(Yeah, another post supporting the war...)

Much as I'm glad that M. Simon is posting here, I'm afraid he's spoiled me with his Iraq war blogging. My view of the war is that I support it, I have always supported it, and I will continue to support it right up until the left finally forces the United States to withdraw and abandon yet another ally.

Unfortunately, this war could still take years to win, and while the military is fully capable of staying in and doing whatever needs to be done to stabilize Iraq, because of the nature of the political system, this country does not have the years to spare.

M. Simon is willing to say over and over again what I am not willing to say over and over again. His "never again" post reminded me what I just told him in an email:

....people need to be a little more farsighted than to get so caught up in hating a particular president that they shoot themselves in the foot. Bush will be gone, but if we lose this war, the effects may be irreparable.

Of course, to a true BDS type, it will always be Bush's fault.

Watching this film simply reminded me why it is necessary to support our allies in this war. It's an interview with a Kurdish leader -- the simple and poignant message of which is "Please don't leave." (Via Glenn Reynolds, who also links this statement about choosing to lose:
It's up to you The Iraq war is lost or won if the American people choose to lose or win it. With the way things are going at the moment, I perfectly understand why they might choose to give up on the war. But that is not because the war is inherently unwinnable by a country as great and rich and powerful as the United States.
Choosing to lose and betraying our allies will quite possibly be a worse stain than Vietnam.

So, I don't write posts about this. It kills me to have to write posts about this. There is nothing I would less rather do. As I have said many times, I am unqualified to be a war blogger as I have no military experience, no security clearances, and no access to any information other than what floats around on the Internet. It makes me very angry to have to write posts supporting the war, and I have to say, I do blame Bush, because I think that as Commander in Chief, he's the one who bears the primary responsibility not just to wage the war but to defend it. He's doing such a piss-poor PR job that many conservatives are abandoning him and the war. I support the war, but I've said it so many times that it infuriates me to feel obligated to say so again.

Sorry that none of this is witty or clever or entertaining, but I don't know what else to say.

I mean, what should I say? Don't lose the war?

I'd like to think that would be obvious.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Perhaps I should make it clear that what I am complaining about is not war fatigue so much as it is repetition fatigue. There are only so many ways to say "Don't lose the war." I think that what is frequently called "war fatigue" in this country is not really war fatigue, because the people who are fatigued are not actually fighting in the war; they're just weary of hearing about it. Perhaps some of them are like me in that they're sick of arguments.

Perhaps it's worth keeping in mind that being sick of an argument over a war should never be mistaken for being sick of the war itself, much less being no longer inclined to support it.

"Repetitious argument fatigue" is not war fatigue!

I do wish that supporting the war didn't include an obligation to repeat myself, but it's remarkable how many people there are who will read things into silence. In logic, of course, silence no more means supporting something than opposing it -- which means that there was no logical need for me to write this post.

But I wrote it because some people are not logical. And I know that some people might think that my not writing regular blog posts supporting the war means I don't support the war.

I just thought this would be a good time to remind them that if they think that, they are wrong.

My thanks to M. Simon for making the process easier for me.

MORE: William F. Buckley Jr. has weighed in, opining that this is different from Vietnam because of the lack of a clear enemy at a fixed location:

...in Vietnam we had Hanoi as the operative headquarters of the enemy, we have no equivalent of that in Iraq, and that is a matter of paralyzing importance. All those bombings, explosions, assassinations: we are driven to believe that they are, so to speak, spontaneous.
Buckley analogizes to Christianity and the fall of Rome, and worries that the GOP cannot survive Iraq:
When the Romans were challenged by Christianity, Rome fell. The generation of Christians moved by their faith overwhelmed the regimented reserves of the Roman state. It was four years ago that Mr. Cheney first observed that there was a real fear that each fallen terrorist leads to the materialization of another terrorist. What can a "surge," of the kind we are now relying upon, do to cope with endemic disease? The parallel even comes to mind of the eventual collapse of Prohibition, because there wasn't any way the government could neutralize the appetite for alcohol, or the resourcefulness of the freeman in acquiring it.

General Petraeus is a wonderfully commanding figure. But if the enemy is in the nature of a disease, he cannot win against it. Students of politics ask then the derivative question: How can the Republican party, headed by a president determined on a war he can't see an end to, attract the support of a majority of the voters? General Petraeus, in his Pentagon briefing on April 26, reported persuasively that there has been progress, but cautioned, "I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and again I note that we are really just getting started with the new effort."

The general makes it a point to steer away from the political implications of the struggle, but this cannot be done in the wider arena. There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.

Really just getting started? I don't think Americans are incapable of supporting a longterm occupation (we were in Japan and Germany for decades), but someone in a position of power needs to level with them -- and do so with a strong, honest, confident, articulate voice.

As to Christianity and the fall of Rome, I don't know who Buckley thinks are analogous to Christians. Certainly the Islamists are not, for Christianity did not win by waging jihadist-style war against Rome, but eventually took over by steadily gaining in numbers. Rome was still fairly strong at the time of Constantine the Great, although the empire shifted noticeably East, and the actual fall took place in the West a century or so later. If Buckley's point is that the old polytheist Rome was incompatible with monotheism, I can see it, but I'm not sure that's a good analogy to the present situation.

OTOH, perhaps he's arguing that John Lennon-style pacifism is taking over inside the United States. I hope that's not the case.

MORE: In an editorial titled "Al Qaeda is the problem," Lawrence Kudlow asks Harry Reid an ominous question:

A final question for Mr. Reid: If, as he says, we have "lost" the Iraq war, who exactly has won? Who is the winner, Mr. Reid? Who would you like the United States to surrender to?

It's not the Sunnis. It's not the Ba'athists. It's not the Shi'ites. And it's certainly not Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In conventional warfare terms, Harry Reid is suggesting we surrender to al Qaeda.

Does the majority leader of the U.S. Senate understand his own unthinkable conclusion?

Read it all.

posted by Eric at 03:22 PM | Comments (13)

CFLs are for screwing, while teeth are for chewing
The amount of mercury in the mouth of a person with fillings was on average 2.5 grams, enough to contaminate 5 ten acre lakes to the extent there would be dangerous levels in fish.

-- Gleaned from a leading mercury scare site

I really like Steven Milloy. But I also like my CFLs. And while I don't want the latter to be made mandatory, I don't find Milloy's mercury satire (if indeed it is that) to be at all persuasive one way or the other on CFLs.

Especially in view of my mouth:


Will someone please tell Steve Milloy that your average American mouth is potentially far, far more hazardous than an ordinary CFL?

I see that Glenn Reynolds has pointed out the problem with Milloy's argument -- time and time again -- but I offer real, tangible proof, not just facts and figures.

Compare the mercury in my mouth to the actual CFL mercury content Glenn cited:

"The very small amount of mercury in a CFL -- about 5 milligrams, compared to an old-fashioned home thermometer, which had about 500 milligrams -- is safe while the bulb is in operation and poses little risk even if it breaks, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."
Glenn follows up with this:
I'd be interested in seeing more on this topic, but if CFLs were as deadly as Milloy suggests, I wouldn't expect big companies to sell them for fear that the trial lawyers would take them to the cleaners. I kind of think that Milloy is just having a bit of fun turning enviro-scare tactics back upon themselves, but I don't think there's much foundation to these worries.
I agree, and I like to turn around enviro-scare tactics back upon themselves too.

Which is why I don't think Milloy went far enough. (And why I'll continue to use both my CFLs and my teeth!)

Seriously, I don't mean to get hysterical about this, but the fact is, my teeth have 500 times the amount of mercury as does a CFL!

Add to that the fact that I don't chew my CFLs. I screw them in and they just sit there emitting light inexpensively, and they never burn out.

Far from proving that CFLs are actually dangerous, Milloy's remarks give a good idea of how hysterical the mercury bureaucracy has become. (Not a new issue for me.)


Could someone please tell me why we're not all dead?

(I'm tempted to say that they can have my CFLs, AND my teeth when they pull them from their respective sockets, but as I'm already up to my neck defending my guns and Coco's ovaries, I don't want to be defending myself against more threats than my corpse can handle.)

UPDATE: Readers who like CFLs, be sure to join Pajamas Media's One Billion Bulbs campaign.

posted by Eric at 02:47 PM | Comments (3)

Bureaucratic pain as rational basis for unconstitutional laws?
"One generation and out. We have no problem with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding."

-- Wayne Pacelle (President, Humane Society of the United States)

I've written two posts about California's mandatory spay neuter bill (AB 1634), but I want to return to the law's philosophical and constitutional implications, not just because I think it's a bad law, but because this type of law goes to the very heart of the distinction between statism (collectivism) and individualism.

My worry is that aside from the people who are personally affected (such as dog owners and assorted special interest groups), only libertarians and small government conservatives have genuine philosophical objections to the law.

I think a good case can be made that mandatory spay neuter laws (and laws prohibiting animal breeding) are unconstitutional. But under which standard? Are we talking about a fundamental right? Or are we talking about the lower "rational basis standard?

Under the former (a much higher standard), the law would clearly be unconstitutional if it violates any of the fundamental rights as listed in the Bill of Rights, or such additional rights which (according to various the Supreme Court decisions) are said to flow from the enumerated rights.

I think AB 1634 violates several fundamental constitutional rights and should be subjected to strict scrutiny, and I'll try to examine them. I'll also try to explain why I think it fails even the lesser rational basis test as a public health measure. Please forgive the fact that this is written in a disorganized and spontaneous fashion (after all this is a blog post and not a law review article!)

Self incrimination:

By making it illegal to "own or possess" a "dog which has not been spayed or neutered," the law creates an unlawful status crime which, because it cannot be ascertained by mere appearance, invites and even requires an intrusive search. Thus, the existence of the law will grant heretofore unfettered police power to conduct searches, and make all dog and cat owners inherently suspect.

Not only would the law would force dog owners to incriminate themselves, it would not treat dog and cat owners equally.

California state law requires (as a public health measure) all dogs to be licensed, and to have licenses attached to their collars. Cats, on the other hand, are not required to be licensed. AB 1634 invites unequal treatment of dog and cat owners, because dog owners would be required to incriminate themselves annually (they'd be compelled to admit to having illegal unneutered dogs), while cat owners would not.

It is bad enough that the law requires self incrimination at all, but requiring only dog owners to self incriminate while exempting cat owners from self incrimination compounds self incrimination by violating the Equal Protection clause.

On what basis? Considering that far more cats are euthanized than dogs, it would seem that if a distinction is to be made, cats should be in a more suspect category than dogs and not the other way around.

Incidentally (and ironically), there is a rational basis for discriminating between dogs and cats under the licensing laws, and that is that cats are nowhere near as susceptible to rabies as dogs, and in the rare instances when they do contract the disease, they don't bite humans.

So, while this distinction might be fair to make in licensing because of rabies, the new law renders the licensing scheme discriminatory and self incriminating -- and (as I'll try to show) it does this without any rational (health-related) basis.

Due process, Equal protection, Unconstitutional taking of property:

Among the millions of animals owned by human beings in the state of California, only dogs and cats have been singled out for mandatory sterilization. Citizens are free to own, possess, and breed mice, rats, guinea pigs, gerbils, fish, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, cattle, chickens, pigeons, bees and other insects, and virtually any animal which is allowed to be kept in captivity. Dogs and cats have been singled out because the claim is made that there is an "overpopulation" problem. Yet this is defined not as dogs roaming the highways, but as "too many unwanted animals" (i.e., individual owners surrendering unwanted animals to animal control agencies). This is not overpopulation, as the reasons why individual owners might surrender pets to animal control agencies have nothing to do with how many animals there are in the state. Parents relinquish children to adoption agencies on a regular basis, but this is not done because of human overpopulation.

I don't think there has been any showing of overpopulation, much less a showing of any causal connection between overpopulation and privately owned animals. What I think is being called "overpopulation" is the fact that not all animals are wanted, and thus the animal control agencies are forced to euthanize the animals that no one wants. This is not overpopulation, but an aversion to animal euthanasia. Under what criteria does the fact that some surrendered animals are unadoptable and need to be euthanized get to be defined as "overpopulation"? An undeniable fact is that humans want puppies, not older dogs. And there is a documented puppy shortage -- which begs the question of what is overpopulation. Is the existence of older unwanted dogs really an issue of public health? Or is it just clever bureaucratic spin?

I am not saying that animal euthanasia is a good thing, but I do not see how the unpleasant nature of it -- or the reluctance to do it -- makes it a public health issue.

Yet the bill amends California's Health and Safety Code, and singles out individual dog owners by unconstitutionally restricting and harming their property, with a goal of preventing euthanasia on unwanted pets.

The question becomes this: Are unwanted pets a threat to the health and safety of Californians?

Can anyone explain how?

Most reasonable people would concede that it would be nice if no animals ever had to be euthanized. But in a state which allows breeding, slaughtering, and hunting of animals by the millions, I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that the euthanasia of unwanted pets constitutes a public health issue.

What this is is a euthanasia prevention campaign dressed up as a public health issue. People involved in animal control are simply claiming that they should have the right to restrict the rights of all pet owners so that they don't have to euthanize as many unwanted animals. Call it what you will, but it's not a public health issue.


If having a dog with intact genitalia is the equivalent of, say, having an abortion, buying a condom, or engaging in consensual homosexual sex, then the law would be unconstitutional on its face. Absent a showing that a dog is allowed to roam, I think that the privacy factor is at least as serious as that involved in abortion or consensual sex.

Public Health and Rational Basis:

Even under the weaker rational basis test, there still has to be a legitimate state goal which justifies the restriction, and a mere recitation of public health concerns is not enough.

The Institute for Animal Rights sees it differently:

...the number of unwanted cats and dogs causes significant social problems: senseless killing, health risks, wasted taxes, and more. Clearly, these problems raise important issues of public health, safety, welfare - and even morals. In other words, the "end" is entirely appropriate constitutionally.
"Senseless killing"? This argument underlines what is obviously the principal objection. If it is "senseless" to humanely euthanize an older animal that no human wants, then why isn't it just as senseless to hunt and slaughter wild animals and farm animals?

FWIW, I don't like euthanizing animals, OK? One of the worst traumas in recent memory was having to euthanize my dog Puff, and I put it off as long as I could, but finally I had to acknowledge that keeping him alive was bordering on being cruel to the animal I loved. The thing is, Puff did not know he was being put to death. He just died. Only I and the veterinarian knew what was being done to him. I think the same is true for all animal euthanasia. The people who perform it are the ones who suffer; not the animals.

And that, I think is the real [as opposed to covert and unacknowlegeable] basis for AB 1634, which really ought to be called the "Ease Mental Suffering of Animal Control Bureaucrats Act."

As to the health risks and costs, they are already dealt with by existing rabies and licensing statutes, and any costs are properly charged to people who are already required to buy the licenses.

I'm sorry, but regardless of what standard I apply, I see no constitutional basis for requiring me to cut out Coco's ovaries in order to help prevent stress in the animal control bureaucracy.

Here's the link to an organization that's dedicated to fighting this act, along with a logo I think is worth adding for those who want to fight this unprecedented encroachment on freedom:


Remember, to a dedicated animal rights activist, pet overpopulation means any pets at all.

It's not surprising that ovaries would come first.

UPDATE: This website has really done its homework on the statistics. Be sure to check it out, especially the charts.


MORE: Check out this graph:


AND MORE (05/02/07): Consider another side effect of AB 1634. If passed, California's existing dog licensing statutory scheme will be rendered self incriminatory and unconstitutional -- thus thwarting the state's otherwise legitimate rabies control efforts.

Anything that thwarts the control of rabies would only harm -- not help -- the public health.

This is another reason why the "public health" argument is deceptive.

MORE: Regarding the self-incrimination issue, the current language of proposed AB 1643 states, in pertinent part:

122336. For purposes of this chapter, the following definitions shall apply:
(a) "Intact permit" means a document issued annually by a local jurisdiction or its local animal control agency if authorized to issue these permits, that authorizes a person to own or possess within that locality an unaltered cat or dog and meets the requirements of subdivision (a) of Section 122336.2. A dog or cat license that meets the requirements of subdivision (a) of Section 122336.2 shall be considered a permit for purposes of this chapter. (Emphasis added.)
In a search through the various current city and county dog licensing applications throughout the State of California I found not one which failed to ask whether the dog had been spayed or neutered. But remember, under current law as it stands, it is not self incriminating to answer that question on an official form, because it is not illegal to own an unneutered dog. Section 122336's mandate that the dog license shall constitute evidence of an "intact permit" means that the entire licensing scheme (and all license applications statewide) will have to rewritten to require owners of unneutered dogs to apply for dog licenses on forms which require them to disclose a crime or else be forced to commit the crime of having an unlicensed dog.

I'm also concerned about the language "a person shall not own or possess within the state," because there is no exemption for veterinarians or dog boarding facilities.

Wouldn't this also discourage citizens from seeking veterinary care for their animals?

posted by Eric at 10:12 AM | Comments (7)

Moran On Iraq

Armed Liberal at Winds of Change is all hot and bothered about Rick Moran's (they spelled his name wrong) suggestion that it was time to surrender to the Democrats and pull out of Iraq on the Democrat's time table.

The Answer Man has an answer for Armed Liberal:

Might I suggest joining:

I Support Democracy In Iraq

or if you are interested in a more animated version:

I Support Democracy In Iraq - The Animation

I'd love to see the Democrats argue against democracy. If nothing else just for the entertainment value.

Then in comment #4 Glenn Wishard says that despite all Bush's deficiencies including the House of Saud, he is holding firm.

My reply:

Totally with you on this one.

True, but the one thing Bush has not done is cave in to the defeatists like a rotten pumpkin, the very thing which Moran now advises him to find the "courage" to do..

As long as he doesn't cave we have time to change the terms of the debate.

It is the old "maybe pigs will fly" strategem. If we help maybe pigs can fly.


It is time to stop focusing on the doctors and the hospital and take a look at the real patient. Iraqi Democracy.

This is not about the "Iraqi people" such as they are. It is about the Iraqi democrats. Who may even be a minority. Doesn't matter.

It will be impossible for real Americans, even of the leftist variety, to repudiate democracy with any degree of conviction.

What will they say: Iraq is not ready? So what do we do, wait until they are ready and invade again?

Arabs can't do democracy? That is racism.

Then hit them with a good old JFK right between the eyes:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

John F. Kennedy

I'd love to hear the Democrats argue against Saint John.

Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

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

The Pain In The Brain

I just learned somethin new today about pain. What I learned is that Arthritis pain is processed in the brain's 'fear center'.

Researchers at The University of Manchester have discovered that arthritis pain, unlike that induced as part of an experiment, is processed in the parts of the brain concerned with emotions and fear.
So repeated pain trains you. It causes your experience of pain to be more painful. Which is a good thing since it will tend to reduce the stress on the areas in pain. The more it hurts the less you use it.
"We thought that arthritic and acute experimental pain would be processed within the same areas of the pain matrix," Dr Kulkarni continued. "But, although both activated both the medial and lateral pain systems, arthritic pain prompted increased activity in the cingulate cortex, thalamus and amygdale within the medial system - the areas concerned with processing fear, emotions and aversive conditioning.

"This suggests that arthritic pain has more emotional salience than experimental pain for these patients, which is consistent with the unpleasantness scores they themselves gave. The increased activity in the areas associated with aversive conditioning, reward and fear, which are less commonly activated during experimental pain, suggests they might be processing fear of further injury and disability associated with the arthritic pain."

This I is very important because I think fear, if it reaches a high enough level, is experienced as pain. On top of that it is likely that extreme fear memories can be experienced as pain as well.

Which points out something another study looks at. Fear memories are at the heart of PTSD as I discussed in PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System. One of the keys tying this all together is this study: Fear memories, the amygdala, and the CB1 receptor. It turns out that cannabinoids are a part of this signaling mechanism and that the strength of the signal is in part genetically determined.

All this corroborates what I have been saying for years. The idea that "drugs cause addiction" is superstition. People in chronic pain chronically take drugs for pain relief. It doesn't matter if the pain is from a broken bone or rape memories. The same drugs work to provide relief.

The drug war is a persecution of people in pain.

Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

posted by Simon at 07:24 AM | Comments (0)

Car Sticker for Bush haters with dyslexia?

I couldn't resist taking a photo of a pricey Town and Country with a sticker that read "W STANDS FOR WRONG."


I guess that's supposed to be a self-explanatory sort of in joke for like-thinking people, but I thought I'd improve on it a bit:


The problem is that if I put that on my car, I don't think most people would get it.

My hope would be that the really smug people would mistake it for their own sticker, and that maybe they'd smile and wave!

Then I could smile and wave back before the sticker shock set in.

posted by Eric at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

Never Again

My mother is Jewish. As I am.

She grew up in the 20s and 30s. She knew about Roosevelt's abandoning the Jews. She is a staunch believer in "never again".

And yet when I say that we can't abandon the Iraqi people to the head choppers all I get back is "I hate George Bush" and "America has no interest in Iraq".

Prompted by FlickMaven's discussion of Nazi evil.

While I don't quibble with the term, I think that many people miss the point when trying to apply the historical significance of the German "Final Solution" to our contemporary lives.

The point here is not that "monsters" perpetrated these acts. The point is that regular, everyday Germans did so, while going about their regular everyday business.

And so it is with the fate of the Iraqi democrats. The people who would abandon them are just ordinary. It is not like they want to see Iraqi democrats dead. It is more like indifference. Which is almost always the face of evil.

Me? I Support Democracy In Iraq.

H/T Instapundit

Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

posted by Simon at 12:53 PM | Comments (6)

Voiding my useless and irrelevant warranty
(While worrying about my ongoing slide into crime)


After only a year or so of use, my cell phone's bluetooth receiver (a Cardo Scala 500) is failing miserably. The battery runs down far too quickly, and it has an infuriating way of running down the battery of my cell phone during its own erratically short life.

I thought I had a bright idea this morning -- "GET A NEW BATTERY FOR THE BLUETOOTH!"

Well, Doh!

This seemed like a no-brainer. But I didn't see any information about the battery on the outside of the device, the case of which is held together by a single tiny phillips-head screw. Using a jeweler's screwdriver, I removed the screw, then pried off the upper shell of the case. Much to my horror, there was no visible battery! Worse yet, the circuit board is solidly joined to the lower shell assembly, meaning that I'd have to break plastic and solder joints to free it, which I'm sure would render the thing inoperable (even assuming I could find and replace the battery).

I scouted around further, and discovered to my horror that many of these bluetooth devices do not contain replaceable batteries -- meaning they are essentially throwaway devices which last for a year. This comment made me feel like a total idiot:

I can't believe people are actually buying DISPOSABLE bluetooth devices. After one year of use, any battery out there will not hold the charge anymore.
There is no way to replace the battery inside those bluetooth devices. So you have to buy a new one.
While I should probably pay more attention to these things, there was nothing in the company's product description that warned that the device was a throwaway, nor did I see any caveats in the standard reviews like this one indicating that when the battery gets tired, the whole unit becomes trash.

Well, at least the federal government won't arrest me for throwing it away. Although I suppose if I put it within ten feet of my sudafed, I could be busted for running a meth lab.


Once again, mere life becomes a slippery slope into crime. Is it me, or is reality becoming surreal?

Anyway, after some looking, I did find this at the company's FAQ:

The battery should only be removed by authorized personnel. You should never try to open the Headset and let only authorized Service Centers maintain or service your Headset or Adapter. Unauthorized opening of the product will void all warranties.

You mean, by taking out that screw and simply looking inside, I voided my warranty? How mean of them! I put it back together and it's absolutely no different; the problem is that it's only good for a couple of hours and the quality degrades very quickly. It's obvious that the battery is defective, so how is it that I voided the warranty by simply taking a peek inside?

No need to panic. I just read through the manual (here in pdf), and on page 16 it states that the warranty is (meaning was) only good for one year!

And on page 17, the one year limited warranty clearly states that batteries are not covered!

Certain limited life components... such as.... batteries... are exempt from any warranty.
Great. So by opening the unit, I voided nothing. (Unless it's possible to void a useless warranty I no longer have.)

Two important lessons here.

Caveat emptor.

And be careful having lithium batteries anywhere near sudafed!

posted by Eric at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

I Support Democracy In Iraq - The Animation

This was the first submission in our contest for a better logo: I Support Democracy In Iraq - Contest which also contains a link to some submission guidelines written by one of the judges. First prize in the contest is from Coyote Organics.


Thanks to bo ure who created it.

Cross Posted at The Astute Bloggers

posted by Simon at 11:58 AM | Comments (1)

bumbling the bee scare?

On Thursday (the day before yesterday), the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a scolding editorial written by self-styled "investigative journalist" Dave Lindorff who declared that not only are the honey bees "gone," but that so are all pollinators.

In a skeptical post, I noted that it was early in the season (there was snow last week), but that I'd seen other bees in my yard. Because there's been so much noise about the "vanished" honey bees, though, I just assumed that I wouldn't find any of them, so I didn't devote much time to looking.

Now I see that even I -- cynical skeptic that I am -- was being far too gullible!

Perhaps I should have realized that a guy who calls U.S. soldiers "baby killers" and cites fraudulent information to support a 9/11 black box conspiracy theory might not be the most reliable source about bees. But still, the editorial was in the Inquirer, and there have been plenty of stories about "no more bees," so I just sort of assumed....

So, while it probably shouldn't have, it took Glenn Reynolds' link to Mickey Kaus's report that his mother's garden was "absolutely buzzing" with bees to wake me up into events in my own backyard!

I kid you not!

Here's a closeup of a honey bee pollinating the hell out of a cherry blossom on the cherry tree right next to my driveway:


The tree is literally abuzz with honey bees just like that one, and their rear legs are laden with yellow pollen.

The more I thought it over, though, the more I realized that a true no-bees-believer might just say I could have gotten that picture anywhere, and that it could have been taken at any time. Even if people are inclined to trust me, what's wrong with "trust but verify"?

It occurred to me that the best way to date the bees would be to show a verifiable newspaper near them. I still had the Inquirer editorial by Dave Lindorff sitting around, and it's only two days old. So, with great difficulty (taking care not to get stung), I managed to hold the Lindorff editorial next to one of the honey bees on my cherry tree.


Seen from that vantage point, the Lindorff piece could be said to be stung by self-Fisking.

Perhaps that's the natural beauty of reality-based honey bees.

UPDATE (04/29/07): My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and for the compliment about the photos!

I just went out and checked this morning, and sure enough, yesterday (which was colder and overcast) was not a fluke. Right now there are more honey bees in the yard than I could hope to count.

posted by Eric at 04:40 PM | Comments (30)

What about the right to keep and bear eggs?

Er, sorry, I changed the title of the post. I said "dogs" but I want to be accurate as possible, and right now they're only going after dogs capable of reproducing themselves -- which means the dogs' eggs and sperm. (See my last post about California's mandatory spay and neuter law, and also take a look at this web page.)

But still, whether you call it the right to keep and bear dogs, or keep and bear a dog with ovaries, what about it? There is no such "right" in the Constitution. Does that mean we don't have it? There's no right to do a lot of things we do, but I want to ask, from where derives the government's right to tell us what to do -- especially in the privacy of our own homes?

I realize that Coco enjoys no constitutional right to her ovaries, because she has no rights at all. She is my property, and it is up to me whether to let her keep her ovaries. When I see "the government" ready to intrude into my life by compelling me to remove my dog's ovaries, I am forced to ask some basic questions about the nature of government, and the nature of control.

Now, it would be one thing if I caused a problem, by allowing my dog to roam, or by breeding so many dogs that the smells and noises disturbed the tranquility of my neighbors. But if my dog is in my house and in my yard, under what conceivable theory do her ovaries become the government's business? The theory that is advanced is that there are "too many dogs." Well, who has too many dogs? I don't see them. There's a puppy shortage. And if irresponsible pet owners let their dogs run around so that they're a nuisance, or if they crank out so many puppies that they're annoying the neighbors, well, go after them. Round up the problem animals, issue citations to the problem owners. Whatever needs to be done about people who create problems, fine. What is not fine is to take action against people who are not creating problems by invading their lives, on the theory that they might create a problem.

How many dogs constitute too many dogs? What is "dog overpopulation"? While the evidence points away from the existence of any such problem, let's assume that there were too many dogs, that they're running around loose, and that they're creating problems. Why not round them up and humanely kill them?

As it happens in my neighborhood, I don't see stray dogs, but there are too many deer running around. I counted thirteen in a herd recently, and neighbors complain constantly about their yards being invaded. Deer are starving to death, and running into the road and causing accidents in record numbers. Yet, very little is being done about the problem. Bureaucrats hold meetings, and that's about it. The reason nothing is done is that the solution is to kill off the excess deer. This is seen as unacceptable.

It's easy to look at deer overpopulation, though, because deer are not owned by anyone, and no one can be blamed or legislated against. But suppose for the sake or argument that some farmer owned and bred deer, and had a fenced herd of deer which were never allowed to roam away from his privately land. Would anyone in their right mind blame him for "deer overpopulation"?

So under what theory would we blame responsible dog owners who don't let their dogs roam for the existence (if any) of roaming dogs?

Maybe readers can help me, but I've thought about this, and the only theory that makes any sense is that because I own a dog, I belong to an inherently suspect class. This "class" is a based on the conflation of people causing problems and people who aren't causing problems, and the tenuous connection is made that people who aren't causing problems might cause problems. I think it is identical to the central philosophy of gun control. Because some people who have guns are bad and do bad things with them, while other people with guns are good, according to the "suspect class" theory, the good gun owners should be treated as if they are presumptively bad.

According to this, um, "unified theory of irresponsibility," all gun owners are presumed to be irresponsible, as are all dog owners. But where does it end?

And what are the implications for the traditional American jurisprudential view that citizens are innocent until proven guilty? Preemptive legislation such as gun control and ovary control cause a mathematical shifting of the view of criminality so that instead of the actual social harm (roaming dogs or drive-by shootings) being the crime, the precursor ingredients (ovaries and guns) become the crime. While I would like to think that the deleterious effect on freedom should be obvious, apparently it isn't obvious enough, or else people don't care.

So I'll just stick with the effect on crime itself. Clearly, a small minority of gun owners and dog owners (and probably cell phone and computer users) are behaving in an irresponsible manner and committing crimes of one sort or another. Under this unified theory of shared irresponsibility, if the laws are changed to criminalize things which are not crimes now, how could that possibly decrease the rate of these crimes? Common sense suggests that it would increase it -- and dramatically. No one argues that the existing minority of current law-breakers would do anything but continue to break the law, only they'd be breaking new laws as well. But clearly, when large numbers of people in the the responsible class are suddenly turned into criminals by new laws, two things happen:

  • 1. the crime rate goes up; and
  • 2. many middle class law abiding people become instant criminals.
  • Why would anyone want to increase crime while transforming law abiding people into criminals?

    Now, I expect many conservatives and libertarians would answer by saying that this is just what liberals do, and it's part of the liberal, or statist, or control-freak philosophy, and I think there's a certain amount of truth to that.

    What I want to know is why are so many law abiding people willing to go along with it? Don't they realize that it won't stop with gun control and ovary control?

    Anyone who thinks it will should read the Simpson approach to gun control, which Glenn Reynolds linked yesterday and which Eugene Volokh satirized by applying it to drug laws. Rather than quote the satirized Simpson plan verbatim, I thought that in the spirit of this post I'd change "drugs" into "dogs":

    Special squads of police would be formed and trained to carry out the work. Then, on a random basis to permit no advance warning, city blocks and stretches of suburban and rural areas would be cordoned off and searches carried out in every business, dwelling, and empty building. All dogs would be seized. The owners of dogs found in the searches would be prosecuted.

    Fairly quickly there would begin to be dog-swept, dog-free areas where there should be no dogs. If there were, those harboring them would be subject to quick confiscation and prosecution. On the streets it would be a question of stop-and-search of anyone, even grandma with her Chihuahua, with the same penalties for possessing.

    America's long land and sea borders present another kind of problem. It is easy to imagine mega-dog dealerships installing themselves in Mexico, to funnel dogs into the United States. That already constitutes a problem for American immigration authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard, but not an insurmountable one over time.

    [Sorry, but I just couldn't resist adding a link.]

    I'd like to think the above was a joke, but it's no joke in China. Not only have they applied the Simpson method to dog control, they have ovary control -- for humans!

    Anyone who thinks this Simpson character is just a joke should think again. The man was actually a United States Ambassador. Isn't it bad enough that other countries commit such egregious violations of freedom (and treat all citizens as criminal suspects) without having a U.S. ambassador come back from countries like that and advocate doing the same thing here?

    Responsible, law abiding people in this country need to realize that freedom cannot be taken for granted, that what may be law abiding behavior today may be illegal tomorrow, and that there is in fact a growing movement to treat law abiding responsible citizens as criminal suspects.

    Of course, I have a personal stake in this. Aside from wanting to preserve what freedom I still have, I'd rather not be a criminal.

    Why is it being made so easy to become a criminal when you'd rather not?

    I used to think of criminals as people who actually went out and messed with other people, by, you know, committing crimes. Yet here I am, minding my own business and not so much as inconveniencing anyone, while an ever-growing number of people want to make me into a criminal. As it is, I'm forced to live as an exile from California, where my dog and my guns would be criminal activities.

    So, should I just sit around in Pennsylvania and imagine it could never happen here? Or should I move South and hope it doesn't happen there?

    Wherever I go, it seems that it's easier and easier to become a criminal by doing nothing.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: It occurs to me that some readers might tend to get hung up on the merits of particular issues, and miss the larger philosophical one. Sure, people shouldn't allow their dogs to roam, and sure, responsible pet-owners might be well advised to sterilize their animals. Gun owners should practice gun safety and should never behave in an irresponsible manner with firearms. Responsible behavior is a good thing, and responsible behavior should be encouraged.

    However, I think passing laws that turn responsible people into criminals will discourage -- not encourage -- responsibility.

    UPDATE (05/01/07): I realize the post has worked its way so far down from the blog's masthead that few will see it, but what the hell, today is Mayday -- the day in which collectivism is feted, so I just thought Glenn Reynolds' Quote of the Day from Samizdata belonged here:

    The problem is, they will outlaw almost everything while enforcing very little. Imprisonment by stealth. People will not know they are encircled until it is too late - like putting in all these very deep, robust fence-posts with no fence panels. All seems open. One day you will wake up and the panels are in, you are trapped and they can decide what law they wish to impose to nail whomsoever they desire.

    MORE: I've written a somewhat more detailed constitutional analysis of AB 1634 here.

    As curtailments on freedom go, I think AB 1634 sets a new standard.

    posted by Eric at 11:56 AM | Comments (7)

    A Political Deadline For Defeat.

    Joe Lieberman has given an outstanding speech on the Iraq War funding bills now passing through the Senate. The video is about 3 3/4 minutes long and you can view it at Classical Values or at The Astute Bloggers. I highly reccommend it if you can spare the bandwidth. Joe asks why Oct. 1, 2007 was picked as the cut off date.

    Well, naturally I have a few ideas about that. I'm sure Joe knows the significance of that date. It is a little more than a month from our 2008 election. The Democrats want badly to get elected and they think that what with their rabid anti-war base and a general population that gets the war on Islamic Fascism and the importance of Iraq as a theater of that war, they have to get the war off people's minds before the election. So they have to calculate how late they can force the withdrawal and yet not have a full scale civil war in Iraq on election day.

    Now we know that the Islamics really like the Democrats. They say so. The withdrawal gets a lot of praise. So I would expect as a quid pro quo from the Islamics that they will hold off on attacks for the most part especially from the withdrawal date until after the election once a date certain for withdrawal has been set.

    In other words I think the Democrats with all their recent toing and frowing in the Middle East have brokered a sell out of America and Iraq. They went direct to upper management. No fooling around with intermediaries or cut outs who might screw the deal or want too big a cut. Nope. Right to the top. When it comes to the Culture of Corruption I think the Republicans with their Jack Abramoff type scandals were pikers. They were only selling out one segment of the American people to another. These folks are selling out America to foreign powers. And not retail like Dubai Ports or similar examples. These folks are offering a package deal at wholesale rates. The scope is breathtaking. The chutzpah stupendous.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 10:29 PM | Comments (6)

    The end of mutts?

    I've always enjoyed purebred dogs, but a lot of people I know swear by mutts. And I can understand why, because some of the nicest dogs I have ever known have been mongrels.

    Man's best friend does not have to look pretty in a show ring, or come with a pedigree.

    Few people stop to consider where mutts come from. I don't think I need to be pointing this out to my readers, so I'll try to put this succinctly: mutts result from sexual intercourse between two dogs not of the same breed who still have functioning genitalia.

    California Assembly Bill 1634 ("Mandatory Spay and Neuter for Dogs and Cats") reminds me why California is often called the state where nuts come from. For whatever crazy reason they don't seem to know where mutts come from.

    In previous posts I have bemoaned the mandatory spay and neuter movement, which would force me to cut out ("fix") Coco's ovaries even though there is nothing wrong with them.

    I suppose that in this instance Coco might a bit of an advantage over mongrels, because there's an exemption in the bill for purebred dogs which are shown or used for breeding purposes in professional kennels. But if you don't show your dog and you're not a licensed breeder, it's off with the nuts! And out with the ovaries! Or else!

    This is not only madness, it's based on the erroneous premise that there is a "dog overpopulation" crisis. As I pointed out in a long post on the subject, this is simply not so; puppies are in such short supply that even animal shelters can't get enough. Puppies are being smuggled across the border from Mexico. Thus, to the extent that this law's rational basis is to amelioriate "dog overpopulation," it is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy as well as an unlawful restriction on private property.

    I often wonder whether legislators think about the longterm consequences of laws like this. Actually, AB 1634 will create quite a monopoly for breeders of pure bred animals who have enough money to get a business license and the requisite licenses which will be required. Puppy prices will shoot way up, and ordinary people who want puppies will either be forced to buy purebed dogs at premium prices, or else resort to underground breeders. And the animal shelters! If they think times are tough now supplying puppies, imagine a world of no more dogs capable of reproduction except purebreds in professional kennels! The shelters might have to resort to illegal mutt breeding.

    This website has a good collection of links opposed to the legislation, and an ad hoc grass roots lobbying effort has a great website here.

    If I had more energy, I could go on ranting about this all day, but I honestly had no idea that the bill had generated so much momentum. They're steamrolling it through before people have a chance to think it over. It's easy for rich celebrities to support; they can afford thousands of dollars for designer dogs. But ordinary people? Forget it. The days of the family dog and the family mutt will soon be gone.

    To the animal rights activists, this is just a step in the direction of no more pets.

    It's a pretty big one, too.

    I have to say I'm shocked that it's gotten this far. This is a hell of a piss-poor way to treat man's best friend. Animal "rights"? Are you kidding? Legislation like this actually makes me feel a bit ashamed to be a human.

    My thanks to regular reader (and longtime Officially Privileged Commenter) Ironbear for alerting me to the progress of AB 1634. Interestingly, Ironbear also reports that "the AKC/UKC and various breeders associations seem to have done a lousy job of getting this issue and the opposition to the bill any publicity."


    Not to sound conspiratorial but I do hope they don't consider this a business opportunity. But the fact is, mandatory spaying and neutering will not end the demand for pet dogs. If only registered purebred breeders can breed dogs, that means a huge increase in the number of new litter registrations, individual registrations, and so on.

    (I guess we should be glad they don't restrict human breeding in this way....)

    posted by Eric at 04:38 PM | Comments (8)

    A Deadline for Defeat

    Joe Lieberman cuts the Democrats down to size in this 3 3/4 minute video. Very much worth a look if you haven't seen it already.

    Cross Posted at The Astute Bloggers

    H/T Kurt at Flopping Aces

    posted by Simon at 03:51 PM | Comments (1)

    A vote for Obama as an offset against racism?

    Many white Americans are suffering from what I'd call race fatigue. It's not like ordinary fatigue, because this fatigue takes the form of being sick of the fatigue itself. Not only are they are sick of the fact that race is an issue, but they are sick and tired of feeling guilty about racism, and sick and tired of the fact that they are sick and tired of the feeling.

    The ugly fact is that the guilt and the feelings will never go away, no matter how much they might want them to go away. Part of this is because of actual guilt; slavery left a lingering legacy and Jim Crow laws were within recent memory; I remember them! And a major part of it is the perception of guilt -- created not so much by the perception of racism but by the perception of the appearance of racism. No matter what people do, there's no way to make the guilt virus go away.


    Unless someone came along and offered a way to at least make the appearance of racism go away.

    Might that someone be Barack Obama?

    Admittedly , I was a bit shocked to see the following line staring me in my face at InstaPundit this morning:

    It is reasonable to surmise that Barack Obama will be the next President.
    But I read on:
    Mr Obama has a once-in-a-lifetime charisma that Hillary Clinton could never approximate, and she also suffers from the handicap of not being black. For all of his other plusses, part of Mr Obama's appeal lies in the fact that many whites feel that voting for a black presidential candidate would be Doing the Right Thing. Leon Wieseltier has been explicit about this; he is not unique.
    And the more I read from John McWhorter, the more painfully obvious it became that Barack Obama's already strong psychological appeal (to both guilt-ridden and guilt-fatigued white Americans) offers something no other candidate can offer:
    It will be intriguing to see what a certain contingent makes of it if we finally have a black president. All rhetoric about America as an apartheid nation, racist to its core, will run up against the fact--which will ironically feel inconvenient to this contingent--that the man who wakes up every morning in the White House and flies on Air Force One is black.

    Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell have not really counted in this regard. Serving a Republican administration renders them to an extent "not really black" in the eyes of many, and neither devotes much effort to "identifying" with the black community. But Mr Obama would be a Democratic president, and with no war blood on his hands.

    If you ask me, Obama's strength is that he provides what amounts to a "offset" against racism -- whether real, perceived, or imagined.

    While the argument is made that Obama is "not black enough," it strikes me that that argument has been fading, although McWhorter thinks the debate is long overdue:

    We will likely hear that a child of a white mother and African father who spent much of his childhood abroad is not a true black American, as has already been observed by Stanley Crouch and Debra Dickerson.

    But interestingly, I doubt this issue would come up about Mr Obama if, like even many blacks with histories like his, he had the speech patterns and demeanor associated with "real" American blackness: think Spike Lee, Bernie Mac, Morgan Freeman.

    The issue, then, would really be about the extent to which Mr Obama is culturally black American, regardless of his biography. Some would lob this out of a constitutional antipathy to admitting that racism in America is receding (neither Mr Crouch nor Ms Dickerson are among this group). However, when couched more sensibly, the discussion would be one I would welcome.

    So would I, and so would a lot of Americans -- black and white. Guilt-ridden and guilt-fatigued.

    McWhorter touches on another uncomfortable issue, and that is past prejudice against "miscegenation" (which I sometimes suspect is being perversely kept alive by "identity politics"):

    One person can, after all, be more culturally black than another one. We are trained to roll our eyes and say "What's that all about?" when this is brought up. But if blackness is about nothing but having a certain amount of pigment, then we seem to have gone back to some assumptions that bring to mind sepia-toned photographs and words like miscegenation.

    In an America with increasing numbers of biracials, it's time to start this conversation, and a President Obama would be a useful kick off.

    I couldn't agree more that it's time.

    FWIW, I think Hillary is blowing it badly. Her comical and lame attempts to show how "black" she is are precisely that -- comically lame. The irony is that the more she pretends to be black, the blacker she makes Obama look. So, by trying to insinuate that he's not "really black" (with a condescending wink-wink to black voters), she's actually reminding everyone that he is black, and creating an anti-Hillary backlash among blacks and whites!

    This might work if Obama weren't really black, but the problem is that because of his appearance he can win the argument without saying a word.

    Voters can look at him and see that he is black. And if Obama isn't black, then who is?

    I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of voters considered the accusation that Obama is "not black enough" a form of racism too.

    If a vote for Obama can be translated into a vote against racism -- a vote to end racism -- he'll be president.

    (And while I don't agree with a lot of what he says, I'm fatigued enough to think that maybe he should be.)

    UPDATE: Loren Heal links this post, but doesn't think white guilt will be enough to put Obama in the White House:

    One would hope people would still want someone who had a proven record of executive leadership, experience in government and industry, and a nice dog.
    I'm not planning to vote for Obama, but I think there's more to this than white guilt. White guilt is one thing, but I don't think that's enough to elect anybody. A much larger factor is white resentment of being made to feel guilty.

    If Obama's election is seen as official certification that White Americans Are No Longer Racist -- if he can package himself as the man to make the guilt go away along with the resentment -- I think this is a powerful combination.

    UPDATE: Speaking of blowing it badly, Hillary Clinton is now defending her accents as multilingualism:

    GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she sees her sometimes Southern accent as a virtue.

    "I think America is ready for a multilingual president," Clinton said during a campaign stop at a charter school in Greenville, S.C.

    America may have already had a multilingual president (Garfield was described that way), but multilingualism means the ability to speak multiple languages.

    Sorry, but speaking in accents doesn't count.

    UPDATE (04/29/07): Thank you, Glenn Reynolds for the link, and welcome all!

    I hadn't thought about whether racism offsets are as phony as carbon offsets, but shouldn't it be easier to offset racism than carbon? Skin color can be seen as superficial, but there's no getting away from the fact that underneath our skin, we're mostly carbon.

    That last remark overstated the actual percentage of carbon in the human body, which, though present in substantial amounts, runs second to oxygen:

    96.2% of body weight comes from "organic elements" present in many different forms. DNA, RNA proteins, lipids and sugars are all composed of primarily O, C, H and N. Also, Water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2)as well as other small molecules involve these elements.

    Oxygen (65.0%)
    Carbon (18.5%)
    Hydogen (9.5%)
    Nitrogen (3.2%)

    UPDATE (04/30/07): Might an Obama candidacy be the thing that finally forces the Republicans to draft Condi Rice? Clayton Cramer has seen a "Condi '08" Bumper Sticker:

    Yup, I saw one of these today on my way to church in Boise today. I like the idea, but Condi is clearly too intelligent to be elected. Still, a
    Thompson/Condi ticket would be very attractive!
    I'd vote for such a ticket, and while I don't think assuaging guilt would have anything to do with my vote, as I noted in a comment below,
    It is undeniable that a Condi Rice candidacy would have a similar appeal; the difference is that she's more qualified to be president.

    posted by Eric at 11:48 AM | Comments (37)

    Can anyone explain this?

    Quick question for any geeks out there.

    Here's a recent comment which was left which had absolutely nothing to do with the post or the other comments:

    Wagnerian frees artichoke religions?rebuilding emperors,clone... Thank you!!
    Now, there was no embedded link, no URL anywhere, no website listed, and the email address was alphabetical gobbledygook. (I Googled the phrase, and of course it is not a known slogan.) While I am inclined to think of a comment like this as being spam, we normally think of spam as having a purpose. But if there is no link and no website and the comment directs no one to anything at all, is it really spam? If it is, what does that suggest about spam? I can see absolutely no reason for posting random nonsense, unless it is done merely to ascertain whether the site administrator is paying attention. But wouldn't that require additional monitoring of the site? If these are placed by bots, are bots now intelligent enough to go back and check the blogs to see whether the nonsense comments got through? Why not just post the spam and be done with it?

    I'm wondering whether the goal might be not to spam bloggers but simply to annoy them. In whose interest would that be? Vendors of competing blog software are the only people who readily come to mind.

    But isn't that a bit farfetched?

    There must be a simple explanation, but I'm not seeing it.

    MORE: I just had a thought in a comments below:

    It can't be advertising without an ad. Unless, the urls were stripped out automatically somewhere.

    Is there such a thing as crippled or partially disabled spam getting through?

    Could that be it? Might it be that this was once "normal" spam, but it was mangled by some ISP's spam-combatting software? Or are there such things? It seems to me that if they catch spam, they ought to delete it rather than "sanitize" it, but I guess anything's possible.

    AND MORE: Commenter Jim C thinks it may be "cleaned up" spam:

    On a more serious note there are filters that many blogging services are running to remove Java and other sctipts to prevent cross site scripting attacks. Perhaps this is an automated CSS virus that has had its payload cleaned by a filter.
    That's the only explanation that makes sense.

    If that's right, the spammers surely know about it, and doubtless they'll redouble their efforts.

    Wouldn't it be nice to catch one and deprive him of his rights?

    UPDATE: I really appreciate the explanations of how these things happen, but commenter Stewart alerted me to something I had't thought about:

    Others have given the likely technical answer. I'd just like to point out that this:

    "Wagnerian frees artichoke religions?rebuilding emperors,clone... Thank you!!"
    does sound like the synopsis of one wild sci-fi story!

    Hilarious! (The only problem is that the story has probably already been written....)

    posted by Eric at 09:18 AM | Comments (17)

    Break the schools that break the necks

    Not long ago, huge young men (euphemistically called "children" by a society in denial) attacked a Philadelphia public school teacher, and beat him so severely that he was sent to the hospital with a broken neck. The case continues to capture the public's imagination (as it captured mine in a couple of posts), and today the story (with pictures of the teacher in a neck brace and the "children" in prison pjs) was again on the Inquirer's front page.

    Thanks to modern medical technology, the teacher is expected to make a full recovery. And even though the "children" have apologized in open court, the teacher says he doesn't understand:

    Burd struggled to retain his composure as he showed photographs of his family to Boykin and Footman so they could see that he had a life outside Germantown High School. And tears welled up as he described how upset he was when he thought that his two young grandchildren might have grown up without knowing him.

    He recounted his injuries and said he still didn't understand why he had been attacked.

    "I don't understand this," Burd said to both students.

    "I don't know you," Burd told Footman, who wore a beige shirt and pants. "I didn't do anything to you."

    And while William Spalding, Boykin's defense attorney, said his client was less culpable because he had no idea that Footman was going to punch the teacher, Burd said if Boykin had not pushed him, he wouldn't have been injured at all.

