War Is Not A Physics Problem

Some people have the idea that all wars are optional. Or at least a vast majority are for America. This especially includes Iraq.

Some wars are matters of survival. i.e. it is not always possible to choose your enemy. Sometimes the enemy chooses you.

It is possible to choose how to fight the enemy. Boots vs. bombs. However, boots can discriminate targets better than bombs can. They can also perform other useful tasks such as making friends and gathering intel. However, boots are limited by those in the military age range in any year. In the US we get about 1 million men entering that age range every year (which forms the main recruiting pool). The military gets about 10% of that pool every year. About the maximum possible in an all volunteer force. To increase the size of the force moderately rapidly (20,000 a year say), you would need to greatly increase retention rates. For that to be feasable you would need that many adequate performers who would like to be retained but are not due to Congressional force size limitations. Which I do not believe is the case.

Then you have the question of punitive expeditions vs transformative expeditions. One is quick, but often leaves a mess with the high likelyhood of having to cover the same ground repeatedly. Our you go in for a transformative expedition where your time horizon is much longer. All this affects troop man days spent in the field.

And lots of similar questions. Some political, some military, some economic, some cultural, some turning on social structure, some logistical, some technological, some related to infrastructure, etc., etc., etc.

All of this is complicated by the need to keep the oil flowing so civilization doesn't collapse.

On top of that there is reaction. The enemy is always adjusting strategy, tactics, and war aims in response to our moves as we adjust same in response to his. And then there is the problem of keeping alliances together and disrupting enemy alliances.

Which is what makes the whole question a wicked problem. You can't easily isolate the factors the way you can in a physics problem.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 02:40 PM | Comments (4)

Last minute Barcelona non-photogenic photo op

After remarking that "EVERYONE COMES DOWN to Barcelona eventually," Jose Guardia opined that he was unphotogenic!

I took issue with this, as I don't think he is at all. But still, I thought I should make an offer of proof.

Here it is, taken today at Dali's castle in Pubol, Spain:


I'd say that if that's the best I can manage at a, um, Gala occasion, I think it's beyond debate that I'm clearly the least photogenic person on Earth.

So with that, I'm off to Barcelona's New Year's revelry.


posted by Eric at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

Happy New Year 2007 - Open Thread

This is an open thread for all Classical Values readers who might wish to pass on New Years greetings (or any thing else) to each other.

Have a Happy and Dangerous New Year. And, be careful out there.

posted by Simon at 10:09 AM | Comments (5)

special occasions call for celebrations!

I'm loving Barcelona so much that I've been too busy to keep in touch with the outside world, although news like Saddam Hussein's execution is difficult to ignore -- even while on vacation.

In all honesty, I did not expect Saddam to be executed any time soon, much less today.

Considering Barcelona's left-wing reputation (it's similar to San Francisco in many ways), imagine my surprise to find myself toasting the tyrant's death here today!

But that's just what happened:


Toasting with me is Pajamas Media's Barcelona Editor José Guardia (also of Barcepundit), and the location is a fantastic restaurant called Galería Gastronómica, where Jose took me to lunch.

Not that we needed Saddam Hussein's death as an excuse to celebrate, but it didn't hurt. The tapas were to die for, as was the seafood paella, and the art by Lorenzo Quinn (actor Anthony's son). So if you're ever in Barcelona don't miss it!

And if you can't make it to Barcelona for the wonderful food, don't miss Barcepundit. Seriously, I think it's fair to call José the Instapundit of Spain.

Today he's not only been posting about the execution of Saddam, but about the terrorist car bomb which exploded at the Madrid airport. It appears to be the work of Basque separatists, and José sees it as a byproduct of government appeasement policies. (I agree with José, and not only am I not surprised, I think there's a lesson for Americans in this.)

I'd love to drink a toast to the end of terrorist appeasement in the West, but I'm afraid that will have to wait.

Today was a thoroughly delightful treat, and my thanks to José, whose gracious hospitality made it a special occasion all the way around!

AFTERTHOUGHT: Hey, speaking of the Madrid airport, I just remembered that I was just at the Madrid airport a few days ago! I guess I've been having too much fun to waste time being afraid. (Probably the hospitality!)

MORE (01/31/06): "EVERYONE COMES DOWN to Barcelona eventually," says Jose.

To which I say "Heh."

However, I must disagree with Jose's assessment of himself as unphotogenic. (I'm the king of that department, and I consider most of the photos I post of myself to be awful.)

On a more serious note, I should add that despite Barcelona's reputation as an anti-American, leftwing place, I have found the people uniformly friendly and helpful (aside from an occasional crazy sign or graffiti), and notwithstanding my sophomoric celebratory remarks, I'm sure that the average Barcelonan is just as supportive of Saddam Hussein's execution as David Kaspar (via Glenn Reynolds) reports.

posted by Eric at 03:39 PM | Comments (3)

I got the internet blowin' up

I awoke this morning to find that a number of search engines/web portals were down: Google, Yahoo, and MSN were the big ones. Live's front page loads, but searches time out. Ask.com seems to be fully functional.

In addition, of the smaller search sites some are up, some down, some incredibly sluggish. What does it all mean?

Did the butler do it? Or someone more nefarious?

posted by Dennis at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

Corruption Is Routine

For those who have been following the Duke "Rape" Case you will know that it is a case of egregious prosecutorial misconduct. And yet there are similar cases every day in the USA. Why don't such cases recieve wide publicity? Simple - if such procedures were shown to be widespread the "justice" system in America would collapse.

Ankle Biting Pundits are outraged at the misconduct in the Duke case. Yeah. Sure. The outrage is palpable. No doubt.

Now tell me why testilying in drug prohibition cases is so common that we have a name for it? Alan Dershowitz in testimony before Congress said:

Police perjury in criminal cases - particularly in the context of searches and other exclusionary rule issues - is so pervasive that the former police chief of San Jose and Kansas City has estimated that "hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers commit felony perjury every year testifying about drug arrests" alone.
A few bad apples no doubt.

BTW any one notice how alcohol prohibition corrupted our justice system? I thought not.

In other words save your phoney outrage for the ignorant. What Nifong (the DA in the Duke case) did is an outgrowth of what goes on in America every day in every jurisdiction. Who will call for a clean up of that? Or is it another case (like Nifong) where jobs depend on it?

Christopher Slobogin in the University of Colorado Law Review shows why testilying is so corrosive:

Perhaps most importantly, police lying intended to convict someone, whether thought to be guilty or innocent, is wrong because once it is discovered, it diminishes one of our most crucial "social goods" -- trust in government. First, of course, the exposure of police perjury damages the credibility of police testimony. As the aftermath of the Fuhrman debacle has shown, the revelation that some police routinely and casually lie under oath makes members of the public, including those who serve on juries, less willing to believe all police, truthful or not. One comment that a New York prosecutor made about the impact of the Simpson case illustrates the point: "Our prosecutors now have to begin their cases defending the cops. Prosecutors have to bring the jury around to the opinion that cops aren't lying. That's how much the landscape has changed."

Police perjury can cause other systemic damage as well. Presumably, for instance, the loss of police credibility on the stand diminishes law enforcement's effectiveness in the streets. Most significantly, to the extent other actors, such as prosecutors and judges, are perceived to be ignoring or condoning police perjury, the loss of public trust may extend beyond law enforcement to the criminal justice system generally.

Here is a bit by Scott Morgan on the corruption of police power in drug prohibition:
First, a revealing story of police misconduct from The Journal Inquirer in North Central Connecticut:
A Hartford police detective arrested days after his retirement in 2004 on charges of falsifying an arrest warrant has been granted a special form of probation that could lead to his arrest record being expunged.

The decision came after a hearing in which [Sgt. Franco] Sanzo's lawyer, Jake Donovan of Middletown, called another retired officer who said that police frequently sign their names to warrants - and swear before judges - that they've seen things they haven't.

So basically Sanzo's defense was that this type of misconduct is a matter of routine at his department. And it worked! I don't know if I'm more shocked that a defense attorney would offer an argument so contemptuous towards the Fourth Amendment, or that a judge would actually be persuaded by an attempt to rationalize police misconduct.
When this all comes crashing down it is going to hurt America for decades. Just as alcohol prohibition did.

Here ia another case where the town fathers are trying to steal a man's business based on trumped up drug charges:

This is the story of David Ruttenberg, the totally law-abiding owner of Rack N' Roll billiards in Manassas, Virginia, who for years now has been targeted in repeated and fruitless attempts to link his business to drug activity. His livelihood is now almost completely destroyed and most of the cops and public officials in Manassas seem to be in on it. Motivated by an apparent desire to build an off-track betting facility on the property, Manassas police and others have spared no expense in this otherwise inexplicable series of bizarre events.

My favorite part is when Ruttenberg tries to explain his plight to a local news reporter at 1:00 in the morning and the Mayor suddenly jumps out of the bushes and tells the reporter not to trust to him.

Balko's research illustrates the ease with which ambiguous allegations of drug activity can be used by politicians as leverage against their enemies. Still, I suspect that the only thing unique about this story is the fact that someone as meticulous as Balko took an interest in it. His work on the Cory Maye case similarly illustrates the improbability of severe police corruption coming to light absent the involvement of a politically savvy blogger from Washington, D.C.

When business owners can be held liable for activities they had no knowledge of, it becomes painfully easy for corrupt officials with ulterior motives to capitalize on malfeasance.

If you were trying to screw over a business owner, how would you do it? Think about how easy it is to frame someone for drugs. Think about it, then ask yourself how often it happens.

That is a pretty good question. My guess? Often enough so that if this kind of behavior was public knowledge it would bring down the justice system.

Public Integrity has pages, and pages, and pages of this stuff. Probably just a few bad apples.

Here is just a bit from one of the articles at Public Integrity:

It is impossible to know for sure how often a specific prosecutor (or a specific defense attorney, judge, police officer, etc.) bends or breaks the rules. In most jurisdictions, at least 95 percent of the cases that pour in from the police never reach a jury, which means any misconduct occurs away from public view. The only trial those defendants receive takes place in the prosecutor's office; the prosecutor becomes the judge and the jury. The prosecutor is the de facto law after an arrest, deciding whether to charge the suspect with committing a crime, what charge to file from a range of possibilities, whether to offer a pre-trial deal, and, if so, the terms of the deal.

Katherine Goldwasser, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who served as a prosecutor in Chicago before joining academia, suggested that misconduct often occurs out of sight, especially in cases that never go to trial. Those cases by definition do not generate appellate opinions (and thus are for the most part beyond the scope of the Center study). Goldwasser told the Center. "It is not a safe assumption that cases ending with guilty pleas are absent prosecutorial misconduct."

Here is an interesting list of serious cases of prosecutorial misconduct. Men and women sentenced to death or long prison sentences because of the prosecutor's desire to win at all costs. Murder is no object. Scary.

Here is the case of James E. Richardson, Jr.:

In September 1996, a Kanawha [West Virginia- ed.] circuit judge overturned Richardson's conviction based on allegations that state police chemist Fred Zain fabricated evidence and that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence.
Which sounds a lot like the Duke case. Except in the Duke case all this is coming out before trial.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 10:58 PM | Comments (5)


Commenter passerby took exception to some of the things I said in The Origins Of Islamic Rage. Here is my reply to his question about the rise of tribalism in the west. I don't actually answer his question (directly), but I do look at what I consider a subset of sociobiology - politicobiology.


As long as we are human we will have the alpha male problem.

If you look at human history - freedom is not much in evidence. No matter how desireable for the individual it is unusual. It takes effort.

Tribalism is the natural state of humankind. It is what you would expect from genetics. The closer the genetic connection, the more trust given to the individual.

A place or a world where Jewish/Christian values predominate is a better world in my opinion. "All men are created equal" is an anti-tribalist statement. However, it is not natural. The Islamics are correct. Their system is more in accord with humans as they exist in a state of nature.

As to the sexual theories etc. You need to look into my work on PTSD. Start with:


PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System

Men with PTSD are more prone to violence than men without. Sexual assault on children is a good way of creating a person with long term PTSD problems (providing the genetics are correct).

If violence against children is endemic, you then have a resevoir of angry males for jihad. i.e. some one has to pay for the torment of the individual. Since we are genetically biased against looking at the evil of our parents it then must be ascribed to some outside source.

When we start getting the connection between biology and politics (monkey politics) we will get better political systems.

When Kissenger said "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac" he wasn't kidding. That is only one example of the relation between biology and politics.

Sociobiology is more or less accepted. What I am looking at is a subset of that. Politicobiology. Thus, power and control.

My recent piece on drug prohibition It Was Never About The Drugs is another example of NORMAL human behavior. Dividing the ins from the outs.

Or try How To Put An End To Drug Users. Which discusses (in a round about way) how the impulse for genocide is wired into the human system. It discusses how that wiring is activated.

So near to the gods. So close to the devils. Between heaven and hell.

Why? Because, Power and Control gives a reproductive advantage.

Politicobiology explains why there will always be an opposition party. It is the way we are wired.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

"Muslims" Abandoning Islam?

Reader Paul sent me this interesting item on the decline in belief among Muslims in Russia.

This latest research deals a severe blow to plans by Russian Muslim leaders to wrench concessions from the Kremlin. These Muslim leaders are pushing for the creation of a new high-ranking position in the government just for so-called `Muslim Affairs', and they are also trying to have Islamic law officially accepted in those areas of the country where ethnic Muslims dominate.

So-called `ethnic' Muslims --- people traditionally seen as Muslims, such as Tatars, Bashkirs, Chechens, and Ingush --- account for about 15 percent of the total Russian population, or 20 million people. The fact that only 6 percent of the total Russian population, about 9 million people, claimed to be Muslim means that more than half of `ethnic' Muslims have abandoned the Mohammedan cult practiced by their forefathers.

This is also a very good example whereby Muslim leaders deny any freedom of choice to `their' peoeple. They claim as their own anyone born into an ethnic group that is perceived to be `Muslim', and under no circumstance will they let go of these people. According to Muslim leaders: once a Muslim, always a Muslim. Islam is all about violence, coercion and the absence of freedom.

The VTsIOM poll is very encouraging news. True, more and more mosques are opening in Russia, but not many people are attending them. Indeed, many Tatars and Bashkirs have become Orthodox Christian; or simply do not have any religious affiliation. Islam in Russia, however, remains most virulent in the North Caucasus among the Chechens and Inghush, whose inclination toward violence and terrorism is well-known.

This is very encouraging news if true. It may be that our real hope in this war is not the "moderate" muslim but the former muslim.

What we need now is a survey team to go in and find out how this happened. Is it a local phenomenon or can it be replicated?

Clayton Cramer thinks that Islam may have been a proxy for nationalism in those regions. With the Soviets gone no need for nationalism as a resistance movement, thus the decline of Islam. Certainly a testable thesis. If it is true it means that it is of limited application because our current problem is with transnational Islam.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 02:18 AM | Comments (4)

A Geologist Looks At Global Warming

Commenter A. Jacksonian posted the following in the comments to Not Enough CO2. He has some nice easy to understand charts and graphs at the link below.


One of the great things about being a geologist is being able to actually get that 'long term perspective'. So, when you want a long-term perspective on climate and weather you do NOT go to meteorologists... you go to geologists. Thus, my view on global warming which still stands. Without taking the larger, geological context of things like the speed of plate tectonics, orogeny (mountain building) and the sudden loss of inland seas, no one can make any basis for discriminating between relatively short term variations in a chaotic inter-glacial period that has typically seen fast and steep temperature variations, larger global effects and the effects of mankind. CO2 levels are at a historic LOW and there is no correlation between CO2 and global temperatures except at the very low end. And even *that* does not take into account break-up of the last supercontinent and the loss of inland seas due to the continents moving faster and riding higher on the mantle.

The Earth has even had sudden, intense, glacial periods that ended just as abruptly with NO change in CO2 that was appreciable and the picking up the exact same warm period right after the glacial period.

And let us not forget that Mars is also undergoing a warming spell... so insolation also plays a part in all of this...

But that is what you get when you ask climatologists to speculate on a mere 100 years worth of data and not on 4.2 billion years worth. It is not their field.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 02:41 PM | Comments (2)

It Was Never About Drugs

Jerry Ford has died. As always when you mention the life of Ford, the question of Nixon comes up. I have lots of beefs with Nixon's career. This is my biggest. Using not just private henchmen, but the power of government to kidnap and injure your political opponents under color of law.

Nixon said to Elvis:

"You know," Nixon said, " those who use drugs are the protesters. You know, the ones who get caught up in dissent and violence. They're the same group of people."

Nixon said something similar to Haldeman on the Nixon tapes with the additional proviso that he thought pot was no worse than the martini he was drinking.

For Nixon, the drug war was never about drugs. It was a scheme to attack his political opponents based on some cultural characteristic.

It has always been thus. Alcohol prohibition was in part an attempt to destroy the Democratic Machine which organized in saloons. Laws against smoking opium were instigated because Chinese smoked opium. White folks, who traditionally drank opium had no such prohibition.

Sadly the pattern hasn't changed much. Blacks, buy, sell, and use drugs in aproximate proportion to their population. About 12%. They make up something like 50 to 60% of the prison population.

I'm with Milton Friedman on this one. This whole stinking pile we call the drug war is totally immoral. It is about persecuting the unfavored, strictly power and control. Sadly we are getting that way with tobacco users as well. What? Forcing people out into the cold to have a smoke isn't persecution? Give me a break.

Let me quote Professor Whitebread form the last link. From a speech he gave in 1995 when tobacco prohibition was just gathering steam. What he said seemed at least moderately fantastic at the time.

And so, yeah, we will continue the War on Drugs for a while until everybody sees its patent bankruptcy. But, let me say that I am not confident that good sense will prevail. Why? Because we love this idea of prohibition. We really do. We love it in this country. And so I will tell you what I predict. You will always know which ones are going out and which ones are coming in. And, can't you see the one coming right over the hill? Well, folks, we are going to have a new prohibition because we love this idea that we can solve difficult medical, economic, and social problems by the simple enactment of a criminal law. We adore this, and of course, you judges work it out, we have solved our problem. Do you have it? Our problem is over with the enactment of the law. You and the cops work it out, but we have solved our problem.

Here comes the new one? What's it going to be? No, it won't be guns, this one starts easy. This one is the Surgeon General has what? --Determined -- not "we want a little more checking it out", not "we need a few more studies", not "reasonable people disagree" -- "The Surgeon General has determined that the smoking of cigarettes will kill you."

Now, all you need, and here is my formula, for a new prohibition every time is what? We need an intractable, difficult, social, economic, or medical problem. But that is not enough. There has to be another thing. It has to divide by class --- by social or economic class, between US and THEM.

And so, here it comes. '

You know the Federal Government has been spending a lot of money since 1968 trying to persuade us not to smoke. And, indeed, the absolute numbers on smoking have declined very little. But, you know who has quit smoking, don't you? In gigantic numbers? The college-educated, that's who. The college-educated, that's who doesn't smoke. Who are they? Tomorrow's what? Movers and kickers, that's who. Tomorrow's movers and kickers don't smoke. Who does smoke? Oh, you know who smokes out of all proportion to their numbers in the society -- it is the people standing in your criminal courtrooms, that's who. Who are they? Tomorrow's moved and kicked, that's who.

And, there it is friends, once it divides between the movers and kickers and the moved and kicked it is all over and it will be all over very shortly.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 04:45 AM | Comments (5)

Nazis to the Right of Me? I Must Be a Communist

That Relapsed Catholic is hitting my buttons today. The Catholic has excerpted the following from That Fascist, Heinlein:

Indeed, capitalism is the opposite of fascism, which favors government control of the every economic decision. Calling us (liberals and conservatives) 'fascists' simply reveals the Left's nostaglia for truly evil enemies (like Nazis) and its current reluctance to engage in a battle of ideas. So Bush is a fascist and so is Heinlein...


"I was covering a anti-globalization street demonstration in Prague in 2000 for the Wall Street Journal and noticed that the crowd was chanting loudly in Spanish. I asked a demonstrator why this pan-European crowd was reciting Spanish slogans instead of Czech. 'Don't you know it?' he asked. 'This is one of the great anti-Fascist chants from the Spanish Civil War.'

"In other words, it was from the 1930s.

"Even the young communists think like old men, living in a glorious past that has long since passed. This is why they still want to talk about McCarthy, Nixon, Vietnam, 'the 1960s,' the minimum wage, the draft, the United Nations...

Their solution for the Iraq war and the Iran A-Bomb? Get France, Britain, Russia and China to agree. In other words, get our World War II allies to join us. Hasn't the world changed in 60 years? The French and British have given away their empires and forfeited a role in global affairs. They have one aircraft carrier each. Russia is failing state that could not rescue the crew on one of their own submarines. China could play only a bit part in the tsunami relief effort and is actively involved with two members of the axis of evil (Iran and North Korea). Surely India, Japan and Turkey are more important to us now?

"The Left's one relatively new concern is global warming. Yes, they have been threatening an environmental catastrophe since the late 1950s and climate change since the early 1970s, but it, nonetheless, is among their fresher concerns. Still, it is worth pointing out that worrying about the weather is principally a concern of the aged. The rest of us are too busy hurrying to work."

Since Eric of Classical Values is in Spain I thought he might appriciate this bit of nostalgia.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 08:30 PM | Comments (1)

'Tis The Season

I was noodling around at Relapsed Catholic and came across a note on Kwanzaa. Specifically Newsbusters says that Cox News is honoring the creator of Kwanzaa. Let us start with the headline of this little holiday confection.

Cox News Honors Kwanzaa Creator, A Rapist and Torturer
It only gets better after that.
It amazes me that this Kwanzaa business has been washed of the real life criminal activity of its creator. The man was a race monger, a violent thug, a rapist, a torturer... just a horrible human being.

Yet never a word of this man's evil is ever uttered when his pseudo holiday is discussed in the MSM.

And the Cox News Service did it again on Christmas in theirs titled Kwanzaa glows even brighter after 40 years.

Kwanzaa turns 40 today. The colorful holiday, invented by California professor Maulana Ron Karenga in 1966, is like a jazz musician who fuses bits and pieces of music into a vibrant mosaic of sound. Kwanzaa, "first fruit" in Swahili, is a fluent, nonreligious holiday that borrows liberally from a patchwork of cultures and traditions.

Karenga originally created the seven-day observance to empower black communities and uplift black culture and identity.

It amazes him. It amuses me. This is the season with something for every one. For instance the secret history of Kwanzaa's founder.
Yes, kindly professor Ron Karenga. What a great guy.

Of course, his name wasn't really Ron Karenga originally. It was Ronald McKinley Everett.

In 1969 the organization called US (as is "us"--blacks--against "them" --whites), a black power militant group Everett founded, frequently clashed in violence with police and even other black power groups. Members of his group even killed two Black Panthers in 1969.

Nice and peaceful, eh?

In 1971 Everett served time in jail for assault. By then Everett had changed his name to Maulana Ron Karenga and began to affect a pseudo African costume and act a native African.

It wasn't mere assault he was convicted of, either. It was sexual assault and torture perpetrated against some of his female followers. The L.A. Times then reported that he placed a hot soldering iron in one woman's mouth and used a vise to crush another's toe.

Well for those of you into that sort of thing it gets even better. This guy sounds like a modern day Mohammed without the grace. Toe squeezing being way too effeminate for Mohammed. Mo being more of an off with their heads kind of guy. Grand sweeping gesture that. The similarities between the stories on Mr. Karenga and Mohammed in the "real" press are that the press avoids the ugly details of what these fellows have been about. You should read it all at Newsbusters. If so inclined.

Relapsed has more on Kwanzaa.

Ann Coulter is scathing with a funny bit of doggerel. H/T Commenter linearthinker

Update: 31 Dec'06 2340z

Ann Coulter blames Kwanzaa on the FBI . H/T Steve Sailer

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 08:10 PM | Comments (1)

Palestinian Civil War Watch - 6

The Palestinians are still at it.

A mother of two was murdered Tuesday evening in front of her children in the city of Ramla, south of Tel Aviv. The woman, a 29-year-old divorcee, was killed by a barrage of gunshots while standing at the entrance to her home.

Large police forces were dispatched to the scene of the incident and began looking for suspects. According to estimates, the murder was carried out as a "honor killing."

The police investigation revealed that the woman was standing at the entrance to her home with her two 4-year-old and 8-year-old children, and was about to leave the house. The babysitter who arrived to look after the children was also present.
Meanwhile, "militants" are targeting internet cafes.
Fundamentalist Islamists in Gaza have begun a campaign of bombing and arson against Internet cafes, pharmacies and pool halls.

A group calling itself the Swords of Islamic Righteousness issued a statement claiming responsibility for some of the attacks, denouncing Western, immoral behavior, such as unveiled women and loud music, a Times of London correspondent reported.

The group said it would continue "shooting rocket-propelled grenades and planting bombs at Internet cafes in Gaza, which are trying to make a whole generation preoccupied with matters other than jihad and worship."

Pharmacies suspected of dispensing smuggled hallucinogens have also been targeted, as have pool halls, which the fundamentalists claim are immoral.

I guess they have watched "The Music Man" one too many times.

Check out Palestinian Civil War Watch - 5 for more on the war on CD shops and mobile phone stores.

Ramzy Baroud comments in Arab News about Palestinian discontents. He blames the Palestinian's problems on outside agitators.

What is taking place in the Occupied Territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip has much less to do with inter-factional rivalries and a lot more with regional and international power plays, in which some foolhardy Palestinians decided to involve themselves for the sake of maintaining personal and factional gains.

To avoid delving into self-pity, I wish to emphasize a point that I have made repeatedly in the past: If it were not for the dysfunctional nature and lack of unity within the myriad of political and societal structures that claims to represent the Palestinian people, no political designs, be it American or Israeli or any other, would've succeeded in duping the Palestinians into such caustic behavior and self-defeatism. (The gunning down of three kids on Dec. 11 and the killing of other innocent people, including children, in addition to the attack on Prime Minister Ismail Haniya on Dec. 14, have indeed crossed all red lines.)

The outside agitator problem is an argument I made in Follow The Money

Previous postings in the series:

Palestinian Civil War Watch - 0
Palestinian Civil War Watch - 1
Palestinian Civil War Watch - 2
Palestinian Civil War Watch - 3
Palestinian Civil War Watch - 4
Palestinian Civil War Watch - 5

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

Greetings from Barcelona

Barcelona is truly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I've only been here a day, but I'm having a wonderful time.

Here's how the streets looked on Christmas night:




And today on the waterfront, the old port authority building:


Oh, and earlier today, while strolling along Las Ramblas, I did a little "outreach":


I've hardly had time to keep up with the blogosphere, but I did read something in InstaPundit about the demise of Libertarianism, so I thought I should be covering my bases....

posted by Eric at 01:41 PM | Comments (2)

Last.fm on Nintendo Wii

I'm glad to see that Eric has enlisted a guest blogger considering I haven't written about anything in a long time, and I really have no awareness of the outside world. for me it's been nothing but teaching, lesson plans, and the politics of the public school system.

And since M. Simon has been giving this site some legitimate content, I can tell you something else about the Nintendo Wii, which I blogged from the other day. I haven't seen this anywhere else, but the internet channel on the Wii works with both Youtube and Last.fm, which means (1) I can lie on the couch and watch Lazy Sunday on the big screen, and (2) I don't have to worry about the playlist at my next party.

Unlike blogging, listening to Last-fm on the Wii is something I definitely will do more of in the future.

posted by Dennis at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)


Cale Hahn at Israpundit is going on about American relations with Israel. He thinks America is being a treacherous ally. Especially the ISG (Iraq Study Group - James Baker leading the charge.)

In regards to Israel, the ISG report states, "The US will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the US deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict." Such a statement makes one wonder how many divisions Israel has operating in Iraq and Arab countries.

It is, in point of act, Washington 's tacit acknowledgement to the Islamic world it is prepared to use its influence to once again force Israel into further concessions and territorial withdrawals.

Only America, as Israel 's historic friend and ally, possesses the influence over Israel to force her into additional territorial withdrawals. That Washington has been the catalyst for the majority of "peace initiatives" in the Middle East is a matter of record. The pattern has been the same for Madrid, Oslo, Hebron, Wye, Sharm el-Sheikh, Camp David, Taba, the Road Map and the Lebanon and Gaza withdrawals:

Islamic leaders, aware of US influence over Israel , tell the US the key to securing its interests in the Mideast is "resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". Washington, in turn, persuades, bribes or strong-arms Israel into accepting terms and withdrawing from territory under the guise of a "peace process". Muslims then violate the agreements and the territory becomes safe havens from which they launch attacks against Israeli population centers. This pattern is unchanged, and is a blueprint for the ISG's strategy of redeeming American influence in the Middle East.
He contines in the same vein:
Immediately following the publishing of the ISG report, several disturbing events occurred:
-James Baker proposed a US-organized conference dubbed Madrid-2, promoted as a forum to discuss Iraq but will actually focus on Islamic demands for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Judea , Jerusalem , Samaria and the Golan. Iran and Syria will be invited to the conference. Israel will not.

-Newly appointed US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates characterized Iran's nuclear weapons program as motivated by deterrence against a nuclear armed Israel. Never mind that Ahmadinejad and Iran 's rulers have stated their intent to "wipe Israel off the map" in the very near future.

-Without consulting the Israeli government, Washington officially disclosed Israel 's possession of nuclear weapons.

- Newly empowered Congressional Democrats are secretly meeting with Hamas.

The sheer brazenness of the American treachery is staggering.
I beg to differ. I think the Israeli treachery is staggering. Here is why:

The treachery was on Israel's part for not taking the Bekaa Valley last summer despite numerous hints in public (many more and more direct in private I'm sure).

Syria said it would have to get involved if Israel took the Bekaa. Iran said it would come in too.

Sure it would have hurt Israel much more than the war did because of unpreparedness (a lot more dead soldiers). However, it would have rid Israel of two very big problems at little extra political cost to America or Israel (America would have handled Iran, being closer to the scene of action).

Now America is saying screw you.

I think a new government could fix this.

Tell me again why there aren't mass demonstrations against the government? Cell phones stopped working, the internet has been shut down, no one can find the time to organize, Israelis can't find the streets, or they think the current government is not bad enough to be worth political action?

