the future.
    The authors are particularly critical of the Etzioni argument that Second Amendment scholarship should be deliberately biased in the direction they feel is in the common good:
    Although a certain amount of excess enthusiasm for one's own arguments is only human, academics should rise above such sentiments to the extent possible. As a movement started by academics, and as one that celebrates forbearance and the subordination of self-gratification for the good of the community, Communitarianism should be relatively free from such sins. The fact that it is not free suggests that honest, self-critical constitutional scholarship must be a very difficult thing indeed.

    That is unfortunate, because constitutional scholarship is important, and honest constitutional scholarship plays, or should play, an important role in our society as a check on the actions of judges and politicians. Faithful interpretation of the Constitution is difficult, and, if done honestly and consistently, it is certain to generate at least some answers that the interpreter does not like. Thus, we should be suspicious of those whose constitutional theories generate only answers they find congenial, regardless of their ideological stripe. Unfortunately, constitutional scholarship that passes this test appears to be in short supply.

    We have no solution to this problem beyond that offered by the Communitarians: suasion. We hope that as a result of our criticisms, and, no doubt, those of others, the Communitarians will revisit their views on this issue and at least consider that their own approach, if taken seriously, may produce answers other than the "domestic disarmament" they so clearly desire. In this much, at least, we agree with the Communitarians: dialogue is important. We hope that our contribution to the debate will promote more thinking about both Communitarianism and the Second Amendment.

    I didn't expect to stumble onto this, but I'm glad I did.

    The "greater good" theory would deny me not only the right to own a gun in self defense, but (as I'm fond of pointing out) would deny me the right to keep my dog:

    To me, the fact that there are people who'd hold a gun to my head and demand money is a good reason to be armed.

    Yet to others, the presence of people who behave that way is an argument against anyone having guns. Even law abiding people.

    I don't see any way to bridge this hopeless gap.

    It reminds me of the sad fact I discussed yesterday: some people would take Coco away from me because bad people own pit bulls.

    I see pit bulls as a sort of foot in the door (analogous to the phony "assault weapons" meme), and if that breed didn't exist (or if it is wiped out by mandatory sterilization laws), the Rottweiller or Doberman pinscher would do just as well. The right of an individual means little or noting. In China last week 50,000 dogs were clubbed to death by government dog-killing teams.
    Last week, a county in southwestern Yunnan province killed 50,000 dogs, many of them beaten to death in front of their owners, after three people died of rabies.

    The slaughters have outraged animal rights groups, who call them cruel and a sign of government incompetence in dealing with rabies, an often fatal disease that attacks the nervous system but which can be warded off with a series of injections.

    "I think this is completely insane," said Zhang Luping, founder of the Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Education Center.

    "What's more, this really damages our national image and sets a really bad example to show how lazy and inconsiderate those local government officials are," Zhang said.

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called such killings a "hideously cruel response," in a statement on its Web site.

    After last week's slaughter, the group canceled about $300,000 orders for merchandise made in China and called for a boycott of Chinese-made products to protest what it calls widespread cruelty to animals in the country.

    It is not insane if you believe that the greater good trumps the rights of the individual.

    But what is the greater good? Whose greater good? Who gets to decide?

    This touches on something I missed in my discussion last week.

    As Clayton Cramer points out in The Racist Roots of Gun Control, the racist efforts at gun control also included race-based restrictions on dog ownership:

    The perception that free blacks were sympathetic to the plight of their enslaved brothers, and the dangerous example that "a Negro could be free" also caused the slave states to pass laws designed to disarm all blacks, both slave and free. Unlike the gun control laws passed after the Civil War, these antebellum statutes were for blacks alone. In Maryland, these prohibitions went so far as to prohibit free blacks from owning dogs without a license, and authorizing any white to kill an unlicensed dog owned by a free black, for fear that blacks would use dogs as weapons. Mississippi went further, and prohibited any ownership of a dog by a black person.[5]
    That ties right into my speculations the other day about whether anti-pit bull hysteria might be (like some of the anti-gun hysteria) fueled by unacknowledged racism.

    Is there a distinction between racist communitarianism and regular communitarianism? If we factor in multiculturalism, it's very fuzzy. As I pointed out recently, certain black leaders argue for the disarmament of their own communities, but they realize that because this cannot be done legally, the argument morphs into an accusation that people not living in those communities who oppose gun control are guilty of racism.

    Thus, in the same country where racists once advocated disarming minorities, refusing to disarm minorities can now be seen as racism!

    What is remarkable about communitarianism is its sliding scale. Individuals become subordinated to a group dominated by the groupthink of identity politics. This groupthink is in turn subordinated (via multiculturalism) to a greater groupthink which uses identity politics as a protective shield against criticism. If you are not a member of the group, you have no right to say anything about it -- and if you criticize the ultimate result of the collectivized groupthink, you may be considered guilty of attacking the group!

    Pornography differs from guns in many respects. It is not protected by a specific constitutional amendment, nor is it a life and death issue involving survival or self preservation. I consider it personally uninteresting, and if it comes in the form of a popup, I find it actually annoying. I don't want it or need it, although I am not opposed to it as a form of personal self entertainment or as a sex aid. I think it's one of those things some people choose to enjoy and others don't, and obviously I don't think it is my business to decide whether anyone should like it or not, or have it or not. That's generally the libertarian position. While there doesn't seem to be a single, "official" communitarian position on pornography, I think that the anti-pornography regulatory mindset derives from a communitarian "common good" perspective. (BTW, I am not talking about kiddie porn here, which does harm to the subjects themselves, who are no more capable of consent to be in pornography than they are capable of consent to sex.)

    The argument against pornography in private is that because some people cannot handle it, it should not be allowed. Pornography in public places in view of children is complicated by the failure (or inability) of parental supervision, especially on the Internet. It's one thing to prevent adult bookstores from displaying their wares, but the Internet is a live machine. I don't look for pornography, but I know it's everywhere, and if I had a kid and didn't want him to find it, I might have to keep him offline unless he was supervised. But because some parents can't or won't do that, does that mean there should be an online crackdown on everything including blogs?

    In the name of a common "we"?

    It may sound bizarre, but while I was researching this, I found myself wondering whether racism had ever been implicated one way or another vis-a-vis pornography. During the Jim Crow period, pornography was already illegal everywhere, so I wouldn't expect to find special laws restricting it to whites.

    But amazingly, I did find an account of a major race riot in Atlanta fueled by rumors of "white pornography" in "black brothels":

    Atlanta also wanted to show that it had no racial problems and that blacks would provide their share of a stable work force. Accordingly there was a Negro Pavilion, and Booker T Washington was invited to make one of the speeches at the opening of the fair. He responded with the famous “Atlanta Compromise”—a speech accepting social and political segregation in exchange for allowing blacks to make economic progress within a well-defined sphere. Washington’s compromise was bitterly and zealously opposed by W. E. B. Du Bois, the great writer, scholar, editor, and anthropologist, who taught for a while at Atlanta University. It was Du Bois who wrote, prophetically, that the problem of the twentieth century would be the problem of the color line.

    For the white community, however, Washington’s words were exactly what they wanted to hear. Businessmen from around the world were coming to the fair to assess investment possibilities in the region. Crucial to Atlanta’s attractiveness was the appearance of racial harmony. But just a decade later that seeming harmony was brutally shattered by the race riot of 1906. Stirred up by highly exaggerated accounts of assaults on white women by black men and by the supposed discovery of white pornography in black brothels, white mobs surged through the city beating and shooting blacks. Public officials tried to stop the riots, even turning fire hoses on the whites, but the violence continued for several days, leaving about twenty-five blacks and one white dead.

    But what if the white mobs believed they were acting in the name of the common good? Would that have made it a communitarian riot, or is there no such thing? (I pose this admittedly facetious question because the only riot at which I was present also had heavy communitarian overtones. My memories of that riot, BTW, serve as a permanent reminder of the dangers of identity politics, and groupthink.)

    (Much as I'd like to be fair and balanced, I can't come up with any instances of libertarian or libertarian-related riots. Sorry, no objectivist riots either. Of course, it's proverbial that libertarians won't even show up at meetings, so I guess their failure to riot should come as no surprise.)

    posted by Eric at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)




    The smoke that might as well have been there

    Via Pajamas Media, I'm catching up on Reutersgate -- the primary focus of which right now involves cloned smoke, and staged "rescue workers." (More here, and Riehl World View explains the technique.)

    It must just kill Reuters to have to give credit to blogs. (Although, of course, the news agency repeats its photographer's assertion that the cloned smoke resulted from the removal of "dust marks" -- a claim that reminded Jeff Goldstein of the time he "created five new DVD players" simply by dusting!)

    I agree with PJM that Newsbusters sums it up:

    “Every once in a while you want to tell yourself that media bias is accidental and not deliberate, a sort of “they can’t help themselves” phenomenon. This is NOT one of those times.”
    They'll dutifully hang this Adnan Hajj out to dry, but I think he's as replaceable as a piston.

    I think it's part of a deeply institutionalized, pro-Islamist culture at Reuters. Anti-Israel bias is OK as long as it's disguised, and can be passed off as objective journalism. If one of these guys is caught red-handed, Reuters will pull the offending item immediately, then claim that they've "investigated" and "corrected" the problem.

    It almost reminds me of Capitol Hill Blue, except that Reuters can't be dismissed out of hand as an unreliable news source.

    No wonder bloggers are so hated.

    MORE: In a major exclusive, IMAO's Frank J. has an amazing picture showing the shocking devastation caused by an errant Israeli rocket which struck Disney World! And even if it didn't, it might as well have!

    posted by Eric at 10:27 PM | Comments (2)



    tiny but incisive causes

    My Toyota Tercel is a great car considering it's 11 years old. I've had to do nearly nothing to it other than routine maintenance. But last week I started to smell gasoline while driving, and then I noticed that it would leak for a little while after shutting off the ignition, and a few spots of gasoline would pool under the parked car. At first I assumed that there was either a small leak in the top of the tank or else the fuel tank's filler tube was broken -- either of which would cause gasoline to slosh out while driving. When I got under the car, I could see that the leaks were distributed as if they were coming from the top of the tank, but the filler tube was dry. Not wanting to pull the tank if I could help it, I decided to rule out a leaky fuel pump as a possible cause. So I started up the car, and let it run. Sure enough first there was a dribble, then a small but steady stream of gasoline. I shut the ignition off, and it stopped.

    I checked around on the Internet and learned that the fuel pump is actually inside the gas tank, and is accessible by pulling the back seat, and removing the metal access cover, revealing what's shown here:

    fueltank.jpg

    With the cover removed, I started the car again, and looked inside the opening. Immediately I was greeted by a steady mist of pressurized gasoline in the area you can't see (where the lines run underneath the car floor). The main fuel line (removed in the above picture, but you can see the threaded metal fitting) was leaking badly, and spraying all over the place.

