Shreddable edibles....

Long drive to New Jersey today, so there probably won't be much blogging.

However, I'll try to keep my eye on the signs. Like these:

roostercrows.jpg


infringedshredding.jpg


Coco's thinking about suing over that last sign, as she was using shredders long before the dogs in that picture, and she suspects they've committed an infringement of her shredding.


CocoShreds3.jpg


Naturally she wants to shred their infringement.

So I'm leaving her something to chew on.

rawhidestory.jpg

(As you can see, Coco doesn't have much light to shred on the subject right now....)

posted by Eric at 09:47 AM | Comments (1)



An infectious and addictive blogohazard!

I don't know how many readers know it, but Connie du Toit -- a longtime favorite reader and commenter -- has returned to her own blog. Hmmm... I don't know what to call her return from anonymous blogging -- "coming out of the closet" or a "resurrection"? -- but seeing her back is an absolute delight.

What I love most about Connie du Toit is that she has a rare combination of wisdom and humor that I find so inspiring. I don't know how many of my blog posts have been generated by her thoughts, but there are a lot.

Sometimes when I read her thoughts, I see them as commonsensical tidbits of wisdom at the same time I see them as inviting satire. Her latest post -- "Who you are" -- flips both of these switches.

I'll start with the common sense:

Most folks (appear) to prefer to think that their meat doesn't come from animals and are shocked that I don't have a problem discussing the fact that my meat actually comes from dead animals. And I, like some prison camp official, actually order my animal's deaths! "I couldn't do that" is a common response. "Couldn't do what?"

Just because you don't know the date and time of your animal's execution does not mean you are not personally responsible for the death of an animal that you've bought parts of in the grocery store. Passivity in the process as a way of keeping your hands clean is delusional. If you didn't buy meat then the producers would cut production, but if you continue to buy it, an animal is going to be killed on your behalf.

Absolutely right. Buy a burger, and cows will die. This reality only seems to be understood by two groups: animal rights activists, and the people who abhor their philosophy. The real victims are of course stop signs on which ordinary people must rely.

Connie follows animal deaths with a complaint about people who talk about personal stuff like exercise. As an exercise nut, this made me immediately feel, well, exercised:

Another common safe subject is exercise routines. Oh, gawd. I am as interested in someone's exercise routine as I am their bowel movements or how often they floss, shower, or the speed of their toenail growth. That is extremely personal, and banal. When did grooming habits and routine become an acceptable topic of conversation?
While I try not to bore readers with tales of my bowel movements, I have long believed that everyone wanted to know about my 120 daily pushups with stands. And my 50 chinups. And what about my running?

Plus, I have written several blog posts about my teeth, which are an extreme environmental hazard making even the cremation of my corpse a very inflammatory topic. Doesn't the public have a right to know about my dangerous mouth?

And since when are my toenails not at least as interesting as my teeth? I mean, I've never had a pedicure or anything, and I haven't uploaded pictures of them, but I'm sure there has to be at least as much reader interest in these vital topics as there is bureaucratic interest. Who knows what vile bacterial, viral, mercury levels they might contain? Should I be allowed to simply throw them in the trash when that might cause them to spread filth, disease, and infection?

The personal has become political, and we are all either part of the solution or part of the problem! The mercury in your teeth, the sewage you generate when you relieve yourself, how long you run the water while brushing your teeth, how much water you use to wash your hair, all of these things have a direct environmental impact on the entire planet. Did you know that if your child loses a tooth, it is a biohazard? The heat we use, the calories we burn, even the air we exhale -- all of this contributes to Global Warming and Greenhouse gas!

What Connie du Toit does not seem to realize (probably because of her admitted refusal to attend political self-criticism sessions) is that not only are these so-called "grooming habits" acceptable topics of conversation, they should be required topics of inquiry.

Considering the highly political nature of these so-called "personal habits," it can only be concluded that any reluctance to discuss such important issues might be evidence of that reactionary racist belief known as individualism.

Be warned. The wisdom of Connie du Toit is infectious, hazardous, and probably addictive.

posted by Eric at 07:13 AM | Comments (8)




You'll brake for my slogan!

Anyone seen the clever little stickers like these that activists place on stop signs?

stopanimsign.jpg


True confession: I'm feeling too lazy to run down to a nearby corner, so I borrowed the sign and photoshopped it to suit the needs of this blog post. No, I didn't add the "EATING ANIMALS" sticker. What the sign actually looked like was this:

neverstopsign7bn.jpg

A little busy, no?

Regular readers know how I feel about animal rights, but I'm not sure that a stop sign is the right place to be debating that issue one way or the other. A stop sign is not a public debating forum at all, but a safety measure. When people start putting political messages on them, they're distracting drivers from the signs' primary purpose -- which is to make sure drivers stop so that people don't get killed in the intersection.

The problem is, there are too many of these annoying messages, and they invite more "contra" messages. (Which I admit, are a lot more entertaining, and more artsy.)

Like these:

* Collaborate And Listen
* Defacing Stop Signs
* Drop And Roll
* Hammer Time!
* Is The New Go
* It
* Me If You've Heard This Before
* Stickers
* Walking
* With All The Patchouli
If I were in the business of selling "counter" stickers, I'd probably add a few more:
* Leftist Drivel
* Socialism
* Nanny Statism
* Animal Rights
* Hillary Clinton
* Intestinal blockage
I'm sure you get the idea. But again, is a stop sign really where we want favorite causes debated?

If you feel so strongly about eating animals, you why not just buy one of the "EATING ANIMALS" stickers and put it where it belongs -- on your car bumper!

Hmmmm.... Maybe that's not a bad idea. You could buy them by the gross and hand them out at beef industry conventions.

I realize that complaining about the stickers does not solve the problem, but I think there is a simple (and probably quite legal) solution. Just take a razor blade and remove the defacing sticker from the stop sign. If you get stopped, tell them that the sticker is not only defacing taxpayers' property, but as an unwanted and inflammatory message, it constitutes a dangerous distraction, and a public hazard, and that you were just doing your part to clean up your community.

I don't think anyone would be arrested for that.

UPDATE: My thanks to M. Simon for linking this post, and for his insightful comments:

Some need heroin, some don't.
And some need blogging instead. Should we imprison bloggers for their "addiction"?

posted by Eric at 10:05 PM | Comments (5)



The moral equivalency of fake phonies and phony fakes

Forgive this exercise in the surreal, but that's how I'm feeling about the apparently phony Iraqi police official called "Jamil Hussein," who is now claimed to be real after all.

I know it sounds nutty, but this whole thing had been reminding me of an old friend named "George Harleigh" until Jamil Hussein's apparent resurrection from the phony to the realm of real life.

Might it be time to bring back George Harleigh?

I don't know how many readers remember him, but George Harleigh was a famous Political Science professor who had worked in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, and who was always heard to sound off against Bush at a "news" site called "Capitol Hill Blue."

At the time, it didn't make sense to me that any news site could do this consistently and get away with it. But the guy who ran the site was once a regular reporter. How, I wondered, could a formerly "good" reporter could "go bad"? I assumed that he had once learned how to do proper reporting, but that somehow he had become corrupt or lazy.

In light of the Jamil Hussein allegations (which came on the heels of things like the phony ambulance attack, photoshopped smoke, the Green Helmet man, and more), I was beginning to think that George Harleigh might not have resulted from the imagination of a reporter who became corrupted, but that using fictitious sources is just the way things are done.

Bloggers have seen this so many times that the natural reaction of many is to believe CENTCOM's assertion that there was no Jamil Hussein in the Iraqi police. Gateway Pundit (via Glenn Reynolds) had a remarkable post about the Jamil Hussein "Iraqi police captain" affair. Flopping Aces seems to have uncovered the hoax, and NewsBusters had more.

I liked Jeff Goldstein's explanation of the dynamics:

Whether this narrative is the product of willful distortion or merely the laziness that comes with being fed stories that match your preconceptions is, in effect, beside the point--though the former is clearly more despicable, and, should it prove to be the case, has the practical effect of undermining a representative democracy that can only work properly if citizens are being given accurate accountings of events by those purporting to do so.
Purporting is right. Reporters are often little more than purporters. The moral lesson is seen as the primary concern, and if the right facts and characters can't be found, they must be invented. Jamil Hussein the moral lesson is more important than Jamil Hussein the character. If he doesn't exist, he might as well have -- and so he might as well will!

And of course, if it turns out that he did exist after all, those who claimed he didn't will be more than wrong. They'll be morally evil -- to the core. And their moral wrongness is the most damning argument possible in favor of absolute and unconditional withdrawal from this absolutely immoral war!

Real or not, Hussein is of course as replaceable as "George Harleigh." The important thing is what Americans must remember (especially in November):

Leaving aside the elitist and racist underpinnings informing such a subtext, what is important to note here is that the majority of Americans who don't follow politics closely will remember nothing but the ghastly imagery and the message it is intended to further: that we are dealing with a society of savages who, given the opportunity for freedom, will reject it in favor of bloodsport and retribution.

Why? Because they simply are not ready for freedom, partly because the guiding hand of a caring, ruling elite is not available to bring them into the light....

For their part, the George Harleigh folks (whoever they may purport to be at any given time) have run at least three of the "Jamil Hussein" reports. (Hope they're still there, because I hated hunting down the Google caches when I wrote about Harleigh and company.)

As to those who still manage to support the war, they're mentally ill:

The dwindling few who still, for reasons known only to God or their psychiatrist, support President George W. Bush's failed invasion if Iraq, continue to claim the situation is not as bad as portrayed by the media.
Assuming for the sake of argument that I am mentally ill, and putting aside whether Jamil Hussein is fake, I think there's a downside to arguing over whether the situation is "as bad as portrayed by the media" or even whether it's worse.

Isn't there an assumption that a war which is apparently being lost should be lost?

And now that the fake Jamil Hussein story is claimed to have been true and accurate after all, apologies are being demanded. From bloggers of course! (Did they not believe the evil lying lies from the evil lying military?)

here we have so many conservative bloggers, after days of castigating the Associated Press for running what the wingnuts claimed was a fictitious story about six Sunnis being burned alive in sectarian violence in Iraq on Friday, having to once again face what a bunch of putzes they really are.

The AP reported last night on eyewitnesses to the immolations, that occurred when Sunni worshippers were leaving a Mosque on Friday and have also substantiated the identity of Iraqi police Capt. Jamil Hussein, who the AP cited as the primary source for its story that the Sunnis were killed while the Iraqi military stood by and did nothing.

[...]


Newsbusters took it a step further by also concluding that NBC's decision to begin calling what's going on in Iraq a "civil war" was based in part on the "bogus" nature of that story.

Flopping Aces, which seems to have started this embarrassing affair, has been running a lengthy series ominously called "Getting The News From The Enemy" while The Jawa Report really stands proud and proclaims that "It's unlikely that the Associated Press and other news agencies will issue corrections approaching the sensationalism with which they originally pushed the false stories."

Ouch. That kind of strident crap's got to make their red-state faces pretty damned crimson about right now.

But then, to grotesquely paraphrase Sir Charles Barkley, they would feel the shame that's coming to them, but then they realized that they have no shame.

Ouch? Why am I feeling no pain? No pain, no shame, and no gain. I don't know whether I should feel any shame, as this post is about more than whether the story is phony. Frankly, I don't know whether it is, and I don't especially care.

Have we forgotten the maxim going back to Aeschylus?

In war, truth is the first casualty.

Whether this story turns out to be true or not, why should it be an argument in favor of defeat?

Is the goal to win this war, or is wanting to win the war a symptom of my mental illness?

Anyway, the AP is sticking by the story, and they're now claiming that a reporter went to visit Jamil Hussein after bloggers raised a fuss, and that he definitely exists:

...[T]he U.S. military said in a letter to the AP late Monday, three days after the incident, that it had checked with the Iraqi Interior Ministry and was told that no one by the name of Jamil Hussein works for the ministry or as a Baghdad police officer. Lt. Michael B. Dean, a public affairs officer of the
U.S. Navy Multi-National Corps-Iraq Joint Operations Center, signed the letter, a text of which was published subsequently on several Internet blogs. The letter also reiterated an earlier statement from the U.S. military that it had been unable to confirm the report of immolation.

The AP received no comment Friday when it first asked the U.S. military for information. It then carried portions of a U.S. military statement Saturday that said the U.S. had been unable to confirm media reports that six Sunni civilians were allegedly dragged out of Friday prayers and burned to death. The U.S. military said that neither police nor coalition forces had reports of such an incident.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry later said that al-Hashimi, the Sunni elder in Hurriyah, had recanted his account of the attack after being visited by a representative of the defense minister.

The dispute comes at a time when the military is taking a more active role in dealing with the media.

I'll say. If this isn't a showdown between the military and the media, I don't know what is.

For its part, the AP makes it quite clear which side it's on:

The AP reported on Sept. 26 that a Washington-based firm, the Lincoln Group, had won a two-year contract to monitor reporting on the Iraq conflict in English-language and Arabic media outlets.

That contract succeeded one held by another Washington firm, The Rendon Group. Controversy had arisen around the Lincoln Group in 2005 when it was disclosed that it was part of a U.S. military operation to pay Iraqi newspapers to run positive stories about U.S. military activities.

I guess that's presented as background. Now onto the real story -- the claim that there has been confirmation that Jamil Hussein is real:
Seeking further information about Friday's attack, an AP reporter contacted Hussein for a third time about the incident to confirm there was no error. The captain has been a regular source of police information for two years and had been visited by the AP reporter in his office at the police station on several occasions. The captain, who gave his full name as Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, said six people were indeed set on fire.

On Tuesday, two AP reporters also went back to the Hurriyah neighborhood around the Mustafa mosque and found three witnesses who independently gave accounts of the attack. Others in the neighborhood said they were afraid to talk about what happened.

So that's it? An AP reporter contacted Hussein for a third time?

Who was this reporter? How do we know he exists?

I thought I should attempt to contact George Harleigh again, and I found him apparently alive and well. While he wasn't reported as predicting defeat in Iraq, I have to give him credit for predicting defeat in November:

The rapidly-multiplying scandals ripping through Washington like a category five hurricane has Republicans reassessing their political futures while Democrats rub their hands with glee amid dreams of massive gains in the 2006 midterm elections.

"It's the kind of upheaval we see every so often," says political scientist George Harleigh. "It happened after Watergate and during the midterms of Bill Clinton's first term (the 1994 elections when Republicans seize control of Congress."

What this means is that you don't have to be real to be right.

George Washington was right to tell his father the truth about cutting down the cherry tree, even if he didn't.

MORE: Austin Bay looks at the Jamil Hussein affair, and concludes that there are many questions:

MNCI could be wrong, but the distinct possibility exists that the AP has been misled by its own stringers or duped by an enemy propaganda operation. The AP insists it reported the basic story accurately. However, if Jamil is another Jimmy," the APs story as a weapon in a war of perception-- is far more damaging than Janet Cookes Washington fiction.

Jamil and his various stories require investigation and substantiation; an AP self-investigation will strike many as inadequate. 25 years ago the NY Times dismissed the National News Council as unnecessary. Jimmys World proved the Times wrong. We need to revive the National News Council and have it investigate Jamils World muy pronto.

MORE: CBS News reports that AP is "hitting back" and speculates that the fight is just beginning:

The message between the lines in all this is that the AP believes the government is going to be more aggressive in challenging the press - even when they don't have the goods to back it up, as the AP believes is the case here. "I have infinitely more faith in the U.S. military than in the Associated Press, but that doesn't mean the military is always right or the AP always wrong," writes Powerline. "It seems that the AP believes it is in a strong position. I'm tempted to say that one institution or the other must emerge from this affair with its credibility damaged." This could be one fight that's just beginning.
It seems to me that it ought to be a relatively simple matter to determine whether the story is true or not. Once the truth has been determined, that should end the fight over the facts. The fight over credibility of sources is a different matter.

MORE: Michelle Malkin is keeping track of the story with numerous updates.

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and a warm welcome to all new readers.

(And welcome back, George Harleigh! I missed him so much that maybe I should write some new quotes just for him.)

posted by Eric at 11:12 AM | Comments (18)



"V" for victory of the void!

I don't know how many people there are who play Tetris, but I have the classic version of it on my cell phone, and as most people who play it know, it's a game in which there really is no such thing as "winning," because if you play, eventually you will lose. Skill at Tetris relates to the ability to postpone losing by destroying as many rows as possible until at last the ever-increasing speed of the falling objects makes it impossible to move them fast enough. No matter how fast one's hand-eye coordination, all players are doomed to lose.

While it's nice to break your own record (right now my cell phone record is 46,900), there's something that happens much less frequently, and which has only happened to me four times. That is when all shapes disappear completely, leaving a black screen.

It happened yesterday!

Here's what it looked like just after I flipped the "L" upside down -- and just before I dropped it into its waiting niche (had to pause and restart to get the camera, of course):

tetrisdrop.jpg

And, just for that most-savored moment after the drop, the screen was blank, and black.

In Tetris, that's the closest I can get to victory.

(In real life, you'd need heroin. And no, that's not a moral equivalency argument!)

posted by Eric at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)



Scarred man with personal vendetta

I find it interesting that the recent (and still very unresolved) case of a police shooting in New York has caused a mini-barrage of editorials against, well, Mayor Giuliani.

Here's El Diario:

...[O]ur city is scarred by the legacy of a former mayor, now running for president. In a series of ugly police incidents that resulted in the abuse or deaths of young African-American, Latino and Asian men, the rash statements of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani needlessly added insult to injury.
New York is "scarred" by Giuliani's legacy? Really? How come nobody told me that until now? Might it be because he's now running for President?

Normally, I wouldn't devote a blog post to editorializing by New York leftists, but it's not limited to local papers. This morning I was greeted by an attack on Giuliani by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Claude Lewis:

Many say the Bloomberg/Kelly administration is a dramatic improvement over the Rudy Giuliani days, when the former mayor often seemed to defend police shootings reflexively and waged a personal vendetta against crime in New York. Crime did decrease under Giuliani, but at the cost of some lives and liberty, as citizens complained of less freedom.
Imagine having a "personal vendetta" against crime. How mean-spirited! How downright unpresidential of him!

Who are the "many" who are said to complain about this vindictive man with a personal vendetta? I don't know, but according to the New York Post's Bob McManus, they include the "high decibel" activists Giuliani once dismissed:

While the [Amadou Diallo] shooting clearly had struck a chord in New York City, the fact is that the most vocal of the critics were demagogues whose high-decibel demands had once shaped city policy - but whom Giuliani had dismissed out of hand when he took office.

They never forgave him for that, Sharpton and Barron and the rest, nor will they ever. So just imagine their joy Monday when Bloomberg invited them back into the public dialogue.

They might be delighted to have been invited back into the public dialogue, but I'm wondering why they're using the instant occasion as an excuse to attack the very popular Giuliani -- long after he has ceased to be Mayor.

In an editorial about "lessons learned," the Christian Science Monitor throws in references to Giuliani's marital difficulties -- and his "meltdown":

Most political analysts are applauding the city's response so far, but some say it's unfair to compare the way Mr. Giuliani and Bloomberg handled the two shootings. Giuliani, who defeated the city's first African-American mayor, had strained relations with the minority community from the start. In reforming the city's finances, he also took on its various interest groups, including those in the black community, according to political analyst Fred Siegel, author of "The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life." Finally, the Diallo incident occurred at a time when the mayor's personal and marital problems had become regular public fodder.

"The Diallo affair comes at the beginning of Giuliani's personal meltdown," says Mr. Siegel. "This isn't a criticism of Bloomberg. I just don't think it's a fair comparison."

As for Giuliani's moral culpability for the Diallo case, The New York Sun reminds readers that the officers were acquitted on all charges.

Ah, but might the jury have been motivated by a "personal vendetta" against crime?

One of the reasons I find this all so fascinating, is that the last couple of times I wrote about Giuliani, he was under attack from the right.

Oh the irony!

posted by Eric at 07:58 AM | Comments (3)




Taking Greenwaldistic Neo-Sullivanism seriously
The Red Queen shook her head, `You may call it "nonsense" if you like,' she said, ` but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!'

-- From Alice in Wonderland

I'm no etymologist, so I always have trouble defining words, especially when they've been so misused as to be unrecognizable. (Besides, via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Ann Althouse has already done a better job.)

Sometimes I like to look at the dictionary, and often an invaluable resource is C.T. Onions' Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. But in the case of recently made up or wholly manufactured words, forget about the regular dictionary, much less C.T. Onions.

Not that I like made-up words, but I guess Andrew Sullivan has as much right to make up a word as anyone else. In this case, the word is "Christianist," and his goal is admittedly political. At least I think it is, but it's hard to tell. I agree with Glenn that the "term draws an unfair equivalence between Islamist terror, and mere Christian social conservatism, which are hardly comparable," but as to the definition, I'll try to stick with Sullivan's "Original Intent" in the hope of divining the meaning.

Via Wikipedia, here's Sullivan's textual definition:

...[L]et me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.

The definition poses more questions than it answers. What is particularly hard to tell from the definition is exactly what this new word means. I think it's intended to do more than link those Christians whose politics Sullivan doesn't like with Islamists; it is also meant to be undefinable, which, by being unfair to everyone, does great mischief. Because, if only Andrew Sullivan knows what the word means (assuming he does), then he gets to behave as the Red Queen and label anyone he wishes as a Christianist. Or not.

For starters, there's the argument that "we" should "take back" the word "Christian." Has the word been hijacked? While I don't like the fact that some Christians try to speak for all Christians, unless some people (those he calls "the quiet majority") are more entitled to be called Christian than others, then who is thse "we" who are to be entrusted with the word once they "take it back"? Does this line between Christianists and Christians imply that the former are not the latter or should not be? How can Sullivan declare such a thing unless he has been put in charge of defining Christianity?

What I also find confusing is that the political aspect of Christianism is limited to right wing politics. Thus, only those Republican Christians whose right wing views Sullivan doesn't like are to be called Christianists. Evangelical Christians who vote Democrat are not Christianists -- not even if their "religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda,"-- which means that non-Republican Christian activists like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Catholic liberation theologists, or even Jim Jones and the People's Temple would not be Christianists. Never mind that they all share "the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike" -- only Republican Christians are to be called Christianists.

I think this is both overinclusive and underinclusive, and it's hard to take the definition seriously.

Then there's the statement that "I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor." Sullivan is a Catholic; is that his faith? Isn't the Catholic Church hierarchical, and isn't the Pope in charge?

Consider this statement from Sullivan:

There are lay Catholics who, while personally devout, are socially liberal on issues like contraception, gay rights, women's equality and a multi-faith society. There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is.
Does this mean they dissent from having their faith co-opted? By whom? The Republican Party? Wouldn't it be more fair to recognize that the Pope is still in charge -- at least of the Catholic Church if not a city called the Vatican? Or would that be Catholicism instead of Christianism?

Why invent words that can only be divined by the inventor of the word? The way Sullivan is going, I half expect him to expand the definition of "Christianism" to include people who aren't even Christians. (Say, atheists who might support an alliance with Christians who agree with them on certain political issues.)

This post is very confusing. When I started this yesterday I hoped I'd be closer to a definition, but I'm feeling about as clueless now as I was then.

Since I saw the links Glenn provided yesterday, I've been trying to follow out the twists and turns of the confusing campaign against those who object to the "Christianist" label, which seems to have culminated in a new phase of the Andrew Sullivan anti-Christianist crusade. Sullivan now endorses Glenn Greenwald's embellishment of the "Christianist" meme (originally written in a post linked here), so that with this revision, those who object to the word become supporters of the "Christianists" themselves:

What seems to be guiding Althouse and Reynolds' hatred of the term "Christianist" is that it highlights a fact which they both are eager to ignore -- namely, that the political party to which they are so devoted is dominated by individuals who believe that their religious/Christian beliefs ought to dictate the American political process, shape secular law, and exploit coercive state power to constrain the choices of their fellow citizens.
Later, Greenwald accuses Glenn Reynolds as "driven by a desire to hide the fact that "Christianists" (along with their odd partners, the neoconservatives) now control and define the Republican Party." (Um, but I thought the neoconservatives were Jews. Or should that be "Jewists"?)

I'm sorry, but this is getting really wacky.

Who's in charge? Should wackiness be met with further wackiness?

While I don't know exactly what she had in mind, Ann Althouse thought about taunting the taunters:

I feel I would be doing my regular readers a disservice if I posted what I just composed in my head, which is a response to a couple of very conspicuous taunts that are out there today.

But you taunters -- you know who you are! -- be advised: I could taunt you right back so hard it wouldn't even be funny.

Her crime, of course, was to ask Andrew Sullivan why he couldn't be nicer in a post titled "Why not engage with me instead of trying to make me into your enemy?"

Considering Althouse's restraint, perhaps I was a bit harsh in likening Andrew Sullivan to the Red Queen. Perhaps it's actually Glenn Greenwald who should be likened to the Red Queen. Or perhaps a contest should be held.

I don't know how to settle this, and I'd rather not taunt the taunters, lest they accuse me of "Pantheistic Pagan-Christianism" or something.

Is there any way to make the taunters point their fingers at each other?

twinq1.jpg

Each might be as sensible as the other.

Which compared with which would be as sensible as a dictionary?

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link and the compliment!

I also see that I am not alone in thinking about Alice in Wonderland; Professor Bainbridge was reminded of Humpty Dumpty:

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.
He also has a very interesting discussion of neologisms in general.

Agnosticist anyone?

And what about the "Althouse-Reynolds Axis" of which Sullivan now complains? Is there such a thing? Or is it just an axis of minions? Such lines of attack are about as logical as the WorldNetDaily approach of accusing someone of having a "gay agenda."

Hmmm....

Somehow, I'm now reminded of the "happily married gay couples with closets full of assault weapons."

Be phobist. Be very phobist!

posted by Eric at 04:04 PM | Comments (21)



Civil rights as a lower form of human rights?

In light of the new information that has come to light in the police shooting of an elderly woman, I'd like to repeat my earlier concerns about the public perceptions of this case.

Why is this being spun more as a civil rights issue than as a human rights issue?

Might that be because black people are seen as chess pieces in a game of identity politics, while white people are seen as neutral, and therefore simply human?

Forgive my cynicism; I don't write these rules.

For what it's worth, I think the victim's race has everything to do with it -- even in a city like Atlanta. Had the house been in a white neighborhood and occupied by an elderly white woman who lived alone, I don't think a warrant would have been issued on such flimsy, made up evidence as this:
The confidential informant on whose word Atlanta police raided the house of an 88-year-old woman is now saying he never purchased drugs from her house and was told by police to lie and say he did.

Chief Richard Pennington, in a press conference Monday evening, said his department learned two days ago that the informant -- who has been used reliably in the past by the narcotics unit -- denied providing information to officers about a drug deal at 933 Neal Street in northwest Atlanta.

"The informant said he had no knowledge of going into that house and purchasing drugs," Pennington said. "We don't know if he's telling the truth."

The search warrant used by Atlanta police to raid the house says that a confidential informant had bought crack cocaine at the residence, using $50 in city funds, several hours before the raid.

In the document, officers said that the informant told them the house had surveillance cameras that the suspected drug dealer, called "Sam," monitored.

Pennington on Monday evening said the informant told the Internal Affairs Unit hat he did not tell officers that the house had surveillance equipment, and that he was asked to lie.

The story keeps changing, and the cops are obviously in full coverup mode, so it's tough to pin down exactly who told who what, but I think that even if we place drug war concerns aside, this evinces a pattern of unconscionably sloppy police work aggravated by an institutionalized ratification of the sloppiness -- all provided that the raids are conducted in "low income" neighborhoods. Had this been a middle class or wealthy widow, you can be damned sure that everything would have been gone over line by line, and the judge would have asked questions.

What about the judge who signed the warrant? Is there no duty of care to conduct himself as more than would some Soviet apparatchik? Again, I think that had the same allegations been made against an elderly white woman, the entire case would have been looked at differently, and subjected to a completely different level of scrutiny. It's as if lowered standards of enforcement and review are expected in cases like this. It begins with child protection and schools, and a lowering of standards tends to be overlooked, excused, or even advocated. (In an educational setting, this has been called the "soft bigotry of low expectations.") When minority police, bureaucrats, and social workers are in charge, these lower standards can become further institutionalized, and a conspiracy of second class treatment is allowed to masquerade as compassion, even "self help."

I've written more than one long blog post about the conspiracy of silence which takes the form of the anti "snitching" movement, and what disturbed me the most about the phenomenon was the realization that there is a different definition of what constitutes snitching in lower income communities. It's as if the entire community considers itself in an institutionalized setting, and any contact with the authorities is analogous to (and is regarded as) a prisoner talking to a guard.

In a prison setting, "snitches" (aka "informants") are of course the lowest of the low, and they are candidates for death. I don't doubt that the informant who fabricated the story about a drug buy in the elderly woman's house was either facing drug charges himself, or being paid. He may have made a drug buy somewhere, but for whatever reason (maybe to preserve his life) he might not have wanted to inform the cops of the true location. The marvelous thing about snitching out a wholly innocent party is that it acts as a general deterrent in communities dominated by criminals out to stop snitching.

The whole thing stinks, and I think efforts to focus on the race of the victim by treating this as a civil rights matter play right into the problem. The fact that this took place in "the neighborhood where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family once lived" should be as irrelevant as the victim's race. But because we live in a country where such things are highly relevant, the concerns with race have a sneaky way of defining down what should be a human rights inquiry into a civil rights inquiry.

Paradoxically, this is why I wish Ms. Johnston had been white.

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution asks some good questions:

Before narcotics agents went to Johnston's home last week, did they ascertain who lived there? Considering it was two days before Thanksgiving, did they establish whether visiting children or other family members were in the home? Did they lean on an informant to lie on their behalf?

If the informant never fingered Johnston's house as a drug source, how did police end up there? What evidence did police have that the drug quantities involved were significant enough to call for forced entry?

Based on what is known so far, it's hard to argue that Johnston was at fault. She was not the professional trained to investigate a situation before taking any action that could endanger innocent people. She had no information to alert her to what was really happening in her home that night.

Unfortunately, it appears that the APD didn't either.

And unfortunately, concerns over civil rights will cause this case to be spun as a minority issue. But because the victim is black, the chief of police is black, the only way for the case to receive major attention (apart from civil rights activists and libertarians) would be if the officers themselves turned out to be white.

Again, much as I hate to say this, if everyone involved had been white, there might be more of a debate on the real issue -- human rights and the war on drugs.

Just to disclose my bias, I think the war on drugs ends up being a war against human rights, and cases like Ms. Johnston's are a classic example of why. Interjecting civil rights into the analysis causes people to overlook the inherent nature of the war on drugs, and ultimately gives it a pass.

posted by Eric at 06:58 AM | Comments (2)




Behind the scenes look at a powerful performance!

While visiting Rockford, Illinois over Thanksgiving, I was invited to attend the Rockford Dance Company's production of the Nutcracker Suite at the Coronado Theater. Little did I know what a treat was in store. Not only was the performance fantastic, and the theater was unlike anything I've experienced, but I got to meet a longtime favorite blogger -- M. Simon of Power and Control -- who lives in Rockford and whose very talented daughter Camille Simon had two roles in the production.

The theater took my breath away, and it has to be seen to be believed. They just don't make 'em like that any more, and my photos (taken at night, with difficulty) don't do the place justice. This was an extravagantly, decadently opulent theater when it was built, and unlike it's counterparts in many larger cities (long since demolished) the Coronado has been restored to perfection. It provides real evidence of another American era -- a whimsically esthetic time of cultural revival. Whether it took the form of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Neo Babylonian or Egyptian revival, such frivolous and lovable decadence just couldn't quite survive the serious times that followed in which modern America "grew up." Now that we are mature, Americans look back with wonder and awe at days largely gone and forgotten.

Wikipedia accurately describes the Coronado's design as "breathtaking":

The elaborate auditorium of the theater is designed according to the atmospheric style which was popular in movie houses built in the 1920's. This style simulates an outdoor theater-going experience. The Coronado's auditorium walls are decorated with the facades of gilded Spanish-style buildings, and the ceiling looks like a deep blue sky filled with twinkling stars and floating clouds. The auditorium is full of gilded detail. Green stained-glass lamps with fluted bulbs adorn the walls. Japanese dragons and glowing lanterns cover the organ screens on either side of the stage. The seats are covered with plush red velvet.

The lobby is as elaborately designed as the auditorium. One of the lobby's focal points is a statue of Venus standing in front of a golden seashell. Because of its breathtaking interior design, the Coronado is sentimentally referred to as "Rockford's Wonder Theater."

A few of my photos follow.

Here's the outside at night:

Coronado2.jpg

Immediately after you enter, the lobby ceiling looks like this:

Coronado7.jpg

Some random interior details give a general idea of the opulence of the place:

Coronado6.jpg

Coronado4.jpg

Coronado3.jpg

(I preserved the anonymity of the patrons on the staircase, as they weren't engaged in a public demonstration or anything, and I have no way of knowing whether they would want their faces appearing in a blog.)

The performance was fantastic. The dancers couldn't have been more talented and professional, and my only criticism does not involve them, but only the apparent shortage of male ballet dancers -- which I'm told is a problem in many cities. (Back in the days of Shakespearean theater, men used to play women, so the new role reversal is ironic.)

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to photograph the performance, so readers won't be able to appreciate the costumes, scenery, or performers.

However, there was no rule against photographing the power behind the scenes, or a guy who in fairness should be considered the man behind the controls -- M. Simon of Power and Control. I already mentioned that his daughter Camille was in the performance, but what I only found out later is that the theater still has the original control levers, with which he is obviously familiar.

As it turned out, I was allowed to pose at the controls with Mr. Power and Control himself!

leversofpower.jpg

(Talk about leverage!)

Simon is justifiably proud of his daughter as well as the theater, and he has two posts about the evening here, and here.

A great weekend. I only wish there'd been more time.

posted by Eric at 09:57 AM | Comments (3)




Reality based mugging

My thanks to Justin for posting while I was away. (A minor administrative blog hassle seems to have temporarily messed up comments, but it's being fixed thanks to Host Matters, and comments will probably work by the time this post goes up.)

As if I needed any reminder while I was away, I see that it's an increasingly ugly world out there.

I certainly hope the Democratic majority is up to the task, as the lame duck president couldn't be any lamer if he tried. (No need to shoot lame ducks, of course, so I suspect they'll lay off the impeachment and "war crimes" tribunals in the near future.)