Bush wants the double crosser Olmert out of power and Likud back in power. Here is what I think happened: The deal was - Bush gets Israel time, Israel moves on Bekaa in an effort to goad Syria and Iran into the war. Olmert does the preliminary moves on Bekaa - recon, special forces, small unit action (company size), helicopter insertions, etc. to make it look like something was going to happen. However, no movement in strength ever happened. Olmert was just using the war to punish Hizballah. So finally Bush shut the war down. Olmert is too political (what if the Israeli people really find out how totally unprepared the Army is?) and too tactial. Swatting flies instead of burying the manure.

If Israelis care about Israel, take to the streets in Israel. As an American all I can do is sit on the sidelines and cheer (or boo as the case requires and my understanding allows).

Olmert is Israel's Jonah. Time to throw him overboard.

Israpundit has another bit on American "treachery".

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 10:51 PM | Comments (6)

The Pope On Science and Technology

There is a discussion going on at the Netscape Blog about the Pope's comments on science and technology. The Pope said worship God not technology.

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- Pope Benedict said in his Christmas message on Monday that mankind, which has reached other planets and worships technology, cannot live without God or turn its back on the hungry.
Technology and science have helped us live longer, eat better, housed, clothed, and entertained us as well.

What has the Maker done for us lately? Well, given us the brains and culture to make all the technology stuff happen.

There is a very important place for the spiritual (the practice of science and especially technology is very spiritual - honesty and truth are required every step of the way - you can't lie to Mother Nature). However, the Pope ought to embrace (co-opt) science and technology. His fight against it is not only in vain. It is stupid.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

Not Enough CO2

Atmospheric CO2 is very low by geological standards. Lack of sufficient CO2 in the atmosphere stunts plant growth.

We need to get together with Russia, China, oil producers, coal producers, and in fact the rest of the world to see what we can do to get more CO2 in the atmosphere.

Anon posted a couple of good links about geologic CO2 in the comments at Power and Control.

CO2 Science
CO2 in Geologic Time

Anon has a few more links of interest:

CO2 in geologic time with error bands.
Debunking the hockey stick.
Hockey stick hysteria or why low pass filters can eliminate useful data.

Don't look now but Congress is getting in on the act with an act of Congress once the Democrats are in.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

A Sorry People

Commenter Gabriel in a response to my post Middle East Politics had this to say:

Thanks Simon. This is decent for Friedman....

Had heard this quote before:
"It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this."

I dunno. I think we very well understand that Arabs suffer from incredible penis-envy, I just don't think the Arabs understand it at a conscious level. Until they understand it, we have to treat their sensitive egos with kid gloves. Or am I way off?

To which I replied:


I put a up post on that point: Fighting For Self Esteem.

You make this point:

Until they understand it, we have to treat their sensitive egos with kid gloves. Or am I way off?

You are way off. Your statement previous to the above is closer to the mark:

I think we very well understand that Arabs suffer from incredible penis-envy, I just don't think the Arabs understand it at a conscious level.

I think we have to pound it into their sorry heads and asses.

To the effect: You are a sorry, small dicked, uncivilized people.

Once they have been totally and publically humiliated they will either change or disappear.

Carolyn Glick says that the job will have to be done by freelancers.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

Winter Safety

With winter fast coming on it might be a good idea to look at Winter Survival in the Wilderness.

There really is too much important information to quote. So go read the whole thing.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 11:05 PM | Comments (1)

Decline and Fall

Here is a bit I posted at my place a few days ago. It fits in with the themes often seen here at Classical Values.


Commenter Karridine alerted me to this interesting piece by Orson Scott Card on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Card's central thesis is that trade made the empire and its people richer and that the empire fell because trade was no longer safe.

Trade breaks down as merchants lose confidence and markets are disrupted by barbarian invaders. When this happens, specialization becomes impossible, local areas must become agriculturally and militarily self-sufficient again, and between disease, famine, war, and emigration, populations crash.
Then he asks the most important question of the day. Can it happen to us?
For a century, America has been the great cushion to absorb the shocks that might have brought down western civilization. In the Great War (WWI), Europe crashed its own population through war and then crashed further through the influenza epidemic. But the American economy provided the means for France and Britain -- but not Germany -- to recover. Arguably, it was the failure to include Germany in the recovery that led to repeated economic crises, and when America finally joined Europe with its own Depression in the 1930s, the stage was set for the next barbarian invasion.
He discusses the German and Japanese barbarians of WW2 and why it was good that America defeated them.

He then goes on to discuss the American "imperial" system.

In the aftermath of WWII, once again America was the economic cushion -- only this time the portion of Germany under western occupation was included in the economic recovery, as was Japan.

The result, over the past sixty years, has been a pax Americana covering much of the world. And the world has prospered fantastically wherever the American military sustained it.

Let me say that again: As with Rome, the American military has been the wall behind which a system of safe trade has allowed an extraordinary degree of specialization and therefore mutually sustained prosperity.

America has not been imperial -- we have not been stripping other countries. On the contrary, those nations that were able to sustain the internal peace necessary for production, and that have joined the economy presided over by America, have all been able to join in the prosperity as equals.

We don't tax them -- quite the opposite. We have taxed ourselves to pay for the military protection that maintained the safety and perception of safety that allowed the European community and Japan to flourish. Their welfare economies are only possible because they did not have to pay for their own defense at anything like the levels we have paid.

People talk about America's enormous defense budget as if it were a menace to the world. But our enormous defense budget has allowed Japan and Europe -- and Taiwan and South Korea -- to thrive without having to invest much of their gross domestic product in defense.

He then goes on to discuss China and Russia and the different path's they have taken. He is not optimistic about either country.

Then he discusses how the American system could fall to the barbarians.

Here's how it happens: America stupidly and immorally withdraws from the War on Terror, withdrawing prematurely from Iraq and leaving it in chaos. Emboldened, either Muslims unite against the West (unlikely) or collapse in a huge war between Shiites and Sunnis (already beginning). It almost doesn't matter, because in the process the oil will stop flowing.

And when the oil stops flowing, Europe and Japan and Taiwan and Singapore and South Korea all crash economically; Europe then has to face the demands of its West-hating Muslim "minority" without money and without the ruthlessness or will to survive that would allow them to counter the threat. The result is accommodation or surrender to Islam. The numbers don't lie -- it is not just possible, it is likely.

America doesn't crash right away, mind you. But we still have a major depression, because we have nowhere to sell our goods. And depending on what our desperate enemies do, it's a matter of time before we crash as well.

He points out what I have and so many others have said over and over. At this time oil is the life blood of civilization. Without it there will be a huge die off.

Card looks at what America might become without world trade and imported oil.

...our own oil production cannot meet the demands of transportation and production at current levels. Rationing will cripple us. We will not be able to maintain our huge fleet of trucks. Air travel will becoming shockingly expensive and airlines will fail or consolidate. We won't even be allowed to drive our cars on long trips because gasoline will be rationed.

We will go back to the rails. Only we won't have the money to rebuild and refurbish the railroad system -- it will only be able to limp along.

It will look, even inside the United States, amazingly like the shrinkage that happened at the time of the fall of Rome.

Then, and only then, will America look -- and be -- vulnerable to any kind of intervention from the south. Economies that are still somewhat primitive will recover faster than economies that are absolutely dependent on specialization.

It takes two generations for the dark ages to reach America. But they will come, if we allow this nightmare to begin. Because once you reach the tipping point, there's no turning back, as the Emperor Justinian discovered.

Our global economic system is a brilliant creation, imperfect of course, but powerful and effective in creating more prosperity for more people than ever in the history of the world. It is a creation of America's military and America's benign government of the world -- so benign they pretend we don't govern it.

Our enemies and most of our "allies" and many of our own citizens are working as hard as possible to bring the whole thing crashing down, though that is not at all what they intend.

They just haven't learned the lessons -- the principles -- of how great economic empires are maintained. They only look at the political dogmas du jour and spout their platitudes. People like me are ridiculed for seeing the big picture and learning the lessons of history.

A similar crash of global trade happened in the aftermath of the European wars of the 20th century. Starting in 1914 it did not fully recovered until 50 years from the end of the last of the European shooting wars.

We many not be so lucky this time.

Fortunately we have an ace in the hole. However, we had better get cracking. This new source of energy will take 5 years to prototype and probably 10 years to roll out. There is no time to waste.

posted by Simon at 09:57 PM | Comments (3)

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

First I'm no man of wealth, but I do have a fair amount of taste. Especially for fine women, fine wine, and fine cigars.

Now that the Devil is out of the way. Merry Christmas to all.

My main interests are politics, American and Middle Eastern, science and engineering especially the energy sector, the drug war and the nature of addiction, plus a smattering of economics. And what ever else crosses my mind. I come at the world from a libertarian perspective, although I was a card carrying Libertarian for a number of years. 9/11 cured me. I now consider myself a member of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. A way long back I was a Communist (Trot - workers of the world revolt) so I have their line down. A study of economics cured me of that.

If you have any questions, feel free.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 03:09 PM | Comments (7)

'Tis the Season for an Announcement!

As I get ready to leave for a vacation, I was pleasantly surprised to see a post from Dennis (which I think is a good omen).

I'll be gone for eleven days, and depending on time and Internet connectivity, I might be able to check in, or I might not.

But regular readers, fret not!

I'm especially honored to announce that M. Simon of Power and Control has graciously consented to do guest blogging in my absence. Considering that Dennis wrote a post yesterday, and the distinct possibility that Justin usually has a post or two up his sleeves (and there may be another mystery blogger, although I'm never completely sure), there ought to be plenty of activity around here.

Have fun all, and Merry Christmas!

Coco says "Ho Ho Ho!"


Doesn't she look hot in the Santa hat?

posted by Eric at 08:36 AM | Comments (1)


This is really fun. I'm blogging to you now from the new browser channel for the Nintendo Wii (powered by Opera). The typing interface isn't as bad as you might think, but it definitely isn't something I'm likely to do again. You point and click with the wiimote on a visual keyboard, and the software suggests words as cell phones do.
>Just noticed that it also offers another visual interface that mimics the layout of a phone keypad. (I used that in this paragraph, the keyboard in the last.)
Merry Christmas to me! Oh ... And to all of you as well.

posted by Dennis at 07:45 PM | Comments (0)

Virtue at gunpoint
You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog!

-- Harry S. Truman

This interesting discussion of altruism (a topic which seems to interest mainly libertarians these days) triggered thoughts of Harry's maxim:

What are friends for and how can a friendship be tested? By behaving altruistically, would be the most common answer and by sacrificing one's interests in favour of one's friends. Friendship implies the converse of egoism, both psychologically and ethically. But then we say that the dog is "man's best friend". After all, it is characterized by unconditional love, by unselfish behaviour, by sacrifice, when necessary. Isn't this the epitome of friendship? Apparently not. On the one hand, the dog's friendship seems to be unaffected by long term calculations of personal benefit. But that is not to say that it is not affected by calculations of a short-term nature. The owner, after all, looks after the dog and is the source of its subsistence and security. People - and dogs - have been known to have sacrificed their lives for less. The dog is selfish - it clings and protects what it regards to be its territory and its property (including - and especially so - the owner). Thus, the first condition, seemingly not satisfied by canine attachment is that it be reasonably unselfish.
I've always been intrigued by the notion that what we call "altruism" is at heart often a form of selfishness. It's one of society's many unsolvable contradictions.

The author touches on this when he implicitly acknowledges that such "altruism" is an internalized response to fear of punishment (or shame, which is a form of punishment) at the hands of society:

The first order desire of the donator is to avoid anxiety feelings generated by a cognitive dissonance. In the process of socialization we are all exposed to altruistic messages. They are internalized by us (some even to the extent of forming part of the almighty superego, the conscience). In parallel, we assimilate the punishment inflicted upon members of society who are not "social" enough, unwilling to contribute beyond that which is required to satisfy their self interest, selfish or egoistic, non-conformist, "too" individualistic, "too" idiosyncratic or eccentric, etc. Completely not being altruistic is "bad" and as such calls for "punishment". This no longer is an outside judgement, on a case by case basis, with the penalty inflicted by an external moral authority. This comes from the inside: the opprobrium and reproach, the guilt, the punishment (read Kafka). Such impending punishment generates anxiety whenever the person judges himself not to have been altruistically "sufficient". It is to avoid this anxiety or to quell it that a person engages in altruistic acts, the result of his social conditioning. To use the Butler scheme: the first-degree desire is to avoid the agonies of cognitive dissonance and the resulting anxiety. This can be achieved by committing acts of altruism. The second-degree desire is the self-interest to commit altruistic acts in order to satisfy the first-degree desire. No one engages in contributing to the poor because he wants them to be less poor or in famine relief because he does not want others to starve. People do these apparently selfless activities because they do not want to experience that tormenting inner voice and to suffer the acute anxiety, which accompanies it. Altruism is the name that we give to successful indoctrination. The stronger the process of socialization, the stricter the education, the more severely brought up the individual, the grimmer and more constraining his superego - the more of an altruist he is likely to be. Independent people who really feel comfortable with their selves are less likely to exhibit these behaviours.
Much of this rings true for me, and I have discussed my former communitarianism and my break with it before. (I've confessed some awful sins, too!)

This is not to knock sincere friendship, which means more to me than almost anything, and to which I attach the highest possible value. But how on earth can anyone honestly claim to be a "friend," say, of "the poor"? (Or any other group; for that matter, even "the rich"!) It is simply not possible to be friends with people you do not know and have never met, and I don't trust people who claim to be acting on behalf of others, who claim to know what's best for them, etc.

The successfully indoctrinated, though, are easy to "convince." Somehow, I wouldn't find it emotionally rewarding to convince the already indoctrinated. But as I say that, I must freely admit that such behaviors put many people on the road to riches. I've known a lot of rich trial lawyers who made millions "helping the poor" -- and whose attentive minions agreed with them wholeheartedly as they shared in the contingent fee loot. You don't have to live like Mother Teresa to be a successful "altruist."

But it begs the question of what is truly altruism. I have no problem with altruism that is voluntarily chosen, like charity. But once it's forced on others (whether by indocrination or at gunpoint), it's just another form of dishonesty. A con game unworthy of respect. Not that I don't respect the power of the altruist police to throw me in jail if I don't pay up. But respecting power is not the type of respect I mean. No one can make me respect a theory. Asking me to acknowledge that altruism at gunpoint is a social good is like asking me to believe that the cop who pulls me over for going 65 miles per hour on a highway marked 55 but designed to be safe at 85 is "helping" to protect my "safety." No; he's gathering revenue. And it all goes into the greedy hands of people who act in the name of altruism.

Of course, if pulled over, I would freely acknowledge my sins, in the most penitent manner possible. I would act ashamed. Contrite. Respectful. And if it were demanded of me, I would freely "acknowledge" that the officer was protecting society -- and me. Yes, my behavior would be dishonest by any standard.

But not as dishonest as it would if I believed my lies. I often wonder how many of the "successfully indoctrinated" are truly indoctrinated, or whether they've just forced themselves to keep their natural selfishness in the closet.

Question: isn't the desire to avoid punishment (or shame) grounded in rational selfishness?

If so, what virtue is there in having people confuse punishment avoidance with sincere belief?

I've long suspected there's a huge closet of insincere altruists who'd love to come out, but the Democrats and the Republicans keep them fighting.

posted by Eric at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

The rape that might as well have happened

Speaking of fictional facts that might as well be true, I see that District Attorney Mike Nifong has dropped the rape charges against the Duke University La Crosse students:

Lacking any "scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony" to corroborate that aspect of the case, the district attorney said in court papers, "the state is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense."

Nifong did not immediately return calls for comment, and a sign posted on his office door read, "No media, please!"

But the kidnapping and other charges still stand.

Excuse me? Kidnapping?

I guess that might as well have happened too, even if it didn't.

Duke President Richard Brodhead has called for the DA to resign.

"The district attorney should now put this case in the hands of an independent party, who can restore confidence in the fairness of the process," Brodhead said. "Further, Mr. Nifong has an obligation to explain to all of us his conduct in this matter."
I agree with what Thomas Sowell said a few days ago, (commenting on Nifong's deliberate concealment of negative DNA results):
Far more is involved in this case than the misdeeds of one District Attorney. There is a segment of the black community -- a small segment, we can hope -- that figures it is payback time for all the black men who have been railroaded to jail on trumped-up charges involving the rape of white women.

The local branch of the NAACP, an organization which fought against such injustices in times past, has thrown its weight behind those who are trying to railroad three white students, who were not even born when these other injustices occurred.

Winston Churchill once said, "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost." Nowhere is that more true than when dealing with the explosive mixture of race and politics.

Nifong deserves to be removed from office and disbarred. If he gets away with all this, it will be a blank check for every prosecutor in the country to abuse the powers of the office.

No doubt plenty of people could be found who might as well be guilty.

The prosecution is a sordid affair, and the logic involved reminds me of blood libel, which is of course built on the principle that certain fictions might as well be true.

I hope it's over soon.

MORE: The Duke rape case touches on a larger, politically taboo issue: the high incidence of false rape charges.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

posted by Eric at 05:29 PM | Comments (2)

Just in time! A Christmas stocking stuffer

Listening to the G. Gordon Liddy Show, I just heard Pajamas Media's Richard Miniter make a major news announcement revealing what he thinks Sandy Berger was doing (in the sock stuffing caper) and for which Miniter thinks "he ought to go to jail for a long time." (10 to 20 years!) Among other national security documents, says Miniter, Berger removed and destroyed a 1995 letter from the President of Somalia to President Clinton, in which the former apparently offered to hand over Osama bin Laden.

That's all I have right now, but keep an eye on Pajamas Media, as Miniter's documentary evidence is supposed to be posted the next half hour.

Excellent work! My hat's off to Richard Miniter and Pajamas Media for fantastic original reporting.

(This comes right on the heels of Richard Miniter's groundbreaking reports on the flying imams. )

I'm beginning to understand why blogs make the old media puke....

UPDATE (12:00 p.m.): The report has been posted at Pajamas Media, and here's the link:

PJM is making public on this website for the first time the report by the Inspector General's office regarding Sandy Berger and his theft and destruction of classified national security documents -- named in the report as, "The 'W' Intelligence Files." This document was obtained for review by Pajamas Media's.

Berger, as the former National Security Adviser for the Clinton Administration, was granted sole access to these documents in order to vet them prior to their being turned over to the 9/11 Commission and congress. As this file shows, he used this position of trust to take a number of documents and destroy several.

Read it!

posted by Eric at 11:40 AM | Comments (5)

my foam flecked frenzy over fictional facts

Is the best defense always a good offense?

Eric Boehlert (a Salon editor who now writes for Media Matters) is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere right now because of the ferocity of his defense of the MSM's phony "Jamil Hussein" story. Rick Moran in particular delves into Boehlert's thinking with a great post in which he concludes that "Boehlert is so busy trashing conservative bloggers and trying to demonize their motives that he's missing a great story...."

I think the making up of "Jamil Hussein" is the story, because the controversy surrounding it goes to the heart of a greater human problem -- how ideology corrupts thinking to the point where facts are seen as subordinate, incidental, even irrelevant.

The last time I discussed "Jamil," the details were still hotly debated, and I was reminded of my relatively meaningless battle over "George Harleigh" (a fictitious professor science professor who had worked for both Nixon and Reagan, and who could always be depended on to sound off about the horrors of Bush).

I soon noticed that there's a downside to debunking fraudulent people or claims. The people who make them up -- and most of those who agree with them -- simply don't care. Because the characters and claims are invented to support what they already believe fervently, debunking them does not "count."

Lies presented in furtherance of a greater "truth" are not really considered to be lies, at least not in the moral sense. The idea is to persuade people, and if fictional people or incidents have to be used, that's OK, as long as it's in the interest of the greater truth.

The problem I have with this approach is that I don't like being lied to. Even when I agree with the cause the lie is intended to support. I don't find lies emotionally fulfilling because they pollute the process of thought. When lies are presented as "news reports," it's even worse, because it makes me distrustful every time I pick up the paper or turn on the television.

I'm sorry, but I think Eric Boehlert's "might as well be true" defense is not helpful to the cause of honest journalism, and I agree with Allahpundit:

He's written two columns about Jamilgate now; there are enough links embedded in both to show he's done his homework. Which means he knows very well this wasn't the only story the AP's used Jamil Hussein for. The actual number, as Michelle notes, exceeds 60. He also knows that the AP originally claimed four mosques were burned and that that claim has since disappeared into the ether without so much as a clarification. Just like he also knows, courtesy of Robert Bateman, that it's unlikely in the extreme based on Hussein's location that he'd be a credible witness for the wide variety of attacks sourced to him by the AP. All of which make this story highly dubious, yet none of which Boehlert sees fit to mention anywhere in his piece. Why?

Because he doesn't care if the story's bogus or not. He'll say en passant that he does because he knows, as a journalist and media critic, that he has to. But it's strictly pro forma. His position seems to be that the story's true in the Larger Sense, as a microcosm of the brutality in Iraq, even if it's not, you know, technically true ("as if an AP retraction would change a thing on the ground in Baghdad, where electricity remains scarce, but sectarian death squads roam freely"). In other words, "fake but accurate." That's his bottom line here and that's why it's dishonest of him and his pals to even pretend to care whether the report's accurate. As far as they're concerned, if Jamil Hussein turns out to be real, the story's true; if he turns out not to be real, the story's True. They can't go wrong. Meanwhile the AP, if it's guilty of bad facts to whatever greater or lesser degree, gets an almost completely free pass.

(Via Michelle Malkin, who has done a huge amount of work detailing the bogus "Jamil Hussein" story.)

Boehlert's approach is to minimize the seriousness of the fictional character and reports, and mount ad hominem style ideological attacks against those who debunked them. While the debunkers' primary crime is simply that they are "warbloggers" whose pro-war ideology is wrong, he also misleadingly splices selected fragments from quotes (whether this is "Dowdifying" or Issikoffing I'm not sure) to make JunkYardBlog's SeeDubya and the Anchoress look like heinous opponents of free speech. What they actually said -- along with the context -- are as unimportant to Boehlert as whether or not Jamil Hussein exists. As Boehlert concludes, it is only the larger truth matters:

despite the hundreds of stories AP files from Iraq each week, and the thousands posted annually since the invasion, warbloggers can only find fault with a single story, yet insist that one is enough to tarnish the AP's Iraq reporting and all mainstream news reporting from Baghdad.

It's not going to work. If warbloggers want to prove that cowardly American journalists are being duped by local Iraqi stringers pushing a terrorist agenda, or that the AP is guilty of chronically manufacturing bad news, they are going to have to do more than flush out Jamil Hussein.

Similarly, if Boehlert has misquoted warbloggers, that does not matter, because the point is that they support an immoral war.

By this logic, I was wasting my time debunking the fictitious George Harleigh. Because, even if there was no such professor, there are many more who would have said -- and did say -- the same thing. That Bush was bad.

What difference does one little fiction make? And what difference does it make if some impudent warbloggers are quoted out of context? Serves their little chickenhawk candyasses right, doesn't it?

That last sentence was sarcastic, OK? Would it then be fair to quote me as calling SeeDubya and the Anchoress "chickenhawk candyasses"? About as fair as it would be for me to quote Boehlert as saying this:

Biased American journalists, too cowardly to go get the bloody news in Iraq themselves, are relying on local news stringers who have obvious sympathies for insurgents. The result of the AP hoax? Americans have been duped into believing there is a civil war raging in Baghdad today.
(His words, not mine!)

Or am I being too obsessive about this? Actually, I think I'm being rather sloppy, because compared to the "warbloggers" Boehlert accuses of "poring over the AP's dispatches, feverishly dissecting paragraphs in search of proof for their all-consuming conspiracy theory," I've done very little. I don't even think I've ever earned the title of warblogger, and that 101st fighting keyboardist logo thingie over there, yeah, I joined the group, but the truth is, I really don't consider myself much of a "fighting keyboardist." (Using my keyboard is often a fight in itself.) The truth is, while I support their cause, I don't write much about the war. I mainly liked the logo.

Sometimes I wish I had the time to be, like, a really obsessive, frenzied warblogger, of the kind envisioned by Media Matters with titles like "RIGHT WING BLOGGER FRENZY ON BOEHLERT." If I whipped myself into a frenzy, I might actually take the time to do the kind of digging -- and it would take real digging -- to find "Air Force Regulation 160-23." Boehlert described it as a drug testing rule written in 1972, and speculated that it was a reason Bush failed to report for duty. I spent many hours trying to find the regulation he quoted, but came up dry.

The problem is that my failure to find Air Force Regulation 160-23 does not mean that it didn't exist in 1972. And even if it could be shown not to have existed, under the same reasoning Boehlert advances now it would make no difference, because Bush avoided duty anyway, and those who argue against false facts are simply "bloggers for Bush" or something.

Damn, this is tedious, and much as I need a frenzy, I am unable to come up with one.

But maybe my failure to whip myself into a frenzy is a good thing.

I mean, much as I hate having to play devil's advocate, suppose Boehlert is right? Suppose it makes no difference whether people or facts turn out to have been made up. Fake smoke, fake ambulance attacks, fake people, even fake regulations.

Wouldn't it be a better world if reporters made up people and facts and no one cared? Why should anyone care?

Because, like, we all have our own realities, right? And doesn't every reality depends on its own reality-based facts?

No matter how inconvenient they are, or how false they might be alleged to be, what we call "facts" have to be always be subordinated to greater truths.

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and for quoting what I actually said!

Welcome all!

Glenn links Michelle Malkin who continues to search and dig, and continues to not find "Jamil Hussein."

Searches for things that aren't meant to be found tend to turn up nothing.


I guess sometimes nothing can be something.

MORE: My thanks to Jules Crittenden for linking this post.

UPDATE (01/07/07): I just got back from vacation, and I see that while I was away, the existence and identity of "Jamil Hussein" was established to the satisfaction of all who expressed skepticism. (New post here.)

Obviously, this means that I was wrong in calling Hussein a fictional character. I jumped to conclusions based upon my suspicions, and I retract my characterization of the AP as having made up his name.

Again, it is very difficult to prove that someone (or something) does not exist. The onus really should be on the people who assert that it does exist, and I'm at a loss to understand why it took six weeks for the AP to prove the existence of their source. It was their inability to do so for so long that led me to conclude they couldn't.

I am of course someone who blogs from home, and I am in no position to know whether what I read is true or not. I need proof, and if it isn't forthcoming, my skepticism grows.

While I should have hesitated before saying the AP made up Hussein, any such characterizations in a blog post are by their nature tentative. (Hell, for all I know, there still might be a "George Harleigh" -- even though I'm 98% sure there isn't.)

(Similarly, if Eric Boehlert can provide a link to the location of the language in the regulation he cites, I will retract my tentative conclusion that he made the regulation up.)

posted by Eric at 10:18 AM | Comments (20)

Having my nightmare and eating it too!

Last night I had one of the worst nightmares I can ever remember having, and I'll spare the awful details, because for one thing, I just don't want to write about it. And for another, some things are a little too personal, and I while I think soul-baring is occasionally good, too much soul-baring can have an opposite effect on the soul.

However, before the nightmare, I woke up and remembered the lines to a song from childhood. It's called "Gingerbread man":

Gingerbread man, baked in a pan.

I'd like to eat him as fast as I can.

But, I'd rather play with my gingerbread man.

I'd like to meet him.

Rather than eat him.

He is my pet,

But I'll eat him yet!

Yeah, I know, it's out of character. But it's in season!

What was really a surprise is that despite fairly diligent googling, I couldn't find the song on the Internet. A common mistake bloggers make is in thinking that because something can't be found on the Internet, it does not exist. Earlier today, I saw a classic example of this in the form of one very partisan blogger accusing another (much better, and much better known) blogger of making something up. The "proof" that he made it up was that it wasn't in Wikipedia. Now, I like Wikipedia and often use it, but I'd never state that the failure of Wikipedia to mention something meant it wasn't true. (So don't go accusing me of making up the "Gingerbread Man" song simply because the lyrics aren't to be found in Wikipedia.)

Anyway, once this post is published, I will have solved the problem of not finding it on the Internet!

Here's the best depiction I could find of the dilemma posed by the song:


Oh the humanity!

(I'll just bet that tragic incident had something to do with dough.)

posted by Eric at 04:05 PM | Comments (5)

Taking turns with the futuro

"No tengo futuro."

So says Jeb Bush, and I think he's probably right. While dynasty politics has its place, I suspect that Americans might have had just about enough of presidents being replaced by close relatives.

Dynasty fatigue, perhaps?

I know that many people will say that this is only Bush dynasty fatigue, but I think it's fair to ask whether it might involve more than that.

The president's brother is not offering much by way of explanation:

Bush did not elaborate on his terse "no future" comment. But he has said repeatedly over the past year that he would not run for president in 2008 and has never seemed comfortable with talk about Bush III or the Bush presidential dynasty.
But what about the wife of the last president? Is she comfortable with talk of Clinton II? Or will Americans be comfortable with the idea that ruling dynasties should "take turns"?

Donna Brazile sees the dynasty angle as a challenge to be overcome:

"The biggest challenge facing Hillary is: Can she convince the American people that they are not trying to build a dynasty, but rather they are trying to help improve the lives of people?" says Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist who chaired Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.
But some people on the other side think dynasty fatigue would ensure Hillary Clinton's defeat:
If Hillary is elected in 2008, and if she serves a full two terms, by 2016 we will have endured an unbroken 36 year period with either a Bush or a Clinton in the Administration. Twenty-eight of these years will have seen one of these two families in the Oval Office itself. This seems to violate the very sacred principle of America's open electoral system, opting instead for a de facto dynastic power struggle between the Bushes and the Clintons. And it prompts the astute political observer to reflect on the possibility of each side readying its reserves for 2016. Chelsea Clinton, born in 1980 when this dynastic tit-for-tat began, will have reached her 36th year, and Jeb, at 63, will still be young enough to run.