    The line is made of plastic melded to a threaded metal fitting at each end, and I assumed that the leak was a product of age-related fatigue in the plastic-metal union.

    "%$*&# built-in obsolescence!" I exclaimed to myself.

    Wrong!

    When I got the line out, I could see that there was fraying along the side, so I looked underneath the floor area again, to see whether there were any sharp edges which might have rubbed holes in the line. Nothing. I had noticed that the insulation was missing from two of the wires feeding the fuel pump, so I looked more closely at the line.

    The cause, it turned out, was gnawing of the plastic by rodents -- probably mice. If you look closely, you can see the characteristic incisor marks:


    meanmice.jpg

    These little beasts are responsible for more damage than most people realize:

    Structural damage caused by rodents can be expensive. In recent years the trend toward use of insulated confinement facilities to raise swine and poultry, for instance, has led to increased rodent damage. Mice are very destructive to rigid foam, fibreglass batt and other types of insulation in walls and attics of such structures.

    Mice also gnaw wooden structures causing grain and feed to be wasted. They also undermine buildings by burrowing, which eventually causes structural failure and collapse.

    Electrical wiring gnawed by mice causes many fires each year, listed a "cause unknown".

    Add to that fuel lines.

    It's funny, and I'm glad I figured this out before the gnawed wires sparked the misting gasoline under there. (One big whoosh! ...and Classical Values might have succumbed -- to an explosive gasoline fire, "cause unknown"!)

    (Come to think of it, I'm also glad I'm a non-smoker...)

    posted by Eric at 01:23 PM | Comments (3)



    Too much democracy is like too much knowledge

    Is there too much democracy in the world? And are "we" -- the naifs who think like Sharansky and Bush -- part of the problem for having spread it?

    Jonathan V. Last seems to think so, and he provides examples of bad democracies. Beginning with Lebanon:

    Until a few weeks ago, Lebanon was regarded as one of the successes of the Bush Doctrine. Even in June 2005, there was trouble on the horizon, when the Lebanese held their free elections: The terrorist group Hezbollah won 14 seats in the 128-member parliament. More worrisome, Hezbollah fared best where turnout was highest.

    At the time, all that could be hoped was that democracy might reshape Hezbollah. Now it is clear that, having hijacked Lebanon's foreign policy, Hezbollah has reshaped Lebanese democracy.

    In an instructive essay in a recent New Republic, Annia Ciezadlo writes, "I live in a mixed Beirut neighborhood, not heavily Shia or even exclusively Muslim." But when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke on TV announcing a Hezbollah attack on Israeli ships, she heard from all around the neighborhood "a surround-sound rustle of cheers and applause. Outside, caravans of cars rolled through the abandoned streets, and the drivers honked their horns." It will come as little surprise if Hezbollah gains strength in the next election.

    I'm sorry, but the unfortunate fact that Hezbollah won 14 seats out of 128 does not strike me as evidence that democracy is a bad idea. As to the horn honking, and the "surround-sound" of cheers and applause, I'd prefer to see election results before declaring Lebanese democracy dysfunctional. Activists have a way of making a disproportionate amount of noise, and the more determined they are, the more noise they will make. (Watch this Hezbollah video as an example.) Last continues:
    Throughout the Middle East, elections have produced gains for Islamists, whose vision of democracy is at least a challenge for and perhaps antithetical to liberalism, tolerance or peace. In the Palestinian territories, the terrorist group Hamas swept to power last January. It, too, shows no signs of having been subdued by the burdens of democratic responsibility. In June 2005, 17 million Iranians cast their ballots for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man who has declared that "Israel must be wiped off the map."
    Many analysts consider the Hamas victory to be more a result of PLO corruption and incompetence than a mandate for Hamas, but I agree with Last that the result was very unfortunate. But what does that mean? That they'd be better off under a PLO dictatorship? Would the result be any different? Would a PLO dictatorship be more kind and loving to Israel? Could it be counted on to stem the flow of suicide bombers? I seriously doubt that ridding the Palestinians of the democracy they can't "handle" would make any difference at all.

    What really takes chutzpah, though, is to cite the Ahmadinejad "victory" as an example of democracy. Iran is not a democracy. It is a religious dictatorship which subordinates the election process to oligarchical rule. All candidates must be vetted and approved by an unelected board of religious clerics called the "Guardian Council" -- which not only precludes any possibility of real opposition running for office, but which has the power to nullify election results and veto parliamentary decisions!

    It is one thing to decry democracy where it has clearly failed, but surely Last can find a better example than the Iranian mullahcracy's shell game.

    Well, to be fair, Last does offer additional examples:

    There is a whole list of democracies that have turned to war: In 1995, Bosnia fought Serbia after nationalist parties won elections. Peru and Ecuador, two other young democracies, went to war in the Amazon.

    In other words, democracy isn't bulletproof. Instances of disastrous democracy extend back to ancient times. Athens voted to attack Syracuse in 415 B.C. It was a grinding, terrible defeat that spelled the beginning of the end for Athens in the Peloponnesian War. And, to leap to the 20th century, let's remember that the Germans voted the Nazi Party into power; we all know how that turned out. (I'm drawing no parallel between contemporary political movements and Nazism - simply giving one more instance of free popular elections', meaning democracy, getting the wrong answer.)

    OK, stop right there.

    Please, please. Stop. Right. There.

    The Germans did not vote the Nazis into power.

    This is an often-invoked canard that will not die. The Nazis never were voted into power, and the only election they ever "won" was a one-party farce of a referendum held after their seizure of power. Before Hitler took power, there was an electorial impasse in which neither the Nazi Party nor the German Communist Party could receive a majority, and of course their two parties could not possibly rule together in any sort of coalition. Ironically, the Nazi Party was losing strength. Seeing the possibility that power would elude them, the Nazis resorted to extralegal intrigue and cleverly managed to pressure the senile Paul von Hindenburg to "appoint" Hitler as head of the government (with well-known consequences). This has been meticulously documented by numerous historians, and in this case, Wikipedia (which I'll rely on here mainly because it is so hated by Andrew Keen and his ilk) has an accurate summary:

    At the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis made another leap forward, polling 37.4 percent and becoming the largest party in the Reichstag by a wide margin. Furthermore, the Nazis and the KPD between them won 52 percent of the vote and a majority of seats. Since both parties opposed democracy and neither would join or support any ministry, this made the formation of a majority government committed to democracy impossible. The result was weak ministries governing by decree. Under Stalin’s orders, the KPD maintained its policy of treating the social fascist SPD as the main enemy, creating a fatal division on the left. The KPD, by its tactics at this time, and indeed by its very existence which terrified the middle class into supporting the Nazis, bears a heavy responsibility for Hitler’s rise to power.[7]

    Chancellor Franz von Papen called another Reichstag election in November, hoping to find a way out of this impasse. The result was the same, with the Nazis and the KPD winning 50 percent of the vote between them and more than half the seats, rendering this Reichstag no more workable than its predecessor. But support for the Nazis fell to 33.1 percent, suggesting that the Nazi surge had passed its peak – possibly because the worst of the Depression had passed, possibly because some middle-class voters had supported Hitler in July as a protest but had now drawn back from the prospect of actually putting him into power. The Nazis interpreted the result as a warning that they must seize power before their moment passed. Had the other parties united, this could have been prevented, but their shortsightedness made a united front impossible. Papen, his successor Kurt von Schleicher and the right-wing press magnate Alfred Hugenberg spent December and January in political intrigues which eventually persuaded President Hindenburg that it was safe to appoint Hitler Reich Chancellor at the head of a cabinet which included only a minority of Nazi ministers, which he did on 30 January 1933.

    The installation of the treacherous Hitler thus became a tragic fait accompli. But it was accomplished not by voters at the polls, but by powerful elitists working behind the scenes.

    Citing one of history's most regrettable instances of elitism run amok as a "free popular election [...] getting the wrong answer" is not only wrong factually; it is profoundly wrong in the moral sense.

    That is because what led to the decision to install Hitler was grounded in precisely the philosophical argument Last makes now. (That democracy is not the solution.) I'm not saying that democracy is not extremely frustrating and often problematic, nor that democracies haven't participated in wars. Last could have cited the American Civil War, and countless other examples of bad decisions made by voters.

    But if anything, the examples of Ahmadinejad and Hitler provide arguments against elitism, not democracy.

    Sigh.

    When I read the column, I thought these errors were so egregious as to be almost self-Fisking in nature. I thought, why bother? Aren't Inquirer readers smart enough to realize that Last simply got a couple of major historical facts wrong?

    But what about the people who don't know their history? I mean, most of us are familiar with Santayana's warning about such people being condemned to repeat the history they don't know.

    But what about the people who do know? Or the people who might just want to know?

    Don't they count too?

    Or should knowledge of history be in the hands of an aristocracy posing as a meritocracy?

    posted by Eric at 09:32 AM | Comments (2)




    tangled lights

    I guess that's the theme of these two oddballs . . .

    twine.jpg


    lanc.jpg


    (I'm taking a light break. Nothing illuminating about that!)

    posted by Eric at 10:47 PM



    Retraction of an overreaction

    I finally got around to listening to Nick Schulz's interview with Andrew Keen, and while I disagree with Keen more than ever, I think I should make a couple of things clear:

  • One: I understand the need for a legitimate debate about these things; and
  • Two: in my earlier post, I overreacted.
  • TCS's Nick Schulz did a such a good job of debating Keen that he reminded me of the truth of the old saying that the best way to defeat bad speech is with more speech. I take back my concerns about TCS linking Keen, and ditto for Pajamas Media.

    I think I was wrong to get upset about seeing the sidebar ad with Andrew Keen's name in it, and my feelings should not have been hurt the way they were. As I explained in the comment to my post, it's because I have been blogging for so long and have put so much of myself into it that I took Keen's attack so personally:

    One of the things I should restate is not only am I against any form of government censorship, but I'm against suppressing ideas I disagree with -- even at my own blog. Just as I never asked anyone to pull the Coulter or Santorum ads (I know there's a method to blog particular PJM ads if a blogger finds them objectionable), I'm not asking that of ads for Keen. I think wide-ranging debate is the best solution to these types of disagreements.

    The problem here is that censorship advocacy involves a bit more than an ordinary disagreement. By advocating blog censorship, Keen does more than disagree with me on a particular position; he argues that I (and other bloggers) do not even enjoy the right to disagree.

    I have spent three and a half years writing this blog. Obviously, not everyone likes it, and a lot of people disagree with what I say. But when someone comes along and says I don't have the right to say anything because blogging is simply wrong, that negates not only my existence right now, but a pretty large chunk of my life.