    When Dougherty asked Boykin why he pursued and pushed Burd, the teen said: "I acted like a child with a temper tantrum. . . . I pushed him because I was mad because he took my iPod."

    Later, as Dougherty, administrative judge of Family Court, prepared to impose sentence, he said: "Have we now regressed to where it's now become sport to hurt our teachers? Have we regressed where our school system and the educational structure in Philadelphia has disintegrated to the level that incarceration is next to graduation?"

    As I've argued many times, I think schools are basically places of incarceration. I'm not going to scan the pictures of the two "children" who sent Mr. Burd to the hospital, but trust me, they're huge grown men, and they don't look sorry in the least. One of them seems to have plenty of experience in the violent spaces, as the Inquirer says he was "sent to a discipline school after assaulting an administrator at Roosevelt Middle School in 2004," and "has had problems with anger and dealing with authority figures since he was 5."

    I hate to be so redundant, but I want to stay with the prison analogy for a moment. I have described the inner-city public schools as daytime joints, because they are so remarkably similar to prisons. In prison, an assault on a guard is taken very seriously, and that's because above all, order must be maintained. However, the guards are allowed to defend themselves, and society for the most part turns a blind eye when a prisoner who assaults a guard gets what's coming to him. If a group of teachers did the same thing to a violent "child" that guards often do to an assaultive prisoner, we'd never hear the end of it. Seriously, had Mr. Burd gottten together with a couple of other teachers and worked these kids over, it would be a national scandal, they'd be looking at serious time, and the school district would be sued for every penny its insurance company has.

    Which means that no matter how many times it's repeated, the teacher as prison guard analogy falls short. In practice, prison guards have more rights than teachers. Teachers might be akin to guards in the custodial sense, but they lack the power to control their wards, and in addition they are required to assiduously cultivate and maintain a pretense that what they are doing constitutes "education."

    The untold tragedy here is that for every battered teacher who receives front page coverage, there are countless hundreds (probably thousands) of assaulted, battered, bullied and terrorized students. But what bothers me more than that is that an increasingly callused and bureaucratized society has about as much concern with their "rights" as with the rights of an assaulted and terrorized prisoner.

    I know it will sound completely lame, but I'll say it anyway.

    This is not fair!

    Even if society has become so callused as to allow the schools to degenerate into day prisons, what is being forgotten is that just as there is an important distinction between guards and teachers, so there is an important distinction between inmates and students. Society's failure to really care about inmate-on-inmate assaults is based on a cruel, if common-sensical rationalization along the lines of "hey, if they hadn't done the crimes, they wouldn't be there!"

    But what crime have students committed which requires they be legally required to be placed in hellholes of incarceration where they must face huge undisciplined thugs on a daily basis? Remember, teachers, like guards, can quit at any time. Unless a student's parents have money or influence within the system, he's stuck. His daily life is a struggle to survive in the cruel and violent world we call the public school.

    And where is due process? No one can be imprisoned absent a lengthy process which requires society to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a crime, following which a judge has to actually sentence him to prison, but even beyond that he has the right to appeal the sentence. Students are simply sentenced by society to attend the daytime holding facilities without any hearing at all. No due process. No appeal. If they have committed a crime, it is one of status. They are (it seems) the wrong age.

    Imagine for a moment if society did the same thing to adults. Suppose I received a notice in the mail telling me that I had to report each day to a place of "education" where I knew I would learn nothing but where violent men abounded who would threaten me, and where I was not allowed to carry a weapon in self defense. But I just had to go there daily -- so that society could pretend I was being "educated."

    I don't know whether I'd call it Communism, Fascism, or Totalitarianism, but I'd probably scream that I had committed no crime, and I'd go to court and allege that the outrage violated my 5th and 14th Amendment rights to due process, as well as the 13th Amendment prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude.

    The reason I have these rights is not because I am a United States citizen, but because I am over eighteen. (This, of course, fits right in with what Dr. Robert Epstein observed in the Glenn and Helen podcast interview -- that young people are severely lacking in basic rights.)

    But beyond the right not to be compelled to be sent to a place against my will, common sense suggests that adults and children have the same rights not to be attacked. I have the right to walk down the street without being attacked, and if someone attacks me, I can defend myself, and I can also call the police and have the attacker arrested. It strikes me that children have these same rights, but they are not being enforced.

    In practice, it seems that in order to successfully sue the school, the student has to be in a special category (for example, Jewish or gay), and he has to have been singled out for abuse for that reason. But that makes no sense to me. I mean, what's the lesson here? That it's OK for children to attack children as long as they aren't in special categories?

    Why isn't there more litigation? After all, people routinely sue each other for auto accidents, yet a child who is bullied suffers far more emotional damage than an adult with "whiplash" injury. An adult who harms an adult can be held liable if his conduct was criminal or tortious. But a child who harms a child cannot be sued, and the long-settled common law doctrine is that "there is no vicarious liability on a parent for the torts of a child." Couple this with the sovereign immunity that schools enjoy, and little wonder the schools have become so callused.

    Perhaps if there were more lawsuits, the schools would run out of funding and the tradition of mandatory daytime incarceration in violent places would finally come to an end.

    This is certainly an odd thing for me to advocate, because I hate litigation, and I don't like the lawsuit-happy mentality which litigation promotes. However, I think the educational bureaucracy has grown so callused that they deserve litigation -- especially in the violent, out of control schools. The worse the school, the more litigation. What's unfair about that? So I'm glad to see that people are working to get rid of sovereign immunity immunity for school districts.

    Spare the law and spoil the educrat.

    Who knows? Litigation might even incline the educrats to support the voucher system.

    posted by Eric at 08:30 AM | Comments (4)

    Obama Is Silent

    That is a truly novel approach to politics. Except when it comes to Obama's friend Antoin "Tony'' Rezko. Tony is a high powered developer of slum property with friends in City Hall.

    Well you know how it is in Chicago politics. Sometimes silence is better than an insurance policy. A life insurance policy. Which only pays off after you are dead.

    For five long weeks, Sun-Times' investigative reporter Tim Novak called, e-mailed, requested, practically pleaded with Obama's press people to provide information about the senator's relationship to Rezko when it came to the development of low-income housing in Chicago. In an abundance of fairness and an excess of solicitousness, Novak sent a list of questions.

    For five weeks, no answer.

    Jointly, on behalf of both the Sun-Times and NBC5 News, Novak and I sent Obama's campaign requests to interview the senator for both print and television.

    So what subject does Obama need to avoid opinions (let alone facts) about?
    Though Obama says he, himself, did a mere five hours of work, the 12-person law firm where Obama was a junior partner did significant legal work for Rezko's company which, by 2002, was being sued by the city, state and a bunch of banks for defaulting on loans and doing a downright awful job of providing decent housing. Taxpayers and lenders have lost up to $100 million while Rezko's firm made about $7 million.

    There is no suggestion that Obama or his firm did anything illegal. But here's a guy who, according to a recent Tribune profile of his wife, Michelle, was so scrupulous about the details of life that he actually went with her on a job interview just to make sure her potential employer was up to snuff. Too bad he didn't give Rezko the same treatment.

    So who is Tony Rezko?
    Rezko, a native of Syria, came to Chicago in the late 1970s to study engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He joined an engineering company, designing nuclear power plants. He left to design roads for the state Transportation Department, making $21,590 in his one year there.

    In 1984, Rezko went to work for Crucial Concessions Inc., owned by Herbert Muhammad, whose father, Elijah Muhammad, founded the Nation of Islam. Herbert Muhammad also was the longtime manager of boxing great Muhammad Ali. Crucial had a contract with the Chicago Park District to sell food on the beaches and in many South Side parks. Rezko was running Crucial when he met Daniel Mahru.

    "That's an interesting story,'' Mahru said. "He sold food along the beaches, and I sold him ice.''

    Mahru, chief executive officer of Automatic Ice Inc., which leases ice makers to bars, hotels and restaurants, grew up on the North Shore. He had been an attorney with a big Chicago law firm.

    He and Rezko incorporated Rezmar in January 1989, when Chicagoans were focused on Daley's campaign to oust Mayor Eugene Sawyer. Daley won, and Rezmar came seeking funding from City Hall.

    "Rezmar Corp. expects this project to be the first of many during the next few years,'' Mahru wrote in Rezmar's first application to the city Housing Department.

    And it was.

    As Rezmar's loan application was pending, Daley reformed the Housing Department. Daley said he found that housing officials were giving loans to their cronies. So the mayor's staff would now decide who got the money.

    Say. What a good idea. The Mayor is going to prevent loans to cronies. Other people's cronies. His cronies? All good guys. He trusts them.

    And how about the Nation of Islam connection? I've heard Obama is tight with the Nation of Islam and tight with Rezko. Looks like Obama and Rezko travel in similar circles.

    Rezko was the schmoozer. He showered politicians with money for their campaign funds and got others to do the same. He gave to Democrats -- foremost among them former Cook County Board President John Stroger, Gov. Blagojevich, Daley and Sen. Barack Obama. Rezko gave to Republicans, too -- among them former Gov. Jim Edgar, the late Rosemont Mayor Don Stephens and President George W. Bush.

    He also gave to others who held sway over Rezmar's housing deals -- like Chicago aldermen.

    Meanwhile, Rezmar's low-income apartments were deteriorating, and it stopped repaying some loans.

    So why did the city keep lending Rezko's company more tax dollars? "During the time he did work with us -- and that was many years ago -- there was nothing to indicate there was a problem," Daley spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard said.

    In fact, there was. City attorneys repeatedly went to court to force Rezmar to make repairs to its buildings and, in some cases, to get the heat turned on.

    It is early in the campaign season and here I am doing Hillary's work for her. No need to thank me Hillary. Consider it a public service.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 01:57 AM | Comments (0)

    Haditha Bombshell - Intel Evidence

    New evidence continues to surface in the Haditha case that shows the Marines didn't do it.

    Convincing evidence that corroborates NewsMax.com's accounts of the Haditha insurgent ambush has compelled the prosecution to take extraordinary steps to bolster their crumbling case.

    The stunning announcement that all charges are being dropped against Sgt. Sanick P. Dela Cruz, formerly accused of murder in the Haditha incident where 24 Iraqis were killed during an insurgent ambush against the Marines, is indication that the prosecutors have a very weak case against all the defendants, lawyers for the some of the accused say.

    There is more evidence of weakness in the case.
    The announcement of the deal with Dela Cruz is further evidence that the cases against the Kilo Company Marines and several of their superior officers are in deep trouble. It comes on the heels of postponements of Article 32 hearings slated for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the battalion commander and two of the enlisted men charged with murdering civilians in Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.
    Now here is the bombshell:
    In a nutshell, the case exploded when an intelligence officer dropped a bombshell on prosecutors during a pre-hearing interview when he revealed the existence of exculpatory evidence that appears to have been obtained by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and withheld from the prosecutors.

    This officer, described by senior Marine Corps superiors as one of the best and most dedicated intelligence officers in the entire Marine Corps, was in possession of evidence which provided a minute-by-minute narrative of the entire day's action -- material which he had amassed while monitoring the day's action in his capacity as the battalion's intelligence officer. That material, he says, was also in the hands of the NCIS.

    Much of that evidence remains classified, but it includes videos of the entire day's action, including airstrikes against insurgent safe houses. Also included was all of the radio traffic describing the ongoing action between the men on the ground and battalion headquarters, and proof that the Marines were aware that the insurgents conducting the ambush of the Kilo Company troops were videotaping the action -- the same video that after editing ended up in the hands of a gullible anti-war correspondent for Time magazine.

    When asked by the prosecution team to give his copies of the evidence to the prosecution, he told NewsMax.com that he was reluctant to do so, fearing it would again be suppressed or misused, but later relented when ordered by his commanding general to do so.

    Confronted by the massive mounds of evidence that Marine Corps sources tell NewsMax proves conclusively that the cases against the Haditha Marines are baseless, the prosecutors were forced to postpone the Article 31 against Lt. Col. Chessani and two of the enlisted men in an attempt to regroup.

    By granting immunity to the officer on the scene of the house-clearing effort, the prosecution, lawyers say, has further weakened its case.

    It is looking more and more like there was no case to begin with. Just some allegations and a movie by our enemies. With Time Magazine taking the side of our enemies.

    It is looking more and more like the Haditha Massacre will be put in the same category as the Duke Rape Hoax. Prosecutorial overstretch.

    Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center attorney who questioned the officer, told NewsMax in a statement, "The intelligence officer is a crucial witness in this case. During his testimony, he effectively described the enemy situation prior to, during, and after the November 19 terrorist attack, providing the necessary context for the decisions that were made as a result. His testimony shows the complexity of the attack this day, the callousness of the terrorists toward the local civilians, whom they use to their advantage, and the error of viewing this incident in a vacuum.

    "The officer also showed how the insurgents used allegations of wrongdoing by Marines as propaganda to support their cause. In fact, another witness, who was the assistant intelligence officer during the attack and is now the current intelligence officer for the battalion, testified that since the Haditha incident received so much negative attention, terrorist propaganda alleging law of war violations against American servicemen in Iraq has 'ballooned.'"

    So this case is what many had suspected all along. A propaganda effort by our enemy to smear American soldiers. And of course our media lapped it up uncritically. Who's side are they on anyway?

    And what about old Stinking Jack Murtha who pressed the Marine Corps to investigate by saying that some of the Marines involved that day were cold blooded killers. Murtha, who used to be a Marine, is a disgrace to the Corps.

    Haditha Roundup.

    NCIS Misconduct Alleged in Haditha Probe

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 01:55 PM | Comments (4)

    Indictment in Atlanta

    Anyone remember Kathryn Johnston, the 92 year old Atlanta woman who was shot to death during a police drug raid for attempting to defend herself?

    The officers involved in the shooting have been indicted:

    ATLANTA---- A grand jury indicted three current and former Atlanta police officers in the shooting death of a 92-year-old woman during a drug raid, according to the document unsealed Thursday.

    At least one of the men, retired officer Gregg Junnier, planned to plead guilty later Thursday to reduced state charges and also admit to a single federal charge, his attorney told The Associated Press.

    Plainclothes police officers with a no-knock warrant raided Kathryn Johnston's home on Nov. 21 after an informant said he had bought drugs there, according to police. When the men burst in without warning, Johnston fired at them, wounding three, and they fired back, killing her.

    Junnier, 40, and Officer J.R. Smith, 35, were charged in the indictment with felony murder, violation of oath by a public officer, criminal solicitation, burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and making false statements.

    Officer Arthur Tesler, 40, was charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process.

    If I remember correctly, the shooting ignited quite a debate in the blogosphere, not only over the propriety of using SWAT teams (breaking in under "knock and announce" warrants) for routine law enforcement, but over whether the police involved were in the right. I realize this is just an indictment, but it now appears that they were in the wrong.

    Anyway, in Atlanta at least, the police are changing their procedures:

    The case raised serious questions about no-knock warrants and whether the officers followed proper procedures.

    Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington asked the FBI to lead a multi-agency probe into the shootout. He also announced policy changes to require the department to drug-test its nearly 1,800 officers and mandate that top supervisors sign off on narcotics operations and no-knock warrants.

    To get the warrant, officers told a magistrate judge that an undercover informant had told them Johnston's home had surveillance cameras monitored carefully by a drug dealer named ''Sam.''

    After the shooting, a man claiming to be the informant told a television station that he never purchased drugs there, prompting Pennington to admit he was uncertain whether the suspected drug dealer actually existed.

    FWIW, I think drug laws invite abuse of process and shoddy law enforcement tactics, and I don't see the problem going away any time soon.

    This comment that Glenn Reynolds quoted last year still applies:

    How many more Kathryn Johnstons must we kill before we start talking about an exit strategy in the War On Drugs?
    Good question. I don't know the answer.

    UPDATE: Two cops have pleaded guilty. Glenn Reynolds links Patterico and Radley Balko who have details. I like Glenn's conclusion:

    I'd be more impressed with the Democratic candidates if they had united in their opposition to the War on Drugs, which has done the country much more harm, over much more time, than the one in Iraq.

    posted by Eric at 12:38 PM | Comments (3)

    Bees and black boxes disappear, while Bush avoids the gallows!

    Bee season has arrived early in Las Vegas, and because of the fear of "killer bees," exterminators are busier than last year:

    Our warm Spring has brought beautiful flowers to the valley. Unfortunately it's also brought an early bee season, and the big concern is killer bees have now colonized in Las Vegas.

    Pest control technicians are the ones to call to clean up the nests. They say last month was one of their busiest months ever, responding to two to three calls a day. But some of these bees are getting more aggressive and attack in greater numbers.

    Rick Cox takes on bugs every day. He's a pest control technician who specializes in getting rid of bees.

    "There is a certain amount of fear involved with bees when people walk outside and find a big ball of bees hanging out in their doorway," said Cox.

    Rick has been busy to say the least. "Last month in March -- I was a little more busy than I was in March last year."

    Not so for Philadelphia, I'm afraid. The only bees flying around right now (at least in my yard) are carpenter bees, bumble bees, ground bees, and an occasional smaller bee species with which I'm unfamiliar. Of course, last week there was a snowstorm severe enough to close local schools, which shut down my power and caused the governor of New Jersey to declare a state of emergency, so the bees may be delayed.

    Doubtless Colony Collapse Disorder is wreaking havoc with bees, but weather is a different matter. At this stage (at least on the East Coast) the bee season is messed up because of the persistent winter cold which lasted into Spring. According to New York beekeeper Shane Gebauer, right now the weather issue is the problem:

    ...Gebauer, who manages Greenwich's local beekeeper supply company Betterbee, is not worried about colony collapse disorder, at least for the moment.

    Northeastern New York's honeybees seem to have only one enemy this year -- strange weather patterns.

    Like many other beekeepers, he opened some of his hives in early April, when the weather started getting warmer. But last week's cold snap, accompanied by several days of rain and snow, had devastating effects on some of his colonies.

    Queen bees, who guarantee the success of a colony, embark on sunny, warm days to mate with upwards of 20 drones.

    A queen has only a limited time to mate, and if the weather is bad, her mission will fail.

    She will not collect enough sperm and will lay only drone eggs.

    This is the second year in a row local beekeepers have faced weather-related problems.

    Last year, many opened hives to find their bees had starved to death. Cold, damp and rainy weather persisted late into the season, Gebauer said, preventing bees from leaving the hives to collect the pollen necessary to make honey.

    Yet Gebauer is hopeful this year, for most of his hives are looking strong. Despite a late start to the season, enough time remains for him to collect plenty of honey -- sometimes as much as 100 pounds per hive, he said.

    Thus, while Colony Collapse Disorder has been depleting bee colonies, the existing colonies are subject to the influence of weather-related delays as they would be even absent CCD.

    But that has not stopped Philadelphia area journalist Dave Lindorff from prounouncing that there are not only no honeybees, but no pollinators at all!

    This is beyond strange. It's downright scary.

    When you consider that perhaps half the plants in nature depend upon pollinators like bees to reproduce, you have to wonder what a future without bees holds - not just for the animals that live on those plants, but for human beings.

    And it's not just honeybees that are missing. Honeybees, after all, are immigrants from Europe, and the Americas survived quite nicely without them before their arrival with the colonists. But the native bees - ground bees and bumblebees, for example - are gone, too. The only bees I've seen since the spring began are wood bees - large, clumsy-looking, bumblebee-like creatures that bore neat circular holes into the wood of the house and lay their eggs in solitary nests. Thank heavens for them, or there wouldn't be a bee on my property.

    But even several hundred wood bees can hardly compensate for the total absence of other pollinators.

    What's happening here?

    Lindorff is about to tell the Inquirer's readers what he thinks is happening, but I have to interject. Yesterday I saw several different kinds of bees in my yard, and where I live (Villanova) is about a half an hour's drive from Maple Glen, where the editorialist lives. Lindorff claims that there the native bees -- "ground bees and bumblebees" are "gone." Now, I am not a bee expert, but not only have I already seen bumble bees, but I have never seen so many ground bee burrows in my yard as there are right now.

    They look like this, and seriously, there is no way to walk around the yard without stepping on one of their characteristic holes.

    [While I haven't seen so many little holes before, these solitary bees apparently don't sting.]

    What the heck. I'll offer proof. Whoever took the photo for the last site placed a nickel next to the burrow for comparison purposes, but after checking, I didn't have any nickels in my pocket, so I had to borrow a couple of endangered nickels from a styrofoam cupfull of numismatic oddities I keep upstairs. I hope readers will indulge me; it is not my intent to make any comparison between the Indian and the bee (or the buffalo on the nickel's reverse, for that matter):


    I don't know whether the editorialist checked his yard, but I find it a little tough to believe that there ground bees are infesting my yard, but "gone" in his.

    Nevertheless, claims Lindorff, the potential causes are as dire as the consequences:

    There are a lot of possible culprits: climate change, ubiquitous microwave radiation, overuse of herbicides and pesticides, stress, and lowered immunity to fungal, viral, bacterial and mite infections, or perhaps a combination of all of the above.

    My feeling, though, is one of dark foreboding.

    When something as basic as bees vanishes from the scene as quickly as this, you know we're in Big Trouble.

    Well, according to Lindorff, we've been in big trouble for some time. Even before the bees were "gone."

    Writing on April 11 for CommonDreams.org, Lindorff declared that we're about to be killed off entirely, and that only a revolution can save us:

    It wasn't too long ago that the death of socialism, the triumph of capitalism and the end of history were being widely hailed.

    What a difference a few years and a few fractions of a degree in world temperature change makes!

    We may still be contemplating the end of history, but of a different sort. It is suddenly becoming painfully obvious that the pursuit of profit and the philosophy of growth for growth's sake and of dog eat dog is about to kill us all off.

    Now that it has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the earth is headed for a global heat wave the likes of which hasn't been seen in hundreds of thousands and perhaps tens of millions of years-the kind of killing heat that in the past has led to mass extinctions-it is ludicrous to talk about things like carbon trading and raising vehicle mileage standards.

    We need a revolution in the way we human beings live and the way we treat each other.

    Why he didn't mention the bees on April 11, I don't know. Perhaps it was so cold that he wasn't taking critical nature walks. However, he was critical enough to make it abundantly clear that the truth is not merely inconvenient; it's terrifying! And "green" measures will not save us! Our salvation will come only when we recognize that capitalism is over!
    The so-called "green" politicians who talk about instituting carbon-trading schemes, about driving hybrid automobiles, about buying fluorescent light bulbs, and about turning down the thermostat and wearing sweaters, are deceiving us or themselves.

    None of this is going to save us.

    What will save us is recognizing that the age of consumer-driven capitalism is over.

    We either come up with a new way to organize society, in which production is based upon real needs, not upon manufactured needs, and in which scarce resources are made available to those who need them, not just to those who can afford them, or we will all be doomed-or at least our progeny.

    The peoples of the world-especially of the developed world, but really everywhere-need to recognize that unless our expectations are changed, unless our selfish desire for more is curbed, unless wasteful production is ended, we are all likely to be on that extinction list.

    So where are the leaders of boldness and vision in politics, media and academia who are ready to tell the truth? Where are the people who are willing to listen to, and reward that truthtelling?

    This is not an "inconvenient" truth we need to confront. It's a terrifying truth.

    We need to change everything, and we need to do it quickly, too.

    Here in America, that means an end to subsidies for suburban sprawl. There should be no more federal or state funds for road building and road repair. If people want to live miles away from where they work, let them pave their own roads. That's the only way to get people to realize they're going to have to start supporting funding for mass transit, and to start thinking about living near where they work. We need to end subsidies for agribusiness, which has virtually decimated local agriculture to the point that prime farm states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey now import all their food from the West Coast. Ridiculous!

    We need to levy a massive tax on gasoline, so that no one will buy cars, and so that those who have them will drive them only rarely. Large, heavy vehicles for personal use should be outright banned. Trucks too should be heavily taxed, so that products will reflect the true cost of the environmental damage that shipping them around causes.

    Electricity and home heating fuels should also be heavily taxed, with some kind of a rebate program for low-income families, so that people will stop heating and cooling large homes.

    As these things are done, there clearly will be massive dislocation. People who live in hot climes like Florida or Arizona will no doubt decide they can't afford to cool their homes, and will move north. People in cold regions may decide it's too expensive to heat their homes and will move to more temperate zones. Companies like the Detroit automakers will go bust or shrink enormously. Power plants will be shut down. Oil companies will go bankrupt.

    Yes, and the oceans will boil! We're not just merely doomed, we're really really doomed!

    Does this mean there's no hope for humanity at all?

    Actually, there's a slight possibility of hope -- provided we replace capitalism with, um, "communalism":

    That all has to happen, but it doesn't mean people have to starve. We as a society need to demand a government that will help those who are displaced by the crisis to relocate and to find new productive ways to earn a living. A huge government program of investment in alternative energy systems would be able to hire many of those whose jobs are lost by the shutdown of the carbon economy.

    A new ethos needs to be developed. Conspicuous consumption, egoism and the so-called "American Dream" of having it all for one's self and one's family need to be replaced with a new-actually a very old-concept: communalism.

    Instead of thinking of ourselves as consumers and competitive free agents, we need to start thinking of ourselves as passengers on a boat that is sinking...

    Who's going to be in charge of this sinking ship? Lindorff doesn't specify exactly, but he uses the word "we" a lot, and his "we" seems to consist of the people who will be dismantling "the whole capitalist system and the freemarket ethos":
    But before we can start making the huge changes that are called for-really the dismantling of the whole capitalist system and the freemarket ethos-we need to start hearing, and demanding to hear, the truth-from scientists, from politicians, from business leaders, from the media, and ultimately from ourselves.
    There's more, of course, including dire warnings about submerged methane which will soon start pouring into the atmosphere.

    I've mentioned Lindorff before because of his Mumia abu Jamal activism. I guess if we start by freeing Mumia while blocking Bush's attempt to avoid the gallows for war crimes, and holding 911 hearings we'll move ever closer away from capitalism and towards communalism. (Lindorff's widely circulated claim that firefighters recovered the 9/11 black boxes seems to have been deflated by the fact that one of the "firefighters" turned out to be a fraud. More here. Can't find the update from Lindorff.)

    I know it's not related to bees, but Lindorff calls the U.S. troops in Iraq "baby killers" although in an interview he allows that they are at least "alleged soldiers," and says it's "nice to know" they are "reading my columns." (The latter claim is not as fantastic as it might seem. I'm sure a lot of soldiers read the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

    Considering what Lindorff usually writes, what's remarkable about today's bee editorial is that it's as moderate as it is.

    (I've had too much fun to be disappointed, though.)

    UPDATE (04/28/07): I'm not alone in bearing witness to bees. Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Mickey Kaus's mother says her garden is "absolutely buzzing" with bees.

    But the revolution is still on, isn't it?

    posted by Eric at 09:44 AM | Comments (3)

    I Support Democracy In Iraq - Contest

    Coyote Organics is offering a prize for the design of the logo for the I Support Democracy In Iraq campaign.

    A. Jacksonian of Dumb Looks Still Free thinks it should include a purple finger.

    So far the owner of Coyote Organics and I will judge the contest (I may add one or two other judges as I corral them). The decision of the judges is final. If the judges can't come to a decision, my decision is final.

    The contest will extend for thirty days from the first submission. I may extend that deadline (it will be announced at Power and Control) if there are no suitable submissions.

    I will post the submissions as they come in.

    Update: I have added some Submission Guidelines.

    posted by Simon at 09:23 PM | Comments (0)

    affirmative action for criminals but not victims?

    A recurrent meme finds life in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

    The rate of imprisonment for Latinos is "about 50 percent higher than it should be," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington think tank on criminal justice policy.

    "Nationally, 20 percent of the U.S. prison population is Latino. In society, however, Latinos represent 13 percent of the population," Mauer said.

    According to Mauer and others, Latinos are incarcerated at about 21/2 times the rate of whites, and African Americans are jailed at a rate of about seven times that of whites. Latinos also tend to receive tougher sentences, Mauer said.

    The war on drugs, racial profiling by police and the courts, language barriers, and lower education levels are factors fueling the problem, Mauer said.

    I think I'm more against the war on drugs than most people. I think it is patently immoral to lock people up for putting harmful substances in their own bodies. Harming people because they harmed themselves makes about as much sense as making self-flagellation a crime and then lashing people as punishment for it.

    Still, I've criticized the Soros-funded Sentencing Project before, and I don't like their central philosophy. Far far from sticking to the drug issue, they improperly apply identity politics and the affirmative action concept to crime, and pressure to judges and law enforcement to treat violent and dangerous people leniently in order to correct racial "disparities" with a theoretical goal of acheiving racial "balance" in the prisons.

    Racialized sentencing is what they want. The biggest problem with looking only at the race of the incarcerated is that it ignores the race of the victims. Black on black crime is a huge problem, and according to the Black on Black Crime Coalition,

    While African Americans comprise 12% of the U.S. population, 45% of all murder victims in 2002 were African American, 91% of whom were killed by African Americans.
    Looking solely at the race of the killers does their victims a huge disservice, and while I don't have the statistics, I'd be quite interested in comparing the sentences handed down to white criminals whose crimes were against whites with black criminals whose crimes were against blacks. The sentences should be identical, and if they are not, then I think it's fair to make the argument that the situation should be remedied.

    Now, without knowing what the figures are, I can only speculate. But it seems logical to assume that they'd reflect one of the following:

  • 1. black defendants and white defendants receive the same sentence for crimes committed against members of their own race;
  • 2. black on black defendants receive more severe sentences than white on white defendants;
  • 3. black on black defendants receive less severe sentences than white on white defendants.
  • Again, if the sentences are the same, then that's not evidence of systemic racism. If it shows that blacks receive longer sentences than whites for the same type of intraracial crime, that would indicate racism and should be addressed. But suppose blacks committing crimes against whites receive lighter sentences than whites. Would the Sentencing Project want that corrected? Why not? Wouldn't such lighter sentences also constitute proof of racism -- by way of saying that crimes against blacks just don't count as much? I doubt the Sentencing Project would see it that way, for they have blinders on, and care only about the race of the defendants. To them, the mere fact that blacks are imprisoned at a rate disproportionate to their percentage ratio of the population means racism. Well, what about the crime statistics showing the huge numbers of blacks who are murdered by blacks? Is black on black crime racism? How?

    The absurdity of the idea can be further demonstrated by looking at Philadelphia, a majority black city, with a black mayor, black chief of police, and many black government and law enforcement officials. Obviously, because of simple arithmetic the average criminal in a city like that is statistically likely to be black, as are his victims. The police and prosecutors are likely to be black, as are members of any jury which might be chosen to decide the criminal's ultimate fate.

    Under what theory can a black criminal committing a crime against black victim, arrested by a black officer, prosecuted by a black district attorney, and judged by a black jury be called a victim of racism?

    If anyone can figure it out, let me know, because I'm having trouble.

    I'm wondering about something else too. Is it really fair to consider only racial disparities as an appropriate criteria in sentencing? What about sex? Isn't it true that men are imprisoned in numbers way out of proportion to their share of the population? I've read the figure is something like 90% -- even though men are only 50% of the population. Isn't that sexism too? Why isn't the sentencing project doing something about that?

    None of it makes sense.

    Sentencing should be based on the crime.

    posted by Eric at 04:30 PM | Comments (7)

    "hate the p-p-p-pork but love the p-p-p-pig"

    I always thought that old saying that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich was intended as humor.

    But Jeff Goldstein's recent post reminded me that there are people in positions of power in modern America who actually think a ham sandwich is a hate crime. Jeff links this story about a student who

    placed a ham steak in a bag on a lunch table where Somali students were eating. Muslims consider pork unclean and offensive.

    The act reminded students of a man who threw a pig's head into a Lewiston mosque last summer.

    The school incident is being treated seriously as "a hate incident," Levesque said. Lewiston police are investigating, and the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence is working with the school to create a response plan.

    Oh please. For God's sake! If food can even be considered a hate crime -- in the United States -- then things really are worse than I thought.

    Jeff points out an obvious fact that no one should ever have to point out (and which I've touched on before) -- that these religious prohibitions prohibit eating certain foods, and not being in near them:

    Kosher-keeping Jews who've assimilated into public schools have been subjected to sightings of the unholy alliance of meat and cheese, the arrogant parading (by unclean Goyim) of ham sandwiches--even, in some cases, the presence of breakfast sausages!--for what seems like decades.
    This is unbelievable.

    While my gut reaction is to hope the student's parents sue the school and end up owning it, I think the school has an opportunity to help the immigrant kids learn something about freedom.

    I propose that the school promote peace, tolerance and understanding!

    With a sensitivity training p-p-p-program to reminding children of the long history of American t-t-t-tolerance of p-p-p-pigs!


    I'm tempted to ask why sensitivity only seems to work in one direction, but at this point it seems to be a rhetorical question.

    posted by Eric at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

    Gun grabbers get unexpected help from the "other side"

    I don't know why they had to do it, but a small group of crackpots (whether they're genuinely right wing or agent provocateurs I don't know) unfurled a banner which called for the hanging of State Representative Angel Cruz:

    HARRISBURG - Members of the Legislative Black Caucus called yesterday for a state police investigation into the display of what they called a racist banner in the Capitol that said a Latino lawmaker should be "hung from the tree of liberty for his acts of treason against the Constitution."
    Here's a picture of the blasted sign:



    The bill in question had no chance of passing, but as anyone with the slightest knowledge of politics should be able to understand, the sign shifted the debate completely.

    "People want to hang me for doing my job," Cruz said, adding that his bill was aimed at trying to reduce gun violence in his district.

    "I am appalled by the actions by a group of demonstrators," State Rep. Jewell Williams (D., Phila.) said. "We will not tolerate people making threats against members."

    Williams was one of 10 Philadelphia-area lawmakers who appeared at a news conference yesterday afternoon to denounce the banner's language as a "terroristic threat" that raised the ugly specter of mob violence against African Americans.

    Cruz, who is of Puerto Rican ancestry, is a member of the Black Caucus.

    The first question in my mind was who were the idiots responsible for such a monumentally ignorant job of PR, so I read on.
    Rally organizers had hoped to promote bills to ease restrictions on gun purchases, but anger over the sign took center stage in the Capitol and on the floor of the House.

    State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), lead organizer of the rally, said he knew nothing about the banner and distanced himself from what he called "rogue extremists" responsible for it.

    "I condemn that language in the strongest terms," he said.

    Paul Estus of Ridgway, who was holding the banner, told the Associated Press the lynching tree was "just a figure of speech."

    "You've got to make a stand," he added.

    Great, just great. A figure of speech! It isn't often I get this angry at idiocy, but I find it incredibly annoying that the organizers couldn't manage to police their followers (who quite obviously are in serious need of policing).

    While it might have been "just a figure of speech" to Mr. Estus, the sign proved to be a bonanza for the gun control opportunists:

    State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D., Delaware), chairman of the Black Caucus, called the sign "an act of racism and bigotry" and said those responsible for it should be brought to justice.

    Among the tragic lessons of the massacre at Virginia Tech was that people did not take threats literally, Kirkland said.

    A spokesman for Gov. Rendell also condemned the sign.

    "Vitriolic, personal attacks such as the one on Rep. Cruz are shameful and have no place in the public arena," Chuck Ardo said. "The threat implicit in the banner does not advance the debate nor the cause of the demonstrators."

    No, it didn't.

    I can think of few better ways to help the gun grabbers.

    Recently I've been worried about a nascent campaign (in the wake of the Cho shooting) to paint the "gun lobby" as getting their way by physically threatening their opponents. It ties right in with the "eliminationist rhetoric" meme, and this Paul Estus character is all too happy to oblige.

    While I'd never heard of him until today, Estus seems to be some sort of fringe candidate of the type who run for office and lose, and he's with a breakaway outfit of radical Buchananites called the America First Party.

    Naturally, the First Amendment protects his right to free speech and to unfurl his stupid banner, just as it protects the right of psychotic Islamists to issue death threats against "apostates." And naturally, we'll only read about the former in the mainstream media.

    I think I'm about as pro-Second Amendment as any pro-Second Amendment blogger, and while didn't drive to Harrisburg to speak up yesterday, I'm now glad I didn't, because I don't want to be associated with types like the crackpot who held up that sign. Yeah, I know it's not logical to feel that way, but I suspect that I'm not alone.

    In the name of the First Amendment, a few people did the Second Amendment a serious disservice. I can do little more than disagree with them even though I defend (barely) the right to free speech that they have so abused.

    Which leaves me simply wondering why. Why did they do this?

    In all honesty, I have no idea.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: The more I think about my initial concern (about whether the sign holders are "genuinely right wing or agent provocateurs") the more I'm convinced that their motivation doesn't especially matter. What they do matters more than why they're doing it.

    MORE: Commenter MikeT thinks my post "shows the weakness that always destroys freedom." I'm going to stick my neck out and venture that I don't think it's "weakness" to oppose hanging legislators who sponsor unconstitutional legislation. Nor is it weakness to oppose a very poor political tactic.

    Or am I wrong? Did the Second Civil War already start without my hearing about it?

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

    I Support Democracy In Iraq
    I Support  Democracy In Iraq

    If any artist can turn this into a better graphic, I would be very grateful. As would the Iraqi democrats. Contact me at Power and Control, my e-mail is on the sidebar.

    For those who wish to join the campaign leave me a comment at I Support Democracy In Iraq. I'll add you to my blog roll and put your url up on the front of this page at Power and Control.

    posted by Simon at 05:28 AM | Comments (0)

    the artificial maintainence of "unnatural" pollination?
    "No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

    -- Famous "Misattribu-letion" of Albert Einstein.

    The bogus cell phone issue aside, I'm wondering whether some of the scary stories about honeybee decline aren't being sexed up (if not based upon hype).

    First of all, regardless of what the cause of the bee malady is (and clearly something is wrong), it's striking domestic migratory honeybees.

    The latter are by no means all bees, and while honeybee populations have been in decline for years, they constitute a minority of natural pollinators:

    There are more than 3500 species of solitary bees in North America. Also called pollen bees or native bees, these efficient pollinators often do the lion's share of pollinating crops. Pollen bees have a number of advantages over honeybees as pollinators (1). Many are active early in the spring, before honeybee colonies reach large size (1). Pollen bees tend to stay in a crop rather than fly between crops, providing more efficient pollination (1). Because they fly rapidly, pollen bees can pollinate more plants (1). Unlike honeybees, the males also pollinate the crop (1). Pollen bees are usually gentle, with a mild sting, and do not get disoriented in greenhouses (1).

    The drastic decline in feral and domestic honeybees in the last few years, because of decimation by Varroa mites, has made it even more important to conserve and study wild bee populations. Dr. Hachiro Shimanuki, head of the USDA's Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, has charted a 25 percent decline in managed honeybees in the last decade (2). Although the number of pollen bees has also declined, due to pesticide use and habitat destruction, pollen bees are unaffected by mites and Africanized bees, and many can be managed and used in commercial agriculture.

    Often, growers don't realize the amount of pollination that is performed by native bees, and signs of inadequate pollination are often misinterpreted as weather problems or disease. Dr. Suzanne Batra of the USDA's Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland conducted a three-year study to discover the natural mix of bees in a West Virginia forest (3). She found that, of the 1700 bees trapped in the first year of the study, only 34 were honeybees. This means that pollen bees were performing almost all pollination.

    Pollen bees perform most pollination?

    I realize the study involved forests and not farms, but I didn't know that, and it certainly isn't being made clear in most of the news reports.

    However, the role of honeybees as pollinators may be exaggerated, as in this report from the Bangor Daily News seems to indicate:

    On the East Coast, where a more ec ologically diverse farming landscape enhances diversity, studies have shown that wild pollinators were doing about 90 percent of the pollinating anyway, Neal Williams, an assistant professor of biology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, reported in recent research.

    Meanwhile, a Canadian study suggested that if canola farmers leave 30 percent of their land fallow, they will increase their yields. Wild land provides habitat for native pollinators, improving pollination and increasing the number of seeds.

    "If we cultivate all the land, we lose ecosystem services like pollination," Lora Morandin, lead author on the study, stated in her research. "Healthy, sustainable agricultural systems need to include natural land."

    Florida is a favorite wintering place for honeybees and was the first state to report the disease.

    Wait a second. We are being told that this is an impending disaster, that the nation's crops will be ruined, with Einstein's warnings about the end of the world often thrown in gratuitously.

    And yet the die-off has been going on for many years and involves migratory bees -- and honeybees at that -- which by no means account for all of the pollination.

    Something does not make sense.

    Contrast the above with this CNN report:

    (CNN) -- One third of all our food -- fruits and vegetables -- would not exist without pollinators visiting flowers. But honeybees, the primary species that fertilizes food-producing plants, have suffered dramatic declines in recent years, mostly from afflictions introduced by humans.
    Until today I had not researched this at all. And, ignorant layman that I may be, I do know that according to elementary logic, honeybees cannot be the primary pollinator if wild pollinators are doing the majority of the pollinating.

    Or are these "stories" just reported uncritically without a thought given to whether they're inconsistent?

    Please bear in mind that I have no bias here, as I am not a beekeeper, a farmer, an environmentalist, an angry anti-bee vegan, or a journalist. Yeah, well, I am blogger, and I do admit to having certain issues where it comes to being lied to, but I really don't want to just start assuming that nearly everything I read is some sort of lying spin cranked out for the benefit of one special interest or another.

    Should I?

    For now, I think it's at least safe to say that the bee that's experiencing the CCD problem is the Western Honeybee -- a hybrid bee originally introduced into the Americas in the 17th century and improved upon since. They've been suffering from diseases and declines for years, but have been kept going with miticides:

    North American and European honey bee populations were severely depleted by varroa mite infestations in the early 1990s. Chemical treatments saved most commercial operations and improved cultural practices and bee breeds are starting to reduce the dependency on miticides (acaracides) by beekeepers. Feral bee populations were greatly reduced during this period but now are slowly recovering, mostly in areas of mild climate, owing to natural selection for varroa resistance and repopulation by resistant breeds. Further, Insecticides, particularly when used in violation of label directions, have also depleted bee populations[citation needed], while various bee pests and diseases are becoming resistant to medications (e.g. American Foul Brood, Tracheal Mites and Varroa Mites).

    In North America, Africanized bees have spread across the southern United States where they pose a small danger to humans, although they may make beekeeping (particularly hobby beekeeping) difficult and potentially dangerous. North American populations of honey bees are disappearing in 2006/2007 in greater than expected numbers.[4] This phenomenon has been tentatively dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. Other researchers have disputed the allegation that the season's winter losses are statistically higher than expected given the prior season's weather and stores and normal disease patterns.

    I'm sorry, but none of this sounds as scary as the stories I've been reading. Clearly, the migratory beekeepers have a problem, but is it catastrophic? For their industry, maybe. Remember, they do charge to haul the hives around and set them up:
    Modern hives also enable beekeepers to transport bees, moving from field to field as the crop needs pollinating and allowing the beekeeper to charge for the pollination services they provide.
    What makes no sense to me was to read that pollen bees can perform (and are performing) so much of the pollination. If that is true, then is it possible that farmers have grown overly dependent on paid beekeepers setting up hives?

    As I said, bees just aren't my issue. Normally, I'd have probably ignored this whole thing (which is not a new issue), but that phony Einstein quote set me off.

    If I had more time, I'd look into why the wild Africanized bees seem to be immune to CCD. Or why they seem to be "the preferred type of bee for beekeeping in Central America and in tropical areas of South America because of improved productivity." Improved productivity or not, they've just been added to a list of public nuisances in Arizona, which means the government can "order a property owner to have a bee swarm removed at the owner's cost."

    I'd also like to look into the Varroa mite, because that appears to be the primary culprit. Otherwise, why the fuss over mite resistent queens?

    A significant mite infestation leads to the death of a honey bee colony and is a major contributor to what the bee industry has dubbed "colony collapse disorder."

    The serious affliction has led to an increase in the loss of honey bees, escalating in early 2006 to the present. Other contributing factors of the sudden decline are suggested to be from unknown pathogens, other mites and pesticides.

    Importation of honey bees from out of state and Australia has helped prevent a collapse in the industry, but growing demand for pollinators in the almond industry means a serious solution must be found.

    Scott Jefferies, professor and beekeeper at Cal Poly, is working on a project to genetically select mite-resistant queens to repopulate the industry.

    "In the last year we have identified queens that express a resistance to the mites," Jefferies says. "We plan to breed these queens to create new colonies that will not be as susceptible to the colony collapse disorder."

    That is good news for local beekeepers.

    Still, the war against Africanized bees is being taken very seriously by beekeepers. So seriously, in fact, that setting up European honeybee hives is urged upon farmers as a defensive measure:
    One good reason to consider renting to a beekeeper is that a beehive may prevent Africanized bees from moving onto your property.

    In the last two or three years, higher concentrations of Africanized honey bees have migrated to the Central Coast.

    "The best way to prevent Africanized bees from moving in is to have a high concentration of European honey bees on your property," Jefferies said.

    Both wild and commercialized honey bees aid in reducing the available food supply, making the land less attractive to the unwanted guests.

    Another benefit of having a commercial beekeeper on your property is that the keeper will capture and eradicate Africanized colonies so they don't harm the commercial colonies.

    Jim Reider, owner of Buzzy Bee, eradicated three separate Africanized swarms last year alone. He attributes the higher concentrations of Africanized colonies to the loss of feral European bee colonies.

    "A beehive on your property may turn out to be a sweet partnership between you and the beekeeper," Reider said.

    It sounds like fierce competition, and while I'd hate to see the mean and nasty bees win, reading about it makes me skeptical about the environmentalists' claim that European honeybees are "the canary in the coal mine." What about the Africanized bees? (Is there a mine shaft gap? Or are the environmentalists tagging along with the bee industry this time?)

    UPDATE: Is the whole "killer bee" meme a fraud? In 1993, some Arizona beekeepers were saying that the Africanized bees are nowhere near as dangerous as they've been made out to be, and they've been here for many years:

    "Killer bees" are nothing more than a hyped-up scam foisted on the public to milk federal research dollars, a group of southern Arizona beekeepers charges.

    The group insists the Africanized honeybee has been in this country for years and is really no different from the bees we already have.

    Its members dispute the accepted scientific view that a different, more aggressive bee has been moving slowly north from South America for the past 35 years, and is now entering the United States.

    They call the whole "killer bee" phenomenon "imaginary," "baloney," and "an international fraud."

    Their controversial point of view is strongly disputed by beekeepers in Texas who are now living with the Africanized bee, as well as bee scientists and researchers who have tracked this bee for decades.

    Nevertheless, their beliefs about a "killer bee fraud" will have an impact in southern Arizona.

    These beekeepers say they will not make any effort to keep the Africanized honeybees out of their domestic hives after they arrive here later this year. They will instead allow them to interbreed freely with their domestic European bees.

    The beekeepers charged that the war against killer bees was part of a federal pork barrel deal:
    As for the 130 documented killer bee attacks on humans so far in Texas - this is "just normal" for honeybees, Lusby said. She said no formal bee sting records were kept before killer bees arrived there 2-1/2 years ago, so no one can say that is a higher attack record than before.

    Why would bee scientists, bee experts and the government pull such a scam on the public?

    "You've got the biggest pork barrel deal you ever saw in this bee," Lusby answered.

    In short, she and others believe bee scientists for the U.S. Department of Agriculture have exaggerated the killer bee threat to keep federal bee research dollars flowing.

    "People are lying about this whole thing for the money. You can't get big money unless you've got a big problem. Well, they now have a 'big problem,' and they also have a new bee research lab in Texas.

    "I'm willing to make a case for international fraud here if I have to," she declared.

    Lusby said she represents the views of most of the southern Arizona beekeepers' group - about 90 to 100 beekeepers in this area.

    Backing her up, Arivaca beekeeper Edwin Stockwell said history has shown the killer bee is "no real problem in other areas (South and Central America and Mexico), and it won't be here either."

    He said he is actually looking forward to having more Africanized genes in his domestic bee colonies.

    "I think it will be a beneficial impact, rather than otherwise. They will bring new vigor to the gene pool. Only about 10 percent of these (Africanized) bees may be more aggressive than you like. It's a bit more of a high-speed bee.

    OK, that was in 1993. What's happened since? They've spread, and according to the USDA, despite the hype, the Africanized Honeybees (AHBs) are interbreeding with the EHBs with no major incidents:
    ....14 years later, scientists with the Agricultural Research Service and elsewhere have uncovered many answers, but they have also come upon some new and unexpected questions.

    Africanized honey bees--melodramatically labeled "killer bees" by Hollywood hype--are the result of honey bees brought from Africa to Brazil in the 1950s in hopes of breeding a bee better adapted to the South American tropical climate. These honey bees reached the Brazilian wild in 1957 and then spread south and north until they officially reached the United States on October 19, 1990.

    Actually, all honey bees are imports to the New World. Those that flourished here before the arrival of Africanized honey bees (AHBs) are considered European honey bees (EHBs), because they were introduced by European colonists in the 1600s and 1700s. EHBs that escaped from domestication are considered feral rather than wild.

    They're more successful because they're hardier and more disease resistant than the EHBs that are trucked around and protected by beekeepers. Moreover, the EHB queens would rather mate with Africanized drones than EHB drones (as if anyone but John Lennon would be surprised that nature favors the stronger):
    EHB queen bees mate disproportionately with African drones, resulting in rapid displacement of EHB genes in a colony. This happens because AHBs produce more drones per colony than EHBs, especially when queens are most likely to be mating, DeGrandi-Hoffman explains.

    "We also found that even when you inseminate a queen with a 50-50 mix of African drone semen and EHB semen, the queens preferentially use the African semen first to produce the next generation of workers and drones, sometimes at a ratio as high as 90 to 10," she says. "We don't know why this happens, but it's probably one of the strongest factors in AHBs replacing EHBs."