Republicans, in the main, seem to understand this inherent limitation on an instinctive level. Jeb's name rarely comes up as a viable nominee for 2008. We usually don't speak about Jeb's liabilities in terms of dynasty, but it's always there as a subtextual undercurrent. Perhaps this Republican discretion stems from the fact that the GOP has been the chief beneficiary of dynasty thus far, and it will remain so for the next two years. But neither side will fare well when honest commentators begin to loudly discuss this disturbing pattern

Honest commentators might have to grapple with the "fairness" argument. After all, the Bushes had three terms so far; is it really fair that the Clintons only had two?

I don't know how honest or fair I am, but I'll try to make a stab at this.

Is the country now obligated to switch dynasties, so that the Clintons have another turn?

The problem I see with this, um, "dynastic balance" argument is when does it stop? There will have been three Bush terms, but if Hillary is reelected to second term that would be four terms for the Clinton Dynasty. Wouldn't that mean the country would "owe" the Bush Dynasty another presidency?

By that time generations of Americans will have known nothing but Clintons and Bushes.

I'm already tired of playing the futuro game.

!No más!

posted by Eric at 09:18 AM | Comments (6)

Catching up with the campaigns

Despite last-minute Christmas insanity (try waiting until today to start sending cards!) I'm trying to keep track of the elections.

Lest you thought the elections were over, think again. (They are never over; we're still stuck in the last election, and already holding the next one.)

I'll start with what's supposed to be "local" politics. There's a cliffhanger of an election for a Pennsylvania state asembly seat which is so close that the winning candidates keeps shifting back and forth as to who won. Normally, this wouldn't be of a lot of interest to anyone except the candidates and the residents of their district, but in this case, the results determine whether the balance of power in the Pennsylvania legislature. Republican Shannon Royer originally won by a hair, but then missing ballots were discovered and counted and Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith won by a hair. Now they're doing a hand recount, and the Republican is ahead again:

One day into a manual vote recount, Republican Shannon Royer had a slim lead over Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith in the race for the 156th District state House seat - and control of the state House.

With less than half of Chester County's 23,000 ballots tallied, Royer leads with 5,236 votes to Smith's 5,141. Not included in that count are nine ballots that are missing and 15 others that have been challenged. And Clifford Levine, an attorney for the Democrats, said Smith had actually gained two votes in the counted precincts.

Chester County Court Judge Howard F. Riley Jr., who settled whether the recount should be done by machine or by hand, will review the challenged votes today. Election officials are still trying to find the other ballots.

The recount will continue today and, according to a court order, "every day thereafter." A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has decreed that the recount must be completed by Dec. 26. Both parties currently have 101 representatives in Harrisburg.

Political junkies might enjoy reading the whole thing. The election has every indication of being the type of political sausage mess that Bismarck warned ordinary people should not see.

Moving from local to national elections, Pajamas Media links Daniel Drezner's analysis of Giuliani's chances of winning the presidency. While there's surprising support despite conservative opposition (an anomaly Glenn Reynolds has noticed), Drezner just doesn't trust the data:

Now is normally the time when I offer my sage bits of wisdom on the matter.... and I've got nothing. I don't know how much to trust the data. It's all anecdotal, except for straw polls, which at this stage of the campaign are only a slight bump above anecdotal.

Do any readers believe that Giuliani's popularity with the GOP base is anything other than an ephemeral phenomenon? Will they continue to support a man who endorsed Mario Cuomo for governor in 1994? If so, why?

I can only speculate about the reasons, but I'm hoping they might include wanting to win.

But there's another election looming, and I think it might be more important than it looks at first blush. Pajamas Media reports on this development by linking an election announcement at Gay Patriot:

I just voted for Ann Althouse, and I don't mind saying so. Not only do I like her politics, her small-l-libertarian attitude just plain rocks. But is she really a "Diva"? It's somewhat of a contradiction, because divas are generally not subtle, and while Ann Althouse might not appear to be subtle, her appearance belies one of the subtlest senses of humor I've ever seen. (And if you're an avid reader of Ann Althouse, remember that "avid" is "diva" spelled backwards.)

With that in mind, I want to return to the future (2008). As I said before, despite my reservations I could easily manage to vote for Giuliani. But I think it's still a wide open field. I'm thinking back to July of 2003, when I seconded Jeff Soyer's proposal for a Reynolds-Lucas ticket. After presenting a list of 13 features the candidate would have to have, Jeff said that Glenn Reynolds and Rachel Lucas have them:

I was thinking about who I would like to see in the White House in 2008 or 2012. Who meets these requirements? And my thoughts keep coming back to my blogfather Glenn Reynolds for President and for Vice-President I could suggest (grooming her for eight years hence) Rachel Lucas. Folks, we have plenty of years of preparation for this and I really think we can do it.
Kevin at the Smallest Minority leaped into the fray, prepared an official poster, and the campaign was soon in full swing. To make life easier for Glenn, a cabinet was even selected, and as Jeff announced in a follow-up post, Glenn accepted the nomination added a few thoughts:
Government-via-blogosphere? Why not? I mean, how much worse could it be? And it would figure that the whole thing was started by a self-described gay gun nut, wouldn't it?
The reason I'm recalling this is because it occured to me that Ann Althouse might want to consider running for Vice President in light of Rachel Lucas's retirement from blogosphere politics.

But first things first.

While there was a lot of excitement generated by Jeff's and Kevin's and the others' posts back in the summer of 03, I think that in today's more cynical world, candidates for higher office need to show that they have what it takes. Serious candidates need to show they've proven their mettle by holding important offices. Let's face it, the main reason Hillary Clinton is in a position to be taken seriously as a candidate is that she's a member of the United States Senate.

But let's look at a couple of hard, cold facts:

  • 1. there are 100 members of the U.S. Senate
  • By definition, there can be only one "GRANDE CONSERVATIVE BLOGRESS DIVA."
  • What that means is that if Ann Althouse wins this first election, she'll be in a very powerful position to join the "unstoppable juggernaut" himself.

    So vote today! And tomorrow!

    I heartily endorse Ann Althouse for GRANDE CONSERVATIVE BLOGRESS DIVA!

    posted by Eric at 12:10 PM | Comments (2)

    Save Time with hard truth?

    Well, the truth is that someone always has to be Man Person of the Year, and in a no-holds-barred WorldNetDaily piece, Pat Buchanan has nominated Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, who (claims Buchanan) is more qualified for the honor than, well, you:

    Perhaps it was fear that the face of the Iranian president on the cover of Time would repel the American people and be death for sales.

    Surely that was the reasoning behind Time's refusal to name Osama bin Laden in 2001, choosing Rudy Giuliani instead, though history is unlikely to conclude that Rudy, his crowded hour notwithstanding, was the central figure of that annus horribilis.

    Richard Stengel, editor of Time, as much as concedes he could not bring himself to choose by the traditional standard, if that meant choosing Ahmadinejad: "It just felt to me a little off selecting him."

    Understandably. But the refusal to select Ahmadinejad reveals an unwillingness to confront hard truths.

    I agree with Pat, and I try to be willing to confront hard truths. Now that I think it over, perhaps I am less qualified to be Person of the Year than President Ahmadinejad.

    However, some truths are harder than others. And while I agree that Pat Buchanan's truth is harder than Time's, I think the former might be missing an even harder truth. Much as I hate making judgments over things like whose truths are harder, I think the cowardly failure to make Mahmood Ahmadinejad Man of the Year might be grounded in Time's failure to confront another hard truth which Buchanan never mentions: the glaring, even shocking, deficiencies in President Ahmadinejad's wardrobe.

    Let's face it, folks, no matter what yardstick we use (whether conservative preppy, Manhattan Metrosexual, or even Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), the undeniably hard truth is that stylistically speaking, Mahmood Ahmadinejad is a dismal failure.

    I am by no means the first to notice. Others (particularly those with fashion expertise) have complained. But so far as I know, I'm the only one to have offered to supply Ahmadinejad with a necktie, and in order to leave nothing to the imagination of those who imagine (and visualize) world peace, I tried to show the world what he would look like wearing one. According to the most elementary logic, if a necktie on Ahmadinejad could help bring about world peace, then imagine -- just Imagine! -- what might happen if the world could only see him wearing the same necktie on the cover of Time!

    So, in the interest of saving Time, I hurriedly made a few alterations, and came up with what I think might be fashion's final solution for world peace:


    A necktie at the right time and in the right place might do wonders for world peace.

    I know, I know. Not everybody likes neckties.

    But since when are hard truths always comfortable?

    posted by Eric at 12:29 PM | Comments (8)

    A climate of crushing dissent

    Clayton Cramer links an eye opening story about powerful United States Senators conspiring to stifle dissent -- in a manner so distasteful that a British lord, Christopher Monckton has felt compelled to defend the American tradition of free speech.

    The Wall Street Journal provides some background on the remarkable letter from Senators Rockefeller and Snowe. The full text is here, and as scoldings go, it's a real gem:

    A study to be released in November by an American scientific group will expose ExxonMobil as the primary funder of no fewer than 29 climate change denial front groups in 2004 alone. Besides a shared goal, these groups often featured common staffs and board members. The study will estimate that ExxonMobil has spent more than $19 million since the late 1990s on a strategy of "information laundering," or enabling a small number of professional skeptics working through scientific-sounding organizations to funnel their viewpoints through non-peer-reviewed websites such as Tech Central Station. The Internet has provided ExxonMobil the means to wreak its havoc on U.S. credibility, while avoiding the rigors of refereed journals. While deniers can easily post something calling into question the scientific consensus on climate change, not a single refereed article in more than a decade has sought to refute it.
    Hey wait a second! I've expressed plenty of skepticism about Global Warming -- surely enough to allow this blog to qualify as a "climate change denial front group." So where's my money? Why haven't I gotten a check from ExxonMobil?

    I mean, am I not a "non-peer reviewed website" too? Shouldn't that be enough? Surely, I'm just as non-peer reviewed as Tech Central Station. Or is there something more involved than merely the crime of being non-peer reviewed? I notice that the letter also attacks the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Surely none of this involves their movie reviews of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truths (or Truths-That Might-As-Well-Have-Been-True)."

    If this wasn't so amusing, I'd wonder about the exact nature of peer review. Why, for example, is the lack of peer review so important in the case of a website like Tech Central Station, but so irrelevant in the case of Al Gore's movie?

    If I'm wrong, and if "An Inconvenient Truth" was fully peer reviewed, my apologies to all peer movie reviewers.

    Otherwise, it might be worth a look at the peer review process.

    What is a peer? According to the traditional definition, the only genuine peer I have identified in this post would seem to be Lord Monckton. But traditional peerage is not scientific peerage. I'd always thought scientific peers were other scientists, but the more I read about this, that doesn't seem to be the case with what's called "Climate Science." Climate science is tough to define, but so far, one thing seems clear. The field is so devoted to studying the climate of the past 200 years that there's a movement afoot to exclude geologists, because they study the big picture, and too many of them dissent from the theory of a human cause for Global Warming. The problem is, Global Warming Theory and even "Climate Science" itself are pretty much defined and predicated on the assumption of human responsible agency.

    Geology is based on geologic time, and in terms of geologic time, man has only been on the planet for an instant. This inevitably creates a conflict between geologists and Climate Scientists, and a perfect example is the argument over why the earth didn't roast when carbon dioxide levels were 18 times what they are today. Naturally, this is inconvenient for those who are determined to pin the blame on man (or on CO2 for that matter):

    Skeptics say CO2 crusaders simply find the Phanerozoic data embarrassing and irreconcilable with public alarms. "People come to me and say, 'Stop talking like this, you're hurting the cause,' " said Dr. Giegengack of Penn.
    Dr. Giegengack is of course a geologist.

    In the Global Warming debate, are geologists considered "peers"? The whole topic of peer review is so fraught with vagueness that I have so far been unable to determine that one way or another. But I do see that geologists are generally frowned on to the point where (in Australia, at least) the idea of this geologist opining on Global Warming generated controversy. (Via Jennifer Marohasy, who has a lot more to say about the subject of peer review in general. (More here on peer review and Climate Science.)

    "Peer review" of course, begs the question of what constitutes peerage. The medieval warming period used to be considered peer reviewed science, but now some of the "peers" are trying to write it out.

    I'm still not sure what a peer is, but there's always Lord Monckton:

    The Royal Society says there's a worldwide scientific consensus. It brands Apocalypse-deniers as paid lackeys of coal and oil corporations. I declare my interest: I once took the taxpayer's shilling and advised Margaret Thatcher, FRS, on scientific scams and scares. Alas, not a red cent from Exxon.

    In 1988, James Hansen, a climatologist, told the US Congress that temperature would rise 0.3C by the end of the century (it rose 0.1C), and that sea level would rise several feet (no, one inch). The UN set up a transnational bureaucracy, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The UK taxpayer unwittingly meets the entire cost of its scientific team, which, in 2001, produced the Third Assessment Report, a Bible-length document presenting apocalyptic conclusions well beyond previous reports.

    This week, I'll show how the UN undervalued the sun's effects on historical and contemporary climate, slashed the natural greenhouse effect, overstated the past century's temperature increase, repealed a fundamental law of physics and tripled the man-made greenhouse effect.

    Next week, I'll demonstrate the atrocious economic, political and environmental cost of the high-tax, zero-freedom, bureaucratic centralism implicit in Stern's report; I'll compare the global-warming scare with previous sci-fi alarums; and I'll show how the environmentalists' "precautionary principle" (get the state to interfere now, just in case) is killing people.

    OK, so perhaps Lord Monckton is the wrong kind of peer. His articles are opinions, and they're not published in scientific journals.

    But unless I am missing something, geologists who publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals are not considered the right kind of peers. That seems to be the case with a peer reviewed paper recently published in Environmental Geology:

    The authors place the recent warming into an interesting perspective noting "the global warming observed during the latest 150 years is just a short episode in the geologic history. The current global warming is most likely a combined effect of increased solar and tectonic activities and cannot be attributed to the increased anthropogenic impact on the atmosphere. Humans may be responsible for less than 0.01°C (of approximately 0.56°C (1°F) total average atmospheric heating during the last century)". Holy cow, can you imagine the letters and e-mails they must have received in response to that conclusion? They even show that over the last 3,000 years, the earth has cooled, or if you look just at the last 1,000 years, the earth has been cooling as well (the earth was in the Medieval Warm Period 1,000 years ago).

    Their conclusions with respect to potential policy will more than raise some eyebrows as well as they write "Any attempts to mitigate undesirable climatic changes using restrictive regulations are condemned to failure, because the global natural forces are at least 4-5 orders of magnitude greater than available human controls." They show that the climatic effects of the Kyoto Protocol would be negligible, leading them to state "Thus, the Kyoto Protocol is a good example of how to achieve the minimum results with the maximum efforts (and sacrifices). Impact of available human controls will be negligible in comparison with the global forces of nature. Thus, the attempts to alter the occurring global climatic changes (and drastic measures prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol) have to be abandoned as meaningless and harmful."

    Our World Climate Reports uncover and present interesting results we find in the peer-reviewed professional scientific journals, and as we have seen over and over, there are many absolutely amazing papers published regularly in outstanding journals. The global warming crusade would denounce this paper as outrageous, but it survived rigorous peer-review, the editor elected to publish it, and like it or not, this paper is part of the serious science literature. Dismissing the paper is made more difficult given the affiliation of the authors and the prestige of the journal.

    The debate on climate change is never boring, the debate is full of surprises, and anyone claiming the debate is over is simply dismissing a significant number of papers that appear regularly in the major journals.


    Khilyuk, L.F., and G. V. Chilingar. 2006. On global forces of nature driving the Earth's climate. Are humans involved? Environmental Geology, 50, 899-910.

    Again, what is a peer?

    I'd hate to think that peers are only people who agree with each other, because that would tend to retard and not advance scientific skepticism (long considered a defining feature of scientific methodology). I have to ask: what if Climate Science defines its playing field as excluding those (like many geologists) who express skepticism about man's ability to change the climate?

    Does "Climate Science" exclude dissent by definition? Is it now considered "unscientific" for geologists to say that the world was once warmer or that carbon dioxide levels were once higher? If so, I have to wonder whether science itself is becoming unscientific.

    Just as geologists have never been especially popular with certain religious fundamentalists who insist the earth is 10,000 years old, they don't seem very popular with human-centric Climatologists today. One geologist who seems aware of this tension between geology and those who deem man in need of a good scolding is Pierre Jutras, (Assistant Professor of Geology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax) -- who dares opine that CO2 can be good:

    ...[O]n a geological time scale, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have hardly ever been so low, and ecosystems are suffering greatly because of that. The last time carbon dioxide levels were so low, near the end of the Paleozoic era (about 250 million years ago), the Earth's biosphere went through its greatest extinction, as 90 per cent of Paleozoic species were gone by the beginning of the Mesozoic era (age of the dinosaurs).

    The last time that life went through a major expansion and diversification was during the Cretaceous period (135 million to 65 million years ago), when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were more than six times those of today. Moreover, when life first started, around 3.8 billion years ago, carbon dioxide levels were hundreds of times higher than today's. Since then, most of the original carbon dioxide content of Earth's primitive atmosphere has been stored in carbonate rocks, coal, oil and gas.


    Yet, one major concern that remains is the rate of temperature increase. Changes that are too rapid can be harmful to ecosystems, even if they head in the right direction. However, it is the tendency of humanity to look at any change as intrinsically bad. There is this ingrained biblical attitude and belief that the Earth was a static Garden of Eden before humans came to mess it up. In fact, the Earth is always changing, has always been changing, and always will be changing. It is better to adapt to changes and try to mould them to our benefit, than to hopelessly try to maintain things in a static state.

    Words of reason to some can be words of treason to others.

    Talk like Professor Jutras's can lead to accusations of receiving money from Exxon!

    Back to Senators Rockefeller and Snowe, and their scolding of Exxon's CEO.

    In light of the adverse impacts still resulting from your corporations activities, we must request that ExxonMobil end any further financial assistance or other support to groups or individuals whose public advocacy has contributed to the small, but unfortunately effective, climate change denial myth. Further, we believe ExxonMobil should take additional steps to improve the public debate, and consequently the reputation of the United States. We would recommend that ExxonMobil publicly acknowledge both the reality of climate change and the role of humans in causing or exacerbating it. Second, ExxonMobil should repudiate its climate change denial campaign and make public its funding history. Finally, we believe that there would be a benefit to the United States if one of the world's largest carbon emitters headquartered here devoted at least some of the money it has invested in climate change denial pseudo-science to global remediation efforts. We believe this would be especially important in the developing world, where the disastrous effects of global climate change are likely to have their most immediate and calamitous impacts.
    I don't know about Snowe, but Rockefeller has certainly gotten his share of Big Oil money to say the least. Yet no one attacks him for that.

    Is being on Big Oil's receiving end only grounds for attack if you're against Kyoto? If Rockefeller were on the other side, and voiced the skepticism he condemns, wouldn't he be viciously demonized because of his Big Oil background? If having Big Oil money is a relevant consideration, then why doesn't that relevance flow in both directions?

    Accustomed as I am to political disagreements, I've never seen anything quite so frenzied and ad hominem as what's going on in the Debate That's Over. Disagreement has become so unpopular that dissenters are likened to Holocaust Deniers, and even threatened with Nuremberg-style tribunals. (By "peers," no doubt....)

    The whole thing smells funny to me. It's as if something more is at stake than a disagreement over whether man is able to change the climate. I've previously speculated that the circling of the wagons might indicate a fear that if cooling might set in before Kyoto, they might not get their way, but now I'm wondering whether scientific credibility might be a larger issue than the climate change debate.

    Think about it. If a huge and overwhelming "scientific consensus" turned out to be wrong, incalculable damage might be done to the credibility of all science. (The way Dreyfus had to be guilty.)

    MORE: George Monbiot not only advocates Nuremberg Tribunals for deniers, he also spends a great deal of time attacking Lord Monckton. A comment to one of his recent broadside provides (I think) a classic example of the clearly religious yearnings that drive so many of these humancentric scolds:

    I casally destroy what future generations will depend upon to live because they have yet to be born and it is only me, and my time and my normalcy that is important.

    I am like those who, sixty years ago, did their jobs and lived their normal lives and didn't ask questions about where their jewish neighbours had gone. I am like those who participated in slavery and other atrocities, except that the effects of my crimes will outlast all those others.

    And it is OK, because today I am normal, and busy, and have other things on my mind and, if what I do is really so bad so many people wouldn't be doing the same, would they?

    But when, in the hours before I die, I think back upon my life and what it has meant, I must do one thing. I must hope and hope and pray and pray that there is nothing beyond life and beyong time and beyond myself, that there is no blance, no karma, no morality and no justice.

    Because if there is, and I do what I do, knowing what I know....

    So let us pray.

    posted by Eric at 09:50 AM | Comments (4)

    Huge puppy needs home

    Speaking of pit bull mortality, my vet has a wonderful (but huge) seven month old male pit bull puppy which has been surrendered for adoption.

    And I do mean huge. At seven months, he already weighs in at 70 pounds, and from the looks of his feet, he's got considerable growing to do. I'd say he'll weigh over 100 pounds. He's just a sweet dog, but totally untrained. The people just left him on a leash in the yard, and now they can't keep him. The catch is that he'll only be adopted out to people who have owned pit bulls, which is why they offered him to me. I'm of two minds whether to consider taking on a half grown, untrained dog. While I'd like him because Coco gets lonely sometimes and it's better to have two dogs than one, on the other hand it's a big responsibility, and I'm going away for Christmas, so it isn't a good time.

    But he's a real sweetheart. I'm torn between being sensible and being emotional.

    As you can see, I'm less than an inch away from talking myself into the adoption.



    "Being talked into" might be more accurate.

    CORRECTION: Reading this over, I realize that when I said "my vet," I meant Coco's vet. I go to an internist.

    Just thought I should make that clear, as I don't want to confuse readers.

    posted by Eric at 06:33 PM | Comments (5)

    Feeling suicidal? CALL THE NRA!

    No, that is not a sarcastic anti-gun bumpersticker I saw and decided to ridicule.

    What it is, though, I'm afraid will sound like an absolutely crazy idea. Perhaps crazy ideas are nothing new here, but I hope readers will bear with me, but it's one of those ideas which won't go away, and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

    Last week, the Glenn and Helen Show discussed a topic which is quite an old one for me: suicide.

    I think it's fair to say that I have a lot more experience in the suicide space than most people. That experience includes friends, family, and even a personal decision not to do it. Suicide is something to which I am unalterably opposed -- not only because of what it does to the living, but because no matter how awful things might seem there's nothing permanent about the awfulness.

    However, I think it's a very tough thing to prevent suicide in the case of people who don't want to be prevented. I agreed with much of what Dr. Caine said in the Glenn and Helen interview, although I have a serious problem with taking away guns from a potential suicide, because I fear that might lead to activists using suicide prevention as another foot-in-the-door opportunity for gun control. (Compiling lists of Prozac-takers, people who have seen pychologists, called suicide hotlines, etc. in order to confiscate guns only assures that people will be reluctant to get help.)

    Additionally, I think taking away guns (or any other means) leaves plenty of methods like drugs, poisons, car exhaust, heights, ropes, and the old Roman slit-your-wrists-in-the-bathtub method (revived in "Godfather II). If such means-based prevention did work, I doubt it would be because other means weren't available. Rather, I think removing guns, razor blades, or ropes might help remind the potential suicide that others care. (Of course, in stubborn cases, it might backfire. No one approach would work for everyone.)

    So many suicides in this country are committed with guns, that to that extent, suicide borders on being a Second Amendment issue. It is for this reason that when suicide became an option my AIDS-infected friends were considering (and later, when I was considering it), I began to research the various methods.

    For myself, I concluded early on that no matter what happened, I would never allow my suicide to become more statistical fodder for the gun control movement. Let's face it, people have long committed suicide, with or without firearms. As I've explained before, years ago people didn't blame guns for suicides, but now they do. A perfect local example is a 16 year old who shot himself at his school with a Kalashnikov last week. Already, gun control advocates are saying that it happened because of law allowing assault weapons:

    Our laws didn't cover this situation. Our laws failed this student. And if not for the quick work of police officers, Pennsylvania's weak gun laws could have let more deaths happen. There is no reason that firearms like the AK-47 are legal in America, except that the gun industry wants to sell them. This is just more proof that we should be rid of weapons like these for good.
    Not that it would matter to an ideologue, but an AK-47 would hardly seem a likely first choice as a suicide weapon. For starters, it's a bit awkward to hold that way. The idea that banning that particular firearm would decrease suicide is, I think, laughable on its face. (It would make about as much sense as banning all Taurus brand revolvers, and I'm sure the latter are used far more often than AK-47s for suicidal purposes.)

    Anyway, I might be a total crank, but even at the peak of my despair I decided that despite having (what do they call it?) "easy access to firearms," that I would never, ever use one to kill myself. Quite the contrary. Instead, I decided that I would take the time to check into a hotel and write a note explaining that there were two reasons for my choice to ingest a fatal drug overdose (propoxyphene washed down with plenty of alcohol, followed by tying a plastic bag around my head as insurance just before passing out) as opposed to shooting myself:
  • 1. I chose to use a hotel because it is less sloppy and stressful for all concerned to have my dead body discovered the next morning by hotel staff than by a neighbor wondering about "that smell" several days later; and

  • 2. I chose the drug overdose with the plastic bag because I don't want my guns blamed for my suicide.
  • Along with that note, I'd leave a nice tip for the hotel employees, as I know that finding a corpse (even that of a stranger) is no fun, nor is the cleanup.

    Why I didn't do it is a long story, and I've touched on it before. The point is, I have been through suicides of friends, and I'm on the other side of having considered it an option for myself.

    I think people need to know that others care. For whatever reason (perhaps because they're overwhelmed by the immediacy of the depression) this is something all too easy for potential suicides to forget. It may sound crazy (well, it is crazy) but it never occurred to me that anyone cared whether I lived or died until it came right down to the decision (in 1993) to implement my suicide plan.

    Despite my planning, I had an immediate problem: my dogs, Puff (pictured on the right and known to longtime readers), and his father, "Chatty." Who would feed them? Would I have to kill them too? Not wanting to kill my dogs, I had a problem. Because if I didn't kill them, I knew the chances were excellent that someone else would. Most likely, they'd be taken down to animal control and euthanized because let's face it, pit bulls in animal shelters face a very fatal form of discrimination.

    The more I thought it over, the more it became clear that if my dogs loved me in their own way, and I loved them, my suicide would be a very selfish, even cruel thing. The next thing you know, the realization that my suicide would be a disaster for my dogs made me think about other people. Not only did I have neighbors with whom I was very close, but I still had close friends -- not all of whom were doomed to die in the near future. I even had family members. There were people who would care. Why it took the dogs to remind me that there were people, I do not know. It's an example of the crazy and irrational process that leads to suicide.

    Over time, this immediate if pragmatic hesitancy developed into a philosophical antipathy to suicide, and a realization that if I did not fear death, it was the height of illogic to fear death.

    No matter how bad depression gets, it is not (not for me at least) a permanent state of being, although this is tricky, because depression tends to take over, and being depressed right now can lead to a feeling of an eternal nowness of depression. It is believed that it will never go away. Fortunately, I was able to learn that depression, like many a chemical bad trip, would eventually wear off.

    I don't mean to attach too much importance to my personal experience, because I realize that every person is different, and thus what worked for me might not work for others. I like to think that I might be able to talk some people out of suicide, but I'm not so arrogant as to claim that all suicides would or could relate to my thinking.

    But I decided to write this post because of the thought that won't go away, and I think my personal experience does relate to it. I know it will never be possible to prevent or deter all suicides, but I'm wondering about the gun suicides. How many of them might have been members of the NRA like me? How many gun owners or NRA members know that there are others who care, and who might be willing to remind them?

    When Dr. Caine suggested taking guns away from potential suicides, I recoiled a bit, and I noticed that so did Glenn and Helen. Because of my experience, I probably took it a little more personally than others, but I just kept thinking about it and thinking about it. What about depressed gun owners? Don't they realize that every suicidal trigger pull has direct consequences for other gun owners? It might not be much, but suppose the NRA set up a suicide hotline. The organization has faced criticism like this for avoiding the topic, but why avoid it? What better way to reach potential gun suicides than a free, confidential NRA hotline? And what better way to start than a reminder that if you use a gun to kill yourself, you not only lose your life, but you make your fellow gun owners and even the Second Amendment suffer? The logic is unassailable, plus it's a foot in the door for a sincere reminder that people do care.

    Even (despite their media demonization) other gun owners. As to the idea that firearms should be taken away from someone who wants to commit suicide, as I said, there are too many other methods for it to work as a deterrent. I think the reason taking weapons away might be a deterrent is because it's a reminder that people care. (And if guns really had to be taken away from gun owners to prevent suicide, wouldn't it make more sense for them to be taken away by other gun owners?)

    Aside from the NRA idea, I don't see anything wrong with suicide prevention by peers, and by mutual common-interest groups.

    Who knows, bloggers might be able to help prevent other bloggers from committing suicide. (I don't know whether bloggers commit suicide on a regular basis, but I'll certainly weigh in against the idea right now.)

    Again, sorry is the idea sounds crazy. I realize there are many reasons why it probably won't happen -- most of which would be promulgated by lawyers worried about the usual stuff lawyers worry about. But hell, I'm a lawyer myself (much as I try not to admit it), and I'd remind them that numerous state bar associations have special suicide prevention programs. I think the main reason the NRA would be leery of the idea is because their ideological opponents use suicide as an argument against guns. But I think that's an argument for -- not against -- gun owners helping gun owners against suicide with guns.

    Especially in the case of gun owners, helping others can be seen as a form of self-help. And as I learned, once you rule out using a gun to kill yourself, you start thinking, and the rest tends to follow.

    MORE: Just a reminder... In case there are any readers who haven't heard Glenn and Helen's suicide podcast, don't miss it! It's a gem.

    posted by Eric at 02:39 PM | Comments (4)

    Abandoning all hope of government talking points?

    It's not every day that the MSM reviews and reports on blogs, but the Christian Science Monitor's Dante Chinni took the time to review Bill Roggio's excellent blogging from Iraq in an article titled "The value of a pro-war blogger's reports from Iraq." Chinni, while somewhat sympathetic to Roggio (and urging people to read the blog) nonetheless makes it clear that the pro-war side is losing:

    ....The war is increasingly viewed as a grim, chaotic mess.