    Touchy, aren't we? (Yes, but this has been a rather large investment of my time, and I don't like seeing it casually dismissed.)

    And I pride myself in remaining calm and logical. Listening to his interview, I doubt it was ever Keen's goal to "negate my existence," or advocate censoring this blog. He sounds worried in a general sense about things like uncontrolled growth of technology, online pornography (which he complains his children see every time they're online), and he says a debate is needed. The problem is, I get a little hot under the collar when I hear that bloggers are "twenty-something" and have "nothing to say," and I consider it a dishonest ad hominem attack. It is one thing to disagree with something I have said specifically, but to place me in a category in which I don't belong and then dismiss me for being in it, well, that reminds me of leftists saying I'm "just like" Ann Coulter -- or rightists who might call me an atheistic "hedonist."

    As to the pornography Keen wants cleaned up, I'm sure it's there, but I just don't see it. Yeah, I've been annoyed by an occasional popup, but I'm not interested in online porn, so again, it's hard to see the tie-in between that and his anti-blogger stance, unless he just sees "the Internet" as an interrelated grab-bag of favorite ills. Keen and I are obviously not on the same wave length.

    In the interview, Keen also singled out InstaPundit as an example of what's wrong with the blogosphere, although he didn't advocate censoring or shutting down the blog. Considering that Glenn Reynolds is one of his favorite punching bags (Reynolds, says Keen, is "drowning out mainstream opinion" by "shouting louder and blogging more often than the rest of us") I think that if he was truly advocating blog censorship, he'd at least be calling for shutting down InstaPundit.

    So, I may be overreacting to Keen. But I think I was definitely overreacting when I dragged the Pajamas Media ad into my personal beef with Keen. My statement that "the PJM connection places me -- and other bloggers -- within the same tent as someone who advocates its destruction" is simply not born out by the facts, nor is it consistent with my belief that these things should be debated. Looking back, it was over the top for me to say that; hence the need for this explanation.

    Pajamas Media is not the type of outfit that preaches only to the choir, and just as they feature bloggers and opinions from across the spectrum, it is right for them to encourage the free debate even of ideas I consider dreadful or obnoxious, like Keen's. Any less would not only be dull, it would not encourage people to defend their beliefs.

    (Undefended beliefs, like undefended countries, wither and die.)

    Pajamas Media has a procedure allowing a blogger to remove any advertising he does not like, and I'll reiterate that I will not remove any ad that I see here. (Although if I don't like what I see, I might very well use it as the starting point for a debate.) In the earliest (Blogspot) days of this blog, Exodus International ran ads with which I disagreed. But it strikes me as evidence of massive insecurity to be unable to handle the discussion of an idea that you don't like or consider wrong, no matter how strongly you might feel about it. To me, the whole idea of blogging is to discuss ideas, and what kind of blogger would I be if I felt so threatened that I couldn't stand to see an idea questioned? I consider Keen's idea of censorship at least as wrong as Exodus International's "reparative therapy" for homosexuality, and at least as wrong as gun control. It is wrong (and of course, evidence of insecurity) for me to argue that my "existence is negated" by any idea, no matter how strongly I might disagree with it -- and that includes Keen's.

    I think the blogosphere is mature enough to handle calls for censorship -- even calls for shutting down the blogosphere. (And of course, if the blogosphere is "mature enough," then I should be too.)

    I like the fact that Pajamas Media tries to engage a large swath of opinion, and I say this despite the fact that occasionally some of those opinions might disgust me. To the extent that I am disgusted by the opinions of Andrew Keen, maybe I should consider it my goal to disgust him in return with mine.

    But far from being disgusted with Pajamas Media, I'm delighted that they're providing a forum for such controversy, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

    posted by Eric at 03:48 PM | Comments (1)



    Guns and other racial food fights

    University of Pennsylvania Professor Elijah Anderson makes an argument for gun control which is rapidly gaining ground, and that is that opposition to gun control by people living in suburban or rural areas has definite racial implications:

    Most democracies heavily regulate or ban handguns, but there are some that have a lot of guns and not as much death and injury from them as we do. The problem, particularly for a society with a history of racialized slavery, segregation and discrimination, is that we are making handguns easily accessible to young people living in still separated and deprived, often desperate conditions in urban areas, young people with little chance or hope for a constructive future. To stop that handguns have to be regulated more strictly. This level of gun deaths and injuries would not be tolerated if it weren't mostly in those areas. To do nothing because people or politicians in suburban and rural areas want unrestricted access to all guns is deeply troubling.
    I'll tell you what I think is deeply disturbing, and that's the injection of race into matters having nothing to do with race. Unless the argument is that poor black people should be disarmed (an old idea which Clayton Cramer has documented) I cannot see what gun control has to do with race. (I'm assuming also that we live in a democracy where urban, suburban, and rural votes all count equally.)

    Unfortunately, Professor Anderson's ideas reminded me of a liberal Berkeley neighbor, who used to privately make a blatantly racist gun control argument I've discussed previously:

    . . .my neighbor finally confessed that her problem really wasn't with educated middle class people owning guns; it was with "the poor." Urban minorities. People "on welfare." But she quickly admonished me that she was not talking about race, and that laws had to be fair. And the only way to be fair was to take away all guns, from everyone. The "educated classes," in her view, should "set an example."
    Of course, such an argument cannot easily be made by anyone with white skin, as it would be seen for what it is: a condescending view of the poor, and barely denied racism.

    In fairness to Dr. Anderson, he might have just as much a problem with middle class whites (or even his Ivy League peers) having guns as he would with poor urban blacks; I don't know. I do think that both my neighbor and Dr. Anderson tend to downplay the fact that "poor and black" are not synonyms for crime. Far from it; the vast majority of the urban poor are law abiding people who have just as much right to be armed as any suburban elitist. Don't statistics show that these law abiding urban people are more plagued with crime than their counterparts in the suburban and rural nieghborhoods?

    Couldn't it be argued that gun control might have a disparate impact on the ability of poor urban people to defend themselves?

    Dr. Anderson's remark reminds me that race can be a very effective tool for silencing debate. Race is pretty much a taboo subject, which polite people avoid. A few intrepid bloggers (Jeff Goldstein immediately comes to mind) dare to claim the right to discuss it, but for people living in the "real word" (an increasingly elusive concept), the cowardly way is the smart way.

    Bad as it is to not be able to discuss race, when it is injected into other debates in an accusatory manner, I think someone needs to speak up. If opposition to gun control can be spun as "racist," then pretty much anything can be spun as racist. (Probably including the presence of McDonalds restaurants.)

    While that last parenthetical aside was meant by way of satire, and as argumentum ad absurdum, I see once again that what's satire for me is someone else's mission in life:

    The diets of people of color are typically higher in sugar, salt, fat, and refined carbohydrates. Lacking access to healthier foods, and also lacking knowledge about what diets are in fact healthier, the poor are easy prey, not only to the tobacco and alcohol sellers whose billboards pervade their neighborhoods, but to the junk food industry and the fast food chains who see these communities as markets they can readily exploit.

    Government policies that permit these conditions to exist take a disproportionate toll on people of color.

    Here here! (Never mind that the closest restaurants to my house in two directions are McDonalds!) Opposition to government food control is another form of racism.

    Wait a minute! Might opposition to socialism be another form of racism? (Don't ask! The Seattle Public School system already defined it that way.)

    My apologies for being so far behind the learning curve. (In my defense, might I be allowed to plead old age?)

    There is a bright side, however. If everything becomes a race issue, and the accusation of racism is hurled as an argument against anyone who disagrees with positions having nothing to do with race, real racial arguments will become devoid of meaning.

    Eventually, people will become so exhausted that race will no longer matter.

    (But isn't that also the dark side? I mean, by definition, race not mattering is racism.)

    posted by Eric at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)



    Passing for human?

    I rented a really good (if disturbing) DVD last night -- so if you're planning to rent the film and want to be surprised, please stop reading right now, because what follows is what cranky people would call not a film review, but a spoiler.

    In my defense, it's hard to discuss a film like this without spoiling it, but it occurred to me that if I didn't name the film I wouldn't be spoiling it. Thinking it over, I decided to put the title below, so that it can't be seen unless you click on "continue reading." That way, the film won't be "spoiled." But be warned! Clicking on "continue" will tell you the name of the film. The rest of you will never know the name of the film being spoiled, although I'm not quite sure how you're supposed to be able to rent the "unspoiled" film without knowing the name. (Er, maybe I'm doing this backwards.)

    Anyway, a fine British actor plays an older classics professor with a secret. The secret is that he is a black man who has passed as white since the 1940s. He avoided attention by claiming to be Jewish. The interesting thing about that is that he faced discrimination anyway, but the "buffer zone" provided by his fake Jewish claim distracted people who might otherwise have suspected he was black. Neat trick, and he got away with it. Late in his career, though, a scandal erupts when he is falsely accused of racism for asking whether two absentee students he's never seen in his classroom are "spooks." (He meant ghosts, of course, but the students turned out to be black, and they filed a grievance.) Ironically, all he needed to do to jettison the scandal would have been to tell the truth and admit he was black. But the secret had been kept for too long, and the man was very proud to have succeeded. One of the many ironies was that his struggle against anti-Semitism became a substitute for a struggle which in those days he'd never have won. As he said in a showdown with his mother, had he not concealed the fact that he was black, for the rest of his life he'd have been regarded as "that Negro classics professor."

    Finally he falls in love with a woman half his age, and (at least in part because the physical part is enabled by Viagra) it actually works. She's the first person he tells his awful secret, and guess what? This "new generation" doesn't even care!

    A fine movie with a tragic ending, as the young lover has a psychotic ex-boyfriend consumed by a passionate hatred for "that old Jew." My dark side loved his Jewish funeral, a literally symbolic burial -- and as honest a burial as circumstances might allow. What's to bury?

    I couldn't help wondering about whether passing for white would involve the same tragedy today as it obviously did in the segregated 1940s.

    What about the people who are just people? Do they have a duty to their "race"?

    Let's suppose you are black, but you look white. I know a couple of people who are like that, and they run around, doing the same things that we all do (of the usual sort of which life consists), and no one asks what race they are. I imagine that the people who don't ask could be divided into two groups: those who care, and those who don't.

    Most likely, the former group would consist primarily of bigots, along with a smattering of activists who would feel that there is a "duty" to the world at large to "disclose" one's "race." That to not do this is somehow dishonest. Tiger Woods did not endear himself to the activists when he refused to describe himself the way it was demanded he describe himself, but he did tell the world the full truth about his racial ancestry, which consisted of several races.