    When an Africanized colony replaces its queen, she can have either African or European paternity. Virgin queens fathered by African drones emerge as much as a day earlier than European-patriline queens. This enables them to destroy rival queens that are still developing. African virgin queens are more successful fighters, too, which gives them a significant advantage if they encounter other virgin queens in the colony. DeGrandi-Hoffman and Schneider also found that workers perform more bouts of vibration-generating body movements on African queens before they emerge and during fighting, which may give the queens some sort of survival advantage.

    AHB swarms also practice "nest usurpation," meaning they invade EHB colonies and replace resident queens with the swarm's African queen. Nest usurpation causes loss of European matrilines as well as patrilines. "In Arizona, we've seen usurpation rates as high as 20 to 30 percent," says DeGrandi-Hoffman.

    Ms. DeGrandi-Hoffman points out that the threat is overrated:
    ....they're not anywhere near the type of threat that Hollywood has made them out to be," DeGrandi-Hoffman points out.
    Why would Hollywood do such a thing? And if they're disease resistant, and more honey productive, why are laws being passed against them?

    Again, I'm no expert, but I'm wondering whether a little skepticism might be in order.

    (After all, I've been living with "killer pit bulls" for over 30 years, and I'm still alive.)

    Again, why is AHB immunity being downplayed by the media? You'd think the scientists would jump at the opportunity to solve the awful problem that "Einstein" warned would doom mankind.

    UPDATE: I know it's unrelated, but reading about the Jessica Lynch/PatTillman fraud, it occurs to me that if government officials would go to such lengths to lie about people, why, lying about bees would almost be a no-brainer.

    And yes, heads should and won't roll regarding the former.

    And no, that does not mean there's any connection or moral equivalency between the former and the latter. Lying in one instance does not indicate lying in the other. I'm just reflecting on why I blog, and why I'm not terribly shocked.

    (Knowing I can't fix any of this is as good a reason as any to go to bed.)

    UPDATE (04/25/07): Gentle Africanized honey bees with good Varroa mite hygiene? Can such things be?

    And for those who are interested, and really want to explore bee parasites in depth, by all means watch "Life Cycle of the Honey Bee and Varroa Mite" -- brought to you in living Google video color!

    UPDATE: Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and welcome all!

    While I've been unable to determine how James Dobson feels about unnatural pollination, I don't think he'd like looking at these pornographic pictures of bees at all. Nor do I think he would want children reading the caption:

    The drone mounts the queen, inserts his endophallus, and ejaculates his semen.


    During ejaculation, the male falls back and his endophallus is ripped out of his body and remains attached to the queen.

    That's some tough love. (But who ever said the birds and the bees were nice?)

    UPDATE (04/26/07): Where have all the pollinators gone? Readers might enjoy my response to a recent editorial claim that they've disappeared entirely, and that it's "scary."

    posted by Eric at 04:52 PM | Comments (18)

    A weapons neurosis beats the end of the world?

    There's a lot of what's called "misattribution" going around.

    Did Albert Einstein make the following observation (or one like it)?

    ...if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live...
    Snopes.com had a thorough discussion of the matter and finally determined the status to be "UNDETERMINED."

    Which means no one can find the quote anywhere. Although it has been attributed to Einstein, there is no proof Einstein ever said it.

    Who should bear the burden in cases like this?

    Bill Maher? Just last week he said Einstein said it, as do thousands of websites.

    This argument has reached Wikipedia. The cached version shows the Einstein quote, and gives as sources Der Spiigel and Freie Universitat Berlin.

    Cached or not, the quote has now disappeared entirely from the official Wikipedia Bee entry.

    But on Wikipedia's "End of Civilization" entry, Einstein is still officially quoted as saying the following:

    "If the bees should die, humankind would have but four more years to live."
    Here the source is a German link, but Einstein does not seem to be mentioned at all!

    What gives? There's a discussion about the removal of the Einstein bee quote, but I guess removal in one place does not guarantee removal in another.

    Is it the rule that if a quote is found to be misattributed, it should be removed? Or should the quote stay in under a separate heading?

    A quote about fear of weapons which has been misattributed to Sigmund Freud has nonetheless remained, in two different Wiki entries -- the Freud biography as well as the WikiQuote entry on guns. However, it now appears under the large and unmistakable heading of "Misattributed."

    I was going to go look up the Freud quote for myself, but I no longer need to, as Glenn Reynolds has already done it:

    I went to the library to look the Freud reference up myself. The quote above doesn't appear on p. 33 as cited. Instead, there is what's seen below, which appears right after an account of a dream in which a woman tries to unsheathe a dagger to kill herself, only to awaken and find she's tugging on her husband's penis....


    This is consistent with the (currrent) WikiQuote version, saying that the Freud quote is actually quoting Kates' commentary on what Freud might think, rather than what Freud actually said.

    Fair enough. What I want to know, though, is why the Freud weapons quote is left in under the additional heading of "misattributed," while the Einstein bee quote is removed entirely.

    Now, you could argue that the "Misattributed" category belongs only in a biography, but the misattributed Freud quote appears both in the Freud biography and in Wiki's gun entry.

    Can anyone help?

    Considering that no one believes anyone (thus Glenn Reynolds saw the need to take a photo of the misattributed Freud quote), I figured should take a screenshot of what's no longer there in Wiki.

    Here's the now vanished Einstein bee quote:


    I really wouldn't mind the removal of misattributed quotes, nor would I mind leaving the quote in under the heading of "Misattributed." However I must object to a selective "now you see it, now you don't" approach, because it implies that misattributed quotes about guns are more important (or would that be more worthy of opprobrium?) than misattributed quotes about bees -- even when the latter involve the views of Albert Einstein about the end of mankind.

    Or am I missing something? Is Einstein perhaps less important than Freud? Or is the alleged end of mankind a less important topic than an alleged neurosis about weapons?

    UPDATE (04/27/07): Adam Rosen, Editor of Gelf Magazine has emailed me to point out that there's not only no proof that Einstein ever made the bee remark, but the curator of his archives says there's not even one reference to bees in any of his writings:

    Perhaps the most bizarre thing about this oft-quoted line is that Einstein probably never said it. Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, tells Gelf, "There is no proof of Einstein ever having said or written it." While Grosz notes that it is extremely difficult to disprove a quote, he "could not remember even one reference to bees in Einstein's writings."
    I don't think there's any responsibility on the part of anyone to disprove a quote; the burden should fall on the one offering it.

    posted by Eric at 12:29 PM | Comments (2)

    shameful contagion?

    A reader emailed me about an outbreak of "disease" at a girl's boarding school in Mexico:

    In November, a mysterious illness began to affect girls at a boarding school in Chalco, Mexico, near Mexico City. The school, which is run by Roman Catholic nuns, is one of 10 in Asia and Latin America operated by a charity called World Villages for Children in Asia. The girls, ages 12 to 17, showed strange symptoms: difficulty walking, fever and nausea. After the girls returned from a 10-day Christmas break, the illness spread. Eventually 600 out of the 3,600 girls at the school showed symptoms. Still, no one could figure out what was making the girls sick, and public health officials were called in.

    After conducting numerous tests, surveying the facilities and interviewing some of the afflicted girls, doctors have decided that a psychological disorder is responsible. Its official name is mass psychogenic disorder, also called collective hysteria, mass psychosomatic reaction or mass hysteria.

    Mass psychogenic disorder is a rare -- but not unheard of -- phenomenon. The disorder is usually characterized by the mysterious spread of a variety of symptoms without a discernible cause. It frequently occurs in closed, insulated communities, such as schools and factories, and among teenagers and girls. Collective hysteria can spread when a fear exists of exposure to a disease, combined with a contained, stressful environment.

    The girls who went home recovered quickly. (I guess it could have been worse; at least no one seems to have said they were bewitched.)

    Such diseases, even though they are in the mind, are nonetheless transmitted in a collective manner -- via association, and the "nocebo effect":

    Mass psychogenic disorder is a phenomenon that can be understood as resulting, in part, from the nocebo effect. Think of the nocebo effect as the opposite of the placebo effect. Instead of good thoughts or associations producing a positive outcome, bad thoughts and associations produce bad results. For example, in the early 1990s, a study showed that women who believed they were prone to heart disease were four times more likely to die than women who didn't believe they were susceptible, even though both groups of women had similar risk factors [Source: Washington Post]. The study showed that when people feel that they have been exposed to a contaminant or a disease -- or that they are predisposed to becoming sick -- they are more likely to develop symptoms.
    Why would someone believe he was "prone to" heart disease or any other disease? Simply because his mother or father had it? It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of people imagine they've "inherited" certain "diseases" or tendencies with no real genetic bases, and I'm wondering whether there have been studies on general symptomatology of adopted children.

    What about people who have multiple sensitivities to innumerable but undetermined toxins? The article continues:

    In a truly bizarre case, a story emerged last month in London, in which a woman revealed she's "allergic to modern living" [AllHeadline News]. Debbie Bird claims that she's allergic to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from computers, microwaves, and cellular phones. EMF fields, Bird claims, give her skin rashes and make her eyelids swell. She has made her house an EMF-free zone with carbon paint on the walls and covered her windows with protective films. She and her husband even sleep under a silver-plated mosquito net to keep out radio waves.

    Debbie Bird's not the only one of her kind. Many other people suffer from mysterious ailments where they experience genuine symptoms without any discernible cause. These afflictions include multiple chemical sensitivity -- an allergy to many types of common chemicals -- and "sick building syndrome," in which people become sick from time spent in a building (frequently an office) without any apparent cause.

    I'm as neurotic as anyone else, and it is not my purpose here to demean anyone, or trivialize the genuine suffering that is caused by illness. There's a popular misconception that the saying "It's all in your mind!" means it does not exist. Nonsense. Emotional pain is "all in the mind," yet people commit suicide over it. Int fact, the perception of pain is so intrinsically linked to pain that in many cases people do not realize they are hurt until someone else notices that they're bleeding.

    Years ago I read John Sarno's "The Mindbody Prescription," and I see he has a new book titled "The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders." Dr. Sarno noticed that, for example, people who hated their jobs were more likely to develop "work related" tendonitis, but once they switched to another work place the tendonitis would get better even if the work was the same. There's an interview with Sarno here, and a grateful patient has set up this website testimonial. (And, of course a Wiki entry mentioning how Sarno cured Howard Stern, which is where I heard about the guy.)

    Interestingly, hearing Howard Stern talk about Dr. Sarno helped change my thinking about psychogenic illness, and what fascinated me the most was learning that some people get dramatically better once they understand the mind-body connection. Others become infuriated, and reject out of hand the possibility that there isn't a "real" cause for their suffering. I don't know where people get the idea that because something is in your mind, that it isn't "real," but that's the way people are.

    Because I'm online so much and I see so many potential sources of hysteria, what concerns me is the possibility of (dare I say it) online infection. Laugh if you will, but what is in our brain consists of information, and if we move from the individual with tendonitis to people who are in groups or who have formed groups, I think it begs the question that outbreaks of online mass psychogenic illness might become a real possibility -- assuming they haven't happened already.

    An article in Psychiatric Times elaborates on Mass Psychogenic Illness (aka MPI). After discussing a typical outbreak and noting that the disease is more common than most people realize, Dr. Timothy Jones notes its characteristics:

    Overview of MPI

    MPI has been characterized as a constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic disease that lacks an identified cause, which occurs among people who share beliefs regarding those symptoms (Philen et al., 1989). It is seen as a social phenomenon, affecting otherwise healthy individuals (Boss, 1997). While ruling out other potential causes of an outbreak is critical, MPI is not simply a diagnosis of exclusion. MPI has no pathognomonic features, but a variety of characteristics should prompt its consideration and can support the diagnosis.

    Recognizing the Diagnosis

    Outbreaks of MPI are often triggered by an environmental event (Boss, 1997). Odors are a common trigger, although reports of contamination of water or food (Anonymous, 1999; Cartter et al., 1989; David and Wessely, 1995), smog (Araki and Honma, 1986), and numerous other environmental events have been associated with such incidents. Outbreaks are often enhanced by a vigorous emergency response and substantial media attention (Hefez, 1985; Philen et al., 1989). Symptoms may spread almost instantaneously and by line of sight, the latter term referring to the apparent spread of outbreak among those who directly observe other affected people.

    Children and adolescents are frequently affected (Boss, 1997), and the phenomenon commonly involves groups under stress (Philen et al., 1989). Females are often disproportionately affected (Boss, 1997). The symptoms reported in such outbreaks may be inconsistent with a single toxic or infectious etiology. Typically, no objective evidence of organic disease is detected on medical evaluation. Hyperventilation and associated symptoms are common, as are headache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, abdominal distress, weakness, and respiratory symptoms. Several outbreaks have been described involving rashes (Robinson et al., 1984; Rouechý, 1991). Symptoms generally resolve with removal of those affected from the scene, observation and reassurance.

    In a review of the medical literature pertaining to both MPI and outbreaks of confirmed toxic exposures, I was unable to identify any outbreaks of acute illness from toxic exposures, with minimal physical findings, where the cause was not quickly apparent to investigators. Mass psychogenic illness should be considered in the differential diagnosis of clusters of illness with no objective signs of disease, the cause of which cannot be identified quickly.

    While there doesn't seem to be a condition actually labeled Online Mass Psychogenic Illness (OMPI), in several posts I've noticed the following:
  • a group of people claiming to be suffering a variety of symptoms they attribute to the mercury fillings in their teeth despite the lack of any evidence of mercury toxicity related to dental fillings
  • a mysterious illlness called "Morgellons Disease" with all kinds of symptoms which the CDC refused to recognize, but which sufferers indignantly claimed they have (just read the comments).
  • NOTE: Wikipedia has an entry (disputed, naturally) for Morgellons Disease which quotes various physicians who attribute it to "delusional parasitosis" and treat it with antipsychotic medication.

    QUESTION: Can we really be sure that Morgellons Disease might not be caused by Global Warming?

    Who is in charge of whose denial?

    EnviroSpin Watch has discussed cycles of Global Warming related manic depression, while Pardon My English notes the well-documented phenomenon of children's Global Warming nightmares.

    Add to this the increasing kneejerk tendency to automatically blame human activity for unusual natural phenomena (a good example is Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees being blamed on cell phones despite a lack of correlation). Factor in the persecution sensitivities which often drive identity politics awareness -- examples can be found in studies showing racism (or the perception thereof) makes people physically sick, thus triggering the need for support groups. Is it unreasonable to expect that people who imagine Global Warming has made them physically sick might form "support groups"?

    Considering the documented existence of MPI, might such support groups actually aggravate -- or even help generate -- the very illnesses they claim to "support"? For that matter, what constitutes "support"?

    There certainly wouldn't be any denying the reality of symptoms. Certainly, I would not deny that someone feels the way he feels. But don't I have the right to deny personal responsibility? Am I in any way responsible for the feelings of people I do not know? Or might there be such a thing as a collective illness suffered by one group because it was collectively "caused" by another?

    This is more complicated than it seems, because (at the risk of sounding like a heartless and mean spirited pig) I actually think sick people need help.

    I mean, it's not as if illness is anything to be ashamed of, right?

    Ah, but the catch is that disorders connected to the mind are typically associated with shame in a way that physical disorders are not.

    Don't blame me. I didn't make the rules.

    UPDATE: Commenter Metapundit is assuming I've read Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash," which according to him,

    explores some of these ideas - the novel is cyberpunk with action taking place in meatspace and cyberspace. Interesting though is the idea of viruses (audio/visual) which hack the software we have running on our hardware (the brain).
    I hate it when this happens (it's not the first time) because I'm left having to admit to ignorance or to plead guilty to deliberate copying someone else's ideas. I have not read "Snow Crash," and if it explores the same issues I've explored here and I had read it, I'd have credited him.

    There's no way to prove I didn't read something, though, and if this went to trial I would probably call Justin to bear witness to my ignorance. He knows my reading habits, and while he can't swear under penalty of perjury that I never read something, I think he would readily confirm that it's highly unlikely I ever read "Snow Crash."

    (So I plead ignorant, although it's nothing to be proud of.)

    posted by Eric at 09:14 AM | Comments (6)

    Crow for conspicuous virgin virtue!

    If there's one thing I hate, it's when something I consider satire becomes someone else's serious political goal.

    In a previous post about saving virgin trees I saw this one coming:

    ...every time I blow my nose or wipe my ass, I destroy virgins and doom many more!
    I don't know whether the arboreal evangelicals read my blog, but via Pajamas Media, I see that leading environmentalist Sheryl Crow is demanding an end to asswiping as we know it:
    I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.
    Why? Because "conspicuous virtue" is no fun if you have to practice it alone in the privacy of a toilet stall where no one can watch you. This new virtue must be enforced -- because of course we have to save "virgin wood":
    Crow (4/19): I also like the idea of not using paper napkins, which happen to be made from virgin wood and represent the height of wastefulness. I have designed a clothing line that has what's called a "dining sleeve." The sleeve is detachable and can be replaced with another "dining sleeve," after usage. The design will offer the "diner" the convenience of wiping his mouth on his sleeve rather than throwing out yet another barely used paper product. I think this idea could also translate quite well to those suffering with an annoying head cold.
    First toilet paper? Then napkins?

    Can diapers be far behind? That there's an established anti-diaper movement is old news:

    The latest Greenie fad is "Diaperless babies". Yes. They actually see virtue in having babies shit all over the place!
    But that was in 2004. The anthropogenic global warming mania is now breathing new life into ridiculous ideas -- even old and shitty ones -- and I think we can expect a dramatic increase in such virtuous squalor.

    Any idea why Crow failed to mention tampons?

    (I'd almost be tempted to be snarky and ask, "which comes first; the diaper or the tampon?" but that might be too dirty a question to pose at a clean, values-based blog.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm wondering whether there's any connection between Sheryl Crow's opposition to asswiping and the recent kerfluffle between her and Karl Rove:

    As he headed toward his table, "Sheryl reached out to touch his arm," David writes on TheHuffingtonPost.com. "Karl swung around and spat, 'Don't touch me.' How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow?
    Far be it from me to read Karl Rove's mind. But what if he interpreted "one square per restroom visit" literally?

    UPDATE: Via NewsBusters, Rosie O'Donnell reacts -- in this case quite negatively:

    Has she seen my a**?
    That's a rhetorical question, right?

    MORE: In this now-vintage public service message, 1960s underground comix artist R. Crumb warned us about the messy consequences of not using toilet paper.


    Read the colloquy in the lower left.

    Sheryl Crow's plan for America is more than just inconvenient.

    It just plain stinks!

    MORE: Have to say, I'm with Don Surber on this one:

    You will take my TP when you pry it from my cold brown fingers.
    Let's unroll!

    MORE: Glenn Reynolds weighs in:

    SHERYL CROW AND HER TOILET PAPER: I think this is an example of "negative branding." As I drove home, I heard a local DJ saying that no one will ever be able to listen to her music without thinking of butt-wiping, and then speculating that maybe Lance Armstrong had left her because "she wasn't diligent enough with the paperwork." That was the first of many similar jokes.

    I don't think it was part of a well-thought-out PR strategy. . . .

    Not to butt in, but judging by the comments it's pretty clear that a lot of people want her to be the butt of her own joke...

    Following which a little change (in underwear, natch) will do her good.

    MORE: Earlier, Glenn Reynolds made this solemn pledge:

    I promise I won't be asking anyone to go without toilet paper.
    While Glenn was saying this in order to promote the One Billion Bulbs Club (which I've joined, btw), it's not bad as a bad campaign slogan.

    Who knows, if they keep this up, the race might actually get amusing.

    posted by Eric at 11:04 AM | Comments (21)

    "Liberty turns lethal" ("OK, let's turn it around.")

    I have tried to avoid getting sucked into the maelstrom of debating and finger-pointing which one lunatic has managed to generate, but it's just springing up everywhere. It's as if Seung Cho has succeeded in indicting society (which was his goal), for now that the waiting period is over, everyone gets to play Jerry Falwell and say "YOU HELPED THIS HAPPEN!"

    The only good that has come of this in my case was that for the first time in the history of American Major Media Incidents, I did manage to keep my TV off -- for an entire week. That arguably ostrich-like behavior, though, did not prevent me from seeing the most scathingly dishonest anti-gun editorial the Inquirer has yet served up -- "Gun Violence -- When liberty turns lethal."

    The Inquirer reduces those who disagree (including poor little me, I'm afraid) to a dehumanized "lobby" of perverse debate framers:

    The gun lobby has framed the gun violence debate perversely to its advantage - and done a powerful job of it. It is time for adults to stand up and demand that reality prevail.
    Adults? As opposed to what? Children? People don't deserve to be called adults because they disagree with the Inquirer on the gun issue? I don't even think the Inquirer considers them to be individual people who think what they think. Rather, they're mindless automatons who belong to "The Gun Lobby."

    I'm beginning to understand why it's so tough to have a rational debate with these folks. But wimp that I am, I still regard them as human beings, and yes, even as adults.

    They, however, would seem to regard me as some sort of "extremist":

    The most extreme gun rights advocates seized upon last week's shootings and declared that they could have been averted if only Virginia law did not ban guns on college campuses. The core problem, according to the gun lobby, is that Americans do not have enough access to firearms.

    The gun lobby is fond of demanding that those who seek more limits on gun ownership guarantee ahead of time that those limits will work perfectly and solve the problem fully.

    Odd that I missed that demand. Of what benefit would it be? So the gun lobby could later turn around and say "But you promised"? (FWIW, I've been blogging about the Philadelphia Inquirer's gun control positions for some time, but I must have missed the guarantee issue.)

    In any case, the Inquirer wants to turn the debate around:

    OK, let's turn it around. Please explain how putting more firepower within easy reach of adolescents, with their penchants for depression, romantic drama, and binge drinking, would make campuses safer.
    This question based on several erroneous assumptions. First of all, there is no law prohibiting guns on campuses. Virginia Tech bans guns as part of its campus policy. Violators are subject not to criminal prosecution, but campus disciplinary penalties:
    University officials confirmed that, earlier this semester, campus police approached a student found to be carrying a concealed handgun to class. The unnamed student was not charged with any crimes because he holds a state-issued permit allowing him to carry a concealed gun. But the student could face disciplinary action from the university for violating its policy prohibiting "unauthorized possession, storage or control" of firearms on campus.

    Tech spokesman Larry Hincker declined to release the student's name or specifics of the incident, citing rules protecting student confidentiality. But Hincker said Tech's ban on guns dates back several decades.

    Students who violate the school policy could be called before the university's internal judicial affairs system, which has wide discretion in handing down penalties ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.

    While it's arguable whether such a policy disarms anyone, to the extent it does it does not disarm simply "adolescents." The goal is to disarm everyone except the campus police. In reality, the only people it disarms are those who obey the policy and disarm or fail to arm themselves. This left rule-abiding people who might have otherwise been able to fight back (such as the heroic professor Liviu Librescu) no choice but to do things like throw themselves on the psychotic Mr. Cho.

    But even if we assumed the goal is only to disarm adolescents (and further assume that all people on college campuses are in fact "adolescents" which they are not) I think Seung Cho already demonstrated that "firepower" is already within easy reach of them. Campus policy rules don't put things within reach of anyone. The Virginia Tech policy in question doesn't forbid anyone "access" to guns one way or another; it only punishes campus conduct after it has occurred.

    Thus, the Inquirer is demanding an answer to a question having little if anything to do with the facts.

    But there's more. The NRA should be forced to answer questions about crime:

    Let's keep turning the tables. Instead of forcing anti-violence activists to prove a point most don't believe - that gun control is the sole solution - let's force the National Rifle Association to explain why gun violence is so much lower in other Western industrialized societies. If it's not their far stricter gun control, what is it? Are they better people than we are?
    Are they "better" people? I don't know, but it's too late to ask the millions who were savagely murdered by European governments. Governments which believed in building better worlds. Worlds free of Jews. Free of Kulaks. Free of freedom. If the Europeans are "better people," why is it that the "worse" Americans had to keep marching in and put an end to the European killing fields?

    Whether Europeans are "better people" is impossible to answer, but they certainly don't have a very good track record where it comes to better governments. (Not that it especially matters, but according to this web site, the crime rate in Europe is actually higher than the crime rate in the United States. However, there's no way to verify the numbers, because the source -- Interpol -- restricts the data to police agencies.)

    The Inquirer starts and finishes its editorial with a quote from a European, one Cyril Connolly, who wrote the following in 1938:

    "We create the world in which we live; if that world becomes unfit for human life, it is because we tire of our responsibility."
    A broad and general quote like that can of course apply to anything. The Inquirer applies it to guns; I suppose Al Gore would apply it to anthropogenic global warming, while Paul Ehrlich would apply it to overpopulation. Whether Connolly is the great visionary he's made out to be is at least debatable. His more famous line -- "Slums may well be breeding grounds of crime, but the middle-class suburbs are incubators of apathy and delirium" -- is linked to a movement which helped prevent suburbs in favor of building "high-density urban development" in the 1950s. (As the last link makes clear, many British now have second thoughts.)

    But seeing that it's a waste of time to disagree with the demonization of disagreement, I think a better approach might be to simply agree.

    At least with the title of the Inquirer editorial. If I look at the big picture, I can more than agree with the Inquirer's statement that "Liberty turns lethal."

    Liberty can indeed turn lethal, especially when that means liberty for dangerous criminals and assorted psychopaths who believe in shooting their fellow citizens. The Inquirer complains constantly about Philadelphia's huge murder rate, but it took the Chief of Detectives to point out in a letter to the Editor that 80 to 85 percent of the shooters are convicted criminals running around loose.

    Just as Seung Cho was running around loose?

    If anyone should be demonized here, I think it's Cho.

    The Inquirer thinks it should be the NRA, though, and demands the NRA answer ridiculous rhetorical questions about "gun violence" in Europe. Wouldn't it be at least as relevant to ask about the millions of Europeans who were not that long ago murdered by the very governments which had disarmed them?

    Or is it "extremism" to point out that the Second Amendment was intended to make it as difficult as possible for the same thing to happen here?

    I realize that posing rhetorical questions that will never be answered is an exercise in futility, but as I was mulling over the Inquirer's questions for the NRA -- especially the part about "turning the tables" -- and I saw that Oleg Atbashian at Pajamas Media is asking some excellent "table turning" rhetorical questions.

    And I thought the following picture was at least as irresistible as the Inquirer's cartoon of the pistol-brandishing NRA cowboy (whose shooting has so terrorized the GOP elephants and Democratic donkeys that they've taken cover behind the saloon bar).


    Sure, we all agree that the kid was crazy. But the rhetoric he spouted nonetheless reflected that at least someone had tried to teach him that the difference between right and wrong is to be found in class differences:

    There's little doubt that Cho, a mentally disturbed kid, had been exposed to the "social justice" and "class strife" rhetoric in school. These teachings are a near mandatory supplement served to most American kids, explicitly or implicitly, courtesy of public education. Once in college the intake of the "progressive" formula only tends to increase, involving heavy doses of every grievance man, woman, or beast has ever had from the beginning of time, factual or imaginary. All this is served up under the generic label of "social sciences." So when a young student's budding paranoia begins to torment him with phantoms of horrific social injustice, prompting him to shoot indiscriminately at the dehumanized mass of "rich kids" while imagining himself a heroic avenger of the oppressed victims, is it really the fault of the National Rifle Association?
    If you're the Inquirer, why, yes.

    posted by Eric at 09:48 AM | Comments (3)

    False Report

    Tom Ligon reports
    that the report I posted about the Bussard Fusion work being funded was incorrect.

    The contract has merely been continued for a year without funding.

    Time to contact your Government to see if we can't get this ball rolling.

    House of Representatives
    The Senate
    The President

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 04:17 AM | Comments (0)

    We Will Not Let It Fall To Violence

    SFC SKI commented on my post The Objective - Iraq. The SFC makes some good points about the security situation in Iraq. To which I responded:

    Thanks so much for the comment!!

    You say:

    You really can't split Iraq's security problems along internal and external, they are intertwined to a tremendous extent.

    Agreed. However, what I was thinking of was more about a division of labor. Americans do primarily border security. Iraqis do mainly internal security.

    With the whole job ultimately being handed over to the Iraqis - when they are ready.

    As to the spineless in Congress. I think they are one termers. Think of the '72 elections when we elected Nixon (a truly vile man) over his anti-war Democrat rival.

    The most important thing to be done in winning this war is that more soldiers like you speak out. You don't even have to blog. Comments on blogs are equally helpful.

    BTW I'm sure it is too far above your pay grade, but our war leaders are really letting us down by not getting more news and views of the troops out.

    War is 3/4s morale. The DOD and the President are letting the home front down.

    The message is simple:

    There is a democratically elected government in Iraq under attack by the disgruntled, by Nazi emulating Baathists, and by external forces. This Iraqi government may fall at the next election. We will not let it fall to violence.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 06:44 PM | Comments (2)

    Climate Apocalypse - With A Good Beat

    Justin has a post up on the current climate apocalypse scare with references to green skies in our future.

    Here is a band that put those ideas to music. Threw in some interpersonal relations and came up with with a very nice tune with a good beat.

    The thing is, I remember driving to Chicago in 1975 and the closer I got the greener the atmosphere. Now a days it just gets a little dingy. In a lot of important ways America is much less green than it used to be.

    Cross Posted at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 05:22 PM | Comments (0)

    We Are Doomed - Again

    Justin has a new "we are doomed" article up on global warming. I thought a little data on the subject might be in order.

    CO2 in Geologic History
    There has historically been much more CO2 in our atmosphere than exists today. For example, during the Jurassic Period (200 mya), average CO2 concentrations were about 1800 ppm or about 4.7 times higher than today. The highest concentrations of CO2 during all of the Paleozoic Era occurred during the Cambrian Period, nearly 7000 ppm -- about 18 times higher than today.

    The Carboniferous Period and the Ordovician Period were the only geological periods during the Paleozoic Era when global temperatures were as low as they are today. To the consternation of global warming proponents, the Late Ordovician Period was also an Ice Age while at the same time CO2 concentrations then were nearly 12 times higher than today-- 4400 ppm. According to greenhouse theory, Earth should have been exceedingly hot. Instead, global temperatures were no warmer than today. Clearly, other factors besides atmospheric carbon influence earth temperatures and global warming.

    From: Climate and the Carboniferous Period where a larger version of the graph is also available.

    H/T A Jacksonian

    posted by Simon at 04:15 PM | Comments (4)

    More dangerous than criminals?

    Something has been bothering me about numbers.

    The whole country is being systematically worked into a lather to "do something" about mentally ill people with guns because a mentally ill man murdered 32 people, and there have been previous similar cases. According to this emerging conventional wisdom, this means that "the mentally ill" should be prevented from having "access" to weapons.

    Consider the following two points:

  • 1. The vast majority of mentally ill people are not dangerous and will never kill anyone
  • 2. People with a reportable history of mental illness are already prohibited (by law) from purchasing firearms.
  • What is being proposed is an expansion of this prohibited category, in the hope that the minority of dangerous mentally ill people (the most likely shooters) will be deterred from buying guns.

    By what logic would that be true? Dangerously mentally ill people are what used to be called "criminally insane." This means that in addition to being mentally ill, they are predisposed to commit crimes, right? How is it that not allowing them to buy guns will prevent them from obtaining guns?

    In Philadelphia, 80-85% of the murders are committed by convicted criminals, who by law are not allowed to possess firearms. Laws do not stop them.

    So if they don't stop criminals, why on earth would laws stop the dangerous and violent mentally ill people?

    In logic, of course, the answer is that they won't.

    Of course, simply locking up dangerous mentally ill people to keep them from getting guns and shooting people is an unacceptable solution -- especially if that would solve the problem of these shootings by deranged gunmen.

    Huh? If it would work, then why is it unacceptable?

    Because, dangerous mentally ill people commit only a minority of murders, the vast majority of which are committed by convicted criminals. And if locking up mentally ill people stopped murders by mentally ill people, the next thing you know, people would be suggesting that locking up criminals would prevent even more murders.

    It might occur to them that if 80% of murders are caused by career criminals, then locking them up would mean, well, a potential 80% drop in the murder rate.

    We just can't have people thinking such things.

    Thus, locking up dangerously mentally ill people is just as untenable a proposition as locking up criminals.

    The focus will have to remain on the guns.

    UPDATE (04/23/07): Dr. Helen links this Op-Ed by Dr. Jonathan Kellerman which touches on the the issue I've been trying to grapple with here:

    Penning up and carefully scrutinizing the killer was never an option. Not in Virginia or California or any other state in the union. Because in our well-intentioned quest to maximize personal liberty, we've moved conceptual eons away from taking the concept of dangerousness seriously.

    The best predictor of future violent behavior is past violent behavior, yet we regularly grant parole to murderers, serial rapists, chronically assaultive individuals and habitual pedophiles. Even when we do attempt to segregate low-impulse multiple offenders with effective tools such as with three-strikes laws, liberationist clamor never ceases.

    Talk to anyone who's tried to commit a dangerously violent child or parent for even a few days: A stranger with a law degree will show up at the hearing and paint you as a fascist. So it's far too much to expect anything resembling a decisive approach to those whose level of threat remains at the verbal level.

    "Liberationist clamor" is the problem. Now that mental hospitals are effectively shut down, the new goal is the abolition of prison. Just as mental illness is said to be a "myth," the word "crime" is placed in quotes:
    * Abolition is a political vision that seeks to eliminate the need for prisons, policing, and surveillance by creating sustainable alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.

    * Abolition means acknowledging the devastating effects prison, policing, and surveillance have on poor communities, communities of color and other targeted communities, and saying, "No, we won't live like this. We deserve more."

    * Abolitionists recognize that the kinds of wrongdoing we call "crime" do not exist in the same way everywhere and are not "human nature", but rather determined by the societies we live in. Similarly, abolitionists do not assume that people will never hurt each other or that people won't cross the boundaries set up by their communities. We do imagine, however, that boundary crossings will happen much less often if we live in a society that combines flexibility with care to provide for, and acknowledge, people's needs. To do that, we must create alternatives for dealing with the injuries people inflict upon each other in ways that sustain communities and families. Keeping a community whole is impossible by routinely removing people from it.

    UPDATE: Clayton Cramer links this law review article, with a startling observation about deinstitutionalization:

    ...if you combine both measures and plot them against U.S. murder rates for the period 1928-2000, there is an almost perfect negative correlation: as institutionalization (in either prison or mental hospitals) goes up, murder rates go down, and vice versa.

    There's a lot of evidence that many of those who are currently locked up in prisons are mentally ill. It would appear that the great experiment of the 1960s--deinstitutionalization--simply transferred violent mentally ill people from mental hospitals to prisons, after a few decades of suffering, both by those mental patients, and by the society as a whole.

    Just take a look at Philadelphia's murder rate.

    posted by Eric at 01:15 PM | Comments (2)

    Earth Day: The Remix
    September 14, 2006 A leading U.S. climate researcher says the world has a 10-year window of opportunity to take decisive action on global warming and avert catastrophe.

    NASA scientist James Hansen, widely considered the doyen of American climate researchers, said governments must adopt an alternative scenario to keep carbon dioxide emission growth in check...

    "I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change ... no longer than a decade, at the most..."

    I'm rather pressed for time these days, so I can't blog as much as I would like to.
    Still, it is Earth Day, so I thought some gentle reminders are in order, time or no time. Thus, the remix.

    Most of the following material has appeared on this blog before, but newer readers may have missed it, buried in the archives as it is. Look for "Ehrlich", "Rifkin", "Kunstler", or "Peak Oil", and it's all in there.

    But honestly, who among them has the time? May they derive much enjoyment from these convenient re-runs.

    This first one however, is entirely new to these pages. In 1970, Edwin Newman had this to say...

    "By the end of the decade our rivers may have reached the boiling point. Three decades more, and they may evaporate. One of the causes of this thermal pollution is the spread of nuclear power across the land."

    And he said it on national television! Thanks Ed. This one's a keeper!

    Next up, a new scrap of Ehrlich, circa 1970...

    "In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish."

    More vintage Ehrlich follows...

    If you want to know the truth, I'd say that the biggest mistake mankind ever made was the agricultural revolution. We were a great hunting and gathering animal. If you look-and I have, I've lived with Eskimos and seen bushmen and aborigines and so on-you may be struck, as I have, by the fact that each individual in that kind of society was-at least before they had contact with us-almost a carrier of a full culture. Every individual knew exactly where he or she fit into the picture, had more personal worth and was less alienated than any member of our modern civilization.

    And this beauty hails from 1974...

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

    The end never came, but the arrogant jackass is still braying.

    Here's a grab bag of this and that which I've used in a couple of different posts...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that "civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind."

    "We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation," wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.

    Wheee! Gets the blood moving, doesn't it? But you ain't seen nothing yet.

    For enviro-scolds, it's always a good day to raise the stakes.

    Because why? Because we were starting not to listen to them.

    Here's a notion you'll be hearing more of. Forget about rising seas, plagues, famines and hurricanes. They are meager and paltry things, the antipasti served before a savory main course.

    We're talking about the end of the world, baby!

    Permian Greenhouse Extinction Is Risen...

    More than 200 million years ago, a cataclysmic event known as the Permian extinction destroyed more than 90 percent of all species and nearly 97 percent of all living things. Its origins have long been a puzzle for paleontologists. During the 1990s and the early part of this century, a great battle was fought between those who thought that death had come from above and those who thought something more complicated was at work.

    Paleontologist Peter. D. Ward, fresh from helping prove that an asteroid had killed the dinosaurs, turned to the Permian problem, and he has come to a stunning conclusion. In his investigations of the fates of several groups of mollusks during that extinction and others, he discovered that the near-total devastation at the end of the Permian period was caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide leading to climate change. But it's not the heat (nor the humidity) that's directly responsible for the extinctions, and the story of the discovery of what is responsible makes for a fascinating, globe-spanning adventure.

    In Under a Green Sky, Ward explains how the Permian extinction as well as four others happened, and describes the freakish oceans--belching poisonous gas--and sky--slightly green and always hazy--that would have attended them. Those ancient upheavals demonstrate that the threat of climate change cannot be ignored, lest the world's life today--ourselves included--face the same dire fate that has overwhelmed our planet several times before.

    Gotta love that "something more complicated", eh?

    As though a simple cometary impact theory is for simple linear thinkers.

    Yes, indeed. Our future, unless of course we heed our scientifically trained betters, may well hold warm carbonated oceans, oceans fouled with runaway anaerobic bacterial growth, oceans that belch poisonous gases into a still and windless oven-hot hellworld where our kind of life will inevitably die in gasping agony.

    So if you love this planet you should buy compact fluorescent lamps and start biking to work. Also, give up meat, now. And buy American, damn it!

    Me, I'm off for a Sunday drive and a 1200 mile lunch. Happy Earth Day.

    posted by Justin at 12:15 PM | Comments (3)

    But we all know there's no shame in shame!

    A front page article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer comes within an inch of (gasp!) stereotyping Asians. (But it's OK, because the principal author has an obviously Asian name.) Anyway, I was immediately reminded of Sean Kinsell's earlier post about "whether and how Cho Seung-hui's Korean-ness relates to his having shot at several classrooms full of college students."

    Sean has more. But I'll start with today's front page Inquirer story, headlined "Asians often reticent about seeking mental care."

    I think it's worth noting that author Lou Yi is a Chinese writer for Caijing Magazine currently on a fellowship at the Inquirer. Caijing Magazine is a Chinese financial magazine which has been described as pushing boundaries of censorship. While I certainly hope this is not why Caijing's home page does not open right now, I'm getting way off topic with Chinese censorship.

    The issue here is Asian reticence in seeking mental health care:

    "Our culture, you keep your feelings inside," said Helen Luu, who runs the Asian Mental Health Program at the Hall-Mercer Community Center in Society Hill. "When you ask the [mental health] client, 'How do you feel?' they don't know how to answer you."

    The reluctance of Asians to acknowledge the possibility of mental illness and seek care takes on new import after the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and himself.

    Cho's mother told relatives in South Korea, where the family lived until Cho was 8, that her silent, affectless boy was autistic. It is not known if he was formally diagnosed or if Cho's parents or staff at the Centreville, Va., schools he attended tried to get him professional help. A statement issued Friday by the family indicates that they were unaware of the depression and alienation so obvious to Cho's professors.

    There's no evidence that Cho's ethnicity caused him to avoid the counseling that faculty begged him to get. But it's clear that Asians hesitate to seek care, for reasons researchers suspect are primarily cultural.

    Practitioners say patients will talk about their symptoms - loss of appetite, trouble sleeping - but never mention the word depression. That may seem odd in a nation where counseling is commonplace, but more than water separates North America from Asia.

    Americans celebrate the individual, Asians the community. Americans want a CAT scan for every headache. Asians prefer to tough it out.

    Chinese, for instance, live in a culture that stresses coping and self-reliance. The idea of seeking outside help for an emotional problem creates what experts call "cultural incongruence." It simply doesn't compute.

    In many Asian communities, mental illness carries profound shame - not just for the afflicted, but for the entire family.

    "Asians come from 'face' cultures," said Stanley Sue, a professor of psychology and Asian American studies at the University of California, Davis. "How you appear to others, your family name, are paramount."

    "There is no mental-health [education] in Asian people's culture," said Jingduan Yang, a psychiatrist at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia, and an expert on traditional Chinese medicine.

    Some doubt the existence of psychiatric illness, seeing laziness, not depression, in a teenager's refusal to get out of bed. For others, it is a punishment inflicted for wrongs committed in a past life - a problem that may require a priest or a shaman, but not a doctor.

    I'm fascinated by the shame-based aspect of this (and shame culture generally) and I think it may account for the fact that even in this country, men are far less likely to seek treatment for mental illness than women.

    Right now I see a tug of war between two conflicting principles. On the one hand, there's massive public outrage over the fact that too many mentally ill people can buy guns, so there's a push to change the laws. But on the other hand, the therapy community wants to encourage everyone to seek treatment. I realize there are good arguments for both propositions. But two things stand out:

  • 1. there's no way to toughen up the laws without adding to the existing stigma of being labeled mentally ill.
  • 2. People who do not want to be stigmatized will avoid being labeled, and thus avoid treatment.
  • Let's assume that like so many people I were to become so depressed that I no longer wanted to go on living. Each day becomes more and more unbearable, until eventually even getting out of bed becomes a severe test of my ability to go on functioning. That dying is increasingly seen as more desirable than living, etc.

    (Please don't anyone misread me; this is a hypothetical, OK? I'll make it through this post somehow, my dark humor notwithstanding....)

    To continue, there are plenty of suicide prevention lines and psychologists and psychiatrists on call -- all of them available at the push of a few buttons on my phone. But if I know that by dialing one of those numbers and admitting to my problem I will cause my name to be placed on the NICS list of people who have effectively lost their Second Amendment rights, why on earth would I do that? It's tantamount to pleading guilty in court.

    Call me "Asian" in my thinking if you want, but being considered so mentally defective that you are denied an important constitutional right strikes me as a profoundly shameful state to be in, and I can hardly blame Asians (or anyone else) for not wanting to place themselves in an equivalent state.

    So, while I support the idea of getting tough with the clearly hallucinatory classes (like the man who walked around with a stuffed animal until he decided to grab a saw and cut open a subway pasenger's chest), I don't think increasing the stigmatization of all mentally ill people is the way to go.

    I'm a bit concerned about the Monday morning quarterback mentality which seems to take over in cases like that of Seung Cho.

    "We all saw the signs!"

    "Anyone could have seen this coming."

    "The guy was obviously a ticking time bomb."

    "Well, what do you expect from somone with wierd tattoos and bizarre attire?"

    You don't have to look far; here's the front page of the current "Philadelphia Weekly":

    lovetohateme.jpg A guy covered with tattoos (bet they're beauties too) wearing a T-shirt that says "LOVE TO HATE ME" is a perfectly natural thing these days. He happens to be a hard-working DJ, but so what? Yet if the boy next door looked exactly the same way (as many boys next door do), you can be sure that the attire would later be seen as early warning "signs" that were "there."

    For that matter, almost anything can look or seem psychotic in retrospect. If all the kids in school sported tattoos and the normal "LOVE TO HATE ME" T-shirts, the "loner psycho" type might then show his individuality by always wearing a Secret Service-style black suit with a white shirt and tie to school. If he suddenly started shooting, why, wouldn't it have been obvious that all the "signs" were "there"?

    Sean links a very thoughtful discussion by Connie du Toit, and in a comment she discusses the wisdom of hindsight, as well as the Korean factor:

    I think hindsight is a very bad precedent in this case--to apply it as the new paradigm for what kind of society we are.

    Yeah, there were signs and clues, but how many people show those same signs, and never act on them? I'd wager that at least 25% of the young adult population has showed some of those same signs. It is the severity that alters the perspective, and you have to have experience (which young people don't have) to know when to follow up with stronger actions.

    I think there is an aspect to this case that no one has touched on yet, and I'm a little reluctant to bring it up, lest be accused of something... but (like I've ever let that stop me before)...

    He was Korean. His parents were Korean and recent immigrants. Koreans, unless something has radically changed in the last 20 years, do not view psychiatry in the same way we do. They view psychiatry as a really bad thing, and would never seek it out. They view these things (as best as I can describe it) as Gulags, or re-indoctrination centers, and not something the ordinary person (or family) would get involved with.

    Culturally, Asians in general, haven't had the changing experience and attitude about psychiatry (and psychiatric conditions) that we have had.

    She cites examples, and offers what some might consider a disturbing conclusion:
    the real failure point here was not "the government" or any "mental health system." The problem was his family. Families have to deal with their own and they are the only ones who would be able to determine the severity of their child's actions (knowing the difference between a lovesick kid and a truly sick one). Obviously, this kid's problems were not new, as the trail of offenses and "signs" goes way back. But nothing was done by his family--no outreach to mental health has shown up. It doesn't appear to be anything like the Hinkely case (or the Yates case) where "the system" failed the person and their families, despite the families trying desperately to have them locked up.

    I doubt very much, given the Korean family's cultural background, that they would have even supported the idea of psychiatric intervention, had they even been sophisticated enough to know it was needed.

    That's the real story behind all of this, and one I haven't heard discussed AT ALL.

    I'm glad to see the Inquirer make a stab at it, even if (for obvious reasons) the writers are not as free as bloggers to say what they think.

    Like it or not, the Asian reluctance to seek psychiatric intervention does seem to be based on shame. We Americans know better, of course. Being mentally ill is nothing to be ashamed of. Those silly Asians!

    Why, in our enlightened country, mental illness is no disgrace at all!

    (You have nothing to lose but a "right" that none of the rest of us should have anyway.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I realize I failed to factor in the growing mental health trend of considering nearly everyone as mentally ill.

    Denial is preferable to acknowledging certain things.

    MORE: What is the difference between Cho and the many others who might exhibit similar characteristics (or take on a "dark side" appearance)? It certainly seems the teachers and psychologists who came in contact with him knew there was a problem or he would never have been ruled mentally ill.

    Is this a case of "I know it when I see it"?

    If so, the problem might be that there is no way to bureaucratize common sense.

    posted by Eric at 10:00 AM | Comments (1)

    Bouncing back

    Compared to some of the klutzes on the road, my dog Coco is incredibly graceful and coordinated.

    Look at what she can do with the shredded remnants of the perimeter of her frisbee.


    Although I throw it as far as I can, she usually catches it before it hits the ground -- often in midair:


    Here the frisbee has formed an almost Byzantine halo around her head:


    Bear in mind that these pictures were taken just five days ago, right after the area was struck by a terrible Al Gore "coldening" blitz which messed up everything around here and shut down my power.

    I thought winter was back for good, but it's warm today.

    Might Coco have performed a miracle?

    posted by Eric at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

    Cause and effect (in less than a thousand words)

    I can't stand Friday afternoon traffic messes created by bad drivers, nor the apparent ease with which people manage to get driver's licenses.

    But I don't feel like writing a thousand words about it. Fortunately, I don't have to, as I happened to have my camera with me yesterday afternoon, and I took this:


    I had to sit through a half hour traffic jam to take it, but as photo opportunities go, it was almost worth the wait.

    posted by Eric at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

    The Objective - Iraq

    This is the next piece in my look at our war strategy in Iraq.

    What is our objective in Iraq? It looks like we have a lot of them. The establishment of an Iraqi liberal democracy. Fighting a guerilla war. Establishing a viable Iraqi economy that is not based on oil socialism. Building/rebuilding infrastructure. Increasing Iraqi oil output. Building a strong Iraqi army. Establishing an honest police force. There are probably others I have left out. Mention them in the comments.

    Since this is a discussion of politico/military strategy (all military effort is ultimately about politics since as Clauswitz points out - war is politics by other means - war is how you get a political decision when talking does not work) it is important to see the political dimension of our efforts.

    The first phase of the Iraq war succeeded brilliantly. There the question of objective was clear and straight forward. End the rule of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party. That was accomplished in three or four weeks. Brilliantly I might add. Mission accomplished.

    The following phase was one where Iraq had no goverrnment and no army. Iraq was a political vacuum. Which made it an attractive target of political opportunists of all stripes. That phase ended with the votes on the Iraqi Constitution and elections for national offices.

    So far so good. The question then becomes what mistake are we making now that we made in Vietnam?

    The answer is pretty straight forward. We are not providing sufficient security to the Iraqi people. I think the reason is pretty fundamental. We are providing street by street security. The Iraqis are better equipped to handle that job. After all they will know better than any American the language and culture of Iraq.

    This leads to look at two further problems. One is the sorry state of the Iraqi police forces. Corruption is endemic and some of the police seem much less than even handed. In some cases they are allied with the insurgents. In other cases they seem intent on settling old scores. This will have to be fixed.

    The second problem is external security. The training of the Iraqi forces is coming along. However, external security is where American forces can be of the most benefit to the situation. We know that Syria is providing a rat line for entry of jihadis into Iraq. We know Iran is providing material support. This has to be choked off at the border to begin with. It also ultimately requires intense pressure military as well as financial on Iran. Senator McCain was asked about what American policy towards Iran should be. He has the right idea:

    Another man -- wondering if an attack on Iran is in the works -- wanted to know when America is going to "send an air mail message to Tehran."