    Voters made their disappointment in the war known a month ago in the midterm elections, according to exit polls that showed the issue was an important vote driver. Official Washington sanctioned that view last week when the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, wrote in its report that the situation on the ground was "grave and deteriorating."

    That certainly is the public perception, and it also seems to have increasingly become the perception promulgated by the government. But Roggio (claims Chinni) seems to be propounding an alternate view of reality, one in which the war might be winnable:
    But for those who troll the blogosphere for news, there is a distinctly different view of the Iraq war available. In this version, the United States is "winning the war on the battlefield, albeit with difficulties in some areas," but "losing the information war."

    This is the war as seen and posted by Bill Roggio, a former active duty soldier (in the early 1990s) and current blogger embedded with marines in Iraq.

    Winning the war on the battlefield, but losing the war for public opinion?

    Gee, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that was what happened in Vietnam. Who'd have ever thought we might be repeating mistakes of the past? (But what if a mistake is repeated deliberately? Is it really fair to call it a mistake? Words sometimes fail me, which is why I tend to write ridiculously long essays about the meaningless-but-meaningful meaning of issue-framing phrases like "gun violence.")

    Anyway, whether the public opinion war is being lost by mistake or by design, the dialogue between Roggio and Chinni fascinates me, because I think it reflects the current state of the Iraq War -- or maybe as a measure of the pulse of the public perception war. Yes, there's still a pulse. Barely.

    For pure pathos, nothing beats this MSM view of Roggio -- a blogger -- as a sort of "government talking points" guy:

    His bias can be overwhelming at times - his posts can sound a lot like government talking points filtered through war stories. When he's not filing stories from a war zone, he likes to take issue with the mainstream media's reporting of events, such as The Washington Post's recent report on the dangers of Anbar Province. He often sees Al Qaeda as the hand behind most of what's going on in Iraq, such as the Thanksgiving bombings that killed more than 200.

    Those views are not in the mainstream and many people, including Iraq Study Group cochairmen James Baker and Lee Hamilton, do not subscribe to them. But while some might discount Roggio as a journalist who lets his patriotism and ties to the military get in the way of his work, there is value in his reportage.

    In the voices of Roggio's soldiers, readers hear a soldier's perspective - or at least some soldiers' perspectives - on the efforts in Iraq and the way the media are covering them. In Fallujah, for instance, Roggio writes of the distinctions the US troops draw between the Iraqi Army, which they have some faith in, and the Iraqi police, which they discount as "gangsters." And in another recent post, he describes a real and growing dislike for the press among the soldiers who, he says, feel the media have "abandoned" them.

    In light of the Baker approach (and Colin Powell's remark about the troops being "about broken") it's looking more and more as if the government itself has abandoned them.

    But is "abandoned" the right word? Again, I think this goes to the difference in perceptions. For years now, we have been treated to cries of "SUPPORT THE TROOPS!" Yet to one side, support means helping them win, and to the other side, support means bringing them home. Seen in this context, the word abandon has more than one meaning. Right now, the government consensus idea is to send in more troops, not to fight the war to victory, but ensure an orderly withdrawal.

    I don't know what the government talking points will be, but in terms of public perception, it might end up looking as if the troops were sent in as part of an evacuation.

    Again, if abandonment is the issue, what is abandonment? To a soldier, it might be abandonment of the goal of victory. But to many war-weary civilians (naturally tired of reading daily reports of IEDs killing troops) leaving them in these awful war zones constitutes abandonment, and support means evacuating them ASAP. To many in the MSM, support for the soldiers means portraying them the way victims of Hurricane Katrina were portrayed -- in need of rescue. (Yes, I've been blogging long enough to remember the endless media comparisons between Katrina and Iraq. It's just the way they think. I guess I should be thankful that the Iraq War can't be blamed on Global Warming.)

    The problem with language is that either side can see supporting the troops as rescuing them from abandonment.

    Same words, opposite meanings.

    In war, it strikes me that abandonment of victory is abandonment of the troops who fought and died in the hope of victory. I know that since Vietnam, this is a minority view. But then, I never claimed to be a government spokesman.

    Fascinatingly, Bill Roggio (whose link led me to the CSM piece) addresses the supreme irony of being tarred with the label of being a sort of government points spokesman:

    The Christian Science Monitor's Dante Chinni writes about my current embed in Fallujah and the blog in general. Mr. Chinni does have some kind words to say, and does encourage people to read. I will state that Mr. Chinni should look at my full writings on Pakistan and Somalia and Afghanistan, and even Iraq, before stating my "posts can sound a lot like government talking points filtered through war stories." I fail to see how saying we lost western Pakistan to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and Somalia to the Islamic Courts, and failed to subdue al-Qaeda in Ramadi and Muqtada al-Sadr, are government talking points. In fact, I've made some people in the government very uncomfortable.

    Pakistan, The New York Times, and the International Crisis Group

    I'm happy to see the New York Times and the International Crisis Group have finally come around on Pakistan. I've been discussing the fall of western Pakistan in detail since January of 2006, and wrote almost 60 articles on this subject. It would have been nice to have received some credit for this, particularly from the International Crisis Group, which virtually pirated my work for segments of the report (start at page 22 on). But, as Mr. Chinni notes, my "posts can sound a lot like government talking points filtered through war stories." If so, what does that make the New York Times and the International Crisis Group?

    Why, it makes them spokesmen for Roggio talking points, of course.

    Bill Roggio calls things as he sees them. I'm glad he's there reminding people that we are still at war with Al Qaeda, because there's an emerging consensus that the government wants to abandon that war.

    What the hell are "government talking points" these days?

    Am I allowed to abandon them?

    posted by Eric at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

    Zeroing in on guns that hate

    The Philadelphia Inquirer's April Saul is a tireless promoter of "gun violence" theory. For many months, she has been writing a series called "Kids, Guns, and a Deadly Toll," which focuses on child victims of what is called "gun violence." According to this theory, when someone is shot to death, the guns are the primary culprit, but when the shooting victim is aged 3 to 17, the guns are even more guilty of violence. Along with today's huge front page story, there's an accompanying piece in which she explains why concepts like "guilty" and "innocent" are only a secondary consideration:

    I began to believe that if gun violence was ever to be addressed, we had to see faces, not just numbers on charts and graphs.

    I decided that my columns would not try to distinguish between the "guilty" and the "innocent" or - as my colleagues worried - make delinquents out to be saints.

    These victims were all children.

    They all had mothers.

    They didn't deserve to die in the streets of Philadelphia.

    I couldn't agree more. Absent cases of justifiable homicide, no one deserves to die -- whether on the streets of Philadelphia or anywhere else. Whether a victim is a criminal is no defense to murder, which is why it is correct to call the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre a "massacre."

    Still (as I've tried to explain countless times), I have a problem with the phrase "gun violence," as it changes the focus from the heinous nature of the crime to an object which is not guilty in itself, unless you believe guns are guilty of an evil animus.

    It is one thing to not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent in the case of a victim. However, in the case of the killer, it makes no sense at all, and that's my objection to shifting the focus from the criminal to the tool he uses.

    Much as I try to understand the other side of this argument, I am unable to understand how a gun can be guiltier than a knife, a baseball bat, or a car.

    If we look at this logically, a bad person has to use the thing to commit a bad act. The thing is not bad in and of itself, but we are asked to believe that guns are. I don't think I've ever attempted to follow this reasoning out literally, so I decided that for once I am going to try.

    I'll assume for the sake of argument that guns commit gun violence.

    OK, so what is gun violence? Does the gun have to actually be fired? Suppose a criminal uses it to beat his victim to death. That's called "pistol whipping," and many people have been killed that way. Surely, pistol whippings are part of gun violence, aren't they? If I am wrong and if a gun bludgeoning someone is not gun violence, can anyone tell me why it isn't? Does the gun have to be used exactly as it is designed? Would we say the same thing about a car being used to run someone over? Suppose a car thief bent on murder ran out of gas while he attempted to ram the car into his victim, yet because the victim was downhill, he still managed to deliberately plow the car into the guy and kill him. I don't see much difference between that and a criminal discovering beating someone to death with his gun, and I'm not sure it would make much difference whether the gun misfired, wasn't loaded, jammed, or he just didn't want witnesses to hear the gunfire.

    And what about suicides? For reasons not clear to me, the author of today's piece doesn't seem to include suicide by guns as "gun violence." It's not as if she didn't know that guns are often used to commit suicide.

    In fact, in another piece the same author covers the tragic suicide of a 16 year old in the Philadelphia suburbs. The kid used a Kalashnikov to shoot himself at his school. It seems he was quite familiar with guns, and had no intention of shooting anyone but himself, but suppose he had. Why would it only be called "gun violence" if it was directed against others? Unless suicide is inherently nonviolent I'm at a loss to understand why he wasn't listed among April Saul's victims of gun violence.

    Apparently, April Saul only considers gun violence to be gunfire directed against a person other than the shooter. But what about the police? Do they commit gun violence when they shoot suspects? How about self defense?

    I don't mean to be facetious here, because according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, suicides, accidental deaths, and justifiable homicides are all part and parcel of what is called "gun violence."

    Unless the term is one of those flexible, meaningless code phrases which varies depending on who's using it, the teen suicide should have been included among April Saul's list of victims.

    So why wasn't he?

    Lastly, I'm also curious about the connection Ms. Saul seems to be attempting to draw in today's piece between guns and civil rights. It's not just a passing reference, but she thinks it's important enough to be her final point in the two concluding paragraphs:

    The first time I heard "We Shall Overcome" was more than 40 years ago. Three civil-rights workers had just been killed in Mississippi; my New Jersey community was hosting a group of Southern black teenagers who needed to get away until things cooled down. I was a spoiled suburban kid, but I'll never forget standing in a circle, holding hands with them, and singing that song.

    The last time I heard it was at the burial of little Casha'e Rivers, just before her body was placed in the ground.

    No futher explanation or tie-in is given.

    Again, am I missing something?

    Isn't the singing of "We Shall Overcome" at two funerals 40 years apart just a coincidence? Or am I completely dense and missing the point? Maybe I am, but if I am missing the point, what point?

    What do the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi and a girl murdered this year in Philadelphia have in common? Other than the fact that they were murdered, and the same song was sung at their funerals, it's a stretch, but I'll try to understand.

    I'm pretty sure that the three civil rights workers would have been Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman -- all of whom were shot to death by the Ku Klux Klan. I remember it too, as I was only ten. It was a horrifying event which helped galvanize the nation.

    The thing is, I don't remember anyone at the time blaming the guns. It was a classic case of institutionalized racism, and while Klansmen and bigoted local sheriff employees were convicted (only after a great deal of trouble and after which they were insufficiently punished), in all these years I have never heard anyone -- anywhere -- blame the guns they used.

    I don't mean to minimize the tragedy of the murders of Casha'e Rivers or any other child shooting victim. But I do think the nature of the murder of civil rights workers is morally more heinous. I don't see how lumping them together as "gun violence" is in any way helpful. It minimizes the horror of murder.

    Is it possible that Ms. Saul considers gun violence to be a civil rights issue? A form of institutionalized racism? How is that to be squared with the use of "gun violence" to refer to murders committed by people with guns? If the victims and the shooters are of the same race, how is it logical to say that race is implicated? Even if black people are killed by other black people in disproportionate numbers, unless it could be shown that they were killed because they were black, is it fair or logical to compare these killings to the murder of civil rights workers?

    I mean, how far do we take this animus thing? It's bad enough that guns are blamed for the violence people commit with them, but we're now supposed to impute racism and civil rights violations to them too?

    Well, I was naive enough to promise I'd follow this thing out (and "assume for the sake of argument that guns commit gun violence"), so I guess I must.

    Logic sometimes has consequences, however painful.

    If gun violence is to be seen as racist, then I suppose the "hate crime" approach must be followed. That might mean that the guns would be guilty of hate crimes even if their owners wouldn't be, but I suppose that's because of the disparate impact or something.

    But surely all guns are not to blame for the actions of some guns, are they? That wouldn't be fair.

    Considering the orchestrated attempt by some to call opposition to gun control racism, I think a compromise is called for, so I'd like to present a modest proposal. What I suggest is that if guns are responsible for committing violence as well as hate crimes, perhaps we might all live with the approach of putting each accused gun on trial.

    Card-carrying NRA desperado that I am, I might just have to allow myself to live with the idea that any gun that is found to have committed any act of "gun violence" should be destroyed. And if it turns out to have committed any form of gun hate crime (even if defined by the "disparate impact" standard), I'm even willing to allow that the severest possible penalty be imposed. Because these are guns and not people, even though they have an animus I'd be willing to support, well, the death penalty. Take all guns found guilty of gun violence and crush or melt them. If they can be shown to be hateful as well as violent, then increase the penalty somehow. How? Maybe by slowly dissolving them in acid? I'm open to possibilities.

    So how about it, folks?

    Zero tolerance for violent guns, and less than zero tolerance for any gun that hates!

    posted by Eric at 10:51 AM | Comments (3)

    Being led by leading art

    I know I'm going to sound biased here, but, hey. I am biased. I like the art of Salvador Dali, and I admit it.

    With that admission in mind, I want to return to Professor Fernando Tesón's fascinating post about political art:

    ...if one believes in moral-political truths, it seems natural to recommend that artists convey those truths in a way people can readily understand. Thanks to the emotional power of beauty, art can, at least sometimes, help noble ideals reach the general public. Many of these works have great artistic value (Picasso's Guernica, for example), and some of them have surely contributed to worthy causes.

    However, political art is a special form of discourse failure. Art is a type of concrete imagery, and as such it evokes a "fact" that may activate default theories in the audience. Those willing to challenge the political stances represented by the artifact have to overcome the suggestive power of beauty. Political paintings (say, Diego Rivera's murals) often suggest causal connections that, for the reasons I indicated in my previous posts, permeate theories that people hold by default. Political art's appeal to emotion usurps reasoned political argument.

    I've never cared for Diego Rivera's murals, for they leave little to the imagination. As for Guernica, it's widely considered the most important artistic statement against war in general.


    For Picasso, though (an admitted Communist) the painting was not a statement against war in general, but as he made clear at the time, a very partisan statement against the Franco side of the Spanish Civil War:

    The Spanish struggle is the fight of reaction against the people, against freedom. My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. How could anybody think for a moment that I could be in agreement with reaction and death? ... In the panel on which I am working, which I shall call Guernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.
    I know art is very personal, but as a painting, Guernica just doesn't say that much to me.

    Dali's "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War" is another matter.


    I've been looking at that since I was a boy, and I've expressed my thoughts about it in a couple of posts:

    The horror and revulsion are there along with the fascination. While surreal, the surrealism is oddly real, because civil war is grotesque, twisted, and unresolvable, yet it springs from man's nature (which is all of the above). It's his unflinching view of horror, of human evil versus human evil, and it's horrible despite the wishes of partisans who each wanted their human evil side declared "good."
    Unlike Guernica, it leaves a lot to the imagination, and I think it more properly expresses the horrors of war. It takes into account that war exists, that people are willing to kill each other, and that it isn't always obvious who is right and who is wrong. I feel less "led" by Dali, and whether anyone thinks he was a fascist or not (I don't think he was) is beside the point.

    Soft Construction represents the inevitability of Spain being torn apart, but I think it's more than that, as it poses fundamental, uncomfortable questions about man's nature, yet does not answer these questions or make judgments.

    Not that Dali failed to make it clear he was against war.

    In 1940, he even gave war a face:


    Here's how Dali described "Visage of War":

    "I was entering a period of rigor and asceticism which was going to dominate my style, my thoughts, and my tormented life. Spain on fire would light up this drama of the renaissance of aesthetics. Spain would serve as a holocaust to that post-war Europe tortured by ideological dramas, by moral and artistic anxieties.... At one feel swoop, from the middle of the Spanish cadaver, springs up. Half-devoured by vermin and ideological worms, the Iberian penis in erection, huge like a cathedral filled with the white dynamite of hatred. Bury and Unbury ! Disinter and Inter ! In order to unbury again ! Such was the charnel desire of the Civil War in that impatient Spain. One would see how she was capable of suffering; of making others suffer, of burying and unburying, of killing and resurrecting. In was necessary to scratch the earth to exhume tradition and to profane everything in order to be dazzled anew by all the treasures that the land was hiding in its entrails."
    I think we can all agree that war is bad. There's something I don't like about political art telling me which side I should be on in a particular war (or in a particular struggle), as I'd like to make that decision for myself.

    Whether Dali's art is political is a more difficult question. His art is much hated by political leftists, as is he.

    I liked the fact that he refused to be led by political types, just as his art refuses to lead people by the nose.

    posted by Eric at 06:30 PM | Comments (5)

    Laughing at the failure of discourse?

    Via Glenn Reynolds' link, I was somewhat startled to see this contention by Professor Fernando Tesón (guest-blogging at Volokh) that political art is not only a failure of discourse, but that it's leftist:

    ....political art is a special form of discourse failure. Art is a type of concrete imagery, and as such it evokes a "fact" that may activate default theories in the audience. Those willing to challenge the political stances represented by the artifact have to overcome the suggestive power of beauty. Political paintings (say, Diego Rivera's murals) often suggest causal connections that, for the reasons I indicated in my previous posts, permeate theories that people hold by default. Political art's appeal to emotion usurps reasoned political argument. If you think big oil is responsible for the evils in the world, make an argument. The movie Syriana will not do. (A related puzzle: why is all political art of the left? We have answers to this too.)
    My immediate reaction was to say "Wait a minute, What about South Park?" So I checked the comments, and sure enough, at least two of them were having similar reactions. I especially liked Rand Simberg's:
    Anyone who thinks that all political art is of the left (and particularly when it comes to satire) obviously doesn't spend much time in the blogosphere. I write a great number of pieces that tweak the left, and Iowahawk often devastates them. And how about Cox and Forkum?
    Not only are those blogs, and South Park, and Cox and Forkum, not on the left, but I think calling them "discourse failure" misses the point a little.

    I can't think of a better example than "South Park." The very essence of its humor is to make fun of discourse failure! (Uptight ideologues and activists from both sides who take themselves too seriously are often the target.)

    I often try to do the same thing -- with varying results.

    Sometimes, I go so far as to hope that making fun of the failure of discourse might help lead to discourse.

    But then, I don't like to get too carried away...

    posted by Eric at 01:10 PM | Comments (0)

    Holiday Blogging

    I will be filling in for Eric (as if that were possible) at Classical Values while he is away for the holidays. This is sort of a test post to get the bugs out before Eric leaves. My posts here will also be cross posted at Power and Control.

    And just so that this is not a content free post I want to update this Classical values piece Bussard Fusion reactors.

    The Valencia Paper mentioned in the video can be found here [pdf]. And a link to a transcript of the talk with charts and diagrams can be found here.

    posted by Simon at 01:05 PM | Comments (1)

    The right to be irrational?

    A friend emailed me a link to a very disturbing report that your astrological sign predicts how well you drive:

    TORONTO, Dec 13 (Reuters Life!) - Never mind how careful you are behind the wheel or how long you've been driving, the signs of the zodiac may be bigger factors behind your ability to avoid car crashes -- or why you have too many.

    According to a study by InsuranceHotline.com, a Web site that quotes drivers on insurance rates, astrological signs are a significant factor in predicting car accidents.

    The study, which looked at 100,000 North American drivers' records from the past six years, puts Libras (born September 23-October 22) followed by Aquarians (January 20-February 18) as the worst offenders for tickets and accidents

    Leos (July 23-August 22) and then Geminis (May 21-June 20) were found to be the best overall.

    "I was absolutely shocked by the results," said Lee Romanov, president of Toronto-based InsuranceHotline.com, who also wrote the book "Car Carma" which touches on the correlation between astrological signs and driving ability while doing the study.


    I don't think astrological discrimination is illegal. Without getting into the merits of astrology, should one's sign be protected against discimination? Suppose I refused to hire all water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces). Isn't that discrimination based upon an accident of birth?

    Or should specific forms of discrimination have to be officially listed?

    PLEASE NOTE: My "refusal" to hire water signs is just a hypothetical example, as I'm a Cancer myself, and I'd never discriminate on such a basis, lest I be accused of being a self-hating hydrophobe.

    posted by Eric at 11:39 AM | Comments (1)

    I'm cool with the passion fashion

    Is "passionate love" detrimental to freedom? Michel de Montaigne (who abhorred quoting in place of thinking, so I won't quote him) thought it was.

    This strikes me as a yin/yang situation. It would seem that the right to engage in passionate love (or be passionately in love) would go to the essence of freedom. Yet in fairness it has to be recognized that once the passions take over, a person can become a slave to his passions and is no longer free. But if a particular individual is not free in that sense, how does that affect freedom as a whole? (Unless there are contagious "group passions"....)

    What about passionate love of freedom? Might that be destructive of it? I'm distrustful of passions, but sometimes I worry that I'm too passionate in my distrust of the passions. In fairness, I'm probably envious of those who have them.

    Passionate love has never been my shtick, so I'm probably blind to whether it's destructive of freedom. If you don't feel something, it's hard to get terribly worked up about whether it's destructive. Might those who are susceptible fear it more?

    None of this is rational, of course....

    posted by Eric at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

    Climate change meltdown at the polls?

    The debate is over.

    That's what I keep hearing (despite stubborn views to the contrary) about Global Warming. I'm much too late, so I guess I can never be a part of the debate itself.

    But now that we're in the post-debate era, I think it's fair to ask: what was the debate about? Whether there's climate change? Whether "we" (the evil humans) did it? Or what "we" should be made to do about it?

    If the debate involves the latter, isn't there still something called the political process? Is that debate over too? Did the voters have their say? I know I forget a lot of stuff, but I don't recall a national referendum being held, and considering some of the drastic, draconian calls for action I've heard, there might just be national, even constitutional implications.

    How about a debate on whether the debate is over, or is that beyond debate too?

    Who held this debate, and when? Why are they not supplying us with a transcript? I'd like to know who decided what. Considering the claim that (pick one or more)

    is the most pressing national issue, I'm not only feeling left out, but I have this feeling that a lot of other people have been left out too.

    Something is cleary missing.

    People still get to vote, right?

    I'd hate to see the debate ended before the election.

    Might it be time for another "values" election? I don't mean voting to bring back traditional values, or even classical values. No; I'm talking about going further back in time -- way back to our primitive ancestral values. Geologically time-honored values! Those who want to bring back the traditional glaciers that once covered much of the North American continent, why, they could simply vote for traditional geological values, while those who might prefer a tropical climate could vote for theirs. And may the better climate win!

    Why not vote for the climate of your choice?

    Isn't that the American Way?

    posted by Eric at 09:01 AM | Comments (5)

    If you're wrong, then so is God?

    The Rev. Paul F. Morrissey is a prison chaplain who believes in a religious solution to the war in Iraq. This solution should take the form of a national confession, followed by penance:

    Like so many people around the world, I want the killing of our own soldiers and the crucifixion of Iraq to stop. If we actually discuss the following points before dismissing them, perhaps we will see that they might be the best, and perhaps the only, chance to help us leave that country with honor.

    America, which is so great a country and which we all love, must do something we've seen no other country do in our lifetime. We need to confess. And we need to do this because we are great. No political party can or should claim victory or shame the other if we dare to do this.

    Our people are great, and a majority of us believe in God, so we can rise to this action with God's help.

    Well, even if a majority believes in God, I'm not sure that all Godly Americans will be convinced that trying to replace a bloodthirsty tyrant with democray constitutes crucifixion for which they must confess and atone.

    Nonetheless, he is confident enough to make some predictions:

    In the new year, America will do the following:

    Beg forgiveness of the people of Iraq and the world for making a terrible mistake in invading Iraq. We can symbolize this by a national day of prayer and fasting.

    Promise on a Bible and a Koran that we will not remain in Iraq.

    Promise to invest the billions of dollars it will take to rebuild Iraq over the next decade, and place this funding under United Nations (or third-party) management.

    Begin withdrawing our soldiers to show our resolve.

    Initiate educational forums across the country and in every school, college and university about Islam, and invite Muslim countries to do the same about America and Christianity.

    I think the constant use of the communitarian second person plural reveals that Rev. Morrissey imagines that "America" is a monolithic entity in which decisions about things like national atonement, educational forums, and swearing on the Koran can be dictated from above. The problem with his argument is that this is a democracy with protected free speech, not a theocracy in which opinions are handed down as holy writ. His opinions count no more than anyone else's opinions, and references to God or religious text don't imbue them with special magic or make them "count" any more than anyone else's opinions.

    What concerns me is the unstated assumption that because this man is a priest and he's invoking God in a political debate, this means his political opinions are religious in nature and therefore carry more weight than they would if he were an lay person. While religious opinions are protected under the First Amendment, they are no more protected than non-religious opinions, and no religious claim imbues them with greater logical merit than they'd otherwise have. But I'm repeating myself. Repeatedly:

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

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

    Injecting God and religion into political opinions is fully protected free speech. But there's a natural human urge to win debates, and a natural temptation to cut corners. Polite people have a tendency never to argue religion (I was told to avoid talking about religion and politics), so the injection of religion into politics can cause people to misinterpret silence as agreement. I just wish disagreement with those who invoke God wasn't so often interpreted as disagreement with God.

    Far be it from me to disagree with God, but if the rules of the debate require it, I have no other choice.

    I mean, if I can't claim God agrees with me, and I won't claim God does not exist, then what are my options?

    MORE: Does God hate Global Warming?

    Religious groups, such as the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals and National Council of Churches, have joined with scientists to call for action on climate change under the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. "Global warming is a universal moral challenge," the partnership's statement says.
    This opens up a lot of new turf. God hates driving! And cows!

    Any way to end the debate.

    posted by Eric at 07:42 AM | Comments (2)

    Have a nice day, asshole!

    Something seemed to be wrong with this report linked by Ann Althouse:

    "Two Borat-inspired British animal rights activists clad in lettuce bikinis braved the winter chill in the Kazakh commercial capital Almaty"
    The goal is to make the Kazakhs stop eating horses, and while there's no way for me to know how inspired they were by Borat, I have a different worry.

    Isn't it a little irresponsible for the International Herald Tribune to promote the idea of a "winter chill" anywhere? I mean, Almaty is about the same latitude as Detroit, and we have Global Warming in Detroit. Sure enough, right now it's a balmy 42 degrees Fahrenheit in Detroit. But over in Almaty when I checked at 10:00 this morning, it was 14 degrees.

    Is the meltdown imminent? I doubt it. I think that it's going to get colder. A lot colder. In fact, although I'd love to be wrong, I predict that January and February are going to be unpleasantly cold at the very least. It's why I always whine about the weather here on the East Coast. It makes me want to move back to California.

    But right now, all I can say is "What a beautiful day!" It's a balmy 56 degrees around here, but the weather is so politicized that people don't know how fortunate they are. I mean, what do they want? The usual misery where you have to run outside and then run inside?

    It's the oddest thing, but I just got back from running a few errands, and on one of them I got the strangest look when I exclaimed what a beautiful day it was. She looked at me quizically, and instead of simply saying yes, she said, in a suspicious tone, "You've noticed too, haven't you?" I didn't want to ruin pleasantries by getting into another global gas debate, so I merely said something about how it was feeling almost like California weather and made me homesick. (Yes, things you love can make you homesick too!)

    Why would anyone be perturbed by a nice day? There's no denying that it's a nice one, as the sun is shining and everything is clear and beautiful, but people are downright uneasy. As if they think the world is about to explode. Am I alone in thinking these people are a bit crazy? Or am I crazy for not being miserable on a nice day?

    I guess I should fly to Almaty and take my clothes off so I can be more miserable.

    posted by Eric at 03:09 PM | Comments (2)

    Scarlet "R"?

    For whatever reason (perhaps because of an infuriating association with Glenn "Republican" Reynolds), Ann Althouse and Dr. Helen are both under seige for their libertarianism, and their opponents think that the best way to get under their skin is by hurling the word "Republican" as an insult. This does not bother Dr. Helen, who explains why she has placed a red "R" on her forehead:

    Many times, people mistakenly call me a Republican although I am a right-leaning libertarian. Apparently, labeling one as a Republican gives ammunition to call one sexist, evil, mean spirited or just plain scum. How many times do you hear someone apologizing for having right leaning views -- "Oh, no, I am not really a Republican, I have other views etc." My question is, what if one is a Republican or right leaning. So what? Is that a crime? Are those who are Republicans afraid to speak their views at universities, in academic settings, in the media etc. for fear of being labled something vile? Maybe speaking up and not slinking around in shame would be a better strategy. Maybe taking a strong stand in the media, in universities and with the American people about their views would help people to understand and see them as more normal, not as an aberration--the "conservative" view. Maybe it would just be a view like everyone elses.

    It seems like those with views other than liberal must wear the Scarlet R. Well, I will not hide any longer. If people want to call me a Republican, I will wear the label with pride with the R proudly displayed on my forehead whether it really fits or not, just to show my solidarity with those who are oppressed by such labels. Maybe you should too.

    Why not? Words sting only when people allow them to sting, and while this is as old as the childhood "sticks and stones" principle, it's something polite adults tend to forget. If someone labels you a "conservative" (or, for that matter, a "liberal"), the label is either accurate or it is not. If it is inaccurate and intended as an insult, then it's a clarifying experience, because you know that the person is: a) not your friend; and b) losing the argument, for why else would he be so desperate as to try persuading you with insults?

    Having "Republican" hurled at me as an insult does not especially sting me, because I'm a registered Republican. Nor does it hurt me to be told that I am to be held accountable for the thoughts and actions of other Republicans. A crass example was during the California Civil Rights Initiative (against affirmative action) when it was "revealed" that David Duke was a supporter of the initiative, and a Republican! Viola. That was about the same time I had the revelation that John Wayne Gacy was a Democrat -- who'd even been photographed with Rosalyn Carter!

    How dare I even think to bring up Gacy! Isn't that a shocking lack of moral equivalency? I mean, David Duke might be a Holocaust-denying Nazi, but he didn't murder boys and bury them under his house, did he?

    I guess I really ought to stop with the Gacy business. No more Gacy Democrats. I knew it wasn't logical at the time, and I don't believe in guilt by association, and I was only engaged in satire because I didn't think the other side was being logical to link all Republicans to David Duke! Honest!