As to whether the multiculturalist Democrat identity politicians are up to the task, reading Victor Davis Hanson's post on war hardly reassures me:

....[T]he West is encountering something novel, as it fights its first politically-correct war, in which all the postmodern chickens of the 1980s and 1990s have come home to roost. Thus multiculturalism makes it hard to fight non-Europeans from the former third world, inasmuch as it argued there was not just little distinctively good about the West, but rather the once recognized universal sins of mankind--racism, sexism, class oppression, inequality, patriarchy--were to be seen as exclusively Western.

If you have taught youth for generations that the story of World War II is Hiroshima and the Japanese internment, not Normandy, the Bulge, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, then how can you expect a nation to fight an enemy without making a mistake? And if dropping the bomb on Japan to stop its daily murdering of thousands in its collapsing empire, and to avoid something that would have made the horrific Battle for Berlin look like a cakewalk is equated with the Holocaust, how can the United States marshal the moral authority to press ahead, secure that its killing of jihadists is a different sort from jihadists killing the innocent or each other?

Add into this dangerous modernist soup moral equivalence, or what we know as "conflict resolution theory." It postulates that any use of force de facto is equivalent to any other....

I don't especially like the idea of politically correct war, and I think if there's anything that will kill the Democrats, it's when ordinary voters recognize the connection between multiculturalism and terrorism. If the voters see the former enabling the latter, they'll vote for whoever is perceived as most against it.

All it will take is subjecting a few more ordinary voters to chants of "Allahuakbar" on airplanes, and the enablers of the chanters will lose.

As Hanson implies in his suprisingly optimistic conclusion, the Democratic leaders are smart enough to understand this:

....A progressive can call the ACLU all day long, but after 9/11 if he stands in line at an airport gate listening to an imam chanting Allah Akbar as he and his friends board, our liberal friend will begin to worry. And second, our enemies have no intention of relenting. They smell blood and want our carcass, so eventually even the progressive mind will give up the pieties of peace and face the inevitable....
It almost reminds me of Frank Rizzo's definition of a conservative as "a liberal who just got mugged."

Of course, this has to be tempered with Ted Koppel's definition of a liberal as a "conservative who just got arrested." (Or who's maybe been a mistaken victim of a SWAT team.)

I guess if you don't like being mugged or arrested, you can always be a libertarian -- but that doesn't mean you won't get both!

The problem with using this analogy is that terrorism is on a much grander scale than mugging (regardless of the politics of the victims), and not too many conservatives (or liberals, for that matter) have been getting arrested as terrorists.

posted by Eric at 09:51 PM | Comments (3)



Long Shots

The guys at Focus Fusion have provided their take on that Robert Bussard video that's been making the rounds. Their impression is that his approach looks promising.

Their own approach is somewhat different technically, but either one, if successful, would enable the same sort of technological revolution.

Boron fusion. Clean, inexpensive, inexhaustible power.

UPDATE (11/27/06 by Eric): Thanks to M. Simon at Power and Control for linking this post (and the earlier post about the teenage experimenter who produced cold fusion). Nice discussion too! Don't miss it.

posted by Justin at 11:56 AM | Comments (1)



This Ought To Annoy Him

James "I am not Elmer Gantry!" Kunstler is forever going on about those easy motoring, cheese doodle crunching Americans and the doom that is even now bearing down upon them. Wishing, we are told, will not change the facts of life, and Jiminy Cricket notwithstanding, we simply cannot invent our way out of the "Long Emergency".

Monkeyballs. The man is a broken record, stuck on peevish. Allow me to point out a few hopeful developments that illustrate the paucity of his historical perspective.

Composite core aluminum power cables...

CTC's Aluminum Conductor Composite Core cables incorporate a light-weight advanced composite core around which aluminum conductor wires are wrapped in a manner identical to traditional energy cable.

The composite cores lighter-weight, smaller size, and enhanced strength and other performance advantages over traditional steel core allows ACCC to double the current carrying capacity over existing transmission and distribution cable and virtually eliminate high-temperature sag.

Warm superconductors...

Superconducting cables can offer the advantages of lower loss, lighter weight, and more compact dimensions, as compared to conventional cables. In addition to the improvement of the energy efficiency of the utility grid, this can lead to easier and faster installation of the cable system, fewer joints, and reduced use of land.

The high performance of the superconducting materials leads to reduced materials use and lighter and more compact cable technology. In this way, energy and cost is saved in the whole chain of manufacturing, transport and installation.

A merger of optimists...

Open Energy Corporation... today announced that it has signed a joint development agreement with Infinia Corporation to integrate its products into a revolutionary power generation system.

Infinia's free piston Stirling engines are currently used for aerospace and national security applications...Operating without internal combustion, a Stirling engine utilizes high temperature differentials to drive a piston and produce electricity.

The engineering teams at Infinia and Open Energy believe that the Suncone CSP solar concentrating power system can be modified to deliver over 700 degrees centigrade of solar thermal energy to Infinia's engine, thus generating electricity on a cost effective basis...

"Infinia is already commercializing a 1 kW engine for residential heating and electricity in Asia and Europe. We will begin our product development utilizing a modified version of this engine to prove out the feasibility of the Suncone/Stirling system, before developing a larger version for distributed generation applications."

Algae on the march...

Nov. 13, 2006 -- Green Star Products, Inc. today announced that it has signed an agreement with De Beers Fuel Limited of South Africa to build 90 biodiesel reactors.

Each of the biodiesel reactors will be capable of producing 10 million gallons of biodiesel each year for a total production capacity of 900,000,000 gallons per year when operating at full capacity, which is 4 times greater than the entire U.S. output in 2006...

Presently, the De Beers plant is now operating at 10,000,000 gallons per year on sunflower seed oil as feedstock and has contracted for additional feedstock for additional plants.

However, the final answer for biodiesel feedstock will not be oil crops - it will be algae. For example, soybean produces only 48 gallons of oil per acre per year, canola produces 140 gallons per acre and algae can produce well over 10,000 gallons per acre.

This figure has been verified in actual algae field production tests by the US Department of Energy in an 18 year Algae Study Program from 1978 - 1996. This makes algae the only worldwide feedstock capable of replacing crude oil. Making use of algae also means not competing with crops for food sources...

Mr. de Beer has entered into an agreement with Greenfuel Technologies Corporation, and has purchased and removed the MIT bioreactor from Cambridge, Massachusetts and transported it to South Africa. It has been reassembled on the biodiesel plant site in Naboomspruit, South Africa and is now awaiting the arrival of the algae to be inoculated to start production...

Most of the 90 franchised biodiesel plants are located close to electric power plants as well as other CO2 emitters, to utilize their stack emissions (CO2) to feed the algae farms when they switch over feedstock from oil seed crops to algae...

GSPI is proud to be part of this De Beers Fuel Limited Team in South Africa and has already set up operations at its 90,000 sq. ft. Idaho Facility to fabricate as many as 150 reactors per year to accommodate anticipated expansion of De Beers plant facilities into other countries...

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells for the lomg haul...

A prototype 5 kW-class complete system using the SECA technology has operated for 2,800 hours and continues to operate at the Siemens facility near Pittsburgh, PA. It has met or exceeded all of the DOE technical and economic objectives for Phase 1 of the SECA program.

The successful operation of the SECA system is especially noteworthy in that there has been absolutely no degradation of cell or system performance during the period of operation.

Lead Acid Batteries anticipate a quantum leap...

The approach used by Firefly Energy, a spin-out of Caterpillar, is radical but simple. The company's new battery removes past obstacles such as heavy weight, extensive corrosion and sulfating positive and negative lead metal grids by substituting them with carbon-graphite foam, increasing the surface area, to enhance the chemistry taking place.

The result is a battery that can rival the advanced chemistries in performance, take advantage of an existing manufacturing base and address environmental concerns through the removal of one-half to two-thirds of the lead content...

Additionally, by replacing most of the lead with a much lighter material, Firefly has drastically lowered the specific weight of the battery, which can help by either increasing output from the same weight or in creating a smaller package but with normal power output.

There's plenty more where that came from. More than I imagine you would ever want to know about, but I do hope that the basic point has been made. In the interests of good sportsmanship I'll give Kunstler the last word...

November 13, 2006

Get this: the day is not far off when, for one reason or another, the flow of imported oil to the US will cease. But when that day comes, we will not be running our shit the way we have been running it. That day will be the end of the interstate highways, Walt Disney World, and WalMart -- in short, the way of life we are fond of calling "non-negotiable."

We are not going to run that shit on coal liquids or tar sand byproducts or oil shale distillates or ethanol or biodiesel, or second-hand french-fry oil. Nor on solar, wind, nuclear, or hydrogen. You can run things on that stuff, but not the biggies we run at their current scale.

posted by Justin at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)




Reduced To Tears By Helpless Laughter
Given the recent events concerning my nephew and Al Gore, this item at Greenie Watch reduced me to tears. Seriously folks, I was just howling. Perhaps that's mortifying in a man my age, but there you have it. I like to think of it as being young at heart. Besides, the story described is so perfect an example of its kind. It's the beau ideal of self-parodic eco-noia.
A new United Nations children's book promoting fears of catastrophic manmade global warming is being promoted at the UN Climate Change Conference in Kenya..."Tore and the Town on Thin Ice" is published by the United Nations Environment Programme and blames "rich countries" for creating a climate catastrophe. The book is about a young kid named Tore who lives in an Arctic village. Tore loses a dog sled race because he crashes through the thinning ice... After the boy loses the dog sled race, he is visited by "Sedna, the Mother of the Sea" in a dream. The "Sea Mother" informs the boy in blunt terms that the thinning ice that caused his loss in the dog sled race was due to manmade global warming. "I'm the one who created and cares for the sea creatures - whales and walruses, seals and fish," the "Sea Mother" explained to the boy. The "Sea Mother" then tells the boy she will educate him about the reason the ice is thinning.
Run, Tore! Run!
The morning after his dream, Tore sets out on a quest for knowledge about the dangers of catastrophic manmade global warming. A "snowy owl" informs Tore that "the planet's heating up" and that both the Arctic and Antarctica "are warming almost twice as fast as elsewhere."
Now it's too late to run...
,The "snowy owl" tells Tore that winning dog sledding races "might not be your top worry" and the owl instead tells the boy that "lots of things are changing fast. Some people who hunt for a living are already going hungry because a lot of seals and walruses are heading north." The "snowy owl" also asserts that "the great ice cap here in Greenland-mountains of snow and ice up to about four kilometers thick-is thawing."
A metric owl, eh? Tres bien.
Next, a polar bear informs Tore that it is hungry because the ice is too thin to stand on and hunt and the bear says that other bears have "starved" because the sea ice went out to sea. The polar bear adds, "We may not have much of a future." The polar bear concludes by telling Tore, "It looks like many animals and fish and birds will go extinct-die out-during your lifetime, partly because of changes in climate."
Luckily, polar bears are our friends. They would never dream of devouring a human child...
The child is described "at a loss for words" after hearing this grim news and just "stare[s] at the polar bear."
Say, is that bear starting to edge a little closer?
After a whale appears to present more climate fear, the boy finally screams, "Listen, I've had all the bad news I can stand. Our world is melting. Polar bears are starving and all sorts of animals won't survive. I don't want to hear anymore!"
Tore's sure lucky that whale showed up when it did. His yelling at it like that is probably just a fear displacement behavior.
The whale responds, "That's the spirit! Get good and angry. You'll need all that energy to make a difference." The whale then goes on to describe computer model projections of massive coastal flooding in the future and the potential destruction of human life in coastal areas because of the projected sea level rise.
The whale was actually raised by kindly marine biologists, which no doubt explains its startling familiarity with computer model projections...
The whale continues, telling the child that more hurricanes and "other things you call `natural disasters' are on their way, too - and they're getting harsher."
The biologists often spoke in "scare quotes".
Finally Tore has had enough and asks, "Is there anything at all a kid like me can do?" The "Sea Mother" tells him of the dangerous effects that an oil and gas based energy system has on the climate and the "Sea Mother" singles out the industrialized world as the cause of her predicted climate catastrophe. "Rich countries use-and waste-an awful lot of energy. Huge cars. Too many cars instead of efficient trains and buses," the "Sea Mother explains to Tore... Finally the "Sea Mother" tells Tore that the solution to the climate crisis can begin in his Arctic village by "setting up solar panels to get electricity from the sun, and modern windmills to capture the energy of the wind." The book ends with a section answering the question "What can you do?" The books answer includes such suggestions as "Join or create an environmental club," "only drive cars if you must," and "write to your political leaders."
My god. How can you not laugh? This farrago of misinformation is brought to you by Tunza. Click here to see their currently available titles. I hope you enjoy the Kool Kover Art!
posted by Justin at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)




More Good Fun From Greenie Watch

My niece and nephew saw Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" the other week, and it actually managed to get to them. It seems that the science teacher had their entire class make a field trip to the theater where it was playing. He feels that the issue is far too important to leave to their parents haphazard ministrations.

The indoctrination session was stunningly successful, and my nephew in particular was more than a little freaked out by what he saw.

Later, he gravely informed me that the polar bears are drowning. Further, unless we do something, the oceans will rise and drown our coastal cities. There can be no room for doubt because, get this, " All the scientists are in agreement!".

Much internet research and conversation ensued, on both of our parts. Finally, reluctantly, he accepted that perhaps we aren't going to drown in the next twenty years after all.

Maybe. He's still reserving final judgment.

Since when have middle school teachers and washed-up politicians commanded such powerful moral suasion?

Next time I see him, I'm showing him the following...

Antarctic disaster:

Certain moments stick in your head. Take, for example, the story of the Siberian ponies adrift on an Antarctic ice floe surrounded by killer whales. Something about the scene... lodged in the mind of Sidney Nolan, who painted a version of it when he returned from his own eight-day trip to Antarctica...

What had happened? Nolan explained it in a letter to Hal Missingham, director of the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney.... "Once, five of the ponies, covered in green rugs, were lost on an ice floe which drifted out to sea surrounded by killer whales...Bowers and his party, on the floe with the ponies, managed to save one of the ponies after some awful moments. The episode was witnessed from the shore...through field glasses and tears. Anyway, it is roughly this moment I have tried to paint."

You can see why the scene might have affected Nolan. For starters, it was horrible to contemplate; it would have affected anyone. But it also had a particular quality - surreal, deadly happenings in an extreme, implacable setting - that Nolan seemed to relish...

The only pesky thing is that the above all happened in 1911...

Cute. Hopefully, it won't be too subtle for him.

UPDATE: He wasn't too keen on my polar bear population dynamics presentation. However, he did get a snicker from the following, a collection of
alarmist rhetoric from thirty-five years ago. If it seems familiar, well, it ought to.
I've recycled it from this post seven months ago...

Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that "civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind." "We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation," wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.

"We have about five more years at the outside to do something," ecologist Kenneth Watt declared to a Swarthmore College audience on April 19, 1970.

Dubbed "ecology's angry lobbyist" by Life magazine, the gloomy Ehrlich was quoted everywhere. "Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make," he confidently declared in an interview with then-radical journalist Peter Collier in the April 1970 Mademoiselle. "The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years."

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

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

Peter Gunter, a professor at North Texas State University, wrote, "Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions....By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine".

In January 1970, Life reported, "Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support...the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution...by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...."

Ecologist Kenneth Watt told Time that, "At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it's only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable."

Barry Commoner cited a National Research Council report that had estimated "that by 1980 the oxygen demand due to municipal wastes will equal the oxygen content of the total flow of all the U.S. river systems in the summer months." Translation: Decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America's rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.

In his "Eco-Catastrophe!" scenario, Ehrlich put a finer point on these fears by envisioning a 1973 Department of Health, Education, and Welfare study which would find "that Americans born since 1946...now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out."

Keying off of Rachel Carson's claims about the dangers of synthetic chemicals in Silent Spring (1962), Look claimed that many scientists believed that residual DDT would lead to an increase in liver and other cancers.

"We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones," warned Sierra Club director Martin Litton in Time's February 2, 1970, special "environmental report."

Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.

Kenneth Watt was less equivocal in his Swarthmore speech about Earth's temperature. "The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years," he declared. "If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age."

Funny how humor can get the job done where mere statistics fail, isn't it? Still, I could tell that it wasn't quite enough. Then his mother (who is as unappreciative of this sort of thing as I am) had an inspiration. You see, he's been going through this Extreme Christian phase lately. When she suggested that perhaps the Rapture might take everyone before the ice caps melted, well, he just brightened right up. He's still reserving judgment, but he's much more his old, cheerful self. Go figure.

A mother knows these things.


posted by Justin at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)



So. Now What Do We Do?
Forest fires can help to reduce global warming, despite generating tonnes of carbon dioxide, a study has found.

Scientists looking at the effect of fires in boreal forests found that in the long term the loss of trees means that more sunlight is reflected away from the Earth. This is because more snow, which is highly reflective, is able to cover the ground.

There is a similar effect when new trees start growing their light green leaves, which reflect better than dark foliage...

Boreal forests, which account for 14.5 per cent of land surface, are thought to contain 30 per cent of all the CO2 held by plants and soils. It had been feared that dryness caused by global warming would increase the frequency of fires.

The findings, the researchers say, mean that plans to cut CO2 emissions by planting trees and preventing fires need to be reassessed.

Now they tell us? You can't win for losing, can you? However, there's a wonderful mental defense mechanism available, should you decide to accept it. Simply assume that the researchers are in the pay of Big Oil. All the popular kids are doing it.


posted by Justin at 12:54 PM | Comments (0)



While The Cool Cat's Away

The diligent rat is forced to earn his keep. Eric is trapped in the wilds of Illinois, sans connectivity. Amusingly, his hotel has nanny software that won't allow him to access his own blog.

He says "Hi everybody!".

He also says that I should crank out a few brief yet edifying posts while he's away. Naturally I protested. We have entirely different styles and interests. You're here to read him, not me. Such sweet reason and logic got me nowhere. He is adamant.

So here we are. Substitute postings will continue till Sunday.

posted by Justin at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)




HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

I have to leave at the crack of dawn, and I'll be gone for the holidays, so I may or may not have time for blogging.

With any luck, there might be some posts, though.

Happy thanksgiving!

UPDATE: What the hell. I might as well leave readers with a picture, as I know I wouldn't want to come here and read a post with nothing to see except a "happy thanksgiving" announcement.

So here's the most dramatic turkey picture I could find.

WorldsLargestTurkeyFire.jpg

Yes, it's the largest turkey in the United States -- at least it was until a tragic incendiary incident.

Remember, only you can prevent turkey fires!

posted by Eric at 10:38 PM | Comments (6)



cause for optimism

I enjoyed reading about the "nuclear teen":

In the basement of his parents' Oakland Township home, tucked away in an area most aren't privy to see, Thiago is exhausting his love of physics on a project that has taken him more than two years and 1,000 hours to research and build -- a large, intricate machine that , on a small scale, creates nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion -- when atoms are combined to create energy -- is "kind of like the holy grail of physics," he said.

In fact, on www.fusor.net, the Stoney Creek senior is ranked as the 18th amateur in the world to create nuclear fusion.

Sooner or later, some creative young genius like this will come along and make it really work.

It's just another reason why I think "Peak Oil" theory suffers from static analysis.

UPDATE (11/27/06 ): My thanks to M. Simon at Power and Control for linking this post and yesterday's Justin's cold fusion post with plenty of excellent discussion.

What's great news is that this appears to be scalable:

...the idea is to build a fusion device that produces no long lived nuclear radiation and that works with the forces of nature instead of against them. The voltage required to make these devices work is on the order of 10 to 20 thousand volts or less. About the same voltage as you would find in a tube type monitor or TV set. Nothing very exotic. For a full scale power producer it is predicted that you would need about 2 million volts. Well within the range of current technology for small scale devices. Currently the highest voltage used in electrical transmission is 1.15 million volts. Scaling that up to two million volts for production devices should not be too difficult.
Sounds almost too good to be true. The more feasible this becomes, the more likely that environmentalists and other wackos will find reasons to object.

posted by Eric at 12:41 PM | Comments (2)



Stereotypes. Can't cope with 'em! Can't cope without 'em!

One of the reasons people hate the fact that times change is that they have to change with the times, lest they become literally crippled by past perceptions. This is particularly true when it comes to understanding why things happen the way they do. One of the ways I cope with inconveniences and things I don't like is by trying to understand them. Understanding something is not the same thing as liking it, but knowing why and how something happened is a bit like knowing how something works. If there is a huge line of cars stretching on for miles, even if you're trapped and cannot escape, it always feels better once you know what happened, and why. Some explanations are more emotionally satisfying than others, and this varies according to the individual personality.

To stay with the traffic example, there might be a tree blocking the road, a dead cow, a stalled car, or a road crew. Then again, the explanation might be simple "congestion." I can't speak for everyone, but I find the fallen tree or dead cow more satisfying than an asshole who should have known better than to run out of gas and who lacked the simple ability to pull over, and as to the road crew, I find it infinitely more satisfying if I see them doing emergency-related work than if they've closed down two lanes and held up rush hour traffic so that a few juvenile delinquents can pick up trash. "Congestion," of course, is the least satisfying explanation of all.

Then there are bad drivers. What often helps me "cope" (for lack of a better word) is seeing an explanation for the bad driving. I've written about this before, but my anger is always calmed down when I discern the nature of the culprits -- especially if they can be reduced to humorous stereotypes:

2. Elderly drivers who wear hats. I don't know whether hat-wearing causes bad driving, or merely evidences the personality of this driver, but elderly hat wearers tend to hug the middle of the road, and go much too slowly, often gripping the steering wheel with both hands at the top of it, while peering over the dashboard with a blank stare. Scary. Don't get behind them.

3. Drivers with more than twelve stuffed animals arranged on the inside ledge of the rear windshield. This type is also slow and erratic, and often in a bizarre and unpredictable manner. Not sure why; perhaps there are medication issues.

Mean regionalist types might add "any car with a New Jersey license plate" to the list, but that might verge on bigotry, so even if I were to entertain a thought like that, it might be wiser to keep it out of this blog.

But none of this is rational, and these stereotypes are supposed to be funny, right? If the film "Borat" can stereotype Kazakhs and feminists and frat boys, then what is the great evil in having a little fun with a license plate?

No, I still won't do it. I'm still feeling guilty about stereotyping Subaru drivers, and I want to return to the topic of changing with the times. So New Jersey license plates get a break.

Back to my point. There are few things more irritating than those things which resist easy explanation and stereotyping, especially if the stereotypes are invoked as a mental coping strategy. If you've been driving as long as I have (36 years), you tend to think you've "seen everything" and you've tended to compile a long list of stereotypes to be plugged in as the need arises.

Enter cell phones. These days, the number one bad driving offender is someone who waits too long and drives too slowly for no apparent reason. I hate the fact that I have had to add a new stereotype to my hate list, but the fact is, when all other stereotypes fail (no age issues, stuffed animals, mental illness, intoxication, or type of car), almost always I see that the driver is talking on the damned phone. What that means is that he or she (invariably the former tends to be an "asshole" while the latter something less polite) is doing two things:

  • driving in an impaired manner, because he is clearly incapable of using the cell phone and driving at the same time;
  • making a public statement that his personal issues are more important than his fellow drivers' time or even safety.
  • This does not mean that I would outlaw using cell phones while driving. But impaired driving or obstructing traffic should always be an offense, so I think the rule should be along the lines of "at your own risk." Some people can handle it; others can't. If you hold people up by not proceeding at a green light because you're on the phone and weren't looking, that should be a citable offense. So should weaving around and crossing into the next lane as you enthusiastically discuss last night's Eagles game.

    But it's a new thing. A brand new stereotype. There are many more of what I can only call "those people" driving around than there used to be.

    Because times change.

    To a lot of people, the answer is to blame the cell phone, and target that as if it is the cause of its own misuse. That makes about as much sense as blaming cars for traffic, or guns for crime. But that's what people do, and it is also a relatively new phenomenon. When I was a kid, people weren't as likely to blame guns for crime, or even for tragedies. Even if irresponsible parents left guns lying around for their four year old, that was the parents' fault and not the guns'.

    This blaming of objects reaches absurd heights. Attempts have been made to ban all cell phones in bathrooms because a tiny minority of sickos have misused them, and Ipods have been blamed for the fact that they were stolen. Cell phones "kill" too; ask any "victim" of a cell phone driver or cell-phone-activated terrorist bomb.

    Times change, and it sucks because your thinking has to change with it. In order to cope with what might otherwise appear to be insanity, the list of explanations grows and grows.

    But still, just as I'll never see cell phones or cars as evil, I'll never see guns as evil. This makes voting for Republicans part of my coping strategy, for most of the insanity about these things emanates from leading Democratic politicians. While it seemed that the conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party had shifted for the better (and gun control was seen as a losing issue), I'm seeing evidence that the pendulum is swinging the other way. A particularly horrendous example is that Tennessee mayor ("Tennessee mayor" doesn't sound quite right, and I'm not sure why) who wants to be governor of one of the reddest state but who has allied himself with the gun grab program of the very "blue" New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    Maybe the conventional wisdom of gun control being a losing proposition is fading, because only this morning, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell came out against the use of tiny guns as Christmas tree ornaments, in language which could have been written by Sarah Brady:

    It is meant, the retailer says, as an "ironic twist" on the holidays.

    "Twisted" is more like it, said Kate Philips, Gov. Rendell's spokeswoman. "The governor doesn't find it humorous or clever to display weapons that are responsible for taking hundreds of lives each year as if they are decorations," she said.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Governor Rendell is the former Chairman of the DNC, and has been rumored to be a possible presidential contender. For him to assert that the guns are responsible for crimes committed with them is a very unfortunate sign of the changing times. (As if I needed to read it this morning, I also see that there's possibly evidence that even President Bush might be developing Bloomberg tendencies.)

    I should look on the bright side. At least no one has yet objected to toy cell phones

    When I was a kid, there were realistic toy guns, that looked like this, and like this -- both of which are "currently not available."

    While there are still places like this which sell realistic toy guns, they warn that "it's getting more difficult to find good toy gun weaponry today," and that "all toy gun items sold on this site will have a permanently attached orange tip as required by U.S. law. And community organizers like this call toy guns a "scourge" and of course advocate banning them entirely.

    As I say, it's tough coping with change.

    What I can't decide is whether stereotypes are evidence of mental health, or a lack thereof.

    Doesn't that depend on whose stereotype is at issue?

    Hmmm...

    Should I have said "at risk"?

    UPDATE: Speaking of guns, Dr. Helen just reminded me that potato guns are still for sale at Amazon. But apparently they're a major offense in Canada.

    You can't be too careful.

    posted by Eric at 07:28 AM | Comments (2)




    Is religious speech more protected than free speech?

    I'm glad to see that a student whose free speech rights were trampled upon by a professor has won her case against the university:

    SPRINGFIELD, MO, November 14, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Emily Brooker, a student in the Missouri State University's School of Social Work, sued the university after being punished by a professor for refusing to lobby in favour of homosexual adoption. Only weeks after launching the suit, the university has settled out of court and disciplined the professor in question.
    WorldNetDaily has more, but the case is not attracting a great deal of MSM attention. The professor's conduct in trying to force Brooker to sign a statement she disagreed with was outrageous.

    Wendy McElroy had an analysis of this case before the decision was announced, but it seems to me that something is being taken for granted:

    The ADF, a Christian legal group that advocates religious freedom, accuses tax-funded MSU of retaliating against Brooker because she refused to sign a letter to the Missouri Legislature in support of homosexual adoption as part of a class project.

    Gay adoption violates Brooker's Christian beliefs.

    ADF says the letter violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religion; the subsequent punishment violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

    There's no question that her First Amendment right to free speech was violated, but I don't see the freedom of religion issue in quite the same way. Is there a clear issue of freedom of religion? According to McElroy, it comes down to this:

    Gay adoption violated Brooker's Christian beliefs.

    I'm curious about the theological perspective. How might allowing homosexuals to adopt children violate Christian beliefs? I realize that Leviticus condemns the act of a man lying with a man like a woman (but not a woman lying with a woman) as a sin, yet that is certainly not the only sin listed in the Bible. For starters, there are the sins listed in the Ten Commandments.

    I'm no theologist, but according to Christian doctrine, aren't all human beings supposed to be sinners? Unless there is something inherently more sinful about homosexuality (perhaps the concern is with the unrepentant nature of open homosexuality), I think it's fair to ask just where in the Christian doctrine is the tie-in to adoption found? If breakers of the Sabbath, makers of graven images or liars are not barred from adopting, from where derives any biblical view that only homosexuals are?

    Just curious.

    I think Emily Brooker is absolutely within her right to oppose homosexual adoption, and I'm glad she won her case, but I don't see how her religious views inbue her opinion with any more protection than anyone else's. But if we assume that that her views are more protected because they are religious in nature, that begs the question of what they are. (Had the professor attempted to compel her to assert that homosexuality was not a sin and that Leviticus was wrong, it would be more clear to me.)

    Are atheists who refuse to sign letters in support of gay adoption less worthy of protection?

    Let me switch to the less inflammatory issue (well, less inflammatory for now) of eating pork. Certainly, no one has the right to compel anyone to eat pork, and compelling a person to eat pork in violation of his religious views would violate his First Amendment rights (plus a lot of other rights). While compelling someone to be in the presence of others who ate pork might violate the right to free association, could it be seen as religious discrimination? Absent a religious prohibition on associating with pork-eaters, I don't see how. It seems only fair to me that people making claims based upon freedom of religion ought to be able to explain how their religious freedom is being curtailed. So, while it is wrong to force anyone to sign a petition in favor of the right of pork eaters to adopt, I don't see how even those who refrain from pork for religious reasons can say that advocating adoption by pork-eating parents violates their religious beliefs.

    I know I sound picky, but I think some of these folks are just plain fudging.

    posted by Eric at 01:26 PM | Comments (5)



    Having what both ways?

    In what's being described as a presidential "three man race" consisting of Senator John McCain, former Mayor Rudulph Giuliani, and Massachusetts Governor Romney, Governor Romney is complaining that McCain is trying to have it both ways on same sex marriage:

    Romney was less charitable to McCain, who on Sunday told ABC News: "I believe that the issue of gay marriage should be decided by the states." McCain also said, "I believe that gay marriage should not be legal."

    Romney seized on the remarks.

    "That's his position, and in my opinion, it's disingenuous," he said. "Look, if somebody says they're in favor of gay marriage, I respect that view. If someone says -- like I do -- that I oppose same-sex marriage, I respect that view. But those who try and pretend to have it both ways, I find it to be disingenuous."

    I'd like to know how supporting the federalist principle constitutes having it both ways. According to Romney's logic, anyone who wanted to roll back Roe v. Wade to allow states to decide abortion laws and who also stated that "abortion should not be legal" would be having it both ways, but only those supporting a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion could correctly be described as anti-abortion.

    What about Romney's official position on abortion? According to ontheIssues.com, he's described as "personally against abortion, but pro-choice as governor."
    That hardly sounds like support for a constitutional amendment. In fact, in an Op-Ed last year in the Boston Globe, his abortion position sounds like classic federalism:

    I understand that my views on laws governing abortion set me in the minority in our Commonwealth. I am prolife. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view. But while the nation remains so divided over abortion, I believe that the states, through the democratic process, should determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.

    Because Massachusetts is decidedly prochoice, I have respected the state's democratically held view. I have not attempted to impose my own views on the prochoice majority. (Emphasis added,)

    But if McCain says the same thing about same sex marriage, he's having it both ways?

    According to Wikipedia, Romney went along with legal abortion in 2002, but since the, his views have "evolved" and "changed."

    I try to be fair, and I think people have the right to change their mind, so I'll leave it to others to decide whether Romney's abortion position should be called a "flip-flop."

    But I don't think he's in the best position to attack McCain for having it both ways.

    MORE: Via Charles G. Hill, I see that it's no longer a three man race. Former Congressman Bob Dornan has thrown his hat into the ring, and he's running on an anti-adultery platform:

    "I can't stand the thought of my party having as its three front-runners three open adulterers, Newt Gingrich, Giuliani, and McCain," Dornan said.
    Is it "my" party too? Can I cry if I want to?

    posted by Eric at 10:03 AM | Comments (6)



    What would Freud say?

    Do suicidal Salafists suffer from sexual hangups? According to former Salafist Tawfik Hamid, they do. He thinks the West is in denial about this, and about the nature of the Salafist threat:

    "North Americans are too squeamish about discussing the obvious sexual dynamic behind suicide bombings. If they understood contemporary Islamic society, they would understand the sheer sexual tension of Sunni Muslim men. Look at the figures for suicide bombings and see how few are from the Shiite world. Terrorism and violence yes, but not suicide. The overwhelming majority are from Sunnis. Now within the Shiite world there are what is known as temporary marriages, lasting anywhere from an hour to 95 years. It enables men to release their sexual frustrations.

    "Islam condemns extra-marital sex as well as masturbation, which is also taught in the Christian tradition. But Islam also tells of unlimited sexual ecstasy in paradise with beautiful virgins for the martyr who gives his life for the faith. Don't for a moment underestimate this blinding passion or its influence on those who accept fundamentalism."

    A pause. "I know. I was one who accepted it."

    This partial explanation is shocking more for its banality than its horror. Mass murder provoked partly by simple lust. But it cannot be denied that letters written by suicide bombers frequently dwell on waiting virgins and sexual gratification.

    "The sexual aspect is, of course, just one part of this. But I can tell you what it is not about. Not about Israel, not about Iraq, not about Afghanistan. They are mere excuses. Algerian Muslim fundamentalists murdered 150,000 other Algerian Muslims, sometimes slitting the throats of children in front of their parents. Are you seriously telling me that this was because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians or American foreign policy?"

    He's exasperated now, visibly angry at what he sees as a willful Western foolishness. "Stop asking what you have done wrong. Stop it! They're slaughtering you like sheep and you still look within. You criticize your history, your institutions, your churches. Why can't you realize that it has nothing to do with what you have done but with what they want."

    Then he leaves -- for where, he cannot say. A voice that is silenced in its homeland and too often ignored by those who prefer convenient revision to disturbing truth. The tragedy is that Tawfik Hamid is almost used to it.

    (Via Darleen Click.)

    This raises interesting issues. I try not to be squeamish about discussing sexual dynamics in general, and I guess there must be a sexual component motivating people who would deliberately blow themselves up.

    Is it bigoted to wonder how many of them have emotionally satisfying sex lives?