    There is a deep and bitter debate between people who think race should matter, and people who think it should not. Perhaps I shouldn't call it a debate (increasingly, it resembles psychological warfare), for it isn't a comfortable subject. Anyone who says race shouldn't matter runs the risk of being called a racist, and few want to run that risk, for being called a racist can lead to embarrassment, with possible career consequences. So, the belief that race doesn't matter is these days entertained mostly behind closed doors, in the privacy of one's own home.

    Funny thing, though.

    I can remember when not caring about someone's race was considered a virtue.

    Continue reading "Passing for human?"

    posted by Eric at 10:08 AM




    The end of warm and fuzzy times?

    I was all set to write a hopefully cool post about "End Times" when leading End Times advocate Pat Robertson has to go and spoil it all by proclaiming that he he now believes in Global Warming!

    Sheesh! Might this mean that the "End Times" aren't happening fast enough to suit his fancy? Or might be be hedging his bets in case something like too much peace screws up the End Times countdown?

    I don't know. I can only speculate. I do know that it's now doubly frustrating to try to come to terms with End Times, because only yesterday I learned about photographer Jill Greenberg's artistic decision that a government takeover by Rapturists has so endangered the planet that children must be made to cry -- in the name of "End Times"! (Via Michelle Malkin.)

    I kid you not.

    Worse (for me) is that I have been trying to make sense out of Ms. Greenberg's linkage between the Rapture and making children cry, and it isn't easy. It's almost impossible, and I might need help from other bloggers who devote more attention to detail than I do. Because, no matter how nitpicky I might force myself to be, now matter how many times I look at the Paul Kopeiking Gallery's description of the "End Times" show, I can't figure out what's going on. As best I can determine, it seems that the crying children of today, were "touched on" by a lengthy quote from a speech Bill Moyers made in 2004. What was said by Moyers is fuzzy, but here's the quote:

    Following her enormously successful series 'Monkey Portraits', which debuted in October 2004, Jill Greenberg’s new work takes a more serious turn and has already hit a national nerve . "End Times" combines beautiful, poignant imagery, impeccably executed, with both political and personal relevance. Greenberg’s subject is taboo: children in pain. She utilizes this uncomfortable image as a way to break through to the pop mainstream and begin a national dialogue. Jill Greenberg's images are sharp and saturated, stunning and quirky; her work is soaked with realism and imagination.

    Bill Moyers' article “There is No Tomorrow” more than touches on Mrs. Greenberg’s subject matter. In the article he states the amazing statistics: “For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The offspring of ideology and theology are not always bad but they are always blind. And that is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

    One-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup Poll is accurate, believes the Bible is literally true. This past November, several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in what is known as the "rapture index."

    These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans. Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre: Once Israel has occupied the rest of its "bibli-cal lands," legions of the Antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture.

    That is why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations, where four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man." For them a war with Islam in the Middle East is something to be welcomed - an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The rapture index - "the prophetic speedometer of end-time activity" - now stands at 153."

    Jill Greenberg explains, “The children I photographed were not harmed in any way. And, as a mother, I am quite aware of how easily toddlers can cry. Storms of grief sweep across their features without warning; a joyful smile can dissolve into a grimace of despair. The first little boy I shot, Liam, suddenly became hysterically upset. It reminded me of helplessness and anger I feel about our current political and social situation. The most dangerous fundamentalists aren’t just waging war in Iraq; they’re attacking evolution, blocking medical research and ignoring the environment. It’s as if they believe the apocalyptic End Time is near, therefore protecting the earth and future of our children is futile. As a parent I have to reckon with the knowledge that our children will suffer for the mistakes our government is making. Their pain is a precursor of what is to come.”

    I thought it would be an easy thing to verify the quote from Bill Moyers, but it wasn't.

    For starters, stuff has been left out. Other portions have been rewritten. (I don't want to spend too much time on this, but for ease of readers, I'll try to keep the omissions in red.)

    Between "oblivious to the facts" and "One-third of the American electorate," they've omitted this paragraph from the Moyers text without indicating the omission.

    Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first secretary of the interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."

    Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true -- one-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index.

    (The sentence beginning with "One-third" appears to have been edited, somewhere, by someone.)

    Look, I don't mean to be picky, and I understand that James Watt's musings might be a distraction from the point the photographer or the gallery are trying to make (I edit quotations regularly at this blog), but shouldn't there be something in there to indicate that a substantial chunk of the quote is missing?

    NOTE: The Watts quotation was improperly attributed by Moyers to Watts, and Moyers apologized. See the updates below.

    But the omission left me even more confused, and additional research made me wonder exactly what Bill Moyers said. The version posted at Truthout.org, is similar to the passage "quoted" at the photographer's web site because it too omits James Watt without explanation. But it includes the following language (shown in red) which Greenberg's gallery omits:

    Once Israel has occupied the rest of its "bibli-cal lands," legions of the Antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.

    I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That is why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations, where four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man." For them a war with Islam in the Middle East is something to be welcomed - an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The rapture index - "the prophetic speedometer of end-time activity" - now stands at 153.

    But there's more missing, and no matter where I look, I can't find a match. In addition to the Truthout version, there's the Common Dreams version, which has even more (again, the omissions are displayed in red):
    In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index. That's right - the rapture index. Google it and you will find that the best-selling books in America today are the twelve volumes of the left-behind series written by the Christian fundamentalist and religious right warrior, Timothy LaHaye. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans.

    Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): once Israel has occupied the rest of its 'biblical lands,' legions of the anti-Christ will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts, and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.

    I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature. I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious, and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelation where four angels 'which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man.' A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed - an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144-just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.

    Again, aside from the omissions, the text which was used has been edited. Why? Doesn't it matter to anyone what Bill Moyers said?

    That last version, by the way, does not call it an "article"; it is said to have been a speech given by Moyers when he accepted the "Harvard Medical School's Global Environment Citizen Award" given to him by Meryl Streep.

    Yet another version is quoted here.

    What's intereresting about what Moyers said (or, is most frequently said to have said), is not so much that the overwhelming majority of sites mention Watt, La Haye, and Monbiot, but that the Rapture Index is given as 144, not 153:

    A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed -- an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 -- just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter Heaven and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.
    Well, what did Moyers say?

    Does anyone know?

    This site purports to quote the original article in the Star Tribune, and for that reason I suspect it may be the most accurate, but that's just my reportorial reporter hunch.

    In any case, before I can even reach Jill Greenberg's actual words, I need to know what Bill Moyers said about the Rapture Index. Was it 144? Or 153?

    Truthout quotes Moyers as having said 153. So do 106 sites quoting the Moyers Rapture-index. (Or Rapture Moyers index...)

    But a full 1070 sites quote Moyers as saying the Rapture Index was at 144.

    Hmmm . . .

    Simple logic dicates that it cannot be both. Moyers accepted the Harvard award and gave the speech only once, right? He cannot have said 144 and 153.

    I don't like to go pointing fingers at photographers, because I hate to put people on the spot. (Things like that can make sensitive people cry, and Ms. Greenberg does seem sensitive to criticism.) Nor do I think it is her fault or that of the gallery, as they probably lifted the quote from one of the 106 sites which take the minority view of the Moyers quotation.

    Or am I being unreasonable in simply wanting to know what Bill Moyers said? (Perhaps what's important is what he might as well have said, or what he really ought to be saying said now that his 2004 speech "more than touches on Mrs. Greenberg’s subject matter.")

    But it's not as if the Rapture Index is a trivial matter. (It's, like Ms. Greenberg's whole, um, inspiration for the crying children, so it must be very important.) I don't believe in it personally, but if the true believers are literally to be lifted up to heaven while the war of Armageddon commences on earth, aren't we entitled to know when? Moyers and his followers certainly seem worried enough. Why can't they get their dates straight?

    All things considered, fairness dictates that I take this Rapture Index business seriously. I'm wondering . . . Might the Rapturists themselves be able to tell me?

    What is this index? Where is it? Yeah, Rapturism strikes me as loony tune stuff, but at this point I just plain want to know.

    This leading site describes the Rapture Index as a bit analogous to the Dow average. It fluctuates depending on a wide variety of factors which they list. Right now it's at 157. (High, but not as high as the September 24, 2001 record of 182.)

    Bill Moyers received his award on December 1, 2004. Might they be updating the text to suit the current end times?

    Can they do that?

    As to the figure being "one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter Heaven and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire," I didn't see that language at the RaptureReady site, but there's this:

    Rapture Index above 145: Fasten your seat belts
    That makes me pretty confident that Moyers actually said 144. As to where the 153 came from, I'm not a cyber sleuth, and it's anyone's guess.

    Again, my apologies for being nit-picky, folks. (But after all, this is the end of the world we're talking about!)

    Turning to the pictures of the crying children, it's clear that the driving passion behind them is Ms. Greenberg's horror over two things:

  • the undisputed fact that some people believe in the Rapture; and
  • the more fantastic idea that the Rapture drives U.S. policy.
  • I know there are people who believe the latter, but I think it's about as wild as the 9/11 conspiracy claims, and I don't think I need to devote yet another post to Bush's rather conventional religious beliefs (which are similar to those of Hillary Clinton), nor do I think I need to contact the State Department and ask whether Secretary Rice believes that End Times are near and that at any moment good Christians will go shooting skyward towards the heavens.

    But to Jill Greenberg the tie-in (the um, explanation) is that the pain her child subjects experienced is a precursor to the pain that the Rapture people who run the government will inflict:

    Jill Greenberg explains, “The children I photographed were not harmed in any way. And, as a mother, I am quite aware of how easily toddlers can cry. Storms of grief sweep across their features without warning; a joyful smile can dissolve into a grimace of despair. The first little boy I shot, Liam, suddenly became hysterically upset. It reminded me of helplessness and anger I feel about our current political and social situation. The most dangerous fundamentalists aren’t just waging war in Iraq; they’re attacking evolution, blocking medical research and ignoring the environment. It’s as if they believe the apocalyptic End Time is near, therefore protecting the earth and future of our children is futile. As a parent I have to reckon with the knowledge that our children will suffer for the mistakes our government is making. Their pain is a precursor of what is to come.”
    Gee, it really is almost as if, isn't it?

    The children should be made to cry, because, hell, 153, 144, James Watt or no James Watt, the Rapture might as well be at hand.

    Far from experiencing the ravages of "End Times," these children were not harmed in any way. And isn't it silly that they'd cry over a snatched lollipop?

    We adults, we're different about these things, whether we worry about Rapture Indexes or not.

    Frankly, if someone came up to me and handed me a "free beer," I'd probably say "thank you!" and start to drink it. I suspect many of my readers would too.