    I'm really and truly sorry.

    Next time an unfair Republican guilt-by-association link is made, I should invoke Fred Phelps, longtime Democrat.

    No, I really shouldn't do that either. Merely poking fun at the idea of Glenn Reynolds as a fascist enabler got me accused of "conservative buffoonery" by the blogosphere's leading anti-fascist crusader.

    My conservatively buffoonish feelings were deeply hurt by this, because some conservatives would call me a liberal, and too much of this leads to a feeling of paralysis -- as if you've been painted into a corner by labels. Nonetheless, I tried to defend myself against the allegation:

    For starters, are bloggers such as I (or Glenn Reynolds) supposed to be conservatives based on David Neiwert's say-so? Is the word "conservative" now supposed to be a smear, accomplished by means of long essays linking conservatives to "pseudo-fascism"? Conservatives call me a liberal, and liberals call me a conservative, so I am a bit puzzled as to how these labels are to supposed to make me feel. Perhaps Mr. Neiwert intends to induce some form of shame. In my case, these labels have lost their sting. (What would be the value in my calling him a "liberal" or a "pseudo-socialist?" Is that helpful in any way?)

    Belittling the intelligence and questioning the honesty of one's critics is of course another way of inducing shame. As readers can see, Mr. Neiwert considers me a mere dishonest buffoon. (Little does he know how true that is, especially when I write satire!)

    Nor is there any cloak of immunity afforded by the word "libertarian" (no matter how accurate that might be), because libertarians are the ones who most seem to be targeted with the "C" word and "R" word attacks. It's as if the left smells weakness or even blood, and they think that libertarians are cowardly, closeted conservatives, using the word "libertarian" the way a gay man might call himself a "bisexual" when we all know he's really gay. Libertarians are seen as trying to get away with something. (Of course, they're seen by both "sides" as trying to get away with something, but I'm trying to stay with the right "R" word. Sorry, "R" for "RINO" is another topic.)

    I admit it; I am trying to get away with something. I'm just trying to be allowed to get away with thinking what I think, and explaining it in my blog.

    Saying I'm a Republican is not insulting, because it describes my voter registration. However, in all honesty, I don't know whether I'm a conservative, because I don't know how to define the word. If someone wants to call me that as an insult, fine, because it's evidence that I'm dealing with a leftist ideologue. Demurring to the insults of ideologues saves time, because such people are not interested in serious dialogue. The problem is, I'd also worry about those who might call me a conservative as a compliment, because if I wasn't conservative enough for them, they might call me a "liberal." And then I'd have to expend more time not taking "liberal" as an insult.

    After awhile, I might find the whole process a tad insulting.

    But isn't that what they want?

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Tom DeLay does not think self described libertarians are conservatives:

    Instapundit is a self described Libertarian and would likely be at odds with many Conservatives on certain issues.
    But as Glenn notes, Bill Quick made the coveted Tom DeLay blogroll, even though Glenn did not. What that means is that because Tom DeLay has no problem with blogrolling libertarians, the exclusion of Glenn Reynolds involves other reasons. Far be it from me to speculate what they might be.

    The real issue here is what does Tom DeLay have against Classical Values?

    Is it because "Classical Values fiddled, while Tom DeLay crashed and burned"?

    UPDATE (12/16/06): It's official. Bob Barr is a "card carrying" Libertarian.

    (I don't know why, but I just thought that should go here.)

    UPDATE: As Dan Riehl points out in the comment below, I seem to have attributed his words ("Instapundit is a self described Libertarian and would likely be at odds with many Conservatives on certain issues") to Tom DeLay, who was quoting Riehl. My apologies.

    But it's just as unclear to me why conservatives and libertarians can't focus on the common ground. I get called a "conservative" in derision even though I don't know what the word "conservative" means. It's all I can do to ascertain what I think on given issues, and I don't find these labels especially helpful.

    (The reason I call myself a libertarian is that every time I take the political litmus test it says I am one.)

    Both sides would do well to remember what Ronald Reagan said:

    ....I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals-if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.

    Now, I can't say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don't each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are travelling the same path.

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

    Consuming power while empowering consumption

    I'm sitting at a WiFi spot at Georgetown University, having a wonderful time with my new but used computer, a Dell Inspiron 700M. Yes, my old trusty and reliable (if slower) Dell Latitude C600 has a problem which renders it too inconvenient to use for any length of time; the power input jack is caput, which means I could only run on the battery, which has to be pulled and recharged for hours in an external charger. Naturally, this became very inconvenient, and as replacing the jack would have been costly, opted to move up from more or less three generations (five years) ago to more or less one generation (two years) ago.

    It's hard to believe my "new" computer is already this old, but it's been two years since Glenn Reynolds gave his 700M a good review, and late as I am in catching up, I can see why. This thing is fast, compact, and esthetically pleasing. My old one really looks like a clunker in comparison. Two years old or not, this machine flies -- and it just seems new.

    I love the built-in SD card reader, as I don't have to run my camera battery down with the slow cord-connection.

    Now that I've mentioned that, I might as well upload a few DC photos.

    Here I am, an hour ago, standing in front of Georgetown's Healy Hall:


    The newspaper in my hand is the Georgetown Federalist, and it's too bad it isn't online, as there's a great piece by J.P Medved about declining student literacy titled "Georgetown Flunks American History." (For starters, American history is no longer required, I guess because students learned all about it in high school.)

    Art is always of paramount interest, so the first thing I did yesterday was visit the Societe Anonyme exhibit at the Phillips Collection.


    None of the usual "tour the capital" stuff for me. I don't think politicians especially want visits from bloggers anyway, and I suspect most or my readers have already seen photos of the nation's capital. However, I couldn't help but notice that the fire hydrants (at least the ones in the Dupont Circle neighborhood) are still of the old neoclassical design, with that same characteristic Pantheon style dome remarkably imitative of the Capitol building:


    What I don't know is whether the fire hydrants were imitating the Capitol, or whether the Capitol was imitating the fire hydrants.

    And no, I am not making a moral equivalency argument, as we need fire hydrants. Besides, unlike the Capitol, their flow can be turned off.

    The water theme continued to haunt me this morning, when I noticed that someone (maybe the federal government, maybe the lawyers) is now more preoccupied than I am with my shower habits.



    Sometimes I wish that reckless risk takers like me might be allowed to just sign a General Waiver And Release Of All Liability and be done with it. But the powers that be are not about to allow life to have risks. If risks were allowed, people might have to start thinking for themselves, which would be a direct threat to the helpers of the helpess.

    Not all signs are bad, though. As a longtime Deadhead, I couldn't resist this lovely little psychedelic flyer staring at me from the ground:


    A few lonely black beans are scattered around the flyer, as if I needed any further reminder that Global Warming is a dire issue which dazed and drugged out Deadheads are probably not taking with the seriousness required. Almost in response to the gaseous reminder, the roots of a tree beckon ominously from the right.

    There used to be a slogan "You are what you eat!" Now that the very atmosphere is is poisoned by what each one of us eats, you are evil because you eat.

    This makes eating a form of raw power.


    Taste the malevolence!

    UPDATE: I stand corrected. I was standing in front of Healy Hall, not Copley.

    posted by Eric at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

    Shrinking is growth!

    I'm shocked. Shocked I tell you!

    Via M. Simon, I see evidence -- from no less than UN sources -- that Global Warming is not as hot as previously thought. To which Simon adds:

    ...water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas and that the models used for prediction do not handle cloud cover very well.

    We don't know if clouds are net reflectors or net absorbers of solar energy. Which is a pretty big hole in the models. Not to mention that the models are not very fine grained. Which means that compared to the real climate the energy balances between different regions are not well modeled.

    There are so many surmises involved -- so many shifts demanded in so many, um, "paradigms" -- that I don't know where to begin.

    Until quite recently, it was insisted upon that the deadly automobile was the primary culprit. Now it's cattle gases:

    Cows generate more greenhouse gases than all forms of transport combined, a United Nations report has revealed.

    The methane and carbon dioxide they produce is killing off vast tracts of forest and coral reefs, contributing to acid rain and destroying fragile ecosystems.

    The study, called Livestock's Long Shadow, warns that drastic action is needed.

    Its author, Henning Steinfeld, said: "Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems.

    "Urgent action is needed to remedy the situation. The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by half just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level."

    Drastic action!

    No bull!

    I can't think of better news for radical vegans and animal rights activists. Newly empowered, they can demand a meat-free society in the name of saving the precious earth.

    But it's human activity that's the principal collective target, and collective destruction is needed to save humanity from collective destruction!

    As I've observed before, moving backwards is the new direction for "progressives." It fascinates me that there are still so many traditional leftists who still believe in things like "economic growth" as the best solution for the world's pressing problems. Economists tend to be left of center, but most of them are still thinking in terms of development and growth, and I find myself wondering....

    Just what will happen to the old growth progressives under the coming new paradigm shift? If all human activity is to be labeled bad, growth will become the new taboo, and progress will mean moving towards primitivism.

    What are the implications for economics itself?

    The aspect of this which most amuses me ought to frighten me, and that is that there's no possibility of rational debate. Each side thinks the other is ignorant, stupid, and blind to all logic. It's starting to remind me of the Culture War stuff.

    The difference, though, is that in this case I'm evil not because of any alleged lifestyle issues, but merely because I'm alive.

    What would they have me do? Stop eating beans?

    (Nah, I'd still be breathing.)

    posted by Eric at 10:14 AM | Comments (2)

    My dirty thoughts

    Are political thought crimes occupying the same ecological niche once reserved for pornography?

    It certainly seems that way to me. Perhaps it's because I'm old enough to remember when people used to freak out about things that were "DIRTY!" and "SHAMEFUL!" -- but now they do it in response to mere opinions voiced publicly.

    Ann Althouse will serve as a perfect example. She upsets people and generates hysteria in much the same way Larry Flynt once did, only there's no hard core porn. Just opinions with which people disagree.

    Even the criticism takes on a sexual flavor. This web site is a perfect example. Not only does Ann Althouse become "Ann Outhouse" but Pajamas Media becomes a moving asshole:


    I think it's a regurgitation of William S. Burroughs's idea of the "talking asshole." While being considered akin to pornography doesn't bother me, I realize that's a bad attitude. Callused, at least. Perhaps I should reassure people lest someone mistake my analogy for a moral equivalency argument.

    But then again, perhaps I shouldn't.

    (It's no fun having to explain everything. I'd rather plead guilty to having a filthy mind.)

    posted by Eric at 08:47 AM | Comments (3)

    art not codes?

    When I'm in an insane hurry to hit the road (as I am right now), there's nothing more disconcerting than the feeling that there's an obligation to get a post up ASAP, but there's no time to think about what to write, much less write it.

    Fortunately, Clayton Cramer reminded me of a favorite topic last night Cargotecture! This has long been a favorite topic of mine (long before the invention of the word "cargotecture" -- but I guess it takes a word), and as Cramer points out, there are many shipping containers -- 18 million to be exact. What a waste.

    They're cheap, easily-affordable housing, and because they're personal property, they can be packaged as art. And homeless artists can work on their art 24 hours a day without having to "reside" anywhere. As I opined last night, Cargotecture could:

  • Solve the homeless problem, and give a lot of people something to do.
  • Artists can put them in vacant industrial wastelands, and live for very little.
  • Baffle the bureaucrats and building code people, as it's not real estate, but personal property.
  • Best of all, you could call it art.

    They can't prevent me from having art on my vacant lot!


    (More art here.)

    posted by Eric at 08:15 AM | Comments (0)

    Formerly unknown dots cheerfully connected here!

    I can't imagine why on earth the Clinton adminstration would have been spying on Lady Diana.

    I can't connect the dots, as there don't appear to be any dots to connect. Really, it doesn't make sense, certainly not in light of the close friendship between Hillary and Diana.


    Read Salon vintage piece "DIANA'S BIG SISTER: A role model, Hillary Clinton was also friend, advisor and protector of the late princess" which is headed by this lovely picture:


    Friends don't spy on friends, do they?

    According to Salon, there seems to have been some question about whether Bill was invited, or whether he would have invited himself, though.

    I must be missing a few dots, so I'll have to put on my tinfoil hat. Coco hates it when I do that, but I feel as if the issue has been forced upon me.

    But duty calls. I try not to shirk my responsibilities, and I'm pleased to report that I'm hot on the trail! In fact, I think the whole sordid affair is pretty close to having been decoded here:

    On Tuesday, September 24, 1996, President Clinton was in New York signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This meeting had been planned for months, and the President could not get out of it. Knowing this, Hillary made sure that Princess Diana was invited to the White House on that day. The White House meeting between Hillary and Diana was only two days after the sudden, swift and secret marriage of John F. Kennedy, Jr. to Caroline Bessette. Could Hillary have been afraid that now that JFK, Jr. was no longer available, Diana would settle for Bill? At the White House breakfast, Hillary told Diana something that made her leave the United States immediately. What could Hillary have told Diana that would have made her turn and run? Maybe Hillary talked about Juanita Broderick, the woman who says Bill Clinton raped her. Maybe Hillary told her how Bill had killed Hillary's lover, Vince Foster. Diana understood this type of control. She believed Charles had ordered her bodyguard and best friend killed. Whatever Hillary said to Diana at that September White House meeting, Diana left the United States and never returned. Not only did she never return to the United States, she immediately began a relationship with the son of a powerful man whose disdain for the Royal Family matched her own. A MI-6 document shows that Diana began a relationship with Dodi Al Fayed in November of 1996, just days after the White House meeting with Hillary. Did Diana believe the Al Fayed family was powerful enough to protect her from whatever it was that Hillary had told her?

    I'm glad that's solved.

    Next conspiracy, please!

    UPDATE (12/13/06): Not so fast!

    If I'm reading Mickey Kaus's links (via Glenn Reynolds) correctly, the real target of the bugging might not have been Princess Diana at all, but Theodore Forstmann.

    Makes sense. Back in those days, Forstmann was called "Hillary's Worst Nightmare."

    And if a nightmare isn't worth bugging, then what is?

    Such "double buggings" are often puzzling, because it's often not clear who was being bugged, from where, or why. (For example, Jim Hougan makes a compelling case that the bug which overheard the conversations at the Watergate headquarters of the DNC was actually located at the Columbia Plaza Motel.)

    Can't these spooks ever make anything clear?

    MORE (12/15/06): Via Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus has more. Byron York reviewed the lengthy Stevens report and found no mention of Forstman. Thus, it appears the Evening Standard' was wrong in predicting that the Stevens report would confirm U.S. spying (whether on Diana or Forstmann). Does this mean the Evening Standard manufactured this claim about "extraordinary revelations"?

    Authoritative leaks say the extraordinary revelations will be published this week by Lord Stevens and is bound to raise fresh questions about conspiracy theories.
    Were there nonetheless "authoritative leaks"? Or did the Evening Standard make them up along with the stuff about Forstmann? My wild, conspiracy-plagued imagination makes me wonder whether it's possible that certain information might have been, um, omitted from the report.

    Apparently, Forstmann still believes he was bugged:

    A source close to Forstmann told the Daily News yesterday that Diana may have been overheard while traveling with Forstmann on his private plane, which Forstmann believed was bugged by the feds to listen in on his rich and powerful friends.
    Now why would the feds do a naughty thing like listen in on rich and powerful friends? (Even if they were someone's "worst nightmare.")

    Must be pure paranoia.

    posted by Eric at 03:09 PM | Comments (1)

    When slavery is taxing

    Walter Williams has a great piece on the contrast between the views of this country's founders and the views of government today:

    Most of what Congress does fits the description of forcing one American to serve the purposes of another American. That description differs only in degree, but not in kind, from slavery.

    At least two-thirds of the federal budget represents forcing one American to serve the purposes of another. Younger workers are forced to pay for the prescriptions of older Americans; people who are not farmers are forced to serve those who are; nonpoor people are forced to serve poor people; and the general public is forced to serve corporations, college students and other special interests who have the ear of Congress.

    The supreme tragedy that will lead to our undoing is that so far as personal economic self-interests are concerned, it is perfectly rational for every American to seek to live at the expense of another American. Why? Not doing so doesn't mean he'll pay lower federal taxes. All it means is that there will be more money for somebody else.

    In other words, once Congress establishes that one person can live at the expense of another, it pays for everyone to try to do so. You say, "Williams, don't you believe in helping your fellow man?" Yes, I do. I believe that reaching into one's own pockets to help his fellow man is both laudable and praiseworthy. Reaching into another's pockets to help his fellow man is despicable and worthy of condemnation.

    The problem is that so many people have been doing this in so many ways and for so long that the idea that government consists of taking from A to give to B is just taken as a given.

    While I doubt it was his goal, leftwing activist Dave Lindorff nonetheless supplies proof that Williams is right. He argues that the baby boomers of his generation are about to have the numbers to ensure that the following generation will be working for their elders:

    As Tim Fuller, [60-year-old executive director of Gray Panthers] sees it, the sooner boomers realize that thanks to their growing political clout Social Security will be whatever they want it to be in years to come, the sooner they can rally to improve its financial condition, the easier needed reforms will be and the more they'll be able to demand from the system in the future. (Example: In 2042, it would take a 49 percent increase in the payroll tax to fund the projected benefits shortfall. Today, a tiny 1.9 percent rise in the payroll tax, split between employer and employee, would fund the system fully through 2075.)

    That awareness may start coming soon.

    Says Tom Hayden, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society and now a grizzled member of the California legislature: "'60s people were tempted, under [Bill] Clinton, to buy into the conservative warnings that Social Security might go bankrupt, and that maybe it should be privatized. But with the recent Enron scandals, I think perhaps they're getting religion regarding Social Security. I think that generation will be inclined now to fight to preserve it. At 63, I'm probably one of the oldest of the '60s generation, and I'm certainly starting to think about my Social Security retirement benefits."

    Of course he is. Like many of his generation, Tom Hayden thinks that the primary purpose of government is to expropriate property from one group of people and give it to another, and that all that's needed is a simple majority.

    The gray Baby Boom generation will soon be a majority. I say this as a member of it myself, and while I abhor the views of people like Tom Hayden, I don't think there's any way to prevent people from voting their own interests. As Linsdorff concludes, the Baby Boomers can simply vote for whatever "revolution" they want:

    The interesting thing to contemplate is the probable broader impact of a boomer movement to improve Social Security. Because Social Security has always been universal, rather than need based, improving it would mean dramatically improving the lives of the poor and the disabled. Carried over into Medicare, an offshoot of the Social Security retirement program, such a movement could easily lead, finally, to some kind of national health system.

    The potential is there, if boomers wake up to it, for a real senior revolution.

    There's no question that in terms of votes, the socialist revolution can be won. The question in my mind involves Williams' slavery analogy.

    There's no law requiring anyone to be a wage slave for the government, to work full time and fork over, say, the 75% of his salary that might result from this revolution. So, because we really don't have slavery, what would happen if the minority of taxpayers simply refused to work? If working for wages meant being slaves for the majority of tax eaters, what in a free country would force them?

    What's a non-working majority to do?

    Repeal the 13th Amendment?

    (Or maybe just redefine the so-called "right to work" as a mandatory duty to work, with stiff new criminal penalties for "deadbeat," "truant," or "under the table" workers?)

    posted by Eric at 12:41 PM | Comments (8)

    Exclusive club?

    Now that Pinochet has died, comparisons between him and various tyrants are being made -- this USA Today editorial being typical:

    Saddam Hussein and Chile's Augusto Pinochet have long been members of the club of tyrants who killed thousands of their citizens.

    The difference between them emerged Sunday when Pinochet died after suffering a heart attack at age 91. Numerous attempts to bring him to justice failed. Saddam, sitting in a Baghdad jail cell after a court sentenced him to death, must surely be envious.

    I'm not sure what the standards are, but USA Today's "club of tyrants" would seem to include Idi Amin, Slobodan Milosevic, and Charles Taylor, as they are mentioned. So is an international "trend":
    International attitudes to mass murder by brutal leaders are changing. The challenge is to continue the trend and make sure Pinochet is one of the last exceptions.

    Exceptions? Castro killed ten times as many people as Pinochet, and he's not even listed as a tyrant.

    So what's that about?

    posted by Eric at 12:08 PM | Comments (4)

    Blogger head soup....

    A simple statement issued yesterday by the "Reynolds-Althouse Axis" makes me feel incredibly liberated.

    you don't have to blog about the news.

    So said Ann Althouse, and at the risk of sounding like another axis minion, God bless her for saying it. While many of my posts originate with something I saw in the news, I try to use that as a starting point, and I try not to feel obligated to blather on about current events.

    What the hell. This Althouse stuff is so powerfully enabling that I feel like taking it and running with it. Might even involve Coco....

    She continues:

    Anything might be bloggable. Something someone said, a TV show, a passing thought, a street scene, a new Supreme Court case ... and the news was just one more thing that had the potential to grab my attention. The thing I'm most likely to be criticized for, by commenters and other bloggers, is the failure to write about some particular subject. They tend to assume that the more important a news story is, the more I am obligated to write about it. So, for example, if I don't write about the treatment of the detainees or the war, that in itself constitutes a statement that I don't care or I think everything that is going on is just fine. But in fact, the failure to write may only mean that I respect the difficulty of the subject. Learning to put up with that criticism and not letting it drag me into obligatory blogging has been crucial to preserving the energy and fun of blogging.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I've had the same problem, but not as acutely, as I don't get as many commenters. And I like to think that my commenters are more tolerant of my eccentricities....

    Especially YOU, the great, silent majority of my non-commenting commenters.

    But people get angry with me from time to time, and some of it is simply because Glenn has been nice enough to link me, that breeds resentment, as I'm seen as a link-seeking sycophant. (Indeed, and even heh indeed, the latest email address of one of the most recent commenters to voice this objection was "syco@phant.com." Not that I'd ever share commenters' email addresses, but I just sort of suspect that this wasn't a real email address.)

    To answer this criticism in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, how might I plead to the accusation of being a Glenn Reynolds sycophant? While my inclination is to plead guilty, it's old news, and I stand convicted based on old evidence. Reading a post last week by Ed Driscoll (via Dr. Helen), I saw that my name still appears for all the world to see on an ages-old list of 200 Instapundit-inspired bloggers. It's pretty damning, isn't it? I liked InstaPundit so much that I put myself on the list when I was still blogging on blogspot (over 3 1/2 years ago). There's no way out of it. It's true. I was inspired then by InstaPundit, and years later, I still am.

    Considering that an admission of being inspired by InstaPundit is damning proof of sycophancy in certain quarters, I probably should disclose this on a regular basis lest anyone accuse me of trying to cover it up!

    I'm not sure what the logic is, but some people seem to think that if you like Glenn Reynolds and link to him, that this discredits whatever argument you might have made. It doesn't seem to matter that Glenn might not have done anything except provide a link to what someone else said -- often making it anyone's guess what he might actually think. What I've done more times than I can remember has been to start with a few words from Glenn Reynolds (or from a link he supplied) and then relate half the story of my life, along with what I might think happen to be the most glaring errors in human thinking and "ill defined code language" while kvetching and clucking over the fact that activists and bureaucratic control freaks who'd rule our lives refuse to follow the rules of logic!

    Now, there's no rule that says anyone has to like Glenn Reynolds or agree with him. But if I happen to agree with him or link to stuff he's linked there are people who think that my happening to agree with him discredits what I've said -- as if I'd linked to WorldNetDaily with approval or something. It's as if my opinions do not matter -- all that matters is that I like Glenn Reynolds.

    There are two problems with this approach. First, I don't hide the fact that I agree with Glenn Reynolds' general philosophy, nor have I ever made it a secret that he inspired me to start blogging. But when I write a long essay defending the "Reynolds Althouse Axis" with a photoshop spoof about the difficulties posed by the word "Christianist," whether I agree with Glenn is not only transparent, it's irrelevant. It's my argument that matters, the reasons why.

    Saying that I'm a sycophant rebuts my reasoning about as effectively as charging Ann Althouse with being a "minion" -- or part of an "axis" -- rebuts hers.

    Logically, even if I engaged in sycophancy, that would not make what I said wrong. Which leads to another problem with this argument. If it is applied fairly, what happens to Glenn Reynolds (or any other blogger) who links or agrees with me? Wouldn't that make him a sycophant? Some would argue that because there's a "power imbalance," that it would not, but I disagree, because word "sycophant" means "flatterer," and flattery is by definition insincere. (Plus, the powerful can and often do flatter the powerless.) Perhaps the argument is that I don't really mean it when I say I that I agree with Glenn Reynolds, and that my links are similarly insincere. The problem with that is that linking is not only one of the basic rules of courtesy in the blogosphere, but not linking can be considered plagiarism. So if I find and expand upon something Glenn linked and I credit him for it, I'm a sycophant, but if I write about it without linking him, I'm a crook?


    Either way, heads will roll!

    Which leads me back to the real issue in this post -- how to drag Coco into this, um, soup.


    (Coco gets a head because she doesn't have to blog about the news, and she has no axis to grind. No, it's not a talking head, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because Coco won't listen.)

    MORE: Speaking of recipes, here's Salvador Dali's depiction of the punishment Dante envisioned for flatterers in Hell:


    To Hell with flattery, I always say....

    posted by Eric at 09:06 AM | Comments (1)

    The most powerful word of them all?

    There was a pro-Mumia abu-Jamal demonstration in Philadelphia yesterday, and it attracted some 300 people. Unlike other cities, here in Philadelphia, there remains considerable sympathy for slain police officer Danny Faulkner, so there were counter-demonstrators.

    The Mumia issue is sensitive enough that it's affecting the Philadelphia Mayor's race. One of the leading candidates is Congressman Chaka Fattah (a major booster of Hugo Chavez's demagogic plan to supply oil for the poor), who is a longtime Mumia sympathizer and petition-signer. While he earlier said he would vote against a House resolution criticizing a French city for naming a street in honor of Mumia, more recently he's been backtracking, and reportedly voted for the resolution.

    In response, Mumia defenders have condemned the resolution (passed 368 to 31) as paving the way for a "legal lynching," and as evidence of the "hatred the entire bourgeois state apparatus has for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a courageous, eloquent and unbroken fighter for black freedom and against racist repression."
    In his letter to to the French authorities, Mumia highlights what seems right now to be the most important aspect of the case -- an allegation that the trial judge used the "n" word:

    My dear Monsieur Le Maire and City Councillors of Paris:

    I'm informed that you and your colleagues received an insulting and somewhat threatening letter assuring you that my trial was fair, and my conviction and death sentence was just.

    As for the fairness of the trial I invite you to read the Amnesty International report on my case to determine for yourselves if the trial or subsequent appeals were even remotely fair.

    Only in America could a trial judge say (in the presence of a sworn court reporter), "I'll help them fry the n----r," and be considered fair.

    Only in America could a state supreme court justice, Ron Castille, serve as chief prosecutor on direct appeal, and also sit as an appellate judge on the same case, and not recuse himself. What a fair appeal!

    The trial featured lies, just as the threatening letter to you did.

    Considering that even Michael Moore has said he thought Mumia killed Officer Faulkner, I don't think it's worth wasting time arguing whether he did it. I do think the "n" word allegation is worth examining, though, because the word has become so powerful. Merely asserting that someone used it is enough to shift the entire focus.

    The "n" word allegation is based on comes down to the following statement, sworn to by a court reporter in 2001:

    2. In 1982, a few months after I started working at the Court of Common Pleas, I was sent to a courtroom different than that I usually worked in because the judge I was assigned to was going to be doing "VOP" (Violation of Probation) and post-verdict motion hearings there that day. I went through the anteroom on my way to that courtroom where Judge Sabo and another person were engaged in conversation.

    3. Judge Sabo was discussing the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the course of that conversation, I heard Judge Sabo say, "Yeah, and I m going to help them fry the nigger." There were three people present when Judge Sabo made that remark, including myself.

    The foregoing is stated subject to the penalties of 18 Pa. C.S. Section 4904 relating to unsworn falsification to authorities and is executed by me on August 21, 2001 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    Legally speaking, whether the trial judge used the "n" word would not be sufficient on appeal to reverse a jury verdict, because courts of appeal are looking for reversible errors at thr trial. Unless the judge said that in front of the jury (thus introducing bias into the trial), it's merely evidence of his possible state of mind -- not normally considered by a court of appeal.

    What I'd like to know is how, in a hugely publicized, high-profile capital case involving a well-known local activist, a court reporter could have remained silent about this for nearly twenty years? According to the court reporter, she didn't remain silent. It's just that no one listened to her until now. Oh, and she just happens to be a pro-Mumia activist:

    "I am pretty scared," Maurer-Carter admitted last week. "It was one thing when I was talking and nobody was listening. Now that people are listening..."

    Now that people are listening to her allegations that she overheard a racist comment from Mumia Abu-Jamal's judge, the 42-year-old Wilmington mother and anti-death-penalty activist is preparing to become a player in this highly charged debate over two men's lives.

    To thousands of Abu-Jamal supporters, she will be a hero for providing further proof that the former radio reporter was not given a fair trial for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

    But to those who want to put the former radio reporter to death for Faulkner's murder, Maurer-Carter is likely to become a villain - probably even called a liar - who has attended Abu-Jamal rallies.

    According to the 2001 news story, Judge Sabo denied making the remark:
    Maurer-Carter has added just one sentence to Abu-Jamal's legal battle to obtain a new trial. But those eight words, allegedly uttered about Abu-Jamal by Common Pleas Judge Albert Sabo, are explosive and disturbing:

    "Yeah, and I'm gonna help 'em fry the n-----."

    Maurer-Carter said she heard Sabo say this to someone she did not know after accidentally walking through the judge's courtroom chambers around the time of Abu-Jamal's trial.

    Sabo, who is retired, vehemently denied the allegations last week.

    "I never said anything like that. Never said anything like that," he said.

    It is unknown whether Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham will investigate Maurer-Carter's claim because Abraham's spokeswoman did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

    As to when this happened, or who she told, she doesn't remember. She says that over the years she repeated the story to plenty of colleagues and lawyers in City Hall, but they all ignored her:
    Maurer-Carter, a former court stenographer for another Philadelphia judge, detailed the charge for the first time last week in an interview with the Daily News. She said she was not sure exactly when the incident took place, but has narrowed it down to the spring or summer of 1982.