    Might be something for those engaged in screening to ponder. I mean, if we can't profile the religious views of suicidal Salafists, what's left?

    The problem is, screeners have no training in psychiatry or psychology, much less in measuring sexual frustration levels, so I don't know how sexual frustration screening might be implemented.

    Hmm....

    I'm thinking that the cheapest way to do this might be to offer complementary copies of Playboy or Hustler to suspicious-looking passengers, then watch for reactions. Or maybe place flashing red "ADULT XXX" signs somewhere above the metal detectors, and watch for signs of agitation.

    But what do I know? This being a democracy and all, there should probably be a national debate.

    posted by Eric at 09:15 AM | Comments (5)



    The right to chant "Allahuakhbar!" on a crowded plane?

    This story reeks of the slimiest sort of identity politics:

    Six Muslim imams were removed from a US Airways flight at Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport on Monday and questioned by police for several hours before being released, a leader of the group said.

    The six were among passengers who boarded Flight 300, bound for Phoenix, around 6:30 p.m., airport spokesman Pat Hogan said.

    A passenger initially raised concerns about the group through a note passed to a flight attendant, according to Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways. She said police were called after the captain and airport security workers asked the men to leave the plane and the men refused.

    "They took us off the plane, humiliated us in a very disrespectful way," said Omar Shahin, of Phoenix.

    The six Muslim scholars were returning from a conference in Minneapolis of the North American Imams Federation, said Shahin, president of the group. Five of them were from the Phoenix-Tempe area, while one was from Bakersfield, Calif., he said.

    Three of them stood and said their normal evening prayers together on the plane, as 1.7 billion Muslims around the world do every day, Shahin said. He attributed any concerns by passengers or crew to ignorance about Islam.

    1.7 billion Muslims around the world feel the need to stand up and pray on planes?

    Nonsense.

    Even heard of time place and manner? There's no right to stand and pray on a plane, or do anything else on a plane in such a way as to upset passengers.

    The way CAIR is screaming about anti-Muslim bigotry is very suspicious, and I think this was probably a set up. A very despicable one at that.

    "I never felt bad in my life like that," he said. "I never. Six imams. Six leaders in this country. Six scholars in handcuffs. It's terrible."

    Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, expressed anger at the detentions.

    "CAIR will be filing a complaint with relevant authorities in the morning over the treatment of the imams to determine whether the incident was caused by anti-Muslim hysteria by the passengers and/or the airline crew," Hooper said. "Because, unfortunately, this is a growing problem of singling out Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims at airports, and it's one that we've been addressing for some time."

    Singling out Muslims? I'm sorry, but no one singled them out. When they stood on the plane in the middle of a flight, they singled themselves out.

    Hooper said the meeting drew about 150 imams from all over the country, and that those attending included U.S. Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minneapolis, who just became the first Muslim elected to Congress. Shahin said they went as far as notifying police and the FBI about their meeting in advance.
    Ah, politics.

    Democratic Party politics, perhaps?

    Who is this Omar Shahin, the leader of the crackpots who provoked passengers by standing in flight? According to this translation of the "Arab Voice," he's the head of a Muslim Democratic PAC in Arizona:

    Many leaders and community members of the Arabic community were invited to the Arkawi home including representatives from -- the multicultural business community, the press, al-Mehdi organization, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), the Arizona Islamic Political Action Committee, the Palestine committee, and a number of Arabs who belong to the Democratic party.

    [...]

    Mr. Omar Shahin, the representative for the Muslim Political Action Committee, in the name of his Committee, presented Pederson with its support. This committee is fairly new and was just started only just a few month ago and was started to impact the local elections and in order to meet with Democratic candidates. We should mention that this this committee presented support to candidates who are Democratic up until this time. Other Arabic organizations are also expected to enlighten and educate their representatives about the agenda of the candidates who are running for the local elections and about the proposed changes of Arizona's constitution (referenda).

    There's more. According to the analysis by the moderate American Forum for Islamic Democracy at the above, Omar Shahin epitomizes the politicized Islamist movement within the Democratic Party:
    A perception or an attempt to create one of a 'Muslim' voting bloc is the ultimate ideological weapon of the Islamist minority who wield their influence within the demagogy of political Islam. An empowered Islamist lobby propagates all the core maladies of political Islam which AIFD seeks to counter. The profound ideological danger of this toxic mixture of religion and politics in the Muslim community is the same regardless of party affiliations.

    The report is on the front page of this month's local Arab Voice distributed freely and unopposed to those in the Arabic and Muslim local community. Note this paper sits in or near the prayer areas of almost every local mosque, and is also ubiquitous in ethnic stores, and Islamic organizations locally. It remains astonishing that such a toxically partisan and controversial reporting disseminated under the guise of journalism is distributed without competition or balance in the community or any suggestion that the Arabic or Muslim community may not be as politically monolithic as this paper tries to imply. Most reports put out by this publisher, make a subtle but potent collectivist political assumption, as Islamists are want to do. Not only do they present political islam as the norm but their particular version of it as the only one- both are dangerous.

    They conveniently ignore the fact that the paper and the organizations still represent only a minority of local Arabs and Muslims.

    The core supposition of Islamists is that individuals who share a spiritual religion (of God and not of this world) would naturally share a political ideology (of this world) for a specific candidate or policy.

    Additionally, it should be noted that the newly formed Arizona Muslim Political Action Committee noted in this Arabic report and announced in this publishers previous Muslim Voice was fully represented at this fundraiser by none other than a local imam and also ubiquitous Muslim religious leader- Imam Omar Shahin.

    Imam Shahin also is known in the local religious community to be the head of the Valley's Imam Council, the Islamic teacher at a local Islamic parochial school, and also an imam of a local mosque. Yet, this same individual is reported here in Arabic to be also representing a Muslim PAC. One would be hard pressed to find non-Muslim examples of a single clergy who while having multiple congregations also speaks on behalf of religious PACs. Is there anything which typifies the toxic mixture and penetration of religion and politics more? By the way this imam also emceed the recent CAIR-AZ fundraiser.

    This report's association of a number of religious and civil rights organizations in the Arabic and Muslim community with a political candidate fundraiser should cause concern about the establishment of Islamism in local politics and its endemic mixture of islamism and politics. Note the defining issue (Middle East policy) which this report remarks on regarding this candidate's opponent. Thus, this lobby hijacks an entire religious community for its own focused policy interests and any other policy discussions are simply pandering.

    I think the situation is appalling, and I don't think it speaks well for the Democratic Party.

    Unless Democratic leaders distance themselves from these Islamist provocateurs, of course... If they do, I'll be sure to note it and update this post.

    I don't know whether "provocateur" is too strong a word to describe Shahin, but I think it's also worth noting that in 2001 he was quoted in the Arizona Republic as saying that his mosque "may have helped" bin Laden, and that the 9/11 terrorists were not Muslims:

    Omar Shahin of the Tucson Islamic Center said members of the Tucson mosque may have helped bin Laden in the early 1990s, when he was fighting against the Russians. But that was during the Cold War when U.S. intelligence agencies were encouraging support for bin Laden.

    "They (the CIA) called him a 'freedom fighter,'" Sahin said. "Then they tell us he is involved in terrorist acts, and they stopped supporting him, and we stopped."

    Shahin and Saadeddin expressed doubt that Muslims were responsible for the Sept. 11 attack. They also said they don't trust much of what the FBI has divulged - including the hijackers' identities.

    No doubt Shahin and his ilk believe that criticism of them is anti-Islamic, or "culturally insensitive."

    Sorry, but religion is not a license to act like a nut on a plane. If some crackpot Christian decided to stand up and pray and wave his arms in the air, I doubt anyone would take seriously a claim that it constituted "anti-Christian persecution" to stop him.

    I think this was deliberately provocative behavior by activists.

    I'm not surprised.

    MORE: This reminds me of the deliberately provocative behavior which was a topic in the blogosphere in 2004. At the time, I was reminded of my own experience on a flight, and my later speculation that the whole thing had been a setup.

    ANOTHER MEMORY FLASH: In 1975, I was a passenger on a bus in San Francisco, and another passenger, obviously agitated, stood up and yelled "JESUS CHRIST! ON THE CROSS! SAN FRANCISCO! 1975!" He was ejected, as he should have been. Religion is not a license to intimidate or frighten people. Passengers have a duty to other passengers to behave themselves.

    I don't believe there should be an exception for kooks, provocateurs, or even Democratic PAC activists.

    Where does anyone get the idea that it's OK to act like an asshole on a plane?

    Or am I wrong? Is there some new rule that politically-connected "Muslims" have more right to disturb passengers than anyone else? If there is, identity politics has been carried too far.

    MORE: Last year there was another incident which struck me as deliberately provocative praying at a football stadium in which George H. W. Bush was a spectator.

    Hope it isn't a trend.

    UPDATE: According to ScrappleFace, the airlines have reached an accomodation with Muslims who want to chant public prayers on planes:

    "From now on, we devote our former first class sections to the use of our faithful, peaceful Muslim customers," said an unnamed airline industry spokesman. "Most of the time, when a group of Muslim men suddenly stands up on an airplane chanting 'Allahu Akbar', they're simply praying. Although the memories of 9/11 are still fresh in the minds of many Americans, if we're going to heal those wounds, we need to move beyond religious intolerance."

    Flight attendants will alter their safety instructions to inform passengers that "seat cushions can be used as prayer mats," and pilots will make every effort to point planes toward Mecca five times each day.

    The industry source added, "We ask our devoted Muslim customers only to remember that all domestic flights are non-smoking, and we'd like to keep them that way."

    Phew.

    Glad the matter has been settled!

    UPDATE (11/22/06): While Shahin and his group have announced a boycott, the Philadelphia Inquirer's report has additional information about other suspicious circumstances:

    Witnesses said the men had prayed in the terminal and made critical comments about the Iraq war, according to the police report, and a US Airways manager said three of the men had only one-way tickets and no checked baggage.

    An airport police officer and a federal air marshal agreed that the combination of circumstances was suspicious, and eventually asked the men to leave the plane, the police report said.

    "There were a number of things that gave the flight crew pause," airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.

    I think US Airways did the right thing, and quite frankly, I feel more confident about flying.

    UPDATE (12/03/06): Richard Miniter (via Glenn Reynolds) has very convincing proof these "flying imams" were agents provocateur who acted like terrorists. Not only did they deliberately frighten passengers and crew, but they lied about being handcuffed. I guess my speculations proved right.

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




    Lazy Thanksgiving RINO Carnival

    Be sure not to miss this week's Thanksgiving RINOs Carnival. It's hosted by Jim K at Right Wing Thoughts, who's quite funny despite feeling lazy. Lots of Thanksgiving humor, but not one of the posts is a turkey.

    A few favorites:

  • Bill at INDC is going to be an embedded reporter in Iraq. We need more like him and he needs support, so go click on his paypal link and send him some money.
  • Dan Melson thinks the "right" to health care violates the Fifth Amendment if it requires others to supply health care without just compensation. Good point.
  • Don Surber fisks Michael Moore, who's always in need.
  • And host Jim has a very amusing post about Battlestar Galactica -- and for me to be amused it has to be good, for I don't watch BSG!
  • They're all good, down to the last bits of trimmings and stuffing.

    posted by Eric at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)



    "If you've got nothing to be guilty about, you should have no problem"

    One of my longtime concerns has always been what to do if a SWAT team arrives because of a bureaucratic mistake, kicks in my door and shoots Coco for trying to defend me. (Yes, police shoot dogs for precisely that.) I like to think this is a remote possibility, but then, I didn't think it was too likely (back in the 1980s) that police would arrive at my workplace to serve a wholly mistaken arrrest warrant on me for a felony committed in Texas where I'd never been. (On another occasion I was mistaken for an SLA bank robber, and guns were held to my head when my goal was only to attend a class.)

    But as if it wasn't enough to worry about bureaucratic mistakes by SWAT teams, now (from Radley Balko via InstaPundit) I see I have to factor in the possibility of fake SWAT Teams:

    Rodger Macek thought something was wrong with the wood-burning stove in the basement of his Penn Hills home when he heard a loud bang about 5:30 a.m. Monday.
    Yet when the Beechford Road man came downstairs to investigate, he was met by four armed men dressed in dark clothing. Two of the men wore jackets with the word "police" in large letters across the front.

    "I knew it wasn't the cops because they don't bust through your door wearing ski masks," said Macek, 47.

    One of the intruders ordered him to the kitchen floor, put a gun to Macek's head and demanded to know where the money and drugs were hidden.

    Holding a gun to your head and demanding money and drugs? Why, that's very similar to what the real SWAT Teams do, except that instead of calling money and drugs "loot," the latter call it "evidence."

    While the innocent homeowner might find it tough to discern whether such raids are real emergencies or phony SWAT Teams, the raid victims in this case apparently weren't armed, so they did what the ruling bureaucratic caste would have us all do -- they called 911:

    In the moments before the gunmen went upstairs, Macek's girlfriend, who was in a bedroom, called 911 but dropped the telephone receiver before the men entered the room.

    The woman, 43, who declined to give her name, said she was tied up, ordered to the floor at gunpoint and asked where money and drugs were hidden. Investigators confirmed her account.

    The live telephone line allowed emergency dispatchers to hear what was happening at the house, located along a secluded road behind B'Nai Israel Cemetery.

    "The dispatcher heard the suspects screaming at the woman about money and drugs and the woman repeatedly saying she didn't have anything," said Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton. "It appears that the robbers may have targeted the wrong house."

    Oh well. Sometimes robbers target the wrong house, and sometimes police target the wrong house.

    I wonder whether the dispatchers always know the difference; when I was a Police Review Commissioner in Berkeley I learned that special investigative units did not want to share raid information with dispatchers, because the latter were civilians and often made lots of extra money tipping off drug dealers about impending raids. Drove the cops crazy.

    If this latest outrage isn't an argument for immediately halting the use of SWAT teams in routine law enforcement, I don't know what is.

    How the hell is a homeowner to know when and whether self defense is allowed? In theory, there is a right to use armed self defense against home invasions. If there is no way to know whether the invaders are real police or not, I'd say that the homeowner is justified in shooting. The problem is that in real life, police officers don't take kindly to being fired upon by homeowners. They're likely to be even more dangerous and more heavily armed than the criminals. They'll call for backup, and more backup, and in most cases, they will win.

    It's a horrific mess, and as a practical matter, there's no accountability for police mistakes, especially if you're dead. (I discussed this last December.)

    If society cannot rid itself of the plague posed by SWAT Teams, they ought to at least get rid of immunity for SWAT Team misconduct. I agree with what Glenn Reynolds said last year:

    When you break down people's doors and charge in unannounced, you do so at your own risk, cop or not.
    Unfortunately, there's a collusion of forces which tends to line up against the idea of anything being at anyone's "own risk," against citizens' right to be armed, and against self defense in general. They want people to be defenseless, frightened out of their wits, and they want calling 911 as the only available option. If citizens are afraid of the police, so much the better. Better an occasional mistake by police than a return to the days of the "Wild West."

    People who claim to be against crime when they're really against guns don't want to lock up criminals. Instead, they advocate policies such as stopping and frisking everyone:

    As Philadelphia grapples with a spike in homicides that makes some neighborhoods feel like killing fields, police, politicians, community leaders and criminologists are looking at tactics used in other cities to confiscate illegal guns. Those tactics include dedicated task forces, and more use of the technique known as "stop-and-frisk."

    Across the city to the south, in Kingsessing, another homicide hot spot, video-shop clerk Marcus Kane, 22, chuckled knowingly when asked about the prevalence of gunfire.

    "It's like rain - happens once a week," Kane said, speaking inside the Woodland Avenue shop just a block from the stretch of 60th Street where four people have been killed in drive-by and retaliation shootings since April.

    Kane said he'd favor stop-and-frisk even if it meant law-abiding citizens sometimes had to put up with a few questions from police.

    "If you've got nothing to be guilty about, you should have no problem. I would put up with that level of inconvenience to make the neighborhood safer," he said.

    "This is not something crafted out of thin air. We've seen some of these tactics utilized in other places," said former City Councilman Michael A. Nutter, now a candidate for mayor and a proponent of stop-and-frisk.

    The analogy, Nutter said, is to post-9/11 air travelers' putting up with more security restrictions.

    This "security" mentality worries me, and I've commented on it before:
    I worry that public fear might be working in collusion with powerful bureaucratic forces, towards an ultimate goal of a gigantic, society-wide safety "lockdown." The more accustomed we are to having airport-style security measures everywhere, the more likely that the tentacles could extend from nearly every school into nearly every home. I'm sure it's just paranoia to think in terms of jettisoning our freedom in favor of a national security society.
    From "stop and frisk" advocacy to advocacy of house to house searches requires little more than recitation of the same innocent-have-nothing-to-hide line:
    "If you've got nothing to be guilty about, you should have no problem. I would put up with that level of inconvenience to make the neighborhood safer."
    Safety is the weasel word here. If we return to my hypothetical and assume a SWAT Team executed a search warrant at my address because of a typo, they'd probably shoot Coco for their own protection. Assume it was dark outside and I stumbled downstairs with a gun. Either I get off a shot or they see the gun and shoot me first. Were my corpse later to become a "public policy" argument, whether I was the criminal they were looking for would only be a secondary factor. The usual suspects would say I was at fault anyway. I "shouldn't have had" a dog like that. I "shouldn't have had" a gun.

    What's the matter with me, anyway? Isn't 911 good enough for me? Don't I care about a safer world?

    UPDATE (11/22/06): Now I read that a 92 year old woman has been shot and killed during one of these insane raids. I don't know whether this was a "SWAT Team" or a bunch of "undercover" (read "unidentifiable") officers, but there are more and more situations like this, and it does not bode well. I agree with Glenn's commenter Tamara K, who argues the police should be held to a civilized level of behavior, and who concludes,

    ....when officers in a neighborhood full of brigands dress up like brigands and act like brigands, there should be no shock when citizens like Ms. Johnston respond to their actions as though they were brigands.

    How many more Kathryn Johnstons must we kill before we start talking about an exit strategy in the War On Drugs?

    How many? I hate to say this, but it might depend on where the Kathryn Johnstons live, and what color they are.

    Why is this being spun more as a civil rights issue than as a human rights issue?

    MIght that be because black people are seen as chess pieces in a game of identity politics, while white people are seen as neutral, and therefore simply human?

    Forgive my cynicism; I don't write these rules.

    posted by Eric at 10:07 AM | Comments (3)



    Bending principles to fit the needs of the game

    All politics is local and all principles mutable.

    Most big cities are run by Democratic politicians whose decisions are driven by activists on city commissions, and if you're trying to analyze what they do in the context of principles or logic, you'll either go crazy or (in my case) write long and useless blog posts in the hope of making sense out of deliberately contrived nonsense.

    That's my initial reaction to the so-called "principle" often called "historic preservation."

    This isn't meant to be a tale of two cities, but considering my many years of experience with both of them, it's hard for me to ignore the different ways Philadelphia and San Francisco grapple with their respective pasts. Both cities have "historic perservation" ordinances, which are normally thought of as relating to architectural heritage. The idea is somewhat analogous to saving an endangered species, and in fairness, there's nothing irrational about saving the Bald Eagle or American Alligator on the one hand, or Independence Hall or the house where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence on the other.

    Two events happened recently which upset residents of both cities, as well as citizens all over the country. In Philadelphia, the trustees of Thomas Jefferson Hospital decided to sell the most famous masterpiece by Philadelphia's most famous artist -- Thomas Eakins' "The Gross Clinic." Many people were outraged, and private charities and groups have been trying to raise the money the hospital needs to buy the painting and keep it here. I couldn't agree more with Callimachus at Done with Mirrors that its proper home is in Philadelphia and that "to simply have it spirited away to the Ozarks on the whim of inherited millions is criminal."

    However, now the Philadelphia city government has stepped in, and Mayor Street wants the painting declared historic under the city ordinance, so that it cannot be removed:

    Mayor Street has nominated Thomas Eakins' masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, for protection under the city's historic preservation ordinance, noting the painting's deep historical and cultural resonance throughout Philadelphia, city officials said yesterday.

    Designation as a "historic object," a rarely used category of the preservation code, would prevent the painting from being altered or moved without the express approval of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. Its proposed sale by Thomas Jefferson University for $68 million ignited a burgeoning controversy.

    The first such designation blocked the removal of Dream Garden, a shimmering mosaic in the old Curtis Publishing building, which its owners sought to sell in 1998.

    Stephanie Naidoff, city commerce director, said Street sent a letter to commission members on Friday requesting the designation for The Gross Clinic because he believes the painting is "a real treasure of Philadelphia."

    "It's an icon of world art, but it is especially connected to Philadelphia, which has always been preeminent in medicine, and Dr. Gross was preeminent in his day," said Naidoff, referring to the surgeon at the center of the monumental canvas. "That's why the mayor requested this."

    Samuel D. Gross was a renowned surgeon and educator at the university. But on Nov. 10, the university said it would sell the painting it has owned since 1878 to a partnership of an unbuilt Arkansas museum backed by Wal-Mart heirs and the National Gallery of Art. The price was a record $68 million, Jefferson officials said, arguing that the money would be best spent furthering the university's expansion and educational plans.

    Local institutions have been given until Dec. 26 to match the $68 million to keep the painting here.

    Yet when the Philadelphia Zoo decided to get rid of its elephant exhibit (which had been a feature of the zoo since the 19th Century), there was no such resort to historic preservation.

    And I wonder whether Mayor Street knows that Dr. Gross, the subject of the painting, experimented upon animals. (Has the citizen's Humane Commission weighed in on this very urgent subject? Has a political background check been conducted to determine whether Dr. Gross -- who taught at the Louisville Medical Institute from 1840 to 1856 -- might have ever employed or received money derived from slave labor? No idle question, for Lousville was home to "one of the largest slave trades in the United States.")

    San Francisco is recently in the news for the decision of its school board to eliminate JROTC from the public schools. Never mind that it's been there for over 90 years, that San Francisco was saved by the military after the '06 Quake, was the home of the bases at Presidio and Treasure Island, and had a major street named "Army Street." In 1995, despite widespread popular opposition, the Supervisors decided to make the name "Army Street" disappear. And last year, they refused to allow a historic USS Iowa to dock in San Francisco, prompting one writer to speculate about the fate of the city's other other military-related historical icons:

    San Francisco's attitude toward the military is evident in other areas as well. A group that calls itself the Bay Area Peace Navy has been on a quest to rid the city of Fleet Week and the spectacular, albeit loud, air shows of the Blue Angels. So far they've been unsuccessful, but give it time.

    The relatively paltry funding for San Francisco's Veterans Day Parade and Memorial commemoration also speaks volumes about where the city's priorities lie. When the Board of Supervisors renamed Army Street "Cesar Chavez Street" in 1995, it was yet another not-so-subtle jab at the military.

    If the city truly wanted to rid itself of military symbols, it would have to dig up the graves at the San Francisco National Cemetery and raze all other evidence of the military's presence at the Presidio (including extensive Buffalo Soldier sites), pave over Crissy Field, bulldoze the War Memorial complex on Van Ness Avenue and knock down the Lone Sailor statue at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Since San Francisco has a long and rich military history, there certainly wouldn't be any shortage of monuments to destroy.

    So much for historic preservation, and so much for the "principle" of respecting the past.

    When local politics is brought to bear, there are no rules or principles that I can identify with any certainty. What seems to happen is that gut feelings come first, and rules (and what we call "principles") are used to advance or justify what some people want, or as arguments against what others oppose.

    Politics is a game which if you take too seriously, you lose. The catch seems to be that if you don't take it seriously enough, you also lose.

    In politics, it's not taking rules and principles seriously that's important. It's the appearance of taking rules and principles seriously.

    Whether that's "hypocrisy" depends on which side you're on any given issue at any given time.

    (Whether any of this is "cynical" depends on the nature of things like ultimate truth, which I'm cynical enough to admit cannot be settled in a blog post.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I don't mean to sound overly dark, but often I don't know whether true hypocrisy exists, much less whether I should take hypocrisy seriously. I like to think that I am very tolerant of hypocrisy and hypocrites whether they truly exist or not. Yet, there's a side of me that's uneasy about being ruled by them....

    posted by Eric at 07:29 AM | Comments (0)




    Life in the reality based world

    Walking around the neighborhood earlier, Coco and I were both startled to see that an older Volvo had apparently accomplished a mythological task, as you can see in the bumper sticker:

    mticculus.jpg

    Alas! No Mt Icculus for us! We returned home and were forced to content ourselves with a more mundane activity:

    cocofetching1.jpg

    I was experimenting with my camera's "scene assist" sports lens setting when I took the above. Coco runs extremely fast, and with the camera's "automatic" setting there'd just be a blur.

    I love the camera (a Nikon Coolpix 7900), but I don't think it's versatile enough to photograph Mt Icculus.

    (Not that I wouldn't enjoy a mythological setting....)

    UPDATE: Readers interested in reading more about my Nikon Coolpix might enjoy my submission to last year's Digital Camera Carnival, in which I discussed the macro feature, which I absolutely love.

    To illustrate what it can do with a tiny, tiny bug, here's a recent macro shot of a red velvet mite:

    redaphid.jpg

    And, much as I'd like to write a glowing "review" about my old Toshiba PDR-M700 (still a great camera, and I still post pictures from it regularly), Glenn has covered that camera in detail, and it's no longer for sale. (Conventional "reviews" are supposed to feature available technology, I think... Although maybe someone will eventually have an Antique Digital Camera Carnival.)

    UPDATE: Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds, not only for including this post in the Carnival, but for the very kind words. ("Stylish yet competent" certainly describe the camera, and Coco. But I'm blushing.)

    posted by Eric at 01:04 PM | Comments (2)



    Help! I am a victim of Borat!

    I hate colds, and the one I had a couple of weeks ago has been aggravated by a sinus infection plus what should fairly be called post-election blog burnout. Fortunately, the sinus infection has a limited life, and it is starting to clear up. I'm confident that the post-election syndrome will also fade without my having to take antibiotics.

    Still, I had hoped to be writing a review of Borat this morning, because last night I went out in good faith in an attempt to see it. But because there were so many mindless zombies infuriatingly doing the same thing that I wanted to do, I was unable to see the film. I feel duped by this experience. And victimized.

    These mindless zombies (all of whom were duped into seeing a fraudulent film) completely ruined the film for me by buying all the tickets!

    So damnably, despicably unfair of them! And I blame Borat, the phony company that made it, and the exploitation of everyone from frat boys to feminists.

    Those, those, mindless hordes of people, why, they just go to these films because it's the thing to do, and it's maddening that they've been duped into going, although I should remember that they have no idea why they're going to the film!

    I, on the other hand write a blog! Not only that, it's a misunderstood satire blog which sometimes dupes readers into thinking it's serious! And Borat a misunderstood satire film which has duped almost everyone.

    Which means that I have more of a moral right to see the film than the mindless hordes of dupes who stood in my way!

    However, I was very polite. I did not yell at the pathetic victims who prevented me from doing what I had more of a moral right to do than they had; I just got in my car and drove to the video rental store, where I rented a film I've already seen at least twenty times. (Yes, like Howard Hughes I watch favorite films over and over again and I'll probably die watching an umpteenth rerun. If you already know it's a good film, you can't go wrong.)

    But I am not going to review an umpteenth rerun of a film I've been watching since childhood. That would be the ultimate "spoiler." Instead, I should review Borat.

    I always enjoy reviewing movies before I've seen them, and for the reasons I have explained I have more of a moral right to review the film than any of the people who prevented me from seeing it.

    At the outset, I note that some of the people who were duped into appearing in Borat are suing, despite the fact that they signed releases:

    The filmmaker duped them, they charge. They signed a waiver, they allege, offered under the pretext that the movie was a documentary that would only be shown outside of the U.S.

    As Borat might put it: Will Baron Cohen and 20th Century Fox, the film's studio, have to swallow crow of lawsuit?

    The big question: How much weight do consent forms really carry?

    Not enough, the lawyer for two "Borat"-ized fraternity brothers intends to prove.

    The South Carolina University students are suing 20th Century Fox and three production companies, their lawsuit claiming that the drunken, misogynistic and racist comments they made in the film were taken out of context and that crew members plied them with drinks before they signed any forms.

    Studio spokesman Gregg Brilliant would not release a copy of the consent agreement this week to The Associated Press. He maintained that the "lawsuit has no merit," and said the waiver was going to be filed in court Monday as part of the ongoing lawsuit.

    I think the producers should argue that whatever they might have been told verbally was part of the satire, and that the language in the contract is what controls. The contract had a standard provision against admission of what is called "parole evidence," as do many contracts, and in general such contracts survive legal attack, because otherwise there'd be a floodgate of litigation by people claiming that they were told something else orally.

    Nonetheless, they're suing:

    "Generally these releases will hold up in court unless the person suing can prove that he signed the agreement under false pretenses or while incapacitated," said entertainment attorney Aaron Moss, who works for top L.A. law firm Greenberg Glusker. "Even if a participant was lied to, a court may find that the person should have read the contract and that if he didn't, it's essentially his own fault."

    "It's a legal doctrine that says the contract supersedes the oral representation relayed," he explained.

    Moss and longtime entertainment attorney Kevin Leichter -- who has represented celebrities as well as major studios such as Warner Bros. -- agree that they were not aware of any cases in which a consent form was deemed invalid. Generalized terminology strengthens these contracts, they said.

    Lawsuits challenging such forms, Leichter said, "are not all that common. I think the reason is a well drafted consent form is a serious barrier to a lawsuit claiming lack of consent."

    And they're claiming they were never given copies of the form.

    What seems to be going on is that the people who signed these forms behaved in a foolish manner on camera. I suspect that some of them made statements which appear racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic, and now they regret them, and may see the film as a sort of career-killer. Years ago, a good friend played a despicable person in a cult film, and years later it caused him career problems. But he never sued the film maker; instead he laughed it off. These litigants are calling attention to their own stupidity, and by suing, they only fuel the perception that they really are the morons they appear to be in the film. They'd do better to claim (however lame it may appear), that they "knew all along" that the film was satire, and that they "went along with the joke."

    As to the claim by the "frat boys" that they thought they were appearing in a documentary which would be shown only in Kazakhstan, I have read the contract (which appears here as a pdf file), and it says nothing about that. While their attorneys are claiming it's "fraud in the inducement," at the top of contract is the logo of "One America Procuctions" -- a map of the United States -- at the bottom appears the company's Los Angeles address and phone number, while the final paragraph states the contract will be governed by the law of New York! Anyone who is not a complete idiot knows that in this electronic age there's no way to keep a thing like a film confined within a single country. These kids are smart enough to be admitted to college, and I think their claim simply lacks credibility. Plus, they were paid.

    But morons abound. I notice also that some humorless types think that morons will be unable to understand the film's satirical nature, and that they might think this Jewish actor's ridiculous anti-Semitic diatribes are serious. There's no way to protect people that stupid from themselves. They should not be allowed outside, and if any of them were in last night's audience, they committed a personal injustice against me.

    I'm at least as much a victim as they are, and I should sue too. I mean, I never signed anything, and I wasn't told that the film might be sold out.

    The funniest part of the satire is that a group of New York feminists took it seriously, and the BBC is playing right along by calling them "victims":

    "I thought I was talking to an uneducated man, maybe from a tribal community," Ms Stein says. "I mean, that's how it seemed to me.

    "In our earnestness, we were trying to help women around the world."

    Shocking and provocative

    Ms Stein is not alone in being duped by Baron Cohen.

    The British comedian has perfected his act as the apparently naive reporter whose enthusiastic offensiveness either leaves his interviewees in shock or persuades them to reveal a little too much of their own prejudices.

    And the result is set to be one of the year's most popular films.

    Oh my God! It's popular! And what about the victims? They were "ensnared":
    Most of Borat's victims were ensnared in a similar way. They would be contacted by a woman calling herself Chelsea Barnard from a fictional film company, One America Productions.

    They would be told about the foreign correspondent making a film about life in the US, with the pitch tailored to each person's specialist subject.

    Then on the day of the interview, they would be presented with a release form at the last minute, be paid in cash and, finally, Borat would amble in, beginning with some serious subjects before starting his provocative routine.

    "We're all primed to do an academic dissertation, we did our homework," says yoga teacher Grace Welch, another member of the three-strong feminist panel.

    "And as we're talking, out of the blue, he says: 'Do you know Baywatch?'

    "I knew something was going on but I didn't know what it was. I'm looking at the cameramen and everyone was stony-faced. And then he would come out with outrageous things."

    Ms Stein first tried to throw Borat out when he started talking about women having smaller brains than men.

    The producer persuaded her to carry on, apologetically explaining that Borat did not realise he was saying anything wrong.

    But the final straw came when Borat asked the women to lift up their shirts at the end of the interview.

    I love it when life imitates satire.

    Elsewhere, the feminist explains in detail how she was "duped." And she also complains that she's just as strong as Borat, but this never made it into the film!

    Inspired segments of Borat and me were cut. At one point, Borat declared that men are stronger than women and held up two chairs to prove it. I did, too -- although I'm only half his size, I'm used to working with bronze and hefty sculpting materials, so his pecs didn't hold up his thesis. But, clearly, he will only show segments that make the "figures" in his art -- his interviewees -- look foolish, so that he looks superior.

    My art confronts fears and overcomes them with symbols of empowerment. I don't know what motivates Borat/Cohen to use his considerable talents to deceive and manipulate: maybe it's his way of gaining power over the childhood sting of religious animosity or the feelings of inferiority from a woman's beating him at Scrabble. I only know that afterward, I am left feeling confused and sad.

    Finally! Now I know what the movie's really about. But you know, it was plenty humiliating last night to get beaten by all those hordes of victims standing in the ticket line so that I couldn't see the film.

    Seriously, I would rather have been beaten -- and even beaten badly -- by women at Scrabble.

    While I am a victim, in the larger scheme of things, aren't all the parties victims? Weren't the producers of Borat also duped by their victims, who failed to disclose that despite their pretensions at being funny, they had intended to be very serious?

    And despite their pretensions at being serious, aren't they still duping the producers by refusing to disclose the fact that they are in reality very funny?

    I'll close with the paradox of the lesbian feminist joke:

    Q. How many feminist lesbians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A. That's not funny!

    But as a lesbian in Berkeley told me years ago when I told her this joke, it really isn't funny!

    So don't just sit there laughing.

    Go out and sue!