    McCain began his answer by changing the words to a popular Beach Boys song. "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran," he sang to the tune of Barbara Ann. "Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. That alone should concern us but now they are trying for nuclear capabilities. I totally support the President when he says we will not allow Iran to destroy Israel."

    Our number one objective then has to be to secure Iraq. Everything else that has to be done in Iraq, such as improving the infrastructure, depends on security, both internal and external.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 05:24 PM | Comments (5)

    A better campus alternative in New Jersey

    While in New Jersey yesterday, I skipped Hillary Clinton's Rutgers affair (which didn't seem to go over all that well with the team...), and I drove to the beautiful Ramapo College campus, in Mahwah, right near New Jersey's border with New York state.

    I arrived at sunset, and managed to take a picture of this beautiful building:


    I didn't know what the building was as I'd never been there before, but a little research revealed that it's the Birch Mansion:

    The mansion is located in a prominent spot in the main quad. The red brick Queen Anne-style mansion was completed in 1890 at the cost of $100,000 for Lillie and John Mayer as a gift from their parents, who lived across the road from them. It is known as being haunted, as Lillie was shot inside of it. It was allegedly accidental, but rumors subsist to this very day that the mansion is haunted. It is now used for events and office space.
    (More here.) Now how was I to know that I was photographing a "known" haunted house?

    Anyway, I digress, for I wasn't there to go haunted house hunting, but to attend a lecture by Clayton Cramer, sponsered by the Center for Business and Public Policy at Ramapo College in cooperation with the New Jersey Coalition for Self Defense (NJCSD): From the announcement:

    The author played a key role in exposing the Michael Bellesiles scandal several years ago in which the revisionist historian at Emory University was exposed as a fraud, leading to Bellesiles resigning a tenured position and having his Bancroft Prize for History revoked.

    Bellesiles's claims, proven to be false, about the presence and cultural significance of guns in early America raised serious questions about the extent to which academic historians let their current, shared political preferences blind them to the obligations of critical evaluation of novel claims. Cramer will also discuss the development of gun culture in the early United States, and the lessons that it has for modern America.

    The lecture was highly informative, as Cramer is a very articulate speaker and talented historian, with an intimate knowledge of the facts he presents. I also bought a copy of Armed America (far more deserving of the Bancroft Prize than the fraudulent "Arming America" which it debunks), and the author was nice enough to sign it for me, and pose for a picture:


    I'm on the left, Cramer is in the center, and on the right is Dr. Murray Sabrin, Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Business and Public Policy. Dr. Sabrin is also not only a distinguished academician, he's a noted Libertarian who among other things ran for New Jersey governor against the notorious Jim McGreevey. Dr. Sabrin also writes a blog called ShapTalk.com.

    It was a special honor to meet Clayton Cramer, and not just because I like his blog and agree with him on the gun issue, but because he is a leading debunker of the kind of lying bogus research that once went unchallenged. He epitomizes the best of what I think the blogging ethos should about. I don't care what your politics are -- right, left, social conservative, libertarian, or socialist -- getting to the facts and the truth should always be the ideal, and it clearly is for Clayton Cramer. (Even when I've disagreed with him, he has never been one to try to avoid or obfuscate facts.)

    College campuses have of course been on edge lately, and the organizers were quick to point out that the timing of the lecture on guns was coincidental. But it was refreshing to see this viewpoint presented at a college campus. The crowd, by the way, was very polite, and not a single anti-gun heckler came.

    (I guess they're too busy celebrating Lenin's birthday this weekend. On the other hand, maybe they were already worn out by Hillary's speech at Rutgers...)

    MORE: Thank you, Glenn Reynolds for the link, and welcome all!

    Hey, if you've come here to read this, be sure to buy Armed America. It's excellent, and this information needs to be spread around. (If you already bought the book, why not buy another one and donate it to your local library?)

    UPDATE: Be sure to read Clayton Cramer's account of the event. He's disappointed in the low turnout, and observes that no enough people care:

    Unfortunately, NJCSD's efforts to get the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs to publicize the event (and perhaps get .1% of their 30,000 members to show up) didn't fly. My emails to officers of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association were either ignored or NYRPA members weren't much interested in what I had to say. Look, I know that I'm not Charlton Heston, but I'm not exactly chopped liver, either. To have this few people show up for what even my harshest critic (my wife) says was a really good speech was a bit disheartening.

    There are days that I wonder if the reason that gun owners have been losing for so long is that most really don't care that much.

    It was a great speech, and they don't know what they missed. (Personally, I think the aftermath of the Cho shooting and the resultant climate was what kept people away, and while the reason -- demoralization -- is irrational, when people are demoralized they tend to engage in avoidance.)

    To the extent I wasn't feeling demoralized, it was probably because I deliberately refused to turn on the damned television all week.

    posted by Eric at 11:21 AM | Comments (5)

    On the road...

    I just got back from the funeral of a friend, and I'll be gone the rest of the day.

    As I'm not one to blog while driving, blogging will naturally be rendered almost impossible, until maybe very late at night.

    While on the road, though, I expect to be having a great time with a new mp3 player, which does more more than I expected, and seems well worth its $79.00 ebay price. It's a Sansa e260, and it's become known as the poor man's alternative to the Ipod.

    It's a real surprise, and frankly, I'm incredibly impressed with the thing.

    Here's what one engadget reviewer said:

    It ain't perfect, but the e260 is a solid competitor to the iPod nano, and if forced to choose between the two, I'd pick the Sansa. With a cheaper price, larger screen, integrated FM tuner, better battery life (twenty hours to the nano's fourteen -- plus the e260's battery is more easily replaced), a MicroSD expansion card slot, and a solid user interface, the e260 gets a lot more right than it gets wrong.
    It has video playback (not record) a built-in FM radio, a built in voice (or FM radio) recorder, and holds 4 gigabytes. Without reading instructions or installing the software, it took about forty minutes to download my favorite 937 songs from my hard drive.

    Ready to rock!

    (Of course, being that it's Friday, I expect awful traffic, so I'm glad to have a player with a battery that won't keep conking out on me like the last one.....)

    MORE: For those not interested in clicking on the link, here's a picture of the unit, playing a sci-fi video of some sort:


    (Now I'm really out of here!)

    posted by Eric at 02:09 PM | Comments (2)


    Did you know that your soap can test positive for contraband by some field drug test kits?

    Don Bolles, drummer for the legendary punk band the Germs, was going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with his girlfriend, 21-year-old Cat Scandal, after picking her up for "a day off" from drug rehab, on April 4, when they were pulled over in a traffic stop by Newport Beach Police. During a search of the vehicle -- to which Bolles unwisely consented -- police found a bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. According to a police field drug test, the soap contained GHB (gamma hydroxyl butyrate), a so-called date rape drug illegal under state and federal law.
    It turns out that the police gave Bolles a tour of Orange County jails before releasing him after 3 1/2 days in the system. A better test verified no drugs in the soap. All charges were dropped.
    The field test was performed by a kit manufactured by Armor Forensics/ODV called the Narcopouch 928. Armor Forensics/ODV did not respond to calls from the Chronicle about the false positives reported by its product. One man at ODV who refused to identify himself said only that he could not comment because of possible legal action.

    The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association did not respond to Chronicle queries about accuracy standards within the industry. In the group's defense, however, it should be noted that they were all out of the office this week attending a national drug testing industry convention.

    The Newport Beach Police Department did not respond to calls from the Chronicle about the accuracy of the GHB field test.

    There are no standards for field drug tests.
    "The testing of substances for drugs is basically unregulated," Kevin Zeese, a prominent long-time drug reformer and political activist with expertise in the intersection of law and drug testing. "If it were the feds, the DEA would set the standards, but at the local level, it's state and local police who make the decisions. This all takes place within the criminal justice system; there is no regulation by the FDA or any other agency apart from law enforcement agencies," he told the Chronicle.

    "There have been lots of cases of these sorts of tests not being accurate and causing problems, so this is not surprising," said Zeese. "Now, the local police are going to have to do something to correct their standards so they don't falsely accuse people. If they don't, this kind of thing ends up being regulated by the courts."

    It is not just Dr. Bronners.
    At least four other soaps have resulted in false positives in the Narcopouch 928 GHB test kit, including Neutrogena and Tom's of Maine. "We are testing more products and videotaping those tests. Products from Johnson & Johnson and Palmolive are testing positive, so we'll go to the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrances Association, show them these products are testing positive, and then work through them to explore options for addressing the situation with these field drug test kits. Ideally, we could force a product recall, but we need at least a disclaimer if this product is going to continue to be sold. If they don't know soap tests positive, what else don't they know?"
    Evidently the IVth Amendment no longer means what it used to. A series of excessive searches for contraband caused the founders to enact the prohibition against unreasonable searches. Why does that sound familiar? We now have a drug war contraband exception to the IVth Amendment.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 02:01 PM | Comments (1)

    Don't Be A Living Fossil

    I am a big Airplane fan (career as well as musical interest). So I was listening to some of what is available on the various video stores and came upon this "Crown of Creation" version from 1968. It is really good. It is done live not lip synched.

    So I'm listening to the words. And I'm thinking of how very many of my compatriots are stuck in 1968. Not just in their musical tastes, but also in their view of the world.

    You are the Crown of Creation
    You are the Crown of Creation
    and you've got no place to go.

    Soon you'll attain the stability you strive for
    in the only way that it's granted
    in a place among the fossils of our time.

    In loyalty to their kind
    they cannot tolerate our minds.
    In loyalty to our kind
    we cannot tolerate their obstruction.

    Life is Change
    How it differs from the rocks
    I've seen their ways too often for my liking
    New worlds to gain
    My life is to survive
    and be alive
    for you.

    Which pretty much sums up how I feel about my former lefty comrades and brothers and sisters.

    If you are not a lefty at 20 you have no heart. If you are still a lefty at 40 you have no head. Recent events at Virginia Tech show that where there is a will to resist lives can be saved. Flight 93 is another such lesson. And hard lessons they are. If you want peace be prepared to fight. Peace at any price comes with a very high price tag. First you will pay for peace and in the end you will not have it.

    Cross Posted at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 12:21 PM | Comments (3)

    Why facts should matter (even on the Internet)

    A comment from John Burgess (left to my earlier post about the horrendous double murder in Tennessee) highlights an important point about information gathering. As he points out, it's "not a perfect art":

    Things make their way into stories from weird sources. In this particular instance, I wouldn't be surprised if Ms Williams did, in fact, hear those details from a cop. But that's no insurance, of course, that the cop knew what he was talking about. Maybe so, but until there's a coroner's report, nobody can know for sure.
    My concern is that interest in this case is growing by leaps and bounds on the Internet, fueled in large part by the absolutely hideous nature of the atrocities said to be involved. Let's face it, very few can ignore a story like this:

    Innocent couple driving down the street fell victim to a carjacking, they were kidnapped, the man was raped while his girlfriend was forced to watch, he was castrated while alive, then murdered, following which the woman was kept and raped for four days, her breast cut off while she was alive, with both bodies being eventually burned.

    OK, that's pretty much the story as it's being alleged all over the Internet, and in thousands of emails (which are of course forwarded and reforwarded). The Google hits have increased dramatically in recent days.

    In many hours of researching this horror, the only allegations I have been able to verify are: carjacking, kidnapping, rape, murder, and cutting up and burning of the bodies.

    Did they cut off the man's penis and the woman's breast while they were alive? The pre-mortem sexual mutilation is what I'd call Major Factor Number One in generating the intense grass-roots interest in this case.

    We come to Major Factor Number Two. As one site puts it in huge capital letters,


    The argument, of course, is that the media are ignoring this case because they don't want people to read or hear anything about black on white crime, but of course even unfounded allegations of white on black crime are cause for a national media feeding frenzy (along with a resultant lynch mob mentality).

    Very powerful combination.

    That's why I simply want to know what actually happened. Or at least, I'd like to know what evidence there is which might shine light on what actually happened. The victims are dead, and the horrendous events took place indoors, which means that the evidence can come from two places:

  • the suspects themselves
  • medical evidence from the coroner
  • It is unclear to me what the suspects might have told the investigators. Considering that they have criminal records, and may face the death penalty, it would not surprise me if one or more of them has been "snitching" (or "ratting") on the others, nor would it terribly surprise me if he embellished the details of what others did in order to curry favor for himself.

    But the word of a criminal suspect trying to avoid the death penalty is nowhere near as reliable as medical evidence, which can ultimately prove or disprove whether genital mutilation occurred, and whether it occurred before or after death. (Considering the huge public interest in television shows like CSI, I don't think ordinary people are incapable of understanding that modern forensic science can distinguish between pre-mortem and post-mortem injuries.)

    I have not seen a link to any medical examiner's or coroner's report anywhere which would indicate pre-mortem sexual mutilation.

    Once again, the only relevant links point to what is titled an "Opinion" by University of Maryland student Stefanie Williams:

    According to reports, his penis was then cut off before he was shot several times and set on fire, all while his girlfriend watched. His body was then dumped alongside train tracks. Christian was kept alive and gang-raped multiple times over a span of four days. Her breast was cut off while she was still alive and her kidnappers sprayed cleaning fluid into her mouth to cleanse it of DNA. Her body was then put into a garbage can.
    That's it. "According to reports." What reports? There are none I can find. There are plenty of links pointing to each other, and ultimately to the above, but nothing else. (Of course, it is also possible that there is something else, but despite a diligent search I haven't found it.)

    As John Burgess points out, it is quite possible that Ms. Williams is reporting honestly what was reported to her -- by a police officer, an investigator, a jail employee, someone from the medical examiner's office, or even an acquaintance of one of the suspects. If something was said to her and she reported it truthfully, her reporting might be accurate, but that does not mean the information is true. Of course, it is also possible that someone -- somewhere -- is lying deliberately.

    While I cannot make Stefanie Williams answer my email, I am not the only person trying to substantiate her allegations. I would think that by now, with WorldNetDaily and plenty of others interested in the case (including journalists like NRO's Jack Dunphy) someone would have managed to hear something more from her, and reported it. Her report is dated 04/04/07, and considering the immense interest in the case and the inflammatory nature of her allegations, perhaps she could update it?

    It should be noted that Ms. Williams has emailed Michael Gaynor of the Conservative Voice, and said this:

    "I've been blogging about this case that went on in Knoxville, Tenn...where 2 white kids were kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered by 4 black men and a black woman...the story was ridiculously gruesome, and I was shocked, SHOCKED to find not ONE main stream media outlet picked it up, not even Fox...

    " * * *

    "In a world where our most prominent news outlets spend 8 hours a day talking about who the father of a drugged up porn star ex stripper's child is, it saddens me that true victims like the 2 kids in this case go unnoticed."

    Blogging? Where? I can't find her blog, although 13 blogs mention her according to Technorati, while a Google Blog Search revealed 20.

    I'm of course assuming that there is such a student and that she did write what The Diamondback is calling an op-ed piece. Is that a valid assumption? (I don't mean to sound paranoid, but in the online world, identities can be created.)

    What's really eating at me is how all of this might affect the legal aspects of the case. I was trained as a lawyer, and I do believe in the concept of justice, and it is important that all suspects receive a fair and impartial trial -- no matter how horrifying the facts or circumstances of the case. From a prosecutorial perspective, (unless, of course, you're Mike Nifong and running for office) massive pretrial publicity is not good thing, because it makes it harder to find an objective and unbiased jury, and tends to turn the trial into a circus. Like it or not, there's simply no way to avoid the growing public interest in this case, which is why I think it is important to get the story straight. If massive publicity is based on allegations which later turn out to have been unsubstantiated, I think that might help the defendants avoid the death penalty, because the lawyers could then portray their clients as victims of a lynch mob. Activist defense lawyers like the late William Kunstler would have a field day painting poor black defendants as victims of massive, Internet-fueled hysteria, and false allegations promulgated by "right wing hate sites." And of course there are "right wing" hate sites which are all over this case. (Just Google "Channon Christian vnn" or "Channon Christian" "David Duke" for a sampling.)

    So, while I still have no idea whether Ms. Williams report will be substantiated, my worry is that floating around unsubstantiated allegations might interfere with the administration of justice. If this phenomenon worked to the advantage of the defendants (they are, after all, presumed innocent), whose cause would be served?

    The facts and evidence will all come out sooner or later, but right now, a lot of people are making up their minds based on facts they don't know, and evidence which cannot be found anywhere.

    This is my third post on this matter. Normally, I would not spend hours researching a criminal case in another city, but it just plain bothers the hell out of me to see so many people asserting what isn't yet knowable, and then screaming that the media are ignoring it. I'd like to see this case get the media attention it deserves, but I'd hate to see it get that attention in the wrong way. ("Internet hate sites whip up hysteria with false charges" or something.)

    A gruesome and horrible double murder like this will naturally tend to generate hysteria, and while it's bad enough to see hysteria precede actual evidence, here there's Internet hysteria based on the assumption of evidence which just isn't there. Too many people are behaving as if the facts don't matter.

    I think they do.

    MORE: Here's another thought. Is it possible that the MSM are being placed in a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don't situation? If they dutifully report all the gruesome details, might they then be accused of the type of sensationalism condemned in the wake of the Seung Cho video? (See Glenn Reynolds's link to Howard Kurtz's discussion of the "tidal wave of resentment.") Of course, a true and accurate crime report is not the same thing as showing a self-aggrandzing video made by a criminal. But might the MSM be accused of fueling further hysteria either way?


    There's no way I can stop hysteria, but I still think facts matter.

    UPDATE: Mike Gaynor at Conservative Voice was kind enough to answer an email I sent him earlier. He stated that he has been in contact with Ms. Williams and "discussed her source(s) with her" but that "it would not be appropriate for me to reveal more."

    Mr. Gaynor also says that "the mainstream media is ignoring the case and should not." I agree, and I don't think he is under no obligation to reveal more. Nor, for that matter, is Ms. Williams. For now, I'm glad to see that her identity -- and her claim to have source(s) -- have been confirmed.

    People will just have to wait for the rest.

    UPDATE (04/22/07): My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link! Welcome all; I was out till all hours last night and I'm just catching up, but I especially appreciate the comments on this matter.

    posted by Eric at 08:16 AM | Comments (14)

    Drill Teams

    Little Green Footballs put up this excellent video of the US Marines Silent Drill Team. The silent part means that no commands are given to initiate various actions as is done in normal squad manuvers. Commands like "About Face", "Forward, March", "Attention", "Present Arms", etc.

    Which of course got me to thinking about my days as a Navy boot.

    We drilled with the Springfield M1903. It is a very fine piece to drill with. They never trusted us with bayonets though. LOL (Boot camp for me started 11 Nov '63. NTC San Diego. Right next to Marine Corp Recruit Depot. We'd be having a smoke next to the fence watching the Marines double timing around the perimiter of the Recruit Depot . I know we thought "stupid Jar Heads". They probably thought "pussy Sailors". I'm sure the positioning was intentional. Motivation for both sides. LOL.)

    BTW I love the way the fittings on the rifles rattle. It sounds like men going to battle since the age of metal weapons began.

    Wiki on the 1903:

    Due to its balance, it is still popular with various military drill teams and color guards, most notably the U.S. Army Drill Team. M1903 rifles are also common at high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) units to teach weapons handling and military drill procedures to the cadets. JROTC units use M1903s for regular and inter-school competition drills, including elaborate exhibition spinning routines similar to a majorette spinning a baton.

    For those of you who would like to see what the USNavy can do.

    Cross Posted at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 07:03 PM | Comments (3)

    Still no links (but at least there's now a Wiki argument!)

    There's an interesting debate at Wikipedia about the recent Wikipedia entry about the shocking double rape and murder case I posted about yesterday.

    The Wiki entry makes the same allegations of pre-mortem sexual mutilation I was unable to verify -- that the man's penis and woman's breast were cut off while both victims were alive -- and once again, the only evidence is the same article by Stefanie Williams (which provides no links).

    While the entry links a CBS News report and a WBIR report, neither of those reports mentions anything about pre-mortem sexual mutilation.

    If this debate is any indication, it will be interesting to watch the Wikipedia entry. Here's the post author on the attempt to enforce Wiki's "rules":

    Excuse me Nae'blis and Dhartung, I started this article. Who the hell do you guys think you are to demand contributors ask your permission to modify? You are not the Wikipedia police, nor are you the definitive authority on this subject. The whole point of Wikipedia is to allow an organic content evolution, not that a couple busybodies censor information with the intent of altering the message to suit their political interests. And don't try and hide behind the guise of "Unreliable source", "Incorrect citation", "disparaging material", or whatever the hell Wikipedia rule you like to hide behind. What gives you the authority to interpret Wikipedia rules? The edits you've made render your intentions transparent. Don't you guys have a copy of "The Nation" to read? --[username omitted by request on February 26, 2008] 15:24, 18 April 2007 (UTC)


    That prompted this reply by nae'blis (who seems to be a longstanding Wiki writer):

    No one owns their edits on Wikipedia. Your contributions are credited to you, but with the exception of talk pages and your userspace, you have no right to expect that they will remain unchanged, or that people will ask your permission before changing them. Likewise, no one is trying to tell you that you cannot change our edits, but merely that all edits should comply with certain policies and guidelines. One of those is that we do not include unsourced information, especially when it regards real people. The chance for impact on real lives and real feelings is unarguable; people are sued every day for libel and slander. Our defense as an encyclopedia is that we do not foster rumors or engage in original speculation, but that we report and collate what other people in reliable sources have already said. Does that make more sense? -- nae'blis 16:29, 18 April 2007 (UTC)

    Which prompted this rejoinder from the author:
    Mister Blis, I don't expect my postings to remain unchanged, nor do I expect anyone to ask permission to edit content. In fact, if you go back and read what I posted, you'll see that I wrote: "The whole point of Wikipedia is to allow an organic content evolution". Then go back and read what you wrote: "material that is unsourced should be removed immediately, then asked about for possible re-inclusion."

    You are contradicting yourself. But your hypocrisy is beside the point. The stated purpose of Wikipedia is be the repository of all human knowledge. This is supposed to be an educational resource, and information relevent to the subject should be preserved. The first question anyone should ask themselves before making an edit is "Will this edit increase, or decrease the usefulness of this post". If the answer is decrease, the edit should not be performed. Your editing, by removing information and links has only decreased the usefulness of this post.

    All I want to do is find out whether there is any way to substantiate the allegations of pre-mortem sexual mutilation. They are hideous allegations, and they provide much of the fuel for recent posts at the Vanguard News Network, the David Duke website, and at a site called American Patriots For "TRUTH" and Equality ("MEDIA IGNORING HORRIFICALLY GRUESOME DOUBLE TORTURE & SLAUGHTER... WHY?"). The last link will give an idea of what's at the other sites.

    I don't think anyone is helped by purveying unsubstantiated information, and I do wish that Stefanie Williams would answer my email so that I can find out whether there is any substantiation of the additional heinous details of this awful crime. I'd email the Wiki author, but user "[username omitted by request on February 26, 2008]" has neither an email nor a user page.

    So I'm left where I was yesterday. Unable to substantiate shocking allegations which are being disseminated far and wide -- even on Wikipedia.

    As always, I'm open to suggestions.

    MORE: According to Georgia real estate broker Tim Maitski, WorldNetDaily has not yet run this story because some of it is "not yet substantiated":

    I emailed Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily, a website that usually is not afraid to publish the stories like this. I asked him why this story never got mentioned on his site. He actually personally emailed me back and told me that they have been following this story from the beginning and are waiting to bring it out until the main claims in the story are a matter of public record. Right now some of the stuff being stated on various websites is not yet substantiated and they won't run with it until everything is. I respect them for this. If anyone will get the story out and get it out with more than just rumors, it will be WorldNetDaily.
    I suspect that "some of the stuff" refers to the pre-mortem sexual mutilation. I'm not surprised that WorldNetDaily can't verify it, because I've been trying for the past two days.

    posted by Eric at 01:58 PM | Comments (2)

    the dead men who weren't men

    I keep noticing a cyclical process in which news drives speculation, and speculation then fuels opinion.

    Much as I get tired of seeing it repeated, I'm not immune from the process. As I just told a friend in an email, I keep wondering why Seung Cho wasn't simply jumped on by all these doomed people he was systematically shooting. Why didn't some of them act like the passengers on Flight 93? He couldn't shoot in all directions at the same time, and he had no accomplice.

    I see I am not alone in my speculations:

    College classrooms have scads of young men who are at their physical peak, and none of them seems to have done anything beyond ducking, running, and holding doors shut. Meanwhile, an old man hurled his body at the shooter to save others.

    Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that.

    It's very easy to speculate about these things, but is it fair to to make pronouncements and judgments about people based on what seems to have happened?

    I wasn't there, and I have not seen a video of what happened. Via Glenn Reynolds, I read about the heroic action of the Holocaust survivor who threw himself on the gunman:

    Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter when the man attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, "but all the students lived - because of him," Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio.

    Several of Librescu's other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he had blocked the gunman's way and saved their lives, said Librescu's son, Joe.

    "My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

    In retrospect, I think it would have been better for the students to have emulated their teacher and jumped the gunman instead of jumping out the window.

    Things always look better in retrospect.

    Everyone seems to know what seems to have happened, and particularly what should have happened. Men aren't men anymore, which means the dead students weren't men, but they "should have been," and had they been, they'd be alive today.

    I think this comes close to blaming the victims, and while I know it's not the same thing as saying that they deserved to die, it still isn't fair, because there's no way to know what people didn't do. Had Professor Librescu's students not survived to tell the story of what he did, he'd be an unknown hero.

    Can anyone know for sure that there weren't some real men who died?

    Or is it better to speculate that there weren't?

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Dafydd of Big Lizards thinks it is a certainty that some of the students had an opportunity to do something but did nothing:

    Maybe someone charged at the gunman -- but foul fate intervened, and the butcher heard, turned, and added another victim to his hellish toll. Anyone so killed is as heroic as Professor Librescu.

    But -- and I hate the thought, even as it screams insistently -- it is virtually inevitable that there were others who were there, who saw an opportunity, but who were frozen to the spot with dread. Or else they talked themselves into believing that there was nothing they could do. Or worst of all... some must have done nothing because they had been carefully taught that "nothing" was what they were supposed to do. I cannot help thinking that for many students at Virginia Tech yesterday, just as for the fifteen British sailors and marines, "fighting back was not an option," because to them, it is never an option.

    If that is true, it's certainly lamentable. I still find myself wondering about the element of being taken by surprise though. How many of these people were just sitting in classrooms when suddenly the door burst open and the guy immediately started shooting? Might they have been in the state Colonel Jeff Cooper referred to as "condition white"? While Cooper was a warrior and he used to teach about overcoming this condition, how many college students would even know what it is?

    I would not be surprised to see some Flight 93 behavior the next time this happens. Because once that "we're all gonna die" realization sinks in, people tend to fight for their lives.

    But whether Flight 93 behavior kicks in or or not, I'm unable to agree that the failure of college students to display warrior virtues when subjected to a surprise attack is necessarily a judgment on society.

    MORE: It occurs to me that most of us have been taught what even soldiers consider to be common sense: take cover when shooting starts.

    I don't think unarmed civilians behave as cowards when they do the same thing.

    posted by Eric at 11:34 AM | Comments (7)

    A "could have been" hate crime?

    Considering the stuff I've been reading lately, it must be the season for misinformation.

    Unless the police and the medical examiner are lying, yet another media report I relied on and discussed has turned out to be substantially untrue:

    DETROIT -- Andrew Anthos, the elderly gay man whose death was attributed to a vicious hate crime, did not die from a beating but from natural causes, Detroit police said Wednesday.

    Police spokesman James Tate, citing an autopsy report from the Wayne County Medical Examiners Office that made the conclusion, said there was no evidence of a crime.


    This was supposed to be a particularly vicious and brutal hate crime, committed by a pipe-wielding assailant. Here's one of the original accounts:

    Andrew Anthos was on a city bus on his way home to the Windsor Tower apartments on Antietam in Detroit around 7 p.m. Feb. 13 when a man approached him and asked him if he was gay, Anthos' family said he told police before he slipped into a coma. The man, who continued to harass Anthos and called him derogatory names, followed Anthos off the bus at the stop in front of his building and attacked him with a metal pipe, striking him from behind, police said. The attacker left him on the snowy sidewalk.

    Anthos was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital, where doctors performed emergency spinal surgery but were unable to reverse the paralysis. He is now in a coma and not expected to live past the weekend, his family said.

    He died three days later, and his death became a cause celebre in a renewed push for "hate crimes" legislation.

    As to witnesses, it appears there weren't any. But the relatives and activists disagree:

    The autopsy's conclusion has angered Anthos' relatives.

    "They determined that he died of natural causes," Tate said. "There's no evidence that an assault occurred. Effectively, this case is closed."

    But Anthos' cousin Tony Hloros said he is outraged by the autopsy findings and says they are false.

    "I am absolutely disgusted (and) horrified," said Hloros. "My adrenaline is flowing."

    Anthos died on Feb. 23, 10 days after he was found in a snow bank outside the Windsor Tower apartments on Antietam where he lived alone. Hloros said Anthos, 72, told him before he fell into a coma that he had been beaten by a man who followed him off a city bus.

    "I swear to you my cousin was crying and he told me 'Tony, I can't believe it. He hit me in the side of the head and said are you gay?'"

    So what about the pipe? If the coroner could find no head inuries, and all we have is the cousin saying Anthos was hit, how did that become an attack with a pipe?

    And what about the police sketch? Apparently, someone saw a man who looked like that "leaving the area":

    During the investigation into Anthos' death, police released sketches of a man they wanted to question. Tate said the department released the sketch because it was a witness description of a man seen leaving the area where Anthos was found.

    "As a law enforcement agency we have a responsibility to follow up (on tips and information)," Tate said.

    No evidence of a fatal blow, and no one actually saw the attack. Just the hearsay of the victim's cousin, and a man seen leaving the area.

    Understandably, the activists don't want to back down:

    Anthos was a well-known figure among state lawmakers and local journalists because of his campaign to have the state Capitol dome lit up in red, white and blue to honor military veterans and police officers. His death made local and national headlines as a hate crime. .

    Gay rights groups, civil rights organizations and others rallied behind calls for stiffer anti-hate crime legislation and for police to find the person responsible for Anthos' death immediately after reports about the attack.

    Melissa Pope, director of victim services for the Triangle Foundation, a gay rights organization, said the group also believed that Anthos died as a result of a hate crime.

    "Andrew's own words and witnesses ... confirmed what happened, so in that respect this is still a hate crime," Pope said.

    His own words? Not exactly. What he says his cousin said constitutes an allegation that they are his cousin's words.

    Amazing. I'm left wondering about the quality of investigation of the stories which manage to find their way into print.

    It seems to me that reports like this are driven by a strong emotional investment in the facts being a certain way. Once activists step in and manipulate these emotions, the situation is compounded, and the "facts" become indelible, regardless of what happened. Questioning them is then seen as taking on a political dimension.

    I think having an emotional and political investment in facts is not a good thing. It harms, rather than helps, any political cause involved, and it makes truth a casualty of politics.

    I was horrified by the accounts of the crime, and here's what I said:

    Whoever the attacker is, I hope they catch him, and I hope he gets the death penalty, which does not and should not require any special hate crimes statute.
    In the post, I devoted a good deal of time to the identity of the assailant. While there was a composite picture of a black man who was said to have beaten Mr. Anthos with a pipe, the NGLTF blamed white conservatives for the death.

    And now the official story is that there's no evidence an attack at all. And the main witness is another cousin who appears to be reciting not what she saw, but what she heard:

    ...the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Anthos fell because he had an arthritic neck, and detectives were unable to find witnesses to a beating, police said.

    "They determined that he died of natural causes," Tate told The Detroit News.

    "So the case will be closed," homicide unit supervisor Lt. Linda Vertin told the Detroit Free Press.

    A cousin of Anthos said she was shocked at the closing of the case and angry that police didn't tell her before making it public.

    "I'm just livid about this," said Athena Fedenis of St. Clair Shores. "Andrew didn't have any reason to make this up."

    The Associated Press left a message Wednesday night seeking comment from police.

    According to Fedenis and other family members, Anthos said he was riding a city bus home from the library on Feb. 13 when a young man asked him if he was gay and called him a "faggot."

    Anthos said the man followed him off the bus, confronting him again. Anthos said he told the man he was gay as he went to help a friend whose wheelchair was stuck in a snow bank, according to Fedenis.

    But Fedenis wasn't even there, and neither the guy in the wheelchair nor anyone else saw the alleged attack.

    Fedenis also appears to be backing away from the pipe story:

    "If you want to say he wasn't murdered, OK. But you can't say he wasn't attacked, that it wasn't a hate crime," Fedenis said.

    Fedenis, who said she took notes while talking to Anthos in the hospital, also disputes Schmidt's findings that Anthos' only injury was a 2-inch bruise on the back of his head.

    "Could (Anthos) have been wrong about the pipe? Probably. It could have been the guy's fist," Fedenis said. "But what was the size of a softball behind his left ear? It was a cut, a gash. ... If he was never struck, this wouldn't have happened."

    Detroit police spokesman Leon Rahmaan said investigators interviewed Anthos and his wheelchair-bound friend, who told police he thought Anthos may have been attacked but did not see it.

    I'm sorry but "could have been" isn't enough to indict or arrest anyone.

    Nor is the statement that "Andrew didn't have any reason to make this up."

    What actually happened will never be known.

    (But try telling that to people with an emotional investment in the unknown!)

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

    Good News - Fusion Project Funded

    Mark of Ask Mark reports that because of Dr Bussard's winning the Outstanding Technology of the Year Award for 2006 and his widely reported Google talk the US Navy has decided to fund the final year of the his contract. (I contacted my Congress critter with no obvious result. However, maybe others had better results.)

    That may be enough to get WB-7 and WB-8 funded. I hope his results from his new experiments will not be embargoed.

    So far I have been unable to confirm this report. However, I have corresponded with Mark and from his e-mails he seems to be an OK guy.

    Update: 19 April 2007 1200z

    I found confirmation at Speculations 10 April 2007 post. There is no permalink for the post so I'm going to reproduce it here:

    Greetings, future-watchers .... got some really interesting news about five minutes ago, straight from the man himself. Dr. Robert Bussard, of whom you may have heard, says that because of the publicity around his November 9th talk at Google and his International Academy of Science Outstanding Technology of the Year Award, the Navy has sent him a contract extension to continue his fusion research. It's two orders of magnitude below the $200 million Dr. Bussard says he needs to produce a full-scale 100mw system, but it's a start. If you're interested in helping out, see emc2fusion.org for more.

    More details may be found in The Advent of Clean Nuclear Fusion: Superperformance Space Power and Propulsion, Dr. Bussard's contribution to the 57th International Astronautical Congress.

    Come discuss this and other technology developments in The Expert Is In!

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 07:46 AM | Comments (1)

    Horrendous crime, double standard, missing details

    Speaking of unverifiable details, Michael Gaynor at the Conservative Voice writes about the gruesome kidnaping, rape and murder of a couple in Knoxville, Tennessee, and complains that not only are the MSM ignoring the story, but that even the local media are not supplying the missing details:

    ....for the Channon Christian/Chris Newsom case, The New York Times does not have a place.

    THAT is yet another disgrace.

    Americans should know about the Channon Christian/Chris Newsom case, even if they don't live in or near Knoxville, Tennessee.

    On January 9, 2007, Whitney Daniel of CBS affiliate WVLT reported that "a body that was found Tuesday on Chipman Street in East Knoxville" had "been identified as that of 21-year-old Channon Christian," "only blocks away from the area where the body of her boyfriend, 23-year-old Chris Newsom, [had been] found" two days earlier.

    On January 13, 2007, the Knoxville News Sentinel's Jamie Satterfield and Don Jacobs reported details of the double slaying.

    "They wanted the 4-Runner but wound up taking the lives of a young Knox County couple in brutal fashion, court records made public Friday reveal.

    "'Originally the plan was to do a carjacking,' a pal of fatal carjacking suspect Lemaricus Devall Davidson told a federal agent."

    Satterfield and Jacobs:

    "[I]t ended early Sunday morning in a seedy rental house on Chipman Street, where Christian and Newsom were forced inside at gunpoint, according to state and federal court records.

    "Newsom was shot, bound and his body wrapped up in bedding and set afire, according to a search warrant application drafted by Knoxville Police Department Investigator Todd Childress.

    "Police would find his body later that day discarded like trash along nearby railroad tracks. Two days passed before Christian's battered body was found stuffed in a trash can in the Chipman Street house where, records show, Davidson and Cobbins had been living."

    Horrific, but not the whole story.

    Satterfield and Jacobs: "None of the records released Friday indicate how Christian died. Her body wasn't discovered until Tuesday. Authorities have not disputed Knighten's account that she had been raped."

    Still not the whole story.

    On January 16, 2007, Katie Allison Granju, an NBC affiliate WBIR producer, revealed more details.

    "The bodies of the young Knoxville couple were found separately last week. Four men, Lemaricus Davidson, Latalvus Cobbins, George Thomas and Eric Boyd, have been taken into custody as part of the investigation."

    But some key details as to the savagery of the crimes being investigated were missing.

    I'll get to the missing details, but here's NRO columnist Jack Dunphy's writeup:
    Compare the attention given the Duke case with that accorded a far more heinous crime, one whose victims have thus far failed to arouse the sympathies or even the notice of those who found so much enjoyment in their condemnation of the lacrosse players. Chances are, unless you live in Tennessee, you will not recognize the names Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Christian, 21, and Newsome, 23, both of Knoxville, were driving through that city together on the night of January 6 when they were kidnapped and murdered. Newsome's burned body was found along some railroad tracks on January 7. Christian remained missing for two more days until her body, stuffed in a trash can, was found in a home not far from where Newsome's was found. Police and prosecutors allege both victims were raped before being killed. Yes, both. Three men and a woman have been charged with the crimes in a 46-count grand jury indictment handed down in Knoxville on January 31.

    The story was given a few brief mentions on the AP wire, which were in turn carried on the Fox News and ABC News websites, but you'll find no mention of the crime in the online archives of CNN, MSNBC, CBS News, the New York Times, or the Washington Post. Run a similar search for stories on the Duke case and you'll be sifting through the results for hours. It's not as though these news providers have shied away from crime since being embarrassed in the Duke case. For example, when Tara Grant went missing from her suburban Detroit home in February, the investigation grew and grew in media attention until it became a national story. An AP story appearing on the MSNBC website ran under the headline, "Mich. case a perfect recipe for media frenzy." And indeed it was. When Grant's dismembered body was discovered inside her home, triggering a manhunt for her husband and his eventual arrest, the coverage ramped up nearly to the point of Laci Peterson-type saturation. Only the carnival surrounding Anna Nichole Smith's death kept the Grant murder from being the Story of the Month. Yet the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsome are known to almost no one outside Tennessee. Why?

    It's simple: the four suspects accused of killing Christian and Newsome are blacks from the inner city of Knoxville.

    Uh oh, we're not supposed to talk about such things, are we. We're careful to step ever so gingerly around issues of race and crime, except of course when there is an opportunity, as in the Duke case, to point to a group of privileged whites and say, "See? Look at how badly they've behaved! Look at how they treated that poor black single mother!"

    He is certainly right about the double standard. Especially because of the heinous and gruesome nature of the crime, I think the Newsome/Christian case deserves much wider reporting than it has gotten. (But I don't believe in "hate crime" legislation, so I share Glenn Reynolds' assessment in that respect.)

    The basic facts of the crime are bad enough, and there have been multiple arrests and multiple indictments. Local television station WVLT has been providing the details of original incident, as well as the later indictments. A local crime blog has posted numerous reports, including the indictments.

    But the grotesquely awful details are what make the case (and the Conservative Voice post) echo widely on the Internet.

    The trouble is, I have been unable to verify them. As far as I can determine, all the posts and discussions of these details point to a single source: Stefanie Williams at the University of Maryland, who reports thusly:

    Trust me when I say this story is more newsworthy than the Natalie Holloway case, the Duke lacrosse scandal and Anna Nicole Smith combined. A young couple, students from the University of Tennessee, were victims of a carjacking and were kidnapped, raped, tortured and eventually murdered by five people. Descriptions of their deaths were so brutal that I had to read them several times to fully process the implications.

    Newsom was kidnapped, raped and beaten. According to reports, his penis was then cut off before he was shot several times and set on fire, all while his girlfriend watched. His body was then dumped alongside train tracks. Christian was kept alive and gang-raped multiple times over a span of four days. Her breast was cut off while she was still alive and her kidnappers sprayed cleaning fluid into her mouth to cleanse it of DNA. Her body was then put into a garbage can.

    This should have been front- page, prime time news. There is speculation that because all five of the arrested kidnappers were black, and the couple white, this story was swept under the rug. Whatever the case, instead of this legitimate news story, I have been spoon-fed pointless stories about Anna Nicole Smith and the innumerable men she slept with.

    It seems to me that the details of such a gruesome nature would be verifiable somewhere if they were part of the story. But they are nowhere to be found, in any news source or report.

    The more I thought this over, the more it occurred to me that because the victims are dead, and the suspects haven't been tried, evidence that the man's penis and the woman's breast were severed while they were still alive would have come either from a confession of a coroner's report.

    According to this Knox News report:

    Newsom was shot, bound and his body wrapped up in bedding and set afire, according to a search warrant application drafted by Knoxville Police Department Investigator Todd Childress.

    Police would find his body later that day discarded like trash along nearby railroad tracks. Two days passed before Christian's battered body was found stuffed in a trash can in the Chipman Street house where, records show, Davidson and Cobbins had been living.

    Although Western Kentucky Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Rich Knighten told the News Sentinel that Christian had been held captive for "a couple of days," records unsealed by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley at a hearing in Knoxville Friday suggest otherwise.

    Complaints prepared by a team of federal agents and prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office, including Tracy Stone, David Jennings, Steve Cook, Mike Winck and Tracee Plowell, indicate that Christian likely was dead by Sunday evening.

    What about the torture and mutilation? The only way to know whether someone was tortured while still alive is by medical examination of the corpse.

    Yet no one is quoting a coroner's report.


    From what other source could such details originate?

    I emailed Stefanie Williams, and as of yet I haven't heard back from her. According to Michael Gaynor in the Conservative Voice, however, she emailed him to say this:

    "I've been blogging about this case that went on in Knoxville, Tenn...where 2 white kids were kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered by 4 black men and a black woman...the story was ridiculously gruesome, and I was shocked, SHOCKED to find not ONE main stream media outlet picked it up, not even Fox...

    " * * *

    "In a world where our most prominent news outlets spend 8 hours a day talking about who the father of a drugged up porn star ex stripper's child is, it saddens me that true victims like the 2 kids in this case go unnoticed."

    They have not gone unnoticed here (although I'm a bit late to notice; Glenn Reynolds posted about the case months ago, as did Dr. Helen).

    It's horrible that a crime like this took place, and I think it merits much wider attention.

    But I don't think it helps for people to complain that the media are not reporting "missing details" without supplying any links to where those details can be found.

    Anyone who can help, I'm all ears.

    UPDATE (04/18/07): Still no word from Stefanie Williams, who as far as I can determine is the only source about the grotesque sexual mutilation. However, Wikipedia now has an entry about the case. The same allegations of pre-mortem sexual mutilation are there, but once again, the only evidence is the same article by Stefanie Williams (which provides no links).

    The Wiki entry links a CBS News report and a WBIR report, but neither mentions anything about pre-mortem sexual mutilation.

    UPDATE: More here on the Wiki entry.

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

    Gun Control Means Hitting Your Target

    Commenter linearthinker of Random Traverse just gave me a heads up about free down loads of Stopping Power [pdf] by J. Neil Schulman. It is about 900K.

    You can read more about J. Neil's horrible birthday (16 April) and why he decided to make his book free at Free Republic.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 04:53 PM | Comments (0)

    "Allahhu Akbar" in SLC?

    After linking my post from yesterday, Clayton Cramer learned more about the reported yelling of "AllahuAkbar" (which I linked and quoted from the Toronto Blade). This allegation is specifically disputed by KSL TV:

    Was 18-year-old Suljmen Talovic yelling, "Allah Akbar, God is Great," while shooting people? KSL found out: no.

    Robin Snyder/SLCPD: "We have no indication he was yelling anything of that nature at all."

    Cannon's spokesperson said he heard it on Fox cable news. It could have started with a video from inside Trolley Square. You hear yelling, but if you listen closely, it's the off-duty police officer, Kenneth Hammond, yelling "Ogden Police Department," or OPD.

    I should not have assumed the Blade reporter was correct when he stated that "the Associated Press and other news services the paper subscribes to reported [that he shouted "Allah Akbar" during his killing spree]." I should have added the caveat of saying "assuming this is true."

    This didn't settle the inquiry, though, so I looked further, because I don't think the opinion of a single congressman (or a video I couldn't get to load) is dispositive one way or the other.

    I found this from Charles Gibson at Fox News:

    ....he was reported to have been shouting "Allah Akbar" at the end of the shootout when he was cornered, at least according to some witnesses.
    "Witnesses" sounds like more than a single congressman, and so I found this video link via this Freerepublic discussion, where many of the readers who watched the video claimed to hear "AllahuAkbar." Listening carefully, there's no way to tell who is saying what. It sounds as if a voice in the background may be saying "Allah" towards the beginning, but the rest is garbled. The closest thing I heard to the phrase was towards the end of the video (in Mozilla, by sliding the cursor to just above the "ey" in "Trolley"). A stressed male voice (not the police, who are louder) says what does sound like muffled "Allahuakbar", then a grunt, then "Allah. Allah." Whether what I heard came from the shooter I do not know, but it does not sound at all like anyone yelling "Ogden Police Department" or "OPD."

    Bear in mind that this is just my impression and it is far from conclusive. It would be helpful to hear how the words sound spoken with the Bosnian accent. And video and audio are notoriously easy to tamper with; it's tough to place 100% trust on anything posted on the Internet. Of course, my speculations mean nothing.

    As to the AP reports mentioned in the Blade, where are they? I can't find them.

    The "AllahuAkbar" stuff was news to me until yesterday, and I'm not convinced one way or the other. I'd like to hear what the witnesses said before drawing conclusions.


    (Maybe it isn't a good idea to assume there are witnesses just because a journalist says there were.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Would any of this matter? I mean, even we assume the Talovic did say "AllahuAkbar," aren't the flying imams contending that shouting "AllahuAkbar" is a perfectly normal thing to do in daily life?

    posted by Eric at 02:52 PM | Comments (0)

    psychology of the shooter

    For some time, I've complained that mentally ill people in obvious need of treatment roam the streets at will. But what is mental illness? What should be the treatment for what?

    Right now, a lot of attention is being focused on Cho Seung-Hui, who, as Dr. Helen observes, is considered a "text book case of a school shooter." Yet nothing was done:

    What I am amazed by is that in many school shootings, especially in universities, school authorities and others were told that there were problems or in some cases, the eventual killer had already made threats but no one did anything. The schools deny any responsibility at all in most of these cases although, sometimes they end up being sued for it. But what is money when people's lives are at stake? It's often the case that when the killer finally lashes out, the people who knew him aren't surprised -- they'd been predicting something like this for weeks or months, but no action was taken.

    In my opinion, if we have mentally unstable students who have made threats, have behavioral problems, etc. in universities and schools who do not hold themselves or the student accountable for their behavior, there is no other alternative than to extend the civil right to concealed carry to the potential innocent staff and students who may encounter the wrath of such a person. If universities and schools won't take responsibility -- and they won't -- then someone has to.

    I think she's right about that. There a lot of dangerously mentally ill people running around (the guy who sawed open a subway passenger in New York comes to mind), and there's no way for the cops to protect the public from them. For the most part, simply police don't want to deal with mentally ill people -- even when they act out -- so they wait until something terrible happens.

    Dr. Helen links Neo-neocon, also an expert in these matters:

    The shooter's profile could have been written by almost anyone beforehand, so precisely does it fit what we've come to expect of people who end up as mass murderers. And if he did in fact go to counselors for some therapy sessions, I'd hate to be one of those counselors today. Evaluating potentially violent patients and deciding when to alert authorities about their dangerousness is one of the especially knotty and heavy responsibilities of therapists, and an almost impossible task.

    Not every loner with a beef, an oeuvre of angry essays, and a love of guns wids up blasting away thirty-two people--or even one, himself. But many of those who do so were loners with just those characteristics. To differentiate the first group from the second is fiendishly difficult, although in our desire to protect ourselves we like to think we can predict better than we can.

    However, if this young man had voiced specific and credible threats against others, his counselor would have had a duty to seriously consider voluntary or even involuntary commitment, a controversial and imprecise instrument for attempting to evaluate and treat such an individual and prevent him (and it's almost always a "him") from exploding into murder.

    The details will emerge with time. But so far, no real surprises on that score.

    Involuntary commitment is not easy, and those who are committed are usually not held for very long -- the idea simply being to get them on meds, or to take the meds they're supposed to be taking.

    Clayton Cramer thinks the deinstititutionalization of the mentally ill is contributory factor and says it has gone too far:

    ....over the last forty years, one of the consequences of the deinstitutionalizaton of the mentally ill has been not the release of those who were hospitalized, but the reluctance to hospitalize those whose behavior was peculiar or worrisome.


    American society was too willing, not that many years ago, to lock someone up in a mental hospital on the say-so of an authority figure. But we have clearly gone too far the other direction--and the consequences of this unwillingness to hospitalize those who are deeply troubled sometimes gives a bitter and bloody harvest.

    Well, I've been complaining about this problem for years. Hallucinating people wander freely without treatment and are called "homeless" by activists. Only when they go berserk is anything done, and by then it's too late.