    But let's suppose that once you started drinking your free beer, that same person snatched it away, then snapped a photograph of whatever look you might have on your face. We wouldn't cry, but wouldn't that be a tad irritating? Wouldn't it be rude? And while I don't have kids, I still have some memory of what it was like to be a kid, and I wouldn't have much liked it if someone had snatched something he'd just given me, then took my picture. If my mom had consented to such a thing and the picture had been exhibited in a public gallery (today it's all over the Internet), I might never have forgiven her. Isn't it possible that in a sensitive child, this might be what they call "traumatic"? There are two things going on: the lollipop snatching and the later, ongoing public humiliation.

    Or is the latter mitigated by the fact that it is political in nature? Frankly, I think the political justification is a red herring. Does it matter that the photographs have titles like "End Times," instead of "Little Child Crying Because Photographer Stole His Lollipop"?

    I don't think I'd feel any differently had the same thing been done by a conservative photographer righteously pissed off about Radical Islam, who made the kids cry in exactly the same manner, and gave them titles like "Sharia Law," or "Young Muslim Bride." I'd be equally outraged.

    The problem with poor bleeding heart me I just believe in consistently applying the same ethical principles to children that would be applied to adults, in the hope that they might grow into ethical adults. This gets a little tricky because unlike adults, children have to be raised, trained, and disciplined, and that is often painful. Teaching a child to be honest is painful. Giving a child something and then snatching it away for no reason, whether that makes the child cry or not, strikes me as the wrong way to treat or raise a child. I never liked the idea of scolding children because of things they did not do. (I objected earlier to making children lie down in an imaginary slave ship for this very reason.)

    Except for punishment, I think doing things like this to children is a bad idea. I don't care whether you believe Bush and Rice are Rapture-driven maniacs; it is wrong to take it out on children who had nothing to do with it.

    Frankly, this reminds me of the hair-shirt, "don't you know there are children are starving in Asia!" stuff, except it's worse than a mere tedious lecture. To my warm and fuzzy mind, it's much more dishonest, and much more abusive.

    It also makes me wonder whether George Lakoff's highly respected thesis has become outmoded:

    If your baby cries at night, do you pick him up? The answer to that question, suggests cognitive scientist Lakoff (Univ. of Calif., Berkeley), is the single best indicator of liberal or conservative values. Driven by curiosity about how liberals and conservatives can ``seem to be talking about the same things and yet reach opposite conclusions'' and why conservatives ``like to talk about discipline and toughness, while liberals like to talk about need and help,'' Lakoff sets out to discover where the difference lies in the two moral visions. He finds it in models of the family and of family-based values: Conservatives favor the ``Strict Father'' model, while liberals conceive of the family as a ``Nurturant Parent.'' That difference, Lakoff argues, yields systems of logic so disparate that liberals and conservatives cannot even begin to understand their opponents' reasoning on issues like abortion, welfare, capital punishment, and gay rights. (Emphasis added.)
    Have liberals become the new strict parents? Or are the Jill Greenbergs of the world not liberals?

    What do I know? In any case, leading expert Stephen White says that I'm in no position to judge these things, because I am not "in the photography world."

    'People in the photography world, anyone who is sophisticated about photography, knows that this is not offensive,' he said. 'Taking away a lollipop is not child abuse. There's no irreparable harm. I'm just not sure there's any significance to the photographs, either.'
    Hmmmm....

    If there's no significance to the photographs, then the photographer went to a huge amount of trouble getting a whole lot of people all upset. Over nothing. Worse yet, if Mr. White is right, it means that I have wasted a lot of time by blogging about this.

    Yes, he nearly says that too:

    In the end, 'This is more a story about blogging than about photography,' said Stephen White, formerly a gallery owner and currently a private dealer and collector in Studio City. 'It's about a generation that's so caught up in itself that everything it says it thinks is significant, even though it's not saying anything at all.
    What generation is that? I just have to know. I'm 52 years old. Is he talkin' 'bout my generation? Or somebody else's?

    Sheesh. To think that talking about "End Times" isn't saying anything at all.

    I can't imagine what possessed me to bring it up.

    MORE: As commenter Eric Blair points out below, Bill Moyers' attack on James Watt was shown to be wrong, and he apologized for it. More here, and here. But a lot more was taken out than the remarks misattributed by Moyers to James Watt.

    What I am trying to find is the accurate text of what Moyers actually said -- at the Harvard award, in a column, or otherwise. Is there an actual version anywhere or just mangled pieces of edited text floating around?

    If you are going to quote something, the source should be given, and all omissions be noted.

    Where is the source for God's sake?

    MORE: Moyers' apology was noted by James Watt here.

    AND MORE: While I haven't been able to track this down, it occurs to me that Moyers and the Star Tribune may have pulled the piece entirely. If that is the case, no wonder I'm having trouble, as there may be no "there" there.

    It doesn't speak well of anyone who'd rely on claptrap discredited by its own author as justification for making children cry.

    (I'm afraid all we have are unreliable quotes from unreliable sources, based on an unreliable and discredited speech by an unreliable Harvard award winner.)

    UPDATE: Harvard's web site has a complete transcript of the actual speech Moyers gave. It mentions Watt, La Haye, Monbiot, and gives the number of 144. It appears identical to the one attributed to the Star Tribune, so I think it's authoritative -- if wrong!

    posted by Eric at 12:01 PM | Comments (4)



    "the same old bellicose rant"

    Sometimes, my local paper's "wake up calls" make waking up in the morning a disturbing experience.

    Actually, this morning's column by the Philadelphia Inquirer's John Grogan serves as more than a wake up call; it's taking me down a very unpleasant memory lane. As Mr. Grogan sees it, it is "time to unload" on what he calls "gun stupidity":

    I know I will hear from the gun nuts and firepower freaks, and they will scream the same old bellicose rant. I'm tired of hearing it.

    I'm tired of standing over coffins. Of seeing schoolchildren caught in the crossfire and little boys killing playmates. Of teenage pet-sitters found with bullet holes in their heads.

    This state has a problem its political leaders are happy to ignore. Now, that problem has come home to roost, right at the doorstep of a gun-supporting lawmaker. How many more wake-up calls will it take?

    I'll try to rein in my bellicosity for now, but I do think it is fair to characterize the tone of the Grogan column as a bit emotional:
    A boy and a gun

    [Sen. Bob Regola (R., Westmoreland)] had left a key to the house with a 14-year-old neighbor boy who was pet-sitting. According to police, the boy found Regola's unsecured 9mm pistol. The boy's body was found the next morning in a woods behind the house, a single gunshot wound to the head, the gun beside him.

    Investigators still have not determined whether the death was an accident, suicide or homicide, a state police spokesman said yesterday. District Attorney John Peck has said Regola will not likely face criminal charges.

    This much is certain: Another child found another gun. And the drumbeat of senseless loss goes on, resonating across the American landscape.

    Regola, a member of the National Rifle Association, surely is asking himself painful questions in the aftermath of the death. What if he had kept the gun in a locked case? What if he had secured it with a trigger lock? What if he had removed it from the house for the weekend, knowing an unsupervised teenager would be there?

    What if the father of three simply had decided a home with children is no place for lethal weapons?

    Perhaps Louis A.J. Farrell would be alive today instead of a statistic.

    Is the right to bear arms really worth this price? The price of our children's blood? Blood on the streets of North Philadelphia? Blood in the woods behind the home of a respected member of the legislature?

    Someone tell me, please, what right are we protecting? The right to bear unbearable grief? What freedom? The freedom to place ourselves and our loved ones in needless peril?

    No one likes suicides, accidents, murder, or death, but I do wish Mr. Grogan would calm down. As I said, I'll try not to be too bellicose, but I would venture that the reason some Second Amendment supporters sound bellicose to people who disagree with them is that, to be fair, asserting the right to own guns and the right to self defense in the face of grief and tragedy sounds, well, callused. On the other hand, it might also be argued that it is equally callused, perhaps equally bellicose, to use the occasion of tragedy to advocate taking away a cherished and important right from people who were not involved in the latest tragedy in the news.

    I also think it's also a bit callused to be so quick to blame the gun when there's an ongoing investigation of the death -- the facts of which seem a bit strange (to me, at least). Let's start with the gun, because it is being blamed as the culprit. The reason State Senator Regola is not being charged is because it was not stored haphazardly:

    District Attorney John Peck said at this point no criminal charges would be filed against the senator. He noted that although Regola's pistol was not safe-guarded by a trigger lock, it was not stored haphazardly.

    "It was not left out in an area where anyone would see it," he said.

    What that means is that either the teenager searched the place until he found it, or else someone else knew where it was stored, and . . .

    And what? I can't reconstruct what might have happened from these facts, but here's what's being reported by police:

    The Farrells became concerned early Saturday when they realized Louis was not in his bedroom and apparently had not slept in his bed, [State police Capt.] Cole said.

    "The family came to the conclusion, after they could not locate him in the house, he might have been out all night. In a frantic search, the father first went to (Regola's) house and then went into the woods where he discovered him ... about 100 yards behind the house," Cole said.

    Louis Farrell was last seen in the house at about 10:15 p.m. Friday by his older brother, Jeffrey, who thought his brother was heading to bed, authorities said.

    Cole said Regola's oldest son, Rob Regola IV, did not accompany his family to Harrisburg, where the senator received the Legislator of the Year Award from the Pennsylvania Sheriff's Association. Cole said the 16-year-old arrived home at about 10:30 p.m. Friday and stayed there through Saturday morning.

    According to a search warrant affidavit filed by investigators, Rob Regola IV, a student in the Hempfield Area School District, spoke by telephone with Louis Farrell at about 11:30 p.m. Friday.

    Troopers confiscated computer equipment from the Regola home to retrieve possible e-mail messages exchanged between the two youths, who were friends.

    OK, so it appears that the "pet sitter" left his home at 10:15 to go to the Regola home, where the younger Regola arrived at 10:30. I could be wrong, but this does not sound like pet sitting to me. Nor does it sound like the kid had time to search the house and find a gun which wasn't left out in the open. The police are not saying how close the friendship was between the two, but are saying that they spoke by telephone at 11:30. Between that time and 8:30 in the morning, a bullet went through the boy's head.

    Was human agency involved, or did this gun manage to find its way out of a drawer or cabinet and find its way into the woods with the dead teen? I strongly suspect human agency of some sort.

    So why blame the gun?

    If the kid (or kids) had gotten hold of the keys to the family car and driven it into a tree, would anyone be blaming SUVs?

    Maybe I'm getting too old. Maybe I should return to my adolescence, and another tragedy involving a gun, and a best friend. It haunts me to this day, and the story is absolutely true except I won't use his real name. I'll just call him "Mark" (the name of another loved one, whose death was caused not by a gunshot but from AIDS). Hope that's OK with everyone.