    AFTERTHOUGHT: Is there any moral lesson here? Clearly, some people do not appreciate it when other people think they are funny when they are actually being serious. Some people are more sensitive about these things than others, but that does not translate into legal liability. So far as I know, there's no right to be taken seriously. People who would have the world take them seriously should probably not allow themselves to be interviewed by goofy looking people and then sign releases. I think these lawsuits only add to the humor. It's been axiomatic since at least the days of Candid Camera that people who don't know they're being funny are often the funniest of all.

    MORE: The New York Post's Andrea Peyser has more about the angry feminist Linda Stein, plus pictures of the artist shaking her fist! And the artist's web site lists all her Borat-related appearances.

    Can we have a respectful moment of silence in honor of Warhol?

    UPDATE: I finally saw Borat at a Sunday matinee. Not only is it hilarious, but I'm finding it a little tougher to believe that the people claiming they were duped actually were. I'm thinking they must have been in on the joke. (Pamela Anderson was even though she won't publicly admit it.)

    MORE: Megan McArdle chose not to see Borat, as she doesn't like "any form of entertainment that uses gullible people as props." It's a long and thoughtful post which drew many thoughtful comments. Here's mine:

    Good post, and while I understand the concerns, I saw and liked Borat.

    The film made fun of nearly everyone, and Baron Cohen (whom I'd never seen nor heard of before the film) reminds me of Howard Stern and Candid Camera. I always loved Howard Stern and I enjoyed the film, although I felt sorry for the people at the dinner. I try to be polite to everyone, avoid ad hominem attacks and always use logic and reason, and while I would never treat people as Cohen treated them, I laughed and laughed. Which means I'm probably a hypocrite or have a double standard or something, or I don't care enough to honor my principles. I guess I'm inconsistent, but then, this was humor, broadly applied.

    Honestly, I think this country is losing its sense of humor, and I have a lot of trouble seeing people who signed releases as victims. (Especially the feminist artist who lists her Borat role and her TV appearances complaining about it at the same web site where she promotes her art.)

    Maybe I liked the film because I'm too polite, and thus in need of comic relief.

    Christopher Hitchens gives the film a mixed review. He thinks the use of feces is a cheapshot, and concludes that Americans are too polite:

    ....it's that attitude of painfully maintained open-mindedness and multiculturalism that is really being unmasked and satirized by our man from the 'stan. In what other country could such a character talk his way into being invited to sing the national anthem at a rodeo--where the horse urine is not so highly prized, and where horse excrement, and indeed all excrement, is still a term of abuse?

    MORE: Romanian villagers employed as extras are also suing, on the grounds that they were told the film would depict them differently.

    For a comedy, this film sure is being taken pretty seriously.

    posted by Eric at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)




    Aiding and abetting the dark side

    What is "promotion"?

    Is it possible to promote something by attacking it?

    While this is not a new question for me, I was reminded of it yesterday when I learned of WorldNetDaily's attack on a book ostensibly written for the purpose of sex education which (claims WND) is a sexually explicit diatribe aimed at converting little girls into lesbian behavior. In a story headlined "Wal-Mart promotes book calling God 'fat black dyke'," the sinister Wal-Mart (previously targeted for a host of homo-loving behavior) is accused of "promoting" the evil book. This "promotion" consisted of the appearance of the book at Wal-Mart's website:

    A book that family organizations in Canada had warned about just weeks ago found its way into the Wal-Mart stock list, and while it calls God a "fat black dyke" and provides how-to information for same-sex experimentation, the store said it's the "stuff youth need to know."

    It's called "The Little Black Book for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality", produced by St. Stephens' Community House in Toronto, an organization that has fled its Christian foundation.

    WND notes that "since the publishing of WND's story at 1 a.m." yesterday, "Wal-Mart has removed the book from its website." I don't know whether the listing process is computer-generated, but obviously, the beleaguered Wal-Mart did not want to be accused of promoting fat black lesbian gods, and pulled the book from its web site.

    That, however, did not stop the evil book from being listed at Amazon.com, where in front of my eyes I saw its sales ranking position rise dramatically, from #33,294 to #23,369 in two hours after which I saw yesterday's WND piece, to this morning's #11,706. Earlier yesterday, Amazon''s listing claimed "Only 1 left in stock--order soon (more on the way)," but now they have plenty: "In Stock. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com."

    The irony fascinates me, and I'm reminded of Anita Bryant putting gay rights on the cover of Newsweek in the 1970s and Jerry Falwell selling lurid videos filmed at Gay Pride events. All moral issues aside, I think people are titillated by such things, and they are a good way to get attention and bring traffic.

    The problem for the attackers is that they bring attention and traffic to the people attacked. If I wrote a book and it wasn't selling, I'd be tickled pink to see WND attack it. With any luck, that might lead to bigger, more organized attacks -- the AFA, the FRC could chime in, and then maybe some angry television personalities.

    This phenomenon of profiting from attacks is well known in the blogosphere -- something any unknown blogger lucky enough to be attacked by a big blogger knows. (That's why most big bloggers would ignore attacks by little bloggers, but few little bloggers would ignore attacks from big bloggers. Threats of litigation by the big against the little are even better.)

    Whether such attacks actually combat the evil complained of is certainly open to question. Sure, there's no denying that people are shocked, for the time being. But what's shocking today might not be shocking tomorrow.

    Then there are George Lakoff's "framing" observations. While I disagree with Lakoff's political philosophy, some of what he says about the framing mechanism applies here:

    It is, of course, a directive that cannot be carried out -- and that is the point. In order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. There are four morals.

    Moral 1. Every word evokes a frame.

    A frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking. The word elephant evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs, and so on.

    Moral 2: Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.

    The word trunk, as in the sentence "Sam picked up the peanut with his trunk," evokes the Elephant frame and suggests that "Sam" is the name of an elephant.

    Moral 3: Negating a frame evokes the frame.

    Moral 4: Evoking a frame reinforces that frame.

    Every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it is strengthened.
    (Bold in original.)

    The reason I hate to admit that Lakoff is right is that as a libertarian and as an individualist it deeply disturbs me to concede that there are so many unthinking people in this world. To Lakoff, of course, the fact that they are driven by processes that are not logical at all means only that his side must come up with equally powerful (and equally illogical) "frames."

    This might come down to the human need for emotional satisfaction. (Something I've discussed as the entertainment factor in the Ann Coulter context.)

    Finding out what people want to believe and then appealing to whatever that is seems to be the most important thing. Whether it's WND, Lakoff, Coulter, or the responsible shapers of public opinion we'd never call demagogues, in my darker moments I'm tempted to worry about whether some humans simply want to be led.

    If I had any inclination to "lead," my dark side would be enough to make a communitarian out of me.

    (Now there's a dark thought.)

    posted by Eric at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)




    Female centaur victim of false labeling?

    I just scanned my woodblock print of Salvador Dali's depiction of Dante's Inferno, Canto 12.

    daliMinotauress.jpg

    Commonly known to scholars and galleries as "The Minotaur," some revisionism is needed, because as anyone with a minimal knowledge of mythology can see, the image clearly shows a centaur -- and a female centaur at that. There's a male archer too who appears to have just shot an arrow, and while his involvement with the centaur is not exactly clear, she seems to be looking at him. In the background, another centaur holds a spear.

    Here's the relevant text of Canto 12

    And between this and the embankment's foot
    Centaurs in file were running, armed with arrows,
    As in the world they used the chase to follow.

    Beholding us descend, each one stood still,
    And from the squadron three detached themselves,
    With bows and arrows in advance selected;

    And from afar one cried: "Unto what torment
    Come ye, who down the hillside are descending?
    Tell us from there; if not, I draw the bow."

    My Master said: "Our answer will we make
    To Chiron, near you there; in evil hour,
    That will of thine was evermore so hasty."

    Then touched he me, and said: "This one is Nessus,
    Who perished for the lovely Dejanira,
    And for himself, himself did vengeance take.

    And he in the midst, who at his breast is gazing,
    Is the great Chiron, who brought up Achilles;
    That other Pholus is, who was so wrathful.

    Thousands and thousands go about the moat
    Shooting with shafts whatever soul emerges
    Out of the blood, more than his crime allots."

    As to the artist's own view, he seems to have been inspired by reading the text of Dante to come up with the images, but once he did the paintings he moved on to other things, leaving the publisher to come up with names.

    So collectors are stuck calling this poor girl "the Minotaur."

    MORE: The Minotaur has a man's body and a bull's head, and there is no such thing as a female bull, so unless Dali was anticipating postmodernist interpretation, I don't think the above can possibly be construed as a female Minotaur.

    posted by Eric at 08:42 PM | Comments (3)



    In the interest of the fullest possible disclosure

    Dr. Helen Smith links to a highly sophisticated psychological profiling test which she characterizes seductively as "another stupid quiz."

    While the judgment of anyone submitting to such state-of-the-art psychological profiling online might be open to question, the fact is, my voyeuristic side has always enjoyed taking online tests of any kind, so I fell for the ruse without any hesitation.

    The way I see it, the more my readers know about me, the better.

    So here it is, my unvarnished truth:


    Which South Park kid are you most like?

    Stan

    You're pretty normal. Infact you're usually the sane voice of reason when everyone else is going crazy.

    Personality Test Results

    Click Here to Take This Quiz
    Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.

    Hah!

    Fooled the experts again!

    (Little do they know....)

    posted by Eric at 03:06 PM | Comments (5)



    Depicting propaganda as it might as well have been

    While I have a bit of a problem with what seems to be a central premise of the film, I very much enjoyed Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers." A lot of people are saying it's intended to be an anti-war film about Iraq, but I just didn't get that message. The horrendous battle scenes are very disturbing, but I'd question the judgment of anyone who'd see it and maintain that the battle of Iwo Jima was not worth the sacrifice. Even the film concedes that many lives were saved by having a usable airfield so close to the Japanese mainland.

    The Iraq tie-in appears to involve lying for propaganda purposes. But this argument assumes we should be morally indignant over the fact that the U.S. government in World War II lied about the identities of the soldiers who were actually in the picture. Does anyone really care? The picture became a symbol, and a very talented photographer was lucky enough to be there just when they were raising the flag for a second time (the first one was ordered removed because some grandstanding politician wanted it). Half the guys in the picture subsequently died, and while the act of raising the flag might not have been particularly "heroic," the picture came to symbolize heroism, and the survivors were recruited to sell war bonds, and basically employed for that purpose. They told white lies about who was in the picture to best fit the national mood and the families of the men who later died. So what?

    If anyone can tell me what is wrong with employing such propaganda to sell war bonds at a crucial moment in a war, I'm all ears.

    But I suppose someone will complain that it was an indictment of Bush's Thanksgiving turkey or something.

    Uh-oh.

    I spoke too soon. It turns out that someone has:

    Reading Stephanie Zacharek's review of a film made around the iconic photograph of six soldiers raising the US flag at Iwo Jima, I was led to wonder what might become the iconic photograph of the ongoing misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq:

    [...]

    -- Saddam Hussain's gigantic statue being pulled down in Baghdad?

    -- GW Bush in his flight-suit (well-stuffed with handkerchief's to display his 'manhood'), swaggering off a plane that had flown 2.5 miles to land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, to announce "Mission Accomplished!" ?

    -- GW Bush handing out phony (plastic display) Thanksgiving Turkey to US soldiers stuck in Baghdad?
    [...]

    That so-called "plastic turkey" has sure had a long life. If the turkey wasn't plastic, it sure as hell should have been!

    Again, "Flags" is a good film, even if it does promote the idea that wars are won or lost based on "a single picture." I don't know whether he actually said it or not, but the film portrays the lead character in his old age opining that the Vietnam War was "lost" once Life ran the Pulitizer Prize-winning picture of a South Vietnamese general calmly shooting a VC suspect. That's not my memory of how the war was lost. It certainly factored into the perceptions of many people, but so did the napalmed girl running in the street. However (amazing as it may sound to some) there were many people then who already knew -- from personal experience -- that war is hell, and that war has always been hell. Graphic portrayals of hell do not make hell stop.

    It may even prolong it. During the Vietnam War, military officials as well as officials in the Johnson and Nixon administrations were quite sensitive to the effect these pictures had on morale. Attempts were made to create counter-propaganda. But despite all the propaganda, what brought the enemy to the peace table was the military campaign, especially the relentless bombing. It could of course be argued that anti-war propaganda led to a lack of public support for continuing to back the South Vietnamese government, but I think the removal of Nixon from office did more than anything else.

    Propaganda is one factor among many, and these days, people are more inured to propaganda than ever before. A similar picture of Marines raising a flag in Iraq would fail to encourage massive public support for the Iraq war, just as America did not react to the Abu Ghraib photographs in the same way they reacted to the photograph of General Loan shooting the VC suspect. Propaganda these days seems mostly to please the chorus on one side while irritating the chorus on the other.

    Not only does propaganda invite counter-propaganda, but even the charge that something is propaganda invites a counter charge that the propaganda charge is propaganda -- all with supporters on each "side."

    Thus, even if Bush's turkey did turn out to be plastic, that would matter no more to Bush's supporters than the fact that it turned out to be real mattered to his opponents.

    We are now living in a world where the "might as well" matters so much that it might as well matter.

    (And, of course, it just as well might as well not!)

    posted by Eric at 08:29 AM | Comments (2)




    Say what now?

    Caught this via Drudge:

    "He's a Republican, I'm a Democrat, we work together on issues that are important to the state of Nevada. And I wish other people had the same nonaggression pact we have," Reid told reporters. "It's not a 'Brokeback Mountain' situation," he added, referring to last year's film about two gay cowboy lovers.

    It's good to be a Democrat.

    posted by Dennis at 06:30 PM | Comments (1)



    Milton Friedman, R.I.P.

    I'm sorry to learn that Milton Friedman has died.

    They don't make 'em like that any more. One of the high points in my life was attending one of his lectures, and a dinner in his honor. My favorite Friedman observation was this:

    The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.
    It would be nice to remember that in his honor.

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds remembers Milton Friedman, with lots of links, including this gem of a quote (from a 1990 letter to William Bennett)

    You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve. Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault. Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.
    Amen. I agree with Glenn.

    94 is an untimely age for someone like that to die.

    posted by Eric at 01:01 PM | Comments (7)



    Save the world now! (Before the skeptics destroy it!)

    At a dinner the other night, a woman sitting next to me was carrying on quite heatedly about Global Warming and Greenhouse Gas theory, and while I didn't want to start trouble, when she finally demanded to know what I thought, I expressed skepticism as gently as I could. Far from calming her down, my skepticism only caused her to crank up the volume. She grew more insistent, and told me that the greenhouse gas theory is not a "theory," but is an absolutely proven scientific fact. That in the next few years the Gulf Stream will stop, Europe will freeze, the whole world will be flooded, etc. We are doomed! she said. And all scientists agree. Seriously, she behaved as if my expression of skepticism was as immoral as if I had advocated sex with children.

    In an enjoyable post about the dangers of crying wolf, Greenie Watch quotes Dominic Lawson on this hysteria:

    One of the more entertaining aspects of the current "climate catastrophe" caterwauling is that some of the scientists who are most alarmist - such as that brilliant writer James Lovelock-were thirty years ago warning that we were on the verge of a new Ice Age. One reason was that between 1945 and 1975 global temperatures fell. Between 1975 and 1998 global temperatures rose slightly - and set off a symmetrically divergent panic. Over the past eight years, global temperatures have been as close to stable as makes no difference. I can therefore understand Professor Hulme's agitation. He knows that the alarmists have based their scare tactics on a dramatic rise in temperatures across the world in the very near future. That won't happen. When that fact dawns on most people, they will begin to ignore all experts' warnings about the weather.
    In my more cynical moments, I think the fact that it won't happen is precisely what explains the absolutely manic push to impose Kyoto restrictions by any means necessary.

    We need Kyoto right now! Before it's too late!

    Why is that? Might there be something even worse than the non-occurrence of the "dramatic rise in temperatures across the world in the very near future."

    There might be.

    What if temperatures dropped in the near future? Is such a thing possible? I think it is possible (as Dominic Lawson notes, "between 1945 and 1975 global temperatures fell") and I suspect there may be a legitimate worry among environmentalists that if the Kyoto restrictions are not in place in advance, the resultant public outcry might prevent them from ever getting them.

    On the other hand, with Kyoto in place, any drop in temperature will mean only one thing.

    Environmentalists saved the world!

    While skeptics (who ought to face Nuremburg trials) tried to destroy it!

    In my defense, at least I try to temper my dangerous skepticism with healthy cynicism.

    posted by Eric at 11:44 AM | Comments (3)



    reason. principles. stake. (Some assembly required)

    Michael McNeil (author of Impearls) emailed me about an omission from the long-running Classical Values torture poll. ("What ancient form of execution would you LEAST prefer?")

    I neglected the fine old tradition of impalement. It's certainly one of the most dreadful of punishments, and I really should have included it.

    Anyway, Michael sent me a link to this Halloween post from Far Outliers. It's pretty awful to read, and it describes in grotesque detail the Ottoman sultan's punishment of a Christian accused of sabotaging a bridge the Turks were building over the Drina River. Warns Michael,

    don't read it unless you've got a momentarily strong stomach.
    I certainly agree, and readers are warned accordingly.

    Of course, Vlad the Impaler seems to have cheerfully treated the Turks the same way:

    Vlad Tepes committed even more impalements and other tortures against invading forces, namely Ottomans. It was once reported that an invading Ottoman army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. In 1462 Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside of Vlad's capital of Targoviste. Many of the victims were Turkish prisoners of war Vlad had previously captured during the Turkish invasion. The total Turkish casualty toll in this battle reached over 40,000. The warrior sultan turned command of the campaign against Vlad over to subordinates and returned to Istanbul, even though his army had initially tripled Vlad's in size and was better equipped.
    Cycles of impaling, perhaps?

    Lest anyone think such behavior typifies Muslims today, Michael also noted what appears to be genuine progress -- an "Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI" affirming the Koranic injunction that "There is no compulsion in religion." David Warren (hardly an apologist for Islamists) has more:

    The signatories renounced and condemned violence against Christians in the name of Islam. They accepted without qualification the Pope's post-Regensburg clarifications, and both accepted and applauded his call for dialogue. They unambiguously denounced and rejected all terrorist interpretations of the word "jihad"; they insisted on the priority of Surah 2:256 of the Koran ("There is no compulsion in religion"), stating explicitly that it is not obviated by later Koranic passages or Hadiths. They went so far as to aver that the declaration of Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 expresses the essence of all Abrahamic religion -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish.

    That is Mark's version of the Gospel message that there are "two great commandments". The first is to love God with all thy heart and soul and mind; and the second, to love thy neighbour as thyself. (And please, secular humanists, note the order in which those commandments are always given: first God, then man.)

    The signatories agree with the Pope that the dialogue between Christianity and Islam must be founded in reason. They admit, just as Christians admit, there are limitations to human reason, for what is divine goes beyond what humans can know. But what is divine is not incompatible with reason, and within the sphere of human relations, between peoples who do not confess the same faith, reason is the only sound guide.

    Michael McNeil called this "an important step forward by the Muslim community," and "what many of us have been waiting and hoping would issue forth from the Islamic *Umma* for years -- and getting increasingly disappointed and bitter about when it didn't occur."

    As Michael points out, David Warren is the originator of the "flypaper strategy" concept:

    Nor is David Warren some naive leftist, eager to surrender to the new Nazis on the block. As you're likely aware, Warren is a very thoughtful and conscientious Catholic, who best I can tell, is also very knowledgeable about Islam; moreover, he's the originator of the "flypaper strategy" concept as to what (at least effectively) is happening in Iraq, whence the Coalition's presence is attracting terrorists "like flies," where the Coalition and Iraqi forces can kill them by the thousands. As a result, when Warren's interest is significantly piqued by this occurrence, I too take notice.
    I'd like to be optimistic too. What worries me is that extremists win for the same reason that activists win.

    Reasonable people simply want to get along, and they tend to "go along to get along." Among reasonable people, that's a fine principle. The problem is that extremists who don't want to get along are reason-impaired.

    There's no bridging the gap between reasonable people and those who would impale reason.

    posted by Eric at 10:16 AM | Comments (2)



    waking up and smelling the coffee

    Just when I thought things couldn't get any more depressing, it began to dawn on me that we may be entering a new era of humor in American politics.

    Republicans and war supporters were so caught up with Murtha's demands for troop withdrawals in Iraq that they may have missed out on the fact that he's actually a very funny man.

    I had a little fun with him last night, and now this morning I see Glenn Reynolds links Jules Crittenden, who notes the comical nature of the culture of corruption:

    Given Murtha's fondness for pork and his photo-finish win over ABSCAM investigators, Pelosi's leadership choice is already an entertaining repudiation of the repudiation of the "culture of corruption" she cited in her endorsement. Then, there's Alcee Hastings...
    And Tom Maguire quotes Murtha on ethical reforms being "total crap" (even though he'll go along with it for love of Nancy).

    Funny as this is, and much as I'd like to think the Republicans offer a genuine alternative to "total crap" Murtha (hey, if the shoe fits...), I had only to look at my coffee cup this morning.


    PBLott1.jpg


    I guess Lott's supposed to be the moral equivalent of Murtha or something. Yeah, I'd probably vote -- barely -- for the former over the latter. The totality of the pork beats the totality of the crap-plus-pork or something.

    I have to say, though, I'm with Jeff Soyer:

    ....if we could only get a rational, small "L" libertarian party going.
    The biggest objection has traditionally been the old line that "you're wasting your vote" if you vote for a third party.

    Might it be time to discard that meme?

    I mean, how wasted can your vote get?

    UPDATE: Murtha, it seems, will not be allowed to be Pelosi's number two man.

    Did I just say "number two man"? That sounds almost dirty, and I have been trying like hell heck to keep this blog clean.

    Too many things sound like too many things. For some reason, lately I've even been remembering an unforgettable organization called the Girth and Mirth Club.

    Surely, there must be someone I can blame for my sick imagination.

    posted by Eric at 08:04 AM | Comments (1)




    Look on my works, ye mitey, and despair!

    Found a cute little critter crawling around on the edge of a mushroom today. Fortunately, I had my camera, and I got a fairly decent macro shot of the little beastie:

    redaphid.jpg

    While it looks like a red aphid, at 1/16th of an inch it was too big for most aphids, and also too big to be a chigger.

    It turned out to be a red velvet mite:

    Though lovely to the eye, red velvet mites are disliked by the palate: their color may warn predators to the mites' unpleasant taste. "There are stories about biologists popping them into their mouths," says George Hammond, a University of Michigan graduate student who studies velvet mites. Other than ill-advised scientists, however, he knows of no natural enemies of these arachnids: "I've put them on an anthill and no ant would touch them."
    (More on eating them here. )

    Here's a huge red mite I wouldn't want to touch -- much less eat:


    miteymurtha.jpg


    I'd feel sorry for the lady holding the whip, but she must know the power of her own mite.

    UPDATE (11/16/06): According to Glenn Reynolds, the mitey monster has agreed to wallow in "total crap," but only because of the lady with the whip.

    They can't be serious, can they?

    (I really should have titled this post "Of Mites and Men.")

    posted by Eric at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)



    Feeling screwed by code language I find impossible to penetrate

    I hate expressions which are not defined, because that makes reports like this impossible to decipher:

    PHILADELPHIA - About 1 percent of Web sites indexed by Google and Microsoft are sexually explicit, according to a U.S. government-commissioned study.
    Fine, but precisely what does the phrase "sexually explicit" mean? Literally pornographic pictures? I don't think so, because otherwise, they'd have used the term "pornographic" or "legally obscene" material.

    And in the very same article, Salon.com and others express fears that it might include things that most reasonable people do not consider pornographic:

    The plaintiffs, including Salon.com, say they would fear prosecution under the law for publishing material as varied as erotic literature to photos of naked inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
    I'm sorry, but "sexually explicit" sounds like weasel wording introduced into this debate by people who'd like to censor a lot more than pornography.

    I would note that the term "sexually explicit" was used countless times by mainstream media and by innumerable bloggers to describe the emails and text messages between Congressman Mark Foley and the pages, yet the language involved discussed things like "feeling horny" and the type of underwear being worn. Yet no pornographic pictures were exchanged, and it isn't even clear that frank sexual solicitations ever occurred.

    If that is "sexually explicit," then what isn't?

    Would blogs discussing the Foley matter (or, say, Monica Lewinsky's semen-stained blue dress, or Bill Clinton's opinions about oral sex) be sexually explicit?

    I'd also note that plenty of songs are said to contain "sexually explicit lyrics." ("96 Tears" had to be changed from its original "69 Tears." The Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together" was banned from television.)

    Now that I think about it, has this post now become "sexually explicit"?

    What business is it of the government if it is? Why do my tax dollars fund studies like this?

    As to definitions, a site called NetSafeKids makes a stab at it:

    On this Web site, NetSafeKids uses the term "sexually explicit material" to mean material--text-based, visual, or audio--that depicts sexual behavior or acts, or that exposes the reproductive organs of the human body. From common usage, "pornography" can be seen as usually involving sexually explicit materials.
    What is text-based material that depicts sexual behavior or acts? That would seem to include any accurate discussion of sexual intercourse (i.e., a penis penetrating another human orifice) or sexually fetishistic behavior, even though that might have absolutely nothing to do with titillating the reader, and might not cause the average person to become aroused. And how on earth could the intent of the writer ever be determined? (For example, if I declared truthfully I am not at all turned on by the idea of being tied up and whipped with painful nipple clamps on me, some reader I can't control might be turned on by that.)

    It is one thing to combat genuine pornography, but I don't like this movement against "sexually explicit" material. I think they're going to need to find a more accurate term.

    As it is, I think I do a pretty good job of keeping this blog free from obscene material and language. I try not to even use four letter words. Yet my blog has been censored anyway by the net nannies.

    I've long suspected that the goal of some of these people is broader than pornography.

    posted by Eric at 07:51 AM | Comments (5)




    Giving peace a chance?

    I don't know what Tony Blair is smoking.

    "Constructive engagement" with Iran? A country that has vowed to incinerate Israel, which is busily manufacturing nukes, and which now wants to take over al Qaeda?

    ....[T]he revelation that Iran is working hard to establish a closer relationship with bin Laden's fanatics, who provoked the war against terrorism with the attacks on September 11 2001, is likely to undermine severely Downing Street's attempts to effect a rapprochement. Iran is also suspected of arming insurgent groups in southern Iraq - many of which have links to al-Qa'eda - that have been responsible for many of the roadside bomb attacks against British troops.

    But intelligence officials have been most alarmed by reports from Iran that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to persuade al-Qa'eda to promote a pro-Iranian activist to a senior position within its leadership.

    The Iranians want Saif al-Adel, a 46-year-old former colonel in Egypt's special forces, to be the organisation's number three.

    Al-Adel was formerly bin Laden's head of security, and was named on the FBI's 22 most wanted list after September 11 for his alleged involvement in terror attacks against US targets in Somalia and Africa in the 1990s. He has been living in a Revolutionary Guard guest house in Teheran since fleeing from Afghanistan in late 2001.

    Alarm over al-Qa'eda deepened yesterday with a Foreign Office warning that the group was determined to acquire the technology to carry out a nuclear attack on the West.

    A senior Foreign Office official said that the terrorists were trawling the world for the materials and know-how to mount an attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

    The official said: "We know that the aspiration is there, we know attempts to gather materials are there, we know that attempts to gather technologies are there."

    Nonetheless, constructive engagement apparently includes Iran:
    In last night's speech, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to see constructive engagement with the whole of the Middle East.

    "A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work and where the roots of this global terrorism are to be found," he added.

    "That is what I call a "whole Middle East" strategy.

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding the term, but I don't see how "constructive engagement" is possible with a country like Iran.

    I hope he's not thinking that Bush and the United States are powerless in the face of dire threats like Iran, but this worries me:

    Mr Blair's hopes of a dialogue with Teheran were dealt a further blow last night when President George W Bush rejected the notion that talks with Iran were the key to undermining the Iraq insurgency.

    He insisted that Iran should pay the consequences for continuing work on its nuclear enrichment programme.

    "It's very important for the"threat to our world security". Last night he was more measured on Iran.

    "To be fair, they have a genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the US seeks a military solution in Iran. They don't," Mr Blair said.

    I hope he's wrong.

    The fact is, al Qaeda declared war on the United States. Any country allied with al Qaeda is by definition an enemy. Saying "war is not the answer" presupposes that we are not at war when we are. Iran has no interest in peace; even the way the mullahs use the term reminds me of the way the Communists used it. (Peace = submission to their demented view of utopia.)

    Maybe "constructive engagement" could be redefined.

    But hell, I already proposed sending Ahmadinejad a necktie.

    What more can I do?

    posted by Eric at 05:10 PM | Comments (6)



    God, guns, gays -- and Giuliani

    Now that Rudolph Giuliani is tentatively throwing his hat into the presidential ring, his candidacy is attracting more attention than ever. Here's Roger L. Simon:

    Rudy seems to be running. He did the Exploratory Committee thing today. And I'm a happy camper not just because his views most closely represent mine (they do), but because he appears able to lead, a trait few have and one that will be highly necessary, I suspect, in the years to come. He also seems not particularly bound by party and ideological cant (a Freeranger, in the new Pajamas parlance). That's a good thing to me, although I know "party faithful" are suspcious of that. But I'm suspicious of "party faithful." And I think, as the years go on, there are going to be more people like me.
    I don't think I can call myself a happy camper, but I'm not in tears, because I think the GOP needs to take a careful look at how to win, and guys like Giuliani and Schwarzenegger (who don't drink the Party Koolaid) are a lot more popular with the mainstream voters who just kicked the business-as-usual Republicans out or power.

    The problem for Giuliani is that some of the GOP's "loyal base" would consider him not not so much the guy who refuses to drink the base's Koolaid as the guy who'd poison it with cyanide:

    "Giuliani is an ultraliberal," Sanders said. "He supports gay rights. He supports banning all handguns. He supports abortion. His wife kicked him out, and he moved in with two gay men and a Shih Tzu. Is that South Carolina values? I don't think so."
    This position is echoed by many red staters, such as this Second Amendment blogger in South Carolina:
    Giuliani was not questioned much about his record on the three G's (God, Guns, and Gays). However, the record will show that Giuliani has supported gay marriage, abortion, and gun control. Most observers would naturally assume that Giuliani won't play well here. But, Bandy seems to think otherwise.

    Bandy's flawed assessment is based on his interpretation of the lack of questions on social issues. He surmises that people don't care and are actually focused on other things, namely national security. He may be right about that current focus, but even that won't bode well for an anti-gun Giuliani.

    Think about it. What clear thinking person who is actually focused on national security would support someone who wants to take away their guns? If we suddenly find ourselves fighting terrorist here on South Carolina soil, I want every advantage I can have. I'm certain that many people agree.

    God, guns, gays.

    It has an alliterative ring that just keeps on giving on a gut level, doesn't it?

    Regular readers know that the Second Amendment is one of my major concerns, and I share the distrust of many towards Giuliani. But I try to be fair, and I find myself having to ask: is he a true gun grabber, or might his statements be more reflective of the political realities of being mayor of New York?

    Recently, the conservative Spectator described Giuliani as "prudently backing off from his history of anti-gun demagoguery," and there's little question that he's trying to create distance between himself as a presidential candidate and remarks he made as New York's mayor.

    "The assault-weapons ban is something I supported in the past," is what he said.

    Like me, Captain Ed has strong misgivings about Giuliani's gun record:

    I like Rudy, but his positions on guns bother me. I'm not as concerned about his pro-choice views, because (a) he supports judges that practice strict construction, and (b) other than judges, presidents have little affect on the debate anyway. I do have tremendous admiration for Giuliani, and not just because of 9/11. People forget that Giuliani took on the Mob and won as a US Attorney in New York, and that takes both guts and brains. He's a terrific speaker and a figure that attracts support from across the aisle. He's the anti-Hillary in more ways than one.
    Tracking down precisely what his position is has proven elusive.

    As to "banning all handguns," I'm unable to find any statement from Giuliani in support of an outright handgun ban, although I did find a "perhaps" call for licensing handguns like cars:

    Perhaps, we should require insurance for handguns. If liability insurance were required to purchase and own a handgun, you better believe that the insurance industry would promulgate a pretty rigorous licensing and purchasing process to control the risk.

    As a private citizen, as a prosecutor, as a Mayoral candidate and as Mayor, I have advocated for more regulated and more uniform gun licensing regulations, similar to those for a drivers license.

    As New York's Mayor, Giuliani also joined in a lawsuit against the gun manufacturers. I can't find any statement repudiating that, although recent federal legislation has largely mooted the issue.

    From my perspective as an NRA Life Member who tries to be fair, Giuliani's Second Amendment position can best be characterized as quite poor, but recently improving. I think it has to be taken into account that he's been Mayor of a very anti-gun city and that some of it may well have been anti-gun demagoguery intended to please the crowd, just as his current flip-flopping may be the same thing.

    Would I prefer a flip-flopping demagogue to a true believing, anti-gun ideologue?

    You bet.

    Continuing with Howard Dean's magic alliterative formulation (I know, I hate it, but they weren't my words), we come to gays and God.

    From what I can see, Giuliani opposes the FMA, while favoring civil unions. That's hardly the ringing endorsement of gay marriage some appear to think it is. But he obviously has gay friends, as he crashed with some after his divorce. Not only don't I hold that against him, I think it's evidence that he's a real human being who (a bit like Ahnold) doesn't look over his shoulder worrying about the appearance of every detail. If that's a disqualifying characteristic, I'd say we need more such "disqualified" candidates.

    As to the "God" issue, I'm not sure I know what God looks for in a candidate, but he's said to care primarily about abortion and homosexuality. I'm sure Giuliani's friendship with gays makes him anti-God in the eyes of some, but again, I don't think most Americans think that way. (In fact, I think most Americans are repelled by people who think that way.)

    On abortion, Giuliani is unabashedly pro-choice, and he does not see that as going against his religious principles or his Republicanism.

    ....[B]eing in favor of choice is consistent with the philosophy of the Republican Party. In fact, it might be more consistent with the philosophy of the Republican Party. Because the Republican Party stands for the idea that you have to restore more freedom of choice, more opportunity, more opportunity for people to make their own choices rather than the government dictating those choices. Republicans stand for lower taxation because we believe that people can make better choices with their money than the government will make for them, and that ultimately frees the economy and produces more political freedom. We believe that, yes, government is important, but that the private sector is actually more important in solving our problems.