    But whether Mr. Cho could have been hospitalized I don't know. He would have to be considered a threat to himself or others, and it's a tough standard. If they had tried to commit him, he'd have been entitled to legal representation, and there's always the possibility that he or his family might sue the university (a possibility of which I'm sure the latter is aware).

    I think if standards are toughened as a result of this, it will be more along the lines of making it impossible for anyone who has ever sought treatment for mental illness to ever buy a gun. Couple that with the notion that nearly all of us are all mentally ill (whether from depression, neurosis, OCD, ADHD, "codependency" etc.) and I don't think it's much of a stretch to see a movement to use mental illness as grounds for disarming a lot of people who, while they might arguably need treatment for one thing or another would never shoot anyone.

    Easy answers are not staring me in the face. In the old days, people either were clearly insane or they were not. It was a definition based on common sense. A neurotic who counts cracks in the sidewalk or an agoraphobe who can't stand to leave his house -- these people are not insane.

    I think there's a hesitancy to say that anyone is insane, though. Terms like "insane" or "crazy" are seen as hurtful. Yet it seems the more the definition of mental illness is expanded, the fewer people there are who can actually be considered crazy.

    The worst aspect of trying to spot a guy like Cho is that there are probably lots of loners who fit his profile (hating rich kids, debauchery, writing bizarre screeds, etc.) but the vast majority of them will never kill.

    Obviously, if the man truly was criminally insane, it would have been wise to lock him up.

    Wisdom always seems to work better in retrospect.

    MORE: The Cho situation gets more complicated. Clayton Cramer links this ABC report that Cho had previously been hospitalized against his will in December 2005, "after two female schoolmates said they received threatening messages from him and school officials became concerned that he might be suicidal." Cramer noted that the Brady Law background check seems to have failed. It's not surprising. Another gun law which failed to stop him was the one making it illegal to file off serial numbers.

    UPDATE (04/19/07): Sean Kinsell links this post and rebuts the ridiculous notion that "Seung-hui's Korean-ness relates to his having shot at several classrooms full of college students." (It came as news to me that anyone would think such a thing, but I guess it shouldn't have.)

    posted by Eric at 01:57 PM | Comments (3)

    Who is to blame?

    I keep reading about people trying to "score political points" (link via Michelle Malkin) in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, and once again, I am drawn to this "sound advice few will take":

    "If you want to get through the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre in a healthier way, don't watch the news for about a week."
    I haven't watched the news, but there's no way to get around the story, which appears to offer a cornucopia of tantalizing details for those who want to score political points:
    ...Cho left a note in his dorm railing against "rich kids," "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans" on campus.
    Other reports say that he also expressed unhappiness with religion, apparently with references to Christianity.
    A law enforcement official who read Cho's note described it as a typed, eight-page rant against rich kids and religion.

    "You caused me to do this," the official quoted the note as saying.

    Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near and that there was a deed to be done, the official said. He also expressed disappointment in his own religion and made several references to Christianity, the official said.

    There's plenty there for the activists who look to blame things and people other than the shooter.

    I can't blame anyone except the shooter, and I don't care what his eight page rant said. Millions of people have or have had problems dealing with rich kids, debauchery, deceit, and religious disappointments.

    But they don't kill people, and this guy did.

    Likewise, millions of people have guns.

    But they don't kill people, and this guy did.

    It's awful, and for years I have been tired of the cycles of blame which always emerge whenever an evil person manages to commit mass murder. Yes, murder is evil, and crazy or not, this guy did a profoundly evil thing, for which I blame him. Not Charlton Heston, Michael Moore, George W. Bush, the religious right, post-modernism, the multicultural left, the gay agenda, the educational system, anthropogenic global warming, or whatever else might come up.

    While I would have preferred to see at least someone at the university in a position to defend himself, it just so happens that no one except the shooter was armed, which is in retrospect a shame. But saying that is not an attempt to score political points; it's like wishing the whole thing hadn't happened.

    I blame the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui.

    Beyond that, I don't have much to add.

    (Unfortunately, I'm sure others will, and it might be tough to ignore them.)

    MORE: Speaking of scoring political points, Dinesh D'Souza thinks this occasion calls for attacking atheism:

    Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found.
    D'Souza continues with what he sees as a moral refutation of Richard Dawkins, who (notes D'Souza pointedly) "has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community." Dawkins's molecular nihilism view is posited as the "best science has to offer":
    For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho's shooting of all those people can be understood in this way--molecules acting upon molecules.

    If this is the best that modern science has to offer us, I think we need something more than modern science.

    I suppose self defense could also be seen as molecules acting upon molecules, as could the taking of medication for mental illness. It would never occur to me that such thinking constituted the "best" of modern science, much less that a mass shooting would be the right time to worry about it.

    But I guess anyone's favorite cause can be plugged in somehow.

    Violent video games seem to be a more tempting target than molecular nihilism.

    But I still blame the shooter.

    posted by Eric at 10:32 AM | Comments (4)

    hair raising economic schemes

    I was a bit shocked to see John Edwards' $400.00 haircuts being defended by Glenn Reynolds, although Glenn cites his own reasons:

    Maybe it's because people are always dissing my haircut. Okay, by "people" I mean "snarky blog commenters, but still...."
    Fortunately for me, I'm not on TV and I tend to shun video, which means few people would be likely to dis my haircuts. (FWIW, I think it's manifestly unfair to accuse Glenn Reynolds of wearing a toupee -- much less speculate about the toupee's materials.)

    But still I thought a brief word on the haircut issue would be in order.

    According to the link cited by Mary Katharine Ham, the Edwards campaign does spend big money on the candidate's hair:

    John Edwards' campaign for president spent $400 on February 20, and another $400 on March 7, at a top Beverly Hills men's stylist, Torrenueva Hair Designs.
    Judging by the picture, Edwards' haircut isn't at all complicated or unusual. Certainly not $400.00 worth. This makes me wonder what they're really doing with the $400.00. I also seem to remember Bill Clinton getting a $200.00 haircut and inconveniencing a lot of air passengers in the process. That was in 1993. Inflation has probably pushed up the price.

    Fourteen years later, Media Matters is still defending Bill Clinton's haircut, but they're arguing over whether passengers were inconvenienced, not over how much it cost.

    Might these expensive haircuts be a disguised form of campaign money laundering?

    While I have no idea how much Hillary Clinton spends on her hair, I'm inclined to go with Barack Obama on this issue; he's said to get his hair cut "cheap and frequent."

    Politics aside, I find the best value is to get a haircut cheap and infrequent. I pay $12.00, and while I probably should get my hair cut at least once a month, it tends to work out to every six weeks. To maximize savings, I follow the advice of economist Glen Whitman, who gives solid mathematical reasons for cutting hair shorter than the haircutter would want:

    I suspect a lot of people want a haircut that looks "just right" immediately after cutting. At least, that's what the lady who cuts my hair (and who does a great job, by the way) always wants to give me. Yet that is obviously a suboptimal haircutting strategy. I always have to ask her to cut it shorter than feels right to her.

    The farther your hair length is from the "right" length, in either direction, the greater is your disutility from bad hair days. Too short and too long are both troublesome. Let's suppose the problem is symmetrical, so that (for instance) hair one inch too long and hair one inch too short are equally undesirable. For simplicity, let's say your hair grows one-half inch per week, and you get one unit of disutility for each inch of difference from the right length. If you're on a 5-week haircut cycle, and you start off with the right length, your total disutility is:

    0 + 0.5 + 1 + 1.5 + 2 = 5

    whereas if you got your hair cut an inch too short, your disutility would be:

    1 + 0.5 + 0 + 0.5 + 1 = 3

    Clearly, you're better off asking for the shorter haircut, since that minimizes your disutility.

    I'm definitely into minimizing my disutility, especially if it saves time, plus I'm lazy about these things. I end up having my hair cut too short with relatively long intervals between haircuts. Of course, there's a very noticeable contrast between what I look like right after a haircut and what I look like after six weeks without one, but it's a gradual process interrupted only by a sudden contrast in my appearance. I realize politicians need to look the same all the time, but I don't. Only once has anyone dissed my hair in recent years -- and that was a fat middle-aged Bush hater who had just met me and assumed I was in the military simply because I had just gotten my economically correct (if too short) haircut and was in good shape for my age. Not that I minded, but I really was asking for it; I could easily have avoided the dissing of my haircut dissed by not defending Bush.

    However, you can't win with a guy like that. I think I'd have pissed him off even more had my hair been shoulder-length as it once was.

    (And if I had I told I was thinking of registering Democrat so I could vote for Obama in the primary, he and his combover might have come unglued.)

    MORE: Glenn Reynolds links this post and comments that he does a "better-than-average robot dance." True; not only has this fact been thoroughly documented at Google, but there's even a song that goes with the dance:

    ..."Down with liberty! Down with the free market system!"

    "You pinko scum!" I yelled, "I'll stop you!"

    He answered me with mocking laughter. "Someone whose website gets as much traffic as mine can do whatever he wants. I'm untouchable! I'm Glenn Reynolds! Now I must celebrate."

    He then started doing the robot dance and singing this rap song:

    "I'm Glenn Reynolds and it's puppies I drink,
    And I like to kill hobos because they stink.
    Gotta give props to Satan 'cause he's an evil guy;
    It was through his help I became a Communist spy."

    Though I've heard better rapping, his robot dance was quite good. Finishing his grotesque celebration, he hopped on his moped and sped off laughing evilly all the way.

    However, that was in 2003.

    When I saw Glenn last fall, not only didn't he do the robot dance, I saw not the slightest sign of a toupee. Bill of INDC attended the same event (in Washington), and he didn't notice anything odd either:

    Glenn Reynolds displayed no visible antennae, wires or other electronic components. His grip was warm and remarkably flesh-like, and his optics tracked movement with reptilian smoothness. Remarkable.
    Obviously, things are happening too quickly for Glenn's critics to keep up with the rapid pace of technological developments. Toupees are, like, totally outmoded.

    UPDATE: My thanks to Fausta for linking this post link pandering scheme, and for weighing in one the toupee "controversy":

    Not that I would succumb to link-pandering schemes, but if it helps, here's a good view of Glenn Reynolds's haircut: he sports what I call your basic "regular-guy cut"
    Go check it out. The toupee allegations strike me as some form of jealousy.

    And thank you, Fausta, for complimenting me on my cheap haircut! (Yours looks good too!)

    UPDATE (04/19/07): Barbers in the Quad Cities area (Iowa-Illinois border) think that a $400.00 haircut is "preposterous," and "impossible":

    Quad-City barbers put down their shears and sputtered words like "preposterous" and "impossible" Wednesday when they heard of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards spending $400 for a haircut. In the Quad-Cities, $10 or $12 is about average.

    "If I charged $400 for a haircut, they'd come after me with white coats," said Leo Fier, who has been cutting hair for 49 years at his shop in DeWitt, Iowa.

    This was about my reaction. Edwards' haircut is not all that complicated. He can spend whatever he wants, of course.

    But is it his money?

    posted by Eric at 02:10 PM | Comments (25)

    Pass the lard! And don't praise the ammunition!

    In the last post I ridiculed the idea that saying "Hallelujah!" might offend anyone.

    Not so fast.

    I almost forgot that almost anything can be taken as racially insensitive. Or inflammatory:

    ALBANY, April 13 -- Raoul Felder, a celebrity divorce lawyer who is chairman of a state commission that oversees judges, has been given a unanimous vote of no confidence by the other nine members of the commission for helping to write a book they said is racially and ethnically inflammatory.
    I read the piece carefully, and while I could find nothing which I would consider racially inflammatory, I'm assuming the reference must have meant these criticisms of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton:
    Mr. Felder and Mr. Mason, longtime friends, appear as cartoon superheroes on the cover of the book, which is titled "Schmucks! Our Favorite Fakes, Frauds, Lowlifes, Liars, the Armed and Dangerous, and Good Guys Gone Bad."

    They take shots at a number of public figures and ethnic groups. Barbra Streisand is dubbed "Mentl" and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is "Botox-addicted." Chapters in the book take on Tom Cruise and France and have titles like "Al Sharpton, Praise the Lard."

    The authors write that Mr. Sharpton, who has been one of Mr. Imus's leading critics, could be the first president impeached before being elected.

    They add, "Who thought it was a good idea to make Jesse Jackson the arbiter of racial healing? That makes as much sense as Ted Kennedy being a lifeguard at a girls' school."

    The tone of the book is a familiar one to fans of Mr. Mason, who has been condemned by various groups in the past for jokes that veered over racially sensitive lines.

    Sorry, but I don't see any racial epithet or racial slur there -- either overt or covert. What I do see is political satire -- criticism of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

    But is it based on race? What's racial about saying "Praise the Lard"? Exactly the same phrase could be uttered to mock the girth and religious sincerity of Jerry Falwell, but because he's white, no one would see any racial component.

    Is there some new rule that all criticism of Al Sharpton is racist?

    If so, then it's probably racist for me to say "Hallelujah!" within ten words of "Al Sharpton."


    At this rate, it will soon be inflammatory to mention "PorkBusters" in the same sentence as sharia-enforcing cab drivers.

    But I should count my blessings. At least it's still OK to make fun of Thetans in a post mentioning Tom Cruise.

    posted by Eric at 09:39 AM | Comments (3)

    Can "responsible journalism" become irresponsible?

    My power finally came back on over an hour ago. I'm tempted to exclaim "Hallelujah!"

    And what the hell? I will say "Hallelujah!" But you have to be careful with religious exclamations these days. Saying "Allahu Akbar" might be taken the wrong way because I'm not a Muslim. (Ironically, though, no one cares whether I'm a Christian if I say "Hallelujah.") But sometimes I get the impression that "Allahu Akbar" is considered such a sensitive phrase that it shouldn't be reported even when it's uttered by a murderer. Because people might get the wrong idea:

    The Blade ran at least five stories about the mall shooter, Sulejman Talovic, who had lived in Utah since his family fled Bosnia when he was 9 years old. Curiously, the newspaper did not report that he shouted "Allah Akbar" during his killing spree, which took the lives of five people before the police killed the gunman.

    I have no idea why The Blade left that detail out since the Associated Press and other news services the paper subscribes to reported it.

    We did however report that he was a Muslim, and ran a story about how terrible his relatives felt, "We are Muslims, but we are not terrorists," his aunt said in one of them. His father condemned his son's actions.

    Should The Blade have given the story more prominence? Did we deliberately ignore an instance of terrorism in America?

    I don't think so. Had all the details been available when the story first broke, it might have ended up on the front page. But by the next day, it was clear that every sign pointed to this being a case of a troubled teen acting out.

    And Salt Lake City is a long, long way from our circulation area. Yes, Talovic was a Muslim, and he appears to have wanted people to think he was part of some terrorist movement when he launched his murderous killing spree, which was plainly designed to end his own life.

    Had the evidence shown that he was acting on orders from Osama bin Laden, it would have been front-page news everywhere. But the movement he served was entirely within his head. And blaming Islam for what he did would be like blaming Christianity for David Koresh or Jim Jones.

    Frankly, I think the fact that the gunman said "Allahu Akbar!" should have been reported as soon as it was known. Because it's a fact. It's what used to be called part of the story!

    I'm curious about something.

    Should reporting be at all influenced by concerns over whether readers might get the wrong ideas about the race or religion of a person?

    Right now, no one can be said to really know anything about the shooter at Virginia Tech. There are reports that witnesses thought he looked Asian, and right now Drudge has linked the story of an Asian man who says he was falsely blamed.

    Certainly, irresponsible reporting can lead to hysteria in which innocent people are blamed. But that's all the more reason to do accurate, responsible, and full reporting. When I went to bed last night, I assumed that this morning I'd read the identity of the shooter in the paper, or at least it would be all over the Internet. Yet there's still nothing. Just the same "thought he looked Asian" stuff as yesterday.

    When there's a horrible crime, it is normal to want to know, simply, who did it, and (if possible) why. I think that the police probably know, and I also think that some of the people working for the press know, and I wonder what is gained by not letting the public know. The more they wait, the more they encourage irresponsible speculation, like the false accusations leveled at an innocent man. Or, worse, completely ungrounded speculation like this:

    Speculation about the Asian descent of the shooter centered around Indonesian Islamic terrorists, and the opening day of the trial of Jose Padilla, a member of Al Quiada.
    I can understand why not reporting the shooter's identity might be motivated by concerns that it would be irresponsible. But when non-reporting fuels paranoid conspiracy thinking, can't that also be considered a bit irresponsible?

    Wouldn't it be better to just report the facts, whatever they are?

    If it is known (as it is now being reported) that the shooter was Asian, and a student, there's no way that could be known without his identity being known.

    If the concern involves journalistic responsibility, I think the responsible thing to do is to keep in mind that

  • a. speculation is irresponsible; and
  • b. speculation occurs when the truth is not known.
  • My conclusion is that reporting all the facts as soon as possible is generally a good idea. (I guess this is a minority view.)

    MORE: It has apparently been confirmed that at least one of the "shooters" lived in a Virginia Tech campus dormitory:

    Virginia Tech President Charles Steger told "Good Morning America's" Diane Sawyer this morning that there was still the possibility that there were two shooters in the separate campus attacks on Monday morning.

    Steger said that the shooter who took his own life in the Norris Hall classroom building, where 30 other people were also killed, was a student of Asian descent who lived in a dormitory at Virginia Tech.

    Steger referred to this person as the "second shooter."

    "It appears that the second shooter was a resident in a dormitory," Steger said. "We don't have all of that confirmed but it appears he was an on-campus resident."

    Sawyer asked whether there was more than one shooter involved.

    "We don't know for sure. That's what we're trying to confirm," Steger said.

    Steger said police had questioned a person of interest in the case.

    "They have questioned them once and they'll probably continue to question the individual," he said.

    MORE: The suspect has been identified. He's from South Korea:

    Police identified the classroom shooter as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a senior from South Korea who was in the English department at Virginia Tech and lived in a different dorm on campus. Cho committed suicide after the attacks, and there was no indication Tuesday of any possible motive.

    "He was a loner, and we're having difficulty finding information about him," school spokesman Larry Hincker said.

    Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information had not been announced, said Cho's fingerprints were found on the guns used in the shootings. The serial numbers on the two weapons had been filed off, the officials said.

    In yesterday's post, I linked this report about a South Korean being one of the victims, but it's tough to speculate about what that might mean.

    MORE: I hardly think it needs to be pointed out that if the shooter filed off the serial numbers, he violated existing gun control laws.

    Nevertheless, people will claim (as I'm sure they already are) that gun control would have stopped a murderer who already violated gun control laws before the murders.

    In any case, I'm glad the details are now being reported.

    AND MORE: Flashback to the Appalachian Law School shooting, which was averted because a student was armed. Omitted from most news accounts was the descrption of how it happened:

    "I told him to drop his weapon, to get on the ground. ... His back was to us, and once he turned around and saw that I had a weapon, he laid his weapon down and stuck his hands in the air. At that time we approached him, and there was somewhat of a struggle, but we took him to the ground and handcuffed him until the authorities got there."
    Too bad that story wasn't more widely publicized.

    Considering that the latest incident is already being used as an argument for campus gun control, I think it's worth remembering what happened at Appalachian Law School.

    MORE: Via Pajamas Media, I see that there's already a Wikipedia entry on the shooter.

    And in Germany, they're blaming Charlton Heston. (Naturally. I'm sure plenty of Americans will blame him too.)

    I'd still like to know how filing off serial numbers implicates Charlton Heston, or the "gun culture." Or why anyone who had already committed such gun crimes would be remotely deterred by additional laws prohibiting guns on campus.

    MORE: Here's the New York Times, in today's editorial call for gun control:

    What is needed, urgently, is stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable loss.
    And how did these weapons "cause" the shooting?

    Why, in the same way they caused their serial numbers to be filed off, obviously.

    (I'm wondering how many of these stories and editorials will point out that the killer used illegal weapons.)

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Pajamas Media has added to the roundup. My favorite is the "sound advice few will take":

    "If you want to get through the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre in a healthier way, don't watch the news for about a week."
    I haven't turned on the news yet. (Of course, my power was off, so I had an excuse.)

    UPDATE (04/18/07): My thanks to Clayton Cramer for linking this post. Cramer also learned that the yelling of "AllahuAkbar" is seriously disputed, and rather than write an extensive update, I have written a followup post.

    I should not have taken the Toronto Blade's word about the AP stories, and I should have said "assuming this is true."

    MORE: I agree with Dave Winer:

    NBC should release all of the [VA Tech shooter] videos in Quicktime form as downloads. It's wrong to withhold them.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    posted by Eric at 07:23 AM | Comments (2)

    In The Right Hands

    Yesterday the Reuters spin on the Virginia Tech story was too many guns In The Wrong Hands. Today the spin is different. Not enough guns in the right hands:

    Advocates of gun ownership rights saw Monday's massacre as evidence of the need to relax gun laws rather than tighten them.

    "All the school shootings that have ended abruptly in the last 10 years were stopped because a law-abiding citizen -- a potential victim -- had a gun," said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.

    "The latest school shooting at Virginia Tech demands an immediate end to the gun-free zone law which leaves the nation's schools at the mercy of madmen."

    The gun controllers get the last word though.
    In an editorial in Tuesday's editions, The New York Times said the shooting was "another horrifying reminder that some of the gravest dangers Americans face come from killers at home armed with guns that are frighteningly easy to obtain."

    "What is needed, urgently, is stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable loss," the Times said.

    Yep. That is the ticket. Americans should be armed with nonlethal weapons.

    Still it is quite odd to see Reuters present both sides of the story. Perhaps they are actually trying to serve the American market. What a novel idea.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 05:27 AM | Comments (0)

    In The Wrong Hands

    I'm sure by now you have heard about the Virginia Tech shootings. So of course we have the usual:

    "We live in a society where guns are pretty well accepted," said Jim Sollo, of Virginians Against Handgun Violence. "There are 200 million guns in this society and obviously some in the wrong hands."
    Actually what this shooting proves is that there were not enough guns in the right hands.

    The Virginia Legislature had an opportunity to fix the problem of not enough guns in the right hands and declined. This could be the opportunity many politicians look for. A chance to change their minds.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)

    Forgiving the shooters

    Bad news for me. PECO (my utility company) says the power could very well be out for four days! Which means blogging will be a major pain in the ass. I'm sitting here at the nearest WIFI spot, and lucky to have a place to sit (obviously, this is what a lot of people are doing with their power down). PECO says I'll know tomorrow morning whether I'll be off for four days. If I am still down in the morning, it means four more days.

    I just found out about the Virginia shooting, which is a horrible outrage. I don't know why or how this creep got away with lining up students and shooting them, and all I can say is it's a shame an armed student wasn't among the potential targets.

    In Glenn Reynolds' roundup he links the WaPo story, this report that the legislature has been trying to get a CCW bill passed, but failed, and Pajamas Media's roundup. And Clayton Cramer opines,

    This is why I try to be armed anywhere that I legally can be armed. This is exactly the situation where one armed student, faculty, or staff could have cut this short.

    Michelle Malkin links this group of Virginia bloggers, who are posting reports as they get them, and Drudge quotes this "Sky News Bulletin":

    SKY NEWS: Witnesses said he was heavily armed and entered the college looking for his girlfriend... He reportedly lined up students and opened fire at them. He was said to be an Asian, in his mid-20s...
    It sounds absolutely crazy, but this could happen anywhere, anytime, and I see it as an argument for being armed.

    I also see it as an argument against the sort of thinking that Friday's Philadelphia Inquirer saw fit to glorify on Friday's front page. Headlined "'55 school killer: A life taken, lived -- Film spotlights Swarthmore, forgiveness.," it's about a film glorifying forgiveness in the setting of a 1955 shooting at Swarthmore College:

    At Swarthmore College on Jan. 11, 1955, Bob Bechtel shot and killed a fellow student, Francis Holmes Strozier. One bullet, from a .22-caliber rifle, in the head.

    Five years later, Bechtel was at Susquehanna University, pursuing a degree in psychology.


    Found not guilty by reason of insanity, the 22-year-old Bechtel was sent to Farview State Hospital, in Waymart, Wayne County. One factor that swayed the judge: a letter from Strozier's mother, expressing sympathy and forgiveness. Another: In 1950, the teenage Bechtel, at his mother's request, had been briefly hospitalized for psychotic episodes.

    Four years and eight months after the sentencing, Bechtel was released. He went to Susquehanna and then to the University of Kansas, where he earned a doctorate and began his teaching career. Until his daughter Carrah turned 19, the only person in his life who knew of the murder was Bev, his wife. Then he decided to tell his daughters, his friends, his colleagues at the University of Arizona, and his students.

    Alston's film is about Bechtel's revelation, and its aftershocks. It is a story about forgiveness and guilt and, by extension, about Columbine, Nickel Mines, and other school massacres that have left their bloody mark on the nation.

    It is about a life lived. And a life not lived.

    "If you're for the death penalty and say you believe in God, what do you do with the good that can come from a life?" said documentarian Alston, who met Carrah Bechtel when both were students at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Carrah had approached Alston with the idea for a film.

    "When I think of all the people who are locked away and weigh the good that they can do against the bad that they have done, I'm left with this trouble in my heart," Alston said during an interview last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival.

    For Carrah Bechtel, 32, the discovery that her father was a murderer opened a floodgate.

    "I actually couldn't comprehend what he was telling me, and still can't - that he is that person," said the self-described writer/actor/baker/songwriter, who lives with her older half sister, Amanda, in Kansas City. It made her realize that she might not be here at all if her father had been sentenced to death, or to a long term behind bars.

    "Every day, I question my existence," she said, also in Toronto. "There are people in the asylum that let my father go, the mother that forgave my father - people who didn't know it at the time, but [they] created life. Desmond Tutu has a book: No Future Without Forgiveness. And forgiveness creates future. . . . That's my perspective."

    Swarthmore is none too happy about the film, and "takes issue with Bechtel's claims of rampant harassment":
    "Out of respect for the Strozier family and our alumni from the time, and for the sake of accuracy, the Swarthmore administration objects to Robert Bechtel's misleading portrayal of the events of 1955. . . . Prof. Bechtel appears to attribute the shooting solely or primarily to 'bullying' perpetrated by his fellow students. Holmes Strozier was a completely innocent victim, and no one can watch the film without being moved by the nobility and generosity of his family."
    The details the Inquirer leaves out are covered in an article in the Philadelphia City Paper, which notes that the victim was shot in his sleep.

    While it's nice to know that the Swarthmore shooter turned his life around, I'm not sure how that is an argument for forgiving other killers. Moreover, in logic I think that the only people possessed of the right to forgive a criminal are his victims.

    But these forgiveness stories persist, and it's a bit hard to forget the one from Friday, because it was still fresh in my mind when I heard about today's horror.

    Philosophically speaking, what has forgiveness to do with punishment? Some crimes are so awful that perhaps they should never be forgiven. Where is the line drawn? Is it by the numbers killed? If we should forgive a guy who killed one man, then why not a guy who killed 32? How about Eichmann?

    Sorry, but I can't forgive any of them. Not unless they shoot me, and of course I would hope I might be able to stop them.

    Which leads me to the most annoying aspect of the forgive-the-shooters argument. Those who want to forgive these criminals want to do more than just forgive them and help them avoid punishment. What really adds insult to injury is something I touched on in an earlier post. Those in the forgiving school don't want people to defend themselves against the shooters. They want everyone disarmed. Then, after people shot, they can lecture the survivors about "forgiveness."

    Forgive me if I consider that unforgivable.

    UPDATE: This story reports two incidents:

    The shootings took place in two separate incidents, which police have not yet confirmed are related.
    The story has a lot of pictures, including one of a possible suspect with this caption:
    An unidentified man is arrested. It is unclear what role he played in the shooting. Sources in University Relations told the student newspaper there may have been two arrests.
    The man on the ground looks Asian, and if I had to guess about his country of origin, I'd say he looks Indonesian.

    It's too early to tell what the hell happened.

    MORE: However, I don't like the sound of this report:

    Little is known of the gunman who carried out the assault other than vague references by some students to him as Asian looking. Authorities confirmed he was not carrying any identification, and there was no word on how he prepared and carried out the attack.

    But fingers were already being pointed at the gun culture prevalent in the state of Virginia and in particular at Virginia Tech University which is home to a proud tradition of military cadets.

    Before people start blaming the "gun culture," it might be nice to know just who was involved, and why.

    MORE: While admitting no one knows what motivated the killer or killers, an expert has already been interviewed by Newsweek, and he claims he knows:

    NEWSWEEK: You've studied mass shootings for more than 20 years. What's the first thing you think of when a story like this starts unfolding?
    Jack Levin: I can talk in general terms about this and I'm probably going to be right. In almost every case the motive is revenge. Usually the killer is on a suicidal rampage--he sets out to take his own life but first he takes his revenge on all the people he believes to be responsible for his miseries. Usually the killer has suffered from some catastrophic loss; it could be a girlfriend, a loss of a place in the university--assuming he's a student or faculty. Either way, in his eyes, it's catastrophic. It's the trigger, the catalyst, what pushes him over the edge.
    Levin also says that if he was Asian, the killer was probably imitating the Montreal killer:A couple of months ago there was a mass shooting involving 20 students, one of whom died, at a community college in Montreal. [In the Virginia case], the initial news reports said that the killer looked as though he's Asian or of Asian descent. So was the killer in Montreal. I've studied the copycat effect. It's much more likely to happen when the killers share personal characteristics. Think about the Columbine-style killings that happened in the '90s: they all happened in the suburbs; they were all bullied, isolated boys. If this killer turns out to be of Asian descent, it's highly likely he was inspired by the Montreal mass shooting. Newsweek also refers to "reports" that the shooter was in his 20s.

    I get the impression that some people in the reporting business already know more than is being reported.

    MORE: The Virginia Tech Korean Students Association reported that a Korean student was among those injured, but expressed doubt that the shooter was Korean:

    "I have been calling other members of the student association and were not told of other Korean victims," [association president] Lee said.

    Park was in the middle of a lecture with 15 or so other classmates when the shooter started firing, Lee quoted him as saying. It wasn't clear how many others survived.

    The shooter is said to be a young Asian male, but Lee said chances are low he is a Korean.

    "I don't believe any of the Korean students own a gun," he said.

    The South Korean embassy dispatched one of its staff members to the university to gather details.

    At this point, there's no way to tell what happened or who was involved, and the photograph I mentioned showing an Asian man on the ground is evidence of nothing.

    But I'm sure guns will be blamed. And victims will be urged to "forgive."

    MORE: According to Wizbang, the guy pictured on the ground may not be a suspect at all, but a student photographer:

    he guy in the picture above, who many thought to be a suspect, appears to be a student photographer with the school newspaper. Early reports said the shooter was Asian so apparently the officer stopped him. As far as we know there is no second shooter.
    (Via Gateway Pundit.)

    MORE: According to this ABC report the killer blew his face off, and they have been unable to identify him.

    There don't appear to be any definitive answers. It's an awful thing, and all I can do is express my sorrow for the victims.

    AND MORE: From the looks of this ABC report, the shooter's name seems to be known to the police:

    A gunman opened fire in a Virginia Tech dorm and then, two hours later, shot up a classroom building across campus Monday, killing 32 people in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman committed suicide, bringing the death toll to 33.

    Students bitterly complained that there were no public-address announcements on campus after the first burst of gunfire. Many said the first word they received from the university was an e-mail more than two hours into the rampage -- around the time the gunman struck again.

    Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said authorities believed that the shooting at the dorm was a domestic dispute and mistakenly thought the gunman had fled the campus.

    "We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur," he said.

    He defended the university's handling of the tragedy, saying: "We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it."

    Investigators offered no motive for the attack. The gunman's name was not immediately released, and it was not known if he was a student.

    While "not immediately released" would tend to indicate the police have identified him, the fact that it isn't known whether he was a student might indicate they haven't.

    I have to say, not being able to get the news is the most challenging aspect of blogging.

    MORE: The emails sent to the students are here.

    And that's it for this post, as I have to leave the WIFI spot now.

    UPDATE (04/17/07): My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post. Welcome all!

    My power is back up, and I have a few more thoughts about why reporting the facts as soon as possible is a good idea.

    posted by Eric at 05:28 PM | Comments (3)

    Coldening strikes home!

    Just thought I'd write a quickie post to point out that I have no power. There's four inches of snow here on top of a huge two day rainstorm, and it's knocked out local rail lines and of course my power.

    Right now I am blogging using my laptop, only because my modem and router are powered by the dying battery of the computer battery backup unit (which is beeping loudly and is only designed to run for ten minutes).

    Here's what it looks like outside:


    Even though it's mid April, schools are closed. New Jersey is under a state of emergency.

    I guess I won't be able to make any of the Global Warming demonstrations.

    Why is it that Tim Blair's "coldening" rule always seem to be true?

    UPDATE: It appears that my power could be off for days, so here I am at a Starbucks. I saw all these comments, and now I see Glenn Reynolds' link.

    I had absolutely no idea that I was blogging the apocalypse. Honest, folks!

    If my power comes back on I might just go rent the film.

    Bear in mind that I was taught about the coming global cooling (return of the Ice Age) at UC Berkeley in the early 1970s, when no one imagined that man could influence the climate.

    By making fun of the freak weather, I do not dispute the data that show a warming of a degree or two over the past century. While I am not convinced that man is responsible, either way, none of it has anything to do with local weather on a particular date.

    I'd like to note that I did not say that today's freak weather was evidence actually rebutting global warming, for that would be absurd. But why wasn't it just as absurd to suggest that the warm January weather was evidence proving global warming? Yes, people were saying that, everywhere I went.

    When will they admit they were joking?

    posted by Eric at 09:03 AM | Comments (26)

    A New Kind of Science

    A bunch of us have been working on understanding the physics of the Bussard Fusion Reactor. The subject of getting a copy of Mathematica has come up several times. What is detering us is the cost. Since I have several students in school and know several teachers from grade school to college level I may have a way around that.

    In any case when I saw this lecture by Mathematica inventor Stephen Wolfram I couldn't resist. He explains why the universe we see is so complicated. The essense of it is: simple rules can lead to complicated results. It is inherent in the universe.

    The video is about an hour and a half.

    Here is the book the lecture is based on: A New Kind of Science

    Explore Wolfram Science.

    Cross Posted at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 04:21 AM | Comments (3)

    Understanding the statistics

    Clayton Cramer's link to my last post about the gun issue prompted a few additional thoughts.

    I'd like to think that sooner or later, people who have common sense would perceive that it's a blatantly racist claim to say that black people are unable to resist being turned into criminals by guns. Instead, the idea is promoted that opposition to gun control is racism! How I wish such demagoguery didn't work, but it does.

    I'm also continuing to wonder whether statisticians have (in their various "studies") been lumping law abiding gun owners with criminals who own illegal guns. If they have, aren't the data inherently unreliable? Isn't it like lumping legal drug users in with illegal drug users?

    When my mom had cancer, she was prescribed certain narcotics that some street users would probably be willing to kill each other over under the right circumstances. But wouldn't it be laughable for a statistician to make pronouncements about what "drug crimes" my mother (or any other legal drug user) would have been "likely" to commit based on statistics gleaned from the entire morphine-using population?

    I think it would. That's because it is manifestly incorrect to extrapolate statistics gleaned from a criminal population and then project those statistics onto a law abiding population.

    To do so is wrong logically, and wrong statistically. I'm reminded of one of the criticisms of the Kinsey study (that it applied statistics gleaned from the male prison population to the general male population). This is not to say that the data gleaned from studying criminals is not valuable; only that it should be presented in the proper context.

    The oft-quoted Kellerman study has also been criticized for precisely this reason:

    ....the population is composed of a minority subgroup which has a high risk of homicide, and a relatively high gun ownership rate. This subgroup is composed of 'career criminals', gang members and others who have a repeated history of criminal activity. The majority subgroup has a low risk of homicide and a lower gun ownership rate. This majority is the general law-abiding public.
    Nevertheless, the argument is made that guns cause these law-abiding people to commit crime even though the crimes are committed by criminals using guns that were already illegal. (In Philadelphia, 80-85 percent of shootings occur when criminals shoot other criminals with already-illegal guns.)

    It's one thing to make this argument, but not with data claimed drawn from a non-representative sample.

    Of course, it has to be remembered that there is a growing movement in favor of abolishing prison -- even for violent crime. While that's not entirely mainstream, like a lot of activism, it manages to trickles down in the form of projects like this, which lobby for ever-lighter sentences, even foir serious crimes. Editorial-style news "stories" routinely preach about the need for "forgiveness." The result is that criminals are increasingly not being locked up for violent crimes.

    It's easy to see why those who advocate freedom for violent criminals would want gun control. They are intelligent enough to realize that they too have to live in the world they want to create. So, in a certain sense, their use of misleading statistics becomes understandable.

    (Not excusable, though.)

    posted by Eric at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

    Get the moderates first?

    Philadelphia-based talk show host Michael Smerconish is a moderate Republican who (for reasons that deserve exploring) has drawn the type of leftist enmity normally reserved for talkers considered to be on the far right. I don't listen to his show, but I wrote a long post about him when he was the subject of a wildly ad hominem hit piece in the Philadelphia Weekly, because it made no sense to go after this guy with such a vengeance. Considering that an extremist like Michael Savage (a man I refuse to call a conservative) is on the air in Philadelphia, why target his moderate competition?

    What makes even less sense is the recent campaign by Media Matters against Smerconish. In an op-ed in today's Inquirer, Smerconish is wondering what could be going on:

    ...he floodgates are now open. The cyber-lynching by faceless, nameless bloggers of talk-show hosts like me has begun.

    Individuals who hide behind the anonymity afforded by the Internet are seeking to squelch the First Amendment right of people whose identities are readily known and who, unlike their cowardly critics, put their names and credibility on the line each and every day on matters of public concern. Left unconfronted, it is a dangerous practice in the making.

    The very day Imus was fired at CBS, I was alerted to a posting on Media Matters for America, a sophisticated Web site instrumental in stoking the flames for Imus' departure. The posting, titled "It's not just Imus," identified me as one of seven talk-show hosts in America who bear observation:

    ". . . [A]s Media Matters for America has extensively documented, bigotry and hate speech targeting, among other characteristics, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity continue to permeate the airwaves through personalities such as Glenn Beck, Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Michael Smerconish, and John Gibson."

    I have done talk radio for about 15 years, have written two books, authored hundreds of columns, and have appeared on every major television program in which politics gets discussed, from The Colbert Report to Hardball With Chris Matthews. This week alone I was responsible for 17.5 hours of content on my own radio show, wrote two newspaper columns, guest-hosted Bill O'Reilly's radio show nationwide, and found time to make television appearances on The Today Show, The Glenn Beck Program, and Scarborough Country.

    Needless to say, I was anxious to see which of my words, among the millions I have offered over all these years, have been documented by these blogger-watchdogs as "bigotry" and "hate." What exactly puts me in a category with the likes of Michael Savage?

    Good question. The quotes cited by Media Matters are so tame (his complaint that PC correctness is "sissification" is listed first) that they barely merit a yawn. Yet Smerconish is listed alongside Savage, in a piece ominously titled "It's not just Imus."


    Far from being an anonymous blog, Media Matters is a hardball operation organized and funded by key Clinton players like former White House Chief of Staff John D. Podesta (with the usual Soros ties, natch). While the "cyber-lynching by faceless, nameless bloggers" might play a role, I think the Media Matters campaign represents something considerably bigger than that.

    I'm glad to see Smerconish's op-ed featured in the Huffington Post, because this campaign is a real threat to moderate and independent free speech.

    I think the Clinton left would rather take down guys like Imus or Smerconish than a nutjob like Michael Savage, and that's because moderates and independents are a bigger threat. The far right is easily stereotyped, and in the long run, they can actually be seen as helping (not hurting) Hillary Clinton. If the goal is to get her elected, silencing the moderates (and, of course, libertarians like Neal Boortz) is a vital first step. If I were working for the Hillary campaign, I'd advise precisely such a campaign. Little wonder that another primary target of the Media Matters campaign is Democrat Chris Matthews. Like Imus, he's a Democrat against Hillary. They hate Matthews so much it reminds me of the attacks on Lieberman. Seriously; if you check out the links, you begin to see a pattern. While its stated goal might be to go after the right wing, Media Matters is very much in the business of enforcing Democratic political conformity.

    However (and especially in light of Media Matters), I do not agree with Smerconish's characterization of anonymous bloggers, because blogger anonymity is a two edged sword. I severely criticized the proposed blogger speech code for this very reason. Smerconish argues that the goal is to "squelch the First Amendment right of people whose identities are readily known." I'd argue that the goal is simply to silence and intimidate those who disagree. Not by legal censorship, of course. While unconstitutional laws against "hate speech" might be a longterm goal, right now a lot can still be accomplished by pressuring advertisers and employers of moderates, libertarians, and non-conforming Democrats. Unlike a Michael Savage type, moderates often have mainstream advertisers and work for companies more likely to cave in the face of hardball tactics.

    While these techniques are not technically censorship and thus do not raise legal First Amendment issues, they nonetheless remind me of the importance of the First Amendment. It's a two edged sword.

    Outfits like Media Matters should remember that they are no more immune from criticism than the targets of their campaigns.

    MORE: It's probably worth pointing out that Media Matters is a charity (contributions to which are "fully tax deductible"):

    Media Matters for America is a Web-based, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Conservative misinformation is defined as news or commentary presented in the media that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda.
    I can remember a time when charities were supposed to be non-partisan.

    Media Matters lists fifty six staff employees, and they're hiring more!

    (It has the smell of lots of money....)

    MORE: Is it Media Matters's strategy to systematically take out idiosyncratic characters in advance of the 2008 campaign? Via Glenn Reynolds' link, here's Ann Althouse on the subject:

    Media Matters had been lying in wait for a long time, and finally they got exactly the sound bite they needed, and they played it masterfully. Think about why things fell into place so well and why so many people fell in line and took down this idiosyncratic character, who had been talking on the radio four hours a day, five days a week for so long. Who knows what havoc he might have wreaked in the 2008 campaign? Isn't it convenient to have him out of the way?
    I think non-conformists are a bigger threat to her campaign than the usual scapegoats. (Savage is probably great at raising funds for Media Matters, and he hurts conservatives. If I were running Media Matters, I'd scream bloody murder about him, but I'd hope he never really went off the air.)

    MORE: Seen another way, might this muscle flexing by Media Matters be an example of authoritarian leftism raising its ugly head? Glenn Reynolds links this foreboding piece about those who dislike a wide-open, market-driven playing field, and why they want to fight it:

    That leftist media critics start sounding so authoritarian is no surprise. In a media cornucopia, freedom of choice inevitably yields media inequality. "In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome," writes Clay Shirky of New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Overcoming that inequality would require a completely regulated media.

    When Rush Limbaugh has more listeners than NPR, or Tom Clancy sells more books than Noam Chomsky, or Motor Trend gets more subscribers than Mother Jones, liberals want to convince us (or themselves, perhaps) that it's all because of some catastrophic market failure or a grand corporate conspiracy to dumb down the masses. In reality, it's just the result of consumer choice. All the opinions that the Left's media critics favor are now readily available to us via multiple platforms. But that's not good enough, it seems: they won't rest until all of us are watching, reading, and listening to the content that they prefer.

    Force your choice on people! In the name of "choice"! Limit free speech in favor of "fairness."

    UPDATE (04/16/07): My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link! Anyone who has any additional ideas about what might be going on, I'm all ears. There's one thing I'd especially like to know --

    Is Media Matters a professional arm of the Clinton campaign posing as a citizens' media watchdog group?

    UPDATE (04/18/07): Via Glenn Reynolds, here's John Hinderaker on Media Matters:

    Media Matters is an astroturf site that is funded by left-wing moneybags.
    (I guess that answers my last question.)

    posted by Eric at 11:23 AM | Comments (7)

    Buy more and save!

    While shopping for essentials at the local Target I noticed something which our very own proprietor Eric alerted me to once before on this blog, namely the false bargain of larger quantities. He was talking about retailers playing upon consumers' assumption that buying in bulk saves money, but this is more nefarious:


    Now, I'm a Latin teacher and haven't taken math in more than a decade, but I know this: $5.89 is a penny more than 2 times $2.94. Here's a closer look:


    But is this really accurate? Or is it deception?


    Yes, they are the same deodorant and the same size. But no matter how many I purchase in the "Value Pack" (2, 3, 4) I will not save.

    Care to join me in a class action suit? We could be pennyaires.

    posted by Dennis at 12:35 PM | Comments (8)

    Delaying failure only delays success

    Glenn Reynolds (who with his wife Dr Helen has a great great podcast on the same subject) links Megan McArdle's discussion of psychologist Robert Epstein's thoughts on extended adolescence.

    "It occurred to me that young people must be capable of functioning as competent adults, or the human race quite probably would not exist," says Dr. Epstein.

    Concludes Megan McArdle,

    ...perhaps Epstein is right, and we're only extending the foolish phase well into the twenties.
    I think he is right, and I think a lot of genuine cruelty is perpetrated under the guise of "protecting the children."

    Anyone who is starting out in life is more likely to make mistakes than someone who has already made mistakes and learned from them. But if only adults are allowed to make mistakes, then only adults can learn from mistakes. Adulthood is generally defined as the age of accountability. All of a sudden, a former child (who has been unaccountable for most or all of his life) ceases to be a child, and is suddenly allowed to take risks and be held accountable.

    I think he is more likely to fail (because of inexperience) than he would had he been allowed to take risks earlier. Logically, inexperience is the leading cause of failure.

    But does that mean that a teenager is any more likely to fail at what he undertakes than he would be if he attempted the same thing a few years later?

    I don't see why.

    What Epstein says may seem counterintuitive to a lot of people, but if we assume (and common sense suggests we must) that failure is more likely in the case of a beginner, wouldn't it best serve people to allow them to fail at a younger age, so that they can develop what is called experience?

    As a practical matter, I think older people in positions of authority (such as employers, lenders, and creditors) are more likely to take age into account when dealing with someone, and thus they are more likely to forgive a teenager who makes a mistake than an "adult" who is presumed to be experienced whether he is or not. Thus, I think letting teenagers take adult risks may be not only a better way to raise them, but kinder in the long run.

    As to schools (especially public schools), from what I can see, they not only foster the continued infantilization of adolescents, but they increasingly do not allow failure. Thus, they reach legal "adulthood" in a clueless, ill-prepared state.

    Permitting failure is a kindness. Preventing failure is cruelty.

    One of McArdle's comments pointed to a marvelous essay by Paul Graham titled "Why Nerds are Unpopular." It's long, but it rang true on so many levels that it seemed BillWhittlean. School is mostly a form of torture like a mini Lord-of-the-Flies prison. Something to be endured consisting mainly not of education, but a struggle for popularity. The more time the clueless and monstrous kids devote to being popular, the less equipped they'll be for life. (If I had a nerdy kid and he was forced into an environment like that, I'd tell him that the eventual revenge would take the form of watching his former tormentors fail in life while he succeeds.)

    BTW, I hadn't given this subject much thought before I'd listened to the Glenn and Helen podcast interview with Dr. Epstein, which I highly recommend.

    How I managed to write this post without discussing my own adolescence, I don't know. I guess I used similar tactics of evasion during that period, but who the hell today cares about the awful things I did during my adolescence?

    Besides, success at adolescence in high school is not success! It can lead to serious, sometimes lifelong mistakes.

    (What I did to get through it is nothing to be proud of.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: One of my peet peeves is that society (and the government) increasingly treats adults like children. "A national kindergarten!" I've repeatedly complained. Might it be that delaying adulthood is a contributory factor? That what we call "teen culture" might persist in a very unhealthy way?

    The implications are disturbing.

    UPDATE: Dr. Epstein's book has its own website -- The Case Against Adolesence. Check it out!

    UPDATE (04/17/07): In a post (linked by Glenn Reynolds) about the horrendous shooting at Virginia Tech, Rand Simberg notes another typical attempt to call young adults "children":

    Now they're going on about "the children, won't someone think of the children"? Someone on Cavuto is demanding to know what they're doing for "the kids." Are they being kept warm, are they being fed, are they getting the grief counseling they need?

    These "kids" are college students. Almost all of them are of the age of majority. They're the same age as the "kids" who are off fighting for us overseas, who are seeing things just as horrific, or more so, every day. Yes, one doesn't go off to an idyllic campus in the western Virginia mountains with the expectation that they'll have to deal with something like this, but they're not kids. In every society up until this one, they would have been considered adults, and many of them would have already been married (or not) and raising families. The notion that we should treat them like grade schoolers, for whom we are responsible for feeding, and heating them, is ludicrous. Yes, they're upset, but I'm pretty sure that they're still capable of feeding themselves, and finding a blanket, if shooting people somehow caused the heating systems on campus to break down. If I were one of them, I'd be insulted and appalled at this kind of stupid, stupid commentary.

    The infantilization and extended adolescence of our society continues apace.

    I couldn't agree more.

    posted by Eric at 11:38 AM | Comments (3)

    Public desecration of private perversions

    The debate over what should be allowed in private (and in public) always intrigues me, and while Clayton Cramer does not always reach the same conclusions that I do, he has a keen ability to raise challenging and logical questions, and spot issues like this:

    The entire liberal movement is based on the idea that what consenting adults do in private (at least if it involves sex) is fine.
    I consider myself more of a libertarian conservative than a liberal, and while I think it's a stretch to say the entire liberal movement is based on the above idea, it's certainly a good reminder of the distinction between liberalism and libertarianism.

    And hell, even if it isn't that, it's a reminder of why I'm not a liberal, because I don't think whatever consenting adults do is "fine." I share the "ick" reaction to a number of things, and I find the idea of things like being tied up and whipped in private or eating human excrement to be revolting, which is far from "fine."