    I had known Mark since kindergarten, and it is no exaggeration to say he was one of my few truly best friends. ("Best friends" is my term for the closest few -- people I can count on one hand.) He was a lot more intelligent that I. At least he seemed that way; his penetrating insights into the nature of things went far, far beyond any of his peers, and his writing was brilliant. Everyone thought he was the Ernest Hemingway of our class. We were very close. (Spin that any way you want; I won't.) I helped drive him to the ER after a drug overdose which would have been fatal according to the docs who pumped his stomach out. He was extremely pissed off that I went out to California and intended to remain there, and said so in repeated letters to me. But we both got through our freshman year, and by June of 1973, I was really looking forward to seeing him. Unfortunately, there was an extremely unpleasant telephone conversation between him and my then, um, "inamorato" which I was not told about until the latter's deathbed confession accompanied by a plea that I forgive him. (If only I had known in 1973! But there are some things in life you're just fated never to know, and I was lucky that no "Gone with the Wind" Dr. Meade was there to stop such deathbed confessions.)

    I didn't know it when I got on the plane in June of 1973, but at that point "Mark" was already dead. He had often discussed suicide (in a casual, sneering manner, as if to show he wasn't afraid), and like I say, there'd been the drug overdose which today we'd call an "early warning," but what happened was, simply, that between the telephone conversation I found out about many years later and my getting on that plane, he had gotten hold of his father's revolver and put a bullet through his head.

    While it wasn't logical, I blamed myself. I excoriated myself. Why wasn't I there earlier? Why didn't I call him at the right time? (His morbid sense of humor was such that had I interrupted him even as he was about to pull the trigger, he'd have told me what he was about to do, we'd have both laughed it off and gotten rip-roaring drunk, and in all honesty he might never have done it.) I went into a depression that lasted nearly a year. No one cared, because everyone I knew was busy partying and screwing. They thought I was neurotic (which of course I was).

    Over the years I finally learned -- really learned -- that the actions of other people can't be blamed on anyone except the people who take them. Especially a suicide. No one is responsible for someone else's suicide, and it is unfair to say that they are. I'm including even the apparently very "guilty" party who died of AIDS, and who (it turned out) told Mark that I didn't like him any more and had said that I hoped I never saw him again -- which was a complete lie, driven by insane jealousy. Even he was not responsible. The reason, of course, is that people say mean and nasty things all the time, and the normal response is not to commit suicide, but to get upset, maybe ask questions, maybe find new friends, and maybe just be hurt.

    Looking back, I am shocked that no one (no one I can remember, at least) ever thought to blame the gun. That would have seemed just too convenient.

    And it would have been too convenient. Mark could just as easily have taken another drug overdose. He could have wrapped his car around a tree.

    Seriously, what is it about the guns? I'm trying, I'm really trying, to be fair to Mr. Grogan, and I'm trying to avoid the "same old bellicose rant." (God knows I've ranted bellicosely enough times.) Why are guns to blame when humans use them for purposes we don't like?

    In my haste to blame myself for what happened to Mark, I never thought to blame guns. Perhaps this was because I always had access to guns (as, of course, did Mark). My father gave me two guns as gifts, and at any time I could have put a bullet through my head, through a friend's head, or through an enemy's head. Maybe it was because I had access to drugs and cars, and bridges and buildings and railroad tracks (I guess there was plenty of rope too -- and even water), but guns just seemed like one among many ways to end it all, if you were so inclined.

    Anyway, this argument is old. Some people kill themselves. Some people kill other people. The rest of us will all die of one cause or another. (As I've said many times, I've lost dozens to AIDS, but I think it would be a cop-out to blame syringes or penises for their deaths.)

    My "wake up call" came in 1973, and I'm still wide awake.

    posted by Eric at 08:35 AM | Comments (5)




    Another non-conforming minority under attack?

    I'm confused about something. This stay-at-home dad business, it's supposed to be a healthy thing, right? Isn't it supposed to be good for America, good for equality between the sexes, maybe good for the economy (allows women more flexibility with their careers), probably good for men? Certainly, it would seem to be better for a small child than would two working parents dumping the kid in daycare, right?

    What I'm wondering is whether there's some kind of unwritten rule that stay-at-home dads are supposed to be certified leftists.

    Or else.

    At the core of the vicious attack on Jeff Goldstein's child by a demented commenter was her disapproval of him being a stay-at-home dad.

    While reasonable people agree that that commenter was way over the top, I do think that Jeff Goldstein's stay-at-home dad status generates considerable ill will. The animosity displayed here is typical:

    As you may or may not know, Jeff is a domestic god which is a roundabout way of saying that he is a stay-at-home dad. Good for him. Nice work if you can get it. Kids are great. Got one myself. But beneath the frilly apron and microwaved bowls of EasyMac and handwashing his wifes delicate underthings lies the heart of a warrior or, if not a warrior, a Victor Davis Hanson wannabe dress-up action figure with the Islamo Deathgrip™ and camouflage-painted Ford Escort.
    Hey wait a second! I read Jeff fairly regularly, and I don't think he ever mentioned the frilly apron. Or handwashing his wife's delicate underthings. What's that about? Surely no self-respecting leftist who believed in feminism would impugn a man's masculinity simply for being a stay-at-home dad?

    Or am I missing something?

    I'm not alone in raising this question:

    [Goldstein] blogs with a decided point of view - even, one might add - a certain tone. Generally polite to those who are polite to him, he is nonetheless willing to tweak the self-righteous and beard the pompous. He isn’t afraid, in other words, to either pick a fight, join one, or accept an invitation to the field of intellectual battle.

    This gets him in trouble at times with fools, whom, alas, he does not always suffer gladly. Some of those - you know, the ones who care so much more than you do, gentle reader, uncaring bassid that you are - express their concern through kindly observing that Jeff is a stay-at-home dad, because hey: How masculine is that? To raise a kid and all. While your wife pursues a career.

    If you think that this is rather a strange line of attack for those who ostensibly advance the cause of feminism and non-traditional gender roles, it’s worth also pointing out that others of his critics note that he has admitted to taking prescription meds for panic attacks. Because nothing is funnier to those who care so very much than someone else’s misery.

    Might it be that being a stay-at-home dad is only a good thing if you are on the left? If you're considered "right wing" (a term which now lumps libertarians in with Pat Buchanan) and you stay at home, get ready for the frilly aprons, dainty underthings, and insinuations that you're less than masculine?

    Sheesh. I'm wondering, what's the goal here? To shame non-leftist bloggers away from their keyboards and back into the workforce where they belong?

    Interestingly, according to Michelle Malkin, her stay-at-home husband has also been attacked in a similar manner:

    My IQ, free will, skin color, eye shape, productivity, sincerity, and integrity are routinely ridiculed or questioned because I happen to be a minority conservative woman. As a public figure, I am willing to take these insults, but I cannot tolerate the smearing of my loved ones. Because I have always been open and proud about his support for my career, my husband has taken endless, hate-filled abuse from my critics. His Jewish heritage, his decision to be a stay-at-home dad, and even his looks, are the subject of brutal mockery.
    I haven't had time to analyze these things in the detail that I perhaps should, so I don't know how many other non-leftist, stay-at-home-dad bloggers there are. James Lileks immediately comes to mind, and I'd be willing to bet that he too has had his masculinity slimed for his stay-at-home dad status.

    (Oh yeah. He has.)

    What I cannot understand is the relevance of any blogger's stay-at-home dad status to anything he says, unless the topic is child-raising. And since when do alleged masculinity deficits matter to people who hate gender roles? Or is there some twisted meme that it's "hypocritical" for a non-leftist to be seen as anything less than a suit-wearing, nine-to-five, kiss-the-wife-goodbye-every-morning, Ward Cleaver type? (As if he wouldn't be subjected to personal attacks for that lifestyle too. . .)

    If that's it, then standards of hypocrisy have gotten very strange.

    MORE: If you think attacks on stay-at-home dads are unhinged, Michelle Malkin has a post about a photographer who makes children cry -- apparently to fuel her anti-Bush wrath.

    (No child left alone?)

    posted by Eric at 11:01 AM | Comments (6)




    Who's really targeting civilians?

    Alan Dershowitz has a problem with the condemnation of Israel in the international community:

    When it comes to Israel, a lot of usually smart people stop thinking with their heads, and start thinking with their guts. Most smart people know that when an armed criminal takes a hostage and fires from behind him, it is the criminal, not the policeman, who is guilty of murder, if the policeman, in a reasonable effort to stop the criminal from firing, accidentally kills the innocent hostage. The same should be true during wartime. But you wouldn’t know it if you listened only to the singular condemnations of Israel by so many in the international community.

    But not all. Just days before this Hezbollah orchestrated tragedy, Jan Egeland, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, had essential predicted it. He chided Hezbollah for being “a bunch of cowards hiding behind women and children.” He said that he “cannot understand how someone could be proud that there were more women and children hurt than armed militants.” And he “call[ed] for the Hezbollah to immediately stop mixing with the civilian population.” But Hezbollah did not listen to Egeland. Instead they fired their Katyusha from behind the apartment in Qana knowing that it was filled with civilians.

    By deliberately hiding behind and among civilians, Hezbollah is hoping that when Israel defends itself, civilians will be killed, which will make Israel lose the propaganda war and look like an aggressor simply for self defense.

    Hezbollah's fondest hope, I think, is that Israel might be provoked into savage reprisals against the Lebanese. Then Hezbollah could claim that Israel behaved like the Nazis.

    Of course, they already claim that, but it would help if the Israelis really did it. Never mind that Israel, by taking care to avoid civilian casualties, is doing precisely the opposite.

    To illustrate the extreme contrast between self defense and deliberate reprisals against civilians, look at what the Nazis did to the Czech village of Lidice:

    On May 27, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the RSHA, the Reichsprotektor of Czechoslovakia, the man who had convened the Wannsee Conference only four months previously, was severely wounded in a grenade attack on his car near Prague by two Czech parachutists sent from London by the Czech government-in-exile. The two Czechs managed to leave the scene and took refuge in the Karl Borromaeus Church in Prague.

    On June 4, Heydrich died of his wounds. The Nazis swore revenge: they ordered the execution of ten thousand Czechs and threatened the expulsion of millions. The Karl Borromaeus Church, where the assassins and more than one hundred members of the Czech resistance were hiding, was besieged. Everyone in the church was killed by the SS.

    In Lezaky, a village east of Prague, where the assassins' radio transmitter was discovered, every adult was killed. The children were forcibly removed to Germany for "reeducation," a process that only two of them survived.