    Abu-Jamal's trial opened June 17 and ended with a death sentence on July 3. Sabo did not preside over the earlier pre-trial hearings.

    "I don't know when it was. This is what I explained [to Abu-Jamal's lawyers] over and over," Maurer-Carter said. "The only thing about it that stuck out to me was it was the first time I heard a judge say something like that."

    Maurer-Carter had been working in City Hall for only a few months when - trying to find her new courtroom assignment - she stumbled upon the alleged conversation.

    "I wasn't trying to listen to what he was saying," she said, explaining that she tuned in to the snippet about the murder at 13th and Locust streets because she lived just two blocks away.

    "I perked up my ears," she said. "Then, when I heard what he said right before I walked out of the room I said, 'My God, he's not supposed to be saying that.' "

    If she had realized at the time that her statement someday would be part of Abu-Jamal's voluminous appeals, "I would have paid attention more," she said.

    "I should have pursued it in the beginning," she said.

    Maurer-Carter insisted, however, that she has not been silent for 19 years. She has - at the time and since - repeated the story to plenty of colleagues and lawyers in City Hall.

    They all ignored her, she said.

    "The people most immediate to me, I spoke to," she said. '. . .I said it to many people. I'm not going to say names of who I've told. I don't have an agenda other than the truth. My honest-to-God hope is that some of these people come forward and say, 'Yeah, she told me.' I don't think they will, but they might."

    In spite of telling so many people, Maurer-Carter's experience did not come to the attention of Abu-Jamal's attorneys until this summer, when Maurer-Carter phoned supporters of Abu-Jamal to find out more about the case. She told the story about Sabo to a woman on the phone, who she said passed the tale along to Abu-Jamal's new defense attorneys.

    Now that the judge is dead, (and cannot sign a declaration under penalty of perjury denying that he made the remark), I'd say that the remark is very much alive. Whether it was made or not, it seems destined to become the center of the case. Even if it wasn't relevant.

    The Mumia case is now about the power of a single word. That's what will be the driving force. Mumia supporters will believe the judge said it, and their numbers will probably grow, because true or not, there's no way to refute it, and people have a way of believing that which emotionally satisfyies them. People believe what they want to believe.

    Writer Dave Lindorff (in his book, "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Deathrow Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal") claims that he "managed to deduce" that another Judge (Richard Klein) was present when Judge Sabo made the remark. But, says Lindorff, Klein won't confirm or deny whether he was present, much less whether the remark was made -- something Lindorff sees this akin to confirming the remark, even though the judge refused to speak further because of the possibility that he might be subpoenaed.

    While the Carter declaration does not refer to Klein being present (obviously, she herself can't swear that he was, despite the journalist's speculations), Lindorff's conjecture is now being widely reported as fact:

    Journalist Dave Lindorff recently interviewed Mauer-Carter's former boss, Richard Klein, who was with Mauer-Carter when she states she overheard Sabo. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge at the time, who now sits on PA's Superior Court, Klein told Lindorff: "I won't say it did happen, and I won't say it didn't. That was a long time ago." Lindorff considers Klein's refusal to firmly reject Mauer-Carter's claim to be an affirmation of her statement.
    Lindorff is a 1960s activist (a draft era boomer born before 1953), Smoking Chimp blogger, 9/11 skeptic, Bush "bulge" theorist, 60s gray activist (picture and interview here) whose latest book calls for impeaching Bush. I think it's fair to call him a committed left wing activist, and I'm very skeptical of his heavy-handed attempt to place Judge Klein at the scene of the "n" word remark, because I think it's simply an attempt to bolster the Maurer-Carter claim. If there was anything to this, I think Judge Klein would have been subpoenaed and deposed long ago.

    FWIW, I think they ought to depose Judge Klein, and get to the bottom of this. I'm getting a bit tired of the increasing empowerment of the "n" word. Raising the allegation of "n" word use now has the ability to derail almost any argument, defeat any candidate, and cause people to abandon logic in favor of emotion. At the rate things are going, people in all sorts of situations will eventually be tempted to throw the "n" word as a curve ball -- and not just criminal defendants. Family court or employment litigants. Manipulative children trying to get out of trouble.

    As I suggested in the title to my previous post on the subject, I think the word is becoming analogous to a possessory offense. I've never been comfortable with possessory crimes in which the possession is the offense, because it renders intent irrelevant. While it would take some doing, anyone can theoretically break into someone's home and put heroin in a drawer or kiddie porn in a computer hard drive, then later phone in a tip. With the "n" word, it's even easier, as no "search" is required, and intent is equally irrelevant. Suppose a Judge Sabo had made a sarcastic remark like this:

    "You talk to some of these activists demonstrating in front of my courtroom every day and they accuse me of being a Klansman and it's like yeah, and I'm going to help them fry the n----r! Right!"
    When possession is the offense, context becomes as irrelevant.

    Similarly, whether Judge Sabo was in fact a bigot seems at least open to debate, but who's interested in being fair to someone so vile as to be accused of using the "n" word?

    posted by Eric at 12:36 PM | Comments (3)

    One way to erase "sprawl"?

    Here's something for the conspiracy theorists (or just those like me with uncontrollable imaginations).

    I just received an email about an interesting plan to take small towns off the map:

    CHATTOOGAVILLE, Ga. (Dec. 9) -- Poetry Tulip has vanished. So have Due West and Po Biddy Crossroads. Cloudland and Roosterville are gone, too.

    A total of 488 communities have been erased from the latest version of Georgia's official map, victims of too few people and too many letters of type.

    Erased from the map? I thought only Stalin erased communities from the map!

    Relax. That's not meant as a heavy-handed moral equivalency analogy. When Stalin erased communities from the map, it was generally because they no longer existed.

    In Georgia, they just want to end "clutter":

    Georgia's Department of Transportation, which drew the new map, said that the goal was to make it clearer and less cluttered and that many of the dropped communities were mere "placeholders," generally with fewer than 2,500 people. Some are unincorporated and so small they are not even recognized by the Census Bureau.

    The state began handing out the new map at rest stops and welcome centers over the summer.

    Gone are such places as Dewy Rose, Hemp, Experiment, Retreat, Wooster, Sharp Top and Chattoogaville, a spot in far northwestern Georgia that consists of little more than a two-truck volunteer fire department, a few farmhouses and a country store where locals fill up their gas tanks.

    "We're not under obligation to show every single community," department spokeswoman Karlene Barron said. "While we want to, there's a balancing act. And the map was getting illegible."

    That doesn't ease the snub to the people who live in those places.

    "This gets back to respect for rural areas," said Dennis Holt, who is leading a community group that wants to restore the good name of western Georgia's Hickory Level, population 1,000, which was founded in 1828 and recently put up five new welcome signs. "I'm not sure we're going to accomplish anything, but I would have felt bad about myself if I didn't say something about it."

    Respect for rural areas? Sorry, but in light of the new trend to discourage people from living in rural areas, "respect" for these areas would mean discouraging "sprawl." And what better way to discourage sprawl than to make it as difficult as possible for people to find charming rural communities?

    Of course, I'm not sure the people who make maps are smart enough to think of this, so it might be an inintended consequence. However the new maps were prepared by the state's Department of Transportation, so I'm just wondering whether some of the bureaucrats there might be inclined to sympathize with the Sierra Club's view of their proper role in combatting "sprawl":

    New highways are the number one cause of sprawl, according to American Farmland Trust. Build them, and the traffic will come. They may give short-term relief, but long term they just encourage more sprawl.
    And later, an even better idea:
    Tear Down a Freeway, Save a City
    Taking rural communites off the map might not be much, but it's a start.

    MORE: I can remember when the purpose of state Departments of Transportation was to build highways, and encourage transportation. Now, they're being targeted (and infiltrated) by activists who want to change their goal into one of discouraging transportation. I can't help but notice than in Georgia the Sierra Club is hot on the job!

    posted by Eric at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

    The end of thrift?
    the maxim should be "don't annoy the customer."

    So says Glenn Reynolds, in his impassioned plea to product designers, as he note an ominous trend of machines that talk back to you, and even scold you.

    And the scolding can't be turned off.

    Quite incidentally, in this regard I'm probably less tolerant than Glenn. If my coffee maker were to scold me about the risks of scalding, I'd kill it. (Fortunately, my coffee maker is a five dollar thrift store special. Silent and therefore "unsafe.")

    If you think appliances that scold you are bad, Glenn links to his Popular Mechanics column about an unthinkably bad idea: laywer in a box!

    The Toyota's nav system, like those on many cars, displays a message every time it starts up. It reads: "CAUTION: Drive safely and obey traffic rules. Watching this screen while vehicle is in motion can lead to a serious accident ..." And so on. Before you can use the system, you have to click "Accept" on the screen. Every single time. It's as if there's a lawyer sitting in the passenger seat, shoving a liability disclaimer in your face before you can turn on the nav system. Look, I've got nothing against lawyers. I am a lawyer, and as a law professor, I produce new ones every year. But I don't want to buy a car with one built in.
    I'm so opposed to built-in lawyers that I'm almost inclined to require all lawyers to have them as punishment. But I'm a lawyer too, so I'm in a conflict of interest. (For and against my own interest, of course.)

    This kind of insanity (which started in the 80s with seat belt alarms) a major reason why I'd never buy a new car (I never have) and why I tend to buy used things in general.

    I just bought another used computer, as I like to stay a generation behind, but not two generations behind. I'm wary of new computers which you no longer own and can't control, and new software which invades your privacy, disables your old software, and installs malware without your having a damned thing to say about it.

    By making new worse, the control freak gadget people are making old better,


    I'm actually worried that this could lead to higher prices for used merchandise.

    Or, worse, the end of "thrift stores." Pretty soon the safety Nazis will lobby for new legislation against selling anything that's "unsafe." No more Goodwill, no more ebay.

    You think this is paranoia? The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (FPSC) is already pushing anti-thrift store legislation. Can ebay and Craig's List be far behind? (And don't think the environmentalists won't join the bandwagon once they realize that older equals more "greenhouse gases.")

    I'm totally with Glenn on this one:

    Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty--even liberty from meddling machines.

    I think that few things are uglier than meddling machines, and appliances that hassle their owners. If there's one thing more degrading than being annoyed by a human, it's being annoyed by a supposedly inanimate object.

    Perhaps this is why there's a conspiracy to convince people that their kindly, trusted machines -- the ones that don't scold them -- are old and ugly.

    Like this picture I received in a junk email today:


    I actually felt sorry for the dignified old appliance in that picture. Those machines represent a time when you could decide for yourself when to turn something on and off, and you didn't have to be told whether it was on or off. They were the silent generation -- and I hate to see them go by the wayside to be crushed and shredded in the name of a better world.

    I like my old and ugly appliance, and I think it would be a crying shame to let it go away...


    Hey wait! Don't go away, Mr. Unsafe Built-to-Last American Appliance! You're better than your replacement!

    Can't I keep you?

    posted by Eric at 06:08 PM | Comments (3)

    Why am I online here?
    (And where is here when I'm at home?)

    I bought a used laptop, and while I was configuring the drivers and trying to get the ethernet card working, I suddenly discovered that I was online, without the computer being plugged into my network. I have no wireless router or network here, and everything is wired.

    What that means is that I must be on someone's unsecured network, without even knowing it.

    Is that legal?

    I have numerous neighbors, so there's no way to tell whose service I'm on, but the whole thing's a bit disconcerting.

    I mean, suppose I was downloading illegal things. I could be a pervert sitting in a parked car anywhere around here. How would anyone know who I was?

    Now that I'm feeling totally wicked, I'll just go ahead and post this.

    (From God knows where...)

    MORE: My helpful side wants to be a good neighbor and advise whoever has this service that they might do well to install a router and secure firewall or something. But how do I determine where I am?

    AND MORE: CNN Money had an article on this, but it doesn't address unintentional situations like the instant one:

    The legality of stealing your neighbor's connection is murky at best.

    "All of this stuff is so new, it's hard to say what the liability issues are," said Robert Hale, a San Francisco-based attorney who recently published an academic paper on the subject.

    Hale points out that there is a federal law on the books that ostensibly prohibits using someone's access point with out their permission. But "without permission" is vaguely defined and the law seems more geared towards computer hacking.

    It seems pretty clear that if you hack your neighbor's password then it could be reasonably argued you didn't have authorization.

    But securing many older wireless systems with a password is difficult and even newer ones can be a challenge if you're running multiple computers or multiple operating systems. And, while it may be a violation of the user agreements with Internet service providers, some community-minded users deliberately leave their connections open for others to borrow.

    "It's a gray area," said Paul Stamp, an analyst at the technology consultants Forester Research. "By not restricting access it could be argued that you're implicitly making that available."

    In any case, it's moot, as I don't need my neighbor's bandwidth, and I'm back on mine.

    posted by Eric at 03:43 PM | Comments (1)

    If violence is bad, "gun violence" is worse, right?

    What is "gun violence"?

    I wanted to ask this as very brief question, but I'm afraid "gun violence" is just another one of those ill-defined terms, which is used not to illuminate an argument, but to manipulate people by hiding the argument in the hope they'll go along. Unfortunately, the term is gaining in strength even though it is unclear what it means.

    Because I've already discussed (ad nauseam) the logical fallacy of suggesting that guns commit violence, this post is not about that. Rather, I'm noticing more and more that the term "gun violence" is being used in a major attempt to change the very language we use to define crime and criminals.

    Perhaps this is a deliberate utilization of the tactic George Lakoff calls "framing"; perhaps not. Whatever it is, it amazes me that people fall for it. Once street crime is thought of as "gun violence," that makes it a much easier task to shift the focus from the criminal to a physical object used in the commission of a crime.

    To understand the sheer scope of this logical error, imagine going back to the days of John Dillinger, Baby-Faced Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde. These people were criminals, and their pictures were in post offices everywhere. The idea was to hunt them down and bring them in. "DEAD OR ALIVE" was how the issue was "framed" in those days. I think that had anyone tried to describe the problem as "gun violence," he'd have either been laughed at, or else someone would have stated the obvious: there's a difference between good gun violence and bad gun violence!

    It might seem obvious to me and many of my readers that there is, but I think this argument falls on deaf ears in the case of people who think that all violence is wrong. Because, if all violence is wrong, then all gun violence is even more wrong!


    But my saying "nonsense" constitutes little more than self-reassurance. People who agree with me already agree, and people who disagree -- well, calling it a disagreement is itself misleading, for they might as well be living an endless replay of John Lennon's "Imagine." The world is not seen as it is, but as it should be. Criminals are not seen as criminals, but as victims. Often, criminals shooting each other in gun battles are seen as victims of "gun violence." And "gun violence is then defined as a "civil rights issue."

    The latter links to a pdf file from one of the leaders in this language battle, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

    I thought it might be worth examining how they define "gun violence."

    From the top of the above "FACT SHEET":

    Deaths from Gun Violence

    Annually, about 30,000 people die of firearm injuries. In 2000, guns claimed 28,663 lives in the United States, the majority from suicides. Firearm deaths, 2000,by cause:



    Unintentional Shootings*--1,276

    *includes causes:accidental,undetermined and legal intervention

    So, CSGV apparently defines "gun violence" as including all shootings. While they seem to place accidental and police shootings in a different category from the rest, I see no exception for self defense, which legally constitutes "justifiable homicide," and is included in the "Homicide" group.

    What this means is that when they say "gun violence" they mean all gun violence, including defense against crime by armed citizens.

    Considering the broad definition of the term, I can only wonder whether its use as a synonym for crime evinces a mindset that armed homeowners who defend themselves are morally indistinguishable from armed criminals.

    It's tough debating people who think that way.

    MORE: Diane Edbril, Executive Director of CeasefirePA, seems to think that "gun violence" is a religious issue:

    ....here in Pennsylvania, the abstract notion of the right to bear arms transcends the concrete and horrific damage that we tolerate by allowing guns to get into the wrong hands. I know this because every day in my job, I read a dozen or more news articles from across the state, recounting the latest killing or assault.

    I know this because I speak to our state lawmakers about sensible policies to reduce gun death and injury, and rather than try to learn what their constituents want, they ask me what the gun lobby says.

    I know this because too many of our political leaders don't view gun violence as a humanitarian crisis or public-health epidemic, but rather, as the price we have to pay for living in a democracy that values individual freedoms over the well-being of the broader society.

    But they are wrong -- and it is up to the Jewish community to take a leading role in showing these policymakers the error of their ways.

    The Torah commands us to seek peace in our world, not just practice it on an individual level. We are exhorted to right injustices, to care for orphans, to be fair in our dealings.

    Translating these biblical passages into a modern vernacular, we must do all we can to reduce the likelihood that innocent parties will fall prey to violence -- and that children will be killed, maimed, or left without parents and guardians. We must do all that we can to stop the trade in illegal handguns that thrives here in the Keystone state, to provide police with the tools they need to enforce the laws, and to provide educational and job opportunities in the communities beset by violence and guns.

    I'm not an expert on the Torah, but I have a funny feeling that if we translated all the "biblical passages into a modern vernacular," there'd be some recognition of the right to armed self defense.

    Can't the religious issue be argued either way? I mean, what about armed Israeli civilians like this woman in a market:

    ...the Israelis have learned to shoot first and discuss the matter later when the explosives or the guns come out in the hands of the other side. Not long ago, a woman in a market in Israel saw a man attempting to activate an explosive device strapped to his body. She drew a concealed pistol and shot him dead before he could trigger the suicide bomb, and in so doing she saved countless innocent people from being killed or mutilated. American newspapers referred to her as a "security" person, but the word I get is that she was simply an ordinary lady...with a gun, and the will to use it, and the foresight to have learned to use it properly and effectively.

    Many years before, a clutch of terrorists opened fire in a public place in Israel. Guns bloomed everywhere from the concealing garments of honest Israeli citizens. In moments, the terrorists were on the ground bleeding from their gunshot wounds, all dead but one. The wounded survivor said indignantly afterward that no one had told them that their victims might be armed and capable of shooting back.

    Did the ordinary lady with a gun engage in gun violence? Doesn't that example demonstrate that there is a difference between good gun violence and bad gun violence?

    Why is it that no one is suggesting disarming Israeli civilians because terrorists have guns?

    AND MORE: It's probably just a coincidence, but according to David Kopel, the global gun prohibition lobby wants to ban arms sales to Israel.

    posted by Eric at 07:46 AM | Comments (1)

    Wanting to forget

    December 7 ought to be a day that no American should ever forget. Pajamas Media has a great roundup, beginning with what I consider the quote of the day (from SWAC Girl):

    "How on God's green earth do we expect people to remember Pearl Harbor, an event that happened 65 years ago... when many have already forgotten the terror from 9/11 that occurred just a short five years ago?"
    Excellent question, and I think national amnesia begins with forgetting unpleasant events that require us to take action. Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attacks both fall into this category.

    I think one of the reasons why some people would especially like to forget Pearl Harbor is that it's a reminder of a time when this country rose to face the occasion. People today would like to wish the present war out of existence, so Pearl Harbor makes them squeamish.

    As Victor Davis Hanson says, 9/11 was our Pearl Harbor:

    Sixty years after Pearl Harbor came another surprise attack on U.S. soil, one that was, in some ways, even worse than the "Day of Infamy."

    Nearly 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11 attacks -- the vast majority of them civilians. Al-Qaida's target was not an American military base far distant from the mainland. Rather, they suicide-bombed the United States' financial and military centers.

    It's been five years since Sept. 11. After such a terrible provocation, why can't we bring the ongoing "global war on terror" -- whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere -- to a close as our forefathers fighting World War II could?

    He explains why it's tougher in many ways. Read it all; there's an especially good discussion of the paradoxes.

    I don't think there's much question that 9/11 is our Pearl Harbor, and it doesn't surprise me that the people who'd rather forget about 9/11 would just as soon forget about Pearl Harbor.

    I was glad to see that those who would forget does not include the Philadelphia Inquirer, which remembered Pearl Harbor today with interviews of local veterans of the attack.

    Noting that the Arizona still bleeds, Bob Owens looks at some hard truths:

    65 years later, BB-39 U.S.S. Arizona still bleeds, but we finished the job. The United States destroyed the enemy and the ideology that sent her to the bottom. We fought a far more capable enemy that was armed with far greater resources and weaponry, and we sustained far more casualties in individual battles than we might loose in ten years in Iraq... Yet we prevailed.

    If we refuse to finish the job of destroying Islamist terrorism where it lives in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Gaza, Sudan, and elsewhere, it will not slink away in the night. Terror will smolder like a peat fire in corners of the world both far and near, until once again one day, we look up to see burning building and burning people falling from the sky.

    Then it will be our children--yours, mine and Jules'--sent off to fight what will then be a more widespread and entrenched enemy. This future war will requiring more men, more resources, and more terrible weaponry, and yet, this future war never needs to be... if we have the fortitude to finish this war that they started, now, in our time.

    It's a responsibility that begins with remembering.

    The truth is, it's just as painful for me to remember Pearl Harbor, because I sometimes worry that this country lacks the spirit it took to have 14 million men under arms -- 400,000 of whom never came back.

    It ought to be sobering -- no matter what "side" you're on.

    posted by Eric at 04:13 PM | Comments (2)

    Shut it down, turn it off, and give the world a break!

    Via Tim Blair, here's something to ponder -- a no environmental footprint weekend:

    On Friday December 8 at 8pm, turn off your house electricity. Switch off your gas hot water heater. Put your car keys away. Switch off your mobile and any other battery-powered devices, and unplug your landline phones. Don't step foot into any powered site, shop, house or building. You can, however, use public transport, buy ice and use beeswax or soy candles, which aren't made from petroleum.
    According to the promoters of the idea, we're all guilty of Global Warming.
    Every time we watch TV, cook dinner, take a hot shower, use the computer, turn on the lights, air conditioner or heater, we're emitting greenhouse gases. Every time we drive our cars, charge our mobile phones, mow the lawns, we're contributing to global warming and speeding up climate change. We all kind of know this don't we?
    What? I can't use my computer?

    I guess I am heating up the planet one post at a time.


    But doesn't this mean the websites that support the shutdown going to be shut down too?

    Maybe some good will come of this.

    posted by Eric at 02:37 PM | Comments (7)

    Spraying and praying (for "help")

    There's nothing like waking up and having the subject of a blog post staring you in the face.

    Right now I'm listening to helicopters for the second morning in a row. Twenty minutes ago, I went into my yard, pointed the camera skyward, and took this picture:


    There's a huge manhunt here (and even some national attention) because a "prowler" shot at the cops recently, and he's believed to be hiding somewhere. Neighbors are terrified as they're not used to stuff like this, so the media have obliged by blaming guns for crime:

    ...the growing problem of gun violence has everyone from legislators to community activists wringing their hands, looking for answers.

    "This shows that legislators in Harrisburg are missing the point," said Bryan Miller, executive director of CeaseFire New Jersey. "Gun violence can affect anyone, anywhere. There are just too many guns out there."

    Sometimes pure landscape makes a huge difference in the response. Radnor's aggressive reaction reflects how difficult it is for suburban police to collar fleeing thugs who find escape eased by trees and bushes, maze-like streets and other hideaways suburban design offers, one expert said.

    "Bad guys don't hide in the bushes in Frankford," said Ralph Taylor, a criminal-justice professor at Temple University. "Simply because of the way land use is set up in a suburban place like Villanova or Radnor, it's real easy to disappear."

    In Radnor, the drama began when a resident called 911 just before 3:15 a.m. to report a prowler in his backyard, police said. Responding officers tried to question the man near Browning Lane and Meadowood Road, but instead of answers, they got bullets when the prowler drew a handgun and began blasting.

    The gunman fled on foot, and no one was injured. But police cordoned off the neighborhood to hunt for the thug.

    The Federal Aviation Administration restricted airspace in the area to accommodate state police helicopters hunting the shooter from overhead.

    Area schools mobilized.

    Radnor Township School District, Villanova University, and Agnes Irwin School delayed classes. Villanova and the Radnor district locked down their facilities, barring anyone from entering or leaving. At Villanova, that affected 1,300 students - mostly freshmen - who live in four dorms on the south campus, spokeswoman Barbara Clement said.

    Lockdown? Nothing new about that idea around here....

    Amusingly, leading local Philadelphia anti-gun wag (and mayoral candidate) Dwight Evans thinks the presence of an armed criminal in a low-crime suburb is an argument for disarming the neighborhood! Again, the Daily News:

    State Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, said both shootings illustrate a need for tighter gun control.

    "I've always said there are too many illegal handguns out there on the street," he said. "Unfortunately, the streets are not safe even for our police officers."

    Radnor police are seeking help in collaring the shooter. He is described as a dark-skinned man, about 5 feet 11, with a stocky build. He wore a blue sweat shirt and tan knit cap with writing or an insignia on the front, and carried a light-colored knapsack or satchel.

    I'll keep my eyes open, but the description is not much to go on. (But Coco and I are into being prepared....)

    The dynamics are nothing new. Whether by design or otherwise, Philadelphia youth gang members come into the neighborhood regularly, ostensibly to use the local gym near the train station. I've seen more and more thuggish behavior at the station and in the area near the gym, and recently, for the first time, I've seen graffiti tagging at the station.

    Hoping it was still there, I went to take a picture, but it's been freshly painted over:


    I don't know whether the paint-over is a response to crime, but what was there was typical gang tagging, not urban art. (Yes, I know the difference.)

    Not that the problem is graffiti, any more than it's "the guns" or youth basketball. (Although the nearby Saudi madrassa is another issue....)

    The problem is that some people are criminals. This particular criminal has only attracted so much attention because he shot at the cops in a nice neighborhood.

    I can remember when the focus was on crime, and on criminals. Now, violent crime has been rebadged rhetorically, with a meme called "gun violence." Fearful people are being misled and manipulated into thinking that their response to crime should be to give up their first -- and primary -- line of defense against it. I touched on this the other day, and I think it's worth repeating the words of John Longenecker:

    'Governance' over guns and people who rise to meet their responsibility is a ruse to disarm individuals to pave the way to grow crime to the advantage of officials. In a very obvious way, the anti-gun crowd uses the crowd who refuse this burden to increase numbers of anti-gun voters. Minions. Minions by the millions.

    As I say often - very often - personal disarmament is a trap for the American household and a payday for officials.

    And my comment:
    While it's tough for me to believe that people would be gullible enough to imagine the government is going to protect their homes and families (especially during emergencies), denial is a very powerful phenomenon.
    It astounds me that anyone would think that the response to crime should be to take away a primary defense against it, but the "gun violence" meme, by shifting the focus from crime to a mere instrumentality allows this trickery to go largely unchallenged. I say "largely unchallenged" because I realize that even though bloggers like me might rant about it all the time, rants like this one mean little or nothing to the people who live -- and vote -- in fear.

    And fear is what it's all about. The following is a typical example of the fear-based reporting I try to address in this blog:


    Unlike the Philadelphia Daily News report, the above doesn't even have a description of the gunman. But they have an ominous picture of a gun!

    The idea is to take the natural fear people have of the gunman, and transform that into fear of guns. The logic, of course, is give up your guns and you'll be safer.

    Saying guns are the culprit makes about as much sense as saying it's graffiti. Or even athletics. Criminals can be expected to engage in activities of interest to them, which may include owning guns, graffiti tagging, or even basketball or football. Some of these activities are engaged in by the law abiding, but the distinction between guns and things like athletics or spray paint is that guns provide protection against crime. It's bad enough that anyone would think they cause crime. But to take them away from the law abiding in the name of "stopping crime," why, that's just too much. Might as well stop the sale of all paint to prevent "paint crime."

    That way, law abiding paint owners would never be able to paint it over, and they'd have to call the coverup authorities for "help."

    UPDATE: Today's Inquirer has more, including an interesting detail about the rather lopsided relationship in numbers of shots fired:

    After the first shots were fired, officers began closing in again on the gunman, Rutty said. Then Lower Merion police coming up Meadowood near South Ithan spotted him again.

    "He opened fire on Lower Merion and Radnor officers," Rutty said. "Lower Merion returned fire."

    Lt. Frank Higgins, Lower Merion Investigations Unit commander, said: "My understanding is the bad guy fired five at them, and they fired two at him."

    As officers took cover, Rutty said, the shooter fled again.

    He fired five, and they fired only two?

    Doesn't sound like police overkill to me, although I think a little overkill then might have spared two days worth of overkill -- and overtime.

    MORE: As a commenter seems to be misunderstanding me, I should make it clear that I do not approve of graffiti, nor do I "equate graffiti-tagging to gun ownership." (I meant to compare the sale of paint with the sale of guns by way of argument ad absurdum. If it failed, my apologies.)

    The problem is criminals, and the reason I mentioned the graffiti is that it provided evidence of a criminal presence before the shooting occurred. Painting it over conceals a very unpleasant issue -- what are these young thugs doing there in the first place?

    UPDATE: Not all neighbors share my opinion that the criminal is the problem:

    Robin Valicenti, a director of CeaseFire PA, the Commonwealth's leading organization working to prevent gun violence, who coincidentally lives in the neighborhood, said, "This morning all our lives were turned upside down, even if just for a few hours. Children were scared, and felt unsafe all day long. We are all very lucky that no children in their beds were touched by the gunfire. I can only imagine how terrible it is in communities where shootings are commonplace, and where innocent lives are indeed lost in the crossfire. We must learn from this event, and work together with all people to address the rising tide of gun violence in our state and nation."
    If there is anything "we" should learn, it is that the police are not there to protect us. The duty of self defense is our own. And without guns, we're sitting ducks.

    As to the claim that "all our lives were turned upside down," I live here too, and my life was not turned upside down. Had the gunman come into my yard and started shooting, I'd have considered it my individual and civic responsibility to defend myself. I wish more people felt that way.

    MORE: My thanks to Pajamas Media for linking this post!

    posted by Eric at 08:40 AM | Comments (4)

    Inconvenient rays

    Afternoon sunlight in late Fall can do some very strange things. I was out until the sun had almost set, and when I returned and got out of my car, I saw that one of my favorite evergreen trees had suddenly turned half yellow!