    I also think cheating on spouses (whether formal "adultery" or not) is a profound betrayal of trust, and much worse than sado-masochism or coprophagy, and I'd put it in a moral category approaching theft. It betrays love, and does moral harm to all involved. But unlike theft, adultery is not a crime against society, because of the presence of consent. Consenting to "theft" nullifies the theft. If a store owner tells a would-be thief it's OK to take something and he does, the thief is not chargeable. However, the store owner might be cheating himself and harming his family by allowing the "theft," and I think that adultery would fall into that sort of category. The people concerned are those involved; not society.

    The communitarian view, of course, is that all of us are affected by all things that we do. Depending on the type of communitarian, this might include adultery as well as icky sex.

    Not being a communitarian means I'm not a liberal, and not a conventional social conservative. To the latter group, one must do more than refrain from (or disapprove of) things like promiscuity. One must believe that all morally disapproved things (whether done in private or not) damage an entity called "society," and must work against them. Sorry, but that's where (as I have explained previously) I part company with the social conservatives -- although I try to do so as respectfully as possible. I just can't see what people do in their bedrooms as concerning me in any way -- even in theory. Unless they are trying to drag me into it, it just doesn't concern me. If my next door neighbor does things in private with his wife (or with someone else), I don't want to know about it. It is not my business. That does not make it "fine." I don't even want to know what it is, and while it may be "fine," it may be gross and disgusting. Why would I want to know?

    Of course, if he's doing it in the front yard and it upset my dog Coco, that would be another matter.

    Another post by Cramer reminded me that liberals probably think Bible reading between consenting adults is worse than sex between consenting adults. But not Koran reading!


    What are the implications for those who desecrate?

    (I hate double standards.)

    MORE: Speaking of consenting in private, you can test your sexual orientation here. It seems like a pretty accurate test, although I don't see any particular need to disclose whether I took the test, much less the results if any.

    posted by Eric at 09:27 AM | Comments (1)

    A forgotten story of a good man

    I've just been reading the largely forgotten story of a black athlete named Devon Sherwood. He was also a student at Duke University -- that mostly white, prestigious place where "well-heeled, well-connected, well-publicized young men" always get off the hook.

    His crime was simply being black, being on the same Lacrosse team as the accused athletes, and believing his teammates (whom he knew) didn't do it.

    For that, he had to put up with the following:

  • "accusatory, anonymous e-mails," including one telling him to "rot in hell."
  • "threats of drive-by shootings"
  • "random e-mails saying I was letting down my race"
  • At least one blog post telling him that he was letting his "sisters suffer":
    You OWE all the hundreds of thousands of our forbearer whose backs YOU stand on, who suffered, worked, protested,marched, sat-in, bled, and died so that you could go to an institution who historically did not always admit African-Americans to be educated or play organized sports. YOU OWE THEM DEVON. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? HOW LONG WILL YOU SIT AND LET THESE SISTERS SUFFER?
  • All because he was a member of the Duke Lacrosse team and his skin was the wrong color.

    The latter was only a minor inconvenience for prosecutor Nifong, who quipped that he didn't know black people played Lacrosse:

    Originally, prosecutors had sought the arrests of all 47 members of the Duke team. However, it was revealed that one of the team's members, Devon Sherwood, was actually black.

    "We apologize to Mr. Sherwood and his family for any inconvenience," said Nifong. "We didn't know black people played Lacrosse."

    Well I guess that served Devon Sherwood right, didn't it?

    Apparently Nifong didn't know that people are innocent until proven guilty, either.

    Devon Sherwood is obviously a good and decent man, who turned out have to be right about his teammates. I admire his bravery in not caving to the mob and making up the stories the mob so badly wanted him to make up.

    I guess that's why he never got more attention.

    MORE: Commenter XWL points out that the greatest Lacrosse player of all time was Jim Brown. (I guess Nifong knows about as much about Lacrosse as he does about legal ethics.)

    posted by Eric at 05:00 PM | Comments (3)

    Accent on Imus a Democratic accident?

    I don't know whether the Clintons had anything to do with the decision to give Imus the axe, but if what Glenn Reynolds linked earlier is any indication, taking him down might have been might have been more than a little shortsighted:

    ...today, with Imus' career in tatters, the fate of the controversial shock jock is stirring quiet but heartfelt concern in an unlikely quarter: among Democratic politicians.

    That's because, over the years, Democrats such as Ford came to count on Imus for the kind of sympathetic treatment that Republicans got from Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.

    Equally important, Imus gave Democrats a pipeline to a crucial voting bloc that was perennially hard for them to reach: politically independent white men.

    With Imus' show canceled indefinitely because of his remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team, some Democratic strategists are worried about how to fill the void. For a national radio audience of white men, Democrats see few if any alternatives.

    "This is a real bind for Democrats," said Dan Gerstein, an advisor to one of Imus' favorite regulars, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). "Talk radio has become primarily the province of the right, and the blogosphere is largely the province of the left. If Imus loses his microphone, there aren't many other venues like it around."

    I'm not sure I agree with the characterization of the blogosphere as a "province" though -- much less a province of the left. Recent talk about a "speech code" notwithstanding, there are no rules, and anyone can write about anything. If there are more leftie blogs than rightie blogs or libertarian or independent blogs, I think that's probably because lefties don't have an established talk radio forum (especially since the demise of Air America). But that has little to do with Imus, who, regardless of what anyone thinks of him, did cater to a certain Democratic niche market.

    And now there's a vacuum:

    Jim Farrell, a former aide to 2000 presidential candidate and Imus regular Bill Bradley, said the firing "creates a vacuum."

    This week, when Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) was asked by CNN why he picked Imus' show to announce his presidential candidacy, Dodd explained: "He's got a huge audience; he gives you enough time to talk, not a 30-second sound bite, a chance to explain your views; ... and a chance to reach the audience who doesn't always watch the Sunday morning talk shows."

    Though Imus was a regular destination for the likes of Dodd, Ford, Lieberman, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry and others -- as well as such GOP figures as Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- his influence has long been debated.

    Talkers Magazine ranks him far below Limbaugh and liberal Ed Schultz in terms of power. His audience is dwarfed by many others, and he is not heard in some major markets [though his show was simulcast on cable TV]. One senior Democratic strategist, requesting anonymity to avoid insulting some of his party's power players, said the show was no more than a "locker room for middle-age politicians."

    Not all high-level Democrats were drawn to the self-styled "I-Man." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a party presidential front-runner and a frequent target of Imus' jokes, said she never had the desire to appear.

    No desire to appear? Is that all there is to it? Imus is known to have despised Hillary with a special passion (the subject of much discussion even before the latest flap), and I'm sure she's tickled pink that he's gone. (For now.)

    While I wish Hillary's desire not to appear wasn't limited to the Don Imus Show, next week she's appearing at Rutgers to beat on the corpse of Imus.

    I doubt she'll use the phony black accent, though. Not after this campaign ploy:


    I mean, it's not as if Hillary is in the entertainment business.

    Handy as it might be right now to have Imus as a punching bag (and regardless of whether his removal was a coincidence), I don't think the Hillary campaign will ultimately benefit from the loss of Imus as much as they might think. The emotion this might generate is temporary; it's not as if they're really in the heat of battle.

    If Hillary's campaign had been thinking longterm, and really knew how to intelligently pull strings, they'd have made Imus grovel, beg, and crawl, with an ultimate goal of forcing him into being one of Hillary's sincerest (and most grateful) campaign supporters.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I want it noted that I resisted the temptation to be mean-spirited and nasty, and I deliberately did not link Hillary's campaign image to her husband's postcard (which I think should be forgiven).

    But will the campaign thank me? I think not.

    UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and welcome all!

    UPDATE: Fred Lundgren (who has been in the radio business for decades) owns KCAA, 1050 AM, Loma Linda, California. While he doesn't sympathize with Imus's remarks, Lundgren says this is an overreaction, and refuses to do as the big networks tell him, so he's planning to run Imus reruns next week:

    "I hate to say it, but without Imus, we're pretty much toast," said Lundgren, adding: "What Imus did was deplorable, inexcusable, but it shouldn't end the career of a man who has done so much good. This is an overreaction beyond anything I've ever seen in radio."
    It's an overreaction that may date back to 1996....

    UPDATE: Clayton Cramer links an excellent column by black columnist Jason Whitlock:

    I don't listen or watch Imus' show regularly. Has he at any point glorified selling crack cocaine to black women? Has he celebrated black men shooting each other randomly? Has he suggested in any way that it's cool to be a baby-daddy rather than a husband and a parent? Does he tell his listeners that they're suckers for pursuing education and that they're selling out their race if they do?

    When Imus does any of that, call me and I'll get upset. Until then, he is what he is -- a washed-up shock jock who is very easy to ignore when you're not looking to be made a victim.

    No. We all know where the real battleground is. We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show. There's no money and lots of danger in that battle, so Jesse and Al are going to sit it out.

    The whole thing is very much worth the read.

    posted by Eric at 12:01 PM | Comments (10)

    The selective elimination of racial and sexual degradation?

    I'm always tempted to skip the stories when I pick up the morning paper and see yesterday's online news displayed in headlines, but reading today's Inquirer story -- "CBS fires Imus from radio Show" -- I found something new, in the form of this gem from Jesse Jackson

    No one should use the public airwaves to transmit racial or sexual degradation.
    Considering that Imus is already off the air, surely Jackson must be calling for a ban on the transmission of racial and sexual degradation like this:
    Can U Control Yo Hoe" - so asks the high priest of gangster rap, Snoop Dogg, on his CD R&G: (Rhythm and Gangsta): The Masterpiece.

    In "Housewife" on his CD 2001, Dr. Dre says, "Naw, 'hoe' is short for honey."

    Rapper Beanie Sigel says, "Watch Your Bitches" on his 2001 album The Reason.

    And 50 Cent commands: "Bitch choose with me" on his 2003 track "P.I.M.P."

    Just a light sampling of how gangster rappers, some black filmmakers, and comedians routinely reduce young black women to "stuff," "bitches" and "hoes."

    I mean, whatever else could Jackson be talking about?

    At the of sounding like a racist (no, seriously), I hate racial and sexual degradation like the above, but I wouldn't call for a ban, because I am 100% against censorship (or, for that matter, anything even resembling it). But if Jackson is calling for a ban on sexual and racial degrading music, he is not alone:

    Rap is incredibly offensive. There are very few rap songs that do not, in some form or another, mention sex, doing drugs, or even murder. The language is incredibly horrible, as a rap song (if censored) is nothing more than a long beep. Women are mentioned in a very derogatory fashion. Examples include calling them hoes and other terms that cannot be used in this paper. These writers make them out to be nothing more than objects of pleasure. This is a horrible thing and should not be allowed to continue.

    Rap is not only offensive, it is destructive. This is where the music industry has people fooled. They say that they are "just lyrics" or "just a good beat." What people don't realize is that rap promotes things. It promotes things such as gangs. It promotes things such as gang violence. Some lyrics talk about killing for the sake of gang protection, gang reputation, or just killing to kill. They promote things like gang initiations. These initiations have included some terrible things. Some of the worst include things like carjacking or killing innocent teenage girls and raping them. They also promote sex with prostitutes or other such "loose" women. They promote theft of cars or homes. I, for one, do not like the fact that people who listen to rap are being encouraged to get into a gang and kill people for the fun of it. I don't like the fact that rap encourages people to steal my things for fun. I do not understand why a ban on rap music has not been implemented. How can the promotion of these things not prove a compelling societal interest?

    As decent human beings, we have to realize that rap is dangerous, offensive, destructive filth and we must not put up with it. Society as a whole would be a better thing without it, and it would absolutely cut down on violence, rape, and gangs. would be remiss in allowing this abomination to continue. If you really care about 's crime levels, you will do something about it. If you really care about society as a whole, offensive material, or the good of mankind, you would do something about it. Please, call the closest governmental official, such as a congressman or representative and push for a ban on this horrible filth.

    Obviously, I don't agree. But at least that writer says what he thinks. Why can't Jesse Jackson do the same?

    The artists, promoters, producers and consumers of this music would probably agree with me that it should not be banned.

    Is not music (or in this case, what passes for it IMO) a matter of taste? I'd like to think so, but years ago I ran a nightclub, and when I balked at rap performances, I was told that my opposition to rap shows (and my personal dislike of rap music) was grounded in "racism."

    But as an attendee to hundreds of Grateful Dead shows over the years, I hardly ever saw a black deadhead. Trust me, they're rarer than black Confederates (and probably even rarer than rainbow Confederates....)

    I'm not the only one to have noticed:

    There's got to be a difference between bigotry and simple observation of demographics. To say that "Black people don't like the dead" is to assume that anyone who happens to be black will dislike the dead, while to say that in nearly twenty years of attending Dead shows in California I've only noticed a few black deadheads is just an honest observation of the crowds I've been in. That observation is not exclusive or judgemental, it's just noticing that fewer of us who happen to be black have been showing up at concerts over the years.
    Surely this was not because of racism, as the Dead never displayed even the slightest hint of that. The band included black guest musicians like Merle Saunders and Billy Cobham from time to time, performed benefits for black charities, and I think it's fair to characterize their politics as left of center (with a smattering of individualistic libertarianish anarchism) -- Ann Coulter's Deadhead status notwithstanding.

    All this means is that musical tastes vary. So how is it that not liking rap or hip hop can lead to accusations of racism?

    What are the implications in the context of Jesse Jackson's goal of eliminating racial and sexual degradation from the public airwaves?

    I can't be sure, but if I had to hazard a guess at what the new rule is, I'd say it's probably racist to love sexual and racial degradation, and racist to hate sexual and racial degradation.

    MORE: A woman of color called a ho "prostitute" on the air?

    And no "Imus-like groundswell of outrage"?

    Well, talk about use of the public airwaves to transmit racial or sexual degradation!

    Jesse Jackson, call your office!

    MORE: M. Simon has documented Hillary Clinton's rap fundraisers -- including one by a rapper known for his use of the n-word.

    Well at least it wasn't on the "public airwaves."

    And I'm sure Hillary plans to apologize....

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

    Hillary All Rapped Up

    This post at Classical Values got me to thinking about: what are the standards we should adhere to these days?

    Hillary Clinton had a fund raiser hosted by rapper Timbaland to wind up her March 31st Money grub. No wonder she blasted Imus.

    Translation: how are we to know at whom and when to be outraged?

    I want to know the rules.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 01:28 AM | Comments (4)

    Forgiving a little college racism

    According to Newsmax, Hillary Clinton blasted Don Imus as a bigot and a sexist. "Small-minded bigotry and coarse sexism" were her exact words.

    And via Glenn Reynolds I see that now she's milking the denunciation of Imus for all its worth by turning it into an integral part of her campaign.

    While Imus's remarks were in execrable taste and he deserves condemnation for them, by what logic do they become a campaign issue for Hillary Clinton? I know Imus is a Democrat, but has he announced?

    I'm concerned that there's a double standard where it comes to who gets a pass for these things. Conduct that would be condemned in Republicans is rarely condemned in Democrats, and the double standards coupled with the sickening moral sanctimony have become unbearable. (Which explains the attempts to transform Imus into a "conservative.")

    Ann Althouse and Don Surber (both linked by Glenn Reynolds earlier) have described the opportunistic sanctimony quite well -- better than I could right now.

    Frankly, I am so sick of partisan-based race sanctimony that wasn't going to write about it anymore today, but on top of all this, now there's Hillary's latest move -- appointing as her campaign co-chair a man who said "US English is to Hispanics as the Ku Klux Klan is to blacks."

    Sorry but it's too much by way of double standards to have to endure in one day.

    Which is why I have decided to mention something I wasn't going to mention -- and that's this postcard for sale on Ebay, sent by Bill Clinton to his grandmother in 1966.

    From the Item description:

    William J. Clinton, early, scarce and most extraordinary Autograph Letter Signed twice, "Wm. J. Clinton" and "Bill", one page, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, Washington, February 2, 1966 to his grandmother on the verso of a color postcard bearing a racist image of a black youth eagerly polishing a watermelon bearing the title "HOPE, ARKANSAS / HOME OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST WATERMELON". Clinton, then a graduate student at Georgetown, writes to his mother, "Dear Mammaw, Thought I would send you one of your cards just to prove I'm using them! My tests are over and I'm just startin ght second term. Hope you are well and happy. Say hello to Budlye Ollie - See you later - Love, Bill" At the top center, he writes his return address, hence adding the second signature "Wm. J. Clinton Box 289 GT, DC 20007" Addressed in his hand to "Mrs Edith Cassidy / Hope Nursing Home / Main Street / Hope, Arkansas" Below the address, Mrs. Cassidy has noted the date of receipt "Feb 3 1966" Stamped with a Washington, D. C., February 2, 1966 postmark at top center. A superbly ironic association piece revealing Clinton's roots and his sense of humor. In very fine condition. Housed in a lovely custom green-cloth slipcase bearing two black and white portraits of Clinton on flaps with green leather binding on the exterior with gilt titling on a ribbed spine.
    I won't post the image, because after all, it really is racist.

    But I am mentioning it and linking to it out of protest. I normally wouldn't, but I'm just plain overdosed on double standards, OK?

    It's not that I condemn Bill Clinton for sending this card to his grandmother (who apparently gave it to him). But what annoys me is the certain knowledge that had this same card been sent in the same year by any Republican presidential candidate, people would condemn him for it.

    So, to the extent I have the right to forgive, I think Bill Clinton's silly act of 1966 racism is eminently forgivable. What's harder to forgive, though, is the partisan obsession with race. I think it's becoming a form of national hysteria.

    MORE: It's probably worth noting that while Imus is an anti-Bush Democrat, he's also quite vociferously anti-Hillary.

    Coincidence, right?

    posted by Eric at 06:24 PM | Comments (3)

    "US English is to Hispanics as the Ku Klux Klan is to blacks."

    So said Raul Yzaguirre, the president of the National Council of La Raza until 2004.

    Considering the man's organization and its agenda, I guess no one should be surprised by what is (IMO anyway) a clearly racist statement.

    What is suprising is that someone who thinks that way would be appointed as co chair of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

    Frankly, I'm more than suprised. I'm amazed. I had honestly thought Hillary would continue to trying to persuade people that she's a moderate Democrat.

    Silly me.

    MORE: I thought I'd save readers a rebuttal of Mr. Yzaguirre's comparison. (Do I really need to point out that languages are incapable of lynching people?)

    posted by Eric at 05:00 PM | Comments (3)

    The hose of Babylon

    In an op-ed titled "Trash rap makes Imus possible -- Gangsta shock-jocks gave him the seal of approval. Why are so many blacks stone silent about degrading lyrics and their consequences?" Earl Ofari Hutchinson offers a cultural sampler of acceptable speech -- for blacks only:

    Can U Control Yo Hoe" - so asks the high priest of gangster rap, Snoop Dogg, on his CD R&G: (Rhythm and Gangsta): The Masterpiece.

    In "Housewife" on his CD 2001, Dr. Dre says, "Naw, 'hoe' is short for honey."

    Rapper Beanie Sigel says, "Watch Your Bitches" on his 2001 album The Reason.

    And 50 Cent commands: "Bitch choose with me" on his 2003 track "P.I.M.P."

    Just a light sampling of how gangster rappers, some black filmmakers, and comedians routinely reduce young black women to "stuff," "bitches" and "hoes."

    Bitch? I guess I'm now forced to ask whether the word "bitch" is more off-limits to white people than it is to black people. Except this makes no sense at all, for while it is insulting, "bitch" is a race-neutral word. "Whore" would also be a race-neutral word, unless (apparently) it is mispronounced.

    Statements like "I'm gonna buy a new hoe," or "I always turn on my hose first thing in the morning," could now be seen as racist and sexist by the language police. Imagine the consequences for innocent gardeners!

    Hutchinson concludes his well-reasoned piece by advocating the same standard for blacks and whites:

    The same standard of racial accountability must apply whether the racial and gender offender is an Imus or a 50 Cent. When it doesn't, that's a double standard, and that always translates into hypocrisy. Imus got his trash-talk pass yanked. Now let's yank it from blacks who do the same or worse.
    Not only are people forgetting the principle of "sticks and stones," but things have gotten to the point where almost anything can be taken as a racial insult -- including the use of the word "monkey" by way of an illustrative example in a dispute between scientists:
    When scientist Mandy Lin went for her annual performance review in 1997, she was anticipating a high five from her Rohm & Haas supervisor and a promotion.

    That year, she had made discoveries in her monomers research lab that she believed were groundbreaking. Indeed, they would lead to nine patents for a new way of making acrylics, and she was eager to be recognized.

    That's not what happened.

    "If a monkey makes a catalyst work," her supervisor asked, "should the monkey get a promotion?"

    Lin, who is Chinese, took the comment as a racial insult. She filed a discrimination claim, and two years later, Rohm & Haas paid her $100,000 in a settlement. She also resigned from the company.

    But the battle between researcher and chemical giant was far from over.

    It's dragged on for years. But the story warns employers about the dangers of "discrimatory remarks":
    For companies, remember: A discriminatory remark can reverberate for a long, long time.
    What I want to know is, since when is the word "monkey" a discriminatory remark against Asians? Because a particular litigant complained, we must all comply?

    What is this? Monkey see monkey do?

    Who gets to decide simian issues? Is it OK to say that the Republican Party is full of chimps ("Rechimplicans") but not to say the Democratic Party is full of monkeys?

    Or was that a discriminatory remark against Asians? Sorry, but I just don't get it. Well, at least I didn't say "SOoo SORRY!" or that might be taken as invoking the racist Charlie Chan stereotype.

    And God forbid that any white employer mention "Ho Chi Minh" in the presence of Asian females, lest they be accused of racism, sexism and red baiting.

    The inquiry is further complicated by the issue of what constitutes minority status.

    When, for example, is a black person "not black"? While this often comes up in the context of Barack Obama, I've noticed recently that certain baseball players, although they might appear to be black, really should not be considered black:

    [C.C.] Sabathia [Indians' starting pitcher, who appears to be a black Indian] called the lack of African Americans in baseball a "crisis" during spring training, adding: "I don't think people see the problem. They see players like Reyes and Delgado and assume they're black."

    He was referring to New York Mets infielders Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado.

    Reyes is from the Dominican Republic. Delgado is Puerto Rican.

    I'm not much of a baseball fan, but I was intrigued by this statement, so I decided to check out the appearances of the players to ascertain whether I'm "seeing the problem" or "making assumptions."


    I never thought I'd have to conduct an investigation into the racial backgrounds of baseball players, but here I go....

    The guy on the left is Jose Reyes, and on the guy on the right is Carlos Delgado:


    You know, at the risk of sounding like a wretched racist, I have to be honest and admit that I could have sworn that both of those men were black. Silly me. Now that I have been re-educated, I am supposed to understand that even though they look black, they're really not black, because they were apparently born in the wrong countries.


    While I can understand that activists might not consider them "African-Americans" in the political sense, I'm wondering why. They are of African descent, and they live in the United States now, right? Why, then, aren't they considered African-American?

    Is it the position of the word police that the Dominican Republic is not part of the Americas, and therefore not American? How about Puerto Rico? Is it not part of the territorial United States? It might not be a state, but Puerto Ricans vote in elections and pay taxes. Isn't that good enough? Or does the presence of Hispanic blood make these men something other than black? No, that can't be it, because many blacks are considered black despite non-Hispanic white blood.

    There are plenty of black immigrants from Africa living here too. Are they not to be considered African-American anymore?

    I can't make sense out of this, and I don't think anyone can.

    Perhaps that's the whole idea?

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Oh, I almost forgot about the title of this post. I wasn't trying to make light of serious things. Honest. I always try to take serious things seriously.

    It's just that I've been worried about the hose in my increasingly Babylonian garden.


    If I turn the hose on, no earthly power -- no matter how monstrous -- can stop me!

    (Hey, whatever it takes to turn the hose on, OK?)

    posted by Eric at 12:40 PM | Comments (2)

    Some New Bill Whittle

    Bill has some new posts up here and here on critical thinking.

    I'm just starting to read them myself. Bill is always excellent so go read them yourself.

    H/T Transterrestrial Musings

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

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

    What part of "free speech" do they not understand?

    As M. Simon's last post reminded me of my previous post rant about a "speech code" for the blogosphere, I thought a new post would be in order.

    In light of what is a recurrent trend of blaming -- then suing -- bloggers for the words of commenters, I find myself wondering whether the longterm goal here is eventual elimination of anonymous comments -- and possibly, the elimination of online anonymity itself.

    As Glenn Reynolds notes, federal law is for now on the side of bloggers:

    This statement in the demand letter suggests a lack of familiarity with federal law on the subject: "As the 'publisher' of your blog, you control, and are responsible for, the content appearing in it. References by persons posting to your blog to JL Kirk Associates as 'crooks' and its services as a 'scam' are equally false and defamatory as your own." If, as it seems to be, this is a reference to posts by blog commenters, it appears inconsistent with the Communications Decency Act's immunity provisions. Perhaps, however, I misunderstand the argument.
    I think Glenn is being charitable.

    The argument in the demand letter reflects the basis of the proposed blogosphere speech code:

    ....bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors....
    Anonymous comments (and, I think, anonymity in general) are under a two-pronged assault. I think the voluntary "speech codes" of the sort proferred by Tim O'Reilly are (in the overall context) a foot in the door for government regulation.

    Of course, regardless of what the courts or the legislature might say, there's also the First Amendment -- which had deep roots in anonymous speech. Considering the Federalist Papers, anonymous free speech was an integral part of the American founding -- and it remains both a tradition and an ongoing heritage.

    I can't help wonder whether the assault on anonymity is related to the fact that there's a growing list of taboo words and subjects with real consequences for violating them (such as being fired or sued). Couple this with an emerging generation of people so intimidated by "speech codes" that they find no other way to say what they really think unless they do so anonymously, the fact that they have to speak anonymously is hardly surprising.

    Thus, I think the hostility to anonymity (while it may masquerade as opposition to "incivility") reflects a growing intolerance of free speech in general.

    Fortunately, it's not as if we live in the European Union, where government censorship is a fact of life. Here, the First Amendment stands squarely in the way of any speech code bureaucracy.

    No wonder certain activists and law professors have been talking about abrogating the First Amendment.

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

    Employment Scams

    Kate Coble of Just Another Pretty Farce has written about her experiences with a "head hunter" company by the name of J. L. Kirk & Associates, or Kirk Associates, or JL Kirk, or JLK, or JLK-A, or sometimes just "Kirk". Bob Krumm came up with all those Kirk names in another delightful and witty post called Kirked.

    Beware of head hunters who make you pay a fee to sign on with them. Reputable companies pay the head hunters to do talent searches. A job seeker should never pay a fee to an employment agency or a head hunter.

    The comments at Just Another Pretty Farce include other tales of woe and a comment ostensibly from the "head hunter" at J. L. Kirk.

    Let me note that J. L. Kirk is suing Kate and her husband for the blog post.

    H/T Instapundit who is having a link fest with this whole episode. After you have looked at the above links go to Instapundit for more fun.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 03:24 AM | Comments (0)

    Revolutionary pustules

    I run into some of the damnedest things, and in a book which arrived in the mail today (Dali's The Tragic Myth of Millet's Angelus) I found this:


    Do not stupidly shrug your shoulders, those of my readers who consider the extraction of the blackheads in question a matter requiring little talent. Understand that this apparent ultra-prosaic cleaning is nothing other than the ultra-concrete personalization of that which is most vital and lyrical in contemporary scientific and artistic moral thought. Think, if not about this soft actuality, then about that super-gelatinous, nutritive modern style of compressibility about which Dali is speaking to you. Indefatigably, he is instructing you with the precise apparatus of the paranoiac-critical method in his hand every time the occasion presents itself.

    With words of encouragement like that, I began my search for appropriate artwork, and by some cosmic process I really can't explain, I soon found -- here -- a comedone which seemed to have burst forth from the hyper-paranoid imagination of Dali -- whether the authors knew it or not!


    Not only are the colors Dalinian, but if you look closely, you'll see that the "skin" is made from two very Dalinian crutches, pressing inward against the comedone. Normally, we think of crutches as aids, as devices used to support lame of injured people to keep them from falling. It would be just like Dali to use his famous crutches to hold in a comedone!

    No, seriously. In 1933, for example, ("The Enigma of William Tell") Dali even used one of his crutches to hold up Vladimir Lenin's elongated butt cheek:


    So why not a comedone?

    No, I am not making a moral comparison between Lenin and blackheads. The above painting got Dali in plenty of trouble as it offended Andre Breton and the Surrealists (who were mostly Marxists), and led to Dali being expelled from the group. He was accused of favoring Hitler, which was a preposterous charge, but a typical one for Marxists to make. (Anyone who attacks Lenin must love Hitler, right?)

    From Robert Descharnes' account of Dali's "trial":

    I saw Hitler as a masochist obsessed with the idee fixe of starting a war and losing it in heroic style. In a word, he was preparing for one of those actes gratuits which were then highly approved of by our group. My persistence in seeing the mystique of Hitler from a Surrealist point of view and my obstinacy in trying to endow the sadistic element in Surrealism with a religious meaning (both exacerbated by my method of paranoiac-critical analysis, which threatened to destroy automatism and its inherent narcissism) led to a number of wrangles and occasional rows with Breton and his friends. The latter, incidentally, began to waver between the boss and me in a way that alarmed him."

    In fact they had long gone beyond mere dispute. Contrary to Dali's wishes, the Surrealists remained devoted to Breton, their iron-fisted leader whose every order had to be obeyed. When required to appear before the group, Dali showed up with a thermometer in his mouth, claiming he felt ill. He was supposedly suffering from a bout of 'flu, and was well wrapped up in a pullover and scarf. While Breton reeled off his accusations, Dali kept checking his temperature. When it was his turn for a counter-attack, he began to remove his clothing article by article. To the accompaniment of this striptease, he read out an address he had composed previously, in which he urged his friends to understand that his obsession with Hitler was strictly paranoiac and at heart apolitical, and that he could not be a Nazi "because if Hitler were ever to conquer Europe, he would do away with hysterics of my kind, as had already happened in Germany, where they were treated as Entartete (degenerates). In any case, the effeminate and manifestly crackpot part I had cast Hitler in would suffice for the Nazis to damn me as an iconoclast. Similarly, my increased fanaticism, which had been heightened by Hitler's chasing Freud and Linste in out of Germany, showed that Hitler interested me purely as a locus tor my own mania and because he struck me as having an unequalled diaster value. " Was it his fault if he dreamt about Hitler or Millet's Angelus? When Dali came to the passage where he announced, "In my opinion, Hitler has four testicles and six foreskins," Breton shouted: "Are you going to keep getting on our nerves much longer with your Hitler!" And Dali, to general amusement, replied: "... if I dream tonight that you and I are making love, I shall paint our best positions in the greatest of detail first thing in the morning." Breton froze and, pipe clenched between his teeth, murmured angrily: "I wouldn't advise it, my friend." It was a confrontation that once again pointed up the two men's rivalry and power struggle. Which of them was going to come out on top?

    Following his confrontation, Dali was given a short-lived reprieve, but then notified of his expulsion. "Since Dali had repeatedly been guilty of counter-revolutionary activity involving the celebration of fascism under Hitler, the undersigned propose ... that he be considered a fascist element and excluded from the Surrealist movement and opposed with all possible means."

    Even today, Dali is criticized by leftists for disrespecting Lenin, and for insufficiently disrespecting Hitler.

    The irony is that Rockefeller crutches propped up the modernism which Dali was trying to undermine:

    After the war, Dali became the number one enemy of the North American art establishment thanks to his constant attacks on modernism. The irony is that Picasso, who belonged to the Communist Party, was loved by the American Art Establishment, while Dali, who had begun as a Communist sympathizer ended up expelled from the Surrealist Movement at the suspicion that he was a fascist sympathizer. The painter had painted "The Enigma of Hitler" in 1937 with a small print of Hitler's face on a dish with some beans. He explained that he wanted to understand the phenomena of fascism and besides, he had a dream that compel him to represent it.

    Most modern artists are progressive and have leftist leanings. By the 50's the Rockefeller forces and the artistic communist forces united against any art that said something because the anti-Stalinist American left did not want any representational art to back Soviet Stalinism. In one of history's greatest ironies the American left backed Rockefeller, one of the world's greatest capitalist and robber barons, in the establishment of modernism as THE only art, banishing any art that resembles classicism from the walls of established art circles, with the exception of pop art and photographic realism, which emphasize the glories of North American production and assembly line.

    The greater glories of understanding the mind were put aside by the American and world modernist establishment. Dali's work has been dismissed with the accusation that he was a fascist. But the real war was against his style of thought-provoking, mystical classical work and the science of painting to which Dali contributed to all his life. Modern critics never understood that Dali's use of the double, triple and quintuple image in his canvasses are not just "optical trickery" as they dismissed it for, they are important additions to the science of art.

    Here's an early example (from 1931) of a double image, Dali's "Le surrealisme au service de la revolution":


    (I didn't want to rotate it to the right, so you'll have to tilt your head to the left.)

    "Surrealism in the service of the revolution"?

    What if Dali meant it, and the Marxists didn't?

    What happens when modern is not modern, and revolution is not revolution?

    (The contents can be hard to express.)

    posted by Eric at 06:51 PM | Comments (1)

    Iraq War Fighting Strategy

    I want to focus here on the war in Iraq and the application of standard American military strategy to the fighting in Iraq. I want to do this based on the lessons learned from the Vietnam War. It seems to me the mistakes we are making in Iraq are similar to the mistakes we made in Vietnam as described in Col. Harry Summer's book On Strategy.

    Here is a list of the military principles from Field Manual 100-1, The Army.

    Economy of Force
    Unity of Command

    In subsequent posts I intend to cover one or more topics until I get to the end of the list. Since the Objective is the foundation for all the rest of the topics that will be covered in a post of its own.

    I present this list as a kind of warm up so you can get oriented to what is coming next.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 12:18 PM | Comments (3)

    Anti-Semitism in France

    I just received a very disturbing email (forwarded to me from a man who says it was forwarded to him by a friend in New York who said it came from "a Jew living in France") and I'll quote it in part:

    In Lyon , a car was rammed into a synagogue and set on fire. In Montpellier, the Jewish religious center was firebombed; so were synagogues in Strasbourg and Marseilles ; so was a Jewish school in Creteil - all recently. A Jewish sports club in Toulouse was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and on the statue of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris , the words "Dirty Jew" were painted. In Bondy, 15 men beat up members of a Jewish football team with sticks and metal bars. The bus that takes Jewish children to school in Aubervilliers has been attacked three times in the last 14 months. According to the Police, metropolitan Paris has seen 10 to 12 anti-Jewish incidents PER DAY in the past 30 days. Walls in Jewish neighborhoods have been defaced with slogans proclaiming "Jews to the gas chambers" and "Death to the Jews." A gunman opened fire on a kosher butcher's shop (and, of course, the butcher) in Toulouse , France ; a Jewish couple in their 20s were beaten up by five men in Villeurbanne , France. The woman was pregnant. A Jewish school was broken into and vandalized in Sarcelles , France .
    Trying to verify this, I Googled part of the text, and found that numerous websites are quoting the same email.

    Anyone who reads Nidra Poller at PJM or Politics Central (or at the Wall Street Journal, for that matter), knows that anti-Semitism in France is out of control, so I don't doubt that much of the email is accurate.

    From what I can see, the incidents described in the email appear to be true. While it would take me the better part of a day to track down all of them, I did manage to verify the fire at the school in Creteil:

    two separate arson attacks against Jewish community sites in the Parisian suburbs of Creteil and Goussainville.

    On Dec. 31, in the waning hours of 2001, vandals set fire to a classroom of the Jewish school Ozar HaTorah in Creteil.

    Days later, in perhaps the most serious episode, witnesses saw some thirty youths between the ages of 12 and 20 hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails at a Goussainville Jewish home that also serves as the local synagogue.

    For more than a year, French Jewish leaders have called on the government to confront the dramatic rise in anti-Semitic violence that began with the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.

    The attack on the sports club in Toulouse was reported by CNN.

    Interestingly, while verifying that the Dreyfus statue was defaced with "Dirty Jew" slogans (also true) I found this column by Jeff Jacoby, and the following two paragraphs:

    In Lyon, a car was rammed into a synagogue and set on fire. In Montpellier, the Jewish religious center was firebombed; so were synagogues in Strasbourg and Marseille; so was a Jewish school in Creteil. A Jewish sports club in Toulouse was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and on the statue of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, the words "Dirty Jew" were painted. In Bondy, 15 men beat up members of a Jewish football team with sticks and metal bars. The bus that takes Jewish children to school in Aubervilliers has been attacked three times in the last 14 months. According to the police, metropolitan Paris has seen 10 to 12 anti-Jewish incidents per day since Easter.

    Walls in Jewish neighborhoods have been defaced with slogans proclaiming "Jews to the gas chambers" and "Death to the Jews." The weekly journal Le Nouvel Observateur published an appalling libel: It said Israeli soldiers rape Palestinian women, so that their relatives will kill them to preserve "family honor." The French ambassador to Great Britain was not sacked -- and did not apologize -- when it was learned that he had told guests at a London dinner that the world's troubles were the fault of "that shitty little country, Israel."

    I used italics to emphasize that these words are identical to those in the email which purports to come from someone in France. (Except "per day since Easter" was changed to read "PER DAY in the past 30 days.")

    Thus, my attempt to verify the email has revealed that it was plagiarized from Jeff Jacoby.

    The events described ought to horrify everyone.

    However, I don't think plagiarizing an accurate version of events this way is helpful. That's because the Islamists and their fellow travelers love nothing more than to seize on things like this and then claim to have "debunked" an account which is in fact shockingly true.

    I wish people would stop doing stuff like this, as I was almost fooled by the email, and only discovered it was plagiarized because I believe in verifying things before I write posts about them.

    The real issue is that the situation in France is absolutely appalling.

    (There should be no need to plagiarize anyone's column to prove it.)

    MORE: Of course, if someone as prominent as Katie Couric commits plagiarism, , is it really fair to blame a nameless email writer for doing the same thing?

    Interestingly, Glenn Reynolds notes that "Katie didn't plagiarize, because the piece that appeared under her name was actually written by someone else, not her!"

    Now I'm really confused.

    posted by Eric at 11:49 AM | Comments (6)

    Promoting the condemnation of the condom nation?

    In a post titled "What constitutes homophobia?," Clayton Cramer links to a post by Second Amendment blogger Progun Progessive, who is indignant over Cramer's link to an explicit "safe sex" flyer which has been faithfully reproduced and criticized at the anti-gay "Americans for Truth" website.

    Oh, yes, the flyer has lots of shock value -- for those who are shocked by graphic details about things like rimming and anal sex. It failed to shock me, because I learned about those things decades ago, I know that they go on, and I know that there are different ways of doing them.

    AFT has graphically reproduced the flyer in full color, and it's easy to follow the links to it; the main reason I am not linking it is that I grew a little tired of this "sexploitation" stuff back when Jerry Falwell used to market "shocking" videos of homos frolicking at gay parades.

    Cramer says he was taken to task for "linking to a homophobic website," but he argues that all the website did was accurately reproduce the flyer:

    Now, if Americans for Truth had selectively reproduced that flyer, or misrepresented its contents, there might be a basis to be upset about it. But they reproduced the entire flyer--and the contents of it--especially the gross and unhygenic parts--well, I've been seeing gay sex flyers like at college campuses in the Bay Area (often reproduced with my tax dollrs) for decades now.

    If Progun Progressive doesn't want people to see stuff like this that makes homosexual men look like sickos, perhaps instead of attacking me and Americans for Truth for reproducing the flyer, he should be talking to gay men who think that this is appropriate behavior to be encouraging.

    Regardless of who likes it, is shocked by it, or feels unfairly stereotyped or stigmatized by it, the flyer is part of what we call free speech, and there is no way to stop anyone from distributing it at a public event.

    The argument over the leaflet involves a classic conflict over audiences; one intended, one not. Now that everyone is online, there's a lot of this going on, and I think it's fair topic to address. The AFT site thinks that homosexual behavior should be discouraged, not encouraged, and attacks the leaflet for that reason, also because it was apparently designed for teens. Doubtless the leaflet's designer (the Howard Brown medical clinic) had in mind people already engaged in that sort of behavior, and not the anti-gay "Americans for Truth." Now that there is free public access to anything that exists (limited only by the millions of imaginations with access to the Internet) there is no way to stop this leaflet or any other leaflet from being disseminated worldwide. Whether the AFT likes it or not, they're doing the lion's share of the promotion here; not the Howard Brown center.

    I love the irony of promotion through condemnation, and it's not new topic here.

    But on a personal level there's a further irony -- the inner complexities of which are beyond the grasp of my limited ability to psychoanalyze myself. Why am I not linking to the AFT, and the leaflet? Certainly, it is not because I refuse to link "homophobic" sites. (The word is in quotes because I think it's nonsense.) I like to think it's because I am trying to avoid the type of "sexploitation" that irritates me, but on the other hand, if my theory is correct (that AFT is unwitttingly doing the promotion for the Howard Brown Center), then I should link it with pleasure, or else stand accused of failing to promote and encourage homosexual behavior!

    As I see it, I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. So the easy way out is to do nothing and not link AFT's rimming leaflet reproduction. (Did I word that accurately? It doesn't look, um, "normal." Should I have said "reproduction of the rimming leaflet"? Or am I calling attention to the reproduction of rimming either way?)

    By not linking, I can always say I didn't do anything, and go into full passive aggressive mode if attacked. (Even that sounds a bit sick. In the head I mean. No, maybe not....)

    Or is that bad self-analysis? See why I hate getting into personal stuff? It's a no win.

    But personal issues are what prompted this post, so I might as well stay with that topic, hopefully without getting really personal. (After all, I wouldn't want to horrify my readers, would I?) The thing is, over the years I've seen that incivility is the result when people feel personally attacked, and obviously Progun Progressive does. What he forgets is that the leaflet is as much free speech as the website attacking it, and, reading the comments, I'm pretty sure he thinks Cramer is (by his discussion of homosexuality in comments and emails) pointing accusatory fingers at him and his (lesbian) sister.

    I've found that it's tough to reach a point where disagreements like this are not taken personally, because (as I've argued I don't know how many times) they seem inherently personal. It's easier for me to defend things in theory, but I can remember a time when I did not like the feeling of being accused (by people who didn't know me at all) of actually eating feces or molesting children, and I'd get a little hot under the collar. Now I tend to see an accusation like that as reflecting more on the accuser, who after all knows nothing about me, and I might ask him how he'd like it if I resorted to speculations about his personal life. Then again, I might not. Might be better to leave it.

    Why any human would care what another human does with his genitalia never ceases to amaze me.

    But there's the undeniable "ick" factor at work (at play?) here.

    Cramer concluded by saying this:

    If you don't want people to go "ick" when you distribute flyers about "rimming," don't distribute flyers about it.
    That's fair enough. However, I think this argument could also be made (about what I'm almost tempted to call the "Howard Brown/AFT Leaflet"):
    "If you don't want people to go "ick" when you distribute flyers about "rimming," then you should distribute as many flyers as possible about it."
    The "ick" factor is based on shock value, and whether people are shocked is not necessarily related to whether they are sexually turned on or off. The fact is, most people will never be turned on by "rimming." But the "ick" factor is not dependent solely upon whether things under discussion turn them on. The more things are discussed, the less bothered people are by the discussion. And I think that the more people like AFT scream, get upset, and carry on, the less interested ordinary people become. Sure, the gay activists will continue to be infuriated by AFT. But ordinary people just aren't into spending their time getting upset about gay sex practices, and I think that attempts to make them upset can very well cause fewer -- not more -- people to care.

    As it is, I barely care. But I cared enough to write this blog post, because I think Clayton Cramer is a good guy, and I was sorry to see him attacked by Progun Progressive, even though I completely understand why he was attacked. It has the elements of tragedy -- especially the apparent hopelessness of such disagreements. There was a time in my life when I would have reacted just as Progun Progressive is reacting. And now, even though I don't agree with Cramer's views on homosexuality, I have tried to develop a larger understanding of the meaning and importance of free speech, especially the importance of being able to disagree on personal issues without personal acrimony.

    Not that blogging about it will fix it, but then, blogging about the Philadelphia Inquirer's gun control policies hasn't fixed that either, and I doubt that it ever will.

    (Sorry to change the subject a bit, but it struck me that the gun issue was at least peripherally involved.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: It occurs to me that the recent calls for a blogosphere "speech code" will only hinder civility in cases like this, because people will fear saying what they think lest they run afoul of the code. But I guess that's also another topic.

    posted by Eric at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

    "Just say know"

    Here's a fairly good drug film which doesn't get hung up on discouraging or promoting opiates.

    As Glenn Reynolds's post reminded me, in the future drugs will become electronic.

    And how could they make that illegal?

    posted by Eric at 07:52 PM | Comments (1)

    "Speech code" for the blogosphere? Tell me they're just kidding!

    While I don't think it smacks of censorship because there's no government action, I don't like the communitarian trend of promoting the idea that bloggers are responsible for what commenters say:

    The preliminary recommendations posted by Mr. Wales and Mr. O'Reilly are based in part on a code developed by BlogHer, a network for women designed to give them blogging tools and to guide readers to their pages.

    "Any community that does not make it clear what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who is welcome to join the conversation is at risk of finding it difficult to help guide the conversation later," said Lisa Stone, who created the guidelines and the BlogHer network in 2006 with Elisa Camahort and Jory Des Jardins.

    A subtext of both sets of rules is that bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors. They say that bloggers should also have the right to delete such comments if they find them profane or abusive.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    bloggers are responsible for comments left by visitors?

    No way am I responsible for anyone's comment but my own. As I have pointed out repeatedly, while no one has any right to say anything here, that does not obligate me to read, respond, or delete. I'm regularly insulted (this recent example is a classic), and I've gotten some horrendously offensive comments too; my general approach in dealing with speech I don't like is to leave it there as a legacy -- like these comments. In logic, the existence of a comment means simply that someone said that.

    Unless I feel like it, I will never turn off anonymous comments, and any attempt to make me turn them off will only make me dig in my heels. I say this not to be a contrarian, but to uphold what I consider a basic principle of blogging, which is that there be no restrictions on free speech. Not even on bad speech. Or "offensive" speech.

    I admit it's a bit paradoxical, but I think insulting, ad hominem remarks, and even hateful or bigoted remarks constitute evidence of the following:

  • some people think that way; and
  • they are afraid to say what they think in an open manner.
  • Regardless of whether I get into a debate (or the "conversation" the Times characterizes these comments as being), it is entirely legitimate for me to want to know what people think, and a comment is evidence that at least someone thinks something. One comment might not mean much, but ten comments might. And if I disallowed anonymous comments, I'm absolutely certain that I would not hear from the intimidated minority. Whether they're shy or angry, they are out there, and (for me at least) it would be a disservice to free speech to block them. If something is ridiculous or illogical on its face, I might not think it's worth addressing, but if there's a legitimate criticism or disagreement, I don't care whether the source is anonymous. If OTOH, the argument is illegitimate or dishonest, its anonymity merely reflects poorly upon it, and tends to make it self-canceling. Fine either way to leave it there. Even "sock puppets" can reveal a lot, and can be valuable in evaluating (or undermining) credibility.

    So (as the saying goes) anonymous bad speech sometimes calls for more speech, and other times it just sits there as a shining example of stupidity, ignorance, bad logic, or dishonesty.

    What is wrong with that? An argument can be made that even the most outrageous and insulting or hateful speech should be freely allowed. But how dare anyone tell me that I must not allow it or that I am responsible for what I did not say?

    The anonymous comment feature provides an invaluable way to catch a glimpse of something in the human spirit which for me is vital to understanding how people think, and why they think what they do. Anonymous commenters often say things that they would not dare say publicly, and they provide a helpful barometer of what it is that people who normally feel censored dare not say. Even when an anonymous commenter annoys the hell out of me (as many have), there's always a reason why that person is afraid to say who he is, and that reason is often more important than the comment itself.

    This blog is about the Culture War, damn it! If free speech isn't allowed here, then where will it be allowed?

    I think it's worth asking why it is that this regulatory call (couched in the language of "civility") came only after Ann Althouse (herself the subject of huge amounts of abusive excoriation) was accused of mounting a "harassment" campaign.

    Was it simply because a respected blogger in the public limelight was recently threatened? While there's no question that the death threats against Kathy Sierra are despicable (astoundingly horrid, even), why wasn't this speech code advocated after the threats made to Jeff Goldstein's two year old son?

    I couldn't agree more with Ann Althouse on the manner in which the Kathy Sierra story is being manipulated:

    I hope people wake up and notice how the Kathy Sierra story is being leveraged (something I talked about here). A woman received real threats of violence. Those threats are criminal, and Sierra's case is being handled by the police, as well it should be. Nasty, cruel, ugly, unfair, mocking, abusive speech is a completely different matter. Anyone who blends the two subjects is selling out free speech and should be called on it right away. This repressive movement is gaining momentum. Be alarmed now, before it digs in any further.
    I think the Kathy Sierra business is worthy of closer examination because I think something might be getting overlooked. What happened was that someone using an ISP in Madrid, Spain (according to the IP number of left an anonymous comment threatening the life of a woman who had a high enough profile that her complaints would be taken seriously.

    Anonymous commenter? Well, yes.

    But aren't they forgetting that anyone -- anyone --can leave an anonymous comment? Anyone means even (and especially) a professional operative. It's the easiest thing in the world to go into some Internet cafe, pay cash, and deliberately leave a contrived bombshell which poses as an ordinary comment. It could happen any time to this blog, and it would not be my fault at all. I might not even notice it until someone brought it to my attention. Obviously, I would cooperate with the authorities if there was a death threat or a criminal solicitation or something like that, but how is that an argument for turning off comments? And what does it mean to argue that I am "responsible"?

    Back to the Times:

    Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.
    First of all, the stated "community guidelines" displayed at the BlogHer site (from which the proposal to ban anonymous comments is supposedly listed) do not ban anonymous comments.