    So it is consistent with that philosophy to believe that in the most personal and difficult choices that a woman has to make with regard to a pregnancy, those choices should be made based on that person's conscience and that person's way of thinking and feeling. The government shouldn't dictate that choice by making it a crime or making it illegal.

    Nonetheless, Giuliani is a Catholic, and is personally opposed to abortion. At least one Catholic bishop has said this is a "legitimate distinction."

    I've never been able to understand why it isn't a distinction. Saying that a woman shouldn't be imprisoned for aborting her fetus is not the same thing as approving of her act, much less saying it is a good thing. I think drugs should be legal, but that does not mean I approve of or advocate heroin. If God disapproved of heroin, does that mean it would be immoral to oppose imprisoning people for it?

    In short, Giuliani is a mixed bag. Much as I abhor his Second Amendment record, I'm enough of a pragmatist that under the right circumstances I could bring myself to support him.

    Might have to push the "straight Republican" button, but what the hell. I did it before, so I think my finger may be developing a callus...

    posted by Eric at 09:57 AM | Comments (7)




    Post election RINOs rage

    Believe it or not, the RINOs still exist, and theyre still raging.

    And this week, at the RINO Sightings Carnival hosted by Barry Campbell at Enrevanche, they share their insights on what happened and why.

    The theme is "in ur booth, counting ur votes"

    Don't miss it.

    posted by Eric at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)



    A new day with Opera?

    In addition to the problems I noted in the previous post, I now see that Internet Explorer 7 will not allow some of my favorite blogs to load properly. I double checked this by loading one of them in Firefox, and then on my other computer which still runs IE 6. No problem.

    This is too much. I'm not going to use Internet Explorer 7, and I'm very dissapointed in Microsoft for releasing a browser before the kinks were ironed out.

    Still, I like to be able to have two different browsers, as it helps me create two mental "sides" when I'm online (generally research versus blogging), and seeing two icons makes it easy. I've read about Opera, and I just downloaded it.

    This is the first test post, the main purpose of which is to see how Opera works for blogging. Right now, I'll try inserting a link to their main web site. Hmmm. Not as good as Firefox, which allows the keyboard shortcut commands. (I had to click on the icons just now.)

    But it seems OK. Now I'll see whether it saves the post.

    Not bad. It seems like a good alternative to IE7, but I'd love to have the keyboard shortcuts for Movable Type.

    Can't find a plugin anywhere.

    I guess there's no such thing as a perfect world.

    UPDATE: I just uninstalled IE 7, and I'm back to 6. It wasn't broke, and I wish they hadn't "fixed" it. No more automatic updates; I'll tough it out as long as I can.

    (What a Luddite I've become!)

    posted by Eric at 08:54 AM | Comments (7)



    It's the numbers, stupid!

    I am getting a bit tired of the seemingly endless attempts to discern the moral intent of the voters -- so tired of it that I don't even want to write this post.

    From a practical Machiavellian perspective, it really doesn't matter whether the voters "voted against corruption" or whether in fact Iraq was "issue number one" because the result is a shift in the balance of power, and the result entirely predictable. That's why (for reasons I tried to explain in post after post), I voted the straight Republican ticket for the first time in my life. I realized that it would all come down to numbers and if the Democrats got the majority, it would come down to this:

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 -- Democratic leaders in the Senate vowed on Sunday to use their new Congressional majority to press for troop reductions in Iraq within a matter of months, stepping up pressure on the administration just as President Bush is to be interviewed by a bipartisan panel examining future strategy for the war.

    The Democrats -- the incoming majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada; the incoming Armed Services Committee chairman, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan; and the incoming Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware -- said a phased redeployment of troops would be their top priority when the new Congress convenes in January, even before an investigation of the conduct of the war.

    "We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months," Mr. Levin said in an appearance on the ABC News program "This Week." In a telephone interview later, Mr. Levin added, "The point of this is to signal to the Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over and that they are going to have to solve their own problems."

    This is based on pure numbers, and the moral intent of the voters who may have carefully voted only for the conservative Democrats (or against "corrupt" Republicans) is pitifully irrelevant.

    I'm not saying I don't have moral feelings or squeamishness about the Republicans, nor am I saying the voters didn't have them; just that the reasons pale in comparison to the numbers.

    It's why I voted for a candidate for whom I otherwise would not have voted, and it's why I suggested wearing noseclips to the polls.

    People who think there are more important things than winning should have asked whether that would lead to a moral victory in Iraq.

    Whoops, I keep forgetting!

    War wasn't the issue.

    (Sorry.)

    UPDATE: I guess even in my worst cynicism I forget that there are actually people who believe in the morality in defeat. Via Glenn Reynolds, here's Josh Manchester:

    In Mr. Carroll's fantasyland, the United States is deserving of defeat, and through some sort of mental gymnastics, that defeat is honorable, because it smacked of hubris to ever have fought in the first place.

    [...]

    It is difficult not to conclude that there is a class of well-intentioned individuals in the United States like him who don't merely feel as they do upon witnessing a defeat, but instead think this way all the time. Like it or not, this mentality of permanent defeat plays a large part in the Democratic Party. It is now up to President Bush and the new Democratic congressional leadership to see that it does not become dominant.

    More of an optimist than I am, Manchester suggests how this might be made to occur:
    How to do so? A charm offensive is not quite what is necessary. Instead, perhaps a combination of sobering events that will impress upon Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the gravity of our current situation would do the trick. Why not invite both Pelosi and Reid to the White House every morning until the new Congress is sworn in - and ask them to listen with the President to his Presidential Daily Brief, describing what Al Qaeda has cooked up of late? Or, why not invite them along with the President to one of his private sessions with the families of those who have paid the ultimate price overseas? Speaking of those overseas whose lives hang upon American policy, Pelosi and Reid could be participants in the next conference call that Bush has with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.
    That would be a good thing, but isn't there an assumption that these are not moral defeatists, but are instead good people who believe in their hearts that victory is preferable to defeat? That's not something I saw much in the anti-Vietnam War crowd (most of whom believe the US deserved to lose for waging an evil war) but I guess I shouldn't be using the Vietnam antiwar people as an absolute yardstick.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Josh Manchester's conclusion:

    Leaving Iraq will be worse than leaving Vietnam, not necessarily in terms of bloodshed, though that will be no comfort to those who will be slaughtered, but because the jihadist threat today is more dangerous than the Soviet threat then. Despite lacking - so far - in similar capabilities to the Communists, our enemies more than make up for it with an insatiable bloodthirsty ruthlessness. The honor that Mr. Carroll sees in defeat will soon be forgotten should Al Qaeda establish a caliphate in Anbar Province and begin a healthy trade in the export of mayhem throughout the West. The Furies that will visit us from such a redoubt will engender much more than a little longing that we had stayed.
    Being depressed might be a healthy reaction.

    Perhaps I should try to figure out how to be in denial.

    MORE: On Saturday, the enemy's chief spokesman in Iraq was reported to be gloating:

    BAGHDAD - A new recording yesterday attributed to the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq mocked President Bush as a coward whose conduct of the war was rejected at the polls, challenging him to keep U.S. troops in the country to face more bloodshed.

    "We haven't had enough of your blood yet," taunted Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, identified as the speaker on the tape.

    He gloated over Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation, claimed to have 12,000 fighters under his command who "have vowed to die for God's sake," and said his fighters would not rest until they blow up the White House and occupy Jerusalem.

    It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the 20-minute recording, posted on a Web site used by Islamic extremists. The CIA said technical analysis was being conducted on the tape.

    Muhajir, an Egyptian also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, boasted that al-Qaeda in Iraq was moving toward victory faster than expected because of Bush's mistakes.

    And that was before today's wonderful news.

    Sigh.

    I guess Michael Moore predicted that Iraq's "Minutemen" would win.

    I'll say this for the people who think like him. While I completely disagree with them, at least they're honest enough to admit that US defeat is what they want.

    UPDATE (11/14/06): I like Roger L. Simon's take on things:

    Things seem to me to be spinning out of control at the moment.
    And how.

    posted by Eric at 07:59 AM | Comments (3)




    Vietnam is one autopsy too many

    I'd never given it much thought, but it's startling to think that there are people who actually see war in economic terms:

    ...[A]s every undergraduate economics student knows, that strategy is a disaster. Hence the principle of "sunk cost." The fact that I've lost a pile on some enterprise or investment is no reason to lose an even bigger pile. The smart move, economically speaking, is to reassess your decisions on a regular basis. When an investment isn't working, get out. Put your money, your talents, and your energy to better use somewhere else.

    All of which seems to apply to Iraq, in spades. A seemingly quick and easy military victory has turned sour. The costs, in blood and treasure, have escalated. Victory looks uncertain and distant. It seems the time has come, if not to cut and run, then surely to cut our losses. If ever the principle of sunk cost applied to warfare, it would seem to apply here.

    But that instinct is wrong. Warfare is not like investment banking. At precisely the moment an economist might say to stop throwing good money after bad, a wise military strategist might say to double the bet.

    Glenn Reynolds liked the piece (by Harvard professor William J. Stuntz) enough to link it twice, which means it's getting around and has probably been commented on with approval by so many bloggers that there's not much point in adding my two cents...

    But here's my two cents anyway. (Common sense, I hope....)

    War is far, far more serious than a business investment. Few things are as serious as war, which is on the level of defending your home, your life, the lives of your family and loved ones. In many cases it is exactly that. When your home or family or threatened, you do not think about cost. War involves risking everything, and therefore, everything must be risked.

    I've always believed "limited war" is a dangerous oxymoron, yet it is one this country has not yet shed from its vocabulary. It does not matter how a war starts, once it is there it must be dealt with as an absolute commitment, and seen through to the end. To do less is a form of surrender.

    "Cut and run" is often a sound business decision. If your stock is sick or a business is failing, there's no particular disgrace in getting out. I say this as someone who failed to bail out from a failing business, and lost nearly everything in the process, so it's a lesson I learned the hard way.

    But bailing out in war is a disgrace. The very fact that we seemed to do that in Vietnam will always haunt this country, and as I argued not long ago, it would be a dire tragedy to allow that to happen again.

    I think the medical model is better than the economic model. If a patient's body is overrun by cancer or other disease which would be fatal if left untreated, a physician has a responsibility to wage war against that disease with every tool in his medical arsenal. To do less would not only constitute medical malpractice, it would be morally atrocious. Imagine telling a patient's family that while there are treatments which would save his life, they're just too expensive to be considered cost-effective, so we ought to just let the patient try to fight the cancer or infection on his own.

    Iraq may not be a family member in the truest sense, but I think the argument can be made that in many ways, Iraq is our patient, and we have at least as much moral responsibility to continue the effort to cure this patient from its malignancy as would any doctor with a cancer patient.

    Unless, of course, we are prepared to say the malignancy has won. Far from being one of those cases where it's time to pronounce death along the lines of "the operation was a success but the patient died," there's no question that given enough time and troops, success is possible. In that respect I agree again with Professor Stuntz:

    Between September and November of 2005, another 23,000 soldiers were deployed in Iraq; once again, both Iraqi and American casualties fell. In the early months of 2006, the number of soldiers fell again, and casualties spiraled up.

    The picture is clear: More soldiers mean less violence, hence fewer casualties. The larger the manpower investment in the war, the smaller the war's cost, to Iraqis and Americans alike. Iraq is not an unwinnable war: Rather, as the data just cited show, it is a war we have chosen not to win. And the difference between success and failure is not 300,000 more soldiers, as some would have it. One-tenth that number would make a large difference, and has done so in the past. One-sixth would likely prove decisive.

    If terrorists and mujahedeen can be likened to metastatic growths, would any doctor scale back treatments shown to be effective, if the cancer later spread when they were withdrawn?

    I realize the medical model has its limitations. For starters, malignant metastases have no PR department to claim that the physician trying to remove them is actually spreading them and causing them to further metastasize.

    But even if we assume that there were such malignant PR forces and they did make such a claim of malpractice, would that alter the moral duty of the physician to save the patient?

    To carry the analogy further, assume the malpractice claim were found to be true. How would that give any newly appointed physician the moral right to let the disease have its way with the patient?

    (What would be worse would be to have the living patient carted off for a premature autopsy in a politically biased morgue...)

    MORE: "UH-OH," is Glenn Reynolds' reaction to this -- "a Vietnam-type cut-and-run plan that will leave the Gulf far more dangerous than it is now."

    Makes me wish I could have voted early and often.

    posted by Eric at 11:42 AM | Comments (12)



    The opiate of the asses?

    I very much enjoyed reading about the "Apostles of O'Neill," as it raises some profound questions which go to the heart of the first amendment:

    Brian O'Neill Jr., 20, and his roommates moved in August and promptly held pool parties so loud the university and police were called.

    This is where your classic town-gown dispute gets weird. The $2.4 million house that J. Brian O'Neill Sr. bought for his son is allowed only six unrelated residents under zoning laws. But if it's a residence for a "religious community," the number jumps to 15.

    The solution? The Apostles of O'Neill. That's the name the young men used Oct. 2 when they filed paperwork to incorporate as a nonprofit religious organization. In an e-mail statement, the group says that it has donated to charities and that its mission is "to be active and positive members of our community."

    The neighbors call it blasphemy and a possible precedent-setting threat to property values. It has impressed some of the young men's parents, including one who called it "ingenious" and another who said they were defending American property rights in the face of fuddy-duddy Georgetowners. And it has registered little reaction from the Catholic university, which says it doesn't consider the Apostles its business.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds, who seems skeptical indeed about the sincerity of the religious claim.)

    While nothing could be more transparently phony than a group of drunken kids forming a religion to wiggle around the zoning laws, the fact is, religions do get around the zoning laws, and some religious institutions contain people you wouldn't want living next door.

    Take the Saudi madrassa in my neighborhood. (To quote Henny Youngman, "Please!") Aside from numerous problems with noise and traffic, neighbors have been seriously and justifiably concerned about terrorism, the place ran a jihad training camp, the FBI visited the place searching for a child molester reported under Megan's Law to be residing there, they ran an unlicensed restaurant, halal butcher shop and school, violated the terms of a covenant with the neighbors, and in spite of all this, they were granted numerous "special exceptions" under the zoning ordinance.

    Unlike the drunken young "Apostles," no one would question the religious sincerity of the Saudi madrassa. Nor could they legally. The First Amendment works that way. Religion is largely undefinable, and any attempt to define what is and what is not a legitimate religions runs afoul of one of our most precious freedoms.

    While the courts have applied a sort of "I know it when I see it" test (one case I read about ruled that a prisoner's claim of "relgious worship" of an empty tuna fish can was not religion), in many cases this is not so easy. If the young "Apostles" got serious, they could do a little research (or hire a scholar) and write up a long screed which they could call a holy book.... (Come to think of it, I have one stashed somewhere, nearly book length, hand written by someone who sincerely believed every word was prophecy, and in beautiful calligraphy. But it is not for sale!) And they could file that as part of their charter, naming priests, officers, directors, and who the hell would have the right to say it was not legitimate?

    And come to think of it, what about the "religion" of Tom Cruise and many movie stars? I dare not name its name, lest I be sued as "scientophobic" or something.

    Marx took a lot of flak for saying religion is the opiate of the masses, but in so doing he was not merely supplying a justification for his own substitute drug. He was also making an observation about religion which many others have made in many places and times. I've heard the same thing from people who believe not so much in religion, but in the need for religion. But is it an opiate? Opiates are addictive drugs, but they're certainly not the most dangerous drugs.

    I'm getting off topic, but I'm thinking maybe Marx's rhetoric was a bit limited by his place and times.

    For starters, aren't some drugs more dangerous than opiates?

    If my neighborhood had a choice of voting between the Apostles and the madrassa, bad as the Apostles are, I think they'd win.

    (As long as the balloting was conducted in secret....)


    MORE: Speaking of odd religions, I encountered many during my years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Three stand out right now:

  • The Church of Hakeem, dedicated to the worship of cash. Its founder, the Reverend Hakeem Rasheed, used to drive around in a Rolls Royce waving money, and would lead his congregants in the chant of "CRISP! GREEN! CLEAN! MONEY!" For some ungodly reason, the IRS disapproved.
  • "The Church of Jimi Hendrix" dedicated to the worship of Jimi's guitar playing (which I'm told was renamed "Church of John Coltrane" in some schism).
  • And who could forget the Psychedelic Venus Church? (Not I!)
  • (To judge or not to judge, that is the question.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Why is the "Wiccan religion" seen by many as crossing a certain line? Is it because the religious sincerity of its practitioners in doubt? Or because their beliefs are diasapproved by the majority?

    If a Wicca can be stifled by the majority, why not Salafism?

    posted by Eric at 09:28 AM | Comments (4)




    Happy Veterans Day

    I happened upon the parade in Media today ('Everybody's hometown'), and it was a fortuitous event. We stopped to do a little shopping and ran into some friends and their new baby. Before we knew it, there was a parade on. Yesterday my father celebrated the Marine Corps birthday at Cookie's Tavern in Philadelphia with countless other Devil Dogs, and today I was at least able to give a hand to some veterans. There were quite a few WWII vets, and my girlfriend was saddened to think that our friends' child wouldn't know any when she grows up.

    We also happened to see the Governor (and former DNC chairman) Ed Rendell:

    rendell1a.jpg

    Not the best of pics, but you'll forgive me for being on the wrong side of the street and for using a camera phone:

    rendell2a.jpg

    (I don't know any of the folks in the foreground.)

    He's difficult to make out, but he's the bald chap in the center. To his right (and our left) is Congressman elect Joe Sestak.

    I didn't happen to see Curt Weldon, despite the advertisement.

    The crowd didn't seem terribly enthused about the politicians (nor were they hostile). It was more of an, "oh, it's those guys from TV ... and here comes another neat Jeep."

    The applause were saved for those being honored. The most touching part was one no one watched for but one my girlfriend caught. An earnest little boy asked his mother if she thought they'd seen his sign. The sign read "Thank you veterans. I love the USA."

    posted by Dennis at 04:53 PM | Comments (1)



    "temporarily allow scripted windows"

    That's the stupid message I get whenever I try to go into my blog's MT window, now that my computer has automatically "updated" and installed the new version of Internet Explorer (7).

    Unless I click through a dialogue every time, IE7 t blocks me from putting put links or anything into posts.

    Furthermore, the automatic html commands do not work. If I want to add italic, for example, I used to be able to highlight the word and hold down "cntrl-shift -i." Now if I do that I get some stupid index over on the left!

    Why do "they" do this?

    I hate it when I had no problem and then suddenly, through no fault of my own, I have one, and I have been on the phone with MS customer support now for a half an hour.

    They can't figure it out yet.

    Grrrrrrrrrr......

    MORE: I doubt I'm the only blogger using MT and IE7. Microsoft seems unable to tell me what to do, other than click "temporariliy allow scripted windows" each time.

    Is anyone else having this problem?

    They say I can't permanently revert to IE6.

    Firefox is looking like my only option.

    MORE (10:28 a.m.): I've been on the phone now for nearly an hour, mostly holding. My ear hurts, and I have to leave in an hour for an all day event.

    Blogging sure can get complicated!

    AND MORE: Commenter Rhodium Heart is unhappy with IE 7, and here's a blog post with an ominous title: "Internet Explorer 7 doesn't work with Movable Type" (although he seems to have gotten it to at least upload posts eventually, which isn't my problem). BTW, I had to laboriously click through their stupid menu AGAIN to get that link entered.

    AND MORE: For now, the situation is hopeless, as there's nothing tech support can do. Every setting that it's possible to change has been changed. Naturally, they're saying it's Movable Type's "reponsibility" to update their software. "We try to work with software developers as much as possible but it's their responsibility." Yada yada.

    The bigger things are, the more bureaucrat they become.

    UPDATE: Blogging will be light today, as I now have to leave.

    posted by Eric at 10:03 AM | Comments (11)




    This time, Bush fascism is really here to stay!

    Ted Rall is so in love with Bush fascism that he can't believe it could ever possibly end:

    We'll be cleaning up Bush's mess long after his scheduled abdication on January 20, 2009. But the trillions of dollars in national debt he has run up and his two losing wars will drain our economy for decades to come. We've provoked a new generation of terrorists. Yet even more damaging and nearly impossible to unravel will be the threats to Americans posed by the neofascist national security apparatus the Bushists will leave behind--unless they use it to remain in power.
    (Via PJM.)

    What this means, of course, is that whether Bush leaves office or not, Bush fascism will forever live on. And it will all of course be Bush's fault either way. Because Generalissimo Bush, being the greatest and most brilliant fascist of all time (despite being a moronic chimpanzee) has built a permanent, undefeatable structure.

    But lest anyone think Bush will have to go through with the "abdication," fear not! The ever-flexible Rall (who predicted that the 2004 elections would never be held) has realigned his predictions again, and still holds out hope the Bushists won't have to hand over the fascist power apparatus to successors. Instead, they'll have to impose tyranny now (although I thought they already did! hmmm...) to save their skins:

    As ugly secrets surface, Bushists will turn desperate. Democracy has failed their grand schemes; token resignations like Rumsfeld's come too little, too late. Only tyranny can save their skins. Will the beleaguered neocons led by Cheney and Bush, cornered like rats, unleash their brand-new police state on their political opponents? Or will they tough it out and suck up the fines and prison sentences to come? The next year or two could go either way.

    The nightmare is not over.

    Well, at least Rall doesn't want it to be over.

    For what it's worth, shortly before the election I tried to warn the Democrats that if they wanted to stop Bush fascism, they should let the Republicans win.

    The Republicans have to lose!

    Otherwise, if they keep winning elections, how will they ever be able to seize control, cancel the Constitution, and declare martial law?

    And for that remark, Karl Rove threatened me in the comments section:
    Geez, now you've gone and told our super secret plan.

    I'll see you in Gitmo.

    I was just trying to save the country! Honest, people. I really thought I could stop the Bush fascists by letting the Democrats know about their plan to implement fascism if they lost the election.

    The Democrats had their chance, but nobody ever listens.

    We may have been exaggerating before folks, but this time, it's really gonna be Bush fascism!

    posted by Eric at 01:39 PM | Comments (2)



    I would have been depressed, but I got sick first...

    While I've been too bogged down with a miserable cold to be depressed, via Glenn Reynolds I see that Ann Althouse is depressed, because she sees the election as an American failure:

    It's the failure of Americans to support the war. It's the folding and crumpling because things didn't go well enough and the way we conspicuously displayed that to our enemies. They're going to use that information.
    I think she's right to be depressed. As someone who gets depressed more often than I admit for no reason at all, I'm in no position to criticize anyone for having a good reason.

    (Perhaps I should consider myself lucky that I've been too sick to be depressed. Hmmm.... Maybe there's something to the torture-cures-depression theory. Or maybe not. Because if it did, wouldn't the awful torture of the election cheer up depressed Republicans?)

    But I don't think the voters saw themselves as not supporting the war. I think they were frustrated by years of denial of the high costs of the war.

    The war has cost more than money; it has also (as I explained in the last post) cost the Republicans their ideology, and thus I think a good argument can be made that the war cost the Republicans the election. To the extent that they downplayed the war and failed to defend it as an election issue, Republicans lost credibility. Especially against conservative Democratic candidates with solid military records.

    Quite understandably, Ann Althouse thinks the election results will be misinterpreted:

    What I'm concerned about is national security and, consequently, the way the election was fought and is being interpreted. I'm upset because I think we have sent a terrible message to our enemies: Just hang on long enough and continue to inflict some damage, and the Americans will lose heart and give up. You barely need anything at all. You might not be able to hijack a plane with a box cutter anymore, but you can take back a country -- a country we conquered with overwhelming military power -- merely by mercilessly and endlessly setting off small bombs in your own town day after day.

    How much harder it becomes ever to fight and win a war again. Only pacifists and isolationists should feel good about the way this election was won.

    Recognizing the huge cost of this war is a very depressing thing.

    On the bright side, though, this election was not won by anti-war candidates.

    And it has to be remembered that it is not in the interest of the Democrats for America to lose the war just as they emerge from minority to majority status.

    While many of them are anti-war, that doesn't make them anti-power. Just as small government Republicans can jettison principles and get on the big government bandwagon, antiwar Democrats can take off their tie-dyes and put on military uniforms.

    Hey, whatever works, right?

    (The whole thing is more depressing than I want to admit, and I'm almost glad to be sick.)

    UPDATE: This Reuters report makes it easy to understand why Ann Althouse is depressed:

    TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday called U.S. President George W. Bush's defeat in congressional elections a victory for Iran.

    Bush has accused Iran of trying to make a nuclear bomb, being a state sponsor of terrorism and stoking sectarian conflict in Iraq, all charges Tehran denies.

    "This issue (the elections) is not a purely domestic issue for America, but it is the defeat of Bush's hawkish policies in the world," Khamenei said in remarks reported by Iran's student news agency ISNA on Friday.

    "Since Washington's hostile and hawkish policies have always been against the Iranian nation, this defeat is actually an obvious victory for the Iranian nation."

    The Democrats wrested control of both houses of Congress from the Republicans in this week's mid-term elections, partly because of voter concern over the war in Iraq.

    You'd think Khamenei could have let the voters know in advance how he felt.

    (If he had, it would have been reported, wouldn't it?)

    posted by Eric at 11:54 AM | Comments (4)



    Whence the Republican freefall?
    How do we once again convince the public that we are in fact the party many Democrats successfully pretended to be in this election?

    So asks Dick Armey in the Wall Street Journal.

    A lot of people have said that the recent Republican loss results from their betrayal of the 1994 Contract With America, but Armey's status as one of its original architects makes his argument uniquely tough to ignore:

    If there was still any doubt, the Republican Revolution of 1994 officially ended Tuesday night with the loss of at least 28 seats and majority control of the House of Representatives. As I write this, the race in Virginia that will determine if the Republicans also lose control of the Senate is too close to call, but leaning Democrat.

    It was a rout.

    [...]

    what the Contract with America really did was establish a national (as opposed to a parochial) vision for the Republican Party. When we took control, that positive Reagan vision of limited government and individual responsibility provided a great deal of discipline and allowed us to govern accordingly. Our primary question in those early years was: How do we reform government and return money and power back to the American people?

    Eventually, the policy innovators and the "Spirit of '94" were largely replaced by political bureaucrats driven by a narrow vision. Their question became: How do we hold onto political power? The aberrant behavior and scandals that ended up defining the Republican majority in 2006 were a direct consequence of this shift in choice criteria from policy to political power.

    I'm hardly a longtime Republican loyalist (and I don't consider myself a true conservative), but I've been watching politics pretty closely now for several decades, so I might as well weigh in on what I think went wrong and when it happened, because I think that at some point, a rhetorical leap become an ideological leap in faith.

    Despite its many ideological twists and turns over the decades, the Republican Party has always been the party that was defined by a core belief in smaller government and fiscal restraint. Despite the divisions between moral conservatives, economic conservatives, and libertarians, there was a shared common ground on things like sticking to the text and intent of the Constitution, keeping the government out of the private sector as much as possible, and opposition to most socialistic programs. While I assumed that Republicans would always agree on these core issues, it was in the late 1990s that the "national greatness conservatism" came into being.

    It seemed to me like a rehash of LBJ's disastrous "Great Society" cynically flavored with enough religious-sounding morality to win over the social conservatives. Whatever it was, National Greatness Conservatism was Big Government Conservatism -- more an oxymoron than Republicanism as I had known it, and I was distrustful. So were a lot of others, like Virginia Postrel and James K. Glassman, as well as Jonah Goldberg.

    What happened? Why would this rationalization for big government conservatism appear in 1997? Applying FDR's maxim that there are no coincidences in politics, I'm tempted to guess that keen minds in the GOP were trying to out-triangulate Bill Clinton, who had out-triangulated himself just the year before in the famous "The Era of Big Government Is Over" speech. (And after having seemingly put "an end to welfare as we know it," Clinton the "fake conservative" was beginning to sound frighteningly believable to "real" conservatives.)

    So (the Republicans thought), if the Democrats can triangulate against big government, then why can't "we" triangulate against small government? The NGC slogan "Wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine," seemed to concede to Democrats that traditional Republican thinking was downright kooky (to say nothing of the even kookier ideas of the founders), and it gave a green light to more creative thinking. Conservatism plus big government means compassionate conservatism. The details of "National Greatness" might not have been spelled out, but the rhetoric is clearly evocative of LBJ's Great Society. What both had in common was big spending in the name of compassion.

    But this "National Greatness Conservatism" was not a meme that suddenly leaped into being in 1997 as an anti-Clinton counter-triangulation scheme. At the time, Virginia Postrel researched its origins, and found it to be vintage Crolyism (the doctrines of influential Progressive thinker Herbert Croly):

    Croly's central message was that the government's job is to solve social problems and to actively shape the future, not to be a neutral referee. "To conceive of a better American future as a consummation which will take care of itself,--as the necessary result of our customary conditions, institutions, and ideas,--persistence in such a conception is admirably designed to deprive American life of any promise at all," he wrote. Croly's ideas influenced, among other contemporaries, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, political rivals who in retrospect had more fundamental agreements than differences.

    Crolyism overturned the ideal of limited government in favor of a combination of elite power--commissions to regulate and plan--and mass democracy. It was this pragmatic progressivism, not socialist utopianism, that extinguished classical liberalism as the general philosophy of American government. Frustrated with constitutional limits, Croly wrote, "The security of private property and personal liberty, and a proper distribution of activity between the local and the central governments, demanded [at the time of the Constitution's framing], and within limits still demand, adequate legal guarantees. It remains none the less true, however, that every popular government should in the end, and after a necessarily prolonged deliberation, possess the power of taking any action, which, in the opinion of a decisive majority of the people, is demanded by the public welfare." This statement, while extreme, pretty much sums up today's governing philosophy.

    In Crolyism, we find the assumptions that underlie just about every current political debate: Government is supposed to pick sides and solve problems.

    Remember, Postrel is writing in 1997. Before Crolyism had became entrenched in Republicanism and conservatism. Doubtless, very few of her readers had heard of Herbert Croly. While I remember being singularly unimpressed as a libertarian with "National Greatness Conservatism," one of the problems with being a libertarian is that there are so many things with which to be seriously unimpressed that there's no time to sort out which unimpressive things are so serious that they rise to the level of serious threat. Nevertheless, it's not as if we weren't warned.

    In the very first sentence of her marvelous essay, Postrel warned that Crolyism was serious enough that it should have become part of our national vocabulary:

    Herbert Croly is not exactly a household name, but he should be. Seven decades after his death, we are still living in the political world his ideas built--and struggling to escape it.
    Not only do I think she's right, but if I were religious I'd be inclined to call her a prophet.

    While the Republican Crolyists at the time had a hazy agenda, remember that the Republicans were not in power. And many of them were reeling from the post-Cold War Clinton embrace of small government, and in fairness to them, they probably had no choice but to perform a rhetorical fast shuffle.

    And much to her credit, Virginia Postrel called them on it:

    So, far more explicitly, are Weekly Standard editors William Kristol and David Brooks [affirming the Crolyist creed] when they declare in The Wall Street Journal, "Wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine....What is missing from today's conservatism is the appeal to American greatness." By their own admission, Kristol and Brooks have only the haziest of agendas: "It would be silly to try to lay out some sort of 10-point program for American greatness." They simply know what they want to quash--the idea that American greatness is emergent, rather than planned, and that it does not emerge from Washington. "American purpose," writes Brooks, "can find its voice only in Washington."
    If you want to understand the origins of the GOP's wrong turn, Postrel's essay really is a must read.

    Seriously, I can't stress it enough. I feel like quoting the whole thing, but that's bad form and a copyright infringement. So, here I'll repeat the link. Do yourselves a favor and read it. And while you're at it read this post from the Dynamist.com archives, in which Postrel discusses the meme again, and catches the neoCrolyists trying to insinuate classicism into their rhetorical shuffle. (How dare they!)

    Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to blame anyone. Not Brooks. Not Kristol. Not Bush. Not even Croly. I'm not even sure it's fair to lay blame entirely on the Republicans, and I'll try to explain why.

    What I think happened that neither its architects nor opponents anticipated was that just as big government conservatism had barely managed to get its foot in the door, suddenly our whole world went kablooey.

    I don't want to waste words, so I'll simply illustrate with a well known image:


    9-11_jumper.jpg


    Like it or not, stuff like that is enough to turn many a libertarian into a communitarian. It was more than enough to provoke a Republican freefall into massive, no-holds-barred spending. No one with a conscience was talking about fiscal restraint at a time like that.

    Did the Democrats complain? I know that's like asking whether the Pope's Catholic, but no, they did not. At least, not until sufficient time had passed.

    Libertarian Gene Healey tried to sound the alarm in a 2004 essay titled "The Era of Big Government Conservatism":

    There's little evidence that the president recognizes the extent of the fiscal mess we're in. There's even less evidence that he recognizes any area of American life that should be free of government involvement. In his 1996 State of the Union address, then-President Bill Clinton famously declared that "the era of big government is over." President Bush's message for 2004 was less explicit, but just as direct: the era of big government conservatism has arrived.
    A lot of people were worried, but in fairness to them, the war against terrorism came first.

    It's all too easy to talk about fiscal restraint now that the bills are coming due and the country hasn't faced a major terrorist attack for years, because the terrorists mostly seem to be somewhere else. (As if things like that didn't cost money...)

    I think a good argument can be made that 9/11 and all the consequent sequelae explain why big government conservatism morphed into conservative doctrine without much of a whimper. No doubt power helped supply further rationalizations, and power always corrupts as does big money.

    But right now, Republicans are looking for answers and to do that they need to look at their roots.

    "Wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine."

    Oh yeah?

    I think a good argument can be made that for a variety of reasons, many voters this week voted in full recognition of the fact that no matter who is elected, the government simply will not leave them alone, and that the best protection is to apply the brakes on government in general.

    By electing conservative Democrats, might the voters have imagined that they could bring back the "era" of big government being over again?

    End of Big Government. Vintage Bill Clinton stuff, right? Well if Republicans don't speak up fast, pretty soon Bill Clinton will be credited with having invented opposition to big government.

    He didn't. In what would have been an act of apostasy for almost anyone else, Clinton claimed the mantle of Goldwater, Reagan, and countless conservative and libertarian thinkers, and (IMO) set the rhetorical stage for big government conservatism. That's because of the nature of politics, triangulation tends to invite counter-triangulation.

    But certain things are hard to triangulate. Like this memorable line from Ronald Reagan's inaugural address:

    ...government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem...
    Now, if we could just stop Nancy Pelosi from saying that...