    At dawn on June 10, all the residents of Lidice, a village ten miles outside Prague, were taken from their homes. They were shot in batches of ten at a time behind a barn. By late afternoon, 192 men and boys and 71 women had been murdered. The other women were sent to concentration camps. The children were dispersed, some to concentration camps, although a few who were considered sufficiently Aryan were sent to Germany. The SS then razed the town and tried to eradicate its memory. The name of Lidice was expunged from all official records.

    If Israel applied such methods, there'd be nothing left of Hezbollah, or Lebanon.

    The only reason that the propagandists who dare to accuse Israel of such tactics get away with their comparisons is that people don't know their history.

    Israel's restraint has been commendable. If anyone is guilty of the deliberate murder of civilians, it is Hezbollah.

    But that doesn't make this war any easier for Israel to fight. Rockets fired from the suburbs invite some sort of response, and Hezbollah has been adept positioning themselves so that any response at all will prove "wrong."

    Perhaps Israel could go into southern Lebanon and as a provocation, build "settlements." As a further provocation, Israel might claim that they were permanent knowing all the while they weren't. As "flypaper" strategy, it might bring Hezbollah out into the open.

    After all, nothing draws terrorists like Israeli civilians.


    UPDATE: Via Pajamas Media, here's Pat Buchanan saying America is responsible for Qana:

    ...because America provides Israel with the bombs it uses on Lebanon, and we refused to restrain the Israelis, and we opposed every effort for a cease-fire before Sunday, America shares full moral and political responsibility for the massacre at Qana.
    I disagree. I think the moral and political responsibility ultimately lies with Hezbollah, and with what Gerard Van der Leun rightly calls the "weaponization of children":
    At the time of this writing, nobody has taken the body parts of children harvested from some grave-site out along some nameless highway, strewn them across Israeli tank tracks, and then run over them a few times before the appointed photo-op. But it really is only a matter of time, isn't it? After all, in the Terror War children are not only the terrorists' main targets, they are their most effective weapons as well.

    In the West and in Israel, which like it or not, is now the front line of the West, we think of children as our most precious commodity. Our enemies think of them as either suicide-bomb fodder or, worse still, "Coming Attractions."

    UPDATE: Via Michael Totten, guest blogging at InstaPundit, a report of a Hezbollah rocket hitting the Palestinian town of Jenin:

    A Fatah activist from Jenin added that the rocket hit was heard clearly around the city, and a spark and a flame were also clearly seen.

    The Fatah member related that local residents cheered when they heard the rocket fall and saw the resulting flames. “Even if it were to fall on our heads, it wouldn’t have spoiled our joy. All of us here are praying for Hizbullah’s success and victory," he said.

    So, even if Hezbollah kills Palestian children, it's a joyous event!

    Because, after all, it's Israel's fault!

    posted by Eric at 02:15 PM | Comments (3)



    Speaking of RINOs . . .

    This week's Carnival of the RINOs is hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, jd at evolution. Despite the "dark days" indicated by the title, and despite the fact that he's as sick of politics as most of us, jd has done a great job with this Carnival!

    Please go read the whole thing. The posts are all good (as is jd's commentary), but here are a few to give you a general idea:

  • Something rarely seen these days is a civil debate on gay marriage. aTypical Joe argues in favor, while Kansas Guild of Bloggers founder Lyn Perry argues against -- and if you look at the links you'll see they've each cross-posted in each other's blogs, which is the height of civility.
  • Don Surber actually managed to live-blog the West Virginia GOP convention -- a feat which reminded jd of similarly slogging through horrid committee proceeedings in the Kansas legislature:
    "After about the fifth time this was brought up by some moonbat/wingut (take your pick) I wanted to jam a flathead screwdriver into my own brain," says jd.

    No, jd, NO! That would be anti-evolution in the extreme. It's one thing to argue in favor of Darwin, but it's quite another to be a post-mortem recipient of the Darwin Award!

  • One of jd's pet peeves is Creationism (just stepped in that tarpit meself), and in his discussion of a post by Pigilito on the subject, jd echoes a familiar theme -- that Creationism is a loser with the voters:
    Following every dark day, however, is a sunrise: It’s almost primary day here in Kansas, which means that certain Creationist board members, having supported a movement that has now been discredited in every manner possible, will hopefully be tossed out on their asses. Pigilito found the IDers desperately pressing forward anyway. He found some of them doing word combinatorics on biology journals to attempt to show that various articles bolster their case. Pigilito did the reading; once again, we see IDers with all sizzle and no steak.
    Personally, I see Creationism as a fully protected form of free speech. But that doesn't make it right.

    Dark days are here, but they don't stop the RINOs, because the days have always been dark for us.

    So go read the Carnival, and lighten up!

  • posted by Eric at 12:29 PM | Comments (5)



    (An idea that didn't quite go bump in the night. . .)

    Gee, I've really become a whiner lately. So get ready for more whining.

    Yesterday I whined (came close to grumbling, actually) about a political ad which appeared on my blog for Senator Rick Santorum, about whom I have mixed feelings.

    Well, if there's one thing I don't have mixed feelings about, it's censorship. Not often does an idea come along that is so horrible that it wakes me up so I can't get back to sleep. But the idea of government censorship of blogs is one of them.

    (The idea woke me up from a deep sleep last week and I wrote this post. I scrupulously avoided publishing the post in the hope that the issue would go away if I ignored it, but that method has failed.)

    Now, I'd like to dismiss Andrew Keen as a crank. A troll. A curmudgeon (as Jeff Jarvis has politely done). A man who's "full of crap" and who's "not going to get what he wants" (as Dean Esmay said).

    Whatever you might call him, he is clearly blogging's number one censorship advocate. If he is a troll, he has done very well. Too well for comfort.

    Unfortunately, I don't just mean the Weekly Standard and CBS. Add to that forums I respect. Like Tech Central Station.

    And now Pajamas Media. Trust me, that hurts, because I like PJM, and I am part of PJM. Seeing Andrew Keen's name appear -- on my blog -- in a Pajamas Media ad (for a podcast sponsored by Politics Central), that's something I'm more unable to ignore than an ad for Rick Santorum. It places me under a greater obligation to speak up, not just because I oppose censorship and disagree with Keen, but because the PJM connection places me -- and other bloggers -- within the same tent as someone who advocates its destruction.

    Am I alone in finding it a little creepy to be in the same tent with someone whose goal is to burn it down?

    Normally, we think of blog censorship as something which is done in other countries -- a Can't Happen Here sort of thing. For that reason, India's censorship attracted about as much blogosphere attention as China's. What went unnoticed was that Andrew Keen not only endorsed India's censorship, but praised India for it, and used the occasion as an opportunity to urge President Bush to do the same thing:

    In an e-mail message sent early on Thursday, an official at the office of the Consulate General of India in New York said the order to block a handful of Web sites, including the popular Blogspot.com which plays host to thousands of personal blogs, had been prompted by the discovery of a site that contained what the official called “two impertinent pages” rife with material considered to be “extremely derogatory references to Islam.” In an effort to stave off potential sectarian violence, the official said, the government’s Department of Telecommunications instructed Internet service providers to block access to the two pages. “Because of a technological error, the Internet providers went beyond what was expected of them, which in turn resulted in the unfortunate blocking of all blogs,” the official explained.
    It's brilliant, especially that bit about "impertinent pages." Those Indians know their stuff. Blocking blogs will make all Indians more productive. No more wasting time authoring or reading narcissistic crap. They've eliminated all that "impertinence." In one "technological error", they've pushed India into the 21st century. You watch now India soaring past us in GDP. It's the best thing that happened to the country since Independence.

    If only Bush could read and knew how to operate a personal computer. Then he could go on the Internet and read all those "impertinent pages" about him and his idiot crew. That might encourage him to make a smart error for a change -- a real technological error.

    No, Keen wasn't joking.

    It was three thirty in the morning when I wrote this post last week, but I abandoned it as paranoid and ridiculous. Surely, no serious person would take Keen seriously. I thought, just go back to bed, and maybe it will look different in the "real" morning. . . I decided to just sleep on the question of can it happen here? I did fall asleep, and I forgot all about it in the hope that it would go away.

    But like many bad things, it doesn't go away. Some people don't like blogs, or bloggers, and they will not ignore us -- not even if we try to ignore them. And they don't mind joining the blogosphere to work towards its destruction, either. (I don't believe in censoring Keen any more than censoring Communists or Islamofascists; I just don't see why I have to be one of those capitalist enablers who sells the rope for his own hanging.)

    So, I find myself having to ask the un-askable:

    Could blog censorship -- which Keen advocates -- ever happen here?

    Or would it be impossible even if Keen and his ilk convinced the control freaks to do it after the nuke goes off in Manhattan?

    Please tell me I'm paranoid and ridiculous.

    I need the reassurance.

    UPDATE (08/07/06): Yes, I was being paranoid and ridiculous when I wrote the above post!

    In particular, I overreacted to the PJM advertisement, in a manner I think was unreasonable, and inconsistent with my philosophy. I thought it over carefully, and wrote a retraction here.

    posted by Eric at 09:33 AM | Comments (4)



    Push me where I don't belong!
    (And kick me out of where I don't want to be!)

    Before I address the topic of whether I am a conservative, there's the threshold question of who gets to decide whether or not you're a member of a particular group. Seriously, now, I don't mean to be funny, even though I consider this whole thing ridiculous. And trust me, it's hard having to take the ridiculous seriously.

    But seriously we go. And seriously, should it be you, the alleged member/joiner/belonger of or to a group, who gets to decide whether you're included within it?

    Should it be the other members of the group to which you are said to belong?

    Or should it be the opponents of the group?

    According to this Daily Kos entry, I'm officially certified:

    This conservative blogger stumbled upon an interesting phenomena: A series of quotes, strongly critical of the Bush Administration, attributed to one "George Harleigh" supposedly a member of the Nixon and Reagan Administrations.

    The problem is--The man doesn't seem to exist, at least to Wikipedia and Google

    Because Daily Kos is anything but conservative, shouldn't certification by them carry a lot of weight? I mean, there's that old expression "Know your enemy!" And who would know an enemy better than the enemy of the enemy? If they say I am a conservative, shouldn't I take it to heart and stop calling myself a "RINO," a "libertarian," a "classical liberal," or a "Goldwater liberal"?