    Second, what in the world does it mean to say that I should "be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship"? I am able to delete any comment I want, or turn them all off. If someone accused me of "censorship," I would not take that as a serious criticism, for I am not the government, and it is not legally censorship. Sure, they might not like it, just as the Pandagon people did not like it when La Shawn Barber blocked comments from them. Is the new "code" suggesting that there should be no right to criticize a blogger by accusing him of censorship?


    The more I look at this proposal, the more I'm inclined to think that the goal is to protect certain sensitive people from having to see things that make them uncomfortable. While it's hard to take any of this seriously, I'm wondering whether the blogosphere speech code proposal might be driven at least in part by a mentality that's already been conditioned to accept restrictions on speech. I suspect that many of the supporters attended colleges and universities governed by the type of "speech codes" I discussed in a post last year:

    While I'm too old to have experienced things like "hate speech codes" in the university setting, a younger person told me that it's been a big deal in many universities for years. There are things like "review boards" dedicated to hearing "charges" involving allegedly "hateful" remarks, and allegedly "offensive" remarks made between students. Students know that "offensiveness" is taken very seriously, and they are intimidated.

    I think that's fear, by any definition.

    The images of Muhammad, I was told, would be deemed "offensive" by virtually any university with rules against hateful or offensive speech.

    Now, I realize that this does not constitute censorship in the legal sense, because the government is not involved. But it was the contention of this former student that an entire generation of today's intellectuals had their psyches shaped by such intimidation. They were, simply, trained to kowtow to it the way a soldier is conditioned to salute an officer. Almost by instinct.

    Might that be it? People who are used to speech codes like speech codes?


    I guess if you're indoctrinated and trained to do something, doing it (or accepting it) tends to become second nature.

    Of course, I grew up in the 60s and 70s. While there were a lot of people on the left, they still believed in free speech -- even free speech taken to extremes. I saw lots of people shouted down by people who disagreed with them, and no one in those days would have thought of having speech codes. Later, though, many of the leftists who had once shouted down their opponents grew up and took charge of the universities, only to impose speech codes which would have been unthinkable had they been imposed on them at the same age. But I guess imposing an official speech code is easier than shouting people down. (Especially if the former can be imposed on the pretext of "civility.")

    In the context of manners, civility is fine.

    In the context of free speech, I think it's a false flag.

    The moral duty to be polite has nothing to do with the right to be rude. I'll try to uphold the right to be rude in as polite a manner as I can.

    But I don't have to be polite. Besides, aren't there a lot of people who think it's rude to disagree? And what about those who see disagreement as discrimination?

    MORE: Pajamas Media reminded me of something:

    Sensible Instapundit opines that what's being sought here is "more like a commenter code of conduct."
    Hey, I must be years ahead of the learning curve, because it was in 2004 that I set forth "The Classical Values Eleven Rules of Etiquette for Commenters."

    To those who say my rules are unduly restrictive, remember: if we could save just one vitreolic commenter....

    Gerard van der Leun has a great post titled "No Stinking Badges."I really have to think that O'Reilly is into the whole "civility button" business purely to improve his own scent. All bloggers already have two buttons, the edit button and the delete button. That's all we need to crush dissent within our tiny little realms. Anything else just glorifies Emperor O'Reilly and he's already lording it over wage slaves daily. I don't see why I should join up. Unless he's going to pay me.

    UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Frank J. is yawning about comments:

    There's a New York Times article on making a blogger code of conduct. Most of it seems to be aimed towards regulating comments (I didn't actually read the article; that's why I peruse blogs: they summarize what I don't have the attention span to read myself). Apparently, blog comments have gotten so vicious now that some non-conservative chick has been the target of their venom that it's time to regulate things.

    I think I speak for everyone at IMAO when I say, "Yawn."

    And Frank has rules! (I think all serious commenters should take them as deadly seriously as they take themselves.)

    My rules may be different from Frank's but it's hard to disagree with his yawn.

    MORE: I see that this O'Reilly guy actually created badges to label blogs:


    While I'd like to hope he's kidding, the ability of some people to take themselves seriously never ceases to amaze me.

    I'm tempted to ask just who does this Tim O'Reilly thinks he is, but that might be seen as argumentative, even as incivility. Likewise, if I compared his attitude to that of James Dobson, I might annoy the fans of both.

    So I'll just remain polite!

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds' link to Cory Doctorow, O'Reilly's nutty ideas are dissected in full here.

    Sorry, but much as I'd like to laugh this off, it's not easy. Besides, people who take themselves too seriously don't like being laughed at.

    Especially when they're promoting "speech codes."

    THE LAST WORD: After much soul-searching, I have decided that the time has come for me to take myself as seriously as Tim O'Reilly is taking himself.

    I therefore hereby officially reannounce, republish, reinstate, and repromulgate The Classical Values Eleven Rules of Etiquette for Commenters (which are listed below in the order that they are repromulgated).

    It pains me to have to do this, but what pains me more is that duty requires me to proclaim that from now on, all other blogs must follow my rules.

    And I mean starting now.

    You have all been told. Now do as I say!

    MORE: Dave Winer (hardly a stranger to the topic) thinks Tim O'Reilly is "the biggest bully on the block" and finds irony in his call for a speech code:

    I was bullied a bit when I was a kid, but then I shot up and the bullies mostly left me alone and picked on smaller kids. I couldn't help but identify with them, and I felt bad that I didn't put myself between the bully and the kids they tormented. And I have definitely been pushed around in the blogosphere, and as I mentioned earlier, the biggest bully on my blog block is Tim O. So I find it pretty ironic that he's the one calling for civility.
    Winer asks questions about O'Reilly's childhood, and I'm not sure I want to go there.

    All I want to know is why the man has taken it upon himself to try to tell me what to do.

    Imagine the outcry if a moralist like Pat Robertson (or a candidate like, say, Hillary Clinton) had called for a blogosphere speech code....

    Continue reading ""Speech code" for the blogosphere? Tell me they're just kidding!"

    posted by Eric at 09:44 AM | Comments (4)

    The statistics behind the "gun violence"

    While I don't want to write yet another long screed attempting to debate the undebatable issue of gun control, I find myself unable to ignore a couple of quotes from today's Philadelphia Inquirer, because they touch on something so often left out of the debate that I think it's become a journalistic taboo.

    Criminals cause crime.

    And the overwhelming majority of shooters are career criminals.

    From a piece titled "Profiling the city's gun violence":

    Almost 85 percent of shooters and victims have criminal records.

    And from a opinion letter from the City's Chief of Detectives, titled "Put the blame where it lies: The killers":

    Time after time these budding killers are arrested with guns, only to be returned to the streets with a slap on the wrist. Is it any wonder we have trouble getting witnesses to speak up? Instead of holding vigils at murder scenes, groups like Men United for a Better Philadelphia and Mothers in Charge should throw a ring around the Criminal In-Justice Center and demand that our judges hold the criminals accountable.

    More than 80 percent of Philadelphia's cold-blooded killers have criminal records. Most of those records are lengthy, many for violent crimes. Every one of those arrests represents an opportunity to send a clear message, before they take another life.

    Joseph Fox

    Chief of Detectives

    Philadelphia Police Department

    (Emphasis added.)

    Frankly, I'm amazed that Detective Fox would be allowed to say such a thing, going as it does against the prevailing meme that guns somehow turn innocent people into criminals. The fact is, it takes courage today for a senior police official to acknowledge the simple reality that criminals are the cause of crime and that criminals shoot each other. While he may have been remarking the obvious, people in public positions are not supposed to remark the obvious, and he should be congratulated. (I certainly hope he is not disciplined.)

    While the 80 to 85 percent statistic shouldn't come as news to anyone, it probably will, because it's not something people normally read.

    Why is this downplayed? Is it just because the goal is to make the criminals look like victims of guns because the Inquirer (and other news media) are in favor of gun control?

    I think it's more complicated than that, and it has to do with preventing law-abiding citizens from realizing that the overall statistics used by countless anti-gun groups are hopelessly warped and contaminated for the following reason:

    They deliberately lump criminals in with law abiding citizens, first in order to first frighten and scold the law abiding, and second to promote "egalitarian" gun control policies based on the assumption that criminal statistics apply to non-criminals.

    That's a mouthful, so let me offer a typical example. In the oft-touted (but discredited) Kellerman study, the authors maintained that "a gun" in "the home" is much more likely to be used to kill in an illegal and offensive manner than in legal self defense. What is a gun in the home? Didn't the Philadelphia shooters all have guns in their homes? Yes, but 80 to 85 percent of them were not allowed to have those guns in their homes because of their criminal convictions.

    The point is, these people are already gun criminals, regardless of the shootings. To lump them in with law-abiding households is extremely misleading -- especially in studies promoting gun control. Gun control is a completely moot issue to criminals already committing a gun crime by having an illegal gun.

    Rather than correct the studies and statistics to reflect the reality of law-abiding households with legal guns, it is in the interest of gun control advocates to statistically attribute criminal conduct to non-criminals.

    That, I think, is the main reason for downplaying the 80 to 85 percent figure.

    Of course, if the longterm goal is to transform all law-abiding citizens into criminals by passing draconian gun control laws, the anti-gun statisticians who lump everybody together probably don't see any moral contradiction in what they're doing.

    After all, if you believe all guns are immoral, there is no moral distinction between criminal gun owners and law-abiding gun owners, and the legal distinction should be eradicated.

    Statistics are being used to manipulate law-abiding gun owners (and everyone else) into thinking that they are immoral too. I think it's a communitarian form of guilt by association, as well as manufactured morality. (All gun owners are guilty, because criminals misuse guns! And law-abiding gun owners promote "the gun culture" and set a bad example -- for innocent criminals who don't know any better! Legal gun ownership is thus a loophole which allows gun-owning hypocrites to enable their immoral behavior.)

    I still can't figure why so many people fall for it.

    UPDATE (04/12/07): My thanks to Clayton Cramer for the link!

    (Interesting point about civil service protection....)

    posted by Eric at 08:10 AM | Comments (3)

    Don't be clowning with Iran

    According to this poll, most Europeans think Iran must be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons -- by military means!

    In response to the statement, "We must stop countries like Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, even if that means taking military action", 52 percent of Europeans agreed, 40 percent disagreed and 8 percent stated they were undecided.
    What that means is that Glenn Reynolds is (because of his previous statements) looking positively European.

    Paul Campos, call your office!


    It may be time to stop clowning around!

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

    Protecting adults from invasions

    Glenn Reynolds links a TCS column by Derek Hunter -- "Liberals and Conservatives Catch the Regulatory Bug" After discussing the advocacy of so-called "Net Neutrality" by the left (a misleading concept I oppose), Hunter turns to the right:

    The regulation bug isn't limited to liberals, as some conservative groups would like to control what children, and by extension everyone else, are able to see on television.

    There is no doubt television of today is not The Cosby Show of days gone by. Racier shows dealing with sex, sexuality, and violence often bring in bigger ratings than most other shows, which is why there are more of them than "family friendly" programming. That is the market at work.

    But those same market forces have spawned several family friendly cable networks and the broadcast networks relegate more adult themes to non-family shows or other channels altogether. Choices are out there for parents concerned about what their children watch.

    Also, there is the V-Chip, a device installed in every television now sold that can, upon a parent's wish, block shows they deem inappropriate. All shows on network television are now subject to a ratings system, which aids the V-Chip in knowing which shows to block based upon content.

    But that's not enough for some; they want the government to regulate show content so there isn't the possibility of something they disapprove of being seen by their children.

    Actually, I have to disagree just a little bit with that characterization, because I think that children are more the ostensible issue than they are the real issue. While it's true that activist anti "pornography" groups often mention children, that's mainly because protecting children draws a much larger cross section of support. There is no mistake that the goal of these activists is much broader than merely protecting children.

    I think that last sentence should read:

    ....they want the government to regulate show content so there isn't the possibility of something they disapprove of being seen by anyone.
    It should also be noted that by no means are all of these people on the right. Many can be found on the left, especially the feminist left.

    Anyone remember McKinnon and Dworkin?

    I'm not even sure that it is accurate to describe the regulatory campaign an "anti-pornography movement" -- which is why I tend to put the word in quotes. As I've explained before, the goal in some circles is to go after that which is deemed "sexually explicit" -- which could mean almost anything -- including the mere mention of penises and vaginas.

    It's all so illogical, and it reminds me of the people who used to complain that Howard Stern was "invading" their homes. But no sooner did he move to satellite radio than there was a push to regulate satellite radio. Does that mean people are paying to be "invaded"?

    I think the goal here is to lower us all to the standard of children, and treat us all like children.

    That this is being done in the name of protecting children should surprise no one.

    posted by Eric at 08:41 PM | Comments (2)

    The topological abduction of my unfinished post!
    ("The Shape of things to come?")

    Because of a technical error compounded by the blog's software design, a few incomplete unpublished posts were accidentally published earlier.

    My apologies to anyone who might have been confused. One of the posts -- a long one about the topological abduction of Europe -- was especially incoherent, as I was engaged in creative writing, and it might never have been finished -- like the hundreds of unpublished posts which have accumulated over the years.

    All who might have read the post about the topological abduction of Europe and tried to make sense of it, please be warned that it did not make sense to me yet, and might not have ever made sense. That's why I never published it, and never intended anyone to see it. Please strike that post from your mind! I refuse to accept responsibility for spontaneously written unfinished and unpublished thoughts.

    Unless and until the post is published, I must therefore retract what I never said, but which might nonetheless have been seen.

    Please, all who saw, erase from your minds what your eyes saw.

    The irony here is that this dealt with an issue which, though I try to understand it, evades my ability to be logical, and that is the conversion of states -- especially understanding how Salvador Dali might have seen it:

    From art as a mathematical structure said the Swiss Max Bill, where he was expressing how it was possible using a mathematical framework to develop art in far-reaching ways and to connect nature and art in mathematics.


    In 1972, a book appeared written by the French mathematician René Thom, Stability and Morphogenesis. Thom investigated in his book the mathematical relationships which describe the sudden conversion of one state into another state, for instance, when water suddenly freezes to ice or when water evaporates. René Thom describes the conversion through mathematical equations that may be represented as surfaces. One he calls, for example, Swallowtail, and another Butterfly. Thom's book is filled with an abundance of interesting pictures. Thom, with his investigated state conversions, coined the term "catastrophe," catastrophe elementaire, etc. The phrase "Catastrophe Theory" from Thom's book circulated through the media like a released seismic wave. Thom was not very pleased about that since his "catastrophes" had little to do with our "everyday catastrophes."

    Dalí loved Thom's book; again and again he had it read to him. (There is Dalí in the photograph with the Spanish poet García Lorca.) Dalí painted then only Thom's pictures. One of his last ones had the title Topological Separation of Europe, in homage to René Thom, where underneath are the mathematical formulas for the Swallowtail, mathematical abstractions in Dalí's artistic world. (Emphasis added.)

    I've discussed both of the last two paintings in a previous post, but only very superficially. Naturally, my trip to Barcelona and the area where Dali lived near the French border heightened my interest in the subject, especially because in his last years, Dali became paranoically obsessed with his hallucinations about what he saw as the catastrophic future of Europe. My goal is to explore the possibility that Dali might have been onto something.

    I don't even know whether I'm up to the job, because analyzing the last hallucinations of Dali is an exercise in defiance of logic touching on Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail, Nazi excavations, the European Union, and Catalonian independence.

    Let's start with the fact that a cup is like a donut. Artists are of course fascinated by shapes, and if we return to Max Bill's thoughts about art as a mathematical structure, and the possibility of using a mathematical framework to develop art in far-reaching ways and to connect nature and art in mathematics, why, the fact that a cup is like a donut is of primary importance. In the Wikipedia entry on topology, this image appears:


    It is at once art and math.

    Back to Dali's notion that some kind of catastrophe would befall Europe. Bearing in mind that the man was not in his right mind, despite his deteriorating nervous system, and a hand so shaky that much of the time he couldn't sign his name, he was able to paint this -- "The Topological Abduction of Europe."


    But what does it mean?

    Dali was convinced that the catastrophe -- the abduction, if you will -- would arise in a couple of places in the Catalonian Spain/France border area. He believed Perpignan, France, was the center of Europe and the world (and as it happens, on the outskirts of Perpignan is the ancient and abandoned town of Perillos.)

    The painting was dismissed by critics as paranoid nonsense, but a group called Societe Perillos has taken it very seriously:

    The enigmatic statement of Dali came to the attention of Roger Michel Erasmy, who began to explore Dali's strange world of hallucinations - an area where few had dared to go. Dali's perception as a madman was augmented in 1984, when he apparently tried to commit suicide by setting his bed on fire. But all events surrounding Dali's visions occurred before - and might have, together with the love for his dead wife, have contributed to an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

    The theme of an enveloping catastrophe came to the forefront. There is the enigmatic "catastrophic writing", written in a booklet on September 16, 1982, while he was at his castle Pubol.

    His final "prophetic testament" was dictated to Antonio Pixtot, his most if perhaps only trusted ally at the time, on October 31, 1983. It contained catastrophic revelations, centred around four hallucinations Dali had experienced, apparently after the death of Gala, at the end of 1982.

    In these hallucinations, the French mathematician René Thom appeared. Though he had only ever met the mathematician once, in his hallucinations, Thom apparently convinced Dali of an upcoming catastrophe. Intriguingly, Dali stated that the centre of this catastrophe, which he linked with the disappearance - or abduction - of Europe, would begin between Salses and Narbonne.

    The historical importance of this place is hardly the product of Dali's imagination.

    The Nazis are reported to have done some serious digging there during World War II, but it's never been explained why:

    just before and also during the second World War, the Nazi high command carried out systematic searches in this area surrounding the village. Anecdotal references state that the Nazi high command arrived at the large concentration camp located near Rivesaltes where they rounded up a large number of interned Jews. They were apparently given very comfortable accommodation which even had hot water laid on. They were well fed, treated politely and with respect but each they were obliged to accompany a large group of heavily armed German soldiers. Together they went in to the remote country side near to the present day village of Perillos where they carried out excavations. It was reported that at the end of the day the men would be seen returning covered from head to foot in mud. The work went on for some considerable time and then quite suddenly the men were released from captivity and allowed to go on their way. Some days later a large convoy of military vehicle was seen traversing the inhospitable interior region near Perillos. Maquis harassed the convoy to such an extent that they were forced to split up and all head in different directions. The Maquis reported that the convoy was made up of one large truck and numerous armored vehicles that appeared to be guarding it. It is believed the truck did not manage to leave the region but what became of it or indeed what it was carrying has never been established.
    Assuming the report of a Nazi dig is correct, what ever might they have been looking for?

    Considering that Perillos has been linked to King Arthur, the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, (more here) the report of the Nazi dig takes on an Indiana Jones flavor. Clearly, Dali knew about the importance of this place in history. He lived nearby and thought the area was the center of the world, so it's little wonder that it would preoccupy him in hallucinations in his later days.

    So it's not surprising that the subject would preoccupy him in his last artistic efforts. I think there is some sort of religious dimension to this as well, and it was typical of Dali to paint things that can be seen more than one way. Geographic, topological, and even religious.

    If you look at it the right way (you might need to tilt your head to see it), the "abduction" image looks like a crucified man -- not unlike the Rikers Island crucifixion I posted about last month:


    Oddly enough, it appears that the figure in Dali's "Topological Abduction" painting might be wearing an octagonal crown shaped like the early crowns of the pre-medieval period.

    How religion might factor into a topological abduction I do not know. Why the medieval crown, and why the critics haven't discussed it, who knows? I admit, logic escapes me here.

    But what about the "conversion of one state into another state"? Considering the intersection between politics geographical maps, is there any reason not to interpret that literally?

    What I couldn't ignore when I was in Dali's "abduction" area area was the fervency of the Catalonian nationist movement. Bearing in mind that Barcelona is a very left wing area, and that the E.U. has pretty much swallowed up Spain, I was quite shocked to see the order on the menus in most restaurants and on most official signs, there are translations into three languages into the following order:

  • Catalan
  • English
  • Spanish
  • The last thing I expected to see was English ahead of Spanish -- in SPAIN! I am not so naive as to imagine that this is because of any pro-American or pro-English bias. Far from being that, it's clearly anti-Spanish. I could feel the Catalonian nationalism; it was palpable.

    What are the implications about the "conversion of one state into another state"?

    Catalonian nationalism has become too powerful a force to ignore. As the Washington Post pointed out recently, the campaign for Catalonian independence is gaining strength. (Wikipedia has an entry, with a picture of the flag.)

    Where might statehood for Catalonia leave the European Union? While I'm not an expert on the complexities and I don't know whether breakaway states have the right to secede, Catalonian nationalists don't appear to be especially fond of the EU. Here's David Bassa, of the Newsroom of Televisió de Catalunya (TV3-TVC)

    most important European debates revolve around the amount of power that this or that state should have, and never go further. Consequently, if for Spanish, German or French people the European Union is something abstract, Catalan people see the European Union as a hostile structure. In a nutshell, although Catalonia has traditionally been a Europeanist country geographically situated as a wedge between France and the Iberian Peninsula, and although Catalonia has always been open to the sea and its past is intrinsically Mediterranean, Catalans still don't feel that the European Union is something really positive. We could also say that if Spain as a state is a member of the Union that is partly thanks to Catalan political will. Castella has never been pro-European, usually the opposite.
    But, in spite of all of this good-will towards Europe, Catalonia has no role in the "Europe of the states" because it is not a state. That's the reason why young Catalans with political and national consciousness who are ignored as a part of a nation by the Union, don't sense that they have any link with European institutions. Consequently, Catalan voting in the European elections has been lower than Spain's, and also, I would suggest, the new Treaty won't be easily accepted or supported in Catalonia. This is absolutely logical.
    Citing this Brussels Journal piece, Daniel Drezner discussed another possible breakaway nation -- a tiny place called "Aland." The question of secession from the EU is discussed in the comments, but again, I'm unfamiliar with the complexities.

    Again, it's just a thought. An attempt to explain what Dali might have meant.

    I'm not convinced Dali was right about the topological abduction of Europe, mind you. It's just that I felt compelled to finish an unfinished post which was abducted earlier, and I'd hate it if my favorite artist turned out to be a prophet while I was asleep at the keyboard.

    Much as I like his art, that does not incline me to regard Dali's hallucinations as prophetic (any more than I'd regard an LSD hallucination as prophetic) so color me skeptical. But the man was an artistic genius with an excellent education and a knowledge of the area, and he did rise to the occasion to come up with a very interesting painting despite his failing physical and mental health.

    (I guess it's fair to say my thoughts remain in an unconverted topological state.)

    posted by Eric at 11:47 AM | Comments (5)

    Dali Lama Threatened By Osama

    Asia News has a story about Muslim threats against the Dali Lama.

    Lumbini (AsiaNews) - Nepal's three million Buddhists are alarmed over death threats made against the Dalai Lama, allegedly by Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Toiba. In Lumbini, Buddha's birth place in southern Nepal, monks and lay people are praying for him.

    A local monk, Bhante Jaydeo, told AsiaNews that the Dalai Lama "is an apostle of non violence and peace. In spite of being a victim of Chinese Communist violence he has never preached for a violent uprising in Tibet and has always called for reconciliation" with Beijing. "Here in town monks and the faithful have prepared special prayers for his safety."

    When an Indian paper reported the threat on April 1, police in Dharamsala (India) where the Dalai Lama lives in exile stepped up security arrangements.

    Lashkar-e-Toiba is based in Pakistani-held Kashmir and is among the most powerful Islamic terrorist groups in South Asia. It is thought to be tied to al-Qaeda and it has been held responsible for many attacks in India.

    For experts, the threat made against the Buddhist leader is probably connected to a recent statement attributed to Osama bin Laden against all religions other than Islam, including "pagan Buddhism."

    It is not just Americans and Israelis who are threatened by the Religion of Peace™. How people believe we can have peace with Islamic fascists running wild is beyond me.

    The problem is one of mirror imaging. We like to think everyone is as good as we are and is motivated by the same things. Sadly, such is not the case. Buckminster Fuller saw this quite clearly many years ago. He said that for people whose life propects were poor the hereafter was a big motivating factor. He predicted an attenuation of religion as life improved for people.

    This was stated clearly by one of Arafat's henchmen at the start of Stupidfada II. The henchman said (when the Palestinian economy was improving due to the integration of the Palestinian and Israeli economies) that people who are doing well do not wish to fight.

    Which brings us back to mirror imaging. We see the purpose of government as improving the lives of our citizens. The Islamic fascists see the purpose of government as destroying the lives of their citizens in order to have cannon fodder for their wars of domination. The leaders of the Islamic fascist movement see civilization as a destroyer of their power. I believe they are correct in their estimation.

    Eric at Classical Values covers similar points from the standpoint of Moderate Islam, secularism, science, and Classical Values.

    H/T Gates of Vienna

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 10:45 AM | Comments (1)

    Strategy , Grand Strategy, and Tactics

    While I was away (moving) the last week and a half, I have not been idle. I have been reading On Strategyby Colonel of Infantry Harry G. Summers, Jr. and Strategyby B. H. L. Hart. Two classics in the field of military strategy. Col. Summers' book deals with the Vietnam War and Basil Hart's book deals with a historical look at strategy with a major focus on WW1 and WW2.

    What I want to do is to discuss the issues involved in relationship to the War in Iraq and our long war with militant Islam.

    I get notification of comments at Classical Values and at Power and Control. So if you want to be assured that I see your comment and have an opportunity to reply please post at those blogs.

    This discussion will be ongong (at least for a while) and will consist of a number of posts on the topic. The place to start is to get copies of the books and read them or at least use them to follow along with the discussion.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control and at The Astute Bloggers

    posted by Simon at 07:10 AM | Comments (5)

    Happy Easter!

    How Easter is calculated has always puzzled me, because there doesn't seem to be any one rule which is always followed.

    Anyone who thinks it's a simple matter should read this:

    The usual statement, that Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox, is not a precise statement of the actual ecclesiastical rules. The full moon involved is not the astronomical Full Moon but an ecclesiastical moon (determined from tables) that keeps, more or less, in step with the astronomical Moon.

    The ecclesiastical rules are:

    * Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox;
    * this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon); and
    * the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21.

    resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25. The Gregorian dates for the ecclesiastical full moon come from the Gregorian tables. Therefore, the civil date of Easter depends upon which tables - Gregorian or pre-Gregorian - are used. The western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Christian churches use the Gregorian tables; many eastern (Orthodox) Christian churches use the older tables based on the Julian Calendar.

    That's only part of the story (the ecclesiastical Easter tables have been changed a couple of times since 325 AD) but there are two primary variables. One is between the western and eastern churches which use two different calendars, and the other is that ecclesiastical full moon is not necessarily the same as the astronomical full moon. The eastern churches not only use the astronomical full moon, but also the vernal equinox "as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem, site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection":
    The formula for Easter--"The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox"--is identical for both Western and Orthodox Easters, but the churches base the dates on different calendars: Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, the standard calendar for much of the world, and Orthodox churches use the older, Julian calendar.

    That much is straightforward. But actually calculating these dates involves a bewildering array of ecclesiastical moons and paschal full moons, the astronomical equinox, and the fixed equinox-- and that's in addition to the two different calendar systems.

    When is A Full Moon Full?

    The two churches vary on the definition of the vernal equinox and the full moon. The Eastern Church sets the date of Easter according to the actual, astronomical full moon and the actual equinox as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem, site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

    Then there's the relationship to Passover. The eastern churches require that Easter follow Passover:
    The Eastern Orthodox Church also applies the formula so that Easter always falls after Passover, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In the Western Church, Easter sometimes precedes Passover by weeks.
    Thus, Easter varies according to the eastern and western churches; last year it fell on April 16 in Western churches and April 23 in the Eastern ones. This year, Easter falls on April 8 in both churches. But referring to the division as "eastern" and "western" isn't fully accurate as there's also "Eastern Catholicism" which is part of the "western" church in the hierarchical sense, but follows the eastern liturgical model including the pre-Gregorian calendar.

    How the Easter Bunny fits in with all this I am not sure

    Orthodox Christianity does not seem partial to the bunny tradition:


    But that last site has a sense of humor about the history:

    The bunny, the use of eggs that time of year (though there is a Jewish antecedent here as well) and even the name 'Easter' (Eostre, a goddess) are all from Germanic pagan fertility/springtime customs. 'Pascha' is a better name but of course in English I use 'Easter' as it is commonly understood.

    It's still weird to see images of bunnies everywhere, cute as they are, when you know what Pascha really is.

    Depending on your point of view, the Easter bunny can be seen as reflective of the original holiday, or as creeping paganism, introduced into the U.S. by German immigrants:
    The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.

    The Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was widely ignored by other Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter itself was not widely celebrated in America until after that time.

    Yet, fascinatingly, just weeks ago, an organized Catholic group fought a local school's Easter bunny ban! Such a ban is arguably anti-Pagan, anti-Catholic, and anti-fertility, for the Easter bunny is a symbol of fertility. I guess fertility is evil, because fertility results in "overpopulation" -- which is of course the primary cause of global warming.

    Obviously, this means we won't have many more Easters! Instead of the Easter Bunny, and Easter egg hunts, children should be treated to Eco-Frights about Global Warming. (Especially because this year, the poor Easter bunny is a victim of coldening.)

    Traditional or not, enjoy your Easter while you can!

    UPDATE: Today's Easter coldening seems to have started in the South by coldening advocate Al Gore. First, Gore flew to Nashville. This triggered a precipitous drop in temperatures over the Easter weekend to the lowest in 85 years. Gore's emboldened coldening front then moved North, where it struck Richmond with an Easter snow. Glenn Reynolds was initially skeptical over Gore's coldening powers could be this great, but the evidence is accumulating. The coldening has spread to Cleveland.

    Here in the Philadelphia area, we're far enough away from Al Gore that we're just catching the tail end. I've only seen a few Easter snowflakes so far.

    posted by Eric at 10:14 AM | Comments (3)

    How criticizing Clinton's sexism becomes "harassment"

    Jessica Valenti is painting herself as a victim of a harassment campaign ostensibly run by Ann Athouse -- all because a photograph of her wearing a tight-fitting casual sweater in front of Bill Clinton generated controversy:

    One website, run by law professor and occasional New York Times columnist Ann Althouse, devoted an entire article to how I was "posing" so as to "make [my] breasts as obvious as possible". The post, titled "Let's take a closer look at those breasts," ended up with over 500 comments. Most were about my body, my perceived whorishness, and how I couldn't possibly be a good feminist because I had the gall to show up to a meeting with my breasts in tow. One commenter even created a limerick about me giving oral sex. Althouse herself said that I should have "worn a beret . . . a blue dress would have been good too". All this on the basis of a photograph of me in a crew-neck sweater from Gap.

    I won't even get into the hundreds of other blogs and websites that linked to the "controversy." It was, without doubt, the most humiliating experience of my life - all because I dared be photographed with a political figure.

    But a picture does seem to be considered enough reason to go on a harassment rampage.

    (Via Glenn's link to Ann Althouse.)

    IJust a political figure? Come on, it was Bill "Monicagate" Clinton! (Or doesn't any of this mean anything anymore?)

    Anyway, it just so happens that I'm one of "the hundreds of other blogs and websites" Jessica Valenti mentioned. And because that presumably makes me part of the "harassment rampage," I thought I should revisit my post, and see just how harassing I was.

    True, I did criticize Valenti's attire (which I do think was inappropriate) but I reserved the lion's share of the criticism for the male bloggers:

    Notice that the woman who has drawn all the criticism is not the only woman in the picture. I'm probably a bit old-fashioned where it comes to attire but if I'd been invited I'd have definitely worn a suit. [Right! I'm about as old fashioned as Glenn Reynolds and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga.]

    I notice only a few of the men are wearing suits. For his part, Bill Clinton is, which means that he wasn't considering this a casual, shirtsleeves, wear-a-T-shirt, barbecue type of event. It's a professional lunch at a professional location, with a former two-term President of the United States who is still actively involved in politics. Like him or not, that's what he is. To not wear a suit to that is just violative of the most basic protocol. If you ask me, a higher percentage of the men in that picture are worse dressers than are the women.

    I can't see their feet, though, so I don't know whether they are wearing flipflops. If they are, I'd feel about the same way I do about the tight fitting shirt.

    I think all the casually-dressed bloggers were being disrespectful towards Bill Clinton (and the office of the presidency) whether they realized it or not. This seems like such basic common sense etiquette that it does not deserve extended comment -- and I say it as someone who is politically opposed to Bill Clinton. I realize that those who think it's OK to dress down for Bill Clinton might not agree with me, but I hardly think what I say constitutes "harassment."

    In fact, there's no way that anything I say here could constitute harassment against anyone. To harass someone requires contacting them. Because no one is required to read this blog, nothing I say here would be harassment. To harass someone I would have to contact that person by means of an email or unwanted comment -- especially after being told to stop. Opinions expressed at someone's own blog (even sexist opinions) cannot legally be considered harassment of another blogger. I realize, though, that there are some people who think that disagreement is harassment, and I certainly hope Ms. Valenti does not fall into that category.

    While I continue to maintain that she behaved in a disrespectful manner by dressing in a sloppy manner, there's the further issue of disrespect towards the feminism she claims to uphold. I don't believe in imposing standards of modesty on people, but common sense suggests to me that women who claim to dislike male sexism who then pose with a notorious womanizer like Bill Clinton in the manner that Jessica Valenti posed. While there's no crime involved, and I don't advocate burkhas or head scarves, there's an unmistakable flavor of sexuality to this -- especially in the context of Bill Clinton -- and I don't think it's sexist or harassing to point it out.

    (BTW, I think a male could behave in an analogous way by wearing pants which displayed his "package." While the message might be lost on Bill Clinton, it wouldn't take too much imagination to come up with examples of powerful people on whom it would not be lost. )

    In a post condemning men who blogged in drag, a feminist blogger also complained about Ann Coulter's "mini-shorts":

    All of this blogging-in-drag is bewildering and appalling. I just don't understand the prurient interest some have in watching an otherwise impressively credentialed or politically opinionated "woman" degrade "herself" by trivializing her politics or profession. Is this the appeal of watching Ann Coulter in her mini-shorts?

    Speaking as a female blogger, who writes a "blawggish" blog at that, I am personally offended. I think these poseurs, cheeky and satiric as they intend to be, bring down the image of serious female bloggers everywhere.

    By what standard is it "sexist" to criticize Jessica Valenti's attire, but not Ann Coulter's?

    Which brings me back to the title of Ann Althouse post -- "Let's keep talking about breasts."

    I agree with Ann Althouse (also see this post by Dr. Helen) that what's being lost by framing the debate this way is the context: Bill Clinton.

    (He has to be enjoying a chuckle.)

    posted by Eric at 01:35 PM | Comments (2)

    Stand up for secularism -- or is it too late?

    Amazing as it may seem, the "single most influential religious leader in the Muslim world" today is a genuine moderate Muslim -- former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid:

    A former president of Indonesia, he is the spiritual leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Islamic organization of some 40 million members. Indonesians know him universally as Gus Dur, a title of affection and respect for this descendant of Javanese kings. In the U.S. and Europe he is barely spoken of at all -- which is both odd and unfortunate, seeing as he is easily the most important ally the West has in the ideological struggle against Islamic radicalism.
    As to why he is barely spoken of at all, I don't know. Perhaps he doesn't fit any of the radical agendas or isms which are the driving forces of conventional politics.

    Not only has he voiced support for Israel, but he also supported Ibrahim Anwar, Malaysian dissident imprisoned for years on trumped up "sodomy" charges. (The latter is described as sharing Wahid's "cosmopolitan and democratic" view of Islamic politics.)

    Wahid (known as "Gus Dur") sheds some light on the mechanism which causes young people to choose radical Islam:

    "The globalization of ethics is always frightening to people, particularly Islamic radicals," he says in reference to a question about the so-called pornoaksi legislation. For the past three years Indonesian politics have been roiled by an Islamist attempt to label anything they deem sexually arousing to be a form of "porno-action." Mr. Wahid sees this as an assault on pancasila, Indonesia's secularist state philosophy from the time of its founding. He also sees it as an assault on common sense. "Young people like to kiss each other," he says, throwing his hands in the air. "Why not? Just because old people don't do it doesn't mean it's wrong."

    Mr. Wahid is equally relaxed about some of the controversies that have recently erupted between Muslims and the West. Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech from last September was "a good speech, though as usual he pointed to the wrong times and the wrong cases." As for the furor over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, he asks "why should we be angry?" And he dismisses Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the al-Jazeera preacher who helped incite the cartoon riots, as an "angry, conventional" thinker.

    An "angry conventional" thinker?

    Well put. I'm starting to like this guy.

    He seems to dislike the choices being presented to young people -- a false dichotomy which forces them to choose between what he calls "conventional" Islam and what he sees as science without a soul. (IMO, the false choice seems to be presented as fundamentalism versus materialism.)

    What really concerns Mr. Wahid is what he sees as the increasingly degraded state of the Muslim mind. That problem is becoming especially acute at Indonesian universities and in the pesantren -- the religious boarding schools that graduate hundreds of thousands of students every year. "We are experiencing the shallowing of religion," he says, bemoaning the fact that the boarding schools persist in teaching "conventional" -- that word again -- Islam.

    But Mr. Wahid's critique is not just of formal Islamic education. He also attacks the West's philosophy of positivism, which, he says, "relies too much on the idea of conquering knowledge and mastering scientific principles alone." This purely empirical and essentially soulless view of things, broadly adopted by Indonesia's secular state universities, gives its students a bleak choice: "Either they follow the process or they are outside the process."

    As a result, Western-style education in Indonesia has come to represent not just secularism but the negation of religion, to which too many students have responded by embracing fundamentalism. At the University of Indonesia, for example, an estimated three in four students are members or sympathizers of the "Prosperous Justice Party," or PKS, an ultra-radical Islamic party.

    This is a tragedy, and I wonder whether a similar process is responsible for the increasing outbursts of religious tyranny in places like Pakistan.

    Which leads me to return to an unpleasant but necessary question. Is this false dichotomy (fundamentalism versus materialism) what Dinesh D'Souza reduced to a formula of "homos and porn" on the one hand versus "traditional Islam" on the other?

    Again, here's D'Souza:

    Our concern should be with the traditional Muslims, who are the majority in the Muslim world. These people are also religious and socially conservative, and they are our natural allies. In fact, since the cultural Left in America is de facto allied with the radical Muslims, we as conservatives have no choice but to ally with the traditional Muslims.
    And here:
    ...Muslims must rise up in defensive jihad against America because their religion and their values are under attack. This aspect of Bin Laden's critique has been totally ignored, and it's one that resonates with a lot of traditional Muslims and traditional people around the world.
    D'Souza also proclaims that "secularism is not the solution" -- which apparently means that the governments of at least Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan should be more Islamic.

    I think D'Souza is cherry picking, and his entire critique ignores the fact that radical Islam is not merely at war with secularism, but with all Western religions -- especially Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, according to Ayman al Zawahiri, the principal enemies are "Zionists" and "Crusaders."

    But don't believe me. Let Zawahiri speak for himself:

    [Video link to above.]

    Yes, I know that he's also against pornography and homosexuality and Hollywood. He is against the West, and all things he considers Western.

    But by claiming that radical Islam is at war primarily with secularism, D'Souza represents the inverse of another mistaken view -- that radical Islam is solely at war with Judeo-Christianity. To me it's painfully obvious that the Islamists are at war with both, which is why I proposed a Judeo-Christian Atheist Alliance in defense of the West.

    OTOH, D'Souza sees secularism and Western entertainment as a common enemy of Christian conservatives and "traditional Muslims," and he proposes an alliance. But what would that alliance do? How would it work in practice?

    Would D'Souza support this Muslim activist campaign against Playboy?

    A leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, Irwan Asidi, warned his organisation would "declare war" on Playboy. "We will attack the Playboy office and sweep up copies of the magazine, which will destroy the morals of Indonesian children."
    Via Glenn Reynolds, who seems so hell-bent on forcing Muslims to hear Western music that he linked this story and made it quite clear he was on the side of the store owners:
    Shiraz Ahmed was tending his music store in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, when a group of 15 bearded young men walked in bearing bamboo poles and a chilling message. Politely but firmly, they instructed him to take down the colourful array of Bollywood and bhangradance tunes on display and to restrict his business to Islamic music. "They told me I had to change my business," said Mr Ahmed, 25, whose family has run the store for 15 years. "I am so confused. I don't know what to do." Until last week he might not have worried about these men from Islamabad's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). After all, his shop is legal and within walking distance of Pervez Musharraf's presidential palace. But this was just one of several signs in the past ten days that a creeping campaign to "Talebanise" Pakistan has spread from tribal areas on the Afghan border right to the heart of the capital. And to judge from the Government's response, even here it is reluctant to confront the radical clerics who openly preach jihad (holy war) and defy the writ of the state.
    There was a similar story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
    "This is porno material and blue films. This is destroying our society," Ghazi said. Crowds shouted, "God is great!" when the pile, doused in gasoline, caught fire with a whoosh.

    The DVDs included films from neighboring India and some Western titles, including a romantic comedy called "Dirty, Filthy Love," but also children's movies such as "Home Alone 4" and "Free Willy."

    Scores of female students in black burqas listened to the sermon and watched the video bonfire from the roof of their neighboring seminary, where Ghazi is vice principal.

    Muslim hard-liners, who have gained influence by tapping popular opposition to Pakistan's support for Washington's war on terrorism , have pressed steadily for curbs on "un-Islamic" behavior such as distributing Western movies.

    Most of the agitation for Taliban-style social controls has been in the conservative northwest, along the Afghan border, where sympathies run high for the fundamentalist Taliban militia that ruled Afghanistan before a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The Taliban banned TV and largely confined women to their homes.

    I'm inclined to agree with Glenn's reaction:
    PLACING THEIR SEVERED HEADS on those bamboo poles would seem a preferable response...
    Yes. And save "Free Willy!"

    Back to Wahid's point about secularism. The Indonesian, Pakistani, and Turkish governments had once all shared a similar secular approach, but in Pakistan, secularism seems endangered. I think secularism is a good thing, and I think it's been given a black eye by assorted demagogues and activists (on both sides, unfortunately) who seem to be in agreement that secularism means atheism and materialism. In the government sense, the word simply means "not ecclesiastical or clerical." Over time, the word has been so frequently misdefined as atheism and materialism -- by fundamentalists and atheists in collusion -- that it has lost its original meaning.

    I'm glad to see that at least one leading Muslim cleric does not see an inherent incompatibility between Islam and secularism (or for that matter, Islam and Israel).

    Secularism is not evil, nor is it atheist, nor does anything about it "force" pornography, atheism, materialism, or homosexuality (or Hollywood) on anyone. Secularism has a long tradition of moderation and respect for (just not advocacy of) religion, and it's too bad that activists have made it a dirty word.

    At the risk of sounding like an extremist, I don't think the loss of secularism would bode well for the future of Western civilization.

    UPDATE: Thank you, Glenn Reynolds for the link.

    Welcome all, and HAPPY EASTER!

    posted by Eric at 10:41 AM | Comments (8)


    Please help out M. Simon

    You might have noticed that M. Simon has not been blogging the past few days. He is having some serious financial problems, and at his blog Power and Control, he says this:

    Due to a problem with my #1 son our lease is not being renewed and at this time we have not found a place to move. I will blog as often as I can get sufficient access to a computer.

    If you haven't hit the tip jar lately it would help.

    And for all those who have helped in the past many thanks for keeping us (my family) going so far.

    Bless you all,


    If you have been enjoying Simon's posts as much as I have, please consider hitting the tip jar at Power and Control.

    PLEASE NOTE that unlike many bloggers (including yours truly), M. Simon makes his living by writing his blog, and his family is facing serious medical issues. There is no tip jar here, and I have never asked anyone for money. So I ask those who have enjoyed what they have seen here to please, go over to Power and Control and help out M. Simon.

    Thank you.

    NOTE: This is post-dated April 6 to keep it at the top of the blog all week.

    posted by Eric at 05:30 PM | Comments (5)

    Protesting the permanent election

    Via Pajamas Media, The Anchoress has one of the most refreshing posts I've seen in a long time:

    I'm getting some emails from folks wondering why I am not writing about Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Duncan Hunter, etc. Note I'm also not writing about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

    The answer is simple. I'm protesting.

    I resent like hell that these politicians - all of them, but I seem to recall it was Hillary who started early, forcing everyone else to do so, as well - began their stumping and fund-raising two years before an election. Some of them - like Clinton - barely finished their re-election celebrations before reaching out their hands for '08 campaign funds.

    Actually, Hillary has been running for president ever since she packed her carpet bag for New York in 2000 (and I've been complaining about it from the earliest days of this blog). There is no single candidate more guilty of running early.

    I like the Anchoress's idea, logo, and manifesto:

    Let this be my manifesto credo: Your Endless Campaign Stops Here.

    I don't know about anyone else, but I'm weary of the lot of them, and need the break.

    Other than leaving up the Pajamas Media Poll, she's doing nothing.

    Frankly, I'm jealous. I feel as if I've been blogging about elections ever since I started blogging, and that was in May of 2003! This country is in a permanent state of elections, and I don't know how to stop it, or my endless blogging about it. I try not to overdo it and I do try to write about other things. But I'm thrilled to see a blogger taking preemptive action like this.

    Another reason I'm trying to avoid the election as much as I can is because I think certain candidates want to get the blogosphere out of the way early. Perhaps the goal is to exhaust the blogosphere; perhaps the hope is to dismiss them.

    With a permanent election, there's plenty of time. The voters won't start paying attention for at least a year.

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

    Good cop, bad cop
    "Don't fear the terrorists. They're mothers and fathers."

    -- Rosie O'Donnell

    When the Inquirer is good, it is very, very good!

    And I was absolutely delighted to see that yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer featured guest editorials from Claudia Rosett and James Lileks. The latter wrote about a chocolate Jesus (and a modern artist who seems willing to do anything for attention, but hey, at least he stopped short of crucifying the Easter Bunny), while the latter wrote about the Pelosi trip to Syria. Linking the Rosett piece, Glenn Reynolds said simply, "Nuts in Damascus."

    It certainly looks that way:

    Having done her shopping, Pelosi went on, against the express wishes of the White House, to talk with President Bashar Assad. Perched on pillowed armchairs, chatting away, they provided yet another photo-op - a tableau implying that Assad is no monster, but in many ways a reasonable fellow, just like the rest of us.

    Pelosi emerged to announce that she had expressed her concerns on various fronts and that Assad is now willing to hold peace talks with Israel.

    This is not just nutty politics; it is dangerous. For Pelosi, this may count as interaction. But for Assad's regime in Syria, this amounts to chumps on pilgrimage. Damascus is infested by a dynastic tyranny in which "dialogue" serves chiefly as cover for duplicity and terror. These traits are not simply regrettable habits that Assad might be charmed out of. They are big business and prime instruments of power.

    Yes, and the whole process resembles what ought to be called "Good cop, bad cop." (A classic example of which was the "nice" Ahmadinejad releasing the British hostages as a "gift.')

    I think Pelosi and company are being played for suckers, and I'm glad to see such a ringing indictment appearing in the Inquirer. What I think is going on with the terrorists (a name Pelosi and the Dems don't seem to want the government to use, BTW) is that one group does the suicide bombing, while the other gently nags and whines, almost seeming to apologize, knowing all the while that the bad cop lurks in the background with his suicide bomb. The bad cop can't do it alone.

    The idea being, if you understand the strategy, don't fall for the good cop routine!

    You'd think the leaders of both parties would have learned this simple lesson by now.

    I'm so cynical though, that I think the main reason for the Pelosi trip was to underscore the impotence of the lame-duck Bush administration by demonstrating contempt, and dropping a not-so-subtle hint as to who might be in charge (in the near future, of course).

    I'd feel a bit more comfortable if I thought they understood what strikes me as basic human psychology.

    UPDATE: According to this analysis in today's Wall Street Journal, Pelosi may well have committed a felony under the Logan Act, which

    provides for a prison sentence of up to three years for any American, "without authority of the United States," to communicate with a foreign government in an effort to influence that government's behavior on any "disputes or controversies with the United States."
    And just think about the unindicted coconspirators!


    This calls for a famous line from Fred Thompson.

    What did they know and when did they know it?

    MORE: Glenn Reynolds comments on the Pelosi trip:

    I think that the more Pelosi acts like a wannabe President, the worse it is for Hillary. And I think that Pelosi knows that.
    Pelosi sabotaging Hillary?

    This would seem to confirm what Real Clear Politics said in December:

    Hillary Clinton has a problem. Its name is Nancy Pelosi. Clinton's run for the White House is being built - as was her husband's - on the idea of a "new democrat" who accurately triangulated between liberal and conservative well enough to shroud liberal policy with a cloak of moderation. The cloak was so tightly-woven and the media so compliant that no matter what Clinton did - from his first presidential act ("don't ask, don't tell") to the "wag the dog" episode in the impeachment days - he escaped scrutiny. But no matter how hard Mrs. Clinton clings to the Clinton Cloak, Speaker-to-be Pelosi's Animal House will be sticking its head out from every fold.
    There's also been some talk of a Pelosi-Clinton "cat fight":
    It was just a few years ago that Hillary Clinton seemed destined to possibly become the most powerful woman in the history of American politics. Yesterday, that honor was bestowed upon Nancy Pelosi, becoming the first female House Speaker ever.

    Pelosi is now officially the most powerful woman in US politics.

    Might she want to keep it that way? I don't know. I tend to see the Democrats as people who follow the script.

    But what the hell. They could be following this script.

    posted by Eric at 08:14 AM | Comments (3)

    Global village snitches on "white man's system"

    When the Inquirer is bad, it is horrid....