    I was shocked for a moment, and thinking it must be a dreadful new "sudden tree death syndrome" (doubtless caused by Global Warming©), I ran inside and grabbed my camera. As you can see, Coco had zero interest in documenting this heretofore unknown tree disease.

    Yeah, I finally figured out that it was the sun. The sunlight had played a trick on me by leaking its long rays through the upper part of the building across the street as it set. This caused a few shapes of fading sunlight to appear in a few places, creating the illusion that the tree had suddenly yellowed.

    Come to think of it, I've never seen the sun behave that way before.

    It must be Global Warming. The layer of deathly greenhouse gases is making the sun act crazy as a warning sign to us all!

    Speaking of all things global, here's what Al Gore said earlier:

    Calling the Iraq war "the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States" and "worse than a civil war," former Vice President Gore urged President Bush to find a way to get U.S. troops out of Iraq "as quickly as possible without making the situation worse" while appearing this morning on NBC's "Today."
    Notice he said "worse than a civil war." At least he didn't say "worse than Global Warming." And it's a relief to know that Al Gore doesn't think Global Warming was a strategic mistake.

    I'm glad we have a temporary reprieve.

    posted by Eric at 06:34 PM | Comments (3)

    "I know it when I see it!"

    As I have said before, I think distracted or incompetent driving ought to be illegal. (While it arguably is, few police officers would ticket a driver for "incompetence behind the wheel.") Driving while talking on cell phones in such a way as to not pay attention to driving is one of my pet peeves, yet I don't think talking on cell phones should be illegal unless the driver is obviously impaired. Straying into other lanes or ignoring a green light while on the phone should be considered moving violations.

    Well, here's another pet peeve: failure to stay in a lane because of impaired spatial awareness. This is becoming so common that I'm forced to engage in defensive driving on a regular basis, and while the culprit might appear to be large SUVs, I am not about to get on the "ban SUVs" bandwagon, because I don't think the problem is with the SUVs, but with the fact that the drivers of so many of them do not know how to drive them.

    If I were a sexist bastard, I'd single out women, because it often seems they are the most frequent offenders. But that wouldn't be fair, because lots of men can't drive SUVs either; the reason so many women drive them is because they tend to drive the kids. And, of course, once you have more than two kids, the damned child seat rules make it impossible to use a regular car. But that does not excuse bad driving. What I suspect is happening is that women learn how to drive a Toyota Tercel or some small equivalent that sexist men would call a "chick car," and everything is fine until the multiple kids/child seat factor kicks in, which plops these former Tercel drivers behind the wheels of Chevy Suburbans or Ford Expeditions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess what will happen. Either sex would have problems adjusting.

    I'd like to think that there should be a common sense rule along the lines of "IF YOU CAN'T DRIVE IT, DON'T BUY IT!" but as to advocating special licenses, no way. How can common sense be legislated?

    Yet the kneejerk reaction of most people to the failure of common sense by others is "THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW!" (A lot of people have proposed special SUV licenses.)

    I'm wondering how this breaks down politically. It would seem that the greenie weenie types would automatically call for special SUV licensing, as their real goal is to ban the things completely. In general, I'd expect more liberals to favor this than conservatives. Libertarians in general dislike regulation and licensing, and conservatives tend to like SUVs for a lot of reasons (not the least of which is in reaction to liberals targeting them). But I don't see why anyone would disagree with the idea that knowing how to drive something before you drive it is a matter of common sense.

    So is wearing a seatbelt. It seems to me that ticketing people for bad driving would therefore be at least as important as ticketing people for not wearing a seatbelt, but I don't think cops do it. More typically, they spend their time catching speeders, most of whom are quite competent and not in anyone's way. Going 75 on a highway designed for that speed is not dangerous, and they're generally targeted because it's an easy way to raise revenue. I suspect that handing out tickets for incompetent driving would prove an administrative nightmare. Again, because common sense can't be defined.

    There are a lot of things people do which violate common sense. Cigarette smoking, eating the wrong foods, excessive alcohol consumption, wasteful spending, unsafe sex (or sex disloyal to your partner), showering without a bath mat, or even living in the wrong area when you could afford to move -- all these things indicate a lack of common sense. But most people would not regulate these things, not only because they're matters of common sense, but because they generally don't reach out and touch someone else. Bad driving, though, is much more likely to get someone else killed than anyone's sexual or dietary habits (of for that matter, drug habits, unless they get behind the wheel of a car).

    Numerous times, I have barely avoided accidents with SUVs driven by incompetents. One time when I was running, an SUV struck me and its side mirror broke when it hit my arm. Because of a lack of spatial awareness, the drivers simply don't realize they have room. On another occasion, a driver was holding up a long line of commuter traffic simply because she would not drive between two huge trucks that were double-parked on opposite sides of the street while unloading construction materials. Two construction workers, one on each side, assured her that she had room and they were offering to guide her through. I could see that she did have at least six inches on each side, and that had she driven through slowly, there'd have been no problem. But she froze dead. Refused to budge. People behind her honked, and I could see that, far from "convincing" her, the honking only made the paralysis set in. She never did go forward, but these trucks were in no position to leave, as forklifts were operating, and there was stuff still in the trucks and all over the sidewalks. So, it took a full ten minutes for the workers to go all the way back and get each outraged driver one by one to back up and turn around, and find another street. Finally, the SUV driver was able to back up, turn around, and leave. After she did, "normal" cars like Toyotas and BMWs continued to zip through, while SUVs had to crawl through slowly. That woman should have been given a ticket, but suppose a cop had been on the scene and done so. I suspect a judge would have thrown it out once he heard her tearful story about how frightened she'd been.

    In fairness to her, she was frightened. But when I'm trying to drive under a narrow railroad underpass built and designed in the era of Model A Fords and I see a frightened driver like that coming through with an SUV, then I'm the one who should be frightened if I have any common sense.

    Such a thing ought to be a two way street.

    UPDATE: No sooner did I post this than I saw a story linked by Drudge about an inattentive driver who nearly caused massive mayhem because he was playing with his, his, his Blackberry!

    A Mercer Island man fiddling with his BlackBerry was cruising down Interstate 5's express lanes Tuesday morning in his minivan, oblivious that traffic ahead had come to a dead stop.

    What happened next "could have been horribly tragic," said Washington State Patrol spokesman Jeff Merrill.

    The 53-year-old man's minivan smashed into a car, setting off a chain reaction that included three other cars and a Community Transit bus, which was carrying 28 passengers.

    According to the police, "inattention" is a major cause of accidents, and playing with electronic gadgets ranks high on the inattention list:
    Operating a handheld communications device -- such as a cellphone or BlackBerry -- is No. 5 on the new list.

    The top 4 are: distractions outside the vehicle; unknown driver distraction; miscellaneous distractions inside the vehicle; and interacting with "passengers, animals or objects in the vehicle."

    I'd like to interject here that a good friend who was a Berkeley police officer told me that sexual distractions are a major cause of accidents, and I don't mean having sex, but thinking about sex. He said when a driver would blush and look embarrassed when asked what caused him not to pay attention to the road, he often knew what it was -- and it was usually the sight of a pedestrian the driver found attractive.

    So why is sex not listed? Clearly, it's dangerous to have sexual thoughts while driving.

    It's not as if people have a problem confessing to other distractions:

    Operating a hands-free telecommunications device is No. 10, and operating devices such a laptop is No. 11.

    Last on the list, at No. 12, is "driver grooming."

    And lawmakers want laws, of course:
    The hazards of driving while using a cellphone have not escaped the attention of lawmakers.

    A report published in the summer 2006 issue of the journal Human Factors concluded, " ... the impairments associated with using a cellphone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk."

    In the last two years, the Legislature has considered a bill banning drivers from talking on handheld cellphones.

    Washington, D.C., and states including Connecticut, New Jersey and New York already have such laws.

    Merrill said troopers commonly observe drivers obviously distracted by their cellphones.

    Yeah, so do I. My question is, if they're obviously distracted, why the hell don't the officers do their obvious job, and cite them for being obviously distracted? Instead, Patrol spokesman Merrill complains -- as if there's nothing they can do:
    "You see them carrying on a very heated discussion on the telephone. You know by looking at them, and at their body language, and at their gesturing, that to a huge extent their attention is focused on the conversation they're having, rather than driving a car," Merrill said. "This is a very dangerous pastime."

    For Merrill, there isn't much difference between driver impairment from using a cellphone or a BlackBerry.

    "What's the difference, whether you're looking down at a cellphone number or a display on a BlackBerry?" he said.

    Although the accident Tuesday morning caused no serious injuries, it disrupted southbound express-lane traffic heading into downtown Seattle for at least an hour.

    The driver, who told troopers he'd been using his BlackBerry, was cited for following too closely, a $153 fine.

    So why wasn't he also cited for impaired driving?

    posted by Eric at 08:45 AM | Comments (4)

    Denial is a remote river

    John Longenecker sees gun control as a fraudulent transfer of sovereignty and personal authority -- from the people to those who would rule them:

    Attacks on guns are attacks on personal sovereignty to undermine the power of the People to remain in control over the country: gun control is an attack to wrest that control from the people in an immense transfer of authority, convincing people or coercing people out of it. Remove the lawful force of the people, and the rest can simply be taken unopposed.
    Longenecker sees the reluctance of some Americans to defend themselves as being deliberately exploited:
    Equally realistic is the fact that some Americans believe preparedness in self-defense to be an unwanted burden. Their over-reaction of being expected to grow up and protect loved ones manifests itself as name-calling gun owners as Cowboys and Vigilantes. It's merely a denial or a refusal to take responsibility for something that unavoidably belongs only to them.

    For an example of this, please visit the YouTube Video Confession Of A Rat: An anti-gun newspaperman admits to his wife (and to himself) that he can't be counted on to protect her life.

    'Governance' over guns and people who rise to meet their responsibility is a ruse to disarm individuals to pave the way to grow crime to the advantage of officials. In a very obvious way, the anti-gun crowd uses the crowd who refuse this burden to increase numbers of anti-gun voters. Minions. Minions by the millions.

    As I say often - very often - personal disarmament is a trap for the American household and a payday for officials.

    While it's tough for me to believe that people would be gullible enough to imagine the government is going to protect their homes and families (especially during emergencies), denial is a very powerful phenomenon.

    It's as easy as changing the channel on the TV set.

    But just try pointing your remote at the guy who just broke into your house!

    UPDATE: My thanks to M. Simon at Power and Control for the link and the comment.

    posted by Eric at 12:44 PM | Comments (1)

    Sincerely insincere

    Is it just me, or are other bloggers noticing that comment spammers are doing an ever-better job of impersonating real human beings?

    Take this one:

    I can't be bothered with anything recently. It's not important. More or less nothing noteworthy going on right now, but I don't care. I've pretty much been doing nothing. Shrug.
    I had to read the silly comment, which was posted with a realistic sounding name, and it wasn't until I went to the URL that I saw it wasn't a real blog, but an advertisement for never-mind-what. Disagreements (and even insults) I can handle -- even when the identity of the commenter is disguised -- because at least they're real comments.

    But fake thoughts?

    They'll never invent software intuitive enough to stop such scummy behavior.

    That's why I'm standing behind my old fashioned approach to spammers.

    posted by Eric at 10:30 AM | Comments (3)

    Diamonds aren't forever?

    Anyone seen "Blood Diamond"?

    I haven't, but something about the timing of the film (Christmas, Kanye West) makes me suspect it's a thinly disguised attack on the diamond industry. Not that I'm an advocate for the DeBeers family any more than I'm an advocate for WAL-MART, but there's always something about piecemeal activist attacks on certain targets or industries that tends to fool people into giving into "just this" demand, which leads activists to make another demand. (As if removing the Robert E. Lee street signs will not lead to bolder demands -- like taking the "slaveowner" off our currency.) The apparent focus on "single issues" is misleading, but that's the way activism works. (And why activists win.)

    It didn't take me long to discover that coalitions of leftists are calling for a boycott of all diamonds (with some on the right replying). The attempt to make diamonds "unfashionable" strikes me as manipulative, and reminds me of the animal rights activists campaign against mink coats. Considering that Israel is the leading producer of cut diamonds, I suspect a built in appeal to smug leftist cheapskates who harbor a carefully dissembled dislike of Jews.

    Or for that matter, a not so carefully dissembled dislike:

    Many people are angry about Israel's crimes but feel helpless and don't know what to do. One important thing to do is to never buy a diamond. Israel is the world's leading exporter of cut, polished diamonds. They import the rough diamonds from countries like South Africa, Sierra Leone, Angola, and cut them by machine in Tel Aviv or other parts of Israel. These polished diamonds are then sold to the rest of the world, mainly to the U.S., and they make up a huge portion of Israel's economy from exports, estimated by some to make up one third of their total exports.

    From a local (Philadelphia) demonstration called "Day of Action Against Diamond Industry," here's a picture of someone who's so, so right on!


    What a pity that she's hiding her hand behind the sign, because I can't see whether there's a diamond on her finger.

    But the ironies abound. Not all black Africans are happy as you might think. I enjoyed Nelson Mandela's take:

    [Mandela] sent a letter to Alan F. Horn, the president of Warner Brothers, and the director Edward Zwick, saying it would be "deeply regrettable" if "Blood Diamond" led to the "destabilization of African diamond producing countries."
    I think I'll defend capitalism by boycotting the film.

    "Casino Royale" might be a better choice.

    posted by Eric at 09:52 AM | Comments (6)

    Making tomorrow here and now

    Connie du Toit is one of the few bloggers I know of who can transform being sick from the usual whining into an unusual insight. Traveling in India, she suddenly came down with a severe case of bronchitis with high fever and migraines -- something which, while terribly inconvenient in the states, "became urgent and something to panic about here." Yes, having high fevers in a place like India is definitely urgent and something to panic about. As Connie points out, it highlights an important distinction about the way we in the First World and those in the Third World look at life. The latter view is characterized by "the acceptance that your life could end tomorrow, by any number of simple daily events, so you resign yourself to a kind of happy complacency":

    It demands of you a constant state of living in the here and now. You better focus on the here and now because you might be not here and there might not be a now tomorrow.

    So what does that do to a person? Well, in one sense I think it gives people a kind of peace--a kind of connection with the essence of life (and death) that we, in the West, don't have to address on a day-to-day basis. We expect miracle cures and we get them.

    But on the flip side of that, it allows us to make long term plans.

    I was brought up assuming that modern medical science could and would eventually cure anything. It was just a given -- something I took totally for granted, especially for young people. Sure, there was always the remote possibility that someone might get cancer, but that was pretty rare, and more and more treatable. Imagine my shock and surprise when suddenly my friends started dying like flies. From a loathsome tropical disease no one had heard of, which was eventually to be given a name which even now makes many people squeamish.


    Fortunately for most Americans, this was not a disease of most normal people. Those who had to deal with it, though, found themselves with a new neighbor. No stranger to the Third World or to our medieval ancestors, this new neighbor was someone whose visits I was raised to think could always be postponed until some mythical old age moment, when we were "ready." The new neighbor was an old neighbor -- DEATH -- and while we'll all meet him eventually, when you're 20-something or 30-something, having Death as a constant presence, sitting there, always within arm's reach just over your shoulder, settling into your house, your bedroom, your very life -- why, that's a rather rude awakening by modern standards.

    It does not do wonders for that all-American sense of planning for tomorrow. However, it activates the importance of what Connie calls "the focus on the here and now." That "make each day count" business. People planning for tomorrow are annoyed by the make-each-day-count types, though, and I often felt as if I was suddenly living in two cultures. Death and Life.

    The irony is that I got to live. Sure, I visited dying friends in the hospital and saw "Got Aids Yet?" written on the bathroom walls, but I saw it as more of a taunt than a prophecy.

    Silly me. I just wanted to die. Others weren't so lucky as to have that choice.

    posted by Eric at 07:58 AM | Comments (0)

    How about a little moral equivalancy?

    Speaking of hackery, I have a question: when elderly murderous tyrants are dying, what should journalists say about them? Are there rules? Is it, like "have respect for the anticipatorily deceased?"

    The reason I'm asking is because two elderly murderous tyrants are getting close to the being returned to their maker (if you believe they had one and he'll take them), and the media doesn't refer to them in quite the same way.

    Without getting into which tyrant was better, here's one:

    Castro, who has ruled Cuba since 1959, was too sick to attend his belated 80th-birthday celebrations last week, and he is widely believed to be terminally ill. Citing "an acute intestinal crisis, with sustained bleeding," he temporarily transferred his powers as president and Communist Party first secretary to his younger brother Raul, the defense minister, on July 31. He has since been seen by the public only in videos and photos.

    While last week's festivities and marches went on without him, Castro's Cuba also proceeded with life as usual, full of contradictions, aspirations and the countless hardships of el bloqueo ("the blockade"), the U.S. economic embargo against the island.

    And here's the other:
    SANTIAGO, Chile - Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose 17-year dictatorship carried out thousands of political killings and widespread torture, was fighting for his life last night in a Chilean hospital after suffering a heart attack early yesterday. But doctors said his condition was improving after an emergency procedure to restore blood flow to his heart.
    Same day, same paper.

    But if you read them both (and didn't know much history), you might think that General Pinochet was the only dictator who killed thousands. And that the only torture in Cuba is carried out by the United States at Guantanamo.

    While Pinochet killed 3,000, Castro has him beaten by far. From the Miami Herald:

    ...[T]he Cuba Archive puts a human face on the people who have suffered at the hands of the revolution. The individual stories show the lie of Fidel Castro's benevolent society and counter the revolution's propaganda with facts.

    The archive now lists more than 40,000 people who died or disappeared for political or military reasons. Most victims are documented by name and at least two sources. Some may quibble with the categories included. About 3,000 are people killed during the Batista period before Castro took power in 1959. More than 9,000 are Angolan guerrillas killed by Cuban forces in Angola.

    Nonetheless, the data may be sorted in whatever manner makes best sense to those interested. In a post-Castro Cuba, new sources should provide opportunities to add to, correct and confirm what is in the archive.

    According to the Rettig Human Rights Commission Report Pinochet's tally is 3,000 -- close to the number of people Castro killed before he even took power.

    Castro killed ten times more people than Pinochet, yet the stories make it appear that Pinochet was ten times worse.

    If only the newspapers could engage in a little moral equivalency!

    What do I have to do? Design another T-shirt?

    posted by Eric at 07:54 PM | Comments (1)

    Big Hack attack

    Yes, I'm afraid that's what this is. And at the outset, let me admit that I am a hack. Because, what I am about to do is offer my factual opinion, even though I do not have the facts. On this issue, no one really does. So it's hack against hack. And may the best hack win. (In light of Megan McArdle's Insta-linked post, I should add that I do think it's fair to allow that someone who asserts facts he does not have and are not known is a hack. And while I try to distinguish between facts and opinion, when the facts aren't there, even an opinion about the facts comes close to being some form of hackery -- maybe hackery of, say, the third degree....)

    I'm often intrigued by hopeless debates over which even the bare facts can't be settled, and one of the most intriguing of these debates involves the history of a building. You might think that the history of a building ought to be verifiable, but such thinking is as is naive as it is logical.

    The worst hacks are the ones who get in the way of attempts to establish historical facts.

    And that certainly seems to be what has happened in the case of the al Aksa Mosque. When I posted about it before, it was in the context of hopeless debates over history, and I concluded that the mosque was a conversion of an earlier Byzantine Christian church - the Church of St. Mary, which had originally been a conversion of Hadrian's Temple of Jupiter (itself built over the Jewish Temple):

    My personal opinion (based on hours and hours of studying this stuff) is that the al Aksa Mosque was most likely an early Islamic conversion of the Byzantine Church of St. Mary, itself a conversion of Hadrian's Temple of Jupiter -- which of course the Romans built on the site of the original temple, to deny Jews access to a holy site which had originally been theirs. Such a place is rich in history and archaeology -- Jewish, Pagan, Christian, Muslim.
    For whatever reason, the Christian church seems to be getting edited out of existence, leaving a strange gap of several hundred years in which supposedly nothing was there.

    Here's Wikipedia:

    Umar (c. 581-644), the Muslim caliph who conquered Jerusalem in 637, wanted a place of prayer that does not infringe on nearby Christian and Jewish worship places. That place, to the south of the rock, was developed into a mosque. Sometime between 687-691, Caliph Abd al-Malik built a shrine over the sacred rock, and it was named Qubbat As-Sakhrah, which means "The Dome of the Rock." Some years later, in 709-715, Umayyad caliph al-Walid, son of Abd al-Malik, built, renovated, and expanded the mosque south of the Dome, and at this time called the mosque al-masjid al-aqsa, which means "the farthest mosque".
    A "place" to be "developed"? Why no mention of the Christian Church or its pagan and Jewish predecessors? Why are centuries of history being left out?

    Here's one Christian view of the history of the site:

    Justinian I (527-565) also added to the beauty of the city by many splendid buildings. Of these the most famous was a great basilica dedicated to the Blessed Virgin with a house for pilgrims attached. It stood in the middle of the city, but has now completely disappeared. He also built another great church of the Blessed Virgin at the southern end of the old Temple area (now the Al-aqsa Mosque). The famous mosaic map of Jerusalem discovered at Madaba (Guthe and Palmer, "Die Mosaikkarte von Madeba", 1906) gives an idea of the state of the city in Justinian's time. During this period the See of Jerusalem, like those of Alexandria and Antioch, was troubled continually by the Monophysite schism. Under Juvenal the great crowd of monks who had settled in Palestine broke out into a regular revolution against the government and against the patriarch, whose change of front at Chalcedon they bitterly resented. They set up one of their own number, Theodosius as anti-patriarch. For a short time (in 452) Juvenal had to give way to this person. So also in the other sees of the patriarchate orthodox bishops were expelled and Monophysites (such as Peter the Iberian at Majuma-Gaza) were set up in their place. The Empress Eudocia was at first an avowed Monophysite and helped that party nearly all the time she was in the city. Juvenal fled to Constantinople and implored the help of the emperor (Marcian, 450-457). He returned with a body of soldiers who reinstated him, killed a great number of the monks, and finally took Theodosius, who had fled, prisoner. Theodosius was then kept in prison at Constantinople almost till his death. The disturbance was not finally put down till 453. Eventually the orthodox Abbot Euthymius converted Eudocia, who died in the communion of the Church (c. 460).


    The whole of the Temple area became to Moslems the "illustrious Sanctuary" (Haram-ash-sherif) and was gradually covered with colonnades, minbars (pulpits), and smaller domes. At the south end Justinian's basilica became the "most remote Mosque" (Al-Masjid-al-aqsa, Sura XVII, 1).

    This view is echoed by WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah who contends that the Church of Saint Mary was simply remodeled:

    Mohammed died in 632 AD. At the time, Jerusalem was a Christian city. It was captured by Khalif Omar six years after Mohammed's death. Prior to the capture, the Church of Saint Mary of Justinian stood on the Temple Mount. There was no mosque in the entire city.

    The Dome of the Rock was built in 691. Twenty years later, the Church of Saint Mary was converted into a mosque with the familiar dome on top. It was named Al Aqsa, so it would sound like the "furthest mosque" mentioned in the Koran.

    That's the basis of the Islamic claim to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Yet, even some top Israeli officials, if ever so briefly, flirted with the idea of compromising on the Jewish claim to this historic and spiritual epicenter of Judaism in a fanciful bid for peace through appeasement.

    I'm not much of a fan of WND, but I'm inclined to think Farah is right. It's a lot easier to convert existing structures than to tear them down, and it seems difficult to believe that nothing was there when the Muslim conquerers arrived.

    Of course, another site provides a timeline which states that the Church of Saint Mary may have been there, but had already been destroyed:

    660 CE-Rule of Ummyyads
    The Umayyad caliphs, who resided in Damascus and in other towns and townlets of Syria and Erez Israel, shows a keen interest in Jerusalem.
    In 684 CE the Ummayyad caliph Abd-al-Malik began to build the Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem extended and rebuilding of the walls and roads during rule of Abd el-Malik. Old wooden El Aksa Mosque constructed in 700 CE and Dome of the Rock built in 684-690 CE. The mosque may have been built on the site of the Byzantine church of Mary, which had been destroyed by the Persians in 614.
    746 CE-Earthquake destroys El Aksa mosque
    However, the Jewish Virtual Library says the Church of Saint Mary is somewhere else, leaving it open to question whether there were two Churches named "Saint Mary" and if not, what happened to the Temple of Jupiter during the Christian period.

    Then there's Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann, deceased. Writing for the Algemeiner Journal, he also contended that the Byzantine church was converted into a mosque:

    The Aksa Mosque was built 20 years after the Dome of the Rock, which was built in 691-692 by Khalif Abd El Malik. The name "Omar Mosque" is therefore false. In or around 711, or about 80 years after Mohammed died, Malik's son, Abd El-Wahd - who ruled from 705-715 - reconstructed the Christian- Byzantine Church of St. Mary and converted it into a mosque. He left the structure as it was, a typical Byzantine "basilica" structure with a row of pillars on either side of the rectangular "ship" in the center. All he added was an onion-like dome on top of the building to make it look like a mosque. He then named it El-Aksa, so it would sound like the one mentioned in the Koran.
    And there's another view which maintains that there was absolutely nothing there at all -- from the Romans' demolition of the Second Temple all the way through to the construction of al Aksa. I find this even more difficult to believe, and even though I'm a hack, I'm very skeptical.

    But are all hacks equal? I'd hate to think that hack archaeologists are busily digging the hell out of whatever might be under al Aksa but this organization protests they are, and that irreparable harm has been done. Meanwhile, the PLO and the PA accuse Israel of tunnelling under al Aksa. Their outrageously false claim is that no Jewish temple ever existed on the site.

    Far be it from me to do something as wicked as to call it the al Hacksa Mosque... But I'm almost tempted, because I think the place and its history have been so hacked for so long that we may never, ever know its history.

    One thing is clear: it wasn't there (at least, not in mosque form) when Mohammad supposedly flew there and then flew on to heaven atop the flying horse in his dreams.

    This kind of stuff makes me hate blogging almost as much as I love it.

    (And if I can't hack history, I might as well blog about historical hacks.)

    MORE: I hate to make light of serious issues lest I be, um, hack-saud to death, but I think I can stick out my neck and say that this kind of big hack attack goes just a hair too far. (Via Glenn Reynolds, who expressed grammatical concern.)

    AND MORE: More here on the invention of Jerusalem's role as "The Third Holiest Site in Islam" by the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini. Plus, an interesting analysis by Emanuel A. Winston called "The Greatest Lie Ever Told About Jerusalem":

    Goebbels said that "If the lie is big enough and told often enough, it will be believed."

    Yassir Arafat and the Arabs claimed the Holy Jewish Temple Mount and Jerusalem based upon one extraordinarily huge lie told over and over again. Here then is a brief history of the religious war against the Jewish people, the Jewish State of Israel and her 3000 year old Eternal Capital, Jerusalem.

    Would be conquerors invariably issue false claims to provide justification for their march to conquest. The more recent call to "Jihad" against the Jews of Israel was first called in 1947 after the U.N. partition in a "Fatwa" (religious ruling) by the Saudis - supposedly to save the Al-Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount from the Jews. Thus, Yassir Arafat, with the full support of the Arab Nations, later claimed the Jewish Temple Mount as the third holiest site for Islam - including all of Jerusalem. Therefore, as in the past, this claim has its root in a classic religious war - in addition to other spurious reasons offered.

    Calling such people "hacks" may be too gentle. (And I say this as an admitted hack.)

    posted by Eric at 05:54 PM | Comments (2)

    From the perspective of which tribe?

    In my research into the morality of trapping mice in the previous post, I stumbled onto a very interesting debate about the immorality of glue traps and the need to ban them. While the conventional AR philosophy holds that glue traps should be banned, the discussion devolved into a practical question of whether or not the old-fashioned "snap traps" might be the most humane approach:

    You know the little plastic boxes which catch the mice live? For later release? They are problematic in that if you don't check them daily, the mice starve in 'em. So, the plain old spring/squash 'em traps are best, ironically.
    A commenter named "Gyspy" (soon to be called a Nazi butcher) lamented her anguish over the situation, reviewed her problems living in a rodent-infested home, described the torment she went through when she called an exterminator, but maintained (gasp!) that she didn't want rodents living in her house:
    in my fanciful mind, i want the word to get out in the underground that my house is not open for the rodent kingdom, go somewhere else.

    i hadn't posted in awhile and i guess this is just one of those topics that caught me this morning in one of those moods.

    sorry for ranting...

    This drew immediate and repeated cries of outrage by "Antoine," who thinks killing mice is indistinguishable from killing humans:
    ....this is an animal RIGHTS tribe, which means that all animals are considered to have basic rights (the right to live being a very basic one) so it isn't about living in harmony with "critters" it is to acknowledge that they have just as much of a right to live there as you do, and if you would not like them inside your home, then make sure your home is clean, and that all foodstufff is put away in tight plastic, ceramic or glass containers.

    Plus whether it is HUMANE or not is a welfare issue NOT a rights issue. It is NEVER humane to kill someone. And the snap traps do just that...they kill them and most times they just catch the animals in the midsection and leave them to agonize for hours or days and die slowly of internal bleeding...

    But regardless of which one may make you feel better about yourself...any killing of any animal is not acceptable...EVERE...we here in an animal RIGHTS tribe would HAVE to check the no-kill traps more than once a day...although, still deterrents are MUCH better than traps, because the idea is to make them leave on their own, rather than putting them outside (which is futile because they came from the outside so can easily just make their way BACK in.

    Snap and glue traps are ALWAYS a violation of an animal's RIGHTS ... KILLING someone being a pretty big violation of someone's RIGHTS.... which I think is why the original poster posted the info for the ban glue traps tribe here, NOT to have a discussion of the best way to kill mice or of whether or not it is EVER acceptable to kill them.

    You may rant by I personally think that your rant is TOTALLY not welcome here, at least not by me.

    This caused Gypsy to apologize, but that apology was not enough for Antoine, who then likened her to a Nazi butcher:
    Nice high horse you are climbing on, say that to the mice that died.
    It isn't about feeling better.

    let me understand this Gypsy, YOU come on an ANIMAL RIGHTS tribe and say that snap traps (that KILL MICE) is acceptable...and I am the bad guy?

    play the victim all you want...if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem...I DO NOT apologise to speciesist and omni-apologists, and animal abusers.