    This stuff is old ground for me, and I would have forgotten all about it had I not been sent (by the Conservative Book Club) a sort of summer reading list of the seven new conservative books I should read. Here's the list:

  • 1. State of Emergency
    by Pat Buchanan
  • 2. Conservatives Betrayed
    by Richard A Viguerie
  • 3. The Shadow Party
    by David Horowitz; Richard Poe
  • 4. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design
    by Jonathan Wells
  • 5. Bully Boy
    by Jim Powell
  • 6. Peace in the Promised Land
    by Serge Trifkovic
  • 7. Minutemen
    by Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi
  • Being that I'm a war supporter, I might get something out of the Horowitz and Trifkovic books; maybe not. But to me, the Buchanan and Viguerie stuff is virulent culture war ideology, and the attack on evolution as "political correctness" simply strikes me as more than merely wrong; it guarantees defeat at the polls. As to the border, I support closing it right now, but I don't elevate that to war hysteria. I'm not quite sure how to evaluate "Bully Boy" ideologically, but it strikes me as an attempt to purge Theodore Roosevelt as a sort of conservative heretic. (Probably certain conservative ideologues are worried about Republicans who might like the guy.)

    If the above books represent conservatism, then I'm a miserable failure as a conservative, and I ought to label this post, "Why I am not a conservative." (I'm frankly wondering, if the above books define "conservatism" -- which I hope they don't for the sake of the party I was naive enough to join after years of wasting my time as a Democrat -- is that term becoming synonymous with "right wing kook"?)

    I'm certain that the authors of the above books would label me a liberal and a RINO, and say that I don't belong in their tent. I guess if I had a tent, I might feel the same way about them, but I also might think about larger goals. Like winning elections. (Of course, it's not up to me, is it?)

    Does anyone own the tent? Does it exist? Or did it exist and has it already been folded and packed up? It's amazing when I stop to consider that I'm having conceptual difficulties over its existence while at the same time people on the left would push me in, while people on the right would push me out, yet I can't be in "the middle," because I share so pitifully few of the beliefs of the right the left. It is a logical impossibility to be "between" two points of view that you mostly reject.

    Things are heating up.

    Do I really have to choose between the frying pan and the fire?

    AFTERTHOUGHT: In analyzing this with a view towards winning elections, an inevitable question occurs to me.

    Is it possible that there is a large and angry insurgency within the Republican Party that doesn't mind losing?

    posted by Eric at 07:44 AM | Comments (7)




    Impractical jokes

    Playing with real cigarettes in order to upset the anti-smoking Nazis is one thing, but why would anyone would want to spend nearly $200.00 each on fake marijuana plants?

    I don't know why, but they're for sale:

    Get a rise out of the neighbors with these fake pot plants, made out of realistic-looking silk by pro-pot activist Joseph White. They even have buds on them. White's New Image Plants offers a variety of sizes from 2 feet to 6 feet, and you can order them as hemp plants without buds, or as marijuana plants with luxuriant and realistic-looking buds that have been dusted with polyurethane to simulate that gooey, sticky, flower top look.
    The idea so annoyed one Gizmodo commenter that he snapped:
    What a brilliant idea! Show your disdain for Americas anti-drug laws by giving 'the man' a reason to storm your home! Sit back and watch the hilarity unfold as those 'jackbooted thugs' realize that they broke down your door and ransacked your home because of a plastic marijuana plant. Yessiree, the joke would certainly be on anyone who came to your house with a warrant at 2:00 AM and handcuffed you and your family while they search your home only because you thought it would be funny to buy one of these fake plants!

    Keep an eye out for our next product, the fake Baby Strapped in a CarSeat! Watch as people frantically dial 911 as they try to save the 'baby' stuck in that car with its windows rolled up in the hot sun! Chuckle and guffaw your ass off when Fire and Rescue smash your windows for no reason! Laugh at the police as they ask you why you thought it would be funny to have a fake baby in a carseat.

    Har! Better yet, make a tar baby, then whoop it up while they get stuck trying to save it! I wouldn't recommend it; child protective services people are not known for having a sense of humor.

    Playing at serious things can be risky in today's nanny state. Anyone who thinks government bureaucrats have any imagination at all (much less a sense of humor) should think again. I knew a woman who had an alarm which sounded just like an aggressive, growling barking dog, which increased in decibels the closer anyone got, or the louder they knocked. It sounded utterly convincing, so much so that a nosy neighbor complained, and this generated a visit from animal control, followed by record check and a summons that she get the nonexistent dog licensed. She called and tried to explain that she didn't have a dog, but the answer was "tell it to the judge."

    Another fun-filled idea for the next time you go on vacation. Stuff some ordinary flour into condoms, then pack them into your suitcase. You'll have a ball when the customs agents fall for the prank and bust you for drugs. Or if you're at a dull party, you can always find a mirror somewhere, throw a little flour onto it, get a razor blade and form it into little white lines. It always gets a reaction from guests, and cops love checking it out!

    If you're really bored, you can go out in the street and pretend to sell flour-filled balloons to coconspirator friends, then laugh yourselves silly all the way to jail.

    Who knows? If enough people did these things, they'd probably be made as illegal as the real thing!

    posted by Eric at 07:06 PM | Comments (8)



    The manipulative silence of manipulation

    La Shawn Barber has a fascinating post titled "How to Avoid a Blogosphere Scandal."

    If we bloggers are going to demand transparency from the media and criticize other bloggers for failure to disclose, we must hold ourselves to the same standard. Why should we disclose financial relationships? Because people don’t want to be manipulated. If someone blogs in support of a candidate and encourages your support, imagine how manipulated you’d feel if you found out the blogger was on the candidate’s payroll. He may have been sincere in his praise and really believes the candidate is worthy, but people will wonder if the blogger’s words were his own, or if those words were paid for by a third party.

    (Via Brannon Denning, guest blogging at InstaPundit.)

    Never being one to avoid either scandals or the appearance of scandals, I thought I'd dive right in. So I left a comment stating the following:
    Here's another wrinkle for you. I have sometimes been attacked not for what I have said, but for what I have NOT said. I've also been falsely accused of being in the employ of "the Republicans" (which I am not). But let's just suppose I was being paid by someone, a huge scandal broke, and I just ignored the scandal and wrote posts about stuff like global warming and gun control. I'm just wondering, could my silence possibly be considered scandalous, or is that too much of a stretch?

    Do bloggers ever forfeit the right to remain silent?

    A good question, as well as an impossible one to answer. Because with every post I write, there's something I could have written but didn't. And within every post, there are things I could have said, might have said, but didn't.

    As an example, I wrote about Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks. But let's suppose I worked for his company. Obviously, if I wrote a post defending him and never disclosed my employment, that would be scandalous. But suppose I worked for him and specifically avoided any mention of his arrest or statements? Would that be scandalous? The problem with thinking this way is that I might just as well have ignored the whole thing anyway, as I'm not much into Hollywood gossip, or Hollywood scandals.

    So would my taking money from Gibson make my silence suspicious?

    What if I worked for Microsoft, and the company had a huge scandal about which I said nothing. Would it matter that I rarely mention Microsoft anyway?

    I've often joked about secretly working for Karl Rove, but let's suppose that I was a very loquacious blogger who sounded off about everything, and Karl Rove (or somebody else) paid me 1000.00 a month never to mention him at all. I think that kind of "paid for" silence would be inherently scandalous, but the level of scandalhood would of course depend on the extent of my readership, and whether I would normally have been expected to say something.

    FWIW, I don't like the idea of being bought off to remain silent about anyone or anything, although fortunately I am not important enough for anyone to buy either silence or noise from me.

    But let us suppose a politician's ad appeared on my blog. (I notice there's one there right now for Rick Santorum.) Suppose that politician was someone about whom I've long had mixed feelings, but whom I just don't feel like discussing right now. Does the ad suddenly create an obligation to discuss him again, right now? Why? Under what theory? If I criticized the candidate would that have more credibility than if I endorsed him? Do I lose credibility simply because someone ran an ad? Further, does the presence of an ad speak for itself, or does it create an additional duty to discuss the ad? In all honesty, I don't know. It's easy for me to say that I am "not influenced" by an ad that runs here, but doesn't the fact that I am talking about it at all mean that I have somehow been influenced? It wasn't long after I first started blogging (on Blogspot) that an ad for Exodus International appeared on my blog. I immediately criticized the outfit, because I don't agree with them and didn't want to be seen as supporting or endorsing any of their pronouncements. But I didn't ask that the ad be taken down.

    Similarly, I disagree with the candidate Rick Santorum (whose ad is running) about a number of issues, but I don't see those issues in his ad. I don't like what was done to one of his aides, and I think he's being smeared, but that does not mean I endorse him. I just don't see why the ad obligates me to say anything. But on the other hand, the longer the the ad there, the more my not saying anything might take on the appearance of deliberate avoidance. I guess that's why I'm discussing it, although frankly it's a pain in the ass, as I don't like the idea of being obligated to discuss anything at all, unless and until I feel like it. I try to see politics the way I might see tubes of paint, and I should be allowed dip or not dip into whatever colors I want, depending on how the spirit moves me -- not because of what some asshole or another might tell me I should think.

    On the other hand, when people tell me what I should think, that triggers my tendency to think the opposite as a matter of principle. This too, is influence. It's a bit like stereotypes. I hate stereotypes and groupthink of any kind, so I tend to defy them, to smash them, even. But once I discern the stereotype smashing becoming groupthink, then I want to defend the smashed stereotypes -- even if I once smashed them -- lest the freedom to have them be lost. I realize how hopeless and maddening this is, and even though I'm lost in the contradictions of my own explanation, I don't know how else to explain it.

    If we carry this thinking to its extreme, anything that is written or not written can be seen as the product of some type of influence. Disclosure of bias is an attempt to let readers know what those influences are. And I am of course biased -- especially against attempts to manipulate my thinking. The trick is not to allow my natural reaction against manipulation to become a form of self-manipulation.

    Freedom from manipulation is a very difficult thing to achieve, and all I can do is try.

    (Too much disclosure, of course, is never enough.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Looking over this, I'm realizing that there are a number of issues about which I feel very strongly, about which I would gladly write, and for which I would be willing to work as a paid lobbyist. My defense of pit bulls is a good example. If I was hired as an official spokesman for a large organization of pit bull enthusiasts, would that in any way diminish the truth or sincerity of what I say? I don't see how. While it is obvious that I should disclose any such financial arrangements, would anyone really be more likely to agree or disagree with arguments I make in this blog because I also made them for money? The scandal would seem to be grounded in the non-disclosure, but I'm wondering . . .

    To whom would it really matter? To political adversaries who already disagree?

    Hell, this whole thing is so annoying that my perverse side wants to go out and secretly enroll as a paid lobbyist for the tobacco industry, then deliberately not disclose it while vehemently defending the right to smoke and advocating things like the right of non-smokers to keep and bear cigarettes -- and to publicly, shamelessly, brandish them! (Nothing like a good scandal to publicize the Right to Brandish© Campaign, so Big Tobacco, I'm all yours. Go ahead! Corrupt and manipulate me!)

    posted by Eric at 10:43 AM




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