    While I was quite pleased with yesterday's editorials, today's Philadelphia Inquirer features a morally indignant editorial which the website lists (incorrectly IMO) under the category of "top stories." Headlined "Silence is the enemy of justice -- 'No Snitchin' ' is part of a wide moral breakdown," the "story" not only blames guns for crime, but the writer apparently thinks there's something very wrong with charging suspects under the Felony Murder rule:

    In broad daylight, at least three people fire 40 shots in front of 20 witnesses, killing a mother trying to protect her children on a narrow little street in Southwest Philadelphia. And nobody sees a thing?

    In North Philly, a shell-shocked mom tries to point out the person she thinks shot her teenage son and people in the crowd warn her she'd better not say anything or "we'll get you, bitch." And she doesn't say a thing.

    The message is clear. No snitching. Or else.

    Here in Philadelphia, where the blood drain totals 104 victims, most of them black, we've got public mourning down to a science. Somebody's shot, and up springs a teddy-bear memorial on a chalk outline even before the person is pronounced dead. Marches and candlelight vigils follow.

    But when it comes to performing the most basic of civic duties - reporting a crime to the police - we don't know nothing, ain't seen nothing, ain't heard nothing.

    Young black men in "No Snitchin' " T-shirts are playing a real-life game of Mortal Kombat with no regard for who is caught in the crossfire, and our silence is perpetrating the mayhem.

    OK, I'm against the no snitchin culture too. I think criminals should be prosecuted, especially the kind of criminals who engage in shootouts with each other on public streets. No argument there.

    Which is why I find the next paragraph so incomprehensible:

    But what's most shameful is that on Tuesday, the young mother Jovonne Stelly, victim No. 95, was buried. Of all things, Stelly's brother and husband have been charged with her murder because they pulled out guns and fired. Neighbors say the men were trying to protect Stelly. Whether that's true or not is anybody's guess because the third shooter is nowhere to be found. And nobody's talking.
    I've written a couple of posts about the Stelly shooting, which according to the police involved feuding families and career criminals.

    As to the felony murder rule, it's pretty simple:

    if a killing occurs during the course of a commission of a felony, all accomplices in the felony are chargeable with murder.
    A shootout between multiple felons (apparently in possession of illegal firearms) involves the commission of multiple felonies, which means that if the dead woman's husband and brother were exchanging gunfire before the woman ventured out, they would be chargeable with her death. Whether they were "trying to protect Stelly" would be a question for the jury, but considering the earlier reports that this was a long simmering feud, I think they'd be hard pressed to show that the purpose of the shootout (which is the felony invoking the felony murder rule) was to "protect" the woman who was described as venturing out into the middle of it. If there was a felony in commission, whether a husband wanted to "protect" his wife is about as relevant as it would be if a bank robber's wife charged into the bank in the middle of a shootout between her husband and the guards, and got killed. Sure, he'd be sorry that it happened, and he might maintain that he was "trying to protect" his wife, but he'd still be guilty of murder.

    As the writer says, "Of all things!"

    Reading through the rest of this profoundly illogical editorial that the Inquirer calls a story, I began to anticipate another moral lecture from Penn professor Elijah Anderson on the "code of the street." (Anderson, btw, has attempted to inject race into the gun debate.)

    I read on, and sure enough, I was right. It's Anderson's "code of the street" -- although there's a new twist. There was once a global village, but it has been ruined:

    There was a time when a certain kind of snitching was expected. If your neighbors caught you doing something wrong, you'd better believe they'd report back to your parents before your foot hit the doorstep. That was how the village was maintained.

    But nowadays the global village is suffering a moral breakdown. Suburban kids won't dime out friends using drugs, corporate and government whistle-blowers usually pay a price, doctors won't tell on each other, and, in a bit of twisted irony, cops begging neighborhood folks to snitch would be the last to break their own code of silence.

    So that's it! Suburban kids, white collar criminals, the police, and even doctors! (At last I know why there are so many suburban middle class family shootouts -- especially in medical families.)

    In the inner city, where almost half of hireable black men are unemployed, years of segregation, alienation and abuse foster a deep mistrust of authority. An unspoken commandment prevails as folks fend for themselves in an underground economy, trading and bartering by their own rules: You didn't put your business in the street so don't put other folks' business out there, either.

    "If you snitch, you buy into the white man's system," a system that "has been so systemically against you," says Penn sociologist Elijah Anderson, who lays it out in his book, Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner City.

    Wait a second! Didn't the writer just say that suburban kids and white collar criminals don't believe in snitching, and that there's a pervasive no-snitching code? Well? What exactly is going on with this "white man's system," anyway? I mean, it's one thing to argue that the white "snitch culture" has fostered society-wide moral breakdown which resulted in an anti-snitching culture from the top down. Silly as that argument is, if true, wouldn't it mean that snitching is no longer part of the "white man's system"? I don't see how the Inquirer can have it both ways.

    FWIW, I have tried to address the problem of the no snitch culture, and the no snitch movement. I don't think it's accurate to call it "the code of the street," so much as a criminal campaign in which criminals have imposed their standards on the people they terrorize:

    Stop Snitchin' refers to a controversial campaign used by criminals to frighten people with information from reporting their activities to the police.
    While I've previously speculated about how the "no snitchin' code" might dovetail into the blame-guns-for-crime mindset, I never gave much thought to whether people would be more inclined to report illegal guns than any other sort of crime.

    I couldn't help notice that today's piece concludes by encouraging people to report crime, but with a rather peculiar twist:

    Time for change
    Janean Williams, mother of a 7-year-old, says the price of silence is too high. Like so many of her neighbors, Williams inherited the house she grew up in. She loves her neighborhood, she says, and is willing to fight for it. If that means telling what she sees, so be it.

    "When are people gonna stop being scared?" Williams, 32, asks. "I pay too much in taxes to be scared."

    "You get to the point where you become tired. I don't want to live in fear."

    There are ways we can anonymously report a crime. Call 215-546-TIPS or report a gun at 215-683-GUNS.

    You'd think the reporter editorial writer would at least bother to point out that the latter tip line was established for the purpose of reporting illegal guns:

    Citizens are encouraged to call the 24-hour/seven-day-a-week G.R.R.I. P. command center at 215-683-GUNS (215-683-4867) to report persons that are in possession of an illegal firearm or people trafficking in the sales of weapons.
    So why say "report a gun"? Aren't the vast majority of guns legal? Doesn't this encourage people who don't know any better to tie up valuable police resources?

    You'd think someone in the Inquirer hierarchy could have seen fit to add the word "illegal."

    So as a public service to Inquirer readers, I'll add a reminder.

    PLEASE NOTE: The Philadelphia Police Department's G.R.R.I.P. line is there for reporting illegal guns and illegal gun trafficking.


    (You'd almost think the Inquirer wanted the police to confiscate guns from law abiding citizens.)

    posted by Eric at 07:34 AM | Comments (0)

    Permanent carbon offset

    You learn something every day. And today, via Pajamas Media, I learned that death can mean a lifetime of pencils:

    Pencils made from the carbon of human cremains. 240 pencils can be made from an average body of ash - a lifetime supply of pencils for those left behind.
    There's no denying that pencils have a definite and ascertainable utilitarian value. I suppose if Grandma wants to spend her afterlife being sharpened, chewed on, and erased, it's not for me to judge.

    The idea of a corpse having utilitarian value is at least as old as Jeremy Bentham, whose preserved body and severed head have been maintained as an "auto tract" since 1832:

    As to the head and the rest of the skeleton, it is my desire that the head may by preparation after the New Zealand manner be preserved, and the entire skeleton with the head above it and connected with it, be placed in a sitting posture, and made up into the form of a living body, covered with the most decent suit of clothes, not being black or gray, which I may happen to leave at my decease.
    Bentham's body was dissected in accordance with his wishes, but the head preservation didn't work out as planned, so a wax head was affixed to his clothed skeleton.

    For students of preservation, I think the head still has a certain utilitarian value, and I don't see why Bentham would have any objection to blog readers gazing at it.


    Nice eyes, don't you think? (He selected the post-mortem eyes during his life, and used to enjoy showing them off.)

    I think think the kind of people who don't just want to be stuck in the ground or cremated might have higher ambitions than being made into pencils, though. I suspect they'd go for something more dramatic.

    Like diamonds! There's a company call LifeGem which will extract all the carbon from your dead loved on and transform it into a diamond. From the website:

    High-quality created diamonds have been present for many years. These diamonds are created by placing carbon, the primary element of all diamonds, in conditions that recreate the forces of nature. The LifeGem® process differs by using an exact carbon source to create a beautiful and meaningful diamond tribute for you and your family.
    The process is explained at the website ("we now place this graphite in one of our unique diamond presses, which replicate the awesome forces deep within the earth - heat and pressure"), and it certainly seems to be catching on.

    In recent news, a court in Germany refused to allow a woman to have her dad's carbon pressed into a diamond:

    "The daughter of the deceased could not provide sufficient proof that it was his final wish to be pressed into a diamond," the court in western Germany said, ruling in favor of his 86-year-old mother.
    I don't know how the court would have felt about pencils, but hey, carbon is carbon isn't it?

    There's more than one way to permanently offset your carbon footprint.

    posted by Eric at 07:26 PM | Comments (0)

    God hates neckties

    Before taking apart Amanda Marcotte's convoluted assertions that breasts are like heads, and the Althouse-Instapundit axis wants feminists dead, Ann Althouse noticed a slight peculiarity in the appearance of the male British hostages. The latter were released wearing suits, but minus neckties.


    It seems that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants all men to look like him.

    Ill fitting suits worn without neckties.

    Well, you can't say I haven't tried to uphold what the Iranians consider Satanic standards.

    MORE: Those interested in the origins of the war on neckties might enjoy this video of the 1979 Iranian revolution:

    The best line is from Jimmy Carter:

    "The Shah has our support and he also has our confidence."
    This is immediately followed by Mike Wallace:
    "On the advice of the United States he ordered his troops to avoid confrontation. It was advice the Shah would soon regret."

    posted by Eric at 12:37 PM | Comments (2)

    "Zero Mostel had nothing on Mickey Kaus."

    At least, so said Paul Krugman (from Mickey Kaus, via Glenn Reynolds).

    What Krugman is talking about is the play in which the Rhinoceros is a metaphor for fascism, the characters eventually transforming themselves into Rhinos (i.e. fascists).

    It's just Krugman's cute way of stopping just short of calling Kaus a fascist. (Along with "the rhinoceri running the country.")

    Mostel, of course, was accused of being a communist because of his attendance at Communist Party meetings and "support of Free Earl Browder Movement."

    But I hardly think Krugman was insinuating that Mickey Kaus is a communist.

    In any case, Kaus is a little young to have supported the Free Earl Browder! Movement.

    I'd say that Krugman has nothing on Zero, but I don't have a Ph.D. in economics.

    posted by Eric at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)

    The sucking of battery (and all) energy

    Battery technology sucks. As these comments by infuriated Ipod users make clear, it's still in the Stone Age.

    The Stone Age is catching up with me in the form of a war between the dying batteries in my cell phone and its bluetooth earpiece -- both of which are the same age. Even under ideal circumstances, using the blue tooth causes the cell phone battery to discharge at a faster than normal rate, but now that both are old (and have been recharged too many times), things are unpredictable and wild. Sometimes the phone battery will quit and sound the alarm after only an hour, and other times the bluetooth quits first. But it's clear that the two dying batteries are each hastening the death of the other. It's as if they're in competition to see whose death will come first. The most infuriating aspect of this is that the bluetooth will have just enough life to hold onto its connection with the phone, but not enough to be usable. The more I charge and recharge, the more I hasten the demise of both batteries.

    Trying to figure out the "rules" as to how long a battery will last is an exercise in futility. There are numerous competing opinions -- how often to recharge, whether to let it run down all the way, whether "third party" replacements are as good or better than the original -- and it seems that there are simply thousands and thousands of individual anecdotes, each one contradicting the other. I am forced to conclude only two things:

  • all batteries eventually die;
  • buying a battery does not necessarily mean you will get what they call "a good one."
  • While it's one thing to be irritated by small batteries in things like Ipods or cell phones, I can't imagine how annoyed I would be if I went into debt fifty grand worth to buy a Prius and found the same thing happening. With a battery, it seems you're at the mercy of an unpredictable Stone Age device, and it's that way all the way up and down the line -- from the tiny bluetooth to the mighty SUV.

    Clearly, technology is ahead of the batteries that power it.

    Something's got to change.

    I've read about emerging technology, but it just plain isn't here yet.

    A nuclear laptop battery that lasts virtually forever has been developed, but as the inventors admit, there are "minor disadvantages":

    "Due to government regulations, use of a laptop powered by XCell-N is prohibited in airports, government offices, schools, hospitals, public transport, hotels, residential areas or within 12 miles of food preparation areas.". XCell-N also weighs substantially more than a regular laptop battery, coming in at 7 kilograms (15.4 lbs).

    While Shephard says they are committed to safety, he does not recommend close exposure to an XCell-N powered laptop for more than 20 minutes a day.

    Oh that's great. Can't use it while traveling (or within 12 miles of a restaurant), it weighs a ton, and will nuke your nuts. (But it would be a nice laptop to be buried with, in case you need it in the afterlife.)

    Glenn Reynolds says needing better batteries is the bottom line and he mentions the Ultracapacitor, which look great to me.

    I always worry, though, about the Coalition of Luddites which seems to advocate new technologies only as long as they remain non-viable. Once people on a large scale actually start implementing a new technology (or revise an old one to suit the environmentalists' demands), the once "green" cause then becomes a new enemy. Sorry to sound so cynical, but as I observed in an earlier post, I have seen the following wonderful new "earth friendly" technologies all initially advocated, only to later be rigorously opposed:

  • wood burning stoves ("SPLIT WOOD, NOT ATOMS!")
  • Windmills (bird killers)
  • Biodiesel (now said to be destroying the rainforests)
  • And now, the "eco-friendly" batteries are said to be responsible for a whole host of problems, like acid rain in Canada.

    There is no pleasing environmentalists, because to them, the ultimate enemy is man, and human technology, no matter how "green" it might be, only serves to enable human existence and enhance our proliferation on the threatened planet. I have long suspected that if a real, viable, cold fusion or power cell technology emerged that would allow every man to have his own, virtually free, unlimited power generation facility (enabling humans to live anywhere free from having to be hooked up to the power grid), they would resolutely oppose it.

    But there's still a window of opportunity to develop better batteries before the environmentalists smarten up and develop a uniform policy of Opposing Any And All Technological Improvements That Might Help Enable Man.

    posted by Eric at 09:44 AM | Comments (3)

    Small children get lesson in "conspicuous virtue"

    In the latest horror story from San Francisco (HT Justin), a family with small children whose crime was to attempt to drive home from a Japantown restaurant was set upon and their vehicle vandalized by a deranged cult of bicycle activists known as "Critical Mass":

    It was supposed to be a birthday night out for the kids in San Francisco, but instead turned into a Critical Mass horror show -- complete with a pummeled car, a smashed rear window and little children screaming in terror.
    That "Critical Mass" would be the culprit does not surprise me. These moralistic poseurs are the shock troops of sanctimonious environmentalism, and I don't doubt that they consider themselves in the vanguard of what Glenn Reynolds and others have called "conspicuous virtue."

    The Critical Mass people piss me off and make me sick. But rather than merely get sick, I have written a number of posts criticizing them.

    Anyway, here's how they inflicted their moral lesson on the hapless family which randomly crossed their path:

    Susan Ferrando, her husband, their two children and three preteens had come to San Francisco from Redwood City to celebrate the birthday of Ferrando's 11-year-old daughter. They went to Japantown, where they enjoyed shopping and taking in the blooming cherry blossoms.

    Things took a turn for the worse at about 9 p.m., when the family was leaving Japantown -- just as the party of about 3,000 bikers was winding down its monthly red-lights-be-damned ride through the city.

    Suddenly, Ferrando said, her car was surrounded by hundreds of cyclists.

    Not being from San Francisco, Ferrando thought she might have inadvertently crossed paths with a bicycle race and couldn't figure out why the police, who she had just passed, hadn't warned her.

    Confusion, however, quickly turned to terror, she said, when the swarming cyclists began wildly circling around and then running into the sides of her Toyota van.

    Filled with panic, Ferrando said, she started inching forward until coming to a stop at Post and Gough streets, where she was surrounded by bikers on all sides.

    A biker in front blocked her as another biker began pounding on the windshield. Another was pounding on her window. Another pounded the other side.

    "It seemed like they were using their bikes as weapons,'' Ferrando said. One of the bikers then threw his bike -- shattering the rear window and terrifying the young girls inside.

    All the while, Ferrando was screaming, "There are children in this car! There are children in this car!"

    She had the presence of mind to dial 911 on her cell phone -- and within minutes, the squad of motorcycle cops who were assigned to keep an eye on the ride descended on the scene.

    The cyclists were loudly demanding that Ferrando be arrested for hit and run.

    According to police, Ferrando had allegedly tapped one of the cyclists' tires.

    When the alleged bicycle victim was approached, however, he said he wasn't hurt. He also refused to give his name or any other information.

    Then, after a few swear words, the alleged victim took off on his bike while the rest of the crowd continued to yell at both the cops and the van.

    Sgt. Ed Callejas -- the lead cop on the scene and a veteran of Critical Mass rides since their inception -- said he'd never seen anything like it before.

    "I've seen the bikes swarm cars, and scratch them as they go by. I've seen guys get out of their cars and start fighting with the bikers, but if you had seen the faces on those little girls in tears,'' Callejas said. "All I could do was apologize for what they had been through."

    The sergeant suggested that Ferrando write a letter to the mayor.

    Estimated damage to the car: $5,300.

    Using their bikes as weapons? To assault a carload of children?

    But, but, but -- something will be done, right?

    The Chronicle writers (Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross) don't paint a very optimistic picture:

    As for reaction from City Hall, Mayor Gavin Newsom said such acts of violence -- if true -- "only serve to undermine the worthwhile message of Critical Mass, which is to raise the awareness of bike transportation issues."
    Sorry to interrupt, there, Gavin, but didn't you really mean to say "underline"? (There's been some confusion lately over these two words, so I'll try to forgive Gavin's latest gaffelet.)

    But as the writers make clear, Gavin has a dark sense of San Francisco humor:

    The mayor also said that -- if the charges are grounded -- he expected the attackers to be "punished to the greatest extent of the law."


    I think it's unlikely that anything will be done about Critical Mass.

    I don't have any kids, but I'd hate to think what Coco would do if Critical Mass did the same thing to my car. The whole thing reminds me of a very charming (and very ballsy) San Francisco lesbian who used to cut my hair and her encounter with the same group. Her crime was riding the bus to work. (You know, eco-friendly public transportation?) When her perfectly green bus was nonetheless blockaded by the self-righteous mob, this was too much for her, and she just lost it. As she related the story to me, she got out of the bus, grabbed one of their bikes, and smashed it on the ground. (Little wonder that Gavin Newsom wants to take pit bulls away from lesbians.)

    But I guess I shouldn't make light of serious matters.....

    UPDATE: Noting the police are not allowed to arrest these thugs, Hot Air offers some suggestions:

    ....given the group's violent history there are probably legal steps that could be taken against them. If the city had any backbone against leftist agitators, that is. If the Klan did what Critical Mass does, you betcha that city hall would be all over them. But Critical Mass directs its unreasoned hate in a politically correct direction, so Critical Mass gets a pass.

    It doesn't help that the current mayor has his own history of flouting the law when it suits his political agenda.

    Weakness in the face of aggression begs for more aggression. Critical Mass is obviously aggressive, and its unchallenged unruly behavior is evidence that anarchy has been loosed in San Francisco.

    Do I need to mention that San Fran is the city that keeps electing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?

    posted by Eric at 11:53 AM | Comments (14)

    Relative Cruelty

    Anyone who thinks the lash is a particularly awful punishment should remember that when the founders used the phrase "cruel and unusual punishment," they had in mind far more awful things.

    Via Clayton Cramer, I learned about a wonderful online resource:

    The Proceedings of the Old Bailey--the primary criminal court of London from 1674-1834--is available online, and searchable. All 52 million words! Just for amusement, I put the word "pistol" in--and found more than 1700 occurrences. I put in "gun" and received hundreds of matches.
    Going to the Old Bailey home page, I searched the word "treason" and found hundreds of cases.

    The very first case to come up was that of "William Burnet, offences against the king : religious offences, offences against the king : religious offences, 12th December, 1674." The man was convicted of treason for doing something we Americans would regard as a basic constitutional right enshrined by the First Amendment. In the words of the court, Mr. Burnet "actually perverted several to embrace the Roman Catholique Religion." (Gasp!)

    The statute defined Catholicism as treason, and the court no doubt thought it was doing its duty by imposing the standard penalty at the time:

    ...there was full proof that he had often endeavoured to reconcile divers of his Majesties Protestant subjects to the Romish Church, and had actually perverted several to embrace the Roman Catholique Religion, and assert and maintain the Popes supremacy in matters Ecclesiastical, &c.

    To all which he had very little to object, only alleadged, that if it were a Crime so Capital him to persuade People to the Roman Catholique Religion, (which he was verily persuaded was the onely true one) then it must be the same offence in Quakers and other different persuasions, since they as well as he made it their endeavour to draw people from the Church of England to their particular party. But to this was easily answered, that the very Words of the Law had expressed the Roman Catholique religion or Popery, but no such thing of any other Faction, and that Recriminations were no excuse, much less Justification; Whereupon after a full hearing, Debating, and weighing of the matter, the Jury brought him in guilty of High Treason upon the last Indictment , and accordingly on Saturday he received sentence, To be Hang'd, Drawn, and Quartered ; which he received with a modest Generosity, saying these words, Gloria in Excelsisdeo. &c. (Emphasis added.)

    Lest there be any doubt of what the phrase "hanged, drawn and quartered" means, Wikipedia quotes a judgment from the previous year (1683):
    "Then Sentence was passed, as followeth, viz. That they should return to the place from whence they came, from thence be drawn to the Common place of Execution upon Hurdles, and there to be Hanged by the Necks, then cut down alive, their Privy-Members cut off, and Bowels taken out to be burnt before their Faces, their Heads to be severed from their Bodies, and their Bodies divided into four parts, to be disposed of as the King should think fit."
    While this grotesque form of punishment equals any of the tortures of ancient Rome, it was not abolished in England until 1790, and it doesn't take much imagination to understand that it would certainly have been among the punishments on the minds of those who wrote the Constitution.

    While I'm not a subscriber to the idea of a "living, breathing Constitution," I do think what is considered "cruel and unusual punishment" can vary over time. What is today unimaginable was once routine, and what is today routine was once unimaginable. The lash was not cruel and unusual at the time of the founding, but it is today.

    (And I'd love to poll the founders on what they'd think of long prison terms for the mere possession of a substance which was to them an over the counter remedy.)

    posted by Eric at 10:51 AM | Comments (0)

    Naming our poison

    Excuse me, but did the Supreme Court just inject morality into a scientific debate?

    Thought I should ask.

    Massachusetts v. EPA is a long decision (pdf here via David Bernstein), but it was generating blogospheric commentary even before the decision. Greenie Watch featured this cartoon:


    And now that it's a done deal, there's a lot more reaction.

    Here's the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels:

    This surely will open up a massive number of subsidiary cases. What levels of carbon dioxide emissions, if any, are allowed without being labeled pollutants? There is very little in our society that does not have some relationship to the production of carbon dioxide. Make no mistake -- we have now entered the era where the courts will enter into almost every aspect of our lives.

    And Cato's Mark Moller:

    The decision suggests that American carmakers may face the equivalent of Kyoto global warming standards, imposed by judicial fiat, despite Congress's umpteen rejections of the Kyoto regime. In the process, the Court's decision guts important separation of powers principles, which require regulatory decisions of this magnitude to be made by Congress, not federal judges.

    While I try not to succumb to hyperbole such as that used by outraged citizen (who wrote an op-ed denouncing the complacency of "we the cattle"), the overreaching of the court strikes me as astonishing in scope.

    Common sense suggests (to me at least) that carbon dioxide is not a poison, as it is not only a source of virtually all life on this planet, but every one of us exhales it every time we breathe. Labeling it a poison is a profound act with the most profound implications.

    I say this because the theory of anthropogenic global warming is at this point still a scientific one, and not a moral one.

    My concern is that the decision to call CO2 a poison (which pollution is by definition) goes to the very essence of morality. Is the labeling of an omnipresent substance a poison something to be casually entrusted to five unelected men? Even assuming that C02 is a poison, is poison labeling their function under the Constitution? I don't see any such grant of power anywhere.

    Nevertheless, the following statements are now the law of the land:

    ...when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it acts like the ceiling of a greenhouse, trapping solar energy and retarding the escape of reflected heat. It is therefore a species--the most important species--of a "greenhouse gas."


    ...greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act's capacious definition of "air pollutant"....

    I wish I could say "speak for yourselves, Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer!" But they seem to have spoken for me.

    I think they have perpetrated an outrage, and once again tortured the constitution.

    But then, I admit my bias. I think drug laws are unconstitutional too. (Although I will grant that drugs like heroin and cocaine are not the same thing as the air we exhale.) However, to stick with the drug analogy for a moment, suppose some new substance came along, as LSD did when Albert Hoffman stumbled onto it in 1939. As we all know, the use of that drug eventually took on cult proportions. Laws were passed, and LSD was declared illegal. Now we have the DEA. If a new drug came along and both Congress and the DEA failed to regulate it, would it then be the role of the Supreme Court to step in and tell the DEA to regulate the drug? How? Simply by declaring it evil? Would that not be the court manufacturing new morality?

    I'm not saying I like the idea of unconstitutional laws or agencies, but with the Supreme Court acting like this, why bother with the political process?

    And if a science can be morphed into morality by five men, why bother having a scientific debate?

    posted by Eric at 09:07 AM | Comments (2)

    choose your favorite torture

    Glenn Reynolds quoted Megan McArdle as saying (in part) that she'd "rather be waterboarded than put in the general population of a high security prison," and that:

    "it is entirely possible that life at Guantanamo is more bearable than life at San Quentin, and no, that is not a defense of Guantanamo.
    I'd take the waterboarding too -- even if I thought I was drowning and nearly gagged myself to death.

    Reading McArdle's post, I found this earlier post, which reflects on criminal offenses of people as diverse as Rush Limbaugh (facing charges that he removed money from his own bank account) and Cory Maye (sent to death row for defending himself against police he thought were armed criminal invaders):

    To take an example I've been harping on recently, there are all sorts of appalling violations of power by local police and prosecutors, as Radley Balko has recently exposed with his superb work on the Cory Maye case. Taking cash out of your bank account is not in any moral sense a crime. Nor is having a house where some developer would like to build a shopping mall. Or owning a tree where a woodpecker likes to nest. The fact that people can be put in jail for these non-crimes horrifies me to the depth of my soul.
    No wonder we're so close to having hate crime legislation. I mean, why not? If it's a crime to take your money out of the bank, or offend some environmental bureaucrat's idea of what's best for a woodpecker, surely thought crimes should qualify.

    I'd be horrified to the depth of my soul too, except it's tough to be horrified by things that are no longer surprising.

    What a lot of people who routinely advocate imprisonment for things they dislike forget (at least I like to hope they forget) is that prison is an awful place. To drive the point home, McCardle compares prison to torture, and says she would prefer the latter:

    Many prisoners endure such brutalization that if I had to choose between going to a high-security prison and being interrogated by the Bush administration's favoured methods, I'd pick the waterboarding. This is a stain on our national honour, an outrage, an abomination. But does it mean that our society is not worth living in? Are we not free? Have we no liberty? Do we live in a police state because some peoples' liberties are thusly threatened? Are we close to a police state? Were we under the Democrats, when such abuses were equally likely to occur?

    The other problem with the Democrats is that not all of their liberties abuses are economic. My understanding is that many of the abuses of the WOT result from expanding the Clinton's innovations in the execrable War on Drugs to terror suspects. It was, after all, the Clinton administration that sent tanks and SWAT teams in to deal with what were, at least allegedly, child custody disputes. Likewise, the innovations pushed by Democrats to shake more tax revenue out of the rich . . . like retroactive prosecution, special opaque courts for tax cases, spying on people's cash flows, asset seizure laws, and so forth . . . strike me as major civil liberties violations by any standard, which have trickled down the food chain quite rapidly. Democrats are pushing card check, which strikes me as a license for union organisers to terrorise uncooperative workers. They favour "hate crimes" legislation, which is the closest thing to a thought crime our society has. I could go on, but you're already asleep, aren't you?

    No, I'm not asleep at all! In fact, I'm reminded of a painful post I wrote in 2004:
    .....try going to a cocktail party today and advocating a return to the lash. You'll get one of those looks usually reserved for cranks who like to talk about the death of Vincent Foster. Why? Because times have changed, and the law -- even part of the constitution unchanged since the founding -- has changed with them. Social conventions simply do not countenance tying a man to a post and scourging him with the cat-o'nine tails -- for any reason.

    But just because times have changed, does that mean logic has changed with them? I have asked a number of people whether they'd rather be sentenced to five years in prison or receive 100 lashes. The answer is almost always the lash. That's because, even though 100 lashes would be very painful and would leave heavy, permanent scars, the suffering would be mostly over in a month, whereas five years is five years, and worse things can happen in prison than a scarred back. Logic, however, is lost where it comes to prevailing social conventions.

    People who advocate prison for things they don't like need to ask themselves whether they'd rather be tied up and scourged than imprisoned, then ask again whether either are appropriate things to do to people who medicate themselves with unapproved medication. Would they have these things done to their own children? Or just someone else's?

    On this related issue, M. Simon has a brilliant essay on the nature of drug addiction, which he (rightly IMO) calls "self treatment of undiagnosed pain":

    This is a truly revolutionary idea. If it is in fact true then the whole notion of a drug war to save the children is a lie from beginning to end. Those of you who have read my article on heroin have a window into this new idea. What I tried to show in that article was that medical research shows that victims of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse (PTSD) are many times more likely to get addicted to heroin than the general public.
    M. Simon also has a very interesting (abridged) quote from one of this nation's founders, Declaration signer Dr. Benjamin Rush:
    "Unless we put medical freedom into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize an undercover dictatorship. To restrict the art of healing to one class of men, and deny equal privilege to others, will be to constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic, and have no place in a Republic. The Constitution of this Republic should make special privilege for medical freedom as well as religious freedom."
    I'm sure at the time it wasn't considered necessary to put such a thing into the Constitution. After all, there's no specific power to regulate medicine (or drugs), just as there was no power to regulate alcohol. Hence the wonderful 18th Amendment -- which I like so much that I have called it the "telltale amendment." It stands as a reminder that this country once took its Constitution literally. If the country wanted to prohibit alcohol today, there'd be no need for an amendment.

    If only the Constitution had prohibited torturing the Constitution!

    I think this calls for a poll:

    Would you rather spend six months in prison or receive two dozen lashes?
    Six months in prison
    Two dozen lashes
    pollcode.com free polls

    I'm thinking that might have been too easy a choice for some people, so I'll make it harder:

    Would you rather spend six months in prison or receive 100 lashes?
    Six months in prison
    100 lashes
    pollcode.com free polls

    Once again, I'm not advocating a return to the lash. I'm just wondering about what people think about serving time in places where unofficial torture -- in the form of prison rape -- is routine.

    UPDATE: Thank you, Glenn Reynolds, for the link, and welcome all! Thanks to all commenters too; I'm particularly fascinated by the differing opinions about prison versus the lash.

    A local sheriff once told me that some people will commit suicide rather than face prison, and while that's doubtless an outlier, I'm sure that a lot of people would prefer a short and certain (even if horribly severe) punishment to a lengthy stay in an unknown hell. I suspect that the kind of guy who doesn't like traveling or going out would rather take the lashes than have to live in a crowded criminal environment.

    posted by Eric at 10:43 AM | Comments (16)

    NEWSFLASH! Tancredo announces for president

    Listening to the G. Gordon Liddy Show, I just heard Congressman Tom Tancredo announce his candidacy for president of the United States (on the GOP ticket of course).

    He's stressing the immigration issue, and considering how much this issue has been neglected by most politicians, it wouldn't surprise me to see Tancredo get a substantial amount of support.

    In addition to border enforcement and deporting illegal aliens, Tancredo says the first thing he would do would be to pardon Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean (the two imprisoned agents convicted for shooting an drug-dealing alien who they believed was firing at them -- the subject of much discussion on the Internet.)

    He also wants to build a wall -- "not only keep people out who we don't want in, but as a statement that this is where one country ends and the other begins. "

    Congressman Tancredo urged those who support his candidacy to visit the following two web sites:



    The Tancredo accouncement comes as the field gets more crowded by the day.

    It will be interesting to see what happens.

    posted by Eric at 12:11 PM | Comments (2)

    A sore threat

    Jose Guardia links a very ironic post about how global warming may have triggered the rise of mammals:

    The researchers believe our 'ancestors', and those of all other mammals on earth now, began to radiate around the time of a sudden increase in the temperature of the planet - ten million years after the death of the dinosaurs.

    Biologist Professor Andy Purvis, of Imperial College London, said: "Our research has shown for the first 10 or 15 million years after the dinosaurs were wiped out present day mammals kept a very low profile while these other types of mammals were running the show.

    "It looks like a later bout of 'global warming' may have kick-started today's diversity - not the death of the dinosaurs.

    I'm beginning to understand why the Al-o-saurus is worried.

    Jose concludes his post by saying "Bring it on!"

    Al-o-saur, I feel your pain!

    (And what about the pain of the Sorosaur?)

    posted by Eric at 11:06 AM | Comments (2)

    Give me pity, or give me contempt!

    An anonymous commenter named "Candace" has just discovered a post I wrote so long ago (about the ongoing effort to make the Philadelphia Zoo get rid of its elephants) that I'm afraid no one will notice it.

    From the tone of her comment, I don't think Candace is happy with me or with the other commenters:

    You people are nauseating, and the elephant jerky comment is especially puerile, as well as pathetically ignorant. The commentary about PAWS and Pat Derby is completely inaccurate. Why don't you bother doing some research before posting such idiocy?

    This entire Blog rant about the Philly Zoo contains so many misstatements it's ludicrous. The elephants there live horrible lives, they are chained, they are nothing more than slaves. Obviously you think that's fine, so a person such as yourself deserves no only pity, but contempt.

    I try to be reasonable about these things, so I left the following reply:
    Candace, thanks for coming, but I have a few disagreements with what you said.

    The commentary about PAWS and Pat Derby is completely inaccurate. Why don't you bother doing some research before posting such idiocy?

    I never heard of Pat Derby until I read the Inquirer article. The quotes and information about her come from the PAWS web site and other animal rights sites. It's clear to me that she is against the ownership and breeding of elephants as well as other animals. If that is "completely inaccurate," please explain.

    Likewise, you made a general assertion that regarding the Philly Zoo I made "so many misstatements it's ludicrous." Such as what? I don't think I did much more than quote the Inquirer, and express my opinion that the zoos and sanctuaries have different philosophies. Zoos tend to believe it is not wrong to keep or breed elephants in captivity.

    Characterizations like "idiocy," "nauseating" and "deserves []contempt" are simply ad hominem insults, and not persuasive.

    As to the comment about jerky, I think it's quite obvious that Chocolatier meant it as humor.

    But was it "pathetically ignorant"? Not if this is any indication:


    As a South African, I have spent most of my childhood gnawing on sticks of biltong. These are strips or sticks of dried meat, usually spiced in a variety of ways: chilli/BBQ/spicy/plain etc. Biltong can be made from most game. There are different types of biltong: wet and fatty tends to be softer meat with more fat than usual while dry is usually tough and chewy. I discovered the best biltong I have ever tasted on my last trip to Kruger Park: Elephant biltong. It was the most tender, tasty biltong I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying?full in flavour and easy to chew. I highly recommend you try some of the varieties on offer. Many of the shops in the park now sell biltong from a variety of game ? everything from buffalo, to elephant to impala. Be daring and try something new!
    I don't think anyone is seriously suggesting selling it at zoos, but it does appear to be sold in South Africa, as Chocolatier said.

    Finally, I have to disagree with your assessment that zoo elephants are "slaves," as that's a misuse of the word.

    No animal can legally be considered a slave. Only humans can be slaves, just as only humans can be robbed, murdered, or raped. The word "slave" in the context of animals may indicate a desire to eliminate the distinction between animals and humans. If that is what you think, I simply disagree.

    Anyone who wants can feel free to weigh in; I just thought this deserved front page treatment, as I wouldn't want it thought that I am hiding criticism.

    Much as I disagree with them, I'll say this for the animal rights activists. They don't hesitate to let you know what they think. When I have written about the Philadelphia Zoo elephants, the activists who disagree have not hesitated to appear and tell me why.

    Wish I could say the same for the anti-gun activists. They almost never come here -- no matter how many posts I might put up about the gun issue -- especially local attempts at gun control. (That last list of links was an abbreviated one, BTW.) They are certainly well organized, and they certainly aren't in short supply. So what gives? Why is it that anti-gun activists think people who disagree with them should simply be avoided, while AR activists think people who disagree with them should be confronted and debated?

    Does anyone know?

    UPDATE: Jeff Soyer (who devotes far more time to the gun issue than I do) notices that very few people attend anti-gun rallies.

    Dozens! And half of them city council members....
    Via Glenn Reynolds, who notes that "'dozens' pretty much counts as nobody in this context."

    Hmmm..... Maybe I misspoke when I said they "certainly aren't in short supply" for they obviously are.

    But how can that be? I mean, gun control is The Major Issue in the Philadelphia Inquirer! It's the One Single Biggest Issue On Which All Candidates Agree in Philadelphia's mayoral election. There are of course regular demonstrations that must be attended by all the candidates, plus the huge crowds, which I'm sure number into the dozens.

    I guess it's a question of too much work, and not enough dozens to do it all. So it's probably unreasonable of me to expect them to behave like animal rights activists.

    (I should try to be more understanding.)

    posted by Eric at 08:57 AM | Comments (5)

    Suspending my suspended skepticism

    As I've said repeatedly, I don't like television. In fact, I really hate the medium. Not so much because of media bias (which is of course there), but because it occupies too much of my brain space. It's as if it wants to take over my thinking for me, and leave nothing up to my imagination. Yeah, there's even an anti-TV slogan that goes "leaves nothing to the imagination." But it's more annoying than merely leaving nothing up to the imagination. The process is inherently dishonest, because it depicts an edited slice of a moving segment of living reality and the nature of medium inclines us to think that this is the same as reality. It's an "as if" medium which tricks us into dropping the "as if" and thinking in terms of "is." Because I do not trust the process which is occurring in my brain, I have to expend a lot of mental energy trying to counter it. So, television leaves my poor brain cells feeling exhausted and depleted -- unless of course I do what I am supposed to do and surrender my mind to stuff that's been prepared for me.

    The thing is, even when I'm watching straight, unedited video footage, I never forget that there is still a bias because of the medium. It is not the same as being there, because there is no way to get the overall picture, the feel, the totality. I could go out in my yard now with my camera, and film the trees swaying in the breeze, a painful-looking dead stump, the clouds moving across the sky, birds building nests or fighting over territory, cars roaring past -- no, not cars, SUVs driven by angry-at-the-world women hauling their kids to school so they can still make it to work. Or I could zoom in on a neighbor doing something totally innocuous like unpeeling last year's registration from his license plate. All of these things would be "true depictions." But of what? And why? Any one of them might influence people to think one way or another, yet in reality none of them mean anything, any more than it's just another day. There is no such thing as unbiased video, but unlike writing, the bias is not self-apparent and obvious. Even the most objective video possible tends to ask us to accept that it is reality, and not a depiction of reality.

    Because it's not easy for me to suspend skepticism and my feelings of distrust, it's hard to relax and enjoy it. (Unless I am truly depressed and I "submit," which is another, more disturbing issue.) Added to this is the fact that when I do relax and enjoy something, I'll suddenly be aware that some bastard is trying to manipulate me -- or worse, trying to manipulate stupid people or children.

    As I say this, I recognize that even if video is not real reality, it is nonetheless speech. And as speech, it is fully protected by the First Amendment. As the saying goes, the remedy for speech you don't like is more speech. Which is why I love YouTube.

    Wait! Let me qualify that. I love the idea of YouTube. I support YouTube. I am 100% in favor of democratizing the playing field, opening up as much bandwidth as possible, and every man being his own television station! True, it might be impossible to figure out what to watch, but what the heck. That problem will be addressed by the emergence of ratings, critics, and commentators, all of which will tell us what's really fun or cool or subversive or morbid or irritating or titillating or whatever the hell your special interest might want.

    But as the technology emerges, I find my biggest practical problem is a lack of patience. I just don't want to watch video to begin with. Now, this problem could be overcome if I knew in advance that the video came from a source I trusted, and dealt with a subject in which I was interested. That part is analogous to clicking on a link to a blog post, and then reading it.

    However, this leads to another problem which drives me bananas. Unlike clicking on a link to a post, opening a video link does not allow you to glance at the overall picture of the text, or zero in on what might be the most interesting part. Usually, you have to watch the whole thing. What if it's an hour long? Who has an hour? I don't. I'd rather read a transcript. (When there's a transcript, I tend to say "Thank God!," and when there isn't, I tend to invoke the deity in a different manner.)

    Here is what I Absolutely. Cannot. Stand. It's when I'm already impatient, and then the video just plain stops. Then it starts. For maybe ten seconds. Then it stops. Sorry, but that's it for me. Life is too short to suspend skepticism to allow the video maker a shot at your mind, only to put your already-suspended skepticism on hold. It's profoundly unnatural, and almost as annoying being called on the phone, and then as soon as you answer, the voice says "Please hold."

    This has happened so many times that I am increasingly hesitant to stream these videos.

    Doubtless I am not alone.

    Consenting to having your mind invaded is bad enough. But there's something about having to stop and wait -- repeatedly -- for the invaders which I find downright creepy.

    posted by Eric at 08:36 AM | Comments (5)

    Less beer, more "illegal guns"?

    Local gun control. Coming soon to a city near you?

    Yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer featured the following front-page headline about illegal guns -- Mayoral Mayday on violence - Keeping illegal guns off the street and other remedies for crime topped the agenda as 17 city leaders from three states met here. The article discusses the mayors' plans:

    For any anticrime prescription to work in Philadelphia, the attendees agreed, it must take aim at illegal guns: Of the 96 people slain through March 27, police department figures released yesterday show, 88 percent were cut down by gunfire.

    "Major cities all over America and small towns as well are dealing with the problem of too many guns," Street said in opening the session at the National Constitution Center.


    Several of the summit's attendees, including Street, are members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition spurred by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

    Their group's goal is to share best practices for dealing with a law-enforcement problem that is almost always compounded by economic, educational and socio-cultural factors.

    I've often remarked that the mindsets of the pro-gun and anti-gun people are so far apart that there's no way of even having a rational discussion, but I'm going to try once more, because there's a term that needs defining.

    Illegal Guns.

    It's not only in the headline, it's in the name of the mayors' coalition -- the very existence of which is said to be against it. It seems that both sides ought to be able to agree that in order to be against something -- of for it -- the thing itself should be defined.

    What are illegal guns? No seriously, I want to know. People have become so used to this term that it just rolls of the tongue in conversation (a bit like it's frequent rhetorical companion, "gun violence"). Clearly, all guns which are illegal to possess can be said to be illegal guns. This can vary widely; a stolen gun is by definition an illegal gun, as is a gun which has been modified in such a way that its possession violates one of the numerous regulatory statutes. Examples would be sawn off shotguns, illegal conversions from semi to full automatic, guns with serial numbers filed off, etc. Likewise, any gun which is stolen becomes an illegal gun while in the possession of the thief. Until that point, however, it was not illegal in and of itself, and if recovered and returned to the proper owner, it can no longer be said to be an illegal gun.

    It strikes me that the largest category of "illegal guns" which are said to be causing a problem are guns which are illegal because they are in the possession of people who are not allowed to have them. Primarily, in any large area this group consists of convicted felons and minors -- although there are other categories including certain violent misdemeanors, mental patients, drug addicts, and people subject to restraining orders. If any gun owner is convicted of a felony, all of his guns would, under this definition, become illegal guns unless they are surrendered according to the proper procedure. Any gun which is stolen by a felon or a minor would of course be doubly illegal, both for having been stolen, and for being in the possession of the felon or minor.

    A frequent target for the complaint about illegal guns consists of guns purchased by "straw purchasers" -- people who do not appear to fall into the prohibited categories but who buy guns while committing what amounts to perjury. They claim -- falsely, on an official form -- that they are buying the weapons for themselves, but in reality they are buying them on behalf of (or with the intent of handing them over to) a prohibited purchaser. Thus, they are analogous to an adult who buys alcohol or cigarettes for a minor, although they have committed the additional crime of lying on an official form. I suppose there is an additional (no doubt smaller) category of legal purchasers who had no intention at the time of original pupose to buy a gun for a criminal or a minor, but who later gave the gun to a criminal or minor. These people would not have been straw purchasers, but simply illegal transferors. Either way, they commit a crime (and the gun becomes "illegal" and thereby contraband) upon its transfer to the prohibited person.

    If I had to generalize, I'd say that in common parlance "illegal guns" boils down, simply, to guns in the possession of prohibited persons. This includes not only felons and minors, but all who purchase for felons and minors.

    Obviously, a city the size of Philadelphia contains innumerable criminals and minors who want guns. The more criminals there are who obtain guns, the more illegal guns there will be. It would seem obvious that the most important goal ought to be to deter criminals from obtaining guns, and taking as many guns away from criminals as possible.

    The problem is, this is not an easy task, because criminals are not law abiding. Thus, the gun control debate inevitably shifts from something most people on both sides can agree on (stop criminals from having guns) to prohibiting law-abiding people from having guns.

    Back to the Inquirer:

    Street's strategy of reaching out to elected officials throughout the region is an attempt to boost the city's clout - in Harrisburg and Washington - by joining with other mayors in seeking grants and fighting for legislation that includes stronger restrictions on "stop-and-go" beer outlets in residential neighborhoods and provisions for large cities like Philadelphia to enact tougher gun laws than the rest of the state.
    Wait just a second! I'm trying to analyze illegal guns and suddenly the debate shifts to beer? What's up with that? There are countless "stop-and-go" beer outlets near me, and I've never been aware of a shooting in any way connected to one. Next they'll attempt to take it out on Chinese restaurants (as they did last year). The anti-gun mentality is one thing, but you'd almost think there's some problem with blaming criminals for crime.

    I'm trying to be serious here, and I don't see the relevance of beer. If there's a statistical tie-in somewhere, perhaps it has to do with the fact that there are too many criminals in Philadelphia, that too many criminals own illegal guns, that too many criminals also buy beer, and that therefore beer is "correlated" with illegal guns. (Ditto, Chinese restaurants, and probably Kentucky Fried Chicken if the truth be told.)

    I want to focus on the idea that Philadelphia should "enact tougher gun laws than the rest of the state." What sort of laws? A prohibition on handguns, perhaps?

    Common sense suggests to me that if the goal is to stop illegal guns in Philadelphia, and if that is defined as too many guns in the hands of people who are prohibited to have them, more gun laws would do the following:

  • 1. make large numbers of existing legal guns illegal; and
  • 2. enlarge the category of prohibited persons.
  • By definition this would simply mean that there would be more illegal guns. Dramatically more. How many more, I don't know. There are 32,000 concealed carry permit holders in Philadelphia. As Police Chief Johnson has likened them to an enemy that needs to be fought, I don't think it's a stretch to consider criminalizing them as a likely possibility if local legislation is allowed.

    Why would anyone want to make criminals out of law abiding people and increase the number of illegal guns -- all in the name of fighting illegal guns?

    The Inquirer highlights New York as a model for success:

    New York, which sent a representative of Bloomberg's, is the shining example of a city in control, posting its lowest murder rate since the 1960s. And the picture just keeps getting rosier: New York slayings are down 30 percent compared with the first quarter of last year.

    Philadelphia is the polar opposite. Its murder rate is outpacing last year's by 18 percent. The stinging reality is that more people have been killed in Philadelphia this year than in New York City, which had 84 murders as of Sunday among a population six times greater than Philadelphia's.

    There's no question that Philadelphia's homicide rate is a lot higher than New York, but as I've pointed out, it is misleading to pretend that a city's homicide rate is the most important crime issue for most citizens. It is often forgotten that many of these shootings involve criminals shooting other criminals. While any shooting is lamentable, it is misleading to imagine that the crime rate (much less the quality of overall life) is measured simply by tallying up the number of homicides.

    I would also argue that New York's lower homicide rate is affected not only by different demographics, but by an overall law enforcement strategy which (beginning with and continuing after the transformational leadership of Rudy Giuliani), intelligently targeted and apprehended the very criminals most frequently associated with illegal guns:

    When Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor in 1993, he named William Bratton as police commissioner. Bratton had success with zero-tolerance policing as head of the Transit Police, which cracked down on fare-dodging, speeded up arrest procedures and in a key move, did background checks on everyone who was arrested. This would turn up outstanding warrants and other reasons to hold the perpetrator and not merely send him back out onto the street where he often would ended up getting back into trouble.

    While Bratton put the zero-tolerance concept into play in the 35,000-officer NYPD, the city hired 5,000 new and better-educated police officers, the second major increase in the size of the force in five years. (Taxes also were increased.)

    Meanwhile, there was a citywide crackdown on public drinking and urinating and other so-called nuisance crimes. Bratton pushed decision-making down to the precinct level where local commanders who knew their neighborhoods could better react to and deal with crime trends, which were noted with relentless efficiency by CompStat, a real-time police intelligence computer system. CompStat was integrated into the department and the statistics it endlessly cranks out were are public. (Go here and have a look for yourself.)

    Instead of targeting criminals, or even illegal guns, Philadelphia proposes creating more criminals, and more illegal guns.

    posted by Eric at 10:11 AM | Comments (1)

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