    I am working very hard to achieve total animal liberation and a free society...as many of the members of this tribe are as well...and I personally don't care or want your apologies...just stop killing non-hum,an...and if you want to apologize to someone apologize to the mice that you killed.

    Should someone in the resistance apologise to a Nazi that he may have offended, an abolitionist apologise to a slave-owner who may have taken some things the wrong way?
    A sufragette apolgize to a wife-beater who was "misunderstood"

    and I do not apologise to butchers...not to antagonize!!! what? so talking about killing mice for your own convenience in an ANIMAL RIGHTS TRIBE??? you don't think that may perhaps antagonize its members??


    According to Antoine, people like me are of course part of the problem, and I'm not welcome even to comment at the site. (Which is why I thought I should post about it here instead.)

    If you don't believe in Animal Rights you are part of the problem...I prefer to be part of the solution.

    I think that it is clear that butchers, psychopaths, animal agriculturists, animal experimenter's or any animal abusers of any kind are not invited here. Unless they are willing to reject their evil ways and join us in the struggle towards Animal Rights.

    Animal Rights mean rejecting speciesism and giving all Animals basic rights...oh and please don't bring up a lion killing a gazelle to me, and whether the lion has the right to do so, last I checked neither of us are lions...lions may have their own morality I am only concerned with human morality, I will let lions judge themsleves.

    Animal Rights imply the recognition BY HUMANS of NON-HUMAN Rights and to see it otherwise is to trivialize.

    and besides lions never created factory farming.

    Sometimes it helps to know that you're a butcher and a psychopath.

    It actually brightened my day.

    MORE: If these perspectives brightened your day, there's plenty more at Antoine's blog, the guiding principle of which is expressed as follows:

    racism = speciesism = sexism
    it all means the same thing but speciesism kills billions every year!
    Genocide, I tell you.

    And lest you think we're natural meat eaters, forget it! Being descended from Paleolithic hunter gatherers won't get you meat eaters off the hook, as the meat eating was an aberration indulged in by people who had no right to be living in northern climates:

    physical evidence of human flesh-eating, such as tool-scarred bones or ancient fire pits, is found only in northern areas which are well outside of the natural ecological niche for our tropical ape species; thus, any evidence of cultural diets so remote from our proper ecological niche is totally irrelevant to any understanding of what the natural diet for our species is. This ecologically-relevant, and crucially-important fact is universally, and conveniently, ignored in any discussions of Paleolithic humans. Paleolithic (tool using) humans are not natural humans and are just as irrelevant as any modern cultural group and their modern self-destructive dietary practices.

    Further, "Because of the considerably harsher conditions and seasonal variation in food supply, hunting became more important to bridge the seasonal gaps, as well as the ability to store nonperishable items such as nuts, bulbs, and tubers for the winter when the edible plants withered in the autumn. All of these factors, along with clothing (and also perhaps fire), helped enable colonization of the less hospitable environment." clearly admits that such humans were well outside of thier natural ecological niche which would provide the proper nutrition for our species, thus they were forced to consume highly foreign, non-natural "foods" just to survive. So, it is obvious that any claims as to the applicability of the Paleolithic diet to any understanding of the natural diet for our species are totally, and unavoidably, bogus.

    If only there were some way to spread the word. I think that if ordinary people knew how incredibly guilty they were, something might be done.

    As to all you pet owners out there, remember. Having pets is unethical.

    (I'll try to keep it a secret from Coco....)

    UPDATE: Speaking of tribal perspectives, humancentric Professor Ann Althouse (linked by the speciesistic Glenn Reynolds) seems blissfully unconcerned with Paleolithic man's proper place. Reports Althouse:

    ...anthropologists Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner theorize that the women must have joined the men in hunting for large animals.
    But now that we know hunting for large animals is an unnatural phenomenon resulting from humans being "well outside of their natural ecological niche," doesn't that beg the question of precisely which violations of natural law caused the demise of the Neanderthals?

    posted by Eric at 11:11 AM | Comments (7)

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse!
    (And common sense is no defense....)

    I'm confused as usual.

    Unless I am reading the laws incorrectly, in Pennsylvania the Fish and Game Code applies to many animals we might normally consider nuisances or vermin.

    Let's start with some definitions of the animals subject to regulation:

    "Furbearers." Unless otherwise modified by regulation of the commission, the term includes the badger, the fisher, the mink, the muskrat, the opossum, the otter, the pine marten, the striped and spotted skunk, the beaver, the raccoon, all weasels, the red and gray fox and the bobcat.

    "Game animals." Unless otherwise modified by regulation of the commission, the term includes the elk, the whitetail deer, the bear, the cottontail rabbit, the snowshoe hare, the red, gray and fox squirrel and the groundhog or woodchuck.

    "Hunt" or "hunting." Any act or furtherance of the taking or killing of any game or wildlife, or any part or product thereof, and includes, but is not limited to, chasing, tracking, calling, pursuing, lying in wait, trapping, shooting at, including shooting at a game or wildlife facsimile, or wounding with any weapon or implement, or using any personal property, including dogs, or the property of others, of any nature, in furtherance of any of these purposes, or aiding, abetting or conspiring with another person in that purpose.

    "Trapping." The securing or attempting to secure possession of game or wildlife by means of setting, placing or using any device that is designed to close upon, hold fast, confine or otherwise capture game or wildlife whether these means result in capturing or not. It includes every act of assistance to any other person in capturing game or wildlife by means of such device whether these means result in capturing or not.

    "Wild animals." All mammals other than domestic animals as defined in 1 Pa.C.S. section 1991 (relating to definitions).

    "Wildlife." Wild birds, wild mammals and facsimiles thereof, regardless of classification, whether protected or unprotected, including any part, product, egg or offspring thereof, or the dead body or parts thereof (excluding fossils), whether or not included in a manufactured product or in a processed food product.

    Notice that there are no exceptions for rodents or vermin such as rats, mice, moles, shrews, or squirrels, while backyard woodchucks are considered game.

    It's not as if the people who wrote these laws were unaware of exceptions. For whatever reason, raccoons have been exempted for reporting purposes -- but not other "wildlife":

    Sec. 2122. Report to commission officer.

    Any person who kills any game or wildlife, other than raccoons, under the provisions of this subchapter shall, within 24 hours, report, orally or in writing, the killing to an officer of the commission. The report shall set forth the date, time and place of the killing, the number of species killed and the sex of the species.

    Hmmm.... Does the millions of homeowners and housewives know that each time they kill a mouse with a mouse trap or glue trap, an official report must be made?

    Or am I misreading the law? In vain I looked for nuisance exceptions which might apply to ordinary homeowners, but unless there is a general statute limiting the jurisidiction of Fish and Game, I could find nothing. Aside from an exception for the protection of cultivated lands from damage the only one I can find is for protecting the life of a human -- and it's quite specific:

    2141. Killing game or wildlife to protect person.

    (a) General rule. - It is unlawful for a person to kill any game or wildlife as a means of protection unless it is clearly evident from all the facts that a human is endangered to a degree that the immediate destruction of the game or wildlife is necessary.

    Absent an attack on a human, or clear evidence of rabies, I don't think that would apply to the average nuisance animal.

    Killing mice is illegal?

    Where is my common sense? you might ask. Such laws were written many years ago -- often at the behest of hunters who wanted to protect game, in an era when common sense prevailed. But as more and more bureaucracies like "fish and game" become infiltrated and staffed by people who believe in the animal rights philosophy, the less likely that common sense can be taken for granted as it once was.

    Philadelphia's Mayor Street, for example, has long been under attack for his rat eradication program, but reading the above laws, I'm now wondering why no one sought to enforce fish and game regulations against harassing, driving, or killing rats.

    At least in California they've spelled these things out:

    Common mouse and rat traps are exempt from being marked, per T-14 section 465 (g), "Except for common rat and mouse traps, all traps used pursuant to this subsection must be numbered as required by subsection (f) (1)".

    5 I've heard it said regarding this new law that the Department of Fish and Game is "not interested in rats and mice". I assume then that DFG could also say that they aren't interested in gophers, moles and voles or maybe not interested in non-game mammals altogether. I question the ability of a Department of government to assume a posture of indifference in the face of a law that requires enforcement. Please explain where my understanding fails?

    Response: Your response is not correct. Fish and Game Code section 4005(a) states; Every person who traps fur-bearing mammals shall procure a trapping license. Any person taking non-game mammals must be licensed. Section 472-T-14 defines non-game mammals. "Except as otherwise provided is section 478 (bobcats) and 465 (American crow) and subsection (a) through (d) below, non-game birds and mammals may not be taken. (a) The following non-game birds and mammals may be taken at any time of the year and in any number except as prohibited in Chapter 6: English sparrow, starling, coyote, weasels, skunks, opossum, moles and rodents (excluding tree and flying squirrels, and those listed as fur-bearers, endangered or threatened species.

    To be fair, there are still bureaucrats in Pennsylvania possessed of common sense, and the Department of Fish and Game has a web page offering advice on how to deal with "Nuisance animals":
    Groundhogs and moles are lawn excavators that can make a mess of a yard quickly. Both problem animals are best handled through trapping. Groundhogs can be caught with baits such as apples, carrots or lettuce. Moles are best removed with hole or bayonet-type traps, which kill the animal as it passes through a trap armed with spring-loaded bayonets that is placed in the animal's underground runways.


    The most inexpensive and effective way to straighten out a mouse problem is to set traps. Available at most hardware stores and feed mills, mouse traps should be baited with cheese or peanut-butter and placed at locations where mouse droppings or damage have been found. Set more than one trap and move them around until you start catching mice. Don't stop until sightings and damage stop.

    Good advice, to be sure.

    But is that legal?

    The only exception in the section dealing with killing game or wildlife is for raccoons, but additionally, there's a section on "disturbing game or wildlife" and its interpretation:

    Sec. 2162. Disturbance of game or wildlife.

    (a) General rule. - It is unlawful for any person to drive or disturb game or wildlife except while engaged in the lawful activities set forth in this title.

    (b) Nonapplicability. - This section shall not apply to any owner of land, any member of the commission, the director, any representative of the commission or any other law enforcement officer engaged in any otherwise lawful action.

    (c) Penalty. - A violation of subsection (a) shall be a summary offense of the first degree.

    I'm intrigued by an apparently very broad exception -- that "this section shall not apply to any owner of land." Does "any owner of land" mean anyone who owns land anywhere? Or does it only apply to incidents pertaining to the land he actually owns? Is a tenant considered an "owner" of land, or must tenants go to their landlords for assistance with nuisance animals?

    So, while it would seem to be illegal for me to kill them without filing a report, it might not be illegal for me to merely "drive or disturb" rats, mice, or squirrels in my own yard.

    However, elsewhere it is declared to be illegal to allow a dog to do so:

    Subchapter E. Dogs Pursuing Game or Wildlife

    Sec. 2381. Dogs pursuing, injuring or killing game or wildlife.

    Except as otherwise provided in this title or by commission regulation, it is unlawful for any person controlling or harboring a dog to permit the dog to chase, pursue, follow upon the track of, injure or kill any game or wildlife at any time.

    Again, go back and read the definition of "wildlife." (If the dog chases any "big game animal" -- defined as "the elk, the whitetail deer, the bear and the wild turkey" -- the dog is automatically declared a "public nuisance under Section 2384. Which means that if a bear enters my yard, I have to go out and confront him all by myself.) Even assuming there's an exception for me as an "owner of land," that exception is specifically limited only to that section, and not the section dealing with dogs.

    I can chase mice and squirrels in my own yard. But Coco can't.

    I ran this past Coco (who is a dog), who has often been annoyed by vermin in the yard, and occasionally in the house. She thinks it's quite unfair that dogs are being singled out when by far the biggest offenders are cats. Furthermore, cats are much more successful as predators than dogs, and they're freely allowed to slaughter not only rodents, but birds of all varieties -- without regard to their rarity or protected status.

    In a word, it's unfair discrimination. Now, we don't think of the Fourteenth Amendment as applying to dogs and cats, but considering that if Coco chases a squirrel I'm the one who'd be the criminal, I think I might have a good Equal Protection claim if cat owners are not prosecuted for the same act -- especially if I could demonstrate that cats kill more wildlife than dogs. (This is not to say that I support these laws; only that they should be fair and evenhanded, and reasonably calculated to achieve the goal of wildlife protection.)

    At this point, I'm more confused than ever. I don't know what's illegal and what's not.

    (And to think I was trained as a lawyer!)

    posted by Eric at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

    From the other side of the "partisan prism"

    Speaking of email (of which I occasionally complain), The Inquirer's Trudy Rubin complains that she doesn't get enough of it. Apparently, her readers have given up on asking her to mention the "good news" about Iraq:

    In a sign of the times (perhaps the gullible have finally realized Fox News is Fox Spin?), I'm no longer getting reader e-mail asking me to write the "good news" about Iraq.

    This gives me no cheer. It just makes me wish President Bush read newspapers (he famously told Fox News he doesn't). The president might have learned years ago that we had too few troops, no counterinsurgency strategy, and no grasp of Iraqi social dynamics. (He would have learned little of this from TV networks, which have closed most of their foreign bureaus, or even from CNN, which focuses on breaking news.)

    I can't speak for Bush (according to David Corn, what he said was that he "rarely" read them because of biased reporting) but I do read newspapers. In particular, I subscribe to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I wish more people would, as their circulation is way down, and notwithstanding any of my complaints about editorial policies (especially the gun control stuff), I think having a daily newspaper is an important hallmark of civilization. I say this despite the fact that I am a blogger who often kvetches about the "MSM." (I mean, I don't think an explanation is necessary here, but just because I'd like to see less editorialized reporting does not mean I am against reporting or the news outlets entrusted to do it.)

    As to why Ms. Rubin's readers have stopped asking her to mention good news from Iraq, I can't speak for the rest of them, but it would never have occurred to me to send her an email like that. She's been a long and vociferous opponent of the war and Bush, and she's an editorial columnist, saying what she thinks. Why on earth should she be expected to provide ammo for the other side? That might be something to be expected from a reporter in Iraq, but an editorial columnist?

    Might as well write to Pat Buchanan and ask him to put in a good word for the many hard working illegal aliens who seek their little piece of the American Dream. Or report the good news about upstanding homosexuals who only want to live normal lives of middle-class respectability.

    Emails (and Bush's reading habits) aside, Ms. Rubin reiterates a familiar complaint -- about a serious shortage of reporting:

    This vindication of print media underscores an incredible irony. At a time when the country is obsessed with the Iraq story, an obsession that drove the recent elections, foreign correspondents are an endangered species. There may soon be few left to sound the alarm if future U.S. foreign ventures turn sour.


    But how long will readers be able to get substantive foreign news online? Content on the Web doesn't drop from heaven. So far, there are no Web zines that maintain correspondents abroad. If you want in-depth foreign reporting, you probably go to the Web site of one of the so-called national papers that still maintain foreign bureaus, such as the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

    Right there I found myself wondering whether Ms. Rubin is aware of Pajamas Media. Their reporters are all over the world now, and literally, the sun never sets on Pajamas Media. I have a hard time even keeping track of the raw news (and opinion of course) that pours in from all around the world. Aside from Pajamas Media, individual bloggers are everywhere, and their political biases run the entire gamut. The main difference between the blog approach and the MSM approach is that bloggers generally let you know what they think -- and they are often quite able to draw clear distinctions between their opinions and the facts.

    But Ms. Rubin complains that blogs are biased, and they don't care about facts:

    Get your news from blogs? Those that comment on foreign affairs also depend on mainstream media for their information. With more newspapers closing foreign bureaus, will we soon depend on a shrinking pool of foreign correspondents to inform the whole country? Or will most Americans come to view the world through the prism of partisan bloggers who don't feel the need for facts?
    Sure, many bloggers are partisan, and they generally admit it. But I don't think it's fair to say that they don't "feel the need for facts." Much of what drives blogging is a passion to discover the facts. I can't think of a more perfect example than the recent inquiry into the identity of Iraqi Police Captain "Jamil Hussein." Or digging out the largely unreported facts behind the "flying imam" provocateurs who acted like terrorists, deliberately frightened passengers and crew, and lied about being handcuffed. (Not to brag, but I guess my speculations proved right.) Perhaps the flying imam provocateurs are not international news (or perhaps they are) but why does it always seem to require bloggers to do the digging reporters are supposed to do?

    As to reporting from Iraq and the Mideast, I'm wondering whether Ms. Rubin has been reading Bill Roggio, Bill Ardolino, Michael Totten, Michael Yon, Iraq The Model, or Zeyad. If she did, she might have noticed that new embed Bill Ardolino linked to Bill Roggio's discussion of a new development that might revolutionize embedded reporting by bloggers.

    Back to Ms. Rubin's lament that "It just makes me wish President Bush read newspapers."

    While I understand that it upsets mainstream journalists to think that Bush rarely reads newspapers, might they be aping Bush by treating blogs the same way they complain he's treating the newspapers? If they are, I don't think it's fair. (For starters, bloggers don't run the White House....)

    While there are vast differences between bloggers and newspapers, what's shared in common is an interest in that ill-defined thing we call journalism, and I think mutual fact-digging and story-checking are in everyone's interest.

    posted by Eric at 11:35 AM | Comments (2)

    I get email

    And some of it doesn't make sense.

    A cartoon was just sent to me by this site where it appears along with a couple of anti-American cartoons -- one of which shows Uncle Sam joyfully sawing the Iraq flag apart, and another showing Ambassador John Bolton, hands dripping blood, walking away from a prone figure depicting United Nations he's just stabbed in the back. So I have a vague idea that it might be anti-Western (which subsumes and encompasses being anti-American).

    Here's the cartoon I received:


    I'm clueless, as I don't speak Arabic. But is it a coincidence that the only woman who is depicted as speaking is the female character in the only Western pair?

    (It's probably bigoted to wonder.)

    Can anyone translate the cartoon for a depraved Infidel blogger? I can't offer money, but hey, it's all in the interest of constructive engagement!

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Those who can't translate, please free to offer captions!

    posted by Eric at 05:37 PM | Comments (3)

    Daddy Long Legs

    Over at Dark Roasted Blend (A Thrilling Wonder Publication!), there's an interesting look at a bizarre prototype catamaran from Antrim Associates. For more pictures, including some really nice close up shots, go here.

    Dark Roasted Blend likens the design to a Martian War Machine, and that's a fair cop, but I'm thinking it could just as easily be a product of the Starfleet Naval Yards.

    It's the nacelles, Jim.

    posted by Justin at 12:16 PM | Comments (1)

    Possession of words without regard to intent
    We simply cannot get away with condemning some comedians who use racial slurs, while applauding others who do so. To engage in such selective condemnation gives rise to the kind of double-talk that creates moral confusion--and leads to further cracks in the nation's racial divide.
    So argues the Conservative Voice's Nathan Tabor in his discussion of the recent use of the "n" word by white comedian Michael Richards. Tabor acknowledges that many black comedians "have used the politically-charged word throughout their comedy routines," that the "inversion of the word is a way for blacks to reclaim their identity" but nonetheless demands a zero-tolerance standard for everyone.

    It's an interesting argument, but I have to disagree.

    I think the use of the "n" word by anyone amounts at minimum to a form of speech so crude that it ought to be considered in the same league as profanity or obscenity, but think what Tabor misses goes to the nature comedy and satire. When Richards used the "n" word in the way he used it, he used it in a derogatory manner. At that point he ceased to be a comedian.

    As a longtime listener to Howard Stern, I can't count the number of times I heard him use the "n" word. But not once did he mean to degrade anyone except the word itself. His theory was that words lose their power when they are ridiculed, and gain in power as they become taboo. Whether he's right (and whether it's a good idea to defuse the power of a derogatory epithet in this manner) can be debated. But Howard Stern's "n" word use is simply not on the same level as Michael Richards.

    The "n" word is not part of my vocabulary, but I liked the fact that Howard Stern was trying to defuse it. Similarly, Howard uses the "f" word with great regularity, and not because he is prejudiced against gays, but to ridicule such prejudice. Interestingly, I'd feel more comfortable spelling out the "f" word than the "n" word, but the reason I won't spell out either is because the more I allow taboo language into these blog posts, the greater the likelihood my blog will be blocked by the various net nannies. However, because Howard deliberately mispronounces both the "n" and the "f" words, I can probably get away with spelling them phonetically the way he pronounces them: "nigguhs" and "faigs."*

    I think that when some gays use the "f" word to describe themselves, they're doing pretty much the same thing that some blacks do, and it's really no more bigoted than Howard Stern. In neither case is it intended to be derogatory.

    Intent of the speaker -- and above all context -- seems to be the key here. Once we start ignoring intent and context, we might as well ban "Huckleberry Finn."

    Ben Jameson, a teacher in Fresno, Calif., teaches Huckleberry Finn, selectively. When the class includes a black student, he drops it from his reading list. It seems that the wellspring of American novels suffers from 160 literary problems; the word "nigger," used, oh, 160 times.

    Ernest Gaines was startled to learn that his work The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was withdrawn from classrooms when a group of black adults complained that the frequent use of the word "nigger" had offended a student. Why was he surprised, you ask? His Autobiography is the story of a former slave. Gaines is black.

    George Wallace is suing Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia for, he says, "emotional distress." It seems "nigger" appears in the encyclopedia. Interactive Klan rallies? Well, no. Among the other references were Dick Gregory's Up From Nigger, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s recollection of a white woman calling him "nigger" when he was 11 years old. The price of emotional distress: $40 million.

    That was written in 1995. By now, I think the schools have pretty much been purged of the vile Mark Twain.

    Perhaps this represents progress, but I'm not convinced.

    I think intent matters.

    * Fascinatingly, the word "gay" is increasingly used in a derogatory manner, while a growing chorus of scolds on the right are refusing to use the word for their own political reasons. But on the other hand, the word "homosexual" is considered "offensive" by some activists -- a situation leaving people without axes to grind wholly unable to talk about gays or homosexuals lest they find themselves in a vocabulary Culture War. Is there a conspiracy of collusion to bring back the days of "the love that dare not speak its name"? At least it's still possible to say "black" or "African American" without running afoul of the word cops. (For now.)

    These word games can get ridiculous. In dialogue, what ought to matter is what people think.

    posted by Eric at 08:12 AM | Comments (10)

    Progressives come out! Against progress!

    Catching up with the newspapers that piled up while I was away, I found myself drawn to Andrew Cassel's article with a title as intriguing as the subject: "Revealed: Why understanding economics is hard." If there's one thing I like, it's having something revealed of which I am woefully ignorant, and I have no training in Economics.

    But when I read the piece, I found it was about culture! Imagine, economics being affected by things like culture. I tend to think of freedom as being something that people (er, at least most Americans) naturally want, which accounts for my tendency to dismiss Marxism and socialism as abnormal systems which have to be imposed by external authorities (generally called "the government") upon people who only desire to be Left Alone.

    According to the article, there might be people who find the idea of being left alone to be culturally repugnant:

    all relationships are built from exactly four kinds of interactions.

    [University of Pennsylvania Professor Alan] Fiske labels these communal sharing, equality matching, authority ranking and market pricing.

    According to Fiske, these conflicting paradigms cause conflict:
    When there are conflicts, moreover, Fiske maintains it's often because we aren't all using the same model.

    For example, you might see housework as a communal-sharing function, while your spouse approaches it as equality-matching. Neither is wrong, yet you still end up angry or guilty when the laundry isn't done.

    The same problem can afflict whole societies, as Fiske described to me recently. "The Danes pride themselves on being fair," he said. "They can't understand why they don't get along with their Middle Eastern immigrants."

    But Fiske does: "The immigrants expect authority ranking. The Danes expect strict equality matching. Each side sees people constantly violating the models."

    This makes me wonder whether there's more at stake here than economics. What we call economics might be only a one way these cultural conflicts present themselves. If you come from a long line of self-sufficient, independent personality types, you might very well resent the hell out of people who want to be taken care of.

    As to "Authority Ranking" systems, the concept itself begs the question of the nature of authority. In a meritocracy, authority is supposed to be earned. But then, how is it to be earned? By popular recognition of merit? Or by seizure of power by those whose merit inheres from superior strength or firepower? Under many circumstances and for many people, strength is merit. Might makes right on the athletic field or the battlefield, although the former is governed by rules. Biting off your opponent's ear is generally not considered meritorious in an athletic event. But according to the Taliban view of culture, mayhem can be a virtue.

    According to Fiske, Market Pricing was the last of these types of human interaction paradigms to evolve:

    ...[W]hat is particularly interesting is the role of market pricing, which Fiske speculates might have been the last to evolve in our prehistoric ancestors' brains.

    It makes sense. For hunter-gatherers in small bands, sharing, matching and ranking were probably as fundamental to survival as eating and breeding. But market pricing involves complex choices based on mathematical ratios.

    "It's the difference between addition and subtraction on one hand, multiplication and division on the other," Fiske says.

    Commerce and global trade, of course, require a finely honed version of the market-pricing model. But if humans developed this model relatively late, it might well be less than universal, even today.

    In other words, to have an intuitive grasp of economics, you might just need to take a step or two up the evolutionary ladder.

    I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if we use the evolutionary model, I wonder whether the emotional appeal of Communism might have represented an evolutionary step backwards, repackaged rhetorically so that its proponents could pat themselves on the back and maintain they were moving forward.

    Even now, the word "progressive" is often used in praise of backward economic systems. Not just Communism, but even economic (and cultural) primitivism, like slash-and-burn style technologies, subsistence farming, opposition to genetically engineered food, and the nonsense called "living economies" (to which I devoted a long blog post).

    Not that long ago, it was "against God's laws" to charge interest on a loan. These days reasonable people see that view as backward, and interest makes the world go 'round.

    But doesn't my use of the term "reasonable people" indicate a cultural bias in favor of that which I consider reasonable? Yes. I think market economics accounts for most of what we call human progress, and I think human progress is eminently reasonable by any rational standard. Others don't, and while I'm not necessarily stuck on any view that there are only four paradigms, clearly something has to account for the persistent view that progess must be abandoned -- in the name of "progress."

    A recent illustration of how this backward mindset works (via Glenn Reynolds link) can be found in David Bernstein's post about a student who is "a math prodigy and received a perfect 2,400 score on her SATs." Nonetheless, "progressive" questions are being raised about her merit. Says a leading admissions expert:

    "Her perfect SAT score is truly outstanding but not a free ticket. She is applying to many technical colleges, so she will be competing against a lot of other high-achieving math/science kids (and a lot of other Asian students in particular). While she may be admitted to MIT early, I am not convinced she's a shoo-in--I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community."
    To which Bernstein replis,
    The idea that Ms. Luo may not be worthy of admission because she hasn't proven herself sufficiently altruistic is the kind of thing that makes Objectivism look almost reasonable.
    I'm not saying the communal sharing mindset doesn't have its place. It's fine between family members and among self-selecting homogeneous groups. But to inject the idea of "giving back" in the case of a person whose obvious merit has been earned is another example of human progress being attacked by backward thinking primitivism -- smugly masquerading as modern sophistication. Progressives who place primitive principles first tend to be consumed by childish notions of what is "fair" -- which they cannot keep to themselves, but which they must project onto other people. In their minds, success in anything (even at math) means "taking" from someone else. There's only so much of anything to go around, and we all need to help each other, and therefore those who have more have taken from those with less, and need to "give back."

    It's a small step from saying that a person should "give back" to saying that "we" should "take it back" from him.

    If the most progressive people are those with a concept of market economics, one of the great tragedies of the modern age has been their systematic destruction by less progressive people who call themselves the most progressive.

    If Professor Fiske's cultural paradigm theory is correct, I'm wondering whether there might be a basic, persistent inability to distinguish forward from backward.

    I used to think that "progressives" imagined themselves to be forward in their thinking, but I'm now thinking that "scientific Marxism" might have been grounded in an unacknowledged need for primitivism.

    Might this explain why the failure of Marxism ushered in the rise of raw primitivism?

    If "progressivism" was actually primitivism in drag for all those years, perhaps the demise of Marxism opened the door to the primitive closet.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: While I linked to China's "Great Leap Forward," I forgot about the more recent Khmer Rouge and the "Year Zero" -- articulately described by Jonathan Wilde at Catallarchy:

    The "Year Zero" was declared, a new start to history. Private ownership, money, and religion were banned. Family relationships were eliminated. Cities were abandoned, schools and factories closed. The goal behind the massive restructuring was to "make socialism in the fields". Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot developed a "Four Year Plan" to increase rice production to triple its peacetime levels. Workers were made to work the fields for 12 hours a day without adequate food, rest, or water. Many fell ill and died due to the Khmer Rouge's refusal to use Western medical methods, instead relying on traditional, ineffective remedies. Foraging for food was a capital offense, even in the face of meager food rations.

    Many of the "New People" resorted to pretending to be one of the "Old People". Yet, if any person was found to have been one of the "New People" - educated, a former government official, a monk, a business owner, a French speaker, or a former soldier - he would be killed.

    Sounds like primitivism to me.

    Might the Khmer Rouge have been ahead of their time?

    MORE: I wrote this post before I read (via Glenn Reynolds) about the Coalition to Preserve Civilization:

    This is primarily an information war, fought via the television screens and computer networks across the entire globe. The enemy is very adept at it, and has a head start. But the Islamists lack our major advantages: originality, flexibility, technical innovation, and a tradition of free enquiry. These are the skills we will use to build our networks and destroy theirs.

    Make no mistake: this is a civil war within the heart of the West, between those who would appease Islamic tyranny and those who want to eliminate it; between those who would censor themselves and restrict their own rights rather than steadfastly resist any encroachment on them; between those who believe in the values and heritage of the West and those who are ashamed of them.

    I don't think it's a civil war yet. But I think those who consider backwardness superior to Western Civilization are working towards backwardness and their own destruction. Preserving Western Civilization has to begin with the recognition that Western Civilization is progressive, and backwardness is not.

    And once again, because some aspects of Western Civilization are less than perfect is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    posted by Eric at 10:38 AM | Comments (7)

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