    MORE: It might be too early to predict a wholesale sea change in Republican thinking (much less a return to advocating small government), but Glenn Reynolds points out that Rush Limbaugh is now feeling "liberated":

    Meanwhile I note that Rush Limbaugh, who was complaining about my pre-mortem before, now says he feels "liberated" because he's able to say things like . . . what I said back before the election. Well, better late than never, but one problem with the GOP is that it lost touch with the things it was supposed to stand for, and a little more tough love from Limbaugh before the election might have done some good.
    I hope this feeling of being liberated means that Limbaugh will go back to talking about ending big government. But it must be a hard rhetorical twist to have to admit that you were both for and then later against ending big government before you were now for it.

    I'd stick with simply being against what Glenn Reynolds said before I was for it. (Especially if I could say I'd "never heard of" Glenn Reynolds.)

    MORE: Speaking of Rush Limbaugh, Robert Bidinotto thinks his recent ad hominem attacks on Michael J, Fox cost the Republicans the Missouri Senate seat (and thus the Senate). And as if that wasn't bad enough, he also thinks the Libertarian Party cost the Republicans the Montana seat.

    UPDATE: Calling for "a new generation of leaders," today's Wall Street Journal sees voters as rejecting "big government conservatism":

    "Big government conservatism" was a nice think-tank proposition; it merely lacks support from actual voters.

    As a minority party in Congress, Republicans must operate as the party of change, not of Washington insiders willing to sign away their principles for a courthouse or swimming pool in the home district. This doesn't mean they shouldn't work with Democrats when it makes policy sense. But they need to reclaim their fiscal conservative birthright.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    "Big government conservatism" is one of those oxymorons that never should have been allowed to escape from the "think" tanks.

    Sheesh.

    What next? "Small government socialism"?

    I'm getting as tired of "liberal" and "conservative" as I am of the way these two "sides" imitate and "triangulate" each other as if they're playing some narcissistic game dominated by political insiders.

    Too many people just don't fit, and the country may be due for a new label.

    What? I should go back to being a Democrat?

    Because I like smaller government?

    posted by Eric at 10:24 AM | Comments (2)




    Cyclical Triangulation

    Captain Ed has a good post on the subject of President Bush's triangulation (if that's the right word) of Arnold Schwarzenegger's triangulation strategy:

    In that context, the Arnoldization that Bush appears to have begun makes some sense. He doesn't have a dog in the party fight that will arise over the next few weeks; in two years, he's retiring no matter what. People forget that Bush never has been a doctrinaire conservative, and that he chose Dick Cheney as his running mate to build confidence among conservatives in his leadership. He cut taxes like a conservative, but his social policies outside of abortion and embryonic stem cell research have been centrist, and his foreign policy Wilsonian. The removal of Rumsfeld and the selection of Bob Gates as his replacement, along with Condoleezza Rice at State, moves that foreign policy significantly back towards the foreign policy of his father and further away from Cheney and the "neocons".

    Bush wants to still be able to get work done in the final two years, and he understands that he will have to compromise on a broad front with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to do so. He isn't Ronald Reagan in that sense, but that's because he doesn't have Reagan's approval ratings, either. He's a minority president beset by a wave of disapproval, and he has few options outside of outright political warfare -- and in this case, the Democrats have all the big guns now. It's realpolitik in a different arena; Schwarzenegger showed how to survive and even thrive in that environment, and Bush appears ready to use his playbook.

    Bush really has nothing to lose at this point. The more the Democrats cooperate with him, the more successful the final days of his presidency will be. But if they refuse to cooperate after he has clearly met them half way, simply to make Bush look bad, they'll appear petty, vindictive, and unworthy of winning in 2008.

    I don't see much of a downside in this for Bush; only for the Democrats.

    posted by Eric at 01:31 PM | Comments (10)



    Will the government get smaller now?
    Should I continue to hold my nose?

    I feel like a real party pooper not weighing in and inveighing about the election results more than I have. But this damned cold is one of the worst I have ever had, and between the medicines and the cold I just can't think clearly, and when I can't think I can't write.

    While I think the Republicans had grown fat and corrupt and lost sight of what they once were (principles and ethics stand out), I don't think this election was lost because of any one overarching cause, because if you total up CNN's numbers -- "42 percent said corruption and ethics; 40 percent, terrorism; 39 percent, the economy; 37 percent, Iraq; 36 percent, values; and 29 percent, illegal immigration" -- any one of them could have made the difference.

    If I did have to go with one cause, Mark Tapscott put it quite well:

    "When Republicans worry more about staying in government than about limiting government, they get thrown out of government."
    Via Glenn Reynolds. "Small government" were once two words which described the Republican Party. So what accounts for the metasized monster they've been feeding all these years?

    I suppose it says a lot about the arrogance of power, and human nature. But like I say, there were a lot of things on voters' minds. More than any other cause, the moribund Republican Party lost because the Democrats for once ran solid, genuinely moderate candidates. James Webb and Joe Sestak are two good examples. For the first time in recent history, the Republicans could no longer rely on the opposition acting like a bunch of loonies in in some ZombieTime post. They had to show something tangible, and all they did was to try to distance themselves from an unpopular president, while running on a record of supporting him. Everyone could see through the lip service that was paid to "small government" and "fiscal restraint" too.

    As to "values," I'm not the right guy to ask (because the word places me in a bit of a conflict of interest). We're all human, and we all have things we call values. Some wear their values on their sleeves while others keep them in the closet. While I can't imagine any rational person judging the Republican Party because a single congressman talked dirty to teens, that and the Haggard affair hardly endeared the party to people who've long wanted to give Falwell and company Barry Goldwater's long promised kick in the ass.

    Whether the Republicans are viewed from a libertarian perspective, an economic conservative perspective, or a social conservative perspective, they failed.

    I mean, the best I could come up with was "Hold your nose and vote Republican!"

    While that can hardly be called a winning slogan, as it turned out, I had such a terrible cold that I didn't need to hold my nose. But I thought about the Republicans when I was forced to stand in a long line in the drugstore, which no longer sells my favorite sudafed-containing combination cold medicines. There were too many of them, and now that the pharmacists have to keep Sudafed behind the counter, the only sudafed product they want to stock is Sudafed itself. And that they give only after you stand in line, show ID, watch them waste time filling out a form for you to sign. All the regular cold medicines which used to work now don't. They have a product called phenylephrine -- and it sucks:

    Bad news for allergy and cold sufferers - researchers in Florida say the over-the-counter nasal decongestant that's replacing Sudafed on many drugstore shelves is ineffective.

    The compound phenylephrine, marketed by Pfizer Inc. as Sudafed PE, isn't sufficiently absorbed into the bloodstream to make it an effective oral medication, according to Leslie Hendeles and Randy C. Hatton, pharmacists at the University of Florida.

    The researchers recently raised the issue in a pharmaceutical journal because they are concerned that people will buy a medication that doesn't work - not realizing that a better drug is available a few feet away - if they ask for it.

    A Pfizer spokesman said the new drug is effective and that consumers can ask for the original Sudafed if they want it.

    The problem arose this year after the Food and Drug Administration acted on complaints that criminals were buying bulk quantities of Sudafed tablets and generic look-alikes for their key ingredient, a compound known as pseudephedrine.

    Phenylephrine does not work (it didn't for me), but it's in all those once-reliable products like Theraflu, Nyquil, Robitussin, etc. as well as the store generic versions. Obviously because these places are in business and want to make money with the OTC stuff, they don't want to hire more staff to deal with the forms, nor do they want to waste valuable space in their prescription pharmacy shelves for the innumerable products that once contained Sudafed. I even spotted a Robitussin CF with sudafed behind the counter -- but they wouldn't sell it to me, saying that it was "no longer to be offered" and could not be rung up for sale.

    The ordinary consumers are the ones being screwed by this nonsense; you can rest assured the meth cookers will find another way.

    The federal government continues to make the lives of ordinary citizens harder with bureaucratic laws which reach out and touch everyone. It's easy to blame Republicans, as they've been in power for so long.

    But does anyone think the Democrats won't do the same thing? The Talent-Feinstein Combat Meth Act was passed by a overwhelming majority, and the last time I looked, Dianne Feinstein wasn't a Republican.

    I know, it's just a little thing. But the founders of this country envisioned a federal government with limited powers, which wouldn't get involved with these "little things." Ordinary people were never supposed to encounter the federal government in the daily lives. Now it regulates their cars, their toilets, their schools, their land, and even their runny noses.

    I wonder how many voters would have just liked to vote to cut the whole federal government down to size. We won't know, because that wasn't on CNN's list of voter concerns.

    But if we assume that cutting government was a concern to at least some voters, what were they supposed to do?

    I held my nose, and a lot of good that did me.

    (Besides, thanks to the Republican and Democratic sudafedayeen, I'm too stopped up to care.)

    posted by Eric at 08:16 AM | Comments (4)




    Donkeys dis dog in dreams

    Not much time for blogging today, and in the short chunk of time I would have had this afternoon, the weather caused a power outage.

    But I had been meaning to let Coco (who's a Republican because she thinks the Democrats are after her ovaries) weigh in on the recent election.


    cocodemz.jpg


    As you can see, she's been having nightmares involving donkeys, and she's not very happy about it!

    posted by Eric at 07:59 PM | Comments (3)



    Whose war?

    While I went to bed knowing that the Democrats took the House, it was nonetheless a little annoying to turn on CNN this morning and watch Rahm Emanual rail against Bush and the war in Iraq as if he woke up and found himself in charge of the entire government. (I suppose he considers it a form of "reaching out" to assure CNN that Bush won't be impeached. That's no concession; it's strategy. Dems know that impeaching Bush could ruin their chances in 2008.)

    My brain is mush from the damned antihistamines I've been taking, and so I am at a loss to analyze what ought to be a couple of simple questions of logic. Unless I am way off, a major issue in this election was Bush. The Democrats were running against him, while the Republicans were running away from him (or even in many cases against him). Psychologically, this guaranteed that the Republicans would be perceived by the voters as if they'd been caught red-handed with much to hide, and the scandals hardly helped in this regard. Politics being like war, it also made the enemy smell blood in the water.

    Assuming antipathy towards Bush was a primary driving issue, my logical quandary is whether Bush is unpopular because of Iraq, or the Iraq war is unpopular because of Bush.

    Either way, running away from Bush was very bad strategy. I know I'm repeating myself, but for members of the Commander in Chief's own party to be cutting and running from him in wartime is no way to win.

    Thus, my concern is that even if this election was not about the war, there will be a major push to make it appear to be.

    But in logic, if the election was about the war (which I do not concede that it was), why is it necessarily Bush's war? Why should the Democrats who voted to support it (and who claimed that there were WMDs) get a pass?

    Vietnam was started by Kennedy, escalated by LBJ, funded by both parties, and finally ended by Nixon. Yet Kerry calls it "Nixon's War." (Right.)

    I think it's too easy for Democrats to claim credit for being against what they were for. The problem is that history shows it works.

    UPDATE: I like Glenn Reynolds' post election assessment:

    The Democrats now have a chance to govern, not just carp, and how well they do over the next couple of years will have a lot to do with whether they have a shot at the White House in 2008. Perhaps getting back into power will also encourage a bit of responsibility. We'll see. If nothing else, the bitterness that comes with losing, and being out of power, is likely to recede a bit. Republicans would be wise not to succumb to a similar bitterness, especially as this defeat could have been avoided if they'd stuck to their principles. Maybe they'll pay more attention to libertarians, too.
    And even if they won't pay attention to libertarians, maybe they could take a lesson from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    MORE: Another lingering question is how the term "conservative Democrat" is to be defined. (For years now, the label of "conservative" has been applied to anyone who supports the war in Iraq, regardless of their position on other issues.) If war supporters won the election for the Democrats, will there be a shakeup in the Democratic Party?

    MORE: According to CNN, exit polls show war coming in fourth:

    Asked which issues were extremely important to their vote, 42 percent said corruption and ethics; 40 percent, terrorism; 39 percent, the economy; 37 percent, Iraq; 36 percent, values; and 29 percent, illegal immigration.

    As Democrats had hoped, among voters who were against the war in Iraq, almost nine out of 10 said they chose a Democratic House candidate.

    But those who approved of the war chose the Republicans by nearly the same margin.

    Interesting that terrorism and Iraq are separated by CNN, but there's no breakdown of the how many voters might consider them related, if not inseparable. My suspicion is that those voters who see no connection between Iraq and terrorism would be more likely to oppose the war, while those who see a connection would be more likely to support it.

    posted by Eric at 07:55 AM | Comments (14)




    There has never been a winner. At least, not yet.

    A sufficiently simple assertion to make; reason: thus far everyone has died. Eventually someone will omit to die. A winner is you!

    New Jersey: why am I not surprised? Only by the narrowest margin does the New Jersey senate election fail to eclipse the re-election of Marion Barry... after he'd already been convicted of buying crack. From a prostitute. Feculence, thy name is Jersey!

    Not that there's anything wrong with smoking crack mind you. Or hiring/being a prostitute. But come on people, you don't want that running your city do you? Sheesh.

    I have an election forecast to make! Not that anyone has asked for my predictions. But I feel the need to predict them any way. In a minute. Right after I pour another glass of wine. Because, you know, day of mourning and all that. And unlike your typical run-of-the-mill predictions, I guarantee mine is 99% accurate. My prediction:

    EVERYONE LOSES!!!

    posted by Cosmic Drunk at 08:43 PM | Comments (2)



    Yeah, a completely useless post!

    Not that I'm surprised in the least, but so far it looks like a good night for the Dems and a rout for the Repubs.

    (Not that anyone needed me to make that premature and annoying observation.)

    I'm nursing a god-awful cold right now and not terribly in the blogging mood. Frankly, the damned Sudefed (for which I had to stand in a long line and fill out a federal form) doesn't help my brain all that much.

    I might weigh in later.

    Or maybe I'll get Coco the Republican to weigh in. She's not on anything.

    MORE (08:58 p.m.): FWIW, I just heard James Carville on CNN refer to the war in Iraq as "the dead elephant in the room" -- and as the driving force behind the thus-far impressive Democratic numbers.

    One of the downsides of being a democracy at war is that the voters can vote against the war.

    IMO, Bush and the Republicans have done a piss poor job of selling the war to the American public, and while Bush has cocooned himself (and the Republicans have distanced themselves from him), the other side has hammered the war -- and Bush -- relentlessly.

    Can't win wars that way.

    FINAL PREDICTION: Glenn Reynolds links Wizbang's predictions:

    Surprisingly, there seems to be a general consensus in the room among the bloggers (both liberal and conservative) that Democrats will take control of the House and fall short of taking control of the Senate.
    That's been my answer to Glenn's earlier polls, all three times I took them, so color me very unsurprised.

    I do hope Carville is wrong about opposition to the Iraq war driving these results, though.

    MORE (10:05 p.m.): I don't know whether incumbency in Pennsylvania is indicative of any "trend," but right now it appears that Democrat incumbents are doing well, while Republican incumbents are doing poorly.

    HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: One of the few signs of hope I have seen this evening is a simple reminder from La Shawn Barber that people can be on opposite sides of acrimonious issues and yet be civil to each other -- maybe even friendly!

    I've long been proud to consider La Shawn a friend.

    MORE (10:55 p.m.): Anderson Cooper just pointed out what's on the minds of many -- that the Democrats who are winning are conservatives.

    In this election, at least, triangulation works for the Democrats, but not for the Republicans.

    Of course, the opposite of triangulation doesn't seem to work for Republicans either. (Santorum and Harris didn't triangulate at all, and both lost resoundingly.)

    Of course, there's always Ahnold...

    A lot of people on both sides would rather he not exist at all.

    UPDATE (11:09 p.m.): DEMOCRATS WIN HOUSE. CNN just called it, and while that's not official, it's enough for me to end this useless post and get some sleep in the hope of surviving this cold.

    I'm tempted to predict that this clinches the White House for the Clintons, but I do want to sleep.

    In this regard, I tend to agree with John Batchelor:

    President Clinton is a man on a mission to install his wife in the Oval Office and to vindicate his marred presidency with a remake.
    So far, it seems the strategy is working.

    posted by Eric at 08:12 PM | Comments (5)



    Undocumented alien lunch provides food for thought

    I don't know what could be more boring to blog about than what I had for lunch, except that I don't know precisely what it is I had for lunch. I need to keep my strength up, so I had to eat something, and all I could find was one of those "just add boiling water" type of Asian lunches. There were only three words I could understand on the package -- "UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECT."

    Yes, I'm serious. Here's a scan of the lid:

    UFOLunch.jpg

    When I unpeeled the lin, I found foil packets of flavor ingredients on top of the dried noodles inside, but no other markings or instructions. I'm intuitive enough to know how to add water and in dump in the flavorings, but otherwise I'm without a clue.

    I've heard that aliens are taking over, but this really is too much, too fast. It's bad enough that millions of unidentified guest workers are sneaking across the borders.

    But UFOs?

    Aliens from space?

    What fence could keep them out?

    posted by Eric at 01:46 PM | Comments (7)



    Reminder

    I've already written about my vote and I don't plan on live-blogging anything (not as long as the polls are open).

    So, for people who want comprehensive and up-to-date news, be sure to check out Pajamas Media election coverage.

    posted by Eric at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)



    Voting in defense of adulthood

    I just voted, and the only tussling I had with my conscience (touched on in a previous post) was whether to vote for Rick Santorum or Bob Casey for Senate.

    Sean Kinsell wrestled with this too, and decided to vote for Casey. I agree with much of Sean's analysis, and in all honesty, my vote could have flipflopped either way. In fact, I was going to vote against Santorum before I was going to vote for him, but when I went into the polls I saw the "straight Republican" button. (A hot button, to be sure.... But how straight is a hot button?) Anyway, before I'd had full time to reflect on the Santorum implications, I'd pushed that hot, straight Republican button, and then I heard a little electronic trilling noise, the curtain opened, and the closet was laid bare.

    While I always experience what feels like "buyer's remorse" after voting, I'll try to explain what made me push the button with so little hesitation. The answer lies in my daily morning dose of MSM.

    Not to knock the Inquirer (everyone in the Philadelphia area should subscribe), and there's nothing wrong with the way this piece is written, but the facts just supplied a reminder that often it's the little things that matter. The little thing was another school shooting:

    A Chester High School ninth grader has been arrested and charged with attempted homicide and other offenses for allegedly shooting a pistol into a crowd of students outside the high school from a school bus at the end of the school day Friday.

    A 14-year-old girl was grazed on the chin by a bullet; she was treated and released. "Someone could easily have been seriously hurt," Chester Police Chief John Finnegan said yesterday.

    Chester Upland school district superintendent Gloria Grantham said it appears that the student, Michael Sterling, 15, had the gun inside the school during the day Friday.

    Sterling, who was charged as an adult, was arrested Sunday after a search warrant was served at his home in the 200 block of Hayes Street; a gun with a filed-off serial number was found hidden there. He remains in the Delaware County prison, with bail set at $25,000 cash.

    I don't seek out stories like this, but it just so happens that for much of the weekend (on KYW traffic radio), I was unable to avoid hearing about the shooting, over and over again. At every news break, the radio would play the following angry question from a parent:
    It surprised me a lot because I don't believe this is happening, where are they getting these weapons from?
    Where are they getting these weapons from?

    Yes, it was accusatory in tone, as if she thought the guns were someone else's fault. It's one thing for a parent in denial to ask such a question, but I heard that scolding question repeated all weekend as "news."

    The scolding tone of the question was still on my mind when I opened the Inquirer this morning and read about the "gun with a filed-off serial number."

    Where are they getting the weapons? The posing of that question by an adult assumes that someone else should be overseeing "the children" who don't know any better, and are hapless victims of gun suppliers. Any idea how many felonies that gun with filed off serial numbers hidden in the kid's house might represent? Even if this had "just" been a school shooting, the question would have been woefully inappropriate. Not only is shooting someone an adult activity, but guns with filed-off serial numbers are deliberate, carefully committed adult offenses. Yet you won't hear a question like "Why are they stashing guns with filed off serial numbers in their parents' homes?" being asked. It certainly wouldn't get much radio play.

    I know, it's just a little story, another minor school shooting. Committed by a wholly innocent child who had "a gun with filed-off serial numbers" stashed at his parents' house.

    But for me it just served as yet another daily reminder there are a lot of people who don't believe in such a thing as individual responsibility and who would treat all people like children. (A child is an adult is a child.) Much as I might abhor this mindset, those who share it would rule my life.

    It's why I voted Republican.

    Not that there's a huge difference in philosophy, but in balance, I think there's more of an acknowledgment of the right to be treated like an adult in the Republican Party, but barely. That plus support for the war. (Again, barely.)

    But what about the Republicans who believe in treating citizens like children? (Arguably, Santorum falls into that category.) Those who would treat us like children deserve to be treated as children, and children don't deserve to hold office, right?

    The problem with that is that this election is so close that it isn't about candidates. It's about which party gets to put people on what the president's father called "these committees":

    "It is more than party vs. party," Bush said. "It is the idea that if we have some of these wild Democrats in charge of these committees, it will be a ghastly thing for our country. They just have a very different view of looking at the United States of America. They will be pushing for all kinds of crazy legislation; they will be issuing subpoenas."
    This "very different view of looking at the United States of America" not only includes treating adults like children, it also includes an inabilty to fully appreciate the dangers posed by an enemy which treats adults like children. I think this inability is the inevitable result of the condescending doctrine known as "identity politics" which, by failing to recognize the dignity of the individual, treats adults as children.

    While it's a close call in certain individual races, in balance, I voted against this "very different view of looking at the United States of America" in order to vote against being treated like a child.

    posted by Eric at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)




    The most sorely needed election yet

    I predict that no matter what happens tomorrow, everyone will be sore. The Democrats have been acting like sore winners for some time, and if they win tomorrow, I think they can be depended upon to continue to be sore winners.

    But if the Democrats lose, then they'll be really sore, and I mean so sore that it will be painful to watch. Because they believe so strongly in the polls, the predicted tsunami and the rest of it, if they lose they'll be certain to cry foul and in a big, big way. Why not? I mean, it's not as if they'll have anything to lose.

    So, win or lose, count on the Democrats to be sore.

    As to the Republicans, they've been so sore for so long that they can't stand their own party, their president, or each other. Social conservatives, economic conservatives, pork spenders, libertarians, neocons, crunchycons, RINOs, homocons, you name it, the big tent is so sore that it is even sore about being sore. If they lose, this collective soreness will get even worse (if such a thing is imaginable) because they'll be out of power and blame will set in. Everyone will blame everyone for everyone else's soreness, plus they'll all be sore at themselves for losing.

    But if the Republicans win, likewise the soreness will only increase, because no one's agenda has been met, and these agendas can be depended upon to continue to be unmet. The base is mad at the people at the top, who want to sell out the base, and there's no consensus on anything. Winning will only heighten the complete lack of consensus.

    I predict soreness, soreness, and more soreness.

    I hope no one will get sore at me for pointing out the obvious. I'm just the messenger. I couldn't get any sorer if I tried, but I'll hold my very sore nose and vote, and like everyone else I'll be sore to celebrate the election results.

    posted by Eric at 10:41 PM | Comments (1)



    A key difference between Iraq and Vietnam

    Via Glenn Reynolds, Donald Sensing quotes American Thinker on a very important distinction between Vietnam and Iraq:

    It doesn't matter how we got there. It doesn't matter how you think you were lied to. It doesn't matter if you think there was a connection between Sadam and Al-Qaeda. The only thing that matters now is that both Al-Qaeda and Iran and the terrorist groups they back and inspire believe that Iraq is their decisive battle. They have chosen it as the place where they will defeat America, and unlike the Viet Cong, they will not stay put. They will follow us home.
    Yes, they will, because if you think 9/11 still "counts," they already have.

    posted by Eric at 09:35 PM | Comments (6)



    What Would RINOs do? Why, stampede to the polls!

    This week the RINOs are raging at Don Surber's blog. Great posts all -- so don't miss them!

    I especially agree with Don's conclusion:

    We're RINOs. We do not agree with everything the Republicans do. But we are Republicans. The national party did not abandon Lincoln Chafee -- or Rick Santorum. Big tent. Vote.
    Agree. Any tent big enough to hold RINOs and elephants is a pretty big one (as the carnival reminds).

    So do what RINOs do, and what makes Rahm Emanuel nervous.

    VOTE!

    posted by Eric at 11:36 AM | Comments (1)



    Scientific cause of Global Warming

    While I don't know whether it's more offensive than professors who believe in 911 conspiracy theories, I was amused to see that Idaho State University has a tenured professor who believes quite seriously in "Bigfoot." Apparently, though, he pays the price -- which is not being invited for coffee:

    "Do I cringe when I see the Discovery Channel and I see Idaho State University, Jeff Meldrum? Yes, I do," Hackworth said. "He believes he's taken up the cause of people who have been shut out by the scientific community. He's lionized there. He's worshipped. He walks on water. It's embarrassing."

    John Kijinski, dean of arts and sciences, said there have been "grumblings" about Meldrum's tenure, but no formal request for a review.

    "He's a bona fide scientist," Kijinski said. "I think he helps this university. He provides a form of open discussion and dissenting viewpoints that may not be popular with the scientific community, but that's what academics all about."

    On campus, Meldrum -- himself a hulking figure, with a mop of brown hair, a bristly silver mustache, and a black T-shirt with a silhouette of a hunchbacked, lurking Bigfoot -- gets funny looks and the silent treatment from other scientists, and is not invited to share coffee with the other science professors.

    While not being invited for coffee may sound like harsh treatment, we all know how vicious those academia nuts can be when they get all fired up.

    But the coffee snubbing may only be the tip of the melting iceberg. While academicians may be tolerant when it comes to claims by their peers that Bush brought down the Twin Towers (or arguments in favor of advocating elimination of 90% of the world's population by airborne ebola), Professor Meldrum's Bigfoot research crossed the magic line between mere social snubs and protest petitions:

    Over the summer, more than 30 professors signed a petition criticizing the university for hosting a Bigfoot symposium where Meldrum was the keynote speaker.

    He pays for his research with a $30,000 donation from a Bigfoot believer.

    Still, Meldrum has a distinguished supporter in Jane Goodall, the world-famous authority on African chimpanzees. Her blurb on the jacket of Meldrum's new book, "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science," lauds him for bringing "a much-needed level of scientific analysis" to the Bigfoot debate.

    "As a scientist, she's very curious and she keeps an open mind," said Goodall spokeswoman Nona Gandelman. "She's fascinated by it."

    Bigfoot is sort of the Loch Ness Monster of the Pacific Northwest. The legend dates back centuries.

    Hey, Jane Goodall is no slouch. She's an internationally acclaimed primate researcher. But she seems to be a bit cautious in being too publicly associated with Bigfoot claims, and in 2004 she canceled an appearance at a Bigfoot conference. But I'm reassured to see that she keeps her mind open.

    After all, we can't prove there isn't any such thing as Bigfoot, can we? Isn't scientific skepticism part of the scientific method?

    The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.

    --Isaac Asimov

    But how do we define wild and ridiculous? Belief in Bigfoot is such a minority view that to call the critics "skeptical" would be an understatement. "Wild and ridiculous" would seem to be defining characteristics.

    But what about the theory that the mercury in my teeth is so dangerous that it should be prohibited, and that I am so toxic that it should be illegal to burn my corpse? Scientific panels had debunked the claims of danger and concluded that the fillings were safe, but under pressure from activists to ban mercury fillings, the FDA pulled the reports and appointed new committees filled with activists determined to issue new reports proving that the fillings might possibly be dangerous.

    The more I read about the infinitessimal threat posed by the mercury fillings in my teeth, the more my frustration grew. After two blog posts on the subject, I was still at a loss to understand how anyone calling himself a "scientist" might actually advocate banning the same dental mercury which is already in use in hundreds of millions of teeth based on a total lack of evidence.

    What I had not stopped to consider was the existence of a so-called "scientific" principle known as "The Precautionary Principle." Frequently invoked by political hacks (and politically motivated scientists who want to impose restrictions on things they dislike) I hadn't given it much thought. But the more I read, the more I worried what it might do to the basic concept of scientific skepticism.

    Just what is the Precautionary Principle? Fortunately, it has been defined. By scientists!

    Not only is it said to be scientific, but it is based on common sense

    What is the precautionary principle?

    A comprehensive definition of the precautionary principle was spelled out in a January 1998 meeting of scientists, lawyers, policy makers and environmentalists at Wingspread, headquarters of the Johnson Foundation in Racine, Wisconsin. The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, which is included in full at the end of this fact sheet, summarizes the principle this way:

    "When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."

    Hmmm.... But what is "harm"? Why limit harm so narrowly? Might not economic harm also constitute harm? Don't humans live longer and better lives in developed economies? Or is that not part of common sense?

    What worries me about this "Precautionary Principle" is that it might very well be used to as a tool to give legitimacy to non-scientific claims -- even "wild and ridiculous" ones.

    If a crackpot group alleges threats of harm, then the Precautionary Principle would dictate that even crackpot claims should be taken seriously.

    Because after all, we cannot know to a scientific certainty that there might not be harm.

    What this means is that because Bigfoot might exist, and because man might be a serious environmental threat to Bigfoot, the latter should be declared endangered, and should be protected. Perhaps Canada should be declared off limits to development.

    Using the Precautionary Principle as a guide, a good case can be made that scientific skepticism itself should be abolished -- as a threat to the environment as well as our collective well being in the non-economic sense.

    Nuremburg trials for scientific skeptics might be in the offing.

    We need to take Precautions!

    UPDATE: Commenter Jon Thompson applies the Precautionary Principle to politics. I think he's onto something!

    posted by Eric at 09:56 AM | Comments (1)




    Better green than dead?

    John Beck has been AWOL for too long, not only from this blog, but from his own blog.

    Sorry John, but saying "I'm not dead yet" just doesn't cut it.

    I saw John last night, and from the way he was acting, I think he might be hiding something from his readers. Here's a picture I took, unretouched and absolutely not PhotoShopped or altered in any way.

    Beck1104.jpg

    I'm not trying to be judgmental or anything, and I think John should be free to believe whatever he wants and say or advocate whatever he wants -- even right here on this blog. But I can read links, and I'm beginning to understand why John might be not in a hurry to face his readers.

    posted by Eric at 07:40 PM | Comments (3)



    Even burned flesh does not win arguments

    If the smell of defeat isn't disturbing, how disturbing is the smell of burning flesh? Like many things, it all depends on the audience:

    Gestures must express some deep but unexpressed emotion to be effective. Roland gave the performance of his life but the gallery was empty.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Roland was a Lutheran vicar in Germany, who burned himself to death to protest Islamic hegemony in Europe. But as Wretchard notes, the gallery was quite full when a Buddhist monk set fire to himself in Vietnam:

    Thich Quang Duc's action was front page New York Times News. Pictures of it were on President Kennedy's desk the next day. It was regarded as a tremendous public relations blow against "the American backed South Vietnamese government and its war against the Communist supported Viet Cong". Even though it had nothing to do with Communism at all, it is possible that many Americans, shown the picture today, would misidentify it as a protest against the US troops in Vietnam, although American troops would not be there in numbers for two more years.
    This prompted commenter hdgreene (who has a blog) to add a sardonic remark:
    He should have screamed "Bush out of Iraq!"
    If he had, his death would have gotten a higher audience rating.

    Interestingly, when University of Pennsylvania activist Cathy Change burned herself to death in 1996, a major part of her message was that she wanted Clinton out of Iraq:

    Clinton seems to think that since all the targets of his missile attacks in the first week of September were military targets, those strikes were ok. Wait a minute. How would the Pentagon feel if American bases on the U. S. mainland had been attacked by missiles of a hostile country? The Pentagon would probably act like it had just been shot in the testicles. Can there be any doubt its response would be war? Military attacks on any target, military or civilian, should not be undertaken lightly. Indeed they should not be undertaken at all...

    The average person is essentially well-intentioned, and to such a person it may be inconceivable that his government is motivated by pure evil. But looking at the whole picture, an impartial person must finally conclude that the true objective of the U.S. government is to destroy America and the world.

    While I think that Cathy Change's self-immolation over Iraq would have gotten far more attention today under Bush than it did then under Clinton, the fact remains that in terms of pure logic, self immolation does little to advance the argument which it is intended to advance, because it adds nothing to the argument beyond the obvious fact that the person who self immolates is willing to die for his or her beliefs.

    That's probably why the deaths tend to be noticed more by people who agree with the beliefs than by people who don't. The more such deaths occur, the more callused people become, and thus the less effective they are.

    No matter how passionately you feel about something, dying for it will not make you any more right than you were before you died. While martyrdom might inspire people under certain circumstances, I think that in general the longer you live, the more you can accomplish. People who believe in their principles so strongly that they're willing to die for them would do better to channel that same energy into living.

    That's why people who want to live will generally defeat people who want to die.

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



    Keeping the smell of defeat in the closet?

    WARNING: This post is no fun. For that I apologize in advance. I'll try harder to be funnier in future posts just as soon as I can.

    There's an election Tuesday and I really, passionately hate elections. Yet despite this hatred, because I write this blog, I feel some sort of obligation to disclose my thoughts about the coming election. I hate that having that feeling of obligation, as it crowds my style. I'd rather talk about interesting things that aren't as polarizing as the election, things that people usually don't take the time to think about. Everyone is talking about the election and being pestered about it, so it almost strikes me as a betrayal of my readers to talk about what everyone else talks about simply because everyone else talks about it. The contradiction is that if I avoided talking about it, then I'd also feel as if I were betraying my readers. So, what better place to start than with my hatred of elections?

    I hate elections because not only do elections symbolize inevitable doom and judgment (because invariably, someone must win and someone must lose) but because I abhor politics and I detest activism. And elections are driven by politics and activism. So it's just a big giant yechh! It's creepy and disgusting to have a sense of obligation to write about such a disgusting thing. Writing about maggot-infested roadkill seems infinitely more charming.

    I'd like to skip the bullshit and just say that because I continue to support the war against terror, I plan to vote for as many of the Republican candidates as I can stomach voting for, and (as I explained before) if I have to wear a figurative or literal noseclip to the polls, I will.

    It was a bit daunting to read this essay by disgruntled Democrat Orson Scott Card, because I think he's so absolutely right in his analysis, and because I couldn't hope to match it in terms of breadth or scope. It's a long essay and a great one, but here's his conclusion:

    The Democratic Party is hopeless -- only clowns seem to be able to rise to prominence there these days, while they boot out the only Democrats serious about keeping America's future safe. But the Republicans are almost equally foolish, trying to find somebody who is farther right than Bush -- somebody who will follow the conservative line far better than the moderate Bush has ever attempted -- and somebody who will "kick butt" in foreign policy.

    So if we get one of the leading Democrats as our new President in 2009, we'll be on the road to pusillanimous withdrawal and the resulting chaos in the world.

    While if we elect any of the Republicans who are extremist enough to please the Hannity wing of the party, our resulting belligerence will likely provoke Islam into unifying behind one of the tyrants, which is every bit as terrifying an outcome.

    I hope somebody emerges in one of the parties, at least, who commits himself or herself to continuing Bush's careful, wise, moderate, and so-far-successful policies in the War on Terror.

    Meanwhile, we have this election. You have your vote. For the sake of our children's future -- and for the sake of all good people in the world who don't get to vote in the only election that matters to their future, too -- vote for no Congressional candidate who even hints at withdrawing from Iraq or opposing Bush's leadership in the war. And vote for no candidate who will hand control of the House of Representatives to those who are sworn to undo Bush's restrained but steadfast foreign policy in this time of war.

    Via Glenn Reynolds, who as usual says "Read the whole thing." You really do have to read the whole thing to understand why Card considers Bush's policy restrained and steadfast, but he's right. It is. People on both sides are threatening to undo it for very different reasons, but I think that regardless of what anyone thinks of Iraq, it may be our last best chance to avert something much more serious, and that is defeat.

    Politically and psychologically, I don't think this country can tolerate another defeat in a major war. We still bear the scars of defeat in Vietnam, and the argument still rages about the hows and whys of that defeat. Many Americans believe the United States deserved to be defeated, and many believe we were defeated by the Communist Vietnamese enemy. I don't think we were defeated by the Communists at all, but by Watergate. Watergate achieved more than the removal of Nixon; it guaranteed defeat in Vietnam. That's because Nixon had waged the war to a peaceful conclusion by forcing the enemy into a peace agreement which just might have been enforceable, but which, after the national post-Watergate malaise set in, became politically impossible. The country that had always won its wars had a very hard time grappling with having lost one for which 57,000 Americans had died. And the removal of a popular president who'd won by a landslide is about as close as this country can come to regicide, and the demoralizing effects were inevitable. I'm not saying this to defend Nixon or compare Bush to Nixon, or even Iraq to Vietnam. It's just that I think patterns can repeat themselves, and there's nothing that demoralizes a country like the loss of a war. Especially a war that should have been and could have been won. And which, depending on your definitions, actually had been won.

    The consequences of losing Iraq might be worse than losing Vietnam, not only because it would mean two losses (and the demoralization of being a two-time loser is worse than the demoralization of being a one-time loser), but because from a national security standpoint, a loss in Iraq would have worse consequences than the loss in Vietnam. Vietnam was a hot battle in the larger Cold War, but the real enemy consisted of actual, identifiable countries (primarily the Soviet Union) which were rational and which could be dealt with in other ways. Russia did not want World War III, as they still had fresh memories of World War II. While Communist ideologues saw Communism as inevitable, they just didn't have the same messianic view or willingness to die as martyrs, and they saw the United States as an enemy that could be dealt with at arm's length on a more or less rational basis. Not so with people who see us as the Great Satan, and who see Iraq as sacred soil and the proper seat of a Caliphate. If the U.S. loses the will to see the Iraq effort through to victory, the consequences will be very dire. Add the inevitable demoralization factor domestically, and I don't think this country can afford it.

    Why, I'd go so far as to say that it's more important that the debate over Foley. Or Haggard. Or even closets. I'll vote for the Republicans despite their alleged closets. I'll take their closets over the Democrats' closets. Closets are based on shame, and while I don't think homosexuality is worth being ashamed of, defeat in a war is very definitely worth being ashamed of. The closet with the most shame is the closet of Vietnam. Neither party wants that shame, and that's why they're still arguing about who is responsible, and who deserves blame for the shame. I'm tempted to say "no more Vietnams" but it would sound like an antiwar slogan, and I mean it as the opposite. In general, the people who say "no more war" really mean what they say, and they think that defeat is acceptable. I think it would be a disaster, and I think withdrawal before victory guarantees defeat. Not that the Republicans are great, but I think they're less likely to repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. And whether you like Nixon or not, his party did tend to believe in the virtue of victory.

    Say what you will about defeat, but I don't think too many people see virtue in it.

    So, despite my many disappointments with them, I hope the Republicans win on Tuesday. I hope that my pessimism about what the Democrats would do if they win is misguided, and I hope that if they defeat the Republicans that it won't lead to a defeat in Iraq.

    I don't think the national closet is large enough to hold such a defeat.

    MORE: Thank you, Glenn Reynolds, for linking this post!

    Welcome all, and whether you have to hold your nose or not (and whether you agree with me or not), be sure to vote.

    MORE: While my ignorance obviously shows, I'm happy to be educated by the commenters about Orson Scott Card. I don't read Science Fiction, and I wish I'd talked to Justin before I wrote this post, but what the heck. I thought it was a great essay knowing nothing about Card, and hearing more about him makes this process more interesting. (Whether I agree with him on other issues is irrelevant.)

    UPDATE (11/06/06): The DC Examiner opines that Americans know so little about the Democrats' plans that they are "Sleepwalking into the gathering storm":

    ....as America faces a mortal threat, too many Democrats who would lead us have not yet demonstrated that they recognize our peril. We know only that they have urged withdrawal from Iraq, but are always vague about what happens after that. And they have consistently opposed every means of intelligence-gathering that has clearly prevented new terrorist attacks and thus saved countless lives.

    Despite Bush's missteps and his low approval ratings, Iraq remains a crucial battlefield in a worldwide struggle between America with its democratic values and Islamic Fascism. Only one side can win. Are Americans willing to commit to "victory at all costs," as Churchill urged his fellow Britons in their epic struggle, or will we join the Democrats who ignore the gathering storm clouds ahead?

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    What happens after withdrawal from Iraq? That depends on why they're withdrawn. If the withdrawal reflects the reality that the troops are no longer needed to assist a stabilized and democratic Iraqi state, that's one thing. If they're removed because the voters decided they were tired of them being there and their mission failed, that's quite another.

    I think the former would be a victory, but the latter would be a shameful defeat.

    MORE: According to two more reports linked by Glenn, both U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi government would seem to agree.

    UPDATE (11/07/06): LGF quotes Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on what he sees as "the lessons of Vietnam":

    I cannot forget the sight of the American forces leaving Vietnam in helicopters, which carried their officers and soldiers. Some Vietnamese, who had fought alongside the Americans, tried to climb into these helicopters, but the [Americans] threw them to the ground, abandoned them, and left. This is the sight I anticipate in our region, but I am not saying it will happen in months. It will take years. The Americans will gather their belongings and leave this region - the entire region. They have no future whatsoever in our region. They will leave the Middle East, and the Arab and Islamic worlds, like they left Vietnam. I advise all those who place their trust in the Americans to learn the lesson of Vietnam, and to learn the lesson of the South Lebanese Army with the Israelis, and to know that when the Americans lose this war - and lose it they will, Allah willing - they will abandon them to their fate, just like they did to all those who placed their trust in them throughout history.
    Something to keep in mind while voting.

    posted by Eric at 10:21 AM | Comments (39)



    Validating Marx, Hitler, Jesus, and Buddha!

    The Philadelphia Inquirer's Frank Wilson (whose blog Books, Inq. is wonderful) has a review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion which touches on something I can't resist:

    Dawkins is well aware that many believers object to a curriculum that presents, as one person he quotes put it, "all faiths as equally valid." Only one doesn't have to get into the question of validating different creeds. You can simply study what people believe and why. And read their scriptures. And admire their art and music and ritual. Even Dawkins grants that "we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals... without buying into the supernatural beliefs... ."

    I suspect these ideas would not have the effect Dawkins thinks they would....

    I have no problem with teaching comparative religion, as I consider it part of basic education, and it shouldn't matter which religious view any teacher or any student has.

    What I cannot understand is the position (taken by so many teachers) that "all faiths are equally valid." How can anyone maintain logically (or with anything resembling a straight face) that the statement is not judgmental? It only seems non judgmental, but it is about as non-judgmental as it would be to say that all political ideologies or systems are equally valid. Or that all versions of the origins of the universe are equally valid. It's illogic at it's worst, and I wouldn't be surprised if the idea came from politicians who simply didn't want to offend anyone.

    The only way to be non-judgmental is to not make any judgment at all. Saying that concept or idea A is "just as valid" as concept or idea B is an assertion which, unless it is proven, has as much educational value as a political slogan.

    Not that someone doesn't have a right to believe or maintain, say, that "all ways are valid and all gods exist." I once belonged to a church which maintained exactly that. But if I taught that to kids, I would be indoctrinating them -- every bit as much as if I taught them that only Jesus was "the way, the truth, and the light."

    It's amazing that this approach could be passed off as secularism.

    Not taking a position on religion means not taking a position, favorable or unfavorable. Saying all religions are equally valid is anything but secularism.

    A larger question, of course, is whether it's possible to teach without making judgments. In the case of religion, it might be possible, but I see nothing wrong with being personally honest and disclosing one's own view if it becomes relevant to a discussion, as long as that isn't done in an indoctrinating fashion. Nor do I see any problem with being able to point out that dragging sacrificial victims to the tops of pyramids would not be considered freedom of religion under our First Amendment, and that I might think a religion advocating that is definitely not "equally as valid" as all other religions. Those who think it is, they should feel free to disagree with my assessment, but that doesn't mean I should have to consider their opinions equally valid.

    If everything is equally valid, how can anyone think critically about anything?

    (I swear, if I had to sit and listen to the "all ways are valid" mantra in a classroom, they'd have to drug me....)

    posted by Eric at 07:49 AM | Comments (2)




    A man's home is his closet!

    Andrew Sullivan believes that "the closet" is responsible for many evils.

    First it was Mark Foley:

    the news about Mark Foley has a kind of grim inevitability to it. I don't know Foley, although, like any other gay man in D.C., I was told he was gay, closeted, afraid and therefore also screwed up. What the closet does to people - the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds - is brutal....

    What I do know is that the closet corrupts. The lies it requires and the compartmentalization it demands can lead people to places they never truly wanted to go, and for which they have to take ultimate responsibility. From what I've read, Foley is another example of this destructive and self-destructive pattern for which the only cure is courage and honesty. While gays were fighting for thir basic equality, Foley voted for the "Defense of Marriage Act". If his resignation means the end of the closet for him, and if there is no more to this than we now know, then it may even be for the good.

    Doesn't that sound a bit like a sermon? You'd almost think that "the closet" was something deeply sinister, and deeply immoral, causing people to lose their ability to control themselves and commit great evil.

    Now it's Ted Haggard:

    this is what the closet does: it is a dagger aimed at the heart of the family. It has wrecked so many marriages, destroyed so many families, traumatized so many kids. It must end.
    Is it really "the closet" that has wrecked marriages and destroyed families? Or might there be a legitimate fear that by labeling yourself gay, you'll be limiting your choices, forcing yourself into a box, and ultimately setting in motion a chain of events that will wreck your marriage and traumatize your kids?

    These aren't quite the same thing.

    But to Sullivan, they are:

    Until we achieve full gay equality and acceptance, families will continue to suffer terribly from the closet and those who defend and uphold it. But there is help out there.
    But there is help? Many Americans do not like religious leaders pontificating and telling them what to do with their genitalia.

    Is it possible that Andrew Sullivan is doing the same thing?

    Unless I am wrong in my analysis, what Sullivan is saying is that there is no right to sexual privacy. While he describes himself as a conservative, his thinking seems awfully unconcerned about the rights of the individual. Where it comes to sex, what matters is what others do with their penises.

    Frankly, I see little difference between that type of intolerance and that displayed by guys like Haggard and his ilk. Forgive me for repeating what I said yesterday, but I think it applies:

    There's no live and let live with people like [Haggard]. Homosexuality is something to be fought personally -- and not just within oneself. It is something that must be fought in other people, even total strangers. Why anyone would care what another person does with his genitalia is something I will never understand. But that's one of my blind spots. I don't understand it because I don't think or behave that way. As I've tried to explain countless times, I see sexual intercourse as a matter between the people having or wanting to have it. The only person who has any reasonable or logical right to worry about my choice of sex partners would be someone who has or wants to have sex with me (or, of course, someone with whom I might want to have sex). But this runs afoul of the communitarian view that everyone's business is everyone else's collective business, and while I have tried to understand this view, I just don't feel it internally, and I doubt I ever will.
    If there is such a thing as sexual freedom, it must mean the right to conduct your sex life in whatever way you see fit. In my view, people who think other people's sexuality is their business are undermining sexual freedom, and individual dignity. Sure, they're within their First Amendment rights. But preaching is preaching, and butting into other people's business is butting into other people's business.

    Ted Haggard, of course, is so much in the news that I don't think this type of speculation constitutes butting in.

    Well, what about him? What remains of his "closet"? And what exactly is it? I'd never given him a thought until yesterday, but I read that he has a wife and kids. Presumably, Andrew Sullivan would have him leave the wife and kids so that he can settle down in a gay ghetto somewhere and repent his evil ways. Haggard's own crowd doubtless have their version of the morality play. He's a very public person, so it really doesn't lend itself to the same type of analysis that might apply to an ordinary citizen, but suppose -- let's just suppose -- that he has sexual feelings for his wife. Would Andrew Sullivan allow that? Or is it taboo in the same way that the "other" side considers his homosexual feelings taboo? Something about the way the phrase "The Closet" is used implies that there are only two sexualities -- and that you're either one or the other. In my unprofessional, un-preacher lay opinion, the real victims of this are bisexuals. They exist, but they dare not, they may not ever, admit to bisexuality, for there are severe penalties attached. It's because of a meme called "The Closet."

    From what I've seen in life, there are two types of closets. One is for "discreet" gays. These are people who might be "out" with their friends, maybe some co-workers (then maybe not), and maybe some family members. But they don't want the boss to know. And it would kill grandma! There are of course degrees of being in the closet. Some gays are so obvious that they couldn't have a closet if they wanted it, while others (even including the ones who brag about how "out" they are) typically do not want total strangers to know they're gay, as it might create incovenient or awkward situations. Might even lead to name-calling, or worse. So, while there's quite a large spectrumology involved in this first type of closet, what they all have in common is that they acknowledge -- to themselves and to at least some other people -- that they are gay.

    The other type of closet is much more complicated, and that is the bisexual closet. What most gay activists cannot acknowledge is that real, genuine bisexuals exist. I have known many, and especially in the case of men, every one of them is forced to identify as heterosexual. That's because they have to. There is no bisexual option. Bisexual is simply a word that gay activists consider synonymous with "the closet." And because of the self-perpetuating nature of the meme, any bisexual man foolish enough to admit publicly that he is bisexual will be treated with condescending pity, as if he's still in "the closet," but "on his way" to being "out." (Meaning not bisexual, but gay.) I believe that so long as this inability to recognize bisexuality exists, bisexuals will be at war with a political concept called "the closet" -- which more than anything is perpetuated by identity politics. (The existence of bisexuality is not a new topic in this blog. It might be as old as Western civilization. Trouble is, the word itself implies a division that's a modern creation.)

    Expressions like "the closet" and "outing" have become political code language, and are increasingly being used to terrorize people. I remember a time when "come out of the closet" was an expression which encouraged people to simply be themselves. Now it's little more than a thought virus in the arsenal of the identity politics police. Identity politics means that if you belong to a group, you have no self that's worthy of protection. What you do with your genitals matters! Your penis has become the collective property of others.

    Has sexual privacy become evil?

    I'm tempted to ask whether Andrew Sullivan has a sense of humor, but that might not be seen as very funny at all.

    Truth is, despite my sense of humor, I find myself succumbing to the usual thinking -- that subjects like the nation's "closet wars" aren't very funny.

    But then I see stuff like (via Glenn Reynolds) Woody Allen's interview with Rev. Billy Graham (a man who Allen said "knew God personally"), and I'm reminded of the redemptive value of humor.

    But some things aren't funny, right?

    No, some things aren't. Or they aren't supposed to be -- not even if they're funny because they're not supposed to be funny. ("That's not funny!" is the punch line to the old "how many lesbian feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?" joke. )

    Try as I might to imagine it, I just can't see Andrew Sullivan doing a funny interview with Ted Haggard. (Not even if Jeff Goldstein wrote the script!)

    Can humor be used like krazy glue to stick together things that aren't funny? Not that I'm trying to be stuck on funny, but unfunny things have a way of getting stuck on unfunny, and I'm at a loss to understand why.

    It's not as if I haven't tried before, but maybe I should try stuff like this more often:

    When I was in college, there was a lot of good natured banter between religious fundamentalists and gay activists (if anyone is interested, I used to harass the evangelists, who would harangue in return!), and I was thinking that maybe the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" program could find a young, single, male, anti-homosexual activist from the religious right who otherwise fills their bill and possibly do a total makeover!

    Surely, somewhere out there, some lonely young member of the antigay religious right finds himself in need of a date but has the usual problems: terrible wardrobe, bad haircut, grooming problems, tacky living space -- you know -- the whole host of problems that the show specializes in "treating."

    In return for consenting to be a guest on the show, the evangelist would be allowed by the Queer Eye folks a full segment in which he could try to convert them, yell at them, attempt to cure them -- whatever it might take to save them from the sin of homosexuality.

    Depending on how this went, the episode might be high camp, and it could also serve as a reminder that we are all human.

    Well, we are all human, aren't we?

    Or are things like humor best kept in in the closet?

    If so, then maybe the "the closet" is funnier than it appears.

    It might even be funnier than Andrew Sullivan realizes.

    UPDATE: Thanks to a careful reader for letting me know that I inadvertently referred to "Mark Foley" as "Tom Foley."

    I blame the evils of the closet.

    (The defoleyated one, that is.)

    MORE: Speaking of closets, Dean Esmay is trying to stuff the B-52s' Fred Schneider into one!

    Oh the hypocrisy! Oh the lies and compartmentalization!

    posted by Eric at 09:52 AM | Comments (8)



    Some bad taste is more equal

    One of the things we tend to forget is what's two days old in the blogosphere can be big news.

    Like today's front page (photographed from the Philadelphia Inquirer):


    Gutmannn.jpg


    According to The Inquirer, President Gutmann says she was offended:

    Gutmann, a noted political scientist and philosopher who became Penn's president in 2004, said, "The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. As soon as I realized what his costume was, I refused to take any more pictures with him, as he requested. The student had the right to wear the costume, just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it."
    The rest of the pictures can be found here. Glenn Reynolds (who's "skeptical that a Klansman costume would be received in the same fashion") linked them the day before yesterday, and the link was emailed to me yesterday by a non-blogging friend, so it's getting around.

    Like it or not, pictures like that are just too rich to ignore. Certainly the Inquirer can't ignore them, even if the piece is largely about the role of blogs.

    What bothers me about it is what's bothering so many other people. It's not so much the kid with the terrorist outfit. Such antics are as inevitable as a Hitler moustache. It's that Gutmann would never have posed with a kid in a Nazi outfit, or a Klan outfit. Or God forbid, minstrel blackface.

    So the question is not along the lines of whether "we" have lost our sense of humor.

    It's a question of what accounts for such cultural selectivity in humor.

    What makes Al Jolson more offensive than Osama bin Laden?

    Is it simply which group shouts the loudest?

    (Well, at least we're not hearing that the outfit was an offensive stereotype.... Yet.)

    posted by Eric at 07:42 AM | Comments (2)




    Is dishonesty worse than hypocrisy?

    In an update to Glenn Reynolds' post about Ted Haggard, a Neal Stephenson character is quoted thusly:

    That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code [...] does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.
    Whatever the moral code might be, I think it's worth asking whether violating it is necessarily seen as subsuming questions of honesty and fair dealing.

    Is dishonesty about sex part of sex? Or is the coverup worse than the crime?

    This is frustrating, as these are not easy questions. In previous posts I've asked whether there is a double standard for hypocrisy. Most of the time when we hear the charge, it involves sex. I'm not sure why, but it's probably because sex is where even reasonable people tend to lose sight of their ability to reason clearly.

    I think one of the problems with focusing on hypocrisy is that it misses -- or (especially in the case of sex) subsumes -- the underlying moral issue of honesty. Because sexual dishonesty is so common, this is an underlying issue most people would be quite comfortable to miss. (I think one of the reasons Bill Clinton's perjury was excused was because it was about sex, and not about, say, cocaine.)

    If an admitted heroin addict advised people not to use heroin, few would call him a hypocrite. When he last used heroin would not really be seen as all that relevant. Even if he was still using, society would see him as someone speaking from experience -- as long as that important fact was disclosed. But like it or not, that admitted junkie, along with an alcoholic advising people not to drink, a smoker advising people not to smoke, or a fat man advising people not to overeat -- none of them would seem as hypocritical as a homosexual advising people not to be gay. Or a regular orgy participant advising chastity.

    For reasons which escape me, people would be more likely to take seriously the advice of a junkie not to shoot heroin or a fat man not to overeat, than they would a sex maniac advising against sex. Why? Is this because people are simply assumed, even expected, to lie about sex? I think dishonesty is expected in matters of sexual indiscretion -- to the point where it is almost seen as inseparable from the sex.

    But there's an additional problem beyond ordinary sexual dishonesty. Lacking in credibility as it would seem for a orgy participant to advise against sex, what makes Pastor Haggard worse is that he's not merely dispensing advice based on his admitted status; he's claiming not to be doing what he condemns.

    Because of this element of deception, Haggard is more like an anti-drug activist or drug treatment counselor caught using drugs than an admitted drug addict advising people not to do what he did.

    It's not so much the hypocrisy; it's goes to honesty and credibility. If you are going to advise people not to do something, and you do whatever it is you're advising against, I think there might be a duty of disclosure. That's because when you condemn something in other people, you're making it relevant if you do the thing you condemn, simply because of the credibility issue. I have no problem with advising people based on experience; I've made all kinds of mistakes and I still make them.

    But let's suppose I decided to become a lecturer against the evils of blogging, and I traveled about, telling students not to succumb to the temptations of the Internet, and warning everyone that blogging is a profound evil that threatens Western civilization. That blogging should be outlawed. That responsible politicians and leading citizens should shut down all their blogs, that no blogger should ever be allowed to work with impressionable young people, etc.

    Wouldn't it be at least relevant that I write a blog? Whether I'm a hypocrite isn't so much the point as whether I am hiding from people the material facts they need to decide whether what I say is credible.

    The problem, of course, is that in the case of crusaders against certain things, credibility is deflated by disclosure. An anti-pornography activist found to have a gigantic undisclosed pornography collection does damage to his own cause. Unlike the junkie or the overeater, he's unlikely to ever be taken seriously as an advocate against what he claims is damaging to others.

    I don't know whether this is fair, but there is definitely a double standard.

    Thus, in the case of a would-be anti-sex activist, sexual peccadilloes are relevant because they are a career killer. However, the fact that they should be disclosed is precisely why they won't be.

    Assuming the allegations against him are true, what fascinates me the most about Haggard is that by the moral standards he claims to live by, he'd do better to admit the truth. Yet because of his position and his career, he must deny the truth. If that is in fact what he is doing, then I think he's a hypocrite of the old-fashioned variety. Returning to Stephenson, the old-fashioned hypocrite was:

    someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception -- he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy
    I guess in the old days hypocrisy was what we modernists call "hypocrisy" (personal failings is what they really are) plus the additional element of dishonesty.

    I'm still frustrated by this, but at least I can cling to the modern saying that the coverup is worse than the crime.

    (Not that there has to be a crime....)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm now realizing that I may have stumbled upon a rather disturbing paradox. What if upholding sexual morality is seen traditionally as being best served by allowing dishonesty in sexual matters? Might that mean not that the coverup can be worse than the crime, but that the truth can be worse than the crime?

    As I say, it's complicated.

    UPDATE (11/04/06): Via Andrew Sullivan, David Frum defends this morality paradox:

    Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue - or at least as a mitigation of his offense?
    My question remains. If the hypocrisy goes as far as lying and covering up, why is the latter seen as excused by the immoral behavior?

    I don't see easy answers, but I'm still thinking about Monica and the blue dress. Was Bill's perjury perjury, or was it excusable because he was trying to uphold morality? Might Bubba have been seen (ridiculous as it may sound) as someone who in Frum's words, "regard[ed] his other life as an occasional uncontrollable deviation, sin, and error, which he condemns in his judgment and for which he sincerely seeks to atone by his prayer, preaching, and Christian works"?

    What is preaching, anyway?

    I'm not trying to be flippant, but this all reminds me of the lyrics to a Motown classic:

    Hey, Mama, is it true what they say
    That Papa never worked a day in his life
    Some bad talk going around sayin`
    Papa had there outside children
    And another wife
    That ain`t right

    Heard some talk about Papa and his storefront
    Preachin`
    Talkin` about saving souls and all the time
    Leaching
    And dealing in dirt
    Stealin` in the name of the Lord

    But Mama she just said

    "Papa was a rollin` stone
    Wherever he laid his hat was his home
    And when he died
    All he left us was alone" (repeat)

    posted by Eric at 05:55 PM | Comments (5)



    Animal farm observations

    Here's a picture I took last week of chickens and ducks.

    chickensducks2.jpg

    While the chickens did not group together, the ducks moved about in a tight group, almost as if they were controlled by a single brain. Initially, this moving-around-together business struck me as more "stupid" than the randomized movement of the chickens. But then, we are talking about ducks and chickens, not humans. When I asked about the ducks I was told that predatory animals had recently raided the collective pen that holds the chickens and the ducks, and that the ducks had formed tight groupings since then, but the chickens hadn't.

    This made me wonder which are smarter: chickens or ducks? Not that it's an earthshaking question (especially with a national election looming), but the answer isn't exactly staring at me.

    Something about the ducks' tight groupings shortly after the predatory raid suggested intelligence to me in a way that the random behavior of the chickens did not. Various web sites assert that ducks are smarter than chickens, but they don't say exactly why. Ducks and geese are a lot more closely related to each other than either are to chickens, and I found a fascinating account of geese actually protecting chickens:

    As the weeks passed and the chickens grew to full size the goslings just kept growing, a part of the chicken flock but much larger, twice as big, with long necks and a waddle. And we discovered an interesting thing about geese, they are smarter than chickens, almost as smart as dogs, it seemed. They seemed less driven by predictable instinct, more prone to personality and individuality.

    And they were beautiful. Sleek, long, white, just great looking birds. They were the class of the flock and we all became very fond of them.

    One night in the dark we heard a great fuss from the coop, honking and clucking and honking and hissing, and we ran to see what the problem was.

    A skunk had gotten in, intent on killing and eating a chicken, and it was trying to attack. The chickens were huddled in the corner and a goose stood warily in front of them, shifting one way and then the other while the second goose stood across the floor, directly in front of the marauder, hissing at it and striking at it with its bill. They were defending the chickens. They stood between them and danger, and used their size and their courage to protect the henhouse.

    It was one of the most stirring things I've ever seen an animal do. It earned the geese a special place in our hearts.

    The rest of the story is very sad, and I'd rather not dwell on it. But I think it's likely that if geese are smart enough to respond to threats like that and defend chickens, that ducks are probably smarter than chickens.

    In an anecdote involving alligators, another author asserts that ducks are smarter than geese:

    David & Jeff are a wonderful couple of guys who live in this big house on 36-acres in the midst of trees dripping with Spanish moss. They even have a pond with ducks. Unfortunately, they also have alligators right now, two of them, one a couple of feet long, the other four or five feet long. They used to have a few geese, too, but apparently, the ducks are smarter...
    It's hard to make a judgment from a single anecdote, and for all we know, the geese died defending the ducks, or else were singled out by the gators because they were a bigger meal. However, if you think about it, ducks have to survive on land or in water -- feats requiring multiple skills and more versatility. Plus, while domesticated ducks can't fly, wild ducks do quite well in the air. Not so with chickens. Even the domesticated chicken's ancestor, the Red Jungle Fowl, can fly only for short distances.

    Various hunting sites proclaims that ducks are smarter than we think. They've learned how to avoid human hunters. (It's interesting that even though their survival rate is poor, domestic ducks have managed to become pests in parks and lakes. I think such a feat would be inconceivable for chickens.)

    I think it's fair to conclude that ducks are smarter than chickens. Beyond that, I'm not feeling Orwellian enough to commit anthropomorphism.

    posted by Eric at 03:56 PM | Comments (4)



    Speaking of closets....

    Is Ted Haggard the latest to be "outed"? I don't think so.

    I don't think the word "outed" really applies, because despite the rather gay looking picture (obvious enough for Glenn Reynolds to notice) I seriously doubt Haggard will ever say he's "out." From the perspective of his supporters, it is understandable that they would want to pray for him. From that perspective, it is also understandable that as long as he does not declare himself to be gay, he is not. And if he is not, then can he be said to be out?

    This touches on the huge difference between Ted Haggard and the outed gay Republicans. While the latter are gay; they're generally outed because they were discreet about it, and the hypocrisy charge is leveled at them for very different reasons. Haggard literally preaches against something he practices, while the crime of the outed gay Republicans is not that they preached against homosexuality, but that their employers are against gay marriage.

    I don't think this is a distinction without a difference. For whatever reason, Haggard is truly ashamed of his homosexuality. For the most part, the gay Republicans just don't want to make an issue of it.

    The reason I'm writing this is because I expect people to lump Haggard in with the gay Republicans, and it simply isn't logical.

    Beyond that, I think there's something else going on, and it goes to the heart of what I have never been able to understand.

    There's no live and let live with people like him. Homosexuality is something to be fought personally -- and not just within oneself. It is something that must be fought in other people, even total strangers. Why anyone would care what another person does with his genitalia is something I will never understand. But that's one of my blind spots. I don't understand it because I don't think or behave that way. As I've tried to explain countless times, I see sexual intercourse as a matter between the people having or wanting to have it. The only person who has any reasonable or logical right to worry about my choice of sex partners would be someone who has or wants to have sex with me (or, of course, someone with whom I might want to have sex). But this runs afoul of the communitarian view that everyone's business is everyone else's collective business, and while I have tried to understand this view, I just don't feel it internally, and I doubt I ever will.

    Beyond this, there is personal disgust towards homosexuality. While I see homosexuality as an undeniable part of nature (even though it is no more reproductive than masturbation), I recognize that it's normal to be disgusted by that which is personally repellent. (I hate the idea of eating liver, for example, and I would gag and possibly vomit if made to eat it.)

    However, there are many people who are not turned on by homosexuality who nonetheless do not find it as viscerally repellent as others. While it might not be fear in the usual sense, I've likened it to the phenomenon of people who recoil over spiders or snakes. You either have that kind of reaction or you don't. Sure, there are people who love snakes and keep them as pets (just as there are people who run away screaming from them) but most people don't have strong feelings.

    What makes a strong feeling?

    Should society be guided by strong feelings of this nature?

    Should there be a culture war between people who have strong feelings?

    Where does this leave the people who don't?

    Is there a right to be left alone?

    MORE: I realize that I have not addressed religious feelings. But right there, I'm running into a logical quagmire.

    Can a religious belief fairly be called a feeling? If a religious text prohibits eating certain things (or engaging in certain sex acts), is that really the same thing as feelings that might arise from doing or refraining from doing the prohibited activities?

    I hope this doesn't sound condescending or judgmental, but I see other people's religious views the way I see other aspects of their personal lives. It's none of my business unless they make it my business.

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



    Well, voting booths are a lot like closets

    I don't know whether this is a barometer of anything, but a front page headline in today's Inquirer proclaims that "Distrust of voting machines is running high," and "activists" are described as "particularly suspicious" of computerized voting machines:

    In about 20 precincts in the Philadelphia suburbs, teams from a group called Election Integrity are preparing to conduct exit polls in precincts with the machines. If there is a significant variance between the official results and the polls, they'll demand investigations. Voterstory.org is distributing Web-based software nationwide that allows voters to document problems they encounter. And "Video the Vote" is sending out volunteers with video cameras to record problems or alleged attempts at voter suppression in cities.
    The Inquirer is absolutely right in calling these people "activists." And like most activists, they're hardly non-partisan.

    Election Integrity is run by people like Steven F. Freeman devoted to the cause that the 2004 election was "stolen" -- and that exit polls reflect the real intent of the voters.

    As to voterstory.org, it's run by Evolve Strategies, described as:

    a full-service communications firm serving issue advocacy, nonprofit, and political clients. Our integrated strategies enable organizations to reach supporters in the media they prefer, new technology or old: websites, internet ads and ad words, dynamic email messaging, SMS campaigns, viral content, video, Flash -- as well as paper flyers, posters, banners, and radio and television spots. Our insight and experience are relied on by the UN Millennium Campaign, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, MoveOn, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other candidates and organizations working for the common good.
    The organization's website proudly proclaims that it is relied on by (among others) GeorgeSoros.com and HandgunSanity.org.

    I see a major logical error in the central idea of the voting activists. There are a lot of people who don't like being asked how they voted, and the more polarized these things become, the less likely they are to speak honestly, if at all.

    What is being forgotten is that ordinary voters are not activists. Many of them strongly dislike activists.

    Activists and partisan ideologues, however, tend to surround themselves with like minded people, and they think that the world consists of activists -- those who agree with them, and maybe their counterparts on the other side. Because of this, they have a bit of a blind spot where it comes to dealing with people unlike themselves. They tend to see politics as something you wear on your sleeve, and those who wear their politics on their sleeves don't understand or identify with those who don't. Thus, writer Pauline Kael was genuinely baffled over how Richard Nixon won a presidential landslide in 1972:

    I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know....
    Where they are now I don't know. (I voted for McGovern!) But I suspect that only Republican activists would talk loudly and publicly about voting for Richard Nixon.

    Or, for that matter, George W. Bush.

    Ordinary people, well, most activists might not understand them, but Nixon (himself an activist by definition) coined a term for them: "the great, silent majority." For a variety of reasons, they voted for him in overwhelming numbers. This is not to defend Nixon, but activists at the time hated the great silent majority and regarded them with angry, bitter contempt. Had they been sent to conduct "exit polls" I strongly suspect that they'd have come up with a very different result than a pro-Nixon landslide. The reason is that ordinary people tend to be private people. They don't want to talk about private matters to people they don't know -- especially those they might perceive as activists who'd pigeonhole them as being on the "problem" side of the (activist) equation that "you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem."

    This whole thing reminds me a bit of workplace partisans who ask their co-workers who they're going to vote for. (Co-workers who don't want to talk about it can be hounded mercilessly.) Thinking back to the 2004 election, I recall that it was more often the Bush voters who were the evasive ones. They just plain didn't want to talk about it, because if they did, they'd have trouble with the Kerry voters. Depending on the workplace, I'm sure this happened on the other side too, but I think that in general, the silent, non-activist types tended to favor Bush. (No doubt the activists would equate their silence with mindlessness, sneakiness, or cowardliness, but that's another topic.)

    Voting is of course still conducted in secret. ("Your vote is secret!" was a winning slogan in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas were turned out of office, and while I'm not comparing American activists to Sandinistas, I don't doubt that had the Sandinistas conducted exit polls, they'd have been happy with the results.)

    What I can't figure out is why the activists are already worrying about a possible conflict between the exit polls and the election results in advance of the election itself.

    You'd think the masses were refusing to tell them how they're going to vote.

    (How "undemocratic" those masses can be!)

    Sheesh.

    I'd hate to think American democracy is degenerating into a form of "don't ask, don't tell," but there are distinct similarities between voting booths and closets.

    And (at least from the perspective of activists conducting left wing exit polls) those who vote Republican really ought to be ashamed of themselves.

    There might even be an odd sort of consensus that Republican voters have much to hide.

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds (and Michael Graham's link to the Boston Globe), I'm quite taken by Robert Kuttner's pre post mortem election disorder:

    ....we're also primed for the worst. Why is Karl Rove smiling? How much better is the Republican turnout machine? How many votes will they hide, deter, or steal? The season of the October Surprise is over, but what late-breaking stunts might yet emerge?

    [...]

    November 2006 will be remembered either as the time American democracy was stolen again, maybe forever, or began a brighter day.

    How many votes will they hide, deter, or steal? Well, Philadelphia (which voted 81% for Kerry in '04) has 80,000 fraudulent voter registrations:
    The Philadelphia Inquirer has noted that the city has just over one million registered voters. Since that's just about the number of eligible voters the U.S. census estimates live in the city, experts believe there are upward of 80,000 fraudulent registrations.
    More at NewsBusters and at the Philadelphia City Paper.

    What I'd like to know is how Rove and the Republicans will ever be able to "disenfranchise" voters who don't exist.

    posted by Eric at 06:58 AM | Comments (9)




    Vicious and shameless Republican pit bull attacks!

    After what Coco did today, I'm beginning to think she's becoming a Republican tyrant like the mean-spirited thugs who trample on the rights of all peace-loving Americans.

    My carefully carved Halloween pumpkin had been sitting atop an old milk can, when suddenly, without any warning at all, Coco jumped up and put her front paws on it, which of course destabilized and wiggled the milk can, making the pumpkin come crashing down.

    All the king's horses and all the president's men couldn't put my pumpkin together again!

    Here's Coco, contemplating the damage:


    CocoPumpkin1.jpg


    And here she is, pretending to be ashamed of the pain she has caused.


    CocoPumpkin2.jpg


    Isn't that a typical Republican pose?

    No wonder Republicans get ostracized by their families!

    posted by Eric at 10:24 PM | Comments (3)



    Oh yeah, that race...

    One of these days I'll have to decide which candidate will get my vote for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat.

    I have to say that I'm not terribly impressed with either Rick Santorum or Bob Casey, Jr. Neither one of them is aligned with my thinking on all issues. It's a tweedle dee/tweedle dum situation, and I think Sean Kinsell put it very well:

    Oh, yeah: the senate race. The pandering communitarian or the pandering communitarian? Decisions, decisions.
    There's not much communitarianism in me to pander to.

    Of course, Santorum is way, way behind in the polls, so it's not as if either candidate really needed my vote.

    Notwithstanding his culture warrior stance and rampant communitarianism, there are a few things I like about Santorum: 1. Santorum refused to fire his gay aide after the latter was outed.

    2. No one pushed harder than Santorum to get Bush to use the term "Islamic fascism."

    3. The Inquirer's Tom Ferrick can't stand him, and compares him to Winston Churchill. On the other hand Casey is a genuine moderate, and pretty good on the Second Amendment. I think it's very important to encourage Democrats who don't drink the activist Koolaid.

    Plus, Casey is sure to win. It's always a good idea to get on the side of a winner, right?

    posted by Eric at 07:01 PM | Comments (3)



    no use crying over spilled paint

    Not long ago, I visited the Neue Museum and saw Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which (at $135 million) had broken all previous records for paintings.

    I love Klimt, and I loved the painting.

    Today I see that the record has been broken again -- this time for Jackson Pollock's "Number 5, 1948":

    No5_1948.jpg

    Hollywood mogul David Geffen sold it for $140 million, and according to the Chicago Business News, the money may fund his bid to acquire the LA Times. (Reflecting this well known rumor, parent company Tribune's stock went down in response to the sale).

    The New York Times also joins in the speculation about Geffen's possible LA Times takeover:

    Just last month Mr. Geffen sold two other 20th-century paintings -- a Jasper Johns and a Willem de Kooning -- for a total of $143.5 million. Given that he is among many business figures who has expressed interest in buying The Los Angeles Times, media industry analysts speculated that he was trying to raise cash for a potential bid.
    Reuters, however, reports the sale but is oddly silent about the LA Times angle.

    Not that it's really my business, but I've never especially liked Pollock's stuff and I definitely don't like the painting. Nor am I enamored over the idea of huge MSM titans being manipulated by paint droppings on canvases.

    However, I'm fascinated by Geffen's previous remarks about Hillary Clinton:

    Geffen, a generous supporter and pal of Bill Clinton when he was President, trashed Hillary's prospects last night during a Q&A at the 92nd St. Y. "She can't win, and she's an incredibly polarizing figure," the billionaire Democrat told his audience. "And ambition is just not a good enough reason." Geffen's dis was met with hearty applause.
    Millions would agree.

    But what does that remark have to do with Geffen checking his brake lines? Honestly, some of these conspiracy theories are too much.

    And to think I was trying to write a post about art! I was all set to point out that while taste is a personal thing, I nonetheless have trouble seeing spilled paint as fine art.

    What, I should search for political nuances behind every canvas?

    posted by Eric at 12:47 PM | Comments (4)



    Who's behind the sinister Subaru strategy?
    The Kerry bumper stickers are still on and passions are high.

    -- Paul Krugman, speaking at Princeton recently.

    Well, he's right -- at least in my neck of the woods.

    While there's a lot of distancing from Kerry going on right now, I don't expect to see much scraping off of the ubiquitous Kerry bumperstickers which I see on a lot of cars. Even though the election was held two years ago, the bumperstickers are so new that I often wonder whether people are buying new ones as the weather takes its toll on the old ones. Even outdoorsy cars sport brand new Kerry bumperstickers.

    Like this one I saw this morning:

    KerrySub.JPG

    (License plate photoshopped to protect the innocent. Numbers by Dennis.)

    Now that I think about it, that's a Subaru. I don't mean this as an ad hominem attack (how can a criticism of a car be that?), but for some reason, those cars seem incapable of going fast enough to keep up with the normal rate of speed, and I've been meaning to look into the problem. Honestly, I can't tell you how many times there's been a Subaru in front of me, putt-putt-putting along, as if the poor thing can't go any faster, and just because they often have Kerry bumperstickers, that's no reason for me to impugn their owners' driving abilities or even stereotype them. Surely, there must be Subarus for Bush!

    I mean, there are Volvo Republicans, aren't there? (While I first heard the phrase uttered by Susan Bray, who described herself that way on the air in the mid-90s, credit seems to go to Newsweek's Howard Fineman.)

    So logic would dictate that if there are Volvo Republicans, there must be "Subaru Republicans," right?

    Um, maybe not. A Google search turned up no such species, but I did find this rather ominous statement:

    I have never seen a Bush bumper sticker on a Subaru. Is this some weird political conspiracy, that all Subaru drivers must be democrats?
    Political conspiracy?

    Sorry, folks, but much as I regret my tendency to get carried away, I simply can't ignore an allegation like that. I'll try to be as fair as I can, within limits, because I have been annoyed by slow-moving Subarus one time too many, and there's just something about seeing shiny new Kerry bumperstickers two years after the election right after Kerry's amazing gaffe that I find impossible to ignore.

    Before we even consider the psychology of the drivers, there's the slowness of the cars themselves. According to one expert, it seems to be a combination of factors:

    As I have always said about Subarus, I basically liked the car when I first got one a few years back, but I recommended against buying one because, as I said at the time, "fast" and "Subaru" just don't seem, to me, to go together, and as much as I like the Impreza, it was my feeling that most people would be better off buying the standard Impreza and saving the expense of all that speed.

    WRX aficionados -- and judging by the number of e-mails I received questioning my parentage, my sanity and my future existence, they are legion -- took my recommendation as a slight to their car and themselves, and organized a smear campaign against me.

    There is nothing more personal as a possession in life than one's car. People hate to have their car criticized because, well, they have put a lot of money into their car, and they have also invested not a little of their personality and their own self-image into what that car represents.

    For the most part, it has been my experience that Subaru drivers are into safety and are not, as a rule, flashy kinds of people. My parents both drive Subarus. I have good friends who drive Subarus. These are people who chose their vehicles for two very simple reasons: safety and value. As I have said many times, when typical Subaru drivers come into some money, they become Volvo drivers. It gives you some perspective.

    In other words, Subarus are slower, and Subaru drivers are poorer than Volvo drivers? This means that economic factors might be at work. (The problem with that theory is that the Subarus I see around here look like they're well-maintained, and driven by members of what Michael Barone called the "trustfunder left.")

    The last writer was being nice to the Subaru drivers. But Subaru stereotypes abound. Many of the commenters at Ace of Spades don't like Subarus or their drivers, and don't mind saying so:

    These [Subaru drivers] are the timidest drivers in the world. These are the people who stop at the end of a highway on-ramp instead of merging, causing you to lock up your brakes and skid to a stop 1/4 inch from their bumper.
    And that was one of the polite comments about Subaru drivers.

    I try to avoid stereotypes, but when I see something over and over again, I wonder whether I'm alone in noticing it. Until today, I actually thought I was alone in my suspicions about Subarus -- if not being downright kooky. But the fact is, many others really have it in for them, and stereotype or not, they have for a long time. Like Adventures in Business Communications:

    File this under "gross, but true generalizations." Subaru drivers are all alike. Sure, they might be different shapes and sizes and races and genders, but they all share something in common. I'm not sure if this commonality exists before they own one, or if some sort of transformation takes place once they do...but trust me, they are all afflicted similarly.

    First the disclaimer...I'm sure they're good cars. Lance drives one...at least in the ads he does. And here in Colorado, where it is important to have all-wheel or 4-wheel drive, it's a practical choice...moreover it's an affordable option compared to a big, honking SUV.

    Now...on to the "Subaru experience..." Whenever there is a slow-down in traffic, particularly in the left lane, historically known as the "fast" lane, it is usually the fault of a Subaru. I shit you not...I've documented it. It might be the car right in front of me or a car that is 12 cars up...but it is invariably a Subaru that you can point to for this.

    This all started when I lived in Vail for 7 years. In every ski town in Colorado, you'll find 12-20 year-old Subarus living there. These old 4-bangers never die and they're usually passed on from one generation of seasonal ski bums to another for a bag of weed. There's obviously no emissions testing required for licensing in these mountain towns so they just live on with two functioning cylinders, barely breaking 45 miles an hour, for years! I thought when I moved to Denver that I'd lose sight of these little shitboxes for good.

    No...they're just newer...but they still muck things up. Never mind the political statements that you typically see on their bumpers..."Imagine Whirled Peas" or "Dog is my Pilot" or "Axis of Evil" or the classic "Save Tibet." No...I'm focused on the driving behavior. It's as if it is the self-appointed duty of all Subaru drivers to enforce the speed limit for the rest of us. What else would explain it? Is there some club I'm not aware of where all Subaru drivers share secrets?

    The writer moves into high dudgeon, and after fantasizing about going on an anti-Subaru rampage, even questions the sexual tastes of some of the Subaru drivers:
    I know I'm not the only one that has this distaste for Subarus. A girlfriend of mine said that she wouldn't be caught dead in one...I asked her why...and she said "Lesbarus!" I hadn't heard that one yet...and it doesn't really color my opinion much...as I said before, all shapes and sizes drive them...and they all share the same, annoying set of driving habits.
    Lesbarus? Ye gods, it's a word!

    Sheesh. This is getting into downright Culture-Warrish stuff. And over a type of car!

    Does every last thing have to be political? Seriously, I did not go out looking for trouble early this morning, and when I saw that bumpersticker in my bleary-eyed state, I thought my imagination was getting the better of me. Surely (I thought) if I settled down and Googled Subaru drivers, I'd see how wrong I was.

    Was I ever wrong about my being wrong!

    This stuff just goes on and on, and it gets worse. A man named Larry likens Subaru drivers to a "social disease":

    ....the #1 way to know you've seen a stupid, leftist liberal:

    You drive a Subaru. Your Subaru has at least two of the three stickers: "Bush:One Term President." "Attack Iraq? NO!" "Clinton lied, no one died." And of course, mandatory issue for the stupid f'in Subaru drivers, your Kerry-Edwards 2004 sticker, which was placed carefully over your "Selected, not elected" sticker leftover from the 2000 elections. Subaru drivers are a social disease. The herpes of the US general population....

    Herpes?

    That's just about enough for me. I don't hate Subarus or Subaru drivers, and I am not about to spout, um, "Subaru eliminationist rhetoric."

    I only wanted to know is why so many Subarus seem to be for Kerry, and I find myself running into a stereotype.

    Like most stereotypes, this one goes in circles.

    Why are they for Kerry? Because they just are!

    Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. There has to be a reason why all these Subarus are engaged in an apparent national conspiracy to obstruct traffic while brandishing suspiciously new Kerry bumperstickers.

    (Deep down, in my darkest heart of hearts, I know that somehow, Karl Rove has to be behind it.)

    MORE: Finally, a ray of hope!

    Via Charles G. Hill, I see Mickey Kaus quoted as saying that "Subaru is the new Volvo."

    Well, what say ye, Subaru Republicans and other stereotype smashers?

    AND MORE: I found a bumpersticker that might go a long way towards countering these unfair stereotypes:

    les4b.gif

    Well? Fighting stereotypes has to start somewhere.

    So go ahead! Stick one on your Subaru.

    (No one will ask for proof that you're a lesbian.)

    posted by Eric at 09:31 AM | Comments (24)




    carrying a gun is abnormal and misguided

    Via Clayton Cramer, I read this account of the self defense shooting of a mentally ill arsonist who had previously served time for dousing his mother's day care center with gasoline and setting it on fire:

    A 25-year-old man who was fatally shot while attacking a stranger Saturday at Westlake Plaza had previously served time in prison for setting fire to a day-care center his mother operated out of her Phinney Ridge home.

    Daniel Culotti was shot shortly after 11 a.m. by a 52-year-old man he was assaulting in an unprovoked attack, according to Seattle police. The victim of the assault was carrying a handgun and had a concealed-weapons permit, police said.

    In July 2001, Culotti had attacked his mother, Melinda Culotti, inside the family's former residence on Palatine Avenue North near Woodland Park Zoo. He later returned and doused the floors inside the house with gasoline, setting the house on fire.

    For that, the man served nine months and was placed on probation. And he's been arrested three times since then for "violating the conditions of his release."

    On the last day in the life of this obviously dangerous man, he was randomly assaulting passers-by until he picked the wrong victim -- an older man who was legally carrying a gun:

    According to Seattle police, a woman called 911 at 11:08 a.m. Saturday to report that a man was acting erratically, yelling at passers-by and randomly assaulting strangers near Boren Avenue and Pine Street. Officers sent to the scene couldn't find the caller, the man or any victims, police spokeswoman Debra Brown said.

    Twenty-three minutes later, police dispatchers radioed that shots had been fired at Fifth Avenue and Pine Street, she said. Moments earlier, witnesses told police, a man in his 20s apparently attacked the 52-year-old man, punching and kicking him until he fell to the sidewalk. The older man pulled out a .357-caliber Ruger revolver and fired one round, striking the man in the abdomen.

    The older man "was not winning the fight" - the other man "just starts attacking him, he's on the ground and a shot is fired," Brown said, describing witnesses' accounts.

    Cramer argues that what the armed man did was quite rational:
    Once you are on the ground, it is hard to run, and hard to protect yourself. The victim did what I think any rational person would have done: he drew his handgun and fired, killing Culotti.
    Not only do I agree, this case is one of the best arguments I have seen for concealed carry. The legal system and the police simply cannot keep society safe from dangerous psychotics. If a conviction for arson only gets them off the street for nine months, then I think it's reasonable to conclude that law abiding citizens are the only force that can possibly stop them.

    The dead arsonist's uncle has a very different point of view, however. In an op ed, he calls the armed citizen "not normal" and "misguided," and argues that his nephew was in no way at fault:

    Put aside the fact that Danny was a beautiful, intelligent child who became schizophrenic at age 18 through no fault of his own; then ask how you would respond to someone attacking you with his fists.

    Most normal people would respond by instinctively running or using their hands to defend themselves.

    However, the shooter was not what we would think of as normal -- he was carrying a gun and his immediate instinct was to shoot his attacker.

    Many "normal" people are capable of killing another person in a brief moment of extreme anger, but this is uncommon because most of us do not carry lethal weapons and our bodies are not killing machines -- a .357-caliber Magnum is.

    Schizophrenia, amazingly, affects one of a hundred people. Its major symptom is hearing voices, often telling the person to perform abnormal acts. Its cause is not understood, but it can strike anyone and is one of the worst scourges of modern society.

    There is no doubt that Danny acted erratically that day, but he did have a diagnosed mental illness.

    I am certain he would admit that what he did was wrong, if he were alive, but he was taken from us by a misguided man with a gun.

    Danny "acted erratically" but the citizen acted abnormally? How might he describe dousing day care centers with gasoline and setting them on fire? Uncalled for behavior?

    But for a moment let's look at Mr. Culotti's argument. Carrying a gun is not normal. What makes it abnormal? I don't know what the percentages are, but let's assume that there are about as many armed, concealed-carry permit holders as there are Jewish citizens, or even gay citizens. Say, somewhere between one and ten percent of the American population. 39% of the population owns a gun, and I'm sure a much smaller percentage carry concealed. (I'm guessing here, but anyone who knows, feel free to jump in and comment.)

    Is normality based on percentages? Mr. Culotti says that "most of us do not carry lethal weapons," and he is doubtless correct. But I want to know what normal means.

    Here's Merriam Webster:

    2 a : according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle b : conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern
    3 : occurring naturally
    4 a : of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development b : free from mental disorder : SANE
    None of these really state whether behavior that occurs regularly in a minority of cases is normal.

    Police officers carry guns, yet there are fewer of them than there are concealed carry permit holders. Using the numerical calculation offered by Mr. Culotti, police officers are even less "normal" than the man who fired a shot in self defense. (Whether a police officer -- especially an older or smaller police officer -- would tolerate being knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly is a good question.)

    I suspect, though, that the word "normal" is intended in the moralistic sense, because it is coupled with "misguided." So, while the dead man is blameless, his shooter is bad. Simply for having a gun.

    But had he not been carrying a gun, he'd have been beaten to a pulp or even killed. By a convicted arsonist who attacks total strangers at random.

    Nothing bad about that?

    I think that what the dead man's uncle misses is the overwhelmingly, horrendously awful nature of what his nephew did. Setting fire to day care centers and attacking total strangers are atrocious acts by any standard. Whether they can be called "evil" depends on whether he had the capacity to form an evil mind, but that does not alter the horrible nature of his deeds. From the standpoint of any victim, whether his mental illness (or his documented crack addiction) caused him to behave that way is no more relevant than whether a vicious dog that attacked in an unprovoked manner suffered from rabies or was just plain vicious.

    Anyone crazy enough to attack total strangers at random can reasonably be expected to also be crazy enough to kill them. This was no ordinary ("normal") attack with fists. Thus the question is really not "How you would respond to someone attacking you with his fists?" but "How you would respond to a total stranger attacking you at random with his fists, then kicking you when you're down?"

    Without a gun, I suppose one "normal" response would be to lie there and die.

    MORE: Better dead than armed? In a post titled "No Gun, No Chance," (and in a related post) Dr. Helen looks at this disturbingly common philosophy.

    Via Glenn Reynolds, who also links David Hardy:

    Unarmed security guard sounds a little like a contradiction ... at best a deterrence to the more stupid or minor criminals (don't steal that bike -- there's a guy in uniform), at worst, a man put in an impossible situation, charged with protecting others, but having nothing but a radio to call for help, and maybe his fists.
    Not long ago, a maniac grabbed an electric saw and cut open a subway passenger's chest in New York. Far from protecting the passenger, the subway employees were said to be traumatized as they watched the attack:
    One MTA worker says the attack was a frightening scene for his colleagues.

    "They're very shook up," said MTA Supervisor Saint Dorceus. "They're very shook up because this is an incident that happened right in front of them. The guy grabbed their tools and went to work trying to kill people. And so it's traumatic."

    MTA employees called for help, and the passenger barely lived. Had he defended his life with a gun, he'd have faced serious charges.

    (After all, it wasn't as if the saw-wielding teddy-bear stuffed chimpanzee clutcher was at fault or anything.)

    posted by Eric at 05:06 PM | Comments (6)



    Avoiding identity politics (by any means necessary)

    I'm way too cynical. Even to read ordinary news reports.

    Reading about a shooting in San Francisco's largely gay Castro district, my identity politics paranoia was immediately raised:

    Violence marred the annual Halloween celebration in San Francisco's Castro district Tuesday when seven people were shot in the 2200 block of Market Street just as the event was drawing to an end, police said.

    The shooting occurred near Sullivan's Funeral Chapel about a block away from the main stage of the party that drew thousands of revelers, police said.

    Police heard the shots and ran toward 2255 Market to find two women and five men on the ground, two with life-threatening injuries. One suffered a gunshot to the head. The victims were transported to San Francisco General Hospital. The other five suffered nonlife-threatening injuries. Police also said they received reports of at least one stabbing and one report of a possible sexual assault.

    Were they anti-gay attacks, perhaps? Not a word about it.

    We are given only the vaguest possible clues. Nothing about the shooters -- and only second hand information that "the victims" were "young":

    "This is tragic," [San Francisco Supervisor] Dufty said. "I'm disappointed. All along we've been concerned about an increase in the climate of violence, especially among juveniles." He said his information was that all the victims were young.

    Dufty had said the objective of Castro leaders was to encourage people to visit the district, but to end their nights at bars or clubs in their hometowns or in other San Francisco neighborhoods. By his own estimation, only 10 percent of those at the Halloween party are from the neighborhood.

    "There's not a lot of support for this annual even in the community," Dufty said. "And now this really begs the question, who are we doing this for?"

    I'm baffled.

    In another account, two people were being questioned, while only "some" of the victims were described as "innocent":

    Two people were being questioned early Wednesday in the shooting, though it was not immediately clear if they were suspects or witnesses, said police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens. No arrests had been made, and the motive was unknown, he said.

    [...]

    Two people were taken to San Francisco General Hospital with life-threatening injuries, including one with a gunshot wound to the head, Gittens said. Five others were found at the scene with non-life-threatening injuries, and at least two more possible victims later were identified, he said.

    "We've had a couple of people going into hospitals on their own, and we need to verify whether they were victims of that shooting," he said early Wednesday.

    At least some of the victims were innocent bystanders, according to witnesses.

    The plot thickens. One of my problems is that I just want to know what happened, and it often feels like there's a vast conspiracy not to tell me.

    This makes me engage in speculation about the meaning of statements like this:

    Officials and members of the gay community also said the party had begun attracting gay bashers, and many gays and lesbians stopped coming.
    So, considering that the Castro is one of the world's largest and most famous "gayborhoods," were the shooters gay bashers or were they not?

    In an identity politics driven world, whether they were gay bashers depends on a lot of factors. At minimum, these factors would include:

  • the sexual preference of the victims;
  • the sexual preference of the shooters.
  • I notice the references to other hometowns and "other San Francisco neighborhoods," so I'm wondering to what extent that might be relevant.

    But there's no hard information on the hometowns or the neighborhoods of the victims, much less the shooters, so there's not much to go on. In fact there's nothing. Apparently no one in a crowd of thousands saw the shooter empty his gun. (Or, at least, no reporters have asked any eyewitnesses what they saw -- and that's despite the unavoidable relevance of identity politics to the shooting of ten people in a gay neighborhood.)

    However, based on my experience with identity politics, I'm tempted to assume -- even without any evidence -- that the victims probably weren't gay, and that the shooter definitely wasn't. Normally, I wouldn't be making any such assumptions, but I find myself thinking that if a gay man had gone off his rocker and emptied his gun into the crowd as the witness alleged, that fact would have been known, discovered, and reported, and by now there'd be a chorus of blame. While a gay shooter would be far more blameworthy than a non-gay shooter from "other" neighborhoods (the reasons why are very complicated and beyond this post), the blame would not be limited to the shooter. Rather, I suspect there'd be outrage over the existence of gay gun owners, who'd be vilified collectively as self-loathing hypocritical Republicans who'd created the climate that led to the shooting.

    In any case, we are all to blame for tolerating guns.

    UPDATE (07:32 p.m.) San Francisco police are now blaming gangs from certain neighborhoods:

    The altercation involved two groups of young people, ages 15 to 25, officials said. At least one of the groups was from San Francisco, police said.

    After someone threw a bottle, hitting someone in the other group, a person in the second group opened fire, shooting as many as nine times, police said.

    San Francisco police believe at least one gang was involved in the shooting, which is being investigated by the department's gang task force.

    Nine people were shot, but police said only two were taken by ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital: a woman whose head was grazed by a bullet and a second victim who was hit in the knee.

    Several others were treated at the scene, including a woman who was not shot but injured when she was trampled by the crowd.

    Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose district includes the Castro neighborhood, said two additional shooting victims took themselves to Kaiser Hospital in South San Francisco and another brought himself to General Hospital for treatment.

    He described the victims, including the one who was trampled, as eight men and two women, all in their teens or early 20s. All are expected to recover, he said.

    Commenter Rhodium Heart speculates that the failure to mention race is evidence that the troublemakers were not white. I don't know about that, but I do think there's a double standard with hate crime. Had the victims been gay, and the shooter white, I think it's more likely that a hate crime would have been charged. It makes no sense to say that only white people hate homosexuals, but then, identity politics is another form of nonsense upon stilts.

    posted by Eric at 10:19 AM | Comments (8)



    right-wing nut jobs reduce everything to politics!

    As anyone who's been to law school knows, one of the things that lawyers are trained to do is argue inconsistent theories in the alternative. Not that this makes much sense in real life, but in a legal setting it is sometimes necessary, because if one argument fails, why, you still have the other one.

    John Kerry's remarkable defense of his political gaffe yesterday strikes me as a classic. Here's the now famous statement, made before a college crowd:

    "You know education, if you make the most of it, and you study hard, and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
    On its face, the statement asserts a relationship between educational proficiency and service in Iraq (if not military service generally) as one of logical cause and effect. If A, then B. If no A, then C. But no sooner was the statement treated that way than Kerry asserted that it was really an attack on Bush -- which had been "distorted" by "assorted right-wing nut jobs." I guess that's another logical assertion. If you think he meant other than what he says he meant, you are a distorting member of the right-wing nut job assortment.

    So I want to be fair, and I will attempt to examine the statement in the context Kerry asserts he made it. Today's Inquirer headlines the admitted gaffe not as a gaffe, but as an "exchange of fire" between Kerry and Bush:

    '04 foes exchange fire anew on troops, war, education

    Bush says Kerry bashed military. Kerry says he bashed Bush.

    If I didn't spend so much time on the Internet and I'd read that, I'd have thought this was not a gaffe at all, but some sort of debate between Kerry and Bush. The headline supports Kerry's assertion that he really meant to attack Bush. The words of the actual gaffe (that started it all) do not appear on the front page; they're at the bottom of page A-12. Before we even read the remarks, we read that that they were being misconstrued by lying Republican "hacks" as a statement that allegedly stupid soldiers who didn't get good grades in college get stuck in Iraq.

    And when we finally get to the actual remarks, they are coupled with another remarkable assertion from Kerry -- that they were not political:

    [...]"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

    That, Kerry said, was meant as a reference to Bush, not to troops. Kerry said it was Bush who owed U.S. soldiers an apology - for "a Katrina foreign policy" that he said misled the country into war in Iraq, failed to adequately study and plan for the aftermath, had not properly equipped troops, and had expanded the terrorist threat.

    Kerry called the White House attack "a classic GOP textbook Republican campaign tactic" that he said revealed Republicans' "willingness to reduce anything in America to raw politics."

    So, not only is Bush now involved, but so is Katrina!

    But remember, it's not about politics!

    Why do these mean Republican distorters always try to make everything political?

    This is what I mean about arguing in the alternative. The problem is that even if I bend over backwards and go along with Kerry's later interpretation (dumb Bush and not dumb students), by what stretch of the imagination can an attack on Bush for being stupid be said to be anything other than "raw politics"?

    I don't see how. I just can't bend over backwards that far without falling down.

    But this may be evidence that Kerry spends his time with the crowd of people I posted about yesterday. For all I know, Kerry is one of those people who think that political attacks on the president or the war are not political at all. But if you disagree, then you're the one who's making it political. As Judith Weiss put it,

    In other words, they brought up politics, but they are the only ones who get to play. If you join in, you are the one who soured the conversation by bringing up politics.
    Might Kerry actually be thinking that it was the Republican liars who soured the conversation he was having with students?

    (I can think of no other explanation, and I have to say, I'm glad I didn't vote for him.)

    Before Kerry's non-political remarks were transformed by Republican liars into "raw politics," Donald Sensing [HT Justin] had been trying to avoid politics:

    Since the 2004 election, I decided to avoid posting about partisan politics, that is, issues attached to candidates or holders of office. I decided to discuss issues as before, but without discussing the personalities behind those issues except, as far as possible, in a non-partisan way.

    Until today.

    He heard Kerry's remarks while on the way to a funeral of a family friend killed in action in Iraq recently, and he's now planning to hold his nose and vote Republican:
    This Youtube video of Sen. John F. Kerry laying the most grievous insult upon Lance Cpl. Buerstetta and his peers explains why, as much as I will hold my nose to vote Republican next week, I cannot possibly bring myself to vote at this time for any Democrat.
    Sensing shares the Anchoress's view that Kerry should simply apologize -- and he sees Kerry's failure to do so as a reminder of the way he tried to blame others for the remarks in his infamous "Ghengis Khan" speech.
    ....would not a proper gentleman, to say nothing of an astute politician, do this [apologize]? Yes, a proper gentleman or astute politician would - but remember, we're talking about John Kerry here.

    Also, this man's open contempt for American troops and his overt willingness to flat-out lie about them goes back more than 30 years.

    It certainly looks that way to me.

    But I guess I'm just displaying a "willingness to reduce anything in America to raw politics."

    UPDATE (10:54 a.m.): Senator Kerry has canceled his Philadelphia campaign visit, as well as other visits:

    "We made a decision not to allow the Republican hate machine to use Democratic House candidates as proxies in their distorted spin war in which once again they're willing to exploit brave American troops," Kerry spokesperson David Wade said. "We've canceled campaign events in Pennsylvania today as well as for House candidates in Minnesota and Iowa today and tomorrow."

    He told the talk show host Don Imus that he was returning to Washington D.C. to deal with the issue.

    I think if he really wanted to help his party, he'd do better to apologize than to accuse people of being part of the "Republican hate machine" because they didn't like his remarks.

    And gosh darn it, Kerry's cancellation nullifies all of my carefully laid plans to use Democratic House candidates as proxies in my distorted spin war to exploit the troops!

    Hmm...

    Tonight's Kerry appearance was supposed to be a plug for Democrat Bob Casey, who's a Senate candidate. (Maybe Kerry's left an undistorted loophole in the proxy spin war....)

    AND MORE: Glenn Reynolds has an interesting roundup of Democrats like Harold Ford and others who are demanding apologies.

    I guess the Republican hate machine's distorted spin war has claimed many victims.

    AND MORE: Glenn also links La Shawn Barber, who thinks Kerry the war veteran couldn't have been so clueless in an election cycle as to have actually meant what he said, and that his remarks were in fact an attack on Bush which came out mangled. It's possible that he did intend an attack on Bush (which is why I attempted to analyze the remarks that way), but it's all the more reason Kerry should have simply -- and immediately -- apologized.

    However, by hurling accusations and saying an attack on Bush for being stupid wasn't political, Kerry not only made it worse, but he has convinced me that he might very well have meant the remarks precisely as he said them.

    Sure, Kerry is a war veteran. But he was also a war veteran when he said his fellow veterans had "personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, [and] razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan."

    I guess it's some comfort that no matter what he meant yesterday, at least Kerry has grown more tolerant of his fellow veterans over the years.

    MORE: I'm remembering Kerry's inappropriate remarks when he fell down and accused the Secret Service of knocking him over.

    "I don't fall down," the "son of a b*itch knocked me over," were Kerry's words at the time.

    It sounds to me as if Kerry suffers from a chronic inability to admit mistakes of any kind coupled with a failure of ordinary social graces.

    This might explain Kerry's failure to apologize, regardless of whether he made a mistake or said what he said deliberately (or, possibly let slip what he thought even though he might not have intended to say it).

    MORE: Kerry has apologized:

    Fearful of damaging his own party in next week's elections, Sen. John Kerry apologized Wednesday to "any service member, family member or American" offended by remarks deemed by Republicans and Democrats to be insulting to U.S. forces in Iraq.

    Six days before the election, the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee said he wanted to avoid becoming a distraction in the final days of the battle for control of Congress. He added he sincerely regretted that his words were "misinterpreted to imply anything negative about those in uniform."

    MORE: Did the Democrats make him apologize? Another Glenn Reynolds link to a huge list of right wing nutjobs in the Democratic Party demanding apologies makes me suspect that they did.

    I think the real story is this vast right wing conspiracy in the Democratic Party.

    posted by Eric at 07:32 AM | Comments (6